Tag: Hands On

HP Envy x2 hands-on: A Snapdragon-powered, always-on PC

For its first "Always Connected" PC, HP made a pragmatic choice: It stuffed a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor into its latest Surface clone, the Envy x2. The result is compelling: A thin and light laptop with 20 hours of battery life, and built-in LTE connectivity. It's precisely the sort of machine that Microsoft envisioned when it revealed its vision of always connected devices at Computex.

At first glance, the Envy X2 doesn't seem that different than a typical hybrid PC. It's slightly thinner than an iPad Pro, at 6.9 millimeters thick, and it weighs just 1.54 pounds. Thanks to its aluminum case, it feels like a premium device. The bundled keyboard case, which wraps around the entire tablet, also houses its kickstand. You won't notice anything out of the ordinary until you take a look at the "System" menu to see that it's powered by a Snapdragon process. Which, of course, is exactly what HP wants.

Based on my short time with the x2, it felt a lot like HP's recent Spectre x2 hybrid. The keyboard was comfortable to use and sturdy enough to handle my heavy typing style. Every key also had a satisfying amount of travel, something we don't see too often on hybrid machines (aside from the Surface devices). Its case is a bit awkward though -- while it offers a decent amount of protection, a built-in kickstand would be more convenient for using the x2 for things like viewing video in bed. Since it runs Windows 10 S out of the box, it can only run apps from the Windows Store. But, just like the Surface Laptop, you can also upgrade to Windows 10 Pro for free down the line.

Performance-wise, the x2 kept up with me as I opened several Office apps, Paint 3D, and Edge windows and tabs. There weren't any games to play, and I didn't have a chance to test out extreme multi-tasking scenarios, unfortunately. But, for the most part, it seems like the x2 can handle basic productivity tasks, despite its mobile CPU. Another potential limiting factor is its 4GB of RAM, something that could easily get filled up if you're addicted to opening dozens of browser tabs at once.

On paper, the Envy x2 sounds like the notebook I've always dreamed of. Who wouldn't want a $599 machine that's always online, with tons of battery life? Still, I'd expect to see some compromises when I have more time to use the x2. Even though mobile processors like the Snapdragon 835 are capable enough to power high-end smartphones, it's unclear how they'd handle desktop- multitasking. And it remains to be seen just how well Microsoft translated Windows 10 to ARM processors. At this point, the Envy x2 is just a glimpse at the promise of always connected PCs -- but it's an intriguing one.


Honor squeezed more screen into its budget View 10 flagship

When Huawei sub-brand Honor revealed its new Honor 7X a few weeks ago, we weren't exactly thrilled. You can only squeeze so many thrills out of a big screen and a mid-range chipset, after all. Thankfully, that wasn't the only device Honor has been working on. Honor's deal has always been about delivering solid performance on a budget, but it's getting a bit more ambitious with the new View 10 (known as the V10 in China). Huawei and Honor are seemingly intent on building a OnePlus-style flagship that won't break the bank, and if a little hands-on time is anything to go on, the View 10 is already shaping up to be a serious contender.

As you might've heard already, the View 10 uses a 5.99-inch LCD screen that takes up almost all of the room on the phone's face. In keeping with devices like the OnePlus 5T — which the View 10 is set to directly compete with — the 18:9 "FullView" screen is taller and narrower than ones seen in earlier Honor devices. The company hasn't rid the phone of bezels entirely, but they're slim enough that the phone still feels easy to use with just one hand. The View 10's all-metal body feels surprisingly light, too, considering there's a 3,750mAh battery wedged inside. In typical Honor fashion, though, the View 10's design is pretty bland. There's nothing wrong with it, per se, as long as you weren't hoping for some Honor Magic-esque flair.

What little extra space remains was put to good use, though: unlike the recently announced Honor 7X, there's a front-mounted fingerprint sensor sitting right beneath the display, and there was enough room left over to squeeze in a standard headphone jack. And while other Android OEMs have been happy to ditch expandable memory options, the View 10 takes microSD cards as large as 256GB — not too shabby, especially when you consider the device will be available with up to 128GB of onboard storage.

That's all fine, but let's talk power. Like the Mate 10 and Mate 10 Pro before it, Honor's View 10 uses one of Huawei's Kirin 970 chipsets — you know, the one with the neural processing unit. Huawei is still bullish on the idea of weaving AI throughout the smartphone experience, and even though we weren't amazed by the chip's machine-learning chops in the Mate 10, getting that kind of power and potential in a more affordable body is something to celebrate. Now we just need developers building software that really takes advantage of that NPU. The 970 is a remarkably snappy chipset in its own right, though, especially if you spring for the model with 6GB of RAM (subject to availability, naturally).

Meanwhile, the dual camera around back should seem familiar to long-time Huawei fans. The lack of Leica branding is pretty conspicuous here, but no matter: the View 10 once again pairs a standard 16-megapixel color camera with a 20-megapixel monochrome camera. The few test shots we took looked pleasant enough (especially those captured with the monochrome sensor), but we're a little concerned by the way both cameras jut out of the View 10's back. If you didn't mind the iPhone's camera humps, this won't be too much to worry about, but don't forget: the Honor 9's dual camera sat flush with the phone's body.

