See the new iPhone’s ‘focus pixels’ up close

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The new iPhones have excellent cameras, to be sure. But it’s always good to verify Apple’s breathless on-stage claims with first-hand reports. We have our own review of the phones and their photography systems, but teardowns provide the invaluable service of letting you see the biggest changes with your own eyes — augmented, of course, by a high-powered microscope.

We’ve already seen iFixit’s solid-as-always disassembly of the phone, but TechInsights gets a lot closer to the device’s components — including the improved camera of the iPhone XS and XS Max.

Although the optics of the new camera are as far as we can tell unchanged since the X, the sensor is a new one and is worth looking closely at.

Microphotography of the sensor dies shows that Apple’s claims are borne out and then some. The sensor size has increased from 32.8mm2 to 40.6mm2 — a huge difference despite the small units. Every tiny bit counts at this scale. (For comparison, the Galaxy S9 is 45mm2, and the soon-to-be-replaced Pixel 2 is 25mm2.)

a circuit board© Provided by AOL Inc. The pixels themselves also, as advertised, grew from 1.22 microns (micrometers) across to 1.4 microns — which should help with image quality across the board. But there’s an interesting, subtler development that has continually but quietly changed ever since its introduction: the “focus pixels.”

That’s Apple’s brand name for phase detection autofocus (PDAF) points, found in plenty of other devices. The basic idea is that you mask off half a sub-pixel every once in a while (which I guess makes it a sub-sub-pixel), and by observing how light enters these half-covered detectors you can tell whether something is in focus or not.

Of course, you need a bunch of them to sense the image patterns with high fidelity, but you have to strike a balance: losing half a pixel may not sound like much, but if you do it a million times, that’s half a megapixel effectively down the drain. Wondering why that all the PDAF points are green? Many camera sensors use an “RGBG” sub-pixel pattern, meaning there are two green sub-pixels for each red and blue one — it’s complicated why. But there are twice as many green sub-pixels and therefore the green channel is more robust to losing a bit of information.

a screenshot of a video game© Provided by AOL Inc.  Apple introduced PDAF in the iPhone 6, but as you can see in TechInsights’ great diagram, the points are pretty scarce. There’s one for maybe every 64 sub-pixels and not only that, they’re all masked off in the same orientation: either the left or right half has gone.
The 6S and 7 Pluses saw the number double to one PDAF point per 32 sub-pixels. And in the 8 Plus, the number is improved to one per 20 — but there’s another addition: now the phase detection masks are on the tops and bottoms of the sub-pixels as well. As you can imagine, doing phase detection in multiple directions is a more sophisticated proposal, but it could also significantly improve the accuracy of the process. Autofocus systems all have their weaknesses, and this may have addressed one Apple regretted in earlier iterations.

Which brings us to the XS (and Max, of course), in which the PDAF points are now one per 16 sub-pixels, has increased the frequency of the vertical phase detection points so that they’re equal in number to the horizontal one. Clearly, the experiment paid off and any consequent light loss has been mitigated or accounted for.

I’m curious how the sub-pixel patterns of Samsung, Huawei, and Google phones compare, and I’m looking into it. But I wanted to highlight this interesting little evolution. It’s an interesting example of the kind of changes that are hard to understand when explained in simple number form — we’ve doubled this, or there are a million more of that — but which make sense when you see them in physical form.

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Facebook has problems fact-checking words, but now it wants to check photos and videos

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To say that Facebook’s fact-checking efforts are going well would not pass the muster of any good fact-checker. Its external partners have said the system is inefficient. Some of them are getting brutally attacked online. Partisan bickering has also been an issue. And most importantly, sketchy news sources and fake stories continue to thrive on the platform.

Facebook’s executives, on the other hand, keep praising the program. And on Thursday (Sept. 13), the company announced that it would be expanding its fact-checking work to photographs and videos. In a post, Antonia Woodford, a product manager at Facebook, says it built a machine-learning model to identify potentially false images or clips. These get sent to one of Facebook’s 27 fact-checking partners who are based in 17 countries. These fact-checkers are expected to use techniques “such as reverse image searching and analyzing image metadata” to determine whether the content has been falsified.

“As we get more ratings from fact-checkers on photos and videos, we will be able to improve the accuracy of our machine learning model,” Woodford writes. The company is also working on technological solutions to determine whether visual content had been manipulated (as is the case with “deepfake” videos like this, for example).

