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Look out for these phones at Mobile World Congress

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Not since the original iPhone have we been blown away by a smartphone.

Sure, smartphones have come a long way, but not since the first iPhone launch more than a decade ago have we seen this big of a phone revolution.

There was a glimmer of what the next big thing would look like back in 2013 at the Consumer Electronics Show. Samsung had been working on displays so thin and flexible they could fold in half and pop back into place, and at that show, the tech giant was showing off real working prototypes.

Fast forward four more years, and it looks like it’s finally happening. Insiders believe Samsung’s first smartphone with a foldable display will come before the end of 2017.

Till then, however, the next crop of new smartphones will get larger screens without growing in size and will get an even better camera or two. Not as exciting as a tablet that can fold into a phone, but I’m pretty excited nonetheless about the first wave of big announcements coming next week at the 2017 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain.

Nokia Reincarnated

Everyone loves a good comeback, and everyone loves Nokia. So, when Nokia makes a comeback, fans will go wild. A Finnish company called HMD Global now owns the rights to the Nokia brand and plans on announcing three new Nokia phones at MWC. All three handsets will run Android instead of Windows Mobile, but with the toughness Nokia is known more for. Perhaps even more exciting are rumors that Nokia is also planning on releasing a homage to the iconic Nokia 3310.  

BlackBerry, Android or both?

Another popular smartphone brand making a comeback is BlackBerry. Just like the next-gen Nokia phones, the new BlackBerry device will run Android (instead of BlackBerry OS), but will retain the once popular office phone’s most beloved feature: its physical keyboard.

Huawei’s Dual Camera Takes Two

Last year’s Huawei P9 turned heads with its unique take on dual-camera smartphones — one camera shoots in color, the other in black and white. This year’s P10 promises to improve on that concept with a near identical phone that also gets an iris scanner and a new set of trendy color options.

LG G6 (and Friends?)

What appears to be a trend in 2017, LG’s upcoming flagship G6 will also come with a near borderless display. That means the phone may shrink to a more palm-friendly size, but will still have an even larger display. It too will have a dual-camera setup and waterproofing, slowly becoming standards in this space. But the question on everybody’s mind is will it still support last year’s range of modular accessories. From the looks of it, only last year’s G5 had Friends.

Sony

It’s been two years already and the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium is still the world’s only smartphone with a 4K display. Not that we need as many pixels on a smartphone as we do a TV, but whatever the case, it appears Sony has another one in the works. Four other phones are also being reported; looks like Sony folks have been busy.

Samsung

Also initially planned for an MWC unveiling, Samsung’s decided to postpone the Galaxy S8 launch to March 29. In its place, invites have gone out for the launch of the Galaxy Tab S3. Rumor has it this premium tablet will come with an S Pen stylus, in an effort to fill the void left behind by the Note 7 recall.

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C is the key: Explaining USB Type-C

What really makes this new standard special

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For years, people have grown accustomed to using USB ports for almost all of their devices. Whether you need to charge your phone using your computer or use a controller to play games, you can always count on a USB port to be readily available for you. But 2018 was the year of change and innovation, and the USB port you know and love welcomed change in a big way.

Introducing: USB Type-C, the newest port added to the family. Its round shape brought many new uses and functionalities to your ports. But, how different is it from its much older brothers? How have companies revolutionized its use in mainstream devices?

What is this USB Type-C port?

The USB Type-C (USB-C) port is a not-so-recent discovery in the world of tech. The USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) developed this USB port back in 2013, and launched it into mass production the following year. The connector is a reversible oval shape, much different from the usual rectangular shape of the previous generation. Its reversibility allows any orientation of the cable for transferring files or charging your device.

USB-IF developed USB-C following the USB 3.1 standard. Such a standard was particularly used because of its faster transfer speeds and charging capabilities. With a USB-C port, you can transfer an hour-long movie in less than 30 seconds, provided you have the appropriate connector for it.