Unfortunately, the unit we played with was running some seriously non-final software, so not everything worked the way we had hoped. The View 10 runs a version of Android Oreo that has been painted over with Huawei's EMUI interface, and while it was generally quite snappy during our play session, we did notice a few occasional hiccups. Also, you won't find Huawei's cheeky TrueDepth Camera clone here; the View 10 will only come with a more conventional face unlock feature, but that won't arrive until a future OTA update. There weren't any games loaded onto our demo unit, either, so the included Gaming mode — which blocks notifications and allows for screen recording while in the midst of the action — was also off-limits.

Honor hasn't locked down global pricing and availability yet, and for once, we're eagerly awaiting the details. We do have some of the broad strokes, though: the View 10 will land in the US in the first half of 2018, and it should cost around $500 when it does. That's pretty pricey for an Honor device, but it's also safe to say the View 10 is a pretty unusual — and powerful — proposition for a brand that has mostly played in safe in the States.


Honor’s 7X is a big, unremarkable mid-range phone

It's no wonder Huawei's been the third-biggest smartphone manufacturer in the world for so long now. The company releases so many of the things, it's hard to keep track. Following Huawei's recent launch of the Mate 10, it's now sub-brand Honor's turn to welcome a new device to its ranks: the Honor 7X. It's designed to succeed the now year-old 6X, which offered dual-camera tricks at a mid-range price. The 7X has a key selling point of its own too, in the form of a big ol' 5.93-inch "FullView" display.

Honor says it's basically managed to cram a nigh 6-inch display into the body of a 5.5-inch phone. What the company really means by that is that it's following the flagship trend of eliminating as much bezel as possible to flood the phone's face with pixels, hence the tagline "FullView." It's a good enough attempt but doesn't quite nail the edge-to-edge aesthetic of, say, the Galaxy S8. Truly bezel-less, the Honor 7X is not.

Despite its size, the 7X is comfortable to use even if you can't get to every corner of the screen with just the one thumb. The phone is incredibly light considering its size, metal body and reinforced corners; and there are no sharp angles to dig into your palms as you shift it around to probe far-flung regions of the display. The 7X's 5.93-inch, 18:9, 2,160 x 1,080 LCD screen is undoubtedly the star of the show here. It's big and full of detail, and it cuts through even the brightest of daylight. It can also dim to as low as 3 nits so as not to tax your eyes when you're thumbing through the pages of Engadget while dozing under the covers.

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You could argue that the big screen is particularly media friendly, but you have to bear in mind that not a great deal is shot with an 18:9 aspect ratio. That means the majority of YouTube videos, as an example, are letterboxed to the left and right of the frame. The camera viewfinder takes up only two-thirds of the screen, for the same reason. There are a couple of features specific to this tall display, though. First, there's a one-key split-screen mode that works with a few messaging apps, including WhatsApp and the standard SMS client.

Should you get a WhatsApp notification while you're watching a video, let's say, you can hit the Android multitasking key and it'll load the app up into another window, side-by-side style. It's kinda like Android's inline reply functionality, but more like Facebook Messenger's bubble, in that it lets you see all the recent chatter in the thread. Honor has also partnered with Gameloft so players of the mobile FPS title Modern Combat Versus get a wider 18:9 field of view while running 'n' gunning on the 7X.

Don't let that big and bright display distract you from the Honor 7X's shortcomings, however. Don't get me wrong: There are other things to like about the handset, the camera being one of them. Or rather, the dual-camera arrangement, featuring one 16-megapixel color sensor paired with a 2-megapixel monochrome number and phase-detection autofocus to boot. Unlike some Huawei phones with a similar setup that can take native black-and-white shots, though, this 2MP sensor is purely capturing lighting and depth information. The data is used to improve contrast and low-light performance, as well as enable you to play around with depth of field to inject digital bokeh into your pics using the aperture setting.

The camera app has various common modes you might expect, like HDR and slow-mo video, as well as an iPhone-esque portrait and wide-angle features. The 8MP front-facing camera also has a bokeh mode for introducing background blur into your selfies, and a basic effects catalog for adding animal face overlays, à la Snapchat. Shots from my limited time with the 16MP camera bode well. They came out crisp, well-saturated and with the right amount of contrast more often than not.

Sandwiched between the dual-camera situation and the big screen is Huawei's Kirin 659 octa-core processor (four 2.36GHz cores and four 1.7GHz cores), 4 gigs of RAM, 64GB of expandable storage -- you can choose to stick up to a 256GB microSD card or another SIM into the thing, but not both -- and a 3,340mAh battery. In short, all the power and space you'd want and expect in a mid-tier device.

