Editors' Choice

5 biggest tech controversies of 2019

Spying, banning, bending, and more

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Though short, 2019 felt like an action-packed year. Between the Brexit brouhaha in London, Duterte’s tirades in the Philippines, and Trump’s shenanigans in the US, newspapers had a very busy year. However, despite the focus on politics, 2019’s journalism marathon also affected the technology industry.

Here at GadgetMatch, we constantly had our hands full with new developments and juicy rumors. As the year finally winds down, let’s run down 2019’s greatest tech controversies that made our eyes pop:

5. Where is Apple’s 5G iPhone?

A leftover from last year’s news cycle, Apple’s 5G problem starts this year’s countdown. As 5G finally starts up all over the world, most smartphone companies — like Samsung and Huawei — have made 5G compatibility a prerequisite for all their future phones. Surprisingly, Apple has not unveiled a 5G-compatible iPhone yet.

Of course, Apple has always notoriously lagged far behind its competitor’s development cycle. However, Apple’s delay has been going on for quite a spell. 5G technology is already here. As the questions pile up, Apple has constantly searched for the perfect partner for 5G compatibility.

Apple started the year with their long-standing rivalry with Qualcomm, a persistent thorn on the former’s side. Besides continued harassing, Qualcomm’s fights might ultimately delay Apple’s 5G-compatible iPhone. Since then, both parties have buried the hatchet. However, we still don’t have any word on the much-awaited smartphone (much less a Qualcomm-sponsored one).

Also, complementing the Apple-Qualcomm dialogue, several other parties have joined the conversation. Earlier this year, Samsung and Huawei have expressed interest in becoming Apple’s supplier for 5G technology. Unfortunately, the rumors turned into nothing other than sweet words.

Eventually, Apple’s 5G problem capped off with a monumental purchase of Intel’s 5G modem business. Even then, Apple’s 5G iPhone is still nowhere to be found. Our earliest reported launch date is still in 2020.

4. Is Alexa listening to my moans?

Since the invention of smart technology, AI-assisted spying has always been a constant source of paranoia. Are our smart speakers listening in on us?

Unfortunately, 2019 is a disastrous year for conspiracy theorists. Throughout the year, the tech world’s biggest names have found themselves on the wrong end of privacy issues. In June, Apple’s Siri reportedly recorded unauthorized recordings of its users.

However, the initial controversy stems from technical issues, like a pants zipper mistakenly triggering Siri’s voice recognition. The real crux of the problem begins where the recording ends. To maintain quality control, Apple hires a separate team to evaluate Siri’s performance, listening to recordings for successful service. Potentially, these recordings include accidental triggers and sexual trysts.

The controversy doesn’t end there. Weeks later, Google was found guilty of the same crime. However, instead of just accidentally recording offhand conversations, Google’s quality team purposely leaked sensitive audio data from their Dutch offices, prompting a new conversation regarding human interference in AI systems.

If that wasn’t enough, Facebook also hired a similar team, as reported a few weeks later. In the social media giant’s case, Messenger chats are apparently getting transcribed by outsiders for Facebook’s servers.

The privacy issue brings up another pressing concern today: who owns our data? Unfortunately, Siri storing an audio version of your sex tape is only the tip of the iceberg. Digital privacy is a controversy that will surely carry on to the next few years.

3. Is China controlling the world?

For most of the world, China is in a potentially threatening position. The Asian powerhouse is currently on the rise, calling a lot of things into question. Are our everyday products completely reliant on Chinese suppliers? Are our favorite companies ingratiated to Chinese bosses?

Sadly, 2019’s headlines have some bad news for those suffering from Sinophobia. In the midst of heated Hong Kong protests, Western companies face a tough choice: to shut up or speak out against injustice. Of course, companies consist of humans, too. Human beings can have opinions contrary to their affiliated companies. That’s the story of late 2019.

Blizzard, one of the world’s biggest gaming developers, recently banned a respected professional gamer for voicing out his pro-HK opinions on a tournament victory speech. Despite causing outrage in the gaming community, the developer kept quiet, sticking by its controversial decision. They eventually lightened the sentence, but not without damaging their integrity.

Since then, other Western companies have made surprising decisions regarding the HK-China debate including the NBA and Apple. With the Hong Kong protests still raging, the China problem will still haunt us in 2020. We have to ask ourselves: which side are our favorite companies on?

2. The short rise and fall of foldable phones

In November, the world finally saw its first foldable smartphones, thanks to Samsung and Huawei. It’s been a storied wait. The revolutionary form factor first debuted at the start of the year. It almost took a year to get the devices out into the market. What happened?

