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Phones and more: The best of everything mobile in 2018

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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.

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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.

Best tablet

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.


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Best smartwatch

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.

Top 12 Raspberry Pi alternatives (Best of 2018)

Here is a selection of single board computers for homebrew projects and automation, with prices starting at only $5.

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.

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Cymulate snaps up $70M to help cybersecurity teams stress test their networks with attack simulations – TechCrunch

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The cost of cybercrime has been growing at an alarming rate of 15% per year, projected to reach $10.5 trillion by 2025. To cope with the challenges that this poses, organizations are turning to a growing range of AI-powered tools to supplement their existing security software and the work of their security teams. Today, a startup called Cymulate — which has built a platform to help those teams automatically and continuously stress test their networks against potential attacks with simulations, and provide guidance on how to improve their systems to ward off real attacks — is announcing a significant round of growth funding after seeing strong demand for its tools.

The startup — founded in Tel Aviv, with a second base in New York — has raised $70 million, a Series D that it will be using to continue expanding globally and investing in expanding its technology (both organically and potentially through acquisitions).

Today, Cymulate’s platform covers both on-premise and cloud networks, providing breach and attack simulations for endpoints, email and web gateways and more; automated “red teaming”; and a “purple teaming” facility to create and launch different security breach scenarios for organizations that lack the resources to dedicate people to a live red team — in all, a “holistic” solution for companies looking to make sure they are getting the most out of the network security architecture that they already have in place, in the worlds of Eyal Wachsman, Cymulate’s CEO.

“We are providing our customers with a different approach for how to do cybersecurity and get insights [on]  all the products already implemented in a network,” he said in an interview. The resulting platform has found particular traction in the current market climate. Although companies continue to invest in their security architecture, security teams are also feeling the market squeeze, which is impacting IT budgets, and sometimes headcount in an industry that was already facing a shortage of expertise. (Cymulate cites figures from the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology that estimate a shortfall of 2.72 million security professionals in the workforce globally.)

The idea with Cymulate is that it’s built something that helps organizations get the most out of what they already have. “And at the end, we provide our customers the ability to prioritize where they need to invest, in terms of closing gaps in their environment,” Wachsman said.

The round is being led by One Peak, with Susquehanna Growth Equity (SGE), Vertex Ventures Israel, Vertex Growth and strategic backer Dell Technologies Capital also participating. (All five also backed Cymulate in its $45 million Series C last year.) Relatively speaking, this is a big round for Cymulate, doubling its total raised to $141 million, and while the startup is not disclosing its valuation, I understand from sources that it is around the $500 million mark.

Wachsman noted that the funding is coming on the heels of a big year for the startup (the irony being that the constantly escalating issue of cybersecurity and growing threat landscape spells good news for companies built to combat that). Revenues have doubled, although it’s not disclosing any numbers today, and the company is now at over 200 employees and works with some 500 paying customers across the enterprise and mid-market, including NTT, Telit, and Euronext, up from 300 customers a year ago.

Wachsman, who co-founded the company with Avihai Ben-Yossef and Eyal Gruner, said he first thought of the idea of building a platform to continuously test an organization’s threat posture in 2016, after years of working in cybersecurity consulting for other companies. He found that no matter how much effort his customers and outside consultants put into architecting security solutions annually or semi-annually, those gains were potentially lost each time a malicious hacker made an unexpected move.

“If the bad guys decided to penetrate the organization, they could, so we needed to find a different approach,” he said. He looked to AI and machine learning for the solution, a complement to everything already in the organization, to build “a machine that allows you to test your security controls and security posture, continuously and on demand, and to get the results immediately… one step before the hackers.”

Last year, Wachsman described Cymulate’s approach to me as “the largest cybersecurity consulting firm without consultants,” but in reality the company does have its own large in-house team of cybersecurity researchers, white-hat hackers who are trying to find new holes — new bugs, zero days and other vulnerabilities — to develop the intelligence that powers Cymulate’s platform.

These insights are then combined with other assets, for example the MITRE ATT&CK framework, a knowledge base of threats, tactics and techniques used by a number of other cybersecurity services, including others building continuous validation services that compete with Cymulate. (Competitors include the likes of FireEye, Palo Alto Networks, Randori, AttackIQ and many more.)

Cymulate’s work comes in the form of network maps that detail a company’s threat profile, with technical recommendations for remediation and mitigations, as well as an executive summary that can be presented to financial teams and management who might be auditing security spend. It also has built tools for running security checks when integrating any services or IT with third parties, for instance in the event of an M&A process or when working in a supply chain.