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The main issue with the Honor 7X isn't what it's offering, but what it isn't. You get a fingerprint sensor, but no NFC chip, so you can forget about using Android Pay or whatever your preferred mobile wallet/payment service is. There's no waterproof rating to speak of, and the 7X opts for the older micro-USB port instead of USB-C. This isn't the biggest deal; you probably have micro-USB chargers hanging out of plug sockets at home already, but it does mean there's no fast-charging feature for a speedy top-up. Finally, the 7X ships with Huawei's EMUI 5.1 layered over Android 7.0 Nougat -- if you're buying a brand-new phone, you'd like it to have the latest Android 8.0 Oreo build.

Unfortunately, there's no firm word on pricing just yet -- that'll be revealed at an Honor event on December 5th -- but since the 6X cost $250/£225 at launch, I'd expect the 7X to come in below $300/£300. In Western markets, the phone will be available primarily in black and Honor's trademark blue, though a gold version will retail elsewhere.

If you're going to be in the market for a mid-range device in the near future, and you like the idea of a decent camera and oodles of screen, then the Honor 7X might be right up your street. That said, assuming $250/£250 is a pretty accurate estimate of price point, remember that there are a number of cheaper devices that have more value-adding features, such as that NFC for mobile payments that the Honor 7X is sorely and strangely missing.


The iRig Keys I/O makes it easy to streamline your studio

Whether you're demoing a song for your band or recording a masterpiece to share on Soundcloud, you'll likely need a couple of things to connect to your computer. If you're planning on having any real instruments or vocals, you'll need some sort of audio interface to turn your analog sounds into digital ones. I have an M-Audio MobilePre USB for that task, which runs about $180 on Amazon. In addition, you probably want to have a MIDI controller, to "play" all those sounds you don't have real instruments for. These can typically cost $250 - $500 or so, depending on features. At $300, IK Multimedia's iRig Keys I/O 49 comes in at the lower end of this bracket.

As the name suggests, it's a MIDI controller with 49 full-sized piano keys and one important addition: a built-in audio interface that records 24-bit audio at a 96kHz sampling rate. As with similar controllers, the iRig Keys I/O works with PC, Mac and iOS devices and whatever software you're already familiar with. The keyboard powers via USB from your computer, a DC charger (not included) or four AA batteries, making it a super portable solution.

The physical layout of the iRig Keys is intuitive, with big, easy to access controller buttons, knobs, and touch-sensitive sliders above the piano keys. As with most MIDI controllers, there's the usual complement of pitch shifters, modulation controls, velocity-sensitive pads and other programmable buttons.

I love having physical controls to control the various sounds I'm playing with on a keyboard like this, and the iRig unit has them all laid out in an intuitive way: pads on the right, knobs in the center and sliders to the left. Everything is labeled nicely, though you'll need to know what each does if you're playing in a dark bar or recording studio without a mini light clipped on -- none of the labels light up.

The ports and the switches on the back of the iRig I/O 49 cover all the bases, too. There's a toggle for USB power, a DC port, and then a Mini-DIN MIDI port for the included USB or Lightning cables that connect the keyboard to your device. Importantly, there's the aforementioned headphone jack and balanced outputs for connecting to a PA or amp.

The keys are unweighted and made of plastic, so if you're looking for a higher-end feel, you might want to go elsewhere. Still, playing the iRig Keys feels as good as any other USB controller I've played. The general build quality is pretty high-end, down to the soft rubber feet on the bottom to keep it from sliding around on the table. It's hard to overstate the joy of playing with keys that are the same size as a real piano. If you've ever tried to hit chords with a mini-sized rig, you know just what I mean; my fat fingers need as much space as possible to hit even the most basic of chords.

Of course, any MIDI controller is only as good as the software it can access, and the iRig Keys I/O comes with some decent free apps on iOS and Mac/PC, including IK Multimedia's own SampleTank, Ableton Live 9 Lite and Studio One Prime. Your purchase also nets you a couple of different orchestral and synth sound banks and T-Racks Deluxe mastering software (a $300 value in itself). If you don't already have a preferred music-making app already, the included software is a good start, though getting the sounds from SampleTank for Mac was a rather tedious affair, thanks to the multi-part download.

I mostly use GarageBand on iOS and Mac, since that's the system I'm most familiar with these days. Connecting the controller was a simple plug and play affair -- I never had to worry about extra cables or dongles, or even power plugs. I just sat down, plugged the iRig Keys into my iPad and I was up and running, playing all sorts of electronic and orchestral sounds with ease.

I've been using MIDI controllers of various stripe for years, connecting keyboards large and small to my Macs and iOS devices. I've messed around with tiny keyboards that have a much smaller footprint. I've played with full-sized, weighted keyboards that needed a separate MIDI box to connect to my computer. I've recorded in decently-sized home studios with mixers and input racks and all kinds of expensive equipment, and I've recorded some stuff in tiny little apartments with cords strung across the living room.

These days, I connect my guitar, bass, or microphone to my Mac via a basic USB audio interface. I use a full-size Roland synth that also doubles as a controller to lay down stuff like strings, unearthly-sounding pads and things I don't have readily available, like horns or woodwinds. It's a ton of stuff that I have to unpack, set up on a table, and then put away when I'm done.

