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Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ has the best display around

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Samsung’s Note has always embodied some of the best of what Android has to offer.

Unsurprisingly, the Galaxy Note 10+ is no different. Those who have been fans of the Note for years will know what to expect from Samsung’s latest incremental update to its popular device line. It’s powerful, snaps great photos and still features a stylus coupled with specific One UI features designed to take advantage of the S Pen.

More importantly, the Note 10+ is a really good looking smartphone.

But what’s more noteworthy this year is that the Note 10+ lacks a 3.5mm headphone jack. This still seems like a bizarre design decision on Samsung’s part given how often the South Korean company poked fun at Apple when it first ditched the headphone jack with iPhone 7.

I’ve long departed from the world of wired headphones, but this has proven to be a significant point of contention for longtime Note fans that have grown to expect the line to be Samsung’s most feature-rich. This issue is made worse by this year’s S10/S10+, Samsung’s other 2019 flagship devices, still featuring the headphone jack.

Then there’s also the disappointing Note 10, which features a lower display resolution than its predecessor and lacks a microSD slot. The Note 10 isn’t the focus of this review and will get its own at a later date.

Similar to last year’s Note 9, the Note 10+ is an incredibly solid, albeit very expensive smartphone amounting to a minor, expected upgrade over its predecessor. As a result, the Galaxy Note 10+ might not be worth it for you depending on what smartphone you’re currently using, as well as what features are important to you in a device.

A familiar look

Note 10 vs Note 9

The first thing most people will notice about the Note 10+ is its centre-placed hole-punch display. Similar to the S10, Samsung’s Galaxy Note 10+ features a front-facing 10-megapixel camera built into its expansive 6.8-inch ‘Infinity-O’ display.

I prefer the centre placement of the front shooter when compared to the S10’s right-leaning cutouts, though others at MobileSyrup found the placement offputting. If you don’t like the hole-punch, the small size of the S10’s cutout helps it fade into the background of the phone’s overall experience relatively quickly.

Just like the S10’s ‘Infinity-O’ display, the pixels around Note 10’s screen hole remain crisp and clear. Moreover, the phone’s display is just as vibrant as the S10’s industry-leading display. The screen is also more immersive this time around thanks to its significantly reduced top and bottom bezels.

Note 10+

The location of the rear three-camera array has shifted from the centre of the device to the more iPhone XS-like top left corner of the smartphone. Moreover, Samsung ditched last year’s rear fingerprint sensor in favour of the same in-display ultrasonic scanner featured in the S10.

The in-display scanner works just as well as it does with the company’s other flagship, though I did encounter the occasionally failed login. Along with the front-facing hole-punch camera, the in-display scanner has also helped Samsung increase the Note 10+’s display size from the Note 9’s 6.4-inches to 6.8-inches, while maintaining a very similar overall build.

It’s worth mentioning the Note 10+ is far too big to be used with one hand and as such, it definitely isn’t a great smartphone for those that prefer smaller devices. The Note 10+ still embodies the definition of the cringe-worthy word ‘phablet.’ Those looking for a smaller stylus-equipped smartphone might want to check out the standard Note 10.

Note 10+ side

The only significant issue I have with the Note 10+’s design is the phone’s curved edges. I’ve never been fond of the sloped sides featured in Samsung’s devices because they often result in accidental screen presses. I’ve encountered this problem with all of Samsung’s modern flagships and the Note 10+ is no different.

It would be great to see Samsung change up the design at some point in the near future. Thankfully, just like with the S10, putting the phone in a case solves this problem.

Regarding colours, Canadians are getting ‘Aura Glow,’ ‘Aura White’ and ‘Aura Black.’ Black looks exactly how you’d expect, with Aura White being a little too clinical for my taste. Aura Glow, on the other hand, is cool but also rather intense as it looks very different under varied lighting conditions (pictures of the Aura Glow Note 10+ are featured in this review).

The mirror-like look of Aura Glow is also basically photography hard mode. Getting a decent shot of the device was a difficult task. I’m hoping ‘Aura Pink’ and ‘Aura Red’ make their way to Canada at some point in the future.

Rear Note 10+ camera

Finally, Samsung also ditched the next-to-useless Bixby button with the Note 10+, moving all of the controls including the power and volume buttons to the left side of the phone. This gives the device a streamlined look but was also a little confusing at first since it’s different from the button layout of most devices. In fact, since a long press on the power button activates Bixby now, I struggled to figure out how to turn off the phone initially (you hold volume down and the power button). Regardless, it’s great to see Samsung is beginning to place less emphasis on its beleaguered voice-activated assistant.