Computer and smartphone manufacturers have incorporated the USB-C port in most of their devices. One of the early adopters of the new technology was Apple, with their redesigned 12-inch MacBook in 2015. Other computer manufacturers followed in the later years, especially with the release of the Thunderbolt 3 technology used for gaming machines.

It’s the younger, faster and more all-around sibling

USB-C has been around for the past four years, and it has gradually developed into an all-around port for users. Alongside Thunderbolt 3, the USB-C port posts the highest data transfer speed across all the available USB connections in existence. Not only that, USB-C ports these days can now connect your devices to external GPUs and displays, and charge your devices. Most USB-C ports even support fast charging for smartphones.

While the technology behind it is supported by a USB 3.1 standard, it’s still very much different from other USB ports that use the USB 3.1 protocol. For starters, the USB 3.1 standard found in USB-C ports are USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports, which offer twice as much performance in data transfer as USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports. Most of the Gen 1 ports also use an older USB Type-A standard, which works for most of your gadgets and peripherals today. However, you would need more adapters for other functionalities, like displaying to a monitor.

But the USB-C port is a far cry from the old USB 2.0 and 3.0 protocols, which have been in existence for 14 years (and counting). Data transfer speeds for those two protocols are significantly slower compared to the USB-C port. An hour-long movie would ideally take around one to two minutes on a USB 2.0 port. Also, older USB protocols don’t really allow you to power up devices that need more electricity. So, charging devices on them might not be as fast.

Supercharged with Thunderbolt 3

So, you’re probably wondering what really makes a USB-C port just that fast. It’s not so much that it’s round, or that it’s new; rather, it’s the technology inside it. Late 2015 saw the arrival of the new Thunderbolt 3 standard specifically for USB-C ports. It first started out in most Windows laptops before making it to the 2016 MacBook Pro and several gaming motherboards.

What Thunderbolt 3 does for USB-C ports is to significantly increase its capacity and capabilities by a mile. We’re talking faster file transfer, heightened gaming experiences, and being able to plug in 4K displays for clearer images. Thunderbolt 3 also allows much bigger devices to be charged at a controlled rate. This is mostly evident with the MacBook Pro, several high-end Ultrabooks, and most recently, the 2018 iPad Pro.

The charging capacity brought about by Thunderbolt 3 deals with a tweak to how USB power delivery works. USB power delivery standards state that each USB standard has specific conditions that must be met to power up devices. Early versions of USB ports only allow a small amount of electricity (2.5W) for delivery, while USB-C allows for the full 100W.  Basically, you went from just powering up your mouse and keyboard to charging your entire laptop.

What’s to come for USB-C?

At this point in time, you’re already living in the future that the USB-C port hopes to achieve. Suddenly, you can simply bring a USB-C cable around, plug it into a powerbank, and you can already charge your expensive MacBook. More and more devices are starting to adopt USB-C because of its potential to enhance your tech experience as a whole.

However, people still find it difficult to switch to USB-C, and for good reason. Most devices continue to use a USB Type-A or micro-USB connector, especially gaming controllers and peripherals. Also, they can argue that the old ports are more accessible. In a not-so-distant future, using a USB-C port could potentially replace a phone’s headphone jack.

The future of USB-C is still uncertain. Companies will iron out the new technology more so it can become mainstream for the future. Let’s just hope that by the time that happens, there won’t be a USB Type-D yet.

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Here’s why OPPO created a new brand called Realme

Will a new brand help them take back the budget segment?

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2018 has been one of the most intense years for smartphones with brands launching new phones every other month. In developing markets, the budget and midrange segments account for a majority of the sales, and in an attempt to establish supremacy, companies have pumped in all their resources.

The markets have reacted positively and sales are steadily rising thanks to improving standards of living, technological advancements, and aggressive competition among brands. Pricing is always the primary factor of differentiation and companies want to offer as much as they can, this means the profit margin is often meager.