Unfortunately, the foldable smartphone’s journey was rougher than what either Samsung or Huawei expected. After the initial announcement, the Galaxy Fold and the Mate X touted the next revolution of the smartphone world. As we know now, neither of the two foldable devices has changed the world yet.

Before its official launch, the Galaxy Fold carried a concerning flaw. The foldable hinge broke down too easily. It wasn’t foolproof. Fortunately, reviewers found the flaw before a wider global release. Regardless, a global recall was inevitable. Only a hair’s breadth away from the official release, Samsung pulled the plug on the world’s most anticipated smartphones of recent history. Naturally, Huawei followed suit, pulling the Mate X to avoid a similar mistake.

Months later, both smartphones practically disappeared, leaving the question of “when” unanswered. Around half a year later, the Galaxy Fold resurfaced with a final release date; the Mate X trailing nearby. Sadly, the resurrection didn’t go as planned either.

For one, the new Galaxy Fold has already failed both bend tests and real-world expectations. Samsung even agreed on the new device’s vulnerabilities. At the very least, the Mate X is doing well in China, its home territory.

Regardless, the form factor is on a decline right now. For one of the most anticipated devices in 2019, the foldable smartphone ended the year with a whimper. No one knows where the market will go from here. Only time will tell whether 2020’s foldable smartphones will end up in a similar state.

1. Huawei’s battles with the US

Was there ever any doubt? This year’s biggest controversy is, undoubtedly, the continued war between the American government and the Chinese smartphone maker, Huawei. Since last year, the company has found itself on the receiving end of America’s strong Sinophobia. For years, the American government has persistently pondered on an all-out ban against any Huawei and ZTE products. However, the rumored ban didn’t really go anywhere.

The battlefield soon changed when the US arrested Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou on accusations of fraud. Besides tarnishing Huawei’s global reputation, the government now had a de facto hostage in negotiations with Huawei and China.

The earlier part of the year consisted mainly of struggling with Meng’s arrest. However, the pressure finally exploded when the US finally banned the company back in May. Trump wanted more. Instead of settling with Meng’s capture, the American President needed another chip for his trade war with China.

The new ban affected both Huawei’s operations in the States and its business partners. In the months after the ban’s announcement, several American companies have started pulling out of business relations with the Chinese company. Key suppliers, like Google and Qualcomm, have put huge dents on Huawei’s plans for the year. For example, the newly launched Mate 30 series debuted without any of Google’s software out of the box.

On Huawei’s side, the company is currently subsisting on a series of temporary extensions to its operating license. Unless the US government settles the dispute once and for all (or gets fed up and doesn’t renew the license anymore), Huawei is in a state of limbo, unable to act on a more permanent game plan.

Fortunately, Huawei is working on a few tricks of their own. Rather than relying on a fickly foreign government, the company has successfully developed its own operating system called Harmony. They have also worked on improving the Kirin chipset to match international standards. Further, they are hunting for alternative suppliers. With a Google deal up in the air, Huawei is looking for more willing suppliers in other countries.

Unfortunately, Huawei’s troubles will continue well into next year. The current extension is until around February 2020. Chances are, we won’t get a definitive conclusion to the saga until then.

Spilling over to 2020

Without a doubt, 2019 was a busy year for us. However, with how inconclusive these five have “resolved,” it looks like an even busier 2020 for the headlines. Will we see a 5G iPhone? Will tech companies commit to better privacy? Will we finally get a conclusion to the long-standing Huawei saga? 2020, be good to us.

Illustrations by MJ Jucutan/GadgetMatch.

CES 2021

GadgetMatch Awards: Best of CES 2021

Flying cars, rolling phones, and Ice Cream right at home

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CES has always been the place for dreaming about the future of tech and this year, despite the annual convention being held virtually instead of in Las Vegas like usual, is no different.

We saw plenty of exciting innovations ranging from stuff that we can purchase soon, something for the new normal, and an effin flying car. Yes. If that doesn’t get your gears running we don’t know what will.

So here are our favorites from the tech show.

Best Gaming Laptop: ROG Flow X13 

ROG Flow X13

Gaming laptops have been getting slimmer and slimmer over the years but this one — it’s a gaming laptop the size of an Ultrabook. ASUS managed to pack gaming power — AMD Ryzen 9/Cezanne-HS mobile processor, RTX 3080 — in a 15mm thin and 1.35kg body.

To heighten the gaming experience further, you can pair it with the ROG XG Mobile GPU that gives the Flow X13 the power of a full-sized gaming rig. That’s bonkers.

