Congrats to OnePlus for Making Its Smartwatch Slightly Less Awful

Illustration for article titled Congrats to OnePlus for Making Its Smartwatch Slightly Less Awful

Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

The OnePlus Watch launch was catastrophic. Never had a flagship smartwatch since Will.i.am’s infamous Puls smartwatch failed in such spectacular fashion. I recently wrote 2,000 words about how it was the worst smartwatch I’ve ever used. Today OnePlus pushed out an over-the-air update that claims to fix some of the watch’s egregious omissions and cock-ups.

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It’s better than nothing, but to be frank, the OnePlus Watch launched with next to nothing working properly so I’m not exactly impressed. According to a post on the OnePlus forum, the update includes:

  • Improved GPS performance
  • Improved accuracy of activity tracking (walking and running)
  • Optimized heart rate monitoring algorithm
  • Enabled notification app icons for the most frequently used apps
  • Improved raise-to-wake function
  • Optimized notification syncing algorithm
  • Fixed some known bugs
  • Improved system stability

Reader, look upon this list and cry-laugh with me. This is a damning list of everything OnePlus fucked up at launch. GPS performance, accurate activity-tracking, heart rate-monitoring, and notifications that sync properly are basic functions that you’d expect to work as advertised out of the box. The “fixed some known bugs” bullet point is also doing a lot of heavy lifting here. The problem is there were so many known bugs that I’m now left guessing which ones were addressed. The vagueness doesn’t instill confidence, but I’ve reached out to OnePlus to see if they’ll clarify what bugs they’re talking about here.

When I initially raised concerns to OnePlus, the company told me—and other reviewers—to expect a mid-April update. A spokesperson told me the mid-April update would finally sync sleep-tracking data and SpO2 history to the OnePlus Health app. That’s huge, because on top of being a marquee feature, sleep-tracking is only useful if you can view your trends over time. So here we are, a week after launch with what I assume is the update OnePlus was referring to.

I’ve updated the app and the OnePlus Watch. My sleep and SpO2 data are nowhere to be found. I’ve synced at least five times. I suppose my sleep history has disappeared into the ether. So either OnePlus told us the wrong thing and this widely reported bug remains unfixed or the watch itself doesn’t store more than a week’s worth of data. Neither option is good. (For the record, my smart scale can store 14 days’ worth of data for 8 different people, so the latter is simply ridiculous.) I’ve asked OnePlus about the sleep-tracking/SpO2 app syncing as well, but haven’t received a response.

Another thing that wasn’t fixed? My arm has been buzzing off and on the entire time I’ve been writing. I have at least 100 notifications for unread emails. But hey, at least my notifications have icons.

Granted, I’ve only had this update for a few hours and need more time to suss whether the really big bugs were fixed properly. But what baffles me is that you still can’t switch to a 12-hour time format from a 24-hour one. This, along with sleep history and SpO2 syncing problems, was a widely reported bug and yet it remains unfixed. OnePlus says that will come in a future update, along with an always-on display, remote camera control for Android smartphones, four new languages, the rest of the 110+ workout modes that were promised, and an AI watch face. Listen, OnePlus, considering how you apparently botched French translations and gave several reviewers (including me) watches that were initially stuck in Hindi, maybe prioritize getting this thing fully working as advertised before you hawk it to other markets.

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In the best case scenario, these updates will fix some of the biggest problems I had with the OnePlus Watch. Which then leads me to ask: Why the hell could this launch not be delayed for one week if a week was all that was needed to fix this shit? Consumers are not beta testers.

Honestly, I’m mostly mad that this means I have to go back and relive the trauma of this testing experience. This fix-it-as-you-go approach is incredibly disrespectful to me, my fellow reviewers, and consumers. But, listen, OnePlus, I’m a professional. You said the running accuracy and GPS were fixed. If I run three miles in good faith and the fitness metrics are still broken, I cannot be held responsible for yeeting this thing into the East River.