As a frequent smartphone case and screen protector user, it’s important to mention the protector that comes installed on the Note 10+ is abysmal. It leaves a weird grainy film on the phone’s screen that ruins the otherwise stellar display. I ended up removing it after just a few hours. It’s unclear if this is the same screen protector included with the retail version of the phone.

Expected high-end specs

Regarding technical specs, the Galaxy Note 10+ features Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 processor, similar to pretty much every Android flagship smartphone released this year, coupled with an Adreno 640 GPU and 12GB of RAM.

The resulting performance experience is buttery smooth. In my roughly a week with the smartphone, I haven’t encountered a single bout of slowdown or noticable lag.

Battery wise, the Note 10+ comes in at 4,300mAh, with battery life generally lasting an entire day with moderate use that consists of browsing the internet, playing games and scrolling through social media. To put the battery size in perspective, this is an increase of 300mAh over the Note 9’s battery. The included 25w charger takes roughly 2.5 hours to fully charge the phone from zero to 100 percent. An additional 45w Samsung charger is able to charge the phone far more quickly, but I wasn’t able to test it out during my time with the Note 10+.

The phone’s sound quality remains superb, though I did feel like the device’s speakers are only slightly louder than the Note 9’s. There’s also an interesting audio isolation feature called ‘Audio Zoom’ that we’ve seen from other smartphone manufacturers in the past. With Audio Zoom, you’re able to focus on a specific noise when recording video. The feature works surprisingly well, but I don’t think it’s something I see myself using often.

The phone’s previously mentioned massive 6.8-inch screen features a 3040 x 1440 pixel resolution with a 19:9 aspect ratio. Storage starts at 256GB compared to last year’s 128GB, offering ample built-in internal capacity. If you need more room for all that dubious 4K content you’re storing on your phone, there’s also a microSD card slot in the Note 10+, unlike the phone’s smaller Note 10 counterpart.

The elephant in the room this time is the lack of a 3.5mm headphone jack. Nearly every major smartphone manufacturer has ditched the port at this point, with Samsung once being one of the only holdouts left. The company often even released commercials making fun of its competitors for coming up with poor excuses as to why they removed the headphone jack.

While this fundamental shift in direction for Samsung won’t be an issue for all Note users, it’s still perplexing and downright embarrassing on Samsung’s part. It’s difficult to argue there wasn’t space in the phone for a tiny headphone jack given there’s a slot for the sizable S Pen.

The S Pen

Note 10+

The S Pen is once again getting an update this year. Along with a new unibody design that makes the stylus feel more solid, Samsung has also added a gyroscope and an accelerometer to the stylus.

These new sensors power the S Pen’s magic wand-like feature that allows users to make gestures in the air to control certain apps. While an obvious gimmick, I was surprised to discover the functionality actually works quite well, though app compatibility is limited.

For example, you can navigate Samsung’s stock camera app with the S Pen and also select third-party apps like Spotify. Samsung says it’s opening the functionality to third-party developers through an SDK. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely many developers will implement the functionality in their apps.

Note 10+

Other new S Pen features are far more useful, including Optical Character Recognition (OCR) integration with Samsung Notes, resulting in vastly improved handwriting recognition with the Note 10+ when it comes to converting to typed text. OCR has also made all notes taken with Samsung’s app searchable. For anyone who plans to use the Note 10+ to take handwritten notes, these are great additions to the phone.

The other new S Pen feature is on the software side of things. Samsung’s new S Pen video editing tool is both intuitive and easy to use with the new stylus, unlike competing mobile video editing platforms like Adobe Rush.

Of course, S Pen functionality from previous devices returns as well, including remote camera shutter mode, ‘Smart Select,’ drawing on screenshots and more. If you’ve been a fan of the Note’s stylus in the past, you’ll be pleased with Samsung’s upgrades to the S Pen.

S10-like camera performance

Note 10+ rear camera

The Note 10+’s camera performance is nearly entirely identical to the S10+’s camera in almost every respect. This means the phone features a 12-megapixel main camera adjustable between f/1.5 and f/2.4, a 12-megapixel f/2.1 2x zoom lens and a 16-megapixel wide-angle shooter. It’s worth noting that the only difference between the Note 10+’s and S10’s camera is that the latter device’s telephoto lens features an f/2.4 aperture.

