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When you can buy (or download) Apple’s fall releases

James Martin/CNET

Wednesday morning Apple used its event at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco to introduce a whole slew of new products at once.

From new iPhones to an entirely new device for streaming television, the announcements were more expected than surprising.

Most confusingly, however, everything announced is available at different times. Below is when you can expect to get your hands on each pretty new thing Apple introduced, showed off or even barely mentioned today.

Beware though, some dates are just as broad and open-ended as you’d expect from Apple.

Right now iPad Mini 4; new Apple Watch bands and designs Sept. 12 iPhone 6S, 6S Plus preorders open Sept. 16 iOS 9 and Watch OS 2.0 available Sept. 25 iPhone 6S and 6S Plus available in stores October 5 new Apple Watch Hermès edition

Available right now are new Watch colors and new bands, including a new rose gold anodized aluminum Sport Watch.

Coming later this fall are several high-end stainless steel Hermès-branded Apple Watches in four colors (Fauve, Etain, Capucine, and Bleu Jean) and starting at $1,250, AU$1,700.

While we didn’t see complete refresh of the Apple Watch this fall, we do get an update to the software that powers these wearables, as well as a look at some new native apps. Watch OS 2.0 will be a free update for all Apple Watches.

Packed with plenty new features, iOS 9 is a free update for the iPhone 4S and newer; iPad Pro; iPad Air and Air 2; iPad 2; third- and fourth-generation iPad; iPad Mini and newer models; and fifth- and sixth-generation iPod Touch.

With new 3D Touch, Live Photos and a 12MP, 4K video-shooting camera, this iPhone may look very much the same, but it appears to be very, very different.

The phones are starting at $200, £540 on contract for the 16GB iPhone 6S and $300, £619 on contract for the 16GB iPhone 6S Plus. In Australia the full price of the phones begins at AU$1,079 for the 6S and $1,229 for the 6S Plus. For a full run-down on pricing, check out the iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus first takes.

Apple’s also offering installment pricing if you want to make payments. Check out the rest of the UK pricing as well.

Shown very briefly during the display of 3D Touch (not Force), Apple let the cat out of the bag about the new operating system’s availability even before their online store was back up to confirm.

This will be a free update for anyone running OS X Yosemite on a Mac computer. For more details on what’s included, head over to CNET’s first look of El Capitan.

Finally, the long-rumored iPad Pro has arrived — along with the Apple Pencil. Yes, seriously.

The iPad Pro starts at $799, £520, AU$1,140 for the 32GB model; for all the details head over to the iPad Pro first take. Check out the rest of the UK pricing here.

While not talked about, the iPad Mini was also released today. Available immediately, pricing for the 16GB models begins at $399, £319, AU$569. You can see more UK pricing info here.

Introducing the new device, CEO Tim Cook said, “It starts with a vision and our vision for TV is simple.” It also has quite the personality, with Siri-integration running deep in this overhaul of the Apple TV.

The Apple TV 2015 edition starts at $149. For more pricing details, head over to CNET’s preview of the new streaming box.

Check out everything that was announced during the show in our roundup. And, you can see all of today’s Apple news right here on CNET.

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iPhone 6S Plus in short supply due to production issues, says analyst

Are production issues stalling the iPhone 6S Plus? CNET

Consumers looking to buy the iPhone 6S Plus on its September 25 launch date may have trouble finding one.

At the launch event on September 9, Apple unveiled its next-generation iPhones — the iPhone 6S and the iPhones 6S Plus. Demand has been heavy for the new phones, especially the 6S Plus, according to Apple, leading to long wait times for those who’ve preordered. But another factor may limit availability of the new large-screened iPhone.

The iPhone 6S Plus’s backlight module, which supplies light to the screen, is allegedly suffering production issues, according to a Monday investors note from KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, which was picked up by AppleInsider. Kuo apparently didn’t specify the exact nature of the problem but said the slowdown in production rests with Apple supplier Minebea, which has been manufacturing the backlight modules.