Behemoth companies like Huawei want dominance in the high-end as well as the price-sensitive segment. But, it gets increasingly difficult to establish a brand image when you have products in all price brackets. With rising sales, Huawei could’ve been associated with budget phones, and this would make launching flagship phones a challenge, especially when they demand a premium.

To counter this brand recognition issue, Huawei launched the Honor brand a few years back. Honor is known to make feature-packed phones that belong in the price-sensitive bracket. Now, the Huawei brand targets the upscale flagship segment with the P and Mate series.

OPPO is trying to pursue a similar strategy with the Realme brand. Realme made its debut in May this year and has launched a handful of phones since then. Its marketing efforts purely target the budget and lower-midrange segment, as well as the youth.

Realme launched as a sub-brand of OPPO but has since parted ways from the parent in terms of management, product design, and operations. This means, even though OPPO owns and strategically helps out Realme by leveraging its supply chain and research, the brand takes its own independent decisions. Design elements and ColorOS are a few things that are being shared by the two brands for now.

This division enables OPPO to concentrate on its high-end flagship phones like the Find X and R17 Pro. OPPO has taken a massive beating in terms of brand recognition even after spending millions on marketing. According to IDC, sales in Q3 2018 have slumped by 2.1 percent year over year while Xiaomi and Huawei have clocked a staggering 21 percent and 32 percent growth, respectively.

The dip in sales is because of two reasons. Firstly, OPPO intends to concentrate on the high-end segment and not get their brand value saturated further. Secondly, it has slowly taken a step back from the budget segment and handed over the reins to Realme. Though, this doesn’t mean OPPO is out of the race; it continues to launch new budget phones, but it’s clear no intensive marketing efforts are being taken up.

Realme’s strategy has worked out positively in the short term and the company has registered a nine percent market share in India’s Diwali festive season. Realme has been targeting online-only sales for now and being a smaller company lets it be more dynamic.

The dynamic nature means it can make a wider range of products quickly, even strategically launching them to undermine the competition. While the brand was hastily launched in May, the recent branding change already matured and was built with a long-term plan in mind.

In the beginning, Realme seemed like a knee-jerk reaction to Xiaomi’s increasing dominance. We’ve seen the brand rapidly launch new phones in the last few months and they genuinely pack some unique offerings instead of just trying to undercut the competition based on pricing.

Only time will tell whether the division of segments among the two brands have paid off, but for now, it’s a strategy worth investing in.

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GadgetMatch Awards: Best Products of 2018

It’s been a long year

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What a year 2018 has been! The number of outstanding products has been jaw-dropping, so it’s only right for us to create an extensive list to award the ones that wowed us the most.

Truth be told, we have a lot of categories to cover, so let’s get right to it.

Best Premium Smartphone: Huawei Mate 20 Pro and Apple iPhone XS Max

Yes, it’s a tie! For the Android side, the Mate 20 Pro edges out the competition with its smooth blend of performance and unique design. On the other hand, the iPhone XS Max is not just Apple’s biggest phone to date, but also an all-around beast.

Best Midrange Smartphone: Xiaomi Mi Mix 3

With smartphone prices increasing every year, it’s such a breath of fresh air to see Xiaomi keep margins low while producing excellent handsets. The Mi Mix 3 is a testament to that with an incredible form and unmatched performance in this segment.

Best Budget Smartphone: Honor 8X

2018 has been the year of fantastic budget smartphones, and the Honor 8X comes out on top as the best overall. We love everything about it, from the sleek exterior to the fluid interface and long-lasting battery.

Best Bang-for-Buck Smartphone: Pocophone F1

Without a doubt, no smartphone disrupted the market as much as the Pocophone F1 has. The performance you get for the price you pay is mind-blowing, making this the biggest steal of a deal in 2018.

Best Selfie Smartphone: Vivo NEX S

Not only is Vivo’s NEX S the best at taking selfies, it also has the coolest implementation. We’ve been using it since its launch, and we still can’t get enough of its pop-up camera. There’s nothing like it!