Manipulated images are a common way to the spread of misinformation, and hoaxers are getting more and more sophisticated with their methods, but text-based articles are hard enough to check. The current system is far from perfect, and now Facebook is piling on yet another, difficult ask.

Canon announces EOS R full-frame mirrorless camera

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Canon has announced its first full-frame mirrorless camera and lens system, both called EOS R. Coming shortly after rival Nikon announced its own full-frame mirrorless cameras, the announcement of the EOS R means both Japanese camera giants are now taking high-end mirrorless seriously after years of putting out half-hearted responses to the likes of Sony and Fujifilm.

As previously leaked, the EOS R camera is built around a 30.3-megapixel full-frame sensor with an ISO range of 100-40,000. The sensor uses dual-pixel autofocus and is paired with Canon’s DIGIC 8 image processor. There’s a fully articulated touchscreen as well as an OLED electronic viewfinder and an information panel on the top of the camera.

While the camera basically looks like a slimmed-down DSLR, the EOS R system breaks away from Canon’s traditional control scheme in a few ways. Most notably, all the lenses have a dedicated control ring as well as the dials for zooming and manual focus; this lets you adjust settings like aperture from the lens itself. There’s also a sliding left-right control bar on the back of the camera that can be used for various other features.

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The first EOS R lenses are a 24-105mm f/4 L, a 50mm f/1.2mm L, a 28-70mm f/2 L, and a 35mm f/1.8 macro. Canon is also releasing three lens mount adapters for EOS SLR lenses, including one with the EOS R control ring and another that can be used with drop-in filters. The camera will be available body-only or with the 24-105mm lens in late October.

We’re at Canon’s EOS R event in Tokyo and will bring you more news and impressions soon.

Samsung Galaxy X to have FOUR rear cameras and launch in 2018

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The Samsung Galaxy X looks like it has just had its camera system leaked online and, at face value, it looks like an optical system in advance of that installed on the best Android phone in the world, the Samsung Galaxy Note 9.

Why? That’s because the new Samsung phone looks like it is equipped with four rear cameras, which sees it double up on the Note 9’s two-camera rear setup.

A four-camera rear setup would also see this new Samsung phone also outgun the mighty Huawei P20 Pro and its Leica-brand triple-rear camera, which remains one of the best smartphone camera systems in the world.

The four-camera reveal comes courtesy of Samsung leakster-in-chief Ice universe, who has a very reliable track record of breaking specs and feature news for the South Korean maker’s upcoming devices, and recently stated that:

 

Now, despite the brevity of these Tweets, if you put them all together they actually deliver a clear picture of what is being alluded to.

Firstly, the new Samsung phone being hinted at here is “not [the] S10 or Galaxy F“, which are rumored to be the South Korean maker’s much-wanted upcoming flagship and folding phones, which are predicted to be landing in early 2019.

Unless, therefore, this is a brand new phone we currently know nothing about, it has to be the Samsung Galaxy X, which recently has been reported as Samsung’s incoming gaming phone.

Secondly, this new Samsung phone is coming in “2018”, meaning that we should at least see a reveal this year if not a full launch. This again seems to indicate that this phone is not the Samsung folding phone (reported as both the Galaxy X and Galaxy F) or Galaxy S10 flagship, which are due in 2019.

And, thirdly, the new iPhone rival will have four cameras (“camera camera camera camera”) and they will be positioned facing “all back”.

a close up of electronics: Samsung Galaxy S10 © Provided by Future Publishing Ltd. Samsung Galaxy S10

These details naturally raise the question of why the new Samsung phone, which as we’ve elaborated on at this point looks like it will be the Galaxy X gaming phone, need four rear cameras?

The answer could lie in the phone’s next-gen AR gaming capabilities, or even VR powers in-sync with the new Samsung Gear VR headset.

Indeed, a flagship-spec new Galaxy phone from Samsung tailored to take on the best gaming phones on the market, such as the Honor Play and Razer Phone, but with crazy-advanced AR/VR capabilities as well, would really help separate Samsung’s hot new gaming phone from the rest of the pack.

A pixel-pushing powerhouse new Android phone with mad AR and VR capabilities that is set to land before the end of the year? Color us excited!

Giant TVs, ‘lite’ phones, smarter household items: what to expect at IFA 2018

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IFA, one of the world’s leading trade shows for consumer electronics, kicks off this week on August 31 in Berlin and runs until September 5. But with so many smartphone manufacturers unveiling at the other two giant tech gatherings, CES and MWC, as well as private events, what can we expect to see later this week?

