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iPhone XS Max Smart Battery Case review: A battery case that pulls its weight Review

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Apple recently released a Smart Battery Case for the iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone XR through its online store without as much as a press release. There had been leaks and rumors about an impending return of an official battery case from Apple for its iPhone line.

Apple last released a Smart Battery Case for the iPhone 7 in 2016 and didn’t release an updated case for the iPhone 8 and iPhone X.

The Smart Battery Case does is just what its namesake implies: A protective case for the iPhone that includes a battery for extending the day-to-day battery life of the iPhone.

For the past week, I’ve been using a Smart Battery Case on the iPhone XS Max and iPhone XR, and the short of it is that the added battery life far outweighs the added size.

The cases are identical in design, save for the changes in size and camera cutouts on the rear, so with that in mind, I’ll focus on my experience with my primary phone, the iPhone XS Max.

Design


Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

The cases, which come in black or white, are priced at $129. The outside of the case is made of a soft-touch silicone, while the inside is lined with a microfiber lining. Also on the inside of the case is a single indicator light that turns amber when the case is charging, and green when it’s fully charged.

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Also: iPhone XS and iPhone XR cheat sheets

On the bottom is a Lightning port for charging and connecting accessories to your phone, along with cutouts for the bottom speaker and microphone.

The most noticeable design element of the case is the bump, where the battery is housed, on its back. The hump spans roughly 75 percent of the length of the iPhone, stopping just short of the camera cutout.

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Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

Putting the case on an iPhone requires bending back roughly the top third of the case and sliding your phone into the case. Once in place, the case feels sturdy and doesn’t feel flimsy around the edges where it meets the display.

Even though I’ve overcome my reservations about carrying the iPhone XS Max, I wasn’t sure if my open mind to bigger phones would include the addition of a battery case. And while, yes, it does make the iPhone XS Max thicker and a bit heavier, the added size was something I quit noticing after the first day of use.

Really, outside of its unique design, the battery case doesn’t add much more to the overall size than what an Otterbox case would. Although I typically forgo the use of a case at all, preferring to take my chances with accidental drops, the added battery life is something I’m willing to make exceptions for.

Apple’s magic touch

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Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

With every new release, Apple loves to remind us that it can offer a level of integration no one else can, due to controlling the hardware and software, and because of that, the product and the experience benefit. Apple AirPods and Apple Watch are prime examples of this philosophy — and to some extent, so is the Smart Battery Case.

Typically, battery cases have a power button. You turn the case on when you need to charge your phone’s battery, and it keeps charging until it runs out of power or you turn the case off.


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With Apple’s Smart Battery Case, there isn’t a power button. Instead, when the case has a charge, the iPhone is constantly charging — depleting the case as it goes. Once the case no longer has a charge, your iPhone switches to its internal battery. At any time you can check on the status of either battery, either in the Battery widget in the Today view, or on the lock screen when you start charging the case and phone. 

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Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

All this is managed by iOS, because, well, Apple owns the entire stack — hardware and software — and uses that to ensure your iPhone battery isn’t damaged by constantly being charged.

Even how iOS and the case prioritize charging based on the type of charger providing power is unique. Apple refers to this process as Smart Charging.

  • Using the 5W charger that comes with each iPhone, the iPhone will charge first, then the case.
  • If you have a 10W or 12W charger — included with some iPad models — both the case and the phone will charge at the same time but at the speed of 5W each.
  • If you have an 18W power adapter, the iPhone will fast charge and once it’s full, the case will fast charge.
  • Finally, when using a 30W or higher wall adapter both devices will fast charge at the same time.

Furthermore, the new Smart Battery Case is compatible wireless charging pads. Any wireless pad that’s Qi-compatible will wirelessly charge the case and your iPhone.

When using wireless charging, the iPhone will charge first, followed by the case. Both devices will charge at speeds up to 7.5W, which is the maximum speed compatible iPhone’s can charge without the case.

Performance

All those fancy features don’t mean a whole lot if the case doesn’t do its primary job of prolonging the battery life of your iPhone.