Assuming Kuo’s information is accurate, and the analyst is usually on the money, the production slowdown could put a dent in iPhones 6S Plus sales. Buyers who started preordering the new 5.5-inch-screened phone on Saturday are already facing ship times of up to four weeks, compared with a ship date of September 25 for the 4.7-inch-screened iPhone 6S. That delay could dissuade new buyers looking to preorder from opting for the 6S Plus, perhaps leading them to choose the 6S or picking a rival phone if they want a large display. Even further, supply of the iPhone 6S is expected to be limited on the September 25 launch date, again potentially pushing smartphone buyers to consider other options, both Apple and non-Apple.

Apple has reportedly moved more of the production of the module to another supplier called Radiant, with whom Apple has worked in the past to build the backlight modules for the iPad Mini. Kuo said he thinks Radiant may be “more skilled” at making the modules, AppleInsider said.

“We believe Minebea’s (JP) backlight module production issues in supplying iPhone 6S Plus (6S Plus) is one of the main factors in the model’s supply shortage,” Kuo said, according to MacRumors. “To tackle this issue, we believe Apple (US) has been increasingly transferring high-ASP 6S Plus backlight module orders to Radiant, boosting its sales momentum.”

Apple is expected to have somewhere between 1.5 million to 2 million iPhone 6s Plus units for sale on launch date, according to Kuo.

On Monday, Apple announced that preorders for the two phones were “very strong around the world,” and online demand for the 6S Plus was “exceptionally strong,” said Apple spokesperson Trudy Muller. Based on the number of preorders, Muller added that Apple is “on pace” to surpass last year’s initial sales when it moved 10 million units of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus during their first weekend of availability (including more than 4 million preorders during the first 24 hours).

But this year’s launch weekend numbers are likely to get a boost from China, which was not part of last year’s initial launch. Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster said in an investors note on Monday that China is likely to account for around 2 million in iPhone sales during the opening weekend. Overall, Munster predicts Apple will sell 12 million to 13 million iPhone 6S and 6S Plus handsets the first weekend.

The new phones offer one major enhancement over their predecessors, namely the new 3D Touch, which allows the phone to respond differently based on how much pressure you apply. Otherwise, most of the changes entail improvements to the processor, body, camera and several other components.

Beyond China, New Zealand is the only other addition to the list of countries that will be first to get the new iPhones. The other regions are Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Puerto Rico, Singapore, the UK and the US.

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How to use the Google Docs Research tool on Android

Google

Google just added a new Research tool to its Docs app on Android. The new tool will allow you to place quotes or images in your documents without leaving the app. This is very handy if you’re working on a longer research project, a party invitation, or a worksheet for students. Here’s how to use the new tool:

Tap on the menu (three dots) in the upper right hand corner and choose the Research option. You will see Google Search load within the Docs app.Google Docs Research tool pulling a quote on Android. Nicole Cozma/CNET Search the Web within the app for your subject. Web and Image results are divided by tabs along the top.For quotes, press and hold on text as you would when copying it in another app. For images just tap on the one you want to use.The Insert button will appear in the top right of the research pane to place the quote or image in your document.

Quotes and images will appear in your document at your cursor’s current location.

While this process is similar to copy and paste, it’s a bit more streamlined since you don’t have to leave the app to grab a quote or image. Perhaps Google could integrate this functionality with Google Books as one of the research tools in the future.

What do you think of the new research tool? What would you like to see added? Add your thoughts in the comments.

For more information on recent updates to Google Docs on the Web, check out Google courts classrooms with updates to Docs, spreadsheets by CNET’s Rich Nieva.

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Shopify’s iPad Point-of-Sale System Gets Its Own Apps

Shopify has been steadily improving its iPad-based point-of-sale solution since its launch a couple of years prior, in order to better compete with rivals like Revel, Square, ShopKeep, Vend and many others. Today, the company is expanding the capabilities of its iOS point-of-sale system with the launch of nearly a half-dozen apps for the platform, allowing merchants to add custom features to their point-of-sale solutions without having to upgrade to a more expensive POS platform.