In the past, IFA has hosted several Samsung unveilings, more often than not the latest Note models, however this year the South Korean giant already unveiled the Galaxy Note 9, Galaxy Watch and Galaxy Home at a separate ‘Unpacked’ event earlier this month.

But Samsung’s product range is large, so there are still many possibilities for its IFA showcase. Between the press event invites depicting home appliances and billboards in Berlin teasing “8K QLED – Prepare to be amazed at IFA” it’s certain that smart televisions and appliances will be center stage. Then again, the invites read “Do What You Can’t” — suggesting that their display may also include a VR/AR headset — another popular sector at IFA.

Like its South Korean competitor, LG is also introducing an expanded series of premium home appliances, including a new wine cellar, dryer and bottom-freezer refrigerator. There’s also a chance that LG will reveal its hotly anticipated 175-inch Micro LED TV, a set bigger than Samsung’s “The Wall”. And with Google Assistant now in so many LG products, there could even be a smart display or speaker in the pipelines.

Yet to be confirmed is the launch date for the imminent new flagship smartphone — LG V40 ThinQ — that has been leaked with five cameras, which raises the question whether LG will also opt for a private launch later this year or bring it to Germany.

Huawei is likely to embrace the absence of a Samsung flagship unveiling and steal the spotlight with its much rumored Mate 20 — and as no new flagship is complete without an affordable ‘Lite’ version and larger ‘Pro’, there are likely to be three models. If the rumors are true, Mate 20 Pro would be a particularly exciting arrival, possibly featuring a massive 6.9-inch display and three cameras on the back (like the P20 Pro). Furthermore, there could be a revamped Huawei Watch on the way, alleged to be similar to its predecessor but this time with eSIM support.

None of this has been confirmed by Huawei; so far the brand has only confirmed the reveal of their next generation mobile chipset — Kirin 980.

Press event invites, combined with recent leaks of new models, suggest that Sony Xperia XZ3 and Xperia XZ3 Compact will be unveiled at IFA, hopefully with the brand’s new 48MP sensor. Meanwhile Blackberry is set to present Key2 LE, a ‘Lite’ version of its latest release. And finally, Motorola Moto One and Moto One Power, the brand’s first Android-One based smartphones, are due to launch soon — who knows, maybe even this week.

Samsung Galaxy S10 super-speeds detailed by 5G reveal

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The Samsung Galaxy S10 could come with a new type of chipset and modem that makes it 5G super-speed enabled.

Samsung’s CEO DJ Koh has already publicly spoken out about 5G saying that the smartphone manufacturer will bring out a 5G specific smartphone. However, this could be before the Galaxy S10 arrives. This suggests all those old rumours about the S10 being 5G capable could be true.

Now Qualcomm has announced that its new chipset, the Snapdragon 855, will be built on a 7nm process meaning it’s super efficient. So much so that it will have enough power to work with the company’s new 5G X50 modem which manages a massive 1.4Gbps.

Samsung has such huge buying power it generally get first dibs on the best new kit from Qualcomm and since Apple has announced it won’t be buying the company’s new modems, all the more for Samsung. What Apple is expected to do is launch the new iPhone with an A12 processor that uses the same 7nm process as Qualcomm, so expect a rush to get this kit out fast.

Here’s hoping we do get to see the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 CPU backed by a 5G modem in the Galaxy S10 when it’s expected to arrive in January 2019.

Samsung’s Harman unveils its new premium soundbar lineup

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When Samsung acquired Harman International Industries last year, it was pretty obvious the tech brand had eyes on the Harman Kardon audio division. The pair has worked together on a few projects since —smartphones and tablets featuring Harman-owned AKG-tuned audio, for example — but now the collaboration is taking Samsung further into the premium audio sector. Two new co-branded premium soundbars developed with Harman, the Samsung HW-N950, and HW-N850, will go on the market later this month.

Both feature Dolby Atmos and DTS:X for a rich, three-dimensional sound, plus up- and side-firing speakers. The HW-N950 is the more premium of the two, with four speakers and two wireless surround sound speakers with 7.1.4 channels — the largest number of channels available in a soundbar. The HW-N850 is a more pared back version, with the main unit speaker, woofer, and a 5.1.2 channel.

Both will be available from September 1 in the Netherlands. Details on other launch regions and specific pricing is yet to be confirmed, but European figures suggest the HW-N950 will retail for around €1,500 ($1,700) and the HW-N850 for €1,000 ($1,130) — certainly not the cheapest soundbars on the market, but a fair price for kit that’s got both Samsung and Harman expertise squeezed into it.