What’s new in the rear camera is a time-of-flight sensor that’s used with AR apps. The Note 10+’s front camera measures in at 10-megapixels.

As it stands, the time-of-flight sensor can only be used with a Samsung 3D Scanner that turns real-world objects into augmented reality (AR), as well as a forgettable AR Doodle feature that lets you draw on pictures of your friends’ faces. The 3D object scanning functionality, unfortunately, wasn’t available on the Note 10 review device I’m using. There’s also a new live focus video mode that utilizes the time-of-flight sensor, though the effect looks so fake and processed that it was far from impressive. It’s possible the Note 10+’s time-of-flight sensor could become more useful in the future, but as of right now, that isn’t the case.

All four of the Note 10+’s cameras snap great photos that are crisp, vibrant and some of the best in the industry. That said, the images still look highly processed, just like with Samsung’s other smartphones, especially when looking at them on a screen that isn’t the Note 10+’s.

The Note 10+’s low-light and night performance lags behind the Pixel’s borderline magical ability to snap stellar photos in the dark. The 10+’s Night Mode is fine, but it tends to blow out highlights and definitely isn’t the best out there. Unnatural skin smoothing is also rampant with Samsung’s stock camera app, but you can thankfully turn this effect down in the settings.

It’s not industry-leading anymore, but the Note 10+’s camera is still great. I’m particularly fond of the inclusion of the S10+’s very useful wide-angle rear shooter. Overall camera performance isn’t a significant jump over the S10’s shooter and is only a marginal improvement over the Note 9’s camera array in most respects.

Note 10+

Should you upgrade?

The Note 10+ is a minor upgrade over its predecessor, but the same can be said about nearly every flagship smartphone released in 2019. I’m fond of the tweaked design, new S Pen features and camera array borrowed from the S10+, but some of these features are difficult to get excited about because they were already key features of Samsung’s other 2019 flagship.

On the other hand, Samsung has also added a number of features to Note 10+, including a new version of DeX that connects to a PC or Mac and appears as an app (standard DeX is back as well), Air Gestures and an additional rear camera lens. In some ways, the Note 10+ feels like all of the S10+’s upgrades coupled with a stylus and a slightly more expansive display, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Ultimately, whether the Note 10 is worth it for you comes down to how much you value a stylus in your smartphone, as well as what device you’re currently using. How important is the S Pen to you? If the answer is “I live for styluses,” then this is the phone for you. If you’re more like me and rarely pop the S Pen out of a Note device, you’re probably better off with the slightly smaller S10+. Further, if you’re still rocking a Note 9, the Note 10+ probably isn’t quite enough of an upgrade to make picking it up worthwhile.

The Note 10 starts at $1,259 CAD, while the Note 10+ costs $1,459. Colours available in Canada include Aura Glow, Aura White and Aura Black. The standard Note 10, will only be sold at Best Buy and Samsung Experience stores is only available in Aura Black and Aura White.

“Ultimately, whether the Note 10 is worth it for you comes down to how much you value a stylus in your smartphone, as well as what device you’re currently using.”

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Review Pokemon Sword

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#ScorbunnySquad

As we told you a few days ago, our reviews of Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield are going to be a little bit late. We didn’t get our code until about 07:30 PST and it wasn’t until I got home from work that I was actually able to start it up. And once I did start it up, I didn’t stop. For nearly six straight hours I dove into the newest region of the Pokémon franchise. I explored the Wild Area. I teamed up with strangers in Max Raid Battles. I ran from a swarm of angry Wingulls. And I’ve made some delicious curry.

Six hours is only a small dent in what is shaping up to be a sizable adventure, but it’s enough of a dent for me to acknowledge that I’m quite enjoying what Game Freak has cooked up here.

Pokémon Sword (Switch)
Developer: Game Freak
Publisher: Nintendo
Released: November 15, 2019
MSRP: $59.99

With rollings hills and rolling Wooloos, the Galar Region makes a beautiful first impression in the opening moments of Pokémon Sword. After a brief run-in with Zacian in the mysterious woods near my house, I slowly set off on my adventure with my BFF-cum-rival Hop, a boy from down the street who just happens to be brother to Leon, the champion of the region. It’s Leon who gives me my first Pokémon; I go with Scorbunny because everyone else I know with the game picked one of the other two.