For me, that meant not having to charge my iPhone XS Max for three days. For example, after charging the case for the first time, and making sure my phone had a full charge, I put on the case around three on a Friday afternoon. It wasn’t until Monday morning that my phone was under 10 percent battery and needed to be charged.

I repeated the same rudimentary test the following day, with my iPhone XS Max lasting a full three days before needing a charge. That’s roughly double the battery life I typically get from the XS Max on its own.

Also: Apple to iPhone owners: Why you need to upgrade to XR

Granted, every user is going to have a different experience in the exact amount of time the case adds to their use — but I do feel comfortable saying adding the case is not going to provide a minimal gain in battery life.

If you find yourself needing longer battery life from your iPhone, and the idea of carrying around a battery pack isn’t appealing, the Smart Battery Cases is an easy choice. At $129 it’s pricey, but for those who need the added battery boost, it’s well worth it. 

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Instagram adds a dedicated spot for your pronouns – TechCrunch

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Seeing someone mention their pronouns in their Instagram bio has become commonplace — so much so that the app now has a dedicated location where users can put pronouns without taking up that valuable profile space.

The company announced the new feature on Twitter, saying that it is only available in a few countries just now, but will be arriving in more soon. I was able to make it work here in the U.S. in version 187 of the iOS app.

To set your pronoun, just go to your profile page, hit “Edit Profile,” then look in the list of items for an empty Pronouns field (this is different from the one deeper in “personal information settings). Tap that and you can pick what you prefer to be called by — up to four items.

Interestingly, the feature does not allow users to just type in whatever they want — presumably so the field is used for its intended purpose and not for gender-related “jokes.” I was able to find most of the pronouns on this list, and my guess is Instagram will add more if people ask. (I’ve contacted the company asking for more information.)

Whatever you choose will appear next to your name a slightly darker type — there’s also the option to show this only to followers, in case a person’s gender isn’t something they want to share publicly. Of course if you want to freeform it or use some emoji or fancy font, you can skip the “official” pronouns and do that instead.

Not everyone feels the need to share or specify their gender, but the practice has become so widespread that Instagram made a smart choice in making it an integrated part of the profile. It both saves space (now you can put “Doom metal fiend” and “Proud mom” on two lines) and endorses gender identity as something at least as important as links and other bio info.

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YouTube announces a $100M fund to reward top YouTube Shorts creators over 2021-2022 – TechCrunch

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YouTube is giving its TikTok competitor, YouTube Shorts, an injection of cash to help it better compete with rivals. The company today introduced the YouTube Shorts Fund, a $100 million fund that will pay YouTube Shorts creators for their most viewed and most engaging content over the course of 2021 and 2022. Creators can’t apply for the fund to help with content production, however. Instead, YouTube will reach out to creators each month whose videos exceeded certain milestones to reward them for their contributions.

The company expects to dole out money to “thousands” of creators every month, it says. And these creators don’t need to be in the YouTube Partner Program to qualify — anyone is eligible to receive rewards by creating original content for YouTube Shorts.

YouTube declined to share more specific details about the fund’s operations at this time, including how creators will be vetted or what specific thresholds for receiving payments YouTube has in mind. It also wouldn’t offer details as to whether YouTube creators could receive multiple payments in the same pay period if they had several videos that would qualify, or any other details.

And while the company stressed that only “original” content would gain rewards, it didn’t clarify how it will go about checking to ensure the content isn’t already uploaded on another platform, like Reels, Snapchat, or TikTok.

Image Credits: YouTube

Instead, YouTube said that more details about the payments and qualifications would be available closer to the fund’s launch, which is expected sometime in the next few months. It pointed out also that it has paid out over $30 billion to creators, artists and media companies over the last three years, and it expects the new fund will help it to build a long-term monetization model for Shorts on YouTube going forward.

YouTube isn’t the only platform to take on the threat of TikTok by throwing cash at the problem.