The apps are available now via Shopify’s existing App Store, and include those that will help merchants run promotions, upsell to customers, turn their Wi-Fi into a marketing tool, offer wholesale discounts to select customers, plus print invoices, labels, receipts and more. The current lineup available today includes loyalty card app Appcard, Ultimate Sales Manager, Turnstyle (the Wi-Fi app), Supple Wholesale and Order Printer.

Four of these apps are made by third parties, while one is Shopify’s own.

To download any of these apps, merchants can visit Shopify’s App Store, and head to the new, dedicated section that features apps for the POS. Then it’s just a matter of clicking the “Get” button to install the app.

Once installed, merchants can then access these apps in a number of ways, depending on what type of app it is. For instance, apps that affect checkout flow will be available by clicking a button (the one with three dots) at the top right of the screen, while other apps are able to be accessed after the guest checks out. All the apps and their associated settings are also found in the Apps section of a merchant’s Shopify Admin, the company says.

The introduction of POS apps is notable because it allows merchants to customize their POS experience in a much more affordable way than was previously possible, and because it can help brick-and-mortar merchants tap into Shopify’s online offerings. Meanwhile, for developers, the launch is meaningful because it introduces a new platform to build for – and there are shops out there that solely work on building Shopify apps.

Developers can build apps using the Shopify POS App SDK, and are able to set their own pricing. However, Shopify will offer guidance on pricing when apps are submitted to its store for review, the company says. In addition, Shopify takes 20 percent of sales for these apps and the developers keep the remaining percentage.

Like the Shopify App Store, which has grown to over 1,000 apps since its launch in 2009, the company wants to expand the number of apps for the Shopify POS in much of the same way.

The company today powers over 165,000 business but does not disclose the number of POS customers.

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Besomebody Raises Another $1M To Expand Its Experience Marketplace

Besomebody announced yesterday that it has raised another $1 million, doubling its total funding.

As founder and CEO Kash Shaikh explained a year ago, he’s trying to build a company around his previous “#besomebody” social media efforts. The idea is to help people tap into their passions, creating an app where they can find content related to their interests and either book or host experiences (usually lessons).

The company says that after the beta launch in Austin, Texas, the app was downloaded nearly 30,000 times in three months and facilitated more than 400 experiences taught by 200 “passionaries,” covering topics ranging from motorcycle lessons to piano lessons.

Besomebody is now available nationwide, and Shaikh said the company will be doing more to recruit and train passionaries outside Austin. The new funding was led by construction entrepreneur Fred Tillman with participation from undisclosed angel investors.

Featured Image: Besomebody

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Tinder-Esque Clothes Shopping App Mallzee Swipes Another £2.5M Funding

Personalised shopping app and U.K. startup Mallzee has raised new funding. The so-called ‘Tinder of fashion’ — in reference to its Tinder-esque UI that invites you to swipe right if you like and swipe left if you don’t as you shop for clothes through its mobile app — has swiped £2.5 million in additional investment.

Backers this time around include the Royal Mail Group, who have led the round, alongside a number of new and existing investors. They include the Scottish Investment Bank, Par Equity, and individual investors Gareth Williams (Skyscanner), Rob Dobson (Actix), and Chris Van Der Kuyl and Paddy Burns (4j Studios, the makers of Minecraft console). The company has raised a total of £3.1 million since being founded in 2013.

Available for Android and iOS, Mallzee lets you browse (and ultimately purchase) fashion items from over 100 retailers via its swipe interface, However, aside from the now common Tinder-esque UI (or ‘Tinderface’), it’s the startup’s personalisation technology and retailer analytics that appears to be the biggest draw here.

The former creates what the startup describes as unique personalised style profiles that makes finding “the perfect outfit” quick and easy. This includes sending you alerts when items you have swiped-to-like are reduced in price.

For the retailers it works with, Mallzee provides a data insight tool, which claims to provide “actionable real-time knowledge” of how their products are being perceived and engaged with across various consumer demographics, such as based on location, age and gender. That data is aggregated and anonymous, of course.

