iPhone 8, 8 Plus draw Apple fans at launch despite X holdouts

The launch of the new iPhone, an annual rite in the tech calendar, comes twice this year.

The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, Cupertino’s latest iteration of the device that has changed the way we communicate, went on sale at Apple stores on Friday. As always, fans around the world used the launch to celebrate New iPhone Day, an unofficial but nonetheless festive holiday. (See  review of the iPhone 8.)

As in previous years, the faithful began assembling in Sydney well before doors at Apple’s flagship store opened at 8 a.m. AEST. A line of roughly 50 people quickly formed, but it didn’t snake around as many blocks as it has in the past. That’s because many fans are torn between an iPhone today and a more advanced model in November, when the top-off-the-line and top-of-the-price-range iPhone X hits stores.

Those who did queue in Sydney were excited but didn’t exhibit the same exuberance that’s come to be associated with Apple’s product launches. A trio of YouTubers led the line, all hoping to attract viewers with unboxing and first impression videos.

Mazen Kourouche, who waited 10 days in front of the store to ensure he would be the honorary “first buyer,” led the group and recorded the opening of both a white and black 8 Plus for his subscribers. Kourouche says he’s giving the phones to family members and will upgrade to the X when it comes out.

“I love the glass finish on the 8,” Kourouche, a 20-year-old Sydney student, said while comparing the new device to the earlier 4 model that had a similar exterior. “I appreciate this new glass finish” more than the finish on the recent line, he said.

The 8 and 8 Plus don’t break the same design ground as the upcoming X, which does away with the iPhone’s readily identifiable home button. But they bring new features, including wireless charging, and upgrades to the camera and screen. It also carries a more modest price tag than the X, which starts at a budget-busting $999 (AU$1,579)

The X has a 5.8-inch screen, the biggest Apple has ever made for an iPhone. The bezels are razor thin, and the home button has been done away with. It also has fancy, stabilized front and rear cameras.

In Singapore, Amin Ahmed Dholiya was the first in a line of roughly 100 fans at the country’s Apple Store, which opened earlier this year. The 43-year-old businessman, who started the queue at 7 p.m. Thursday, flew in from India especially to buy an iPhone 8 Plus in gold as a wedding gift for his daughter. (The new iPhones arrive in India on Sept. 29.)

But Varis Sinthopruangchai, 20, an exchange student from Thailand, scored Singapore’s first iPhone 8. Instead of queuing, Sinthopruangchai pre-ordered both the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus in black for his parents. He plans to return when the iPhone X is available.

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Varis Sinthopruangchai, 20, an exchange student from Thailand, taking a selfie with his iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus at the Apple Store in Singapore.

At Singtel’s iPhone 8 launch event, Eng Guan Theng bought Space Grey and Gold 8 Pluses, one for him and the other for his mother. The 30-year-old civil servant was switching back to Apple’s mobile phone after using a Samsung Note 5 for several years. .

“It’s the second time I’m getting the iPhone,” Eng said. “I’ve been using Samsung Note 5 and I feel that it gets laggy after awhile, so I decided to go back to iPhone.”

The celebration of the iPhone, which first went on sale in 2007, has changed over the last decade. Hundreds of people jammed Stockton Street in San Francisco to get their hands on the revolutionary device at the inaugural launch. Now, queues to get the latest Apple handset are more modest affairs.

On a bright, but chilly Friday morning in London, 24-year-old Salam bin Mohammed was surprised to find himself at the front of the line in London. Outside the city’s main Apple Store on Regent Street near Oxford Circus at 7.30am he was one of just seven people waiting to get their new iPhone. He started queuing at 10:00 p.m. Thursday night

Bin Mohammed, who works in retail management, was waiting to buy two iPhone 8 Plus phones, one for himself and one to send to his parents in India. He was upgrading from an iPhone 6s, and said he wouldn’t be getting an iPhone X, because “it’s too delicate.”

Of course, online pre-orders have changed the game, making the queue a demonstration of fandom rather than the quickest route to getting a device from box to hand. And this year, fans were torn between Friday’s holiday and its return in a month and a half.

Indeed, some people appeared to be making the pilgrimage out of habit and history rather than exhilaration over the prospect of a new iPhone.

Researchers create a robot that can cling to shark skin underwater

Tracking sharks and dolphins in order to study their habits is tough. Doing so requires researchers to attach some sort of sensor or robot to the animal, but it has to be able to stay on underwater and withstand fast swimming speeds as well as twists, turns and bends. So far, that’s been hard to accomplish. But researchers at Beihang University, Harvard University and Boston College have developed a robot that hang on to slick skin underwater and withstand high speeds and sharp movements. They did so by modeling it after an animal that does those things naturally — the remora. Their work was published this week in Science Robotics.

The remora is a fish that that has a large sucker-like fin that it uses to hang onto sharks and dolphins while it picks up food scraps from its host and seeks protection from predators. It can remain attached to the marine animals even at top swimming speeds and with dolphins, can hang on even when they jump out of the water and spin around.

The research team designed their robot in the functional image of the remora’s fin. It has a softer, large suction pad as well as hundreds of small, rigid spines arranged in rows that mimic those found in the remora. The remora can change the position of those tiny spines in order to maintain adequate friction, a design that the research team incorporated into its model.

When tested, the suction disc was able to hang on to a variety of smooth and rough surfaces under water, including real shark skin. You can watch it in action here. Outside of the water (check out the video here) it also attached to glass, wood, a box of apple juice and a smartphone and was able to withstand twists and turns without detaching. The next step is to test in on real sharks or dolphins.

 

Engadget giveaway: Win a set of refinished AirPods courtesy of BlackPods!