Best Auto Concept: GM flying Cadillac Taxi

The idea of flying cars has long intrigued the human race. You need not look far than the prevalence of such a vehicle in sci-fi pop culture to see how much we long for it.

General Motors’ flying Cadillac taxi concept is a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) vehicle, eliminating the need for any runway. It’ll run on a 90kWh battery with 56mph top speed. New flying regulations will have to come but we can’t wait for this to take to the skies.

Best New Smartphone Form Factor: LG Rollable

Smartphones are going through a period of change. What once was just a rectangular piece of slab has seen itself fold, flip, and now… roll.

We’ve seen LG showcase a rollable concept before but the LG Rollable could be the closest thing that might actually… roll out to the market. Details are scarce for now but expect plenty of news and rumors to build up as it gets closer to launch.

Best Laptop: ASUS ZenBook Duo 

The ZenBook Duo, first showcased at Computex 2019, sort of took a gap year in 2020. What we saw instead was a gaming version with the Zephyrus Duo. It makes a comeback now more refined and with internals fit for the new year.

The new ASUS ZenBook Duo is a refinement of this new laptop form factor in every way imaginable — one that, theoretically, should be much more useful than its predecessor.

Best Chromebook: Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2

The Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2 has all the bells and whistles of the first generation but it now comes with a QLED panel. Yep, Samsung’s TV display tech has made its way to a notebook. This could just be the beginning.

Best Audio Wearable: Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro
Galaxy Buds Pro

Buds, Plus, Live, and now Pro — not exactly the progression that makes the most sense name-wise but Samsung may now finally have the TWS that can go toe-to-toe against the AirPods Pro and Freebuds Pro.

The Galaxy Buds Pro promises intelligent ANC that adjusts according to your environment and a playtime that’s par for the course for the other buds it’s going up against.

Best Wearable: MaskFone

Ever since the pandemic hit, face masks have come in all shapes, sizes and features — the MaskFone is no exception.

The MaskFone has a mic in the facepiece and two earbuds hanging on wires by the earloops. The mask is made of a water-resistant, breathable, and washable material and includes a pocket for PM2.5 filters. As far as tech goes, this one’s pretty in your face.

Best Kitchen Appliance: ColdSnap

What’s better than getting sweet, icy treats on a dreary day? It’s making those sweet, icy treats at your own home with ColdSnap.

It works like coffee pod machines but instead of coffee, it serves ice cream and other frozen treats from recyclable aluminium pods. Now, you can Ice Cream and chill at your leisure.

Best Smart TV: Samsung NEO QLED 

Samsung’s QLED was already pretty good but turning things up to eleven is their Neo QLED. With this new display tech, Samsung promises improved picture quality — dark areas are darker, bright areas brighter, and so on. Of course, we’ll have to see it for ourselves but it already sounds promising.

Best Wellness Device: Lora DiCarlo Drift, Tilt, Sway

If you can get past snickering like a tween, you’ll realize this offers many… benefits. Inspired by human warmth, the new model mimics the heat we experience from our partners’ bodies. Lora DiCarlo used a nylon-based thermally conductive polymer and its WarmSense Technology, simulating body temperature.

I’m sure we can all use some warmth in these cold nights.

Best Cleaning Device: Samsung JetBot 90 AI+

Keeping your place squeaky clean doesn’t get any smarter than this. The JetBot 90 AI+ is a vacuum cleaner that uses object recognition technology to identify and classify objects to decide the best cleaning path. LiDAR and 3D sensors allow JetBot 90 AI+ to avoid cables and small objects, while still cleaning hard-to-reach corners in your home.

Best Camera/Drone: Airpeak

Professional videographers who’s weapon of choice are Sony Alphas are probably dying to have their hands on Airpeak. It’s a drone that can be equipped with Sony’s professional grade, mirrorless cameras. This opens up new possibilities in terms of aerial footage.

Best Monitor: Dell UltraSharp 40 Curved WUHD

It appears we’re facing a future that’ll have us sitting in front of monitors for longer than we realize. That’s why having one that’s easy on the eyes could be extra beneficial. The ComfortView Plus on the Dell UltraSharp 40 Curved WUHD monitor can help with that. Not to mention, it is color accurate and should aid you nicely in your work-from-home setup.

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Editors' Choice

Tech controversies of 2020

It’s been a long year for everyone

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Though everyone stayed at home this year, 2020 was still a highly controversial year. From the COVID-19 pandemic in March to the U.S. elections in November, a lot happened in 2020. However, if you’ve heard enough about the political or the healthcare scene this year, the technology industry was also popping.