Noteworthy, when the startup announced a £500,000 seed round in May 2014, CEO and founder Cally Russell reckoned the funding would enable Mallzee to get to 500,000 users by early 2015. “Based on current numbers we think this is more than achievable,” he told TechCrunch at the time.

That hasn’t quite happened, with the app hitting just under 300,000 users to date, but the Edinburgh, Scotland-based company still predicting it will reach 1 million by the end of this year.

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The Apple Watch Is Now A Hulu Remote Control

A number of mobile app publishers are still trying to figure out their strategies related to Apple’s first wearable device, the Apple Watch. While many opt for background apps that push relevant information when needed, Hulu’s entry into the Apple Watch space instead sees the company turning the Apple Watch into a remote control that lets you control video playback across a number of streaming media players, including, of course, Apple TV.

In Hulu’s case, the new Watch app lets viewers play, pause and rewind shows (jumping back 10 seconds) by tapping on their wrist, plus toggle captions on and off. For now, the app works with Apple TV, Chromecast, Xbox One, and the PS3 and PS4. On Apple TV, users will first have to launch a Hulu stream on their iPhone, and then will be able to use the Watch app as a remote. For the other platforms, the app will connect to any existing device that’s already streaming Hulu.

Using the Apple Watch as a remote control of sorts isn’t an entirely out-of-left-field idea – after all, one of Apple Watch’s built-in apps is a music app that lets users control their favorite songs and playlists right from the watch’s small screen.

Apple’s app makes sense as it allows you to make quick adjustments to your music or its volume while exercising. But Hulu is apparently betting on the fact that Watch owners want to use their Watch as a remote control – instead of say, the one that came with their device or even Hulu’s own iPhone app – when viewing content on the big screen.

Whether or not Hulu viewers actually do want a remote control on their wrist remains to be seen. That being said, the launch is indicative of the level of experimentation we’re seeing from today’s companies who are now attempting to figure out how to make an Apple Watch app a part of their more comprehensive mobile offerings for consumers.

Even Hulu admits that its app is more about testing the waters with regard to Apple Watch.

“The Hulu application on the Apple Watch is the perfect opportunity to explore the Apple Watch OS and experiment with ways to integrate the Hulu experience into the popularity of wearable platforms,” a company blog post noted.

Notably, Hulu also let an intern build the Apple Watch app – which is nice, of course, but also may speak to the level of importance it has assigned to its Apple Watch experimentations.

As for me, I’m waiting for a future when Apple Watch apps become smarter, more location- and context-aware, and more personalized to my needs. For example, it would be great if a Watch app like Hulu’s could be automatically triggered to launch the remote control interface when it detected I was streaming Hulu on my big screen TV via a supported media player. It could then push notifications about what to watch based on what content is about to expire, or what new episode has just arrived from a favorite show. And it would let me simply tap on my wrist to play back that recommendation. (A girl can dream, right?)

But hey, I guess a remote control app is a good first step.

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Samsung Announces Two Galaxy Tab S2 Tablets Which Are Thinner Than The iPad

Samsung announced its thinnest smartphone to date last week — that’s the Galaxy A8 — and today the Korean firm took the wraps off its thinnest tablet devices so far: the Galaxy Tab S2.

Like last year’s Galaxy Tab S, design is a big focus for these two devices. And, at just 5.6mm, they are more slender than Apple’s sleekest iPad Air (6.1mm). They are available in two new sizes — 8 inch and 9.7 inch — which weigh in at just 265g and 389g, respectively. That combination of thinness and weight could make them pretty portable devices.

The Galaxy Tab S was impressive, and it shone brightest when it came to multimedia, particularly watching videos and films. It looks to be the same story again with these upcoming models. Samsung’s press materials also play up the ease of reading media on the 2048 x 1536 pixel super AMOLED display, though we’ll reserve full judgment until we’ve had a chance to get them into our hands for a deeper test.

On the specs side of things, the Galaxy Tab S2 runs Android 5.0 Lollipop. Under the hood it is powered by an octo-core processor, which pairs four 1.9GHz  cores with four 1.3GHz cores — with 3GB RAM and 32 or 64GB of internal memory. The latter is expandable to 128GB via microSD cards.