Best Special Edition Phone: Porsche Edition Huawei Mate 20 RS

It doesn’t get much classier than this. The Porsche Edition Mate 20 RS takes everything that makes the Mate 20 Pro so great and adds a smooth touch of leather on the rear and signature styling on the interface.

Best Gaming Smartphone: ASUS ROG Phone

It was in 2018 when gaming smartphones truly matured, and none have done it better than the ROG Phone. You can’t find a better mix of performance and cooling than this, and the variety of accessories simply sweeten the deal.

Best Smartphone Feature: SuperVOOC

Who wouldn’t want the fastest charging technology in existence? While manufacturers kept upping battery capacities, OPPO focused on speeding up the already-fast VOOC to create SuperVOOC, which can fully charge a phone in less than an hour!

Best Tablet: Apple iPad Pro (2018)

At this point, the iPad Pro isn’t just a tablet anymore — it’s pretty much an alternative to the traditional laptop. This year’s iPad Pro is so fast, so well-designed, that it stands above all competitors by a mile.

Best Laptop: Huawei MateBook X Pro

The MateBook X Pro is a Windows laptop we never thought we’d see: It has an unparalleled screen-to-body ratio, gaming-level performance, and superb battery life. Why are we seeing a notebook this great only now?

Best Convertible: Lenovo Yoga Book C930

The Yoga Book is back, and it’s better than ever! The C930 follows up on the original Yoga Book with an improved dual-screen form and all the power and battery life you need out of a thin-and-light convertible.

Best Gaming Machine: ASUS ROG Strix Scar II

There have been lots of awe-inspiring gaming devices this year, but the ROG Strix Scar II takes the cake as the most well-rounded product. We’re in love with its near-borderless display, and how the rugged look matches the top-grade hardware.

Best Wearable: Apple Watch Series 4

When choosing a smartwatch, an Apple Watch is always a serious consideration with its sharp looks and buttery-smooth interface. The Series 4 is the lineup’s most daring entry yet, and is what we want most on our wrists.

Best Professional Camera: Sony A7 III

The Sony A7 III achieved the holy grail: placing a full-frame sensor and interchangeable-lens mount inside a relatively affordable body. It does everything we ask of it, whether for low-light photography or smooth video recording.

Best Compact Camera: Sony RX100 VA

Sony’s RX100 VA made an already-incredible pocketable camera even better. It’s been our go-to compact shooter this year, thanks to its impeccable image quality and ease of use.

Best Action Camera: GoPro Hero 7 Black

This was a no-brainer: The Hero 7 Black is the culmination of GoPro’s constant drive to create the best-performing, most user-friendly action camera in the market. Shaky video is definitely dead here.

Best Headphones: Sony WH-1000XM3

Now in its third generation, the WH-1000XM3 delivers some of the best noise canceling and sound quality we’ve ever experienced in mainstream headphones. We can’t get enough of these cans!

Best VR/AR Experience: HomeCourt

When we want to up our basketball game, we look to HomeCourt to monitor our progress and improve our skills. It works flawlessly with our iPhones, and its straightforward interface simply makes us want to shoot more hoops.

Best Drone: DJI Mavic 2 Pro

It was a tall order, but DJI managed to make the hottest drone even more desirable. The Mavic 2 Pro ups the ante in every single aspect, from image quality to flying performance, while making all other drones in its class seem inferior.

Best Vehicle: Honda CR-V 2018

Out of the all the cars we drove this year, Honda’s 2018 CR-V impressed us the most. The way it presents a high-tech interior while maintaining the power and fuel efficiency of its diesel engine is unheard of at this price point.

Best Toy: PlayStation Classic

The classics are back in a complete yet portable package! The PlayStation Classic offers a solid roster that not only produces strong nostalgia, but also introduces now-retro games to a whole new generation of gamers.

Best Smart Speaker: Amazon Echo Dot (3rd Gen)

Every smart home needs a matching smart speaker, and nothing has been more fitting this year than the third-generation Echo Dot. It’s louder, more robust, and listens way better than models before it — absolutely essential for homebodies.

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