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This week, Amazon’s valuation hits high and the difficulty of detecting deception on Facebook. But first, I hope you’re ready to pay your Apple tax.

Three new iPhones to choose from: big, biggest, and colourful

Apple is going big in a big way.

Three new iPhones were revealed today at a press event at the company’s headquarters in Cupertino, California. They are all based on the iPhone X design that came out last year, with edge-to-edge screens, no home button, and facial recognition technology.

The iPhone XS comes in two sizes. The XS has a 5.8-inch screen, like the iPhone X. The iPhone XS Max has a massive 6.5-inch display.

Physically, the Max doesn’t seem that much bigger than the iPhone 8 Plus. But because it’s got no space for the camera and home button, the entire device is screen.

The XS and XS Max come in gold, silver, and space grey, with a new dual-camera system with “smart HDR,” which promises more detail in highlights and shadows. They are available with storage of 64 GB, 256 GB, and 512 GB, and priced from $1,379 to $1,859 for the XS and $1,519 to $1,999 for the XS Max.

There’s also the iPhone XR. It’s a slightly downgraded model with a 6.1-inch LED screen, not OLED, and only a single camera. But it still has lots of the functionality of the XS and XS Max, including facial recognition, augmented reality, and the smart HDR photography feature. It also comes in a range of nice candy-like colours.

It’ll cost $1,029 for 64 GB, $1,099 for 128 GB, and $1,239 for 256 GB.

You can pre-order the XR on October 19. The iPhone XS and XS Max will be available to purchase on Friday, September 14, and will start shipping the following week.

New Apple Watch

There’s also a new Apple Watch coming next week – pre-orders start this Friday – and the Series 4 introduces even more health functions including the ability to record an ECG (electrocardiogram) which can detect problems with rhythm patterns.

It also has a walkie talkie which can be used with other Apple Watches around the world over Wi-fi or cellular. I’m really curious to know how many people will be buying these in pairs.

Starting at $519 or $649 with cellular functionality. Pre-orders start this Friday, with availability next Friday.

The arrival of the new model means that the Series 3 Apple Watch can be had for only $369.

Amazon’s valuation tops one trillion dollars

Well, Apple hit a valuation of a trillion dollars a few weeks ago. As predicted, Amazon has done the same.

It’s taken less than 25 years for the company Jeff Bezos founded in 1994 to reach the milestone.

As reported by the Guardian, Amazon stock cost $18 a share when it first became available in 1997. Those shares are now worth more than $2,000.

New York Times quiz shows how hard it can be to spot a deceptive Facebook post

A feature in the New York Times challenges readers to differentiate between a post from a legitimate organization and one created by a disreputable source.

“One of these posts was from a genuine Facebook page that supports feminism, and the other was part of an influence campaign. Can you guess which post is from a fake page?” the quiz asks.

Other themes explored include Latin American heritage and African-American issues.

The quiz reveals that the influence campaigns aren’t necessarily as clear as you suspect. That’s because many of the fake posts were created to imitate posts created by real organizations that have Facebook pages.

The examples of fake posts used by the New York Times seem like they might be legitimate. The reasoning is that the intent by antagonists is to create controversy and ratchet up tensions.

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Categories Consumer technology | Video games

This week, back to school also means back to the game console, laptop alternatives for students, and apps to help you come up with the best layout for your dorm. But first, Amazon’s got a Prime deal for students.

Amazon offers Prime deal for students

It can be difficult to get out to the store to purchase staples when you’re in college or university. There’s sleeping in to be done, classes to attend, pubs and parties to put in appearances at.

Amazon Prime Student to the rescue. Students in two- or four-year programs can get a membership for half price, and set up recurring orders for things like toothpaste, granola bars, and pencils.

In addition to the convenience of free two-day shipping, you also get Prime Video and Prime Music, and deals on video-game pastimes with Twitch.

Apps for students in the dorm

Typical dormitories at colleges and universities are small spaces, but you can make the most of what you’ve got with a couple of clever smartphone apps, available for free.

  • PLNAR is only available for iOS and uses the iPhone’s augmented reality to create a three-dimensional map of your room. You don’t even need a measuring tape, because PLNAR can do the measuring for you. You can export your file as a CAD file, too.
  • You can also use Magicplan (Android and iOS) to design the optimal floor plan for your room, including the best way to arrange those plank-like single beds.
  • Ikea Place (Android and iOS) uses augmented reality to let you see what your favourite Scandinavian furniture looks like next to that human anatomy poster.