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LG Pledges Three Years of OS Updates After It Stops Making New Phones

Illustration for article titled LG Pledges Three Years of OS Updates After It Stops Making New Phones

Photo: David Ramos (Getty Images)

LG will continue to provide operating system updates for its mobile phones over the next three years, even after the company stops making phones entirely by July of this year, according to an announcement posted on LG’s website. And that’s good news for anyone who recently bought an LG phone or may be thinking of picking one up for cheap in the near future.

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“LG Electronics (LG) announced today that all premium LG smartphones currently in use will receive up to three iterations of Android operating system updates from the year of purchase,” the company said in a statement released early Thursday.

“The three OS update guarantee applies to LG premium phones released in 2019 and later (G series, V series, VELVET, Wing) while certain 2020 models such as LG Stylo and K series will receive two OS updates,” LG explained.

The company, based in South Korea, did note that these promises will depend on “Google’s distribution schedule as well as other factors such as device performance and compatibility.”

Interestingly, LG elaborated further on why it was continuing to produce some phones through mid-summer, and it apparently has to do with contracts that it’s already signed.

“LG will continue to manufacture phones through the second quarter to meet contractual obligations to carriers and partners. This means customers can still purchase LG mobile phones currently in inventory and service support and security software updates will continue to be provided for a period of time for certain devices,” LG said.

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I Like Big Batts and I Cannot Lie

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Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo

Apple’s had some unfortunate iPhone missteps over the years—3D Touch and the U2 debacle are just a few that come to mind—but MagSafe is shaping up to be one of the most useful upgrades the smartphone has seen in a while. Apple’s new charging technology made possible some pretty great third-party accessories, like Anker’s new magnetic portable charger, which is so simple and convenient it really should be included with every iPhone.

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MagSafe may have been pitched as a way to improve wireless charging, ensuring that an iPhone and charging pad are always perfectly aligned for optimal power transfer, but even Apple saw its potential as a better way to attach accessories to the smartphone, including magnetic wallets and cases.

Bloomberg even reported that anonymous sources claimed Apple was working on a magnetic upgrade to its Smart Battery Case, but it’s still nowhere to be seen. Now Anker has beaten Apple to the punch with its new PowerCore Magnetic 5K wireless charger, and as long as you don’t mind sacrificing the pocketability of your iPhone 12, it’s the perfect solution to battery anxiety.

Anker’s PowerCore Magnetic 5K isn’t the first portable wireless charger to hit the market. I’ve reviewed several already, including one from Satechi that can wirelessly charge an iPhone and an Apple Watch at the same time. The lack of wires is convenient, but portable wireless chargers are hard to use on the go given how precisely the charging coils have to be aligned for charging to actually happened. They’re also all kind of beefy, whereas Anker’s new solution is much smaller.

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There’s no getting around it: Anker’s MagSafe-compatible portable wireless charger will add some bulk to your iPhone 12.
Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo

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However, just because Anker’s PowerCore Magnetic 5K is the smallest portable wireless charger we’ve tested to date, doesn’t mean it’s small. In reality it adds quite a bit of junk to the iPhone 12’s trunk while it’s attached, so don’t expect to effortlessly slip the two into a pocket while they’re magnetically embraced.

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An included USB-C port is the only way to charge Anker’s PowerCore Magnetic 5K, but it can also be used to charge other devices with a cable.
Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo

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On one end of the PowerCore Magnetic 5K you’ll find a power button—the charger won’t automatically start transferring power when connected to an iPhone. You’ll also see a breathing blue LED indicating when a device is charging, and a series of white LEDs indicating its remaining battery level. There’s also a USB-C port which is used to charge the PowerCore Magnetic 5K itself (it can’t be wirelessly charged) and used to charge other devices through a cable connection.

