The term best is subjective, but after testing out a number of smartphones, wearables, tablets, and other mobile gear over the past year, I have developed some informed opinions on the tech we use daily. Some devices are clearly the best for everyone, while others are champions in their particular ecosystem or targeted market.
My most popular ZDNet post of the year was the 10 best smartphones of 2018 list that I update regularly as new phones are released. The phones released in 2018 were so good that it made limiting the post to 10 phones very difficult. Honestly, any of the top five could easily be argued for the No. 1 slot.
Best of 2018
I have a few titles I would like to award to the various mobile tech I reviewed in 2018.
Best overall smartphone
I recently updated my 10 best smartphones post after all major announcements for the end of 2018 were completed. One phone kept popping back up to the top so I’m giving my best overall smartphone award to the Samsung Galaxy Note 9. For business users it offers one of the biggest and best smartphone displays on the market, it has the S Pen for enhanced productivity, can be extended as a desktop thanks to DeX, has a microSD card slot for unlimited storage capacity, and more.
Best smartphone value
OnePlus has been releasing smartphones via direct sales for a few years, but was successful in securing a US wireless carrier deal in 2018. The OnePlus 6T is an excellent smartphone and the low price, compared to other flagships, makes it even more compelling. The cellular reception has been better than other phones, the battery lasts a long time, it is one of the most responsive Android phones, and it is gorgeous in Thunder Purple.
Best Android smartphone
While this might also go to the Note 9, I’m going to give this honor to the Google Pixel 3 XL. This new phone from Google packs it all in and the camera, with magical Night Sight capability, is the one to get to make sure you always have the latest and greatest version of Android on your phone.
Best iOS smartphone
You might think I would have chosen the most expensive new iPhone, but I sent my iPhone XS Max back to Apple after two weeks and wasn’t as impressed as I should have been. The real star of the Apple 2018 iPhone lineup is the iPhone XR with the lowest starting price (by $250 and $350 for the XS and XS Max, respectively), longest battery life, same processor, same rear camera, and availability in six fun colors.
Best camera on a phone
The Huawei Mate 20 Pro might be a contender for this one, but given the consistent results I picking the Google Pixel 3/3 XL for this one again. These two phones have a single rear camera, but what Google has been able to do with software through Night Sight, portrait, and other shots is stunning.
Best battery life
Huawei is known for leading the charge with massive capacity batteries in its phones. It has had 4,000 mAh for a couple of years and as others have reached this level, Huawei went ahead and put in a 4,200 mAh variant in the Mate 20 Pro to raise the bar once again. This phone will last most people a couple of days and even heavy users will get through at least one full, long day.
Best audio experience
LG’s five cameras may not have earned it the best camera phone award, but you can’t argue it excels in audio performance. With a 3.5mm headphone jack, Hi-Fi Quad DAC, DTS:X 3D surround sound, and loud Boombox speaker, it is pretty clear the LG V40 ThinQ leads the way.
For apps and consuming media, it is tough to beat the new Apple iPad Pro. However, if you want a solid tablet that has a full desktop browser, the Pixel Slate is very compelling. The iPad Pro gets the nod this year as Google continues to work out a few bugs, but don’t be surprised if Google takes the crown in 2019.
Apple released the Apple Watch Series 4 this year and if you are an iPhone user then it is probably your best option for a smartwatch. However, for the other 75 percent of you who own an Android phone and maybe even some of you with an iPhone, the Samsung Galaxy Watch is the best available today. It offers outstanding hardware, two different sizes, 2-3 day battery life, Spotify music integration, advanced sleep and fitness tracking, GPS, and more.
Best daily activity tracker
Research indicates 42 percent of adults looking for a wearable are still interested in devices other than a smartwatch. The Fitbit Charge 3 is the best Fitbit band ever and offers all that you could want in a tracker band with long battery life, advanced sleep and heart rate tracking, an expansive Fitbit ecosystem and community, and smartphone notifications. Android smartphone users also can use it for quick replies.
Best GPS sports watch
A couple of years ago, I spent some bucks on the Garmin Fenix 3 HR, but after testing the Garmin Fenix 5X Plus I was sold on the integrated music, advanced sleep tracking, extensive workout customization options, and more. I purchased the Fenix 5 Plus because I didn’t need the extra Pulse Ox sensor functionality and saved myself some money. The Fenix 5 Plus series is outstanding and I haven’t found a single thing missing from this watch.
We have already seen rumors of upcoming Samsung foldable phones and the new Galaxy S10 so I’m sure 2019 will start off with a bang at CES and MWC in the first couple of months.
Which were your favorite mobile devices of 2018?
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Previous and related coverage:
The 10 best smartphones of 2018
All significant smartphone launches have now passed and as we approach the end of the year, the ten best shake out after more extended usage of each. All ten phones are excellent and certain aspects make each a possible contender for the top spot.