Media-wise, the tablets sport an 8-megapixel rear camera and 2.1-megapixel front camera. That’s not bad for a tablet, but we’d still rather see people taking photos and video on their phone or — god forbid — a dedicated camera, rather than bungling around with an oversized a tablet.

Samsung said the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 will go on sale across the world in August. It looks like the models will be available in white and black, but Samsung hasn’t said how much they will cost.

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Smartphones for audiophiles: is the iPhone 5 more musical than its rivals?

By 

Smartphones for audiophiles the iPhone 5 vs rival flagships

The love of audio. It’s a dangerous condition, because every minute spent obsessing over headphones or specs or conflicting opinions is a minute not spent enjoying your favorite tracks or discovering new ones. That’s why a review like this, which compares the iPhone 5 with rival phones based largely on acoustic qualities, runs a high risk of time-wastage — no one really needs a cacophony of flowery words with no concrete conclusions.

How to steer clear of the technological equivalent of a wine-tasting? By trying our damnedest to focus only on the more practical pros and cons of these top handsets, specifically from the POV of someone who listens to a lot of music on their phone. We’re talking about someone who likely prefers high-bitrate recordings and who is ready to spend money on something better than the earbuds (or EarPods) that come in the box.

In addition to testing Apple’s new flagship we’ll also look at the iPhone 4S, which is now a ton cheaperthan it was a few weeks ago, as well as the Galaxy S III (both the global and the Sprint US version) plus the HTC One X (global and AT&T), and run them all through an audiophile obstacle course that goes right from purely subjective observations through to slightly more scientific tests as well as storage, OS and battery comparisons. There’ll also be some consideration of the iPhone 4, Nokia Lumia 800 andPureView 808, although it’ll be more condensed.

And yes, we’ll end up with an overall winner, but the research here is about more than that. Different phones may suit different people, depending on their priorities. Moreover, new handsets are just around the corner — the Lumia 920, the Note II, the LG Optimus G and whatever other goodies the future undoubtedly holds — and so it makes sense to have a bed of knowledge against which new entrants can be judged. Interested? Then let’s get started.

The tests

Smartphones for audiophiles the iPhone 5 vs rival flagships

You’ll find a total of four tests here, each with a different approach and each with its own winners and losers:

1. First impressions. These are totally subjective and simply involve me listening to a range of tracks on each device, using a pair of in-ear headphones, and then jotting down some notes. The point was to force me to pin my colors to a mast: if I made random judgments during this phase, then I stood to be contradicted and / or humiliated by subsequent tests, which would then put this whole review in its place (a place called Meaninglessville).

2. Scientific tests, conducted by AMS Acoustics in London, UK. These guys test audio equipment for a living, in everything from concert halls to train stations, and we’re grateful for their time and expertise.

3. Guided listening tests, which were still subjective but at least had some discipline to them, and which were again conducted under the auspices of AMS Acoustics. These tests also brought in the opinions of a totally independent witness: Chris Nicolaides, an AMS audio engineer, who is normal enough to regard both the iPhone 5 and the GS III as “just more phones.”

4. A brief round-up comparison of battery life, storage, pricing and software from an audiophile perspective.

(Note: the iPhone 5 in this review was running on the Vodafone UK network. It’s possible that slightly different audio hardware is used in other variants.)

1. First impressions

Smartphones for audiophiles the iPhone 5 vs rival flagships

As mentioned, the idea here was to make some rapid and purely subjective judgments about the way these smartphones sound. I did that using a pair of top-end Sennheiser IE-80 in-ears, which are characterized by low impedance (16 ohms) and high sensitivity — in other words, it’s easy to make them go loud even if you have a low-power audio source like a smartphone.

Given that these Senns are so easy to drive, it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that all the smartphones tested came off pretty well. In fact, it’s not going too far to say that if you use in-ears with similar properties to these, and if you’re only ever likely to use these types of headphones, then you may as well pick your handset based on other factors, because audio quality isn’t a big enough deal to accept or reject any of them.