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The PowerCore Magnetic 5K can be used to wirelessly charge other devices too, but with just 5W of power transfer it’s by no means a fast charging solution.
Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo

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You can also wirelessly charge non-MagSafe iPhones and devices using the PowerCore Magnetic 5K, so Anker has included an illustration on the underside showing exactly where its induction coil is located for proper alignment.

That being said, while testing has found that officially certified MagSafe charging accessories top out at around 15W of wireless power transfer, Anker’s unofficial accessory (you won’t find the term MagSafe mentioned anywhere on Anker’s website) delivers just 5W of power, meaning it’s much slower. So if you’re not slapping it on the back of an iPhone 12 model, you’re probably better off charging other devices with a USB-C cable.

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For added peace of mind, pairing the PowerCore Magnetic 5K with a MagSafe compatible iPhone 12 case is not a bad idea, as it provides a stronger magnetic connection between the two.
Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo

One other thing I’ve discovered when testing MagSafe accessories is that the magnetic connection on the back of the iPhones 12 (I’m using an iPhone 12 Pro) isn’t all that strong. It’s strong enough to stay aligned to a charging pad, but I’m less confident about it being strong enough to prevent heavier accessories from falling off when the two are being carried around. For a stronger connection, I recommend pairing Anker’s PowerCore Magnetic 5K with a MagSafe-compatible case like Moment’s iPhone 12 Thin case or Nomad’s Rugged Folio MagSafe case, for added peace of mind.

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If you’re not an iPhone 12 user, you can probably skip the PowerCore Magnetic 5K. Anker’s got cheaper compact portable chargers that boast far more capacity. If you are using one of Apple’s latest and greatest iPhones, for $40 the PowerCore Magnetic 5K is a no-brainer accessory. Even if Apple does release a thinner MagSafe charging solution of its own that offers faster charging times and a more svelte design, it will undoubtedly be considerably more expensive than what Anker’s already got available.

This Stick-On Gadget Solves Wireless Charging’s Biggest Problem

Wireless chargers have a dark secret that’s never addressed in the brochures and other promotional materials: You still have to deal with wires. But with Humanscale’s new NeatCharge wireless charger, at least those cords are hidden away out of sight underneath a desk or table.

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Is a wireless charger more convenient than having to plug a tiny cable into the bottom of your smartphone? Yes, of course it is, especially at 2 a.m. when it’s dark and you’re exhausted from doom-scrolling for hours. Setting your phone down on a charging pad is definitely easier, but that pad still needs to be plugged into a power outlet, leaving you with another wire snaking across a desk, table, or nightstand.

Humanscale’s solution is a simple one: Instead of the wireless charging pad sitting on top of a surface, it instead mounts to the underside using some included double-sided 3M tape, or a set of screws if you want to make absolutely sure it never comes lose. The power cable can then be run down a table leg where it’s out of sight and out of mind. And because wireless charging can be finicky if the pad and device aren’t properly aligned, an included sticker can be adhered to the top of the table or desk providing a target of where to play your phone, or you can come up with your own solution, as long as it’s large enough to ensure proper placement.

At $149, this is far from being the cheapest wireless charging solution, but it’s definitely the most aesthetically pleasing, and at 10 watts it’s among the most powerful. There’s a catch, however. Wireless charging only works at very minimal distances, and the NeatCharge only works on desk and tabletop surfaces no thicker than 1.18 inches. That should be fine for most desks and tables made from hardwoods (and glass, although that seems counterintuitive for a device you’re trying to hide) but many of Ikea’s desks are made from thicker sandwiched materials for added strength, and might not be compatible.

Say Goodbye to Painful Neck Strain With Belkin’s New Face-Tracking iPhone Stand That Always Points at You

Illustration for article titled Say Goodbye to Painful Neck Strain With Belkin's New Face-Tracking iPhone Stand That Always Points at You

Image: Belkin

Why spend $250 on Amazon’s new face-tracking, auto-rotating Echo Show 10 smart display when Belkin’s new Magnetic Phone Mount with Face Tracking turns your iPhone 12 into a self-standing screen with similar smart functionality (minus Amazon sneaking a camera in your home) for just $65?