What excites me about the iRig I/O is that I can just have one main box on the table now, powered via USB. I can quickly plug in my guitar, bass or iPhone to the keyboard, monitor through the unit itself via headphones or a little studio monitor. When I'm finished, I simply unplug a couple of cables and lean the iRig up against the wall. The 49 keys allow me to stretch out across several octaves easily, and the smallish footprint lets me a create a fairly competent home studio right on my coffee table.

I'm looking forward to playing live with this thing, too -- we already have a keyboard player with a full-sized instrument on stage, but being able to drop in some AA batteries and connect the iRig Keys I/O to my iPhone for extra sounds is a pretty great thing. Our practice studio isn't super huge, and I already have a guitar, pedalboard and microphone in front of me.

All of that ability and potential adds up to a much more streamlined, capable rig for recording and performing. That it's only $300 is a huge plus, as well. I paid almost as much for my current audio interface alone, and it doesn't have a MIDI keyboard controller with programmable buttons attached. Making music quickly and in a small space is exactly what I do; having the iRig Keys I/O makes doing so much more easy and cost-effective.


The iRig Keys I/O makes it easy to streamline your studio

Whether you're demoing a song for your band or recording a masterpiece to share on Soundcloud, you'll likely need a couple of things to connect to your computer. If you're planning on having any real instruments or vocals, you'll need some sort of audio interface to turn your analog sounds into digital ones. I have an M-Audio MobilePre USB for that task, which runs about $180 on Amazon. In addition, you probably want to have a MIDI controller, to "play" all those sounds you don't have real instruments for. These can typically cost $250 - $500 or so, depending on features. At $300, IK Multimedia's iRig Keys I/O 49 comes in at the lower end of this bracket.

As the name suggests, it's a MIDI controller with 49 full-sized piano keys and one important addition: a built-in audio interface that records 24-bit audio at a 96kHz sampling rate. As with similar controllers, the iRig Keys I/O works with PC, Mac and iOS devices and whatever software you're already familiar with. The keyboard powers via USB from your computer, a DC charger (not included) or four AA batteries, making it a super portable solution.

The physical layout of the iRig Keys is intuitive, with big, easy to access controller buttons, knobs, and touch-sensitive sliders above the piano keys. As with most MIDI controllers, there's the usual complement of pitch shifters, modulation controls, velocity-sensitive pads and other programmable buttons.

I love having physical controls to control the various sounds I'm playing with on a keyboard like this, and the iRig unit has them all laid out in an intuitive way: pads on the right, knobs in the center and sliders to the left. Everything is labeled nicely, though you'll need to know what each does if you're playing in a dark bar or recording studio without a mini light clipped on -- none of the labels light up.

The ports and the switches on the back of the iRig I/O 49 cover all the bases, too. There's a toggle for USB power, a DC port, and then a Mini-DIN MIDI port for the included USB or Lightning cables that connect the keyboard to your device. Importantly, there's the aforementioned headphone jack and balanced outputs for connecting to a PA or amp.

The keys are unweighted and made of plastic, so if you're looking for a higher-end feel, you might want to go elsewhere. Still, playing the iRig Keys feels as good as any other USB controller I've played. The general build quality is pretty high-end, down to the soft rubber feet on the bottom to keep it from sliding around on the table. It's hard to overstate the joy of playing with keys that are the same size as a real piano. If you've ever tried to hit chords with a mini-sized rig, you know just what I mean; my fat fingers need as much space as possible to hit even the most basic of chords.

Of course, any MIDI controller is only as good as the software it can access, and the iRig Keys I/O comes with some decent free apps on iOS and Mac/PC, including IK Multimedia's own SampleTank, Ableton Live 9 Lite and Studio One Prime. Your purchase also nets you a couple of different orchestral and synth sound banks and T-Racks Deluxe mastering software (a $300 value in itself). If you don't already have a preferred music-making app already, the included software is a good start, though getting the sounds from SampleTank for Mac was a rather tedious affair, thanks to the multi-part download.

I mostly use GarageBand on iOS and Mac, since that's the system I'm most familiar with these days. Connecting the controller was a simple plug and play affair -- I never had to worry about extra cables or dongles, or even power plugs. I just sat down, plugged the iRig Keys into my iPad and I was up and running, playing all sorts of electronic and orchestral sounds with ease.

I've been using MIDI controllers of various stripe for years, connecting keyboards large and small to my Macs and iOS devices. I've messed around with tiny keyboards that have a much smaller footprint. I've played with full-sized, weighted keyboards that needed a separate MIDI box to connect to my computer. I've recorded in decently-sized home studios with mixers and input racks and all kinds of expensive equipment, and I've recorded some stuff in tiny little apartments with cords strung across the living room.

These days, I connect my guitar, bass, or microphone to my Mac via a basic USB audio interface. I use a full-size Roland synth that also doubles as a controller to lay down stuff like strings, unearthly-sounding pads and things I don't have readily available, like horns or woodwinds. It's a ton of stuff that I have to unpack, set up on a table, and then put away when I'm done.

