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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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UK’s Oxford Quantum Circuits snaps up $47M for quantum-computing-as-a-service – TechCrunch

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Quantum computing has been making quantum leaps of progress in the last several years — going from theoretical concept to multiple testing environments, to help organizations prep for a time when quantum computers, and their unparalleled processing power, become a scaled reality. Now, UK-based Oxford Quantum Circuits is announcing £38 million ($47 million) in funding to fuel the growth of its own contribution to the space — a patented 3D processor architecture it calls Coaxmon, plus quantum-computing-as-a-service that will run on it. OQC says that this Series A is the largest to date for a UK-based quantum computing startup.

“We work at pace, and our systems are being optimized. We’ll continue to scale and reduce error rates,” said Ilana Wisby, OQC’s founding CEO, in an interview. “Our vision is seamless quantum access.”

Lansdowne Partners and The University of Tokyo Edge Capital Partners (UTEC) a deep tech fund out of Japan, are co-leading the round, with British Patient Capital, Oxford Science Enterprises (OSE) and Oxford Investment Consultants (OIC) also participating. OSE and OIC previously led a £2.2 million seed round into the startup, which began life as a spinout from Oxford University and work done there by quantum physicist (and OQC founder) Dr Peter Leek.

The plan will be to use the funding to keep hiring more talent (it’s now at 60 employees), continue improving accessibility to quantum computing for developers interested in working with it, and to continue building out its computing infrastructure, which today is based on an 8-qubit machine. And as you might guess from the investor list, it will also be using some of the funds to expand into Asia Pacific, and specifically Japan, to tap would-be customers there in financial services and beyond.

“Quantum computing promises to be the next frontier of innovation, and OQC, with its state-of-the-art Coaxmon technology, aims to integrate the forefront of modern physics into our everyday lives,” said Lenny Chin, a principal at UTEC, in a statement. “UTEC is honoured to be part of OQC’s mission of making quantum technology accessible to all and will support OQC’s expansion into Asia-Pacific through collaborations with academia including the University of Tokyo, and partnerships with Japan’s leading financial and tech corporations.”

Wisby told me that OQC actually started raising this Series A before the pandemic, back in early 2020; but it opted to shelve that process and go for grants instead to build out the company in its earlier phases.

That got OQC quite far, advancing from a 1-qubit, to a 2-qubit, then a 4-qubit, and now currently an 8-qubit machine.

The startup is also already providing services to a variety of customers who work across either OQC’s private cloud or via Amazon Braket, AWS’s quantum computing platform that also provides developers access to other quantum-as-a-service providers such as Rigetti, IonQ and D-Wave. (OQC notes that its quantum computer, named Lucy, is the first European quantum provider on Braket — a key detail for companies and quantum researchers based out of Europe who need to comply with data protection laws by keeping data and the processing of it local: this gives them a local option.)

Its customers include Cambridge Quantum, which runs its IronBridge cryptographic number generator on OQC’s computer; financial services companies; molecular dynamics researchers; government organizations and large multinationals with in-house R&D teams working on systems capable to be run on quantum machines when they are eventually spun up.

“Eventually” is the operative word here: the real promise of quantum computing is vast computing power, but there has yet to be a quantum computer built that can achieve that at scale without also producing a lot of errors.

But it seems that a lot of the hope these days is not on “if” but “when” that hurdle will be overcome. “We’re well past theory,” Wisby said.

That’s led to a big wave of both large tech players such as IBM, Amazon and Alphabet to get involved, as well as a number of smaller startups, and companies like Rigetti, IonQ and D-Wave that sit between those two poles. While there are some opting to build and sell quantum devices, the economics don’t make sense for most potential use cases, so for now the bigger efforts appear to be around quantum in the cloud: offering it as an infrastructure-free, use-as-you-need-it compute service.

Although Oxford Quantum Circuits’ 8-qubit computer is not the largest in the field, Wisby said that one reason it’s picking up users, and this investment in what has been a tough fundraising climate, is because its platform is better, in that it produces less faults than others.

“We’re all working towards larger scale processes,” Wisby said. But, she added, there is something to be said for better quality and less errors. “We have low error rates, and the funding will enable us to deliver on the next steps.”

Another major fillip in the process is the fact that regions, and countries, are looking to back leaders in the field early on to help cement their respective standing in that next generation of technology, and so backing Oxford Quantum Circuits is seen to be part of that strategy. British Patient Capital is a strategic backer in that regard: it’s the investment arm of the British Business Bank, which is a government-owned bank focused on developing business and industry in the U.K.

“Since launching the UK’s first commercially-available quantum computer, we have continued to be highly impressed with both the technical developments and also the future ambitions of OQC,” said Peter Davies, partner and head of developed markets strategy at Lansdowne Partners, in a statement. “We are very excited to be investing in this innovative and forward-thinking company.”