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If you’ve ever had to crane your neck to follow a recipe video while bustling in the kitchen or stopped a workout routine to reposition your smartphone because a new pose made it hard to see the instructor, then you can already see the value of Belkin’s Echo Show 10 alternative. The mount is battery powered so you can position it anywhere in your sightline without being restrained by a power cord, but a rechargeable battery would have certainly been preferred over the three AAA batteries this thing will probably eat through in no time given they’re powering an electric motor mechanism.

The mount can rotate a full 360-degrees so you can even set it up on an island and have it track your movements in every corner of the kitchen, but it does have some limitations. The movements are limited to horizontal rotation, so while the mount can be vertically adjusted from -15 to 30 degrees, you’ll have to do that part manually. Its use of MagSafe to hold a smartphone securely in place in landscape or portrait orientations also means the mount is only compatible with the iPhone 12 line, and future iPhones, assuming Apple doesn’t ditch MagSafe anytime soon.

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Image: Belkin

The other ‘catch’ with Belkin’s new Magnetic Phone Mount with Face Tracking is that it can’t be used for video calls. It relies on the iPhone 12’s own front-facing camera and a new app from Belkin for its face-tracking abilities, which means that shooting content for, or streaming content from, social media services like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube all happen through Belkin’s own app. As a result, it can’t be used to make video calls through services like Facetime, Zoom, or Skype, which are all dependent on their own iOS apps.

Further complicating its use for video chatting is the fact that the mount “is not recommended for video content featuring multiple faces,” according to Belkin. There’s no reason you can’t use the mount in powered-off mode to hold your iPhone 12 in place during a Zoom call with lots of family or friends, but when powered-on it sounds like it’s going to have a hard time deciding what face to follow in a crowd.

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Xiaomi Challenges Samsung With Its Own Foldable, the $1,500 Mi Mix Fold

Illustration for article titled Xiaomi Challenges Samsung With Its Own Foldable, the $1,500 Mi Mix Fold

Screenshot: Xiaomi

China’s largest smartphone maker is finally joining Samsung and Huawei in the flexible phone market, and while it isn’t the mysterious tri-fold device that Xiaomi teased awhile back, but the company’s new Mi Mix Fold is here.

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Priced at 9,999 yuan (around $1,520), the Mi Mix Fold is significantly cheaper (though still relatively expensive) than both Samsung’s $2,000 Galaxy Z Fold 2 and Huawei’s recently announced $2,800 Mate X2, while still sporting a bunch of high-end features and a very similar design.

Like the Z Fold 2 and the Mate X2, Xiaomi settled on an inward folding flexible 2480 x 1860 OLED screen that measures 8.01-inches diagonally, but unlike its competitors, Xiaomi saved a few bucks by limiting the screen to just 60Hz instead of 90Hz or 120Hz like you get on the Mate X2 and Z Fold2, respectively.

When closed, the Mi Mix Fold comes with a 2520 x 840 6.52-inch OLED screen on the exterior of the device, so you can perform simple tasks like respond to texts, check a map, or skip a track without fully unfurling its interior display. And unlike its main screen, the Mi Mix Fold’s exterior display does support a faster 90Hz refresh rate.

Illustration for article titled Xiaomi Challenges Samsung With Its Own Foldable, the $1,500 Mi Mix Fold

Screenshot: Xiaomi

Around back, instead of the Samsung ISOCELL GN2 sensor Xiaomi picked for the Mi 11 Ultra’s main cam, Xiaomi gave the Mi Mix Fold a 108-MP main cam featuring a Samsung HM2 sensor, a 3-MP ultra-wide cam, and an 8-MP telephoto cam with a 3x optical zoom that comes equipped with the liquid lens Xiaomi teased last week.