As we do every year, let’s run through the best (or worst, depending on your outlook) tech controversies of 2020.

The shadiness of 5G

With everyone at home and on their Wi-Fi, you might not have noticed the advent of 5G technology. More and more smartphones are touting compatibility with 5G networks. Coinciding with the spread of 5G smartphones, 5G networks are also rising, albeit slowly.

However, despite the promises of superfast internet, 5G adoption is anything but smooth. For one, everyone is fighting over who should usher in the new era. Huawei, the de facto leader in building 5G infrastructure, is currently crumbling all over the world. Especially in the United States, countries don’t trust the Chinese company to protect everyone’s cybersecurity interests. In other countries, Nokia and Ericsson are rising with their own infrastructure, likewise banning Huawei from their soil.

If the political slant wasn’t enough, conspiracy theorists are also falsely claiming that the new technology is responsible for spreading the coronavirus. Though the false claims haven’t reached any significant traction, the conspiracy theories have dented the smooth transition from 4G to 5G.

Tick tock for TikTok

Speaking of Chinese geopolitical issues, ByteDance’s TikTok, another Chinese company, is currently under fire for the same reasons as Huawei. Earlier this year, the American government and security researchers accused the short-form video-sharing platform as a hive for Chinese malware and information spying. Making its case worse, U.S. TikTok users successfully trolled President Donald Trump in his reelection campaign, buying out seats in his rallies.

Soon after, the American government issued an ultimatum, supposedly ending in November, for the platform: get out of the country or find an American buyer. Throughout the latter half of the year, TikTok rushed to find a buyer, volleying between Microsoft, Apple, and Facebook. Ultimately, Oracle won out in a bid to acquire the company. Though the controversy is still technically on, the issue essentially sputtered out of the limelight. TikTok is still in the United States.

The end of big tech

Amid the ongoing crusade against Chinese companies and platforms, the American government is also placing its biggest tech companies under the microscope. During the pandemic, lawmakers grilled them, especially Facebook, over information security and anti-competition practices.

For sure, these companies have often found themselves involved in numerous hacks, leaks, and security problems in the past. However, this is one of the rare times that the government is actually doing something about it,

Besides cybersecurity, the government is also questioning the companies for stifling competitors or straight-up acquiring them. The strategy is supposedly aimed to prevent the smaller companies from posing a threat to the current tech oligopoly.

Oftentimes, the companies’ head honchos found themselves speechless under severe pressure from grilling lawmakers, such as the case with Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.

Apple’s chargergate

Despite the excitement surrounding the release, the newly released iPhone 12 series was controversial at best. Besides the rumored delays, several rumors preceding the launch predicted the removal of the traditionally free charging adapters and wired earphones.

During the launch, Apple defended the decision as an ecofriendly drive towards carbon neutral status by 2030. However, the new package also has profound effects for the company’s logistics and profit structures. For example, the smaller package can fit in larger numbers for a single shipment of iPhones. Apple can ship more iPhones around the world.

Additionally, Apple can sell more charging adapters, especially to those who haven’t stockpiled old chargers before. Even then, the new iPhone 12 series is starting new charging standards including a faster wired charging solution and a new wireless standard.

Though the spotlight shone on Apple for most of the time, other rivals also popped up in the conversation. For example, Samsung, who mocked Apple for removing their free peripherals, is consistently piling up rumors and evidence that they are also removing their chargers. Xiaomi, for its part, has already confirmed its own charger-less smartphone box starting next year. If 2020 is Apple’s chargergate scandal, 2021 might well be everyone else copying Apple’s decision.

Cyberpunk’d

Cyberpunk 2077 was arguably the most anticipated game of 2020 (emphasis on arguably). But it was delayed. Twice. When it did launch, users of last generation consoles weren’t too thrilled with the Night City they ended up in — the graphics was just downright bad and the game was mostly buggy.

Things were looking up at first with reports coming in that CD Projekt Red had raked in profits just on pre-orders alone. However, the barely working versions on the PS4 and Xbox One prompted the team to issue refunds where they can. It’s gotten so bad that some executives are in hot water over the botched launch.

Regardless, PC players with higher-end rigs are still able to enjoy the game, and the next gen console versions are also coming soon.

COVID-19 dominates 2020

As expected, COVID-19 takes the cake for 2020. Most of the events (or lack thereof) this year stems from the worst pandemic in contemporary history. Since January, long-standing events, including CES, MWC, IFA, and numerous Comic Cons, either postponed, reduced attendance, or outright canceled their dates this year.