“If you’re only ever likely to use these types of headphones, then you may as well pick your handset based on other factors.”

That said, three phones did stand out just a little: the iPhone 4, 4S and global HTC One X. The two older iPhones caught my attention on quiet classical tracks because I noticed that they could both go really loud without adding much extra hiss (i.e., hiss that wasn’t clearly on the original music recording.) The HTC One X stood out in more rhythmic types of music like hip-hop and dance because it had great stereo imaging — you could really hear different degrees of left and right — and somehow it also accentuated little details that weren’t always apparent on the other handsets. The only downside of the One X was that it added quite a lot of hiss.

What about the iPhone 5? Well, it was fine on the whole, but I did notice something holding it back: you had to push the volume a good few notches higher just to get the same output level as the 4 or 4S. Doing this caused the iPhone 5’s on-screen volume display to turn a stress-inducing red color, which is arguably not what you need when you’re trying to chill out to some chill-out. More importantly, the volume hit its max limit sooner, making the 5 a quieter phone all-round.

Smartphones for audiophiles the iPhone 5 vs rivals

Honestly, this is no big deal with lightweight in-ears, but many audiophiles prefer cans with open-backs or higher impedances, which respond best to an abundance of energy from the source device. To explore this, I switched to using Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro over-ears with a high impedance of 250 ohms and found that the difference was obvious: the iPhone 4 and 4S were the only devices to provide sufficient volume in quiet recordings using these headphones. Admittedly the Beyerdynamics may be a niche choice for mobile listening, but still — the 4 and 4S deserve points for being so flexible.

Just to add another perspective, our Mobile Editor Myriam Joire also checked out the devices using DT 990 Pros and found that — at least with her preferred types of music, such as house and drum & bass — the global HTC One X really won her over, although it didn’t go as loud as her iPhone 4S or indeed as loud as she would have liked. Myriam was attracted to it for much the same reasons as I was, scoring it high for stereo imaging and a slightly noisy “analog feel.”

Our findings so far: The iPhone 4/4S and global HTC One X both win this round. The iPhones win because they go loud enough to allow virtually any choice of audiophile headgear and any genre of music, while the HTC One X wins for subjectively sounding better in louder genres, with better stereo imaging and detail albeit at the expense of more noise.

2. Objective tests

Smartphones for audiophiles the iPhone 5 vs rival flagships

To make things slightly more scientific and reliable, AMS Acoustics took two key measurements for each phone: frequency response (FR) and total harmonic distortion (THD). FR tests the device’s ability to treat all bass and treble frequencies equally, which in turn allows you to hear what was recorded in the studio or to make your own EQ adjustments from a neutral starting point. Meanwhile, THD measures the degree to which the phones introduce harmonic tones that are not present in the original media — for example as a result of clipping or other types of distortion.

Despite being objective, FR and THD should be regarded as very blunt tests. They measure neutrality, which isn’t necessarily what the human ear would perceive as being pleasant or unpleasant. There are also impurities these metrics can’t catch — such as noise and intermodulation distortion — and even when they do highlight a difference, they won’t tell us what caused it. A lack of neutrality could just as easily be a product of the software as of the phone’s audio circuitry, and it could potentially be fixed by using a different app or different EQ settings — we only tested stock music apps with default settings (including with the Beats setting turned off on the HTC phones).

The strength of these tests, however, is that they’re reliable enough for AMS to be able to vouch for them. What’s more, they’re able measure things which are perceivable and which we know are important — namely, the ability of a phone to reach a high level of volume without distorting the output, such that it may be suitable for a wider range of headphones. We deliberately ran each phone at its maximum volume setting in order to find this out, and as a result our FR chart is also useful for ranking the phones in terms of loudness.