Laptop alternatives for students

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Apple computers. But Windows 10 is a great operating system and devices running it come in a range of configurations to meet nearly any need.

Asus alone has a half dozen laptops ranging from the entry-level VivoBook series, including the basic S15 (about $1,000) and the Flip 14 (starting at about $700) which introduces the 360-degree hinge, to the Republic of Gamers devices with premium components, including the Zephyrus M ($2,800) with its groundbreaking cooling system that opens up the bottom of the laptop to allow more air to move through the machine.

There’s also the slick ZenBook series including the Pro 15 ($2,300), which has introduced a new feature called “Screen Pad” which turns the track pad into a miniature screen that can extend your desktop. It can also display media details like a small audio player and can be used to create digital signatures.

Microsoft has developed its Surface line of computers into seriously good options, too. All of them can run the full version of Windows 10 (although some are coming configured with the lightweight Windows 10 S), which means that while they may have tablet functionality, they are full-fledged computers, too.

The Surface Laptop ($1069) is a traditional laptop of the options. It will give you some 14 hours of battery life.

The Surface Pro ($1049) is a tablet that supports the Surface Pen for taking notes right on the screen, and converts easily into a laptop with the slick attachable keyboard.

Back to school means back to gaming, too

Yesterday wasn’t just back to school. It also opens the door to all the video games being released in the coming months.

Marvel’s Spider-Man, which I previewed and which I’ve been playing for the past couple of weeks, comes out on Friday, and is as good a superhero game as the Batman Arkham series from Rocksteady.

Friday is also the release day for two basketball sims, 2K’s NBA 2K19 and EA’s NBA Live 19.

Next week we get NHL 19 and Shadow of the Tomb Raider, the third game in the rebooted Lara Croft franchise, and on September 28 is FIFA 19 for all the footy fans.

But yesterday marked the release of Forsaken, the new expansion for Activision’s Destiny 2.

As far as the narrative is concerned, this update is significant because it seemingly kills off Cayde-6, who has been played by Nathan Fillion, and sets players in pursuit of the prison escapee who shot him with his own gun.

But Destiny 2 is also getting new weapons, new sub-classes for Hunters, Titans, and Warlocks, a new area to explore, and a new multiplayer mode called Gambit, which pits teams against each other and against the game’s AI enemies at the same time.

It’s all got me a bit breathless.

And I’m guessing that the developers at Bungie are already trying to figure out how to resurrect the beloved Cayde-6.

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This week, more evidence that Canadians are smart, and getting ready for school time: hands-on with the new MacBook Pro, the Epson printer line-up, and TP-Link’s routers for robust Wi-Fi.

Scholarship recipients demonstrate Canada’s bright future

Last week, the 50 Canadians receiving Schulich Leader Scholarships were announced.

Each high school in the country can nominate one student based on their academic achievement in STEM subjects and their “entrepreneurial leadership.” Financial need is also considered.

A total of 1,400 students from across the country were nominated; 25 were awarded $100,000 towards an engineering degree and 25 received scholarships worth $80,000 for science, technology, or math degrees.

The $100 million scholarship fund was established in 2012 by Seymour Schulich, a Toronto-based businessman.

The latest iteration of MacBook Pro an improvement on an already powerful laptop

There’s something to be said about small steps leading towards big changes. With the tweaks to the new MacBook Pro, Apple has made the premium laptop a more credible option for users looking for style and performance.

I’ve been using the first-generation MacBook Pro since mid-2017 (the first models were on shelves in late 2016), and as with all Apple products, the form factor is sublime.

The replacement is thinner and lighter while delivering full-featured performance. In my use, the battery has been excellent, but I’ve always been careful about managing applications and connectivity when I knew I wouldn’t be close to power for a while.

With the first version I was concerned about it only having USB-C ports, but in the year I’ve been using it I’ve rarely been stymied. I had to replace one dongle so I could connect HDMI, but I’m rarely plugging into ports these days because so much of the work that we do is handled wirelessly.

I’ve also mostly adapted to the new “butterfly mechanism” keyboard. I never experienced any of the dust and debris failure issues that were reported by others.

And while I don’t use the Touch Bar often, I do appreciate the convenience when I need it. The touch sensitive strip along the top of the keyboard replaced the row of function keys and provides contextual controls, to adjust screen brightness and volume, for example, and to log in to the laptop with a fingertip.

