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TCL has officially announced the BlackBerry Key2, its sequel to last year’s KeyOne. It’s a midrange smartphone with the company’s iconic physical keyboard. The Key2 looks a lot like its predecessor, except TCL — which makes most BlackBerry phones now — has slimmed down the top bezel and made space for slightly wider keys. The navigation buttons on top of the keyboard are now backlit as well, so they disappear when not in use, making the screen look bigger than it is.


The Key2 also slims down the chunkier and industrial-looking KeyOne. From far away it could almost pass for a Samsung Galaxy Note 8, but one look at its physical keyboard, and you know it’s a BlackBerry. That’s what the brand is counting on to push sales. BlackBerry’s senior vice president Alain Lejeune said in a statement that TCL’s goal had been to “capture all the traits that have made BlackBerry smartphones iconic, while introducing new innovations and experiences,” which mostly come through software.

Still, even if the Key2 is “the most advanced BlackBerry smartphone ever,” it hasn’t moved far from the past. The Key2 has a 4.5-inch LCD screen with a 3:2 aspect ratio, just like its predecessor. When you use either phone, it’s a trade-off between screen space for streaming shows or playing games and the keyboard for sending emails. The screen real estate dilemma grows worse if you prefer a virtual keyboard at times, especially for entering symbols like & and {}, which aren’t offered on the physical keyboard.

But while TCL didn’t do anything new with the phone’s size and screen, it did add a highly advertised extra camera on the rear of the phone. The Key2 has dual 12-megapixel cameras, one with an aperture of f/1.8 and one with a f/2.6 that provide Portrait Mode and faster autofocus. The front 8-megapixel camera has slow-motion and panorama modes as well as the ability to record 1080p video at 30 fps. Its camera specs rival more expensive flagships like the iPhone 8 Plus, although they fall slightly short compared to the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 or S9’s lower aperture lenses.

Another aspect where the BlackBerry Key2 shines is battery life. The Key2 has the same big 3,500mAh battery seen in the KeyOne that should get you through two days of use.

TCL decided to remove the extra right shift key and replace it with a “speed” key, which resembles an app launcher and lets you set specific keys as shortcuts. For example, you can set it up the so that “I” opens up Instagram. Then when you press I, while holding onto the speed key, Instagram opens. This can be done for any of the 52 keys on the physical keyboard.

The spacebar still doubles as a camera shutter key and as a fingerprint sensor. The Key2 also lets you use the entire keyboard as a touchpad, which can be used mainly for scrolling webpages. Now, you can gesture on the keyboard to scroll through pages; just be careful not to press down on any keys.

The Key2 keeps the 3.5mm headphone jack on the top left, and places the power button and volume controls on the right side. The phone also keeps the “convenience key” seen on the KeyOne, which is an extra button on the right that can be programmed with a shortcut. (That makes a total of 53 programmable keys.)

Some of the BlackBerry Key2’s more interesting updates can be found in its security apps, Dtek, Locker, and Power Center. (These software updates will also roll out to the KeyOne.) BlackBerry spokespeople told me that while these security updates had been in development long before Cambridge Analytica, they were even more necessary at a time like this. Dtek, in addition to being able to offer information about your operating system and security, can now tell you what permissions each app has received and detect if an app is acting strangely.

The Locker mode, which started as a BlackBerry Motion exclusive, came to the KeyOne last December as part of a monthly security update. Now on the Key2, it will come preinstalled. In addition to being a place for you to store fingerprint-protected private photos and files, it’s now a hub for you to store private apps and access Firefox Focus, Mozilla’s private browser.

Finally, Power Center will learn your charging habits. So if it figures out that you usually charge your phone at 10PM every night, if you skip a night, it will warn you and tell you how much time you have left before you’re low on battery.

The rest of the Key2’s specs are slight improvements to the KeyOne. The Key2 runs Android Oreo out of the box and is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 660, which is typical for midrange phones right now. Both RAM and internal storage have been doubled to 6GB of memory and storage options of 64GB and 128GB. The Key2 starts at $649 for the basic storage option and starts shipping globally this month. It comes in black or gray.

I can only envision that you’d use this phone if you love your physical keyboard like you enjoy the satisfying clack of a mechanical keyboard or typewriter, or if you’re nostalgic for the 2000s and also happen to be paranoid about security. The question remains: are any of you BlackBerry fans still out there?








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Google’s Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL smartphones were just unveiled this morning at an event in New York City. As expected, both phones are coming with a near-identical set of front-facing and rear-facing cameras that are powered by artificial intelligence. That allows them to do all sorts of algorithmic work behind the scenes, all powered by what Google calls its new Pixel Visual Core chip.

Among the new AI features built into the Pixel 3 camera are two new shooting modes called Top Shot and Photobooth. Top Shot uses Google’s work in image and object recognition and computer vision to analyze photos and pick the best shots in a given batch. With Top Shot, you’ll be able to capture a number of photos before and after the moment you press the virtual shutter button, while the software will pick out the best shot.

