Features

Will the iPhone finally make AR games more mainstream?

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New iPhones, fancy photography tricks, and a demo failure in front of millions — there was no shortage of things to talk about after Apple’s grand event. Less highlighted, however, was the company’s strong push for augmented reality (AR) games on mobile. There’s actually a good reason for that.

As cool as the demos were during the keynote, AR gaming isn’t a new concept. Unlike virtual reality (VR) which normally requires a headset strapped to your face and powerful hardware, AR simply adds graphics to the world around you using a device containing a camera and screen, like a smartphone or tablet.

Apple understands what they’re getting into, but like most of the features that come a little later to iPhones — refined virtual assistant and widget integration come to mind — the company is a master of simplifying a preexisting execution, marketing it like its the next big thing, and ensuring there are no compatibility issues with newer models.

A short refresher

To date, the most successful attempt at bringing AR games to the mainstream market has been Pokémon Go. Smaller now in user base but widely played nonetheless, the Pokémon-powered AR game is available for both iOS and Android, and can be enjoyed without spending a cent. That was the winning formula for developer Niantic, but their success has been difficult to replicate.

Although such games have been around for a while already (remember Ingress?), taking AR gaming to the next level is more difficult than it looks. Lenovo and ASUS have been the most prominent pushers of the platform using Google’s Tango AR system, which includes the software, hardware, and exclusive app store to make the advanced experience possible.

Lenovo introduced the first Tango-enabled smartphone with the Phab 2 Pro. Ring a bell? As you can imagine, the product didn’t fly. Being the pioneering Tango gadget wasn’t enough for consumers to ignore the relatively high price tag for an unproven platform. Sure, Tango was already fun to play with despite being in its infancy stage, but beyond that, it felt like a novelty item.

ASUS took the idea a step further with the ZenFone AR. Now with a more powerful smartphone to work with, Tango finally took off with more recognizable games and a more refined selection of utility apps. But again, the concept felt wasted on an overpriced phone with a minuscule number of owners.

Playing Apple’s game

So, how does Apple’s strategy differ from the rest while also being rather late to the game? Simple: by making AR games available to millions of existing iPhones through the latest version of iOS.

According to Apple, downloading iOS 11 on a recent iPhone (iPhone 6s and SE or later) or iPad (all of the Pro series and the 2017 model) gives you access to everything designed by ARKit, which is what app developers have been using to create AR games for iPhones. That’s right: You don’t need the US$ 1,000 iPhone X or marginally updated iPhone 8 to experience their platform.

AR games on the iPhone X’s borderless screen look incredible!

This is a smart move by Apple. It’s a model similar to what Niantic has done with Ingress and Pokémon Go and it goes back to the formula I mentioned earlier — remove the strict hardware requirements, don’t scare away consumers with complicated terms like Tango-compatible triple-camera setup, and make it available for devices up to two years old.

The only shortcoming is incompatibility with the three-year-old iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, as well as any of the iPad mini models, all of which are still widely used around the world.

Looking to the future

Whether or not these AR games become successful in terms of number of downloads or critical response to the quality of games, Apple already won the AR war against Google. The sheer fact that there are six times as many iOS devices with advanced mobile AR and greater accessibility compared to that of Tango is a telling sign.

Of course, like 3D movies and recent attempts at VR gaming, AR could be another passing fad. At least it’s going to be a lot cheaper to enjoy from the get-go and require less of a financial and emotional investment.

SEE ALSO: Apple’s Animojis are the future of emojis

Hands-On

Samsung Galaxy S9: Four fun new features

AR emoji and a very, very detailed beauty mode!

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The Galaxy S9 has just been announced at MWC! (Yes, like, just now! Visit our MWC 2018 microsite to see what other devices have been announced.)

One very obvious observation: The Samsung Galaxy S9 looks almost exactly like the Galaxy S8, and though this might seem like an anti-climactic move, it’s probably for good reason.

Those are not Samsung Galaxy S8’s!

It’s been almost a year since the Samsung Galaxy S8 was released and I still remember being very impressed with that particular phone’s design. For my tiny, girly hands, the narrow phone fit perfectly and the Infinity Display looked impressively big despite this.

The Samsung Galaxy S9 and the Samsung Galaxy S9+

This year, it seems Samsung has decided to stay with a formula that works. Of course, there were a few tweaks. The fingerprint scanner has been relocated below the camera instead of beside it which will, hopefully, mean less accidental fingerprint smudges on the lenses.

There’s also a new color — it matches Pantone Color of the Year Ultra Violet, and my hair!

The S9 in purple!

Another photo because it’s just so pretty

Another notable change comes to the cameras. The Galaxy S9+ has dual-camera rear shooters (finally) — this means you get Live Focus, which allows you to adjust the bokeh during and even after taking the photo, and a zoom feature on the device. It also has a Dual Aperture function which allows the phone to switch to the camera with a wider aperture when more light is needed in the photo. These additions are limited to the Plus version, however, which leave my small phone-loving self a little disappointed.