Like most Apple products, the AirPods are a solid option (and familiar fit) for those looking to check out truly wireless earbud-style headphones. The look when you’re wearing them, however, is a bit funky, and to date, there’s only one “color” option: white. That’s where BlackPods come in. The company offers a three-phase, military-spec refinishing service for the AirPods, delivering a more subdued black color in either Classic (high-gloss) or Stealth (satin). The company can refinish your existing headphones at a lower cost (the mail-in option) or you can simply buy a new set through BlackPods with the refinishing and shipping included for $279/$299 depending on style. For all our readers, the promo code ENGADGET will get you $20 off any of the options, but for two lucky souls, a free pair of BlackPods are in your future. All you need to do is head to the Rafflecopter widget below for up to three chances at winning a pair of refinished AirPods courtesy of BlackPods.

  • Entries are handled through the Rafflecopter widget above. Comments are no longer accepted as valid methods of entry. You may enter without any obligation to social media accounts, though we may offer them as opportunities for extra entries. Your email address is required so we can get in touch with you if you win, but it will not be given to third parties.
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Samsung launches Galaxy Note 8 hoping to extinguish Note 7 memories

Samsung Galaxy Note 8

The new Samsung Galaxy Note 8, the most important big smartphone in the company’s history, is launching in New York today, hoping to right the wrongs of last year’s “exploding” Note 7 and tempt people away from rivals with a new dual-camera system and massive “infinity display”.

The Note 8 looks to rekindle Samsung’s dominance of the so-called “phablet” category, which the company invented with 2011’s original Galaxy Note, featuring the same winning formula that made its predecessors a success until the Note 7 debacle: big screen, big specs, long battery life and an advanced stylus to “get things done”.

The Note 8 runs Android 7.1.1 Nougat, has a 6.3in quad HD+ infinity display with a similar minimal-bezel design to that of the Galaxy S8+, dual 12-megapixel cameras on the back and plenty of biometric security options to choose from, including a fingerprint scanner, iris scanner and facial recognition.

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 The Note 8 is the latest in a long line of stylus-equipped, large-screened smartphones from Samsung. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

DJ Koh, president of Samsung mobile, said: “We appreciate the relentless passion of the Note community. They’ve been a constant inspiration to us and we designed the new Note for them. From the Infinity Display to the smarter S Pen and the most powerful Dual Camera, the Galaxy Note 8 lets people do things they never thought were possible.

But the Note 8’s biggest challenge is to displace the memories of the Note 7 that ended in a wholesale recall, leaving fans disappointed and would-be buyers wary of a repeat performance.

Ben Wood, head of research at CCS Insight, said: “It’s a testament to Samsung’s stubbornness and determination that the launch of the Note 8 cements its position as the leading Android smartphone maker, drawing a clear line under the Note 7 problems.”

Samsung had a similar problem with the well-received Galaxy S8 line of devices, which were the first top-end devices to be launched by the company after the Note 7’s failure. At the time it trumpeted a new eight-point battery safety check and a recommitment to extensive quality control to try and help alleviate buyers’ worries.

With the Note 8, Samsung is pushing independent safety testing firm UL International as its quality assurance step. Sajeev Jesudas, president of UL International, said that the Note 8 passed a “rigorous series of device and battery safety compatibility test protocols”.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8
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 The curved edges of the screen and rounded corners are slightly more aggressive than the similarly designed Galaxy S8 line of smartphones. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

The Note 8 has a display that is 0.1in bigger than the already large-screened Galaxy S8+, but also has a slightly less rounded profile, which makes using the stylus easier on the curved edges of the screen. The stylus slots in the bottom when not in use and features a collection of productivity tools that launch when pulled out, from drawing on the screen and instant translation to animated gif and emoji creation.

The Note 8 also supports the company’s DeX accessory that turns the smartphone into a computer with monitor, keyboard and mouse support, and multi-tasking using two apps side-by-side on the smartphone.

Two is better than one

Arguably more important for Samsung is the company’s introduction of its first dual-camera system on the Note 8. Where rivals such as LG, Huawei and recently Apple, have equipped various smartphones with two cameras on the back that work in conjunction to produce better photos, Samsung has stuck to a single camera solution until now.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8
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 Two cameras on the back with a fingerprint scanner on the right. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

The Note 8 has two 12-megapixel cameras on the back, one with a telephoto-like two-times zoom and the other with a more traditional wide-angle lens. Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus uses a similar system, but Samsung’s dual camera system is the first to use optical image stabilisation for both cameras on the back, which is designed to remove blur and camera shake.

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Wood said: “Having image stabilisation on both lenses takes Samsung one step ahead of Apple, but at present there don’t appear to be any plans to support augmented reality features – something we expect to feature prominently on the next iPhone.”

It is Apple’s anticipated new iPhone, expected in September, that will be Samsung’s biggest challenge. The two companies have been fighting over the “floating voter” of smartphone buyers – the roughly 20% of owners who would ever consider switching platforms from Android to iOS and visa versa.

Wood said: “By launching the Note 8 now, Samsung gets the oxygen of publicity ahead of Apple’s highly anticipated iPhone 8. Samsung will be hoping that a trio of competitive high-end products – the Note 8, S8 and S8+ – will appeal to anyone looking for a new Android phone. Furthermore, these devices are certainly good enough to turn the heads of a few iPhone owners who fancy a trying a different device.”

The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 will come have 6GB of RAM, 64GB of storage with a microSD card slot for adding more, Bluetooth 5.0 and will come in black and gold in the UK, with grey and blue colour variants in other regions. It will cost £869 and is available for pre-order from today, shipping on 15 September.