Image: Google

It’s similar to Google’s Motion Photos feature that creates GIFs from short snippets of video. You can still browse through the alternates to pick out others, Google says. Photobooth, on the other hand, takes a bunch of photos of you or your friends using the front-facing camera, but only when it recognizes that the subjects of the photo are making a funny face or smiling. You don’t need to even press the shutter.

Google also announced a feature called Super Res Zoom, which uses a burst of photos to amp resolution when you zoom into a subject, and Night Sight, which uses machine learning to artificially brighten dark spots in photos. For Pixel 3 XL owners, you’ll be able to access a wide-angle lens for a feature Google is calling Group Selfie Cam.

Some of the AI-powered software here, specifically a feature like Photobooth, was built initially for Google Clips, the company’s square-shaped photo and video capturing device that automatically operates on its own to let parents capture moments of their kids. Now, it appears that Google has taken a lot of the knowledge there and integrated it into its Pixel devices to help ease the pain of picking a photo or tinkering with all the settings to capture the perfect shot.

Since the original Pixel, the defining feature of the device line has not been its design or the relatively spartan stock Android it runs, but the camera. Using its advancements in artificial intelligence, Google was able to achieve a staggeringly capable camera that has only improved with last year’s Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. So it makes sense that Google has put more resources toward improving the Pixel 3 camera and positioning it as one of, if not the most important, reason why you’d pick its device over an iPhone XS or a Samsung Galaxy S9 / Note 9.

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Google is making life a bit easier for people affected by hearing loss — with official hearing aid support in Android.

On Thursday, the company announced that it’s working with GN Hearing to bring low-power hearing aid streaming support to future versions of Android. This means people will be able to connect, pair and monitor their hearing aids from their Android device.

This follows Apple’s Made for iPhone hearing aid program, which allows people to connect and control their hearing aids from iOS devices. You can read more in CNET’s feature on the Apple program here.

Although Apple was first, Google’s move has potentially bigger impact since 85 percent of the world’s smartphones run Android (compared to 14.7 percent for iOS).

A World Health Organization statistic from March says that around 466 million people worldwide have disabling hearing loss, meaning a lot of people could potentially benefit from Android’s support.

Apple and Android aren’t alone in bringing cutting-edge tech to hearing aids. Manufacturers like Bose, Oticon and Harman are also working to make hearing aids smarter with app support, built-in sensors and communication between connected smart devices.

Android’s hearing aid support is designed to have a low impact on battery life while keeping audio quality high. The nitty-gritty details about the hearing aid support can be read on Android’s spec page here.





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Microsoft unveiled a bunch of different Surface products this week. There’s a new matte black Surface Pro 6 and Surface Laptop 2, an updated Surface Studio 2, and all new Surface Headphones. While most of the hardware was typical Surface, the Headphones were a surprising shift for Microsoft. In an interview with The Verge, Surface chief Panos Panay reveals that Microsoft moving into headphones is all about a new idea of “completing the Surface experience.”

“Now that the company is designing these products as one company, the tech is evolving where we want it to be… there was an opportunity to complete this thing in a way that I’m passionate about and that the team is passionate about,” explains Panay. That “completion” on the headphones side is designed to meet Surface users that engross themselves in music, as many creators do, or even gamers who use headsets for hours. “Just like a Surface, there are a few little elements that we can bring to the table that are transformative for your experience in getting things done,” explains Panay. Those elements include the clever noise canceling dial, integrated Cortana and Skype functions, and the automatic mute features.

While Microsoft has taken this step into headphones and beyond its regular mouse and keyboard accessories, there are signs Surface will continue to push into new areas. During our interview, Panay hints that we might see a USB-C webcam from Microsoft. “Look at the camera on Surface Hub 2, note it’s a USB-C-based camera, and the idea that we can bring a high fidelity camera to an experience, you can probably guess that’s going to happen,” explains Panay. “Is it completing an experience or bringing the next level of an experience to something that you wanted, even if it’s not Surface? I’ve been looking at all of that. While I won’t announce a new product, I think that’s important. I really think the completing of experience is our design from Microsoft that’s hardware and software.”

Microsoft is increasingly looking at a tighter blend of hardware and software that’s typically the playbook of Apple. While the software giant has tried to mash these together by demonstrating things like OneNote with a Surface Pen, the Surface Hub 2 feels like the first real demonstration of Microsoft’s new approach to hardware and software. It also has a modular design so you can upgrade its components, and that same design feels like it should be on the 28-inch Surface Studio.

Surface Hub 2’s modular design

I asked Panos if we could see the same modular design of the Surface Hub 2, that lets you replace the processor cartridge, coming to Surface Studio. “Probably, you look at it and you see what’s the evolution and how do we make it better for our customers,” says Panay. “Yeah, there’s still so much more to do, and while I won’t tell you what it is you can put stories together.” It’s easy to connect the Surface dots, especially when Microsoft filed patents for a modular Surface Studio years ago.

Either way, it’s clear the future of Surface will be very similar to the Surface Hub 2 and Surface Headphones. Both these products marry hardware and software together in meaningful ways that are designed to make them truly fit into the unique gap in the market that Microsoft is trying to fill with Surface.

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