Shooting with this beaut! Of course, no live focus on this thing because this is an S9.

READ MORE: Samsung Galaxy S9 Hands-On: Same but better

Those aren’t the only improvements on Samsung’s newest premium phones, though. Here are my favorite new functions on the Galaxy S9 and S9+.

AR Emoji!

Samsung decided to take emoji to a whole new level with this phone release. In what I consider the biggest tech development since Animojis (no, really! Ha ha ha!), the Galaxy S9 now offers you the chance to turn yourself into emoji.

It me 🙃

Yes folks, that just means you don’t only animate the emoji, you are the emoji!

If you’re a little shy, you can also animate pre-set characters on the phone.

Animojis are so last year. Karaoke AR emoji, anyone?

Super Slow-mo and video background music

Your videos will never be the same with this new feature. There’s a super slow-mo feature now, and it allows you to shoot at 960 frames per second!

Okay, those numbers don’t really mean anything to me but just know that it can capture videos like this:

As if that isn’t great enough, you can even edit background music in using your phone.

Background music for added effect; you can even choose music from your playlist!

Imagine the cinematic possibilities!

Beauty mode and makeup mode

The S9 is stepping up the selfie game. Despite the single front shooter, the bokeh feature is available on the Selfie Focus mode.

Artificial bokeh on the single front-facing camera

But that’s not all!

All photos from the Galaxy S9’s built-in camera app

These handsets offer a very, very detailed beauty mode — one that even includes makeup filters that you can edit all the way to your eyelashes.

There’s a number of different makeup looks you can achieve without lifting a single makeup brush.

Food mode

A camera feature made especially for Instagram foodies!

This mode is designed to enhance your food shots to make them look as good in your photographs as they are on your plate.

Notice how the pizza on the right looks yummier. The photos come out a little more saturated and there’s background blur that allows for more focus on whatever gastronomical delight you’re taking a photo of.

Bonus: Beautiful Bokeh

This feature can only be found on the Galaxy S9+. Though I personally haven’t been able to try it, I still feel this is worth mentioning. This feature supposedly allows for different bokeh shapes and effects.

SEE ALSO: Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+: Everything you need to know

SEE ALSO: I’ve used the Samsung Galaxy S8, and I’m now doubting my iPhone loyalty

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Hands-On

Samsung Galaxy S9 Hands-On: AR Emoji and super slow-mo

Everything there is to know about Samsung’s new flagship

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In our Samsung Galaxy S9 hands-on, we show you how to create your own AR Emoji, shoot super slow-mo videos, and take photos using Live and Selfie Focus.

These are just some of the new things you can do with Samsung’s newest flagship launched here at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. Over the last few days, we spent some time with the phone and tried all the new features.

Is this your GadgetMatch? Stay tuned!

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Hands-On

Samsung Galaxy S9 Hands-On: Same but better

Samsung sets the bar high with a reimagined camera

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When Samsung sent out teasers for its Galaxy S9 launch earlier this month, it promised a re-imagined smartphone camera.  

So it comes as no surprise, now that the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus are official, that this year’s new Samsung flagships are designed to be the best smartphone cameras in the biz.

Apart from a new paint job that includes a lovely shade of purple and a few minor adjustments, the new S9 doesn’t necessarily look or feel new. But, it is loaded with plenty of camera improvements meant to impress both casual and serious photography buffs.   

The Galaxy S9 and S8. Can you tell the difference?

Let’s start by addressing the first half of that statement.

Samsung’s smartphone design evolution hit a major milestone four years ago when it first embraced curved displays. Last year, after almost half a decade of iterating on this new and innovative form factor, Samsung found its sweet spot.

We first saw it on the S8; it repeats on this year’s S9, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this trend continued into the next year or so.

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, two years in and it’s still one of the most beautifully designed smartphones out there. Like the S8, the S9 is all-glass, with Samsung’s signature, curved Infinity Display, that blends into its sides and back.

This year’s model is a wee bit taller and narrower, button placements are off by a few millimeters, and if you look closely, top and bottom chins are smaller as well. The only other aesthetic change is the position of the fingerprint sensor, now a few millimeters south of the phone’s rear camera.

Also a new shade, Lilac Purple, joins the rest of the standards: Midnight Black, Titanium Silver, and Coral Blue.  

Like the S8, the S9 comes in two sizes, 5.8 and 6.2 inches, dubbed the S9 and S9 Plus respectively. The latter, larger model is the better of the two phones. It’s got two main cameras, more memory, and a larger battery.

Reimagined Camera

If you look at the roster of the current best phones in the world today, one thing they all have in common is a great camera. In some ways, it’s almost the tie breaker that determines which of among these phones is best among the best.     