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Xiaomi says the Mi Mix Fold’s liquid lens allows the telephoto camera to achieve a super close minimum focusing distance of just three centimeters, which means the telephoto cam can also double as a macro shooter. And to make sure that liquid lens is controlled properly, Xiaomi even created an in-house ISP called the Surge C1 chip to deliver even better low-light, autofocus, and white balance performance.

Illustration for article titled Xiaomi Challenges Samsung With Its Own Foldable, the $1,500 Mi Mix Fold

Screenshot: Xiaomi

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Inside, the Mi Mix Fold sports flagship-level specs, including a Snapdragon 888 processor, up to 16GB of RAM, and as much as 512GB of onboard storage. Xiaomi also wisely included a large 5,020 mAh battery that’s split into two different sections, allowing for better weight distribution and faster charging speeds of up to 67 watts.

The Mi Mix Fold also includes quad speakers tuned by Harman Kardon and an optional ceramic back for increased durability. Xiaomi said that the Mi Mix Fold’s hinge has been tested to withstand up to 1 million bends, so longevity theoretically shouldn’t be an issue, though real-world testing may offer different results.

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Illustration for article titled Xiaomi Challenges Samsung With Its Own Foldable, the $1,500 Mi Mix Fold

Screenshot: Xiaomi

However, my favorite new development on the Mi Mix Fold is Xiaomi’s inclusion of a dedicated PC Mode that turns the phone into a mini laptop complete with a real task bar, windowed apps, and more. Seeing foldables makers embrace the hybrid nature of these devices is something I’ve been hoping to see more off, especially as foldable and non-foldable phones begin to head down slightly different development paths catered toward different types of users.

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The big bummer is that, like Huawei’s Mate X2, the Mi Mix Fold is not expected to have a global release and will probably be limited strictly to the Chinese market. That means in the U.S. and other parts of the west, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2’s reign as the foldable of choice is going to continue unchallenged, at least for now.

Xiaomi Teases a Mi Mix Phone With a High-Tech Liquid Lens Coming Soon

Illustration for article titled Xiaomi Teases a Mi Mix Phone With a High-Tech Liquid Lens Coming Soon

Image: Xiaomi

Phone makers are constantly looking to one-up each other with new tech and features, and if its new teasers are legit, Xiaomi might have a real advantage over the competition with what appears to be a liquid camera lens designed for an upcoming Mi Mix phone.

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Based on a handful of images and a clip shared on Weibo, Xiaomi is trying to replace the traditional glass elements and focusing motors used in today’s smartphone camera lenses with a liquid lens that can be controlled and adjusted by applying an electrical charge. This would allow the lens to change shape to focus on subjects of varying distances, with Xiaomi claiming the tech will result in longer zooms and faster autofocus than traditional smartphone camera lenses.

While the idea of a liquid lens might seem a bit strange or far out, the principle is actually quite similar to the way human eye works. Light enters the eye through your cornea, passes through the iris, and is then focused by your eye’s crystalline layer and aqueous fluid before eventually hitting your retina.

Currently, due to their cost and complexity, liquid lenses are typically reserved for specialized industrial uses where traditional glass lenses may be too brittle or delicate. However, this isn’t the first time a smartphone company has teased the idea of a liquid camera lens, with Huawei having patented its own liquid lens last year.

Illustration for article titled Xiaomi Teases a Mi Mix Phone With a High-Tech Liquid Lens Coming Soon

Image: Xiaomi

The big advantage of a liquid lens is that it could allow smartphone companies to use the same lens for a range of focal distances while still being thin enough to fit in a phone. This stands in stark contrast to today’s phones, which use multiple image sensors each with their own lens to support provide a device’s primary, ultra-wide, macro, and telephoto cameras.

The current approach is sort of a brute force method enabled by the fact that adding additional image sensors to a device is relatively inexpensive, which resulted in some companies creating devices with huge numbers of lenses on their backs (see the Nokia 9 PureView and Light L16).