Frequency Response

Smartphones for audiophiles the iPhone 5 vs rival flagships

Let’s start with the FR chart above, and in particular with the topmost line. It’s the odd one out because it doesn’t correspond to a smartphone, but rather to the FIIO E17 DAC and headphone amp. We used this as a benchmark for comparison because it’s a $130 device that’s totally dedicated to producing audio. In other words, it represents what a manufacturer can do with a smartphone-sized block of electronics when they don’t also have to worry about it receiving calls or playing tower defense games.

We can see right away that the FIIO goes much louder than any of the smartphones under test, and that’s before you even extend its default volume range using its settings menu (something our little test rig begged us not to try). It’s also reasonably flat — not the flattest, certainly at the treble end where it rolls off too quickly — but flat enough.

“The iPhone 5, meanwhile, fails to distinguish itself.”

In fact, all the smartphones tested here are good and flat, with the only obvious exception being the Lumia 800 with its apparent bass boost. Aside from that, the major difference this chart reveals is how loud each phone can go while remaining flat, and that prize undoubtedly goes to the iPhone 4 and 4S, which both contain Cirrus Logic audio chips and which seemed to behave almost identically here. The quietest phone was the GS III, but it deserves some marks for being so flat all the way from bass to treble — thatWolfson audio chip clearly is no slouch. The iPhone 5, meanwhile, fails to distinguish itself by tracing a path somewhere in the middle, amongst the Qualcomm-powered American GS III and One X.

Total Harmonic Distortion

Smartphones for audiophiles the iPhone 5 vs rival flagships

Now, this next graph works totally differently. It shows the amount of the audio signal that was due to harmonic distortion, so a higher curve is theoretically “bad” or at least non-neutral — we want a line that is a low as possible throughout as much range as possible.

Interestingly, the FIIO is far from perfect here — it’s higher than any of the smartphones on trial, although we have to go a little easy on it because we know that its test signal was so much louder, and remaining loud and neutral is what devices find most difficult.

All the smartphones are tightly bunched together, without large differences between them, but once again the iPhone 4 and 4S come off extremely well. The 4S wins hands-down on this chart, while the 4 is ahead of the bunch everywhere except at the bass frequencies. Again, the iPhone 5 is somewhere in the middle, alongside the Qualcomm-powered phones.

“Once again, the iPhone 4 and 4S come off extremely well.”

Before we conclude this section there’s one other thing that the THD graph shows: the global HTC One X has slightly higher distortion than the other phones. It could be coincidence, but it’s interesting that the two stand-out devices from the first test also sit at the extremes on this one. The global One X is thought to contain a bespoke audio — likely from Texas Instruments — and it’s just possible that its higher harmonic distortion is correlated in some way with the noisy, analog vibes that made it notable before. Indeed, THD isn’t necessarily a bad thing — it’s one of many types of distortion that can be deliberately used in a recording studio to add color to certain types of music.

Findings: These tests can hardly be considered the final word on audio quality, but they do make the iPhone 4S (and 4) stand out for being the phone which goes the loudest with the least distortion.

3. Guided listening (and a wildcard)

Smartphones for audiophiles the iPhone 5 vs rival flagships

So, you’ve made it this far? Then hopefully we can start bringing this whole thing toward a conclusion, and to do that we’re going to try a new kind of test: guided listening, in which myself and Chris Nicolaides from AMS sat down with each phone and tried to score it out of 10 against different criteria. This time we opted for headphones with middle-of-the-road impedance and sensitivity, in the form of Sennheiser HD 595 over-ears rated at 50 ohms.

We listened to the phones at full volume and tried to detect differences in loudness, hiss, distortion (such as clipping), dynamic range (the ability to make loud and soft stand out from each other) and overall “quality.” For a loud track with little dynamic range we chose something from Roni Size, while Ellie Goulding represented a busy and complex electronic sound and Chopin represented classical. Two people, five metrics, three test tracks and 10 points give a maximum score of 300.

“None of the phones scored below 70 percent.”