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MarketWolf is a trading-first platform for new investors – TechCrunch

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Live in India, Singapore-based MarketWolf has plans to introduce stock trading to first-time investors in more markets. The platform announced today it has raised $10 million in Series A funding led by Singaporean venture capital firm Jungle Ventures and Mumbai-based Dream Capital. Returning investors 9Unicorns, iSeed, Crescent and Riverwalk also participated.

This brings MarketWolf’s total raised to $17.4 million since it was founded in 2017 (it launched in India in 2020). The new funding will be used to build product suite and on hiring for its product, marketing and engineering teams.

MarketWolf wants to making trading accessible to first-timers with low minimum investment amounts and a risk management system, as well as modules for practicing and learning about investing. They can invest in options, futures, ETFs and stocks, starting at $5. Most of its users are in the 18 to 35 year old age bracket.

MarketWolf’s risk-management features include setting mandatory risk and reward levels, listing only liquid instruments, preventing selling of options to avoid unlimited risk and its practice and learn module.

Founded by Vishesh Dingra and Thomas Joseph, MarketWolf says it has seen over 1.5 million app downloads in India over the last 18 months and that its number of trading accounts and retail active clients have grown 10x year-over-year. It was listed among the top 15 brokers in terms of trades by India’s National Stock Exchange (NSE) in 2021.

Before co-founding MarketWolf, Dingra worked at Merrill Lynch and Barclays Capital, building quantitative models and strategies for algorithmic trading in capital markets.

He told TechCrunch that he and Joseph wanted to launch an investment app because “we saw that existing products were focused on investing for long-term only, and short-term trading was overlooked. Thomas and I have worked at trading desks in Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, etc. and understood that there could be an easier, more engaging and risk-managed way of trading made available to people globally.”

The startup is among a number of investment apps based in Southeast Asia that have raised funding–and are continuing to raise). Just over the past month, wealth management platform PINA, Indonesian crypo trading app Pintu and Vietnam’s Anfin, also for first-time investors, have all raised venture capital.

Dingra said MarketWolf differentiates from other investment apps with its gamified interface (many of its users come from mobile gaming communities) and a trading-first approach.

“Most brokerages in the market are investment-first products, whereas MarketWolf is a trading-first product creating its own new market segment—people who can trade well in all market conditions, bullish, bearish, flat or volatile,” he said.

In a prepared statement, Jungle Ventures principal Arpit Beri said, “Retail participation in the stock market in India continues to remain abysmally low at ~3-5% and we believe that MarketWolf has the right product, as well as the right team and expertise to break-through this market.”

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India’s Tata Motors wants to sell 50,000 EVs by end of fiscal year – TechCrunch

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Mumbai-based automaker Tata Motors wants to sell 50,000 electric vehicles by the end of the fiscal year ending March 31, the company’s chairperson Natarajan Chandrasekaran said during a shareholders’ meeting on Monday.

In the 2023/24 period, Tata — which produces passenger cars, trucks, vans, coaches, buses, luxury cars, and construction equipment — aims to hit 100,000 EV sales, according to Chandrasekaran, as reported by Reuters.

The push towards EVs follows a national plan to ensure that up to 30% of total passenger car sales in India are electric by 2030, up from about 1% today. E-scooters and e-bikes will account for 80% of two-wheeler sales, up from 2% today. Given the Indian government’s high import duties on EVs, getting citizens to make the switch to electric will largely depend on the success of local production.

After attempting to bring its EVs to the Indian market, Tesla appears to have abandoned efforts to set up a factory in the country. Tesla usually has a “try before buy” approach to moving into new markets — it imports vehicles to see how sales go before investing the time and money in building a regional factory. Transport minister Nitin Gadkari said Tesla was welcome to build a factory in the country, but that it won’t allow the automaker to bring in vehicles from China to sell and service, so Tesla hasn’t moved forward with those plans.

Tata currently sells three EV models, including Nexon EV, Tigor EV and the newest Nexon EV Max. Unlike the path many U.S. automakers have followed of building new EV production lines from the ground up, Tata says it’s able to keep costs down for the Indian consumer by repurposing a successful internal combustion engine model, the Nexon, and outfitting it with a battery pack. The Nexon starts at around $19,000, which isn’t exactly cheap for the average Indian driver, but is certainly within the range of the country’s upper-middle class.

Tata commands 90% of India’s electric car sales, and appears to be on track to reach its goal of selling 50,000 EVs by March 2022. The automaker’s June sales results show 45,197 total units sold, out of which 3,507 were electric — the most Tata has ever sold, and up 433% from 658 last year.

Chandrasekaran was optimistic about the trajectory of Tata’s performance this fiscal year with the overall supply situation, including that of semiconductors, improving and stabilizing.

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