After a quick trip to meet Professor Magnolia and her granddaughter Sonia, my rival and I set off for Motostoke for a really underwhelming opening ceremony to the Gym Challenge. We’re sidetracked, however, by some Wooloos on the train tracks, forcing us to venture into Sword’s big new addition to the Pokémon formula: the Wild Area.

Located just outside the gates of Motostoke, this sizable open-world environment is filled with plenty of tall grass, wild Pokémon, as well as other players, if you choose to connect to the internet. It’s also where you’ll find various dens that grant players Watts, a form of currency used in the Wild Area, or house Max Raid Battles with Dynamax pokémon. In these battles, you choose a single ‘mon from your team to join up with three other players to battle these massive beasts. If you don’t connect to the internet you’ll be joined by three A.I. controlled partners. The first few times I attempted one of these battles with other players yielded no responses, but after about two or three tries I was able to hook up with other real-life people.

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When connected to the internet in the Wild Area, the land becomes far livelier with other players running about but not in ways that are always beneficial to the experience. The frame rate tends to stutter when there are too many characters on screen and other player avatars will appear and vanish with no rhyme or reason. It’s not the best look for an area that can be pretty barren. Hooking up with other players to do Max Raid Battles hasn’t always worked, as I’ve been hit with a “No communication partner was found” error on multiple occasions, but when it does work it’s a pretty neat set-up. One player will be allowed to Dynamax their Pokémon of choice while the others have to make do with their normal attacks. Type advantage still plays a major role here, so you can have the tiniest of Pokémon absolutely wipe the floor with one that’s three stories tall.

You can spend as much or as little time in the Wild Area as you want. I probably took a full hour exploring it, finding TMs, and expanding my Pokédex before moving onto Motostoke. After the opening ceremony and a quick introduction to trainers Marnie and Bede, as well as the sure-to-be-annoying Team Yell, I set off for the first stadium on my adventure. Turffield Stadium is home to Milo, the game’s requisite Grass-type gym leader, who doesn’t stand a chance against my team of fire- and flying-type Pokémon. After completing the gym challenge of herding Wooloos, I faced off against Milo and beat him in less than a minute. This dampened victory highlighted what so far has been the only sore spot of Pokémon Sword.

Simply put, this game is too easy. Six hours in and there hasn’t been a battle I’ve struggled with or a Pokémon I’ve failed to catch. I understand the idea of ramping up the challenge as players go along, but I feel like the difficulty should have started to push back just a bit by now. Scorbunny is far too powerful in these opening hours and with the Wild Area, it’s quite easy to become overpowered as the land is lush with wild Pokémon to battle, especially when you consider EXP Share is an automatic feature of the game and switching out party members is easier than ever before. Max Raid Battles also provide little challenge as I’m often paired up with one player who’s always able to one-shot our opponent.

Pokemon Sword

I can only hope the game starts to present more of a challenge as I venture further in the campaign, because other than the lack of difficulty, I’m quite enjoying my quest through the Galar Region. The art direction can be quite lovely, the design of the towns and cities is ornate, and many of the new Pokémon designs are outright adorable. My Scorbunny has just evolved into his angsty Raboot form and other members of my team feel as though they’re getting to a high enough level that an evolution is only moments away. While the various routes I’ve been on may not house as many wild Pokémon in the tall grass as the Let’s Go games, the world is still well-populated with Pokémon, trainers, and plenty of small details cooked into the environments.

Now, I have read about some problems other players have had with the game crashing and potentially deleting files off their MicroSD card. I have not run into any issues with Pokémon Sword outside of the aforementioned failure to connect with other players. It’s been a mostly smooth ride when docked or in handheld mode and I can only hope it remains so the further I travel into the Galar Region.

I know it’s early, but Pokémon Sword has sunk its hooks into me in ways the series hasn’t since Pokémon X. Sure, the central sub-plot is far simpler here than in past entries with its not-yet-interesting investigation of the mysterious Zacian, but the first six hours have done a great job of getting me invested in the idea of becoming the next Galar Region Champion.

[This review in progress is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.]

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Motorola new Razr foldable smartphone is coming to Canada

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Motorola is bringing back the classic Razr as a vertically folding smartphone. The company announced the new device at an event in Los Angeles, California on November 13th.