Today the company focuses on network security, which is big enough in itself but also leaves the door open for Cymulate to acquire companies in other areas like application security — or to build that for itself. “This is something on our roadmap,” said Wachsman.

If potential M&A leads to more fundraising for Cymulate, it helps that the startup is in one of the handful of categories that are going to continue to see a lot of attention from investors.

“Cybersecurity is clearly an area that we think will benefit from the current macroeconomic environment, versus maybe some of the more capital-intensive businesses like consumer internet or food delivery,” said David Klein, a managing partner at One Peak. Within that, he added, “The best companies [are those] that are mission critical for their customers… Those will continue to attract very good multiples.”

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Open-source password manager Bitwarden raises $100M – TechCrunch

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Bitwarden, an open-source password manager for enterprises and consumers, has raised $100 million in a round of funding led by PSG, with participation form Battery Ventures.

Founded initially back in 2015, Santa Barbara, California-based Bitwarden operates in a space that includes well-known incumbents including 1Password, which recently hit a $6.8 billion valuation off the back of a $620 million fundraise, and Lastpass, which was recently spun out as an independent company again two years after landing in the hands of private equity firms.

In a nutshell, Bitwarden and its ilk make it easier for people to generate secure passwords automatically, and store all their unique passwords and sensitive information such as credit card data in a secure digital vault, saving them from reusing the same insecure password across all their online accounts.

Bitwarden’s big differentiator, of course, lies in the fact that it’s built atop an open-source codebase, which for super security-conscious individuals and businesses is a good thing — they can fully inspect the inner-workings of the platform. Moreover, people can contribute back to the codebase and expedite development of new features.

On top of a basic free service, Bitwarden ships a bunch of paid-for premium features and services, including advanced enterprise features like single sign-on (SSO) integrations and identity management.

Bitwarden

It’s worth noting that today’s “minority growth investment” represents Bitwarden’s first substantial external funding in its seven year history, though we’re told that it did raise a small undisclosed series A round back in 2019. Its latest cash injection is indicative of how the world has changed in the intervening years. The rise of remote work, with people increasingly meshing personal and work accounts on the same devices, means the same password is used across different services. And such poor password and credential hygiene puts businesses at great risk.

Additionally, growing competition and investments in the management space means that Bitwarden can’t rest on its laurels — it needs to expand, and that is what its funds will be used for. Indeed, Bitwarden has confirmed plans to extend its offering into several aligned security and privacy verticals, including secrets management — something that 1Password expanded into last year via its SecretHub acquisition.

“The timing of the investment is ideal, as we expand into opportunities in developer secrets, passwordless technologies, and authentication,” Bitwarden CEO Michael Crandell noted in a press release. “Most importantly, we aim to continue to serve all Bitwarden users for the long haul.”

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downgrade the ‘middle-men’ resellers – TechCrunch

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As well as the traditional carbon offset resellers and exchanges such as Climate Partner or Climate Impact X the tech space has also produced a few, including Patch (US-based, raised $26.5M) and Lune (UK-based, raised $4M).

Now, Ceezer, a B2B marketplace for carbon credits, has closed a €4.2M round, led by Carbon Removal Partners with participation of impact-VC Norrsken VC and with existing investor Picus Capital. 

Ceezer ’s pitch is that companies have to deal with a lot of complexity when considering how they address carbon removal and reduction associated with their businesses. Whie they can buy offsetting credits, the market remains pretty ‘wild-west’, and has multiple competing standards running in parallel. For instance, the price range of $5 to $500 per ton is clearly all over the place, and sometimes carbon offset resellers make buyers pay high prices for low-quality carbon credits, pulling in extra revenues from a very opaque market.

The startup’s offering is for corporates to integrate both carbon removal and avoidance credits in one package. It does this by mining the offsetting market for lots of data points, enabling carbon offset sellers to reach buyers without having to use these middle-men resellers.

The startup claims that sellers no longer waste time and money on bespoke contracts with corporates but instead use Ceezer’s legal framework for all transactions. Simultaneously, buyers can access credits at a primary market level, maximizing the effect of the dollars they spend on carbon offsets.

Ceezer says it now has over 50 corporate customers and has 200,000 tons of carbon credits to sell across a variety of categories.
 and will use the funds to expand its impact and sourcing team, the idea being to make carbon removal technologies more accessible to corporate buyers, plus widen the product offering for credit sellers and buyers.

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