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Best tech gadgets of 2018
Time to take a tour of what I consider to be the best tech gadgets of 2018. There are some that you’ll no doubt expect to find in this list, and others that will probably come as a surprise. All have been personally tested for quality, performance, and durability.
Reddit is shutting down Dubsmash and integrating video tools into its own app – TechCrunch
Reddit is shutting down Dubsmash, its short-form TikTok-like video platform, on February 22, 2022. The company says after February, Dubsmash will no longer be available for download in the Apple App Store or Google Play Store. Currently downloaded apps will stop functioning on the same date.
The company acquired Dubsmash in December 2020 and had said it would integrate its video creation tools into Reddit. Following the acquisition, Dubsmash’s leadership team joined Reddit. Now, nearly a year later, Reddit says the Dubsmash team has been accelerating the app’s video offerings and that parts of Reddit will feel familiar to Dubsmash users.
“Since joining, the Dubsmash team has been working to integrate their innovative video creation tools into Reddit — with a goal of empowering Reddit’s own creators to express themselves in original ways that are authentic to our communities,” Reddit said in a blog post. “Combining forces has been a perfect match. Reddit is where passionate communities come together for timely, interactive and authentic exchanges about topics that matter to them, and video is increasingly core to how people want to connect.”
As part of the integration, Reddit has announced that it’s rolling out new video creation tools. New camera features include the ability to change recording speeds and the option to set a timer. Users can now also upload videos in landscape, portrait mode and fill, as well as adjust and trim multiple clips. The company is also adding a new editing screen that includes text Stickers, a drawing tool and filters. And users have the option to add voiceovers or adjust the volume directly on the editing screen.
In August, Reddit rolled out a video feed feature for iOS users, which shows a stream of videos in a TikTok-like configuration. When presented with a video, users can upvote or downvote, comment, gift an award or share it. Similar to TikTok, users can swipe up to see another video, feeding content from subreddits the user is subscribed to, as well as related ones. The launch of the new video feed came as Instagram’s Reels feature and Snapchat’s Spotlight tool were gaining traction, as social media platforms were looking to compete with TikTok.
Reddit says video content is soaring on Reddit, as it has seen nearly 70% growth in overall hours watched. It notes that there has been a 30% increase in the growth of daily active video viewers. The app has also seen a 50% increase in quarter-over-quarter short video viewership, which it describes as less than than 2 seconds, in its new video player.
It’s worth noting that Reddit first launched its native video platform in 2017, which allows users to upload MP4 and MOV files to the site. Then, in August 2019, it launched RPAN (Reddit Public Access Network), which lets people livestream to selected subreddits.
Now that Reddit has completed its Dubsmash integration, it’s no surprise that it’s looking to garner more users with the launch of its new video creation tools as it aims to continue to compete with TikTok. However, apps like TikTok and Snapchat go beyond simple video creation, as they also leverage sounds and music on their platforms. It’s unknown if Reddit will take its video ambitions further by following suit in the future.
World Mobile Group bringing Zanzibaris online through mobile network built on blockchain – TechCrunch
As the world quickly transitions into a global village thanks to the rapid penetration of internet networks, it is easy for some people to be left behind owing to the remoteness of their locations. In most parts of Zanzibar, an autonomous island in East Africa, for example, services by terrestrial cable and satellite networks are deficient, leaving a big percentage of the population uncovered. But, if plans by the World Mobile Group — a global telecommunications operator — materialize, many Zanzibaris will be connecting to the internet for the first time in the next few months.
World Mobile is building infrastructure for last-mile connectivity using spectrums like free-space optical communication and other radio transmitters, which do not require licensing, translating to less expensive internet access.
The spectrums connect to multiple air nodes to create a mesh network, providing internet coverage to far-flung villages.
“There’s a lot of fiber optics that have been laid throughout the continent, and we pick up on the last mile of fiber and use alternative spectrums like free-space optics, or other radio spectrums that do not require licensing,” World Mobile group CEO and founder Micky Watkins told TechCrunch.
Watkins said that because they do not require licenses for these alternative spectrums they get a massive tax saving, which translates to cheaper internet for users.
“We use these alternative spectrums to build the backhaul (connection between an access node and the core network) and then create a device (node) that people can use to pick up from that backhaul,” said Watkins.
For sustainability, the air nodes will be owned by private entities, through a one-off fee of about $7,000 that they will recoup over time by earning income or rewards in the form of World Mobile Token (WMT), the operator’s cryptocurrency, as people connect to the internet through their access points. The network operator is working with micro-lenders in financing entrepreneurs to buy the nodes.
Each air node provides reliable Wi-Fi internet to 500 to 700 people, and other ancillary utilities like public lighting through integrated solar-powered floodlights.
Watkins said the concept of a sharing economy reduces operational expenditures incurred in maintenance, security and leasing costs, while also powering a self-sustaining business model.
“And now the residents have a choice; do I own livestock or is it better for me to own part of a telecom infrastructure and run a telecommunications platform? This option was never there before; so, just like Uber or Airbnb, we are operating under the sharing economy model.”