The new Razr evokes the design of classic flip phones from yesteryear, but with similar advanced folding display technology to what you’d see in something like Samsung’s Galaxy Fold or the Huawei Mate X. Unlike both of those devices, the Razr folds vertically instead of horizontally with its traditional clamshell design. It’s worth noting that Samsung recently teased a vertically folding version of its Galaxy Fold. The original never came to Canada.

When fully extended, users will get a 6.2-inch 21:9 2142 x 876 pixel resolution ‘Cinemavision’ pOLED display. Motorola dubs it the ‘Flex View.’ When the phone is closed, you’ll be able to interact with it through the ‘Quick View’ external display, which measures in at 2.7 inches. It’s a gOLED 4:3 screen with a 600 x 800 pixel resolution.

To make the Flex View display work, Motorola says it engineered a ‘zero-gap’ hinge that allows both sides of the display to sit flush when folded. Plus, the company claims this will protect it from debris and dust. Additionally, there are metal support plates help pull the display tight and support it when opened. However, as you fold it, those plates slide out of the way, allowing the screen to curve in a bell shape and prevent creasing.

If you remember flip phones from back in the day, one of the best parts was hanging up a call — no smartphone has bested that cathartic snap of closing a phone. Motorola wants to bring that back with the Razr. It says that the hinge’s smooth tension, as well as the sturdy display, will allow users to hang up with a snap.

Quick View will help you open your phone less

While the flexible display is certainly a novelty, Motorola put as much thought into its small, external ‘Quick View’ display.

Users will be able to manage notifications and control media playback from the small external display. However, it also allows users to authorize payments, interact with Google Assistant and even respond to messages.

Plus, if you’re looking to take a selfie, you can do so with the Quick View display and the device’s primary camera.

Further, the Quick View helps when you’ve opened the display as well. For example, when taking pictures, you can set a timer and the subject will see the countdown on the Quick View panel. Alternatively, you can set the small display to play an animation to catch the attention of kids when you’re trying to take a photo.

Motorola designed a “seamless” continuity system that will let users transition between the Quick View and Flex View displays without interrupting what they’re doing.

Not a powerhouse

Unfortunately, for all the thought Motorola put into this phone, it seems the company missed a few essential things. For one, the Razr only runs Android 9 Pie and not the latest Android 10 — although that will hopefully come in time.

It also isn’t exactly a powerhouse when it comes to specs. The device is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 710, sports 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. The battery clocks in at 2510mAh and can be charged up quickly with Motorola’s 15W ‘TurboPower’ system.

While disappointing, none of these are game-breakers if the folding display proves useful, and if Motorola can get Android 10 out to the Razr sooner rather than later.

The Razr will be available in the U.S. first as a Verizon exclusive. Pre-orders start on December 26th, and it’ll be available in-store starting January 2020.

Motorola says the Razr will be available in Canada starting in early 2020 but hasn’t yet provided other details. It will also release in select European markets beginning December. Finally, the phone will come to Latin America, Asia and Australia, but Motorola didn’t provide a date.

The phone is set to cost $1,499.99 USD (about $1,987.34 CAD).

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Apple redesigns MacBook Pro keyboard

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Apple is finally introducing a replacement to its butterfly keyboard after years of customer complaints.

The company announced on Wednesday a large, expensive MacBook Pro with a keyboard that has been redesigned for the first time in four years.

The computer, which is intended for power users, professionals or anyone who needs a lot of screen space, features a 16-inch retina display, replacing its 15-inch MacBook Pro. It starts at $2,399, but can go all the way up to $6,099 when you tack on additional storage and processing power. The 13-inch entry-level MacBook Pro, which came out earlier this year, starts at $1,299.

The new MacBook Pro promises better battery life, a new Intel Core processor, an updated cooling system and advanced speakers. But the most significant change is the keyboard.

Apple has long faced complaints over broken and sticky keys in its butterfly keyboards — a design with a mechanism under the keys that expands like wings, opening itself up to dust and other debris. The concept allowed Apple to create a slimmer keyboard design, but some tech reviewers have called it Apple’s worst invention of all time.

Now, it’s reverted back to a traditional scissor-style mechanism that most laptops use. The company says the keyboard will have a stable feel and be responsive.

The MacBook Pro comes with many familiar features, including its signature Touch Bar, a fingerprint sensor and Mac apps, but it now offers double the default storage and pricey upgrade options, up to eight terabytes of storage. (This may appeal to people who have large files and wallets.)

The MacBook Pro is available for purchase online Wednesday in space gray or silver colors. It hits stores later this week.

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