Though it doesn’t seem like it at face value, the coronavirus has drastically affected the tech industry. Outside of events, differing priorities has shifted logistics away from device production and distribution. Some devices in the past, and still today, have been rumored to suffer delays. At the moment, the most prominent COVID-19-borne delays are during the ongoing PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S crisis.

As vaccines are finally rolling out the countries all over the world, the logistics world will still go through a lot of problems going into and throughout 2021, especially with specific requirements for specific vaccines.

Further, even with vaccinations, no one knows how events will go next year. For sure, mask-wearing and social distancing won’t go away any time soon. As 2020 finally ends, 2021 will start with a glimmer of hope. But make no mistake: the lessons of 2020 can (and should) still inform the events of 2021.

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Accessories

Best of 2020: Our favorite iPhone cases

Stylish, protective, and functional!

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As always, iPhones are the easiest to dress up with stylish cases. They’re clean, simple, and doesn’t come with loud, gradient designs that make it hard for you to cover them up.

There are a lot of gorgeous cases to choose from, and here are our favorite iPhone cases in 2020.

Apple’s Silicone Case with MagSafe

Image/APPLE

Apple’s Silicone Case with MagSafe is a delightful way to protect your iPhone. Its silky, soft-touch finish feels great, and it has built-in magnets for quick attachment and faster wireless charging. Shop here.

Mujjo’s Full Leather Wallet Case

Image/MUJJO

Mujjo’s Full Leather Wallet Case speaks convenience and efficiency, without forsaking style. Its cardholder can carry up to three cards, and the case comes in a durable yet gorgeous leather design producing a beautiful patina over time. Shop here.

LifeProof WĀKE

Image/LIFEPROOF

LifeProof’s WĀKE is crafted from salvaged fishing gear, made up of over 85 percent ocean-based recycled plastic. In a sea of sustainable phone cases, this one stands atop the ocean. It has a DropProof rating up to six feet and works with Apple’s MagSafe charger and other Qi wireless charging. More importantly, you get to donate a dollar to a water-conscious nonprofit partner when you purchase their case. Shop here.

OtterBox Otter + Pop Symmetry Clear

Image/OTTERBOX

Keeping it clear and functional, but with a little bit of pizazz with its Stardust design — that’s OtterBox’s theme for this year with its Otter + Pop Symmetry clear case. Shop here.

Pela Eco-Friendly iPhone Case

Image/PELA

Pela’s Eco-friendly iPhone cases are soft, flexible, smooth, and made of environment-friendly material, making these cases 100 percent compostable. They also donate a percentage of their sales to Ocean Cleanup and Preservation Initiatives to help lessen plastic pollution. Shop here.

Spigen MagArmor

Image/SPIGEN

For those who like it protected, Spigen’s MagArmor might be the one to suit up your iPhone. It looks sleek with its slim, grip-friendly design and slick matte finish, and it has a built-in magnetic ring for MagSafe. It covers all your protective needs without looking bland. Shop here.

Native Union Clic Canvas

Image/NATIVE UNION

Instead of going after a plain case to cover up your plain iPhone, add some character with Native Union’s Clic Canvas. Its cases are slim, durable, and has a unique tactile finish using a woven fabric. Shop here.

Nomad Rugged Folio

Image/NOMAD

The best case, for those who want to be taken seriously, would be Nomad’s Rugged Folio case. It’s built with a high-grade polycarbonate body with an internal shock absorption bumper and offers ample storage — three card slots and one cash slot — for your essentials. Its supple Horween leather develops a patina with time and will look gorgeous as it grows old with you. Shop here.

Chanel case with Chain

Image/CHANEL

If you’re feeling fancy and have a lot of spare cash to splurge on a designer phone case, then look no further. Chanel came up with a smartphone case with chains for added protection — without forsaking style. The case uses a black grained lambskin together with gold-tone metal. Shop here.

Awsaccy Emily in Paris Phone Case

Image/AWSACCY

Ever wished you can roam and shine like Emily Cooper? Make sure you sport Awsaccy’s Emily in Paris phone case, Emily’s vintage camera-like phone case in the Netflix’s Emily in Paris. Shop here.

Uniq Transforma

Image/UNIQ

For those looking after functionality and versatility, Singaporean brand Uniq offers an ultimate hands-free experience with its Transforma series. It has an integrated foldable stand — perfect for when you’re texting, having a video call, or watching movies. It’s also drop certified up to six feet. Shop here.

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