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Xiaomi’s liquid lens might not be quite ready for consumer devices just yet, but demoing its liquid lens on a new Mi Mix concept makes a lot of sense, because Xiaomi has historically used the Mi Mix line to test out new designs or tech the company is researching. Other concepts the company has tried include the Mi Mix Alpha from 2019 with its wrap-around screen and the portless Mi Mix concept from earlier this year.

While not much else is known about the upcoming Mi Mix, Xiaomi says it will reveal the device on March 29, so we won’t have to wait long to find out more.

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One of Braun’s First Digital Alarm Clocks Is Back With Wireless Charging Powers

Millions of words have been devoted to Dieter Rams’ iconic hardware designs, but nothing stands as a testament to the timeliness of his creations like a 45-year-old digital alarm clock being resurrected and updated to give your smartphone a functional and stylish place to rest and recharge overnight.

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The Braun DN40 wasn’t the first digital alarm clock, but it was arguably the first that didn’t look like a technological relic by today’s standards. Its sleek and simple design, a hallmark of Braun’s products, angled the LCD display slightly back, while the buttons on the back used to set the time and alarm all feature distinct shapes so they can be operated without actually having to look at them. Features that should have been standardized on all bedside alarm clocks.

For a while, smartphones meant that bedside alarm clocks were an antiquated and redundant concept, freeing up space on our bedside tables. But then the ‘convenience’ of wireless charging arrived, and we once again had to make room for a big chunk of electronics to plop our phones on at night. That’s where the Braun BC21 enters the picture.

Inspired by the classic DN40, the BC21 features a similarly slanted LCD display on the front (updated with a light sensor that automatically dims or brightens the glowing digits so they’re always easy on the eyes), a beeping alarm that gradually gets louder the longer you ignore it, and a touch-sensitive snooze button on the top that requires minimal effort to activate.

Behind the display is a 10-watt Qi-compatible wireless charging pad covered in non-slip silicone so that whatever you place on it before bed—be it a smartphone, earbuds, or headphones—are still there and fully charged in the morning no matter how much stuff you knock over during a night of fitful sleep. The only downside to Dieter Ram’s legacy is that not only are classic Braun electronics hard to find and pricey when you do, but modern Braun electronics aren’t exactly cheap either, and the BC21 is a hefty $130—even more expensive than the overpriced Apple MagSafe Duo Charger.

Oppo Doubles Down on the Camera Bump for the Find X3 Pro

Illustration for article titled Oppo Doubles Down on the Camera Bump for the Find X3 Pro

Image: Oppo

Like it or not, the smartphone camera bump isn’t going away anytime soon, so Oppo is using a new curvy glass design in its latest flagship phone to try to convince people to love the bump.

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In addition to updated specs, including a Snapdragon 888 processor and a 6.78-inch QHD+ AMOLED screen with a nifty variable refresh rate, the new Oppo Find X3 Pro features a rear panel made from a single piece of glass that Oppo claims was created to “artfully evoke spacecraft and the technology of tomorrow.”

By shaping the camera bump from a single sheet of glass, Oppo was able to create a “Gradient Arc Camera” with smooth flowing curves that stand in stark contrast to the boxy camera bumps Apple used on its latest batch of iPhones, or the large camera module Samsung employed on the Galaxy S21 Ultra.

When it comes to the camera itself, the Find X3 Pro also uses the same 50-MP Sony IMX 766 sensor for its main and ultra-wide cams (which is a nice touch for people who don’t like being saddled with lower-quality, wide-angle shots). Oppo is also tossing in a 13-MP telephoto cam with a 5x hybrid zoom and a 3-MP “microlens” with a 60x magnification, designed to be used like a mobile microscope. On top of that, the Find X3 Pro also comes with both optical and electronic image stabilization for sharper images and a new “All-Pixel” omnidirectional phase detect autofocus system that promises faster performance across a range of environments.