Snapchat has been paying $1 million per day to creators for their top-performing videos on Spotlight, its own TikTok clone, minting several millionaires in the process. Facebook-owned Instagram, meanwhile, made lucrative offers to top TikTok stars to use its new service, Reels, The WSJ reported last year.

Despite the size of these efforts, TikTok’s own Creator Fund remains a competitive force. It announced its fund would grow to over $1 billion in the U.S. in the next three years and would be more than double that on a global basis. This March, it also added another requirement to receiving the fund’s payments, including having at least 100K authentic views in the last 30 days — a signal that it’s setting the bar even higher, given its current success.

Alongside the debut of YouTube’s Shorts Fund, the company also noted it’s expanding its Shorts player feature across more place on YouTube to help viewers discover this short-form video content, will begin testing ads for Shorts, and will be rolling out the new “remix audio” feature to all Shorts creators.

Image Credits: YouTube

This somewhat controversial feature allows Shorts creators to sample sounds from other YouTube videos for use in their Shorts, instead of only using song clips or original audio. Some YouTube creators were surprised to find the feature was opt-out by default — meaning their content could be used on YouTube Shorts unless they took the time to turn this setting off or removed their video from YouTube.

Since its launch, YouTube has also rolled out other features to Shorts, including support for captions, the ability to record up to 60 seconds with the Shorts camera, the ability to add clips from your phone’s gallery to your recordings made with the Shorts camera, and the ability use basic filters to color correct videos. YouTube says more effects will arrive in the future.

But even as YouTube tries to catch up with TikTok on feature sets, TikTok has been expanding its own effects lineup and becoming more YouTube-like by supporting longer videos. Some TikTok creators, for example, have recently been given the ability to record videos 3 minutes in lengths, instead of just 60 seconds.

YouTube says the new fund will roll out in the coming months and it will listen to the feedback from the creator community to develop a long-term program designed for YouTube Shorts.

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Facebook ordered not to apply controversial WhatsApp T&Cs in Germany – TechCrunch

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The Hamburg data protection agency has banned Facebook from processing the additional WhatsApp user data that the tech giant is granting itself access to under a mandatory update to WhatsApp’s terms of service.

The controversial WhatsApp privacy policy update has caused widespread confusion around the world since being announced — and already been delayed by Facebook for several months after a major user backlash saw rivals messaging apps benefitting from an influx of angry users.

The Indian government has also sought to block the changes to WhatApp’s T&Cs in court — and the country’s antitrust authority is investigating.

Globally, WhatsApp users have until May 15 to accept the new terms (after which the requirement to accept the T&Cs update will become persistent, per a WhatsApp FAQ).

The majority of users who have had the terms pushed on them have already accepted them, according to Facebook, although it hasn’t disclosed what proportion of users that is.

But the intervention by Hamburg’s DPA could further delay Facebook’s rollout of the T&Cs — at least in Germany — as the agency has used an urgency procedure, allowed for under the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), to order the tech giant not to share the data for three months.

A WhatsApp spokesperson disputed the legal validity of Hamburg’s order — calling it “a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose and effect of WhatsApp’s update” and arguing that it “therefore has no legitimate basis”.

“Our recent update explains the options people have to message a business on WhatsApp and provides further transparency about how we collect and use data. As the Hamburg DPA’s claims are wrong, the order will not impact the continued roll-out of the update. We remain fully committed to delivering secure and private communications for everyone,” the spokesperson added, suggesting that Facebook-owned WhatsApp may be intending to ignore the order.

We understand that Facebook is considering its options to appeal Hamburg’s procedure.

The emergency powers Hamburg is using can’t extend beyond three months but the agency is also applying pressure to the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) to step in and make what it calls “a binding decision” for the 27 Member State bloc.

We’ve reached out to the EDPB to ask what action, if any, it could take in response to the Hamburg DPA’s call.

The body is not usually involved in making binding GDPR decisions related to specific complaints — unless EU DPAs cannot agree over a draft GDPR decision brought to them for review by a lead supervisory authority under the one-stop-shop mechanism for handling cross-border cases.

In such a scenario the EDPB can cast a deciding vote — but it’s not clear that an urgency procedure would qualify.