World Mobile is currently serving about 3,000 customers on the five pilot sites, but has plans to expand to 30 sites by January — as it moves to fast-track the connectivity efforts.
Watkins said that current users spend about $4 a month on internet usage. The operator has a network of vendors where users onboard their fiat cash or buy WMT, the company’s digital currency, to connect to the internet.
World Mobile has a more ambitious plan of covering Zanzibar in five years, making internet available to the entire population of 1.5 million people, stepping up competition for traditional network companies like Zanlink and satellite internet companies like GlobalTT teleport and operator.
“We have a few deals that are coming through the pipeline that will allow us to have connectivity throughout the whole of Zanzibar, including the whole shoreline and in between mainland (Tanzania) and the borders of Zanzibar, allowing us to implement IoT, as well as connectivity for the people,” said Watkins.
The company is set to roll out the network in Kenya and Tanzania, where they already have operations, over the coming months.
“This is a movement, and this can be the biggest mobile network in the world that is run by the people. No one has ever done that before. So that’s what we’re actually going for,” said Watkins.
How Zanzibar is tapping connectivity to build a digital economy
As more citizens get connected, the Zanzibar government has started implementing its digital economy framework, a plan it had shelved for over a decade.
Among the many ideas it had laid out and is now on course for includes tapping connectivity to grow its blue economy and to develop solutions that protect Zanzibar’s blue economy from illegal fishing trawlers.
Zanzibar’s ocean-based activities provide employment to 33% of its labor force and contribute more than 29% of the island’s GDP, but could realize more from its ocean-based wealth with better technologies.
It will also help in building infrastructure that will help it automate all its administrative tasks and processes. This means building an e-government system that would allow the interaction of government with its citizens, businesses, employees and between its agencies. The investment will make the government more accessible to its citizens, who no longer need to physically visit offices for services or information.
“The new administration is really focusing on digital transformation. We need to get there. But first we’re going to ensure that everybody can access the internet at an affordable rate,” said Said Seif Said, director general of the E-Government Agency of Zanzibar (eGaz).
The agency was established to promote policies, standards and other practices to improve ICT uptake across the public institutions.
“We might have a different solution like an integrated blue economy management system — which means we’re including satellite automatic identification systems, vessel management systems and drones. So, all this is to solve the problem of illegal unreported and unregistered fishing. And all these technologies need the connectivity to be in place.”
The urgency to digitize has partly been fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has accelerated Zanzibar’s plan for a digital government and economy. Zanzibar is now compensating for the time lost by quickening its pace toward that transition.
“The COVID pandemic has really changed how we do everything and we need to enable our citizens to do what they need to do from their homes. We have to ensure the sheer accessibility of government services countrywide in an affordable, effective and efficient manner through the appropriate use of ICT, and that’s where this collaboration with the World Mobile Group and Input Output Global (IOG) comes in,” he said.
In the partnership, IOG, a blockchain and digital identity firm behind Cardano blockchain, will automate Zanzibar’s systems by implementing blockchain technology in registry systems to provide “digital identifications with traceability”. It will also integrate back-end government systems to enable business-process automation and facilitate the flow of communication within government institutions.
World Mobile subscribers will access Atala PRISM, IOG’s digital identity solution for services such as education, banking and healthcare.
Meanwhile, Zanzibar is launching a blockchain academy that will, beginning early next year, hold conferences as the tourist destination positions itself as a blockchain center of the future.
Twitter iOS update prevents tweets from disappearing while you’re reading them – TechCrunch
Twitter is updating its iOS app to prevent tweets from disappearing while users are still reading them. The change comes as the social media giant recently updated its web platform to no longer automatically refresh timelines with new tweets. Twitter acknowledged that in the past, tweets would often disappear from view as users were reading them when their timeline would automatically refresh, creating a frustrating experience.
“We’ve made some updates on iOS to prevent Tweets from disappearing mid-read. Now when you pause your timeline scrolling to look at a Tweet, it should stay put!,” Twitter outlined in a tweet.
In September, the company noted it would be rolling out updates to the way it displays tweets so that they wouldn’t disappear mid-read. These updates have now rolled out to Twitter’s web and iOS platforms. Twitter notes that it’s working on making changes to the disappearing tweet experience on Android too, but it’s unknown when the updates will roll out.
Twitter also recently announced that it will no longer automatically crop image previews on the web, after rolling out full-size image previews on mobile earlier this year. On Twitter for the web, images will now display in full without any cropping. Instead of gambling on how an image will show up in the timeline, images will look just like they did when you shot them. The social media giant first tested the change in March with a small subset of iOS and Android users.
These tweaks come as Twitter has been working to enhance its platform and make its services more accessible. The social media giant recently rolled out the ability for users to share direct links to their Spaces to let others tune into a live audio session via the web without being logged into the platform. The company also recently introduced its in-app tipping feature to all Android users above the age of 18.
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