Leveraging Oppo’s SuperVOOC and AirVOOC charging tech, the Find X3 Pro also features fast wired charging at up to 65 watts, which can take the phone from dead to full in just 30 minutes, or 30-watt wireless charging (using a proprietary stand) that can go from 0 to 100% in a little over an hour.

Illustration for article titled Oppo Doubles Down on the Camera Bump for the Find X3 Pro

Image: Oppo

But let’s go back to the display. In addition to that 120Hz VRR screen, Oppo also includes a 240Hz touch sampling rate and an OLED screen that can show up to 1 billion colors, to better support the super huge gamut of colors you can capture using the Find X3 Pro’s cameras.

The Find X3 Pro also comes with 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, though sadly, as has become standard on most modern phones, you don’t get support for microSD expandability or a headphone jack.

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In the end, while curvy glass probably won’t be enough to appease the sort of people who want camera bumps banished entirely, I do appreciate that Oppo is trying something a bit different with the rear glass on the Find X3 Pro. It’s just a little sleeker and easier to keep clean than phones with boxy camera modules, and that counts for something.

Illustration for article titled Oppo Doubles Down on the Camera Bump for the Find X3 Pro

Image: Oppo

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While there aren’t any official plans for a U.S. release at the moment, the Find X3 Pro is expected to go on sale March 30 for 1,149 euros, or about $1375.

Researchers Created a High-Contrast Transparent Screen That Might Make You Want to Wear Smart Glasses

Gif: Jilin University

Researchers at Jilin University in Changchun, China, have come up with a method for making transparent displays that look as good as the screens on our mobile devices, with color reproduction and contrast levels that could soon have us permanently ditching smartphones and tablets for smart glasses.

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Transparent displays are far from a new idea. Science fiction has been presenting us with see-through smartphones and vibrant mixed-reality headsets for years. It’s hard not to lust after the mobile devices Tony Stark gets to play with, but while the technology exists in real life, it’s mostly used for novelty or advertising purposes. Companies like LG sell transparent OLED displays for use as signage, but not as a replacement for your living room TV. Non-emissive see-through screens don’t generate their own light, but instead rely on ambient light passing through or bouncing off the display, and don’t have the same contrast levels, viewing angles, and color reproduction capabilities as LCDs or OLEDs.

Anyone who had a chance to use Google Glass while it was available to consumers knows the limitations of transparent displays, but while image quality lacks, the technology is crucial for creating smart glasses, which many assume will one day supplant smartphones.

There’s little doubt that deep in the R&D labs of giant corporations like LG and Samsung, researchers are trying to find ways to improve transparent OLEDs, but the Chinese researchers at Jilin University may have beaten them to the punch. In a paper published in the journal Chem today, the team details a new approach to electrochromic displays that change color and opacity by manipulating the properties of light when a voltage is applied.

A prototype was created by essentially building a glass sandwich with a pair of clear panels that were injected with a material made from “metal salts, dyes, electrolytes, and solvent” in addition to electrodes, with the whole thing held together using an adhesive that doubled as a spacer. When a voltage is applied, the metal ions and molecules in the filler form new bonds and structures that essentially cause the dyes to switch on and off. As different dyes are activated and mixed, the researchers found that colors including cyan, magenta, yellow, red, green, pink, purple, and gray could be produced. The display could easily shift from fully transparent to black with a high contrast ratio, which is crucial for displaying legible text.

The new non-emissive screen technology is also relatively low-cost and easy to manufacture, further increasing its chances of replacing LCDs and OLEDs in applications like smart glasses, but first the researchers are hoping to optimize its performance. It can shift from transparent to displaying text or imagery in less than a second, but that’s not quite fast enough to match the performance of screens used on smartphones or wearables. It’s going to need to be able to switch states at at least 30 times every second before the technology is practical enough to replace what we’re using now. No one’s going to want a pair of smart glasses if they can’t secretly watch YouTube videos while they look like they’re paying attention to a meeting or class.

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