What excites me about the iRig I/O is that I can just have one main box on the table now, powered via USB. I can quickly plug in my guitar, bass or iPhone to the keyboard, monitor through the unit itself via headphones or a little studio monitor. When I'm finished, I simply unplug a couple of cables and lean the iRig up against the wall. The 49 keys allow me to stretch out across several octaves easily, and the smallish footprint lets me a create a fairly competent home studio right on my coffee table.

I'm looking forward to playing live with this thing, too -- we already have a keyboard player with a full-sized instrument on stage, but being able to drop in some AA batteries and connect the iRig Keys I/O to my iPhone for extra sounds is a pretty great thing. Our practice studio isn't super huge, and I already have a guitar, pedalboard and microphone in front of me.

All of that ability and potential adds up to a much more streamlined, capable rig for recording and performing. That it's only $300 is a huge plus, as well. I paid almost as much for my current audio interface alone, and it doesn't have a MIDI keyboard controller with programmable buttons attached. Making music quickly and in a small space is exactly what I do; having the iRig Keys I/O makes doing so much more easy and cost-effective.


OnePlus 5T hands-on: A slightly bigger, slightly better flagship

The OnePlus 5 isn't that old, but it's already been replaced. The company just unveiled its new flagship smartphone at a launch event in Brooklyn, and it's understandably pumped about its new, almost-all-screen design. I've been playing with the 5T for a few days already, and it's a shaping up to be a powerful, pretty machine that's sure to make existing OnePlus 5 owners feel a little envious. If that's you, well, you don't need to feel too left out: In many ways, the 5T is still the same phone from earlier this year.

Frankly, it's a little strange that the OnePlus 5T exists at all. The company set a precedent last year when it released the OnePlus 3 in June, and quickly followed up with the improved OnePlus 3T just months later. That's essentially what happened here, but company representatives were quick to point out in conversation that the original plan was to focus solely on one phone -- the OnePlus 5 -- this year. You know what they say about best-laid plans. Note that this doesn't mean OnePlus is committed to a two-phones-per-year strategy — it has never publicly committed to that. In this case, it just seemed like the company found the right big screen for the right price and said, "Eh, why not?"

And what a lovely screen it is. OnePlus went with a 6-inch, Samsung-made AMOLED panel surrounded by narrow bezels below it and on the sides. The amount of empty space around the panel is roughly the same as on the LG V30, so it's no surprise that both are easy to grip. More importantly, the screen is bright and vivid enough that it's easy to forget it runs at 1080p — for those keeping count, that works out to a 401-ppi pixel density. That's a lower pixel density than what you'd get out of, say, a Galaxy S8 Plus, but the screen's still crisp enough that you can't spot individual pixels so the trade-off hasn't left me wanting. Still, OnePlus says the decision to stay at 1080p mostly came down to power and performance considerations, though it's worth noting devices like the S8 Plus handled the jump to 2K just fine. Maybe next year.

Chris Velazco/Engadget

The screen is definitely the biggest change to the OnePlus formula, but the tweaks don't end there. Since there's no longer room for a fingerprint sensor under the screen, OnePlus moved it to the back. This won't sit well with some people, but I actually prefer this setup even if it requires you to pick up the phone to unlock it. (It helps that the fingerprint sensor is still super fast.) To mitigate some of the potential blowback surrounding this decision, OnePlus also whipped up a handy "Face Unlock" feature.

Just to make it absolutely clear, this is a much less secure way to unlock the 5T. There's no clever technical trickery here, and no iPhone X-style infrared camera. Instead, the setup process has you staring at the screen while the phone uses its front-facing camera to spot "over 100" facial points it'll use to identify you going forward. I haven't been able to fool the feature with a picture of myself (yet), but it's at least theoretically possible. And beyond that, the lack of any additional hardware to power Face Unlock means the feature doesn't really work in the dark.

Chris Velazco/Engadget

This isn't exactly an ideal solution, but it is a very fast one. Unlocking the 5T with my face was essentially instantaneous; most of the time, it felt like I was unlocking a phone with no security measures at all. Face Unlock's performance is as impressive as it is convenient, and that's exactly what the company was going for. You can't use your face to authenticate Play Store purchases or anything; situations like that still require you to use the more secure fingerprint sensor.

OnePlus also made some tweaks to its dual camera, though it's sometimes hard to tell. Once again, the 5T combines a 16-megapixel main camera and a 20-megapixel secondary camera, and that latter sensor got most of the attention. It now has an f/1.7 aperture to match the main shooter and is meant mainly to improve the phone's low-light camera performance. When things around you get dark, the phone switches into that second camera that combines multiple pixels into one, all in an attempt to make pictures look brighter than they otherwise would have. The difference is noticeable, but I wouldn't call it a game-changer.

So far, the photos I've taken with the 5T have been pretty good — I'm especially fond of some of the blurry-background portraits I've shot — but many shots are soundly outclassed by those captured with rival smartphones. Don't get me wrong, improved low-light performance is always a good thing and the 5T is occasionally capable of excellent photos. It's just that we've seen some truly incredible smartphone cameras this year. I'll need a little more time with the phone to see how well it stacks up against the competition.

