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Apple TV refresh brings 4K, City to streaming platform

Winston Sih | posted Thursday, Sep 21st, 2017

Amidst the iPhone announcements in Apple’s annual September event in Cupertino, Calif., brings a few other surprises including an update to Apple TV—finally embracing 4K technology in the living room. But is the market finally ready, or is it a little too late?

4K HDR

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Physically, the device is the same in size. But it does pack a punch with new technology to bring your TV viewing experience to life. Leveraging the A10X Fusion chip—the previous-model chip in iPhone 7—the tech giant hopes that will provide the needed computing power to stream 4K-resolution content. Quadruple the pixels of high definition, quadruple the crispness, and you notice it from the get-go when you power the unit on. Caveat is, of course, that you need a 4K television—something many households don’t currently have.

If you are an owner one a 4K television set, the colours and depths of the pictures are stunning. Colours are more vibrant, blacks are deeper, and whites are brighter. This is all thanks to the high-definition range that adapts to your television set, finds the optimal performance, and scales the content up or down to fit your display environment. Apple TV 4K follows two leading formats on the market, Dolby Vision and HDR10, and the engineering shines through when streaming content.

From the previous-generation model, Apple says its 4K older sibling is two-times faster, and graphics performance is up to four times faster, though unless you’re streaming 12 things at once, you won’t notice a massive difference. However for 4K content, it will benefit from the spec bump.

Surfacing the TV content you want

Through the new tvOS update, Canadians now get access to the Apple TV app—one of a seven countries this is rolling out to outside of the United States.

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Canadian broadcasters, including City and FX, have joined onto this new platform to unify on-demand offerings in one easy-to-find location for binge-watchers. Users can subscribe and sign into their favourite services, and titles are synced and streamed across Apple TV, iPhone, and iPad. HD movies from iTunes are upgraded to 4K HDR at no additional cost.

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There’s an app for that

Thousands of apps are being added on an on-going basis, allowing users to do everything from play games, control your smart home devices, to edit your family photos from iCloud. Selection isn’t as robust as the likes of App Store on iOS devices, and the remote experience simplifies what you can (and can’t) do on Apple TV.

Siri is integrated into the physical remote itself, and for those looking to type on a traditional keyboard, you can do so via the Remote app on your iOS device.

Final thoughts

For those looking to invest in a streaming player, Apple TV is a good choice. It won’t replace your cable subscription or PVR, but it’ll give you plenty of options to compliment your viewing experience—especially if you’re into streaming. The computing power will make using interactive apps a breeze, and while the selection of programs isn’t as robust as it could be, developers will take advantage as more users adopt.

The 4K HDR 32GB variant ($229) is a great option only if you have the display to go with it, otherwise the fourth-generation non-4K model ($199) will suffice—the price difference only being about $30.

iPhone 8: A taste of iPhone X with less sticker shock

Winston Sih | posted Tuesday, Sep 19th, 2017

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When Apple announced three new smartphones at its new Cupertino, Calif. headquarters, Apple Park, I instantly got dozens of texts with the same question: Winston, which one is right for me?

The answer is—these devices are targeted at different people. iPhone 8 packs a lot of punch that makes it a significant upgrade from its iPhone 7 sibling, but it also jams in a lot of familiar that will leave enthusiasts waiting to compare with the 10th-anniversary iPhone X when it goes for sale in November.

Design

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At first glance, users will notice a vary familiar design. Yes, the headphone jack is still gone, but the tech giant’s classic Home Button remains, with TouchID functionality for fingerprint access and Apple Pay. Turn the phone around and you’ll find a new, all-glass back—admittedly making me very nervous at first—but makes way the much-welcomed wireless charging on iPhone.

Apple says iPhone 8 features the most durable glass in a smartphone—a 50 per cent deeper strengthening later—and aerospace-grade 7000 Series aluminum on the exterior for reinforcement. Despite my initial worries, our review unit has proven to be that, quite durable, though I’d still recommend using a case in the day-to-day. They remain water-resistant—not waterproof. So don’t go diving with iPhone 8.