For more control, dive into the S9 camera app’s Pro Mode

While only extensive tests will prove if Samsung succeeded with the S9, on paper, its camera looks impressive. Let’s throw some specs out there:

A super fast f/1.5 lens, currently the fastest on a smartphone, and the kind you’ll want if you’re looking for great background blur, and great low-light shots, like in a bar on your night out.

That lens is also an f/2.4 lens, and with a feature called Dual Aperture, it is able to adjust between the two to let in more light as needed.  

When it’s dark and you need more light, it will shoot at f/1.5, making dimly lit photos brighter and less prone to blur. And when there is plenty of available light, it will switch to f/2.4 so you get more detail and sharpness.

All of this is done automatically and in the background, but if needed, you can manually switch between the two in Pro mode.

If you get the the larger S9 Plus, you also benefit from a second rear camera, which doubles as an optical 2X zoom lens, allowing you to zoom in closer on subjects. Two cameras also means you get the same feature we saw on the Galaxy Note 8 called Live Focus, which lets you adjust background blur during and after a photo is taken.

This feature isn’t available on the S9, so that’s definitely something you want to consider when choosing between the two models.

Stepping up your selfie game

The selfie camera too gets upgraded, with features clearly targeted at millennial females.

Apart from a software-based Selfie Focus mode, which gives your selfies that portrait-style background blur, there’s also standard selfie mode without background blur but with a bunch of beauty filters that make it look like you’re wearing makeup even if you don’t have any on.

Our Her GadgetMatch team loved how you can adjust the intensity of these effects, so your makeup game is on point without going overboard. You can also dive into each effect to change things like lip color, eyeshadow, and contour. What they didn’t like, however, was that you could not use makeup effects and background blur at the same time.  

Click over here to read more about four fun things you can do with the S9.

Super slow-mo video

One of the new things the S9 can do is super slow-mo video capture — 960 frames per second, to be exact. That’s four times more frames than what the S8 can capture.

While super niche, it’s a cool feature you have to see to appreciate. Check out the samples in our hands-on review below:

Capturing super slow-mo video can be done automatically, with motion detectors that trigger capture automatically once movement is detected. Or manually, which we’d recommended for most situations.

It takes a bit of practice to get your timing perfectly right, but once you do, the results are rewarding.

AR Emoji

It was only a matter of time till Samsung jumped on the animated stickers trend.

Samsung’s AR Emoji are reminiscent of Snapchat’s bitmoji, except that you don’t manually have to pain over crafting stickers after your own likeness.

Does my AR Emoji look anything like me?

On the S9, you can just take take a selfie and the phone does the rest. Apart from an exaggerated mouth, the caricatures are pretty accurate, and you can animate them or send them as animated GIFs on your messaging platform of choice.

The S9, however, struggles to accurately track your facial muscles, so something like say Animoji karaoke with Samsung AR Emoji might not be as successful.  

Refinements and tweaks

While most of the improvements have been camera-centric, Samsung did find the time to address user feedback with some much-needed updates.

Audio for one got a whole lot better. With built-in AKG stereo speakers — one front-firing from the ear piece and the other from its side through the usual speaker location — the resulting sound is louder and bolder. The new speaker setup also supports Dolby Atmos for an immersive surround sound-like listening experience.

On the S9, you still get the usual host of security features like Knox and Iris Scanning, but there’s a now a new setting called Intelligent Scan which merges facial recognition and its iris scanner so that you can unlock your phones easily in the dark or when you’re out and the sun is very bright. They also claim it is smart enough to tell twins apart, something Apple’s Face ID is unable to do.

Finally, addressing many a complaint including ours, the fingerprint sensor is in a new place, below the camera instead of directly beside it. We like this layout better, but think it’s still too close to the camera so it doesn’t quite solve the problem of accidental smudges. It’s not that big of a deal, but considering this is supposed to have fixed last year’s design problem, you’d think they would have done it better.

So is the Galaxy S9 your GadgetMatch?

It’s too early to tell, but clearly Samsung has set the bar high in 2018. They took an already solid phone and made it even better.

Unfortunately, that includes its high price tag. We’re not liking this new trend that sees most flagships priced above US$ 1,000, but from the looks of it, this is just beginning.

One thing we would have loved to see are advancements in the artificial intelligence space. But it sounds like Samsung is sharpening its chops before it rolls anything out.  

If you own an S8 or S8 Plus, the S9 may not offer enough to warrant an upgrade, unless you’re an early adopter, or must have the best smartphone camera money can buy.  

If you’re an S7 or S7 Plus user scheduled for an upgrade, the S9 and S9 Plus are an easy recommendation for us to make (especially with a carrier contract). The S9 Plus especially is a great buy. If you don’t mind the size difference, we’d definitely recommend it.

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