All of this to say that I really appreciate this new MacBook Pro model. But it’s more computer than most will need because the average person is only using their laptop for web browsing, photo sharing, and word processing.

The hardware is available in silver and space grey, and the 13-inch devices are equipped with a quad-core Intel Core i5 starting at $2,269 for 256 GB of solid-state disc storage (you can double it for only $250, and you can upgrade to 1 TB or 2 TB).

The 15-inch size has a 6-core Intel Core i7 and starts at $2,999 for 256 GB of storage ($430 to double it, and available with 2 TB and 4 TB).

These computers were created for people performing processor-heavy tasks, like audio or video editing, photography, or design. If you are doing these things, the MacBook Pro will give you a performance bump and the Retina Display with Apple’s True Tone technology means you get incredible images on the screens.

If you want, you can connect to one or up to two high-resolution displays (13-inch and 15-inch, respectively) at a workstation.

The other benefit to spending the money on an Apple laptop is they are robust, so they will last up to twice as long as some laptops, and they retain their value.

In fact, you can trade in an old Apple computer to get up to $1,250 towards the purchase of a new MacBook Pro. You can find out what your device is worth online. Apple is also taking trade-ins of non-Apple computers, including HP, LG, and Lenovo laptops.

And students buying one now will get a pair of Beats Solo3 wireless headphones thrown in for good measure, as part of Apple’s annual back-to-school campaign.

Go old-school with printers from Epson

If you’re going to college or university this fall, or even if you’re still in high school, you may find that you’ve got teachers and instructors who aren’t quite living in the modern, digital world, and who expect you to turn in papers on, well, paper.

Don’t fret. Printers are cheaper than ever, more capable than ever, and better than ever. They’re also smaller than ever, so you don’t have to worry about taking up too much space in that tiny dorm room.

Epson’s WorkForce WF-2860 is only $129 and prints double-sided so you can save on paper.

If you need something that prints a bit faster, Epson’s Expression Premium XP-6000 is only $20 more, and can print a photo in 15 seconds.

You can use both printers without needing a printer cable, too. You connect to them over your wireless network.

Setting up Wi-Fi in your dorm or apartment

If you’re sharing a space, whether on campus or off, you’re going to want to set up your own Wi-Fi. TP-Link makes this easy with powerful, reasonably-priced routers.

The AC2300 ($150) is a solid basic router that provides multi-user multiple input and multiple output (MU-MIMO) functionality which enables multiple devices to be connected at the same time without affecting the speed of others.

If you’re in a house with a bunch of others, you can extend that network with one of TP-Link’s range extenders. The AC2600 ($140) is the most powerful of the bunch, and is easy to install: simply plug it into a nearby wall outlet.

For those who need lag-free performance for those late nights taking out competitors online, TP-Link has just released a gaming router in the AC5400 ($450) that provides astounding Wi-Fi speeds over the three frequency bands (2.4 Ghz, and two 5 Ghz) it operates on.

If you really need the speed, the AC5400 has a “link aggregation” feature that can deliver hardlined devices speeds of up to 2 Gbps.

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This week, a first-hand perspective on the latest models of OLED televisions from LG, the general public see how popular esports is as The International takes over Vancouver, and Khan Academy has built an app for young kids. But first, with HomePod, Apple demonstrates a continuing commitment to music.

Apple’s HomePod sounds great, integrates well with HomeKit automation

The HomePod isn’t a large device, but it’s heavy. Which makes sense given the audio components crammed into the cylinder. It’s got a single, circular woofer to deliver bass tones, and seven tweeters for the mid-range and high frequency sounds.

And it sounds amazing.

First released in February, the smart speaker didn’t come to Canada until June 18. It’s available for $449 in either Space Grey or White, and while that price might seem high, it’s actually reasonable when you look at the cost of competitors.

The Sonos Play:3 is $329 and the Google Max is $499. Amazon’s larger Echo is only $130 regularly priced, but I’m not even sure the Echo is in the same category as the HomePod.

Unequaled sound reproduction

Apple decided long ago to focus on the experience of music as a driver of its products. And while the HomePod was a bit slow in coming to the smart speaker category, it delivers on that experience.

The HomePod delivers the best sound of them all. To my ears, Sonos speakers come close, but the Amazon Echo and Google Home speakers are inferior.

Apple has played up the “spatial awareness” of the HomePod, which refers to the speaker’s ability to adjust its output depending on which room, and where in the room, it is placed.