In taking the emergency action, the German DPA is not only attacking Facebook for continuing to thumb its nose at EU data protection rules, but throwing shade at its lead data supervisor in the region, Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) — accusing the latter of failing to investigate the very widespread concerns attached to the incoming WhatsApp T&Cs.

(“Our request to the lead supervisory authority for an investigation into the actual practice of data sharing was not honoured so far,” is the polite framing of this shade in Hamburg’s press release).

We’ve reached out to the DPC for a response and will update this report if we get one.

Ireland’s data watchdog is no stranger to criticism that it indulges in creative regulatory inaction when it comes to enforcing the GDPR — with critics charging commissioner Helen Dixon and her team of failing to investigate scores of complaints and, in the instances when it has opened probes, taking years to investigate — and opting for weak enforcements at the last.

The only GDPR decision the DPC has issued to date against a tech giant (against Twitter, in relation to a data breach) was disputed by other EU DPAs — which wanted a far tougher penalty than the $550k fine eventually handed down by Ireland.

GDPR investigations into Facebook and WhatsApp remain on the DPC’s desk. Although a draft decision in one WhatsApp data-sharing transparency case was sent to other EU DPAs in January for review — but a resolution has still yet to see the light of day almost three years after the regulation begun being applied.

In short, frustrations about the lack of GDPR enforcement against the biggest tech giants are riding high among other EU DPAs — some of whom are now resorting to creative regulatory actions to try to sidestep the bottleneck created by the one-stop-shop (OSS) mechanism which funnels so many complaints through Ireland.

The Italian DPA also issued a warning over the WhatsApp T&Cs change, back in January — saying it had contacted the EDPB to raise concerns about a lack of clear information over what’s changing.

At that point the EDPB emphasized that its role is to promote cooperation between supervisory authorities. It added that it will continue to facilitate exchanges between DPAs “in order to ensure a consistent application of data protection law across the EU in accordance with its mandate”. But the always fragile consensus between EU DPAs is becoming increasingly fraught over enforcement bottlenecks and the perception that the regulation is failing to be upheld because of OSS forum shopping.

That will increase pressure on the EDPB to find some way to resolve the impasse and avoid a wider break down of the regulation — i.e. if more and more Member State agencies resort to unilateral ’emergency’ action.

The Hamburg DPA writes that the update to WhatsApp’s terms grant the messaging platform “far-reaching powers to share data with Facebook” for the company’s own purposes (including for advertising and marketing) — such as by passing WhatApp users’ location data to Facebook and allowing for the communication data of WhatsApp users to be transferred to third-parties if businesses make use of Facebook’s hosting services.

Its assessment is that Facebook cannot rely on legitimate interests as a legal base for the expanded data sharing under EU law.

And if the tech giant is intending to rely on user consent it’s not meeting the bar either because the changes are not clearly explained nor are users offered a free choice to consent or not (which is the required standard under GDPR).

“The investigation of the new provisions has shown that they aim to further expand the close connection between the two companies in order for Facebook to be able to use the data of WhatsApp users for their own purposes at any time,” Hamburg goes on. “For the areas of product improvement and advertising, WhatsApp reserves the right to pass on data to Facebook companies without requiring any further consent from data subjects. In other areas, use for the company’s own purposes in accordance to the privacy policy can already be assumed at present.

“The privacy policy submitted by WhatsApp and the FAQ describe, for example, that WhatsApp users’ data, such as phone numbers and device identifiers, are already being exchanged between the companies for joint purposes such as network security and to prevent spam from being sent.”

DPAs like Hamburg may be feeling buoyed to take matters into their own hands on GDPR enforcement by a recent opinion by an advisor to the EU’s top court, as we suggested in our coverage at the time. Advocate General Bobek took the view that EU law allows agencies to bring their own proceedings in certain situations, including in order to adopt “urgent measures” or to intervene “following the lead data protection authority having decided not to handle a case.”

The CJEU ruling on that case is still pending — but the court tends to align with the position of its advisors.

 

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