Other than that, the 5T is almost identical to the phone it replaces. It's just a hair thicker, longer and wider than the 5, but these gains are so incremental they're completely unnoticeable. And yes, those eagle-eyed phone fiends were right: The 5T bears a striking resemblance to other devices, especially Oppo's R11S. OnePlus admits that it "leverages" the Oppo supply chain when it benefits the company, but insists that any similarities are purely coincidental. I'll let you be the judge of that.

Chris Velazco/Engadget

Unlike last year's 3T, which boasted a faster chipset than the 3, the OnePlus 5T uses the same Snapdragon 835 chipset as its predecessor. It's available in the exact same configurations, too: 6GB of RAM with 64GB of storage, or 8GB of RAM with 128GB of storage. I've been working with the latter, and there's no difference in performance between the OnePlus 5 and 5T. That's mostly a good thing since the original 5 was already super-snappy, and the reliably clean version of OxygenOS (based on Android 7.1.1) definitely helps keep everything moving remarkably smoothly. While it's sort of a bummer that a phone launching this late in the year doesn't run Android 8.0 Oreo, OnePlus says a beta build of OxygenOS running on Oreo will be available by the end of 2017. (We'll see about that.)

Also unchanged is the 5T's battery -- it's the same 3,300mAh cell that was used in the 5, and in general I've easily been getting more than a full day's use out of it before needing a recharge. That the 5T's battery life is seemingly very close to the 5 is a pleasant surprise; I thought for sure I'd see the runtime take a bigger hit thanks to that bigger screen. That said, I haven't put the phone through the full review wringer yet, so it'll be a little while before the real differences in power consumption become apparent. If nothing else, OnePlus's Dash Charging system still works well. Ten minutes of charging typically netted me an extra 15 and 20 percent of battery life, while fully charging a bone-dry 5T took about an hour.

I have a lot more testing to do before rendering a final verdict on the OnePlus 5T, but it feels like this is the device OnePlus 5 should've been in the first place. There's nothing to be done about the past, though, and the 5T feels like a worthy successor to the 5 in just about every way that matters. Basically, your holiday smartphone shopping decision just got a little harder. That said, OnePlus still has its work cut out for it: There's some lingering distrust among some users from when the company seemingly meddled with benchmark results, not to mention recent concerns about software snooping. We'll soon see if the OnePlus 5T is enough to get smartphone fans feeling the faith again.


‘Untrained Eyes’ puts an AI spin on looking at yourself in the mirror

What if you stood in front of a mirror and saw someone who barely looked like you? That's exactly what happens in Untrained Eyes, an interactive sculpture debuting today at the Engadget Experience, a one-day event that showcases exhibitions which mix art with technology. Untrained Eyes, created by conceptual artist Glenn Kaino and actor Jesse Williams (Grey's Anatomy), doesn't require a headset to be experienced. Instead, the project uses your face, a mirror, a Kinect and machine learning to show you pictures of people who you may look like -- or not.

Sometimes you won't get a person who resembles you in any way, but that's the entire point of Untrained Eyes. When Kaino and Williams set out to make this project, it was always with the intention to shed light on the inherent flaws of artificial intelligence algorithms, particularly those utilized in image search databases. The experience itself works effortlessly. You walk up to the installation, wave at the mirror and then, within a few seconds, you'll be presented an image of your alleged doppelgänger. The images displayed are pulled from a curated dataset that will "match" your appearance, based on your facial attributes.

In its current iteration, Untrained Eyes features five mirrors, which wasn't the original idea. Kaino said that, toward the end of the development process, he realized that the installation would be better with more than a single mirror. That way people could see each other's reactions to their image results. And you can definitely see the difference when someone who tries it gets a picture of Brad Pitt, as opposed to another human being who's, well, less attractive. People will keep going back in front of the mirror, waving their hand, and waiting until they get an image of someone who they're satisfied with.

An Engadget editor gets an unlikely match.

Regardless of the results, Kaino wants Untrained Eyes to make everyone think about the bias of image searches on the internet, be it on Google or other platforms like it. For example, he pointed to the fact that when you search Google for "men," most of the results you get served are pictures of white men. Then, there was the time in 2015, when Google Photos mistakenly labeled black people as "gorillas." These are just two instances where machine-learning has failed. "If there's anyone that could have an infinite dataset of everyone in the world, it would be Google, "Kaino said, "and even then they have massive failures."

Ultimately, those failures served as inspiration for Kaino and Williams to create Untrained Eyes. The reward has been the effect it has on people's insecurities when they see "themselves" in the mirror. "The paradox is, once you see yourself. Even when we people get matches that are close to them, they immediately start distancing themselves [from the mirror]," Kaino said. "They might be happy with it but they're like, 'Oh, but my hair is a little bit better than that person,' or 'Those aren't my eyes, but it's good enough. There's an immediate distancing that happens despite any of the gratification."