The new devices are still available in two sizes—iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus—with 4.7- and 5.5-inch Retina HD screens, respectively, in three finishes—grey, silver, and gold.

Bionic performance

Replacing its A10 chip predecessor, Apple introduces A11 Bionic to its latest roster of smartphones—‘the most powerful and smartest chip ever in a smartphone.’  And that’s a big claim to make. Pushing the six-core CPU and three-core GPU to max simultaneously was difficult in my day-to-day use cases, making it easy for developers to integrate apps to take advantage of augmented reality.

The power in the new devices also makes way for TrueTone—the same technology in the latest iPad—that adaptively adjusts the hue of your screen to your environment realtime, minimizing eye strain. Users will notice louder audio through new stereo speakers, though minimal improvement from iPhone 7.

Similar with new sensors, ‘Portrait Lighting’

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I struggled when thinking about how a smartphone camera could see improvements. It basically does everything I need it to do today—Instagram, Facebook Live, the odd Boomerang, make funny faces on Snapchat. Oh, right, and the awe-worthy, photographer-of-the-year Portrait Mode pics that made anyone the star of a party.

The camera remains at 12 megapixels for both devices, but new sensors make room for better video stabilization, improved colour filter, calibrated cameras alongside the gyroscope for those augmented reality apps.

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On iPhone 8 Plus, a new feature called ‘Portrait Lighting’ is introduced, taking advantage of the dual cameras. You get the bokeh depth-of-field effect while the software gives users the options to digitally manipulate lighting to enhance facial contour, mimic studio conditions, and crop out the background. When it works well, it works well, but on testing, conditions need to be just right or it becomes a little finicky. Definitely a beta feature until it is refined.

Say goodbye to cord city

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Apple has introduced new charging technology in all three devices that follows the same Qi standard in many third-party accessories today. Paired with iPhone’s glass back, this allows users can ditch the Lightning cable and recharge by simply placing their device on a Qi-compatible mat, including Apple’s AirPower mat, not out until later this year.

But surprise, their charging mat will only work with the new iPhones, Apple Watch Series 3, and a new AirPods case. Older devices will not work.

Accessory makers like Mophie are making wireless mats, and expect many more restaurants and cafes to take advantage of wireless charging as more smartphone manufacturers are taking the lead on integrating it into their phones.

iOS 11

Through the latest operating system, iOS 11, brings many refinements to the user experience to new and existing devices, including Apple Pay in iMessages, Do Not Disturb mode when driving, a new Siri voice assistant, and central file storage. A large improvement for existing iPhone owners who don’t want to make the upgrade.

Pricing

iPhone 8 will be available in 64GB and 256GB capacities for $929 and $1,139 off-contract, respectively. iPhone 8 Plus will be available in the same capacities for $1,059 and $1,269 off-contract.

So, I make the upgrade?

iPhone 8 brings a lot of improvements to Apple’s flagship smartphone—the A11 Bionic processor, refinements in the 12-megapixel camera sensor, wireless charging, as well as iOS 11. But it also brings a lot of similar through its familiar design. If you have an iPhone 6s or iPhone 7, you’ll see minor improvements, but unless you’re going to be taking advantage of augmented reality or eager for wireless charging, the free upgrade to iOS 11 will suffice.

iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus is a good upgrade if you are an older-model iPhone user due for an upgrade. You’re looking to take better family photos, want to stay productive on a larger screen, and can’t let go of that Home Button—not yet anyway. You get a lot of the power from iPhone X with a little less of the sticker shock.

As for those still curious about iPhone X, the all-new device breaks tradition and will be the shiny new toy many are waiting out for—marketed as Apple’s flagship premium offering. It rings in at a whopping $1,300 to start, and features an edge-to-edge OLED display, no home button, and FaceID facial recognition technology, to be available Nov. 3 in Canada.  No doubt many will be waiting to compare the devices side-by-side before making their decision.

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