I tested this by moving it around my home, and whether it was in the corner of a bedroom, along the wall of the living room, or on the counter of the kitchen, the sound was always clear and crisp.

Let your preferred ecosystem be your guide

If you’re a committed Google user, though, there’s little that the HomePod can do that is going to get you to switch.

Amazon Echo users, though, may be convinced. Alexa is further ahead in the digital assistant functionality, but the HomePod can be used as a speakerphone and delivers superior sound quality, not to mention having the better music service with Apple Music.

If you’ve already got Sonos speakers at home, you’ll find that the HomePod works nicely with them now that AirPlay 2 has been released.

And if you’re in the Apple ecosystem, you can throw audio to HomePod from any of your other Apple devices, including iPads, iPods, computers, and even Apple TV.

Control your home with HomeKit

The HomePod is also a way of collecting and controlling the myriad home automation devices you might have. You can use simple voice commands to have Siri control everything from connected lightbulbs and thermostats to doorbells and door locks.

In a sense, HomePod isn’t anything special because it’s simply giving you access to the range of productivity tools and apps Apple has built into it’s ecosystem.

You can add and modify notes, reminders, and calendar bookings. You can send messages and use it as a speakerphone to make calls.

The only thing that HomePod can’t do, yet, is fully understand Canadian French. Support for that language is coming “later this year”. Mon dieu.

Living large with LG’s dynamic OLED TV

Last fall I convinced at least two people to purchase OLED televisions from LG. My pick of best screen available was the LG B7, and to see these on the walls of my friends has made me a bit jealous, to be honest.

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve had the next iteration of LG OLED on my wall. Now I want one of these.

The LG 65-inch C8 is, in a word, astonishing.

The picture emanating from the organic, light-emitting diode screen is rich, responsive, and breathtaking. My family watched Spider-Man: Homecoming and Planet Earth II, both in 4K and with HDR, and even a theatre experience can’t compete with LG’s OLED.

With more and more 4K content being created and made available – Neftlix is at the forefront of this shift – your next TV will be an ultra high-definition display. If you can spare the dollars, it should be an OLED screen. They are thin, they display pure black, they have intense colour, and they’ve got the best response rate, so no worry of motion blur while watching fast-moving action.

The one knock against OLED has been brightness, but that doesn’t seem to be much of an issue with the new LG models.

In addition to that quality of the image, the LG OLEDs are also smart TVs with web browsing and all the standard apps.

The remote is also equipped with a microphone so you can take advantage of the voice control that’s built into the TV’s operating system. You can tell your TV to change inputs and to shut down at particular times.

The C8 that I’ve been using is listed for $4,000 but can be found for $2,700. Jumping up to the 65” is $1,000 more. There’s a 77-inch model, too, listed at $12,000 and selling for $10,000.

The only difference between the C8 and the more expensive E8 is audio and speakers. If you’re connecting to a tuner or sound bar, you don’t need to spend more for the E8.

Start saving your pennies.

The International heats up Vancouver’s Rogers Arena

This week, gamers from around the world have converged on Rogers Arena in downtown Vancouver for The International, arguably the biggest e-sports event in the world. Tens of thousands of them.

The event sold out within minutes of tickets coming available, so if you don’t have one you won’t be attending. But you can watch the action live. Games typically last between 30 and 45 minutes.

This is the first time the International, which has been held annually since 2011, has been staged in Canada.

Unlike other esports events, The International features teams playing only one game: DOTA 2. The free-to-play game is played by millions every day. It’s a “MOBA,” an acronym for multiplayer online battle arena, and it features two teams of five players trying to protect their area while trying to attack and destroy an artifact in the opponent’s zone.

The total purse for the event is US$25 million. The amount is crowdsourced from players, partially through purchases of the game’s Battle Pass.

Vancouver gamer Artour Babaev, Arteezy, who is a stalwart for Evil Geniuses, has helped his team progress to the quarter finals on Wednesday evening (August 22).

The Grand Final goes on Saturday (August 25). Don’t miss it.

New Khan Academy program for preschool kids

Khan Academy, the free, online education site that has been disrupting education for years, is looking to support the early education of young children.

Khan Academy Kids is a new app, free to download, available for Android and iOS. It provides games and fun activities that help build the fundamentals for education, including the alphabet, basic numeracy and math, reading, and logical reasoning.

It’s a companion of sorts to the existing app for older kids and adults (Android and iOS).

The new app was designed to “adapt over the years as a child grows,” the company said in a release, “and includes social-emotional learning.”

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