I, for one, know I felt much better when I saw Johnny Depp in my Untrained Eyes mirror and not Salt Bae.

Untrained Eyes was made possible through funding from the Engadget Alternate Realities grant program, established in May 2017. It debuted, along with four other prize-winning immersive-media projects, at the Engadget Experience on November 14th, 2017.


I wore a (virtual) flamingo head while smelling of the wetlands

At 9am, I was invited to inhale a fragrant cocktail of earthworm, soil, sea and, ugh, sulphur. This first part of Dance with flARmingos sets the stage, coaxing participants to imagine themselves in the wetlands that the iconic flamingo calls home. Iconic yes, but as artist Kristin Lucas noted, plastic flamingos (and other representations) "far outnumber the actual bird".

The birds' habitats have struggled to survive against ecotourism, overpopulation and climate change, affecting the numbers of birds in the wild even further. Dance with flARmingos uses a barrage of techniques beyond olfactory assault to both endear you to these birds and make you think about the threats to their home.

Once the wetlands cologne had faded a little, I was guided to an iPad running an augmented reality interface. Positioned on a window sill, I aimed the iPad through the window to reveal not only a handful of human-sized CGI flamingoes, but also two human participants, strapped into a Hololens headset, and transformed into an oversized flamingo head. The effect is like peering into a zoo, with two fake "flamingoes" getting in the way. The invisible zoo gets a little busier when more birds, with a tagged leg, join the fray.

Each of these tagged birds represents one of over 20 flamingoes that Lucas has actually adopted in the wild, and tapping on them throws up a mini-map on the iPad, showing its migration patterns across different parts of the world. It's a smart way of grounding these, c'mon, silly-looking birds back to the real world.

The birds are intentionally simplified and boxy: The animation is a little bit scrappy, making the rendered creatures look a lot like puppets. Occasionally, they interact as a flock. They walk around each other in similar patterns, and once the mating rituals begin, the excessive dance moves are almost in sync -- we've all seen wildlife documentaries where crowds of animals are doing pretty much the same thing, at the same time.

The third and final part of the experience puts you into that invisible zoo, with a mixed reality experience that allows you to participate in the mating ritual dance -- if you're low on inhibitions, anyway. While Hololens' mixed reality experience might be the future beyond heavy VR headsets, the fact you can see other viewers and participants (instead of a virtual world that blocks out the real one) left me very aware of the iPad-equipped "zoo" visitors.

When you strip away the experiential and high-tech interactivity, Dance with flARmingos delivers a message of precarious wonder. Flamingos-made-of-boxes made me smile, but the animal itself is more than some kitsch symbol. The team behind flARmingos tells show attendees that it has sponsor forms for anyone interested in adopting (and helping to protect) this species -- technical showcases like this help connect animals in need of financial support with those that can.

Typically, when you sponsor an animal, you might get a photo and an ID tag to monitor its movements, but you're unlikely to ever meet your feathered beneficiary. Dance with flARmingos, then offers a charming, symbolic space to connect.

Dance with flARmingos was made possible through funding from the Engadget Alternate Realities grant program, established in May 2017. It debuted, along with four other prize-winning immersive-media projects, at the Engadget Experience on November 14th, 2017.


HTC Vive Focus hands-on: a promising start for next-gen mobile VR

We've already heard the news about HTC's Vive Focus, so it was only natural to get my hands dirty with this standalone 6DoF (six-degree-of-freedom) VR headset. As it turned out, HTC delivered pre-production units to several developers two weeks ago, in order to prep the demo area today. Soon after the opening keynote, I rushed over to the other room and managed to go through seven demos. Given the limited preparation time, the results were unsurprisingly mixed, but the best ones seem to prove that there's a lot of potential in this piece of kit.

The look and feel of the Focus is pretty much everything I expected. Compared to the original Vive, the Focus is lighter which, combined with its rotational head strap plus a new cushion (presumably made of leatherette; HTC wouldn't confirm), offers extra comfort while being worn. With the only tracking component being the dual-camera WorldSense module (plus what I assume to be its ventilation grill above it), the Focus has a noticeably cleaner look than its higher-end cousin. Though if I were to ever use one in a public area, I would probably paint a more subtle color over Vive's signature blue first.

At the bottom of the main body you'll find an interpupillary distance dial, a headphone jack and volume buttons, whereas the top side features just a micro-USB socket for recharging. What I didn't notice until later on is that the headset actually has built-in stereo speakers -- they are the slots almost right above where your ears would be. They obviously aren't the best-sounding speakers, but they are loud and they do the job.

Then there's the 3DoF Bluetooth controller. From afar, it looks like an even smaller version of the Samsung Gear VR controller but with a different button arrangement. The top side features a thumb trackpad, a select button plus a re-centering button (hold down for three seconds to re-center), while the volume rockers sit on the right hand side, and the trigger is at the usual tip area on the bottom side.

In general, I found the Focus' "world-scale" inside-out tracking to work well in the less intensive apps, especially the soccer-themed game which let me practice my heading. That was surprisingly fun for a relatively basic gameplay, and there were times when I wanted to headbutt the incoming balls with more force, but I had to resist the temptation in order to avoid pulling a Zidane back in the real world.

Another app with good head tracking was a cartoonish go karting game, though I was having problems with maintaining my acceleration while simultaneously using nitro boost -- it was hard to hold down the trigger and the thumb trackpad at the same time on that small controller. I'm also hoping that the trigger will have a stronger spring mechanism in the final version.

Amongst the bunch of higher-end apps, I was very surprised by the accurate tracking in Spark of Light, a game ported from the Vive version. The introduction level I played involved interacting with a glowing fairy and solving puzzles using the controller, in order to guide a boy through the woods. I could walk around the world and even bend down to take a closer look at objects, which was definitely something I wouldn't be able to do with previous standalone VR devices.

Despite the controller offering just 3DoF instead of 6DoF like the headset, it worked better than I expected, though when I was inspecting an object up close, I learnt that there seems to be a minimum distance between the headset and the tracker for the latter to function properly in the virtual world. Regardless, the head tracking was smooth throughout my demo and I was keen to play longer, but around the same time a system message popped up to warn that the Focus was getting too hot, so it was a good time to stop. Hopefully this won't be a problem later on.

I also liked the idea of Hidden Fortune, in which I had to pick out specified items in a room filled with random objects. It's the kind of basic challenge that I enjoy from time to time to sharpen my mind. While I was apparently one of the few people who completed that level, I noticed that the game stuttered from time to time. The same happened with Bowshot, with the objective being to shoot down and dodge computer viruses in their physical forms.

The most disappointing demo was the Land Rover virtual showroom: even though the car showed impressive reflections on its exterior according to the selected environments, I noticed it subtly floating about even when I stood still. The demonstrator said this might have been to do with the crowd moving around the show floor, but I wasn't entirely convinced given that I didn't notice such issue in the earlier apps.

While it's never a perfect start for this kind of new technology, the developers did only have two weeks maximum to port their existing VR titles for the Vive Focus, so here's hoping that with a bit more time, they will all be able to smooth out the kinks. Having seen how well Spark of Light performed on the Focus, I can safely say that next-gen mobile VR is finally here. And hey Oculus, how's your Project Santa Cruz doing?


Apple Clips has better controls and loads of new ‘Star Wars’ effects

Apple's Clips video creation app is less than a year old, but it's already getting a big update. Thanks to lots of user feedback and the proliferation of new, more powerful iOS devices, Clips is now more polished than ever, and that's very good news for people looking to craft their next viral video masterpiece.

The philosophy behind the app hasn't changed — it's still all about making fun, short videos without much technical know-how — but Apple worked to make the app even easier to use. Consider the app's interface: it was never particularly hard to wrap your head around, but Apple's zeal for simplicity sometimes made the original layout feel a little too basic. While you'll still use a big, bright record button to add clips to your timeline, a handful of new shortcuts beneath the viewfinder window make it easier to gussy up your work.

Apple also moved its controls for Live Titles (a feature that automatically turns what you're saying into subtitles) and style transfer filters (which add fun, Prisma-style art effects to your photos and videos) to the left and right of that big record button. These were two of the most popular (not to mention most useful) features in Clips, so I'm glad they're getting a little more prominence this time.

This time, Clips also packs support for iCloud Drive, so you can start a new video project on an iPhone and pick up where you left off on an iPad without issue. The same project reflects updates made on multiple devices, so there's no need to worry about version control — something that most average Clips users would probably loathe having to think about.

Interface revamps aside, the biggest new addition is what Apple calls Selfie Scenes. It's unfortunately exclusive to the iPhone X, and one look at the feature in action confirms why — it uses the X's TrueDepth camera to isolate your face, paint over it with some sweet artsy filters and replace your current background with something more scenic. Right now, the current batch of scenes includes a neon-soaked city in Asia, a hand-drawn rendition of Paris, an 8-bit city that looks like something out of Rampage and, uh, the Millennium Falcon. Seriously. Apple's cozy partnership with Disney now means that you can virtually insert yourself into a corridor on the Falcon or the bridge of Supreme Leader Snoke's Mega-class Star Destroyer from The Last Jedi. Naturally, the view of your face takes on the hazy blue of a Star Wars-style hologram.

Yes, Clips's use of the iPhone X's TrueDepth camera is a gimmick, but it's a damned cool one. More importantly, it works well almost all the time — the iPhone X did a mostly great job isolating me and my extremities from my virtual background. There's also something just a little wild about seamlessly inserting myself into a sci-fi universe I've yearned to be a part of since I was 8. It's just too bad older iPhones don't have the hardware necessary to make this work for more people. (There's a small consolation prize for Star War buffs with older iPhones: loads of animated stickers depicting Chewie, Princess Leia, TIE Fighters and more.)

While not every iPhone will get all these new features, Apple's thoughtful changes to the interface and workflow mean the Clips update is well worth installing -- you can find it in the App Store now.