Where we couldn’t hear any differences between phones on a particular test, we simply gave all the phones a default score of 10/10 on that measure. This seemed fair at the time, but on reflection our approach seems to have exaggerated the differences between phones. Even if we only heard a minor disadvantage on a particular handset, just the fact that we didn’t award a full 10/10 score seems to make less-than-perfect phones stand out too much. So, just bear that in mind while you glance at the table — after all, none of the phones scored below 70 percent, so none of them were bad as such:

Device Loudness Dynamic Range Distortion Hiss “Quality” Total
FIIO E17 (reference) 60 60 58 60 60 298/300
iPhone 4S 54 57 60 60 58 289/300
iPhone 5 45 55 60 60 55 275/300
HTC One X (global) 35 50 59 50 45 239/300
HTC One X (AT&T) 34 44 58 55 36 227/300
GS III (Sprint) 36 40 58 46 35 215/300
GS III (global) 29 40 58 51 35 213/300

Findings: So, the iPhone 4S wins yet again, providing almost the same experience as a dedicated $130 headphone amp — which is pretty incredible when you think about it. Of all the devices tried, and on our 50-ohm headphones, only the iPhone 4s and the FIIO were too loud to be comfortable, and we’d have happily pushed all the phones up higher if they’d been able.

Our subjective rankings for loudness don’t tally exactly with the FR chart above, suggesting that smaller differences in maximum volume are hard to detect aren’t a big deal. Indeed, the iPhone 5 overcame its objective lack of volume to reach second place — showing that it still went loud enough in our test tracks to have emotional impact.

Interestingly, the global HTC One X stood out for the third test in a row — scoring higher than the other Androids thanks to a high score for dynamic range (the feeling of impact between soft and loud) and as well as its subjective overall “quality” rating.

“The iPhone 5 overcame its lack of volume to reach second place.”

Oh, and what about that wildcard? It was simply this: we also tested a rooted global Galaxy S III, running a nice little app called Voodoo Sound. The app was built by a good friend of Engadget, François Simond, and it has helped many people to overcome the quietness of Samsung smartphones. Once it has superuser privileges on the phone, Voodoo Sound is able to control the digital volume and analog amplifier separately, while also removing the limit Samsung imposes on the amp. The GS III version of the app isn’t out yet, and we only tested a very early build which had a few bugs so we didn’t want to score it — but suffice to say that it scored significantly higher than the stock GS III and it does solve the only real problem with this device’s audio.

4. Non-audio comparisons — OS, cost, storage and battery life

Smartphones for audiophiles a review

Comparing mobile operating systems can get academic, seeing as by now so many people are entrenched in their preferred ecosystem. That said, during our tests the Android devices did stand out in a number of ways. First, they didn’t try to force us to use particular pieces of software (hello, iTunes and Zune), and they had the decency to treat our test tracks as regular files that we could move around as we wished, particularly through USB mass storage mode. Second, the Androids handled Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC) files out of the box, and allowed the playback of Apple Lossless files (ALAC) through third-party apps like PowerAmp, whereas iOS devices didn’t make it easy to play FLAC and the Windows Phone didn’t readily like either codec. Given that even the latest Android devices are readily rootable and flashable, allowing the use of custom ROMs and software utilities with an even deeper layer of control, Google’s OS feels the most welcoming to audiophiles.

“Google’s OS feels the most welcoming to audiophiles.”

Most of the Android handsets in this test also came off very well in terms of cost and storage. If we agree that an audiophile needs at least 32GB, then the GS III (all variants) and global HTC One X offer that for a decent price in their respective markets. The GS III wins outright for having expandable microSD storage, meaning you can add 16GB to a base model for just $10, and it also has On The Go compatibility with USB sticks — a feature which kills the battery, but can occasionally come in handy. Apple generally charges an obscene amount ($100) to add 16GB to an iPhone, but fortunately the iPhone 4S isn’t so extortionate these days and is actually quite a sensible purchase. The AT&T One X and Lumia lose out due to their 16GB storage cap — which is a real shame. Conversely, the PureView 808 deserves a mention here for the fact that it also has a microSD slot and OTG USB storage.

Finally, let’s take a quick look at battery life, based on our regular battery run-down tests, which are probably a better indicator of actual usage then just running the phone with music playing and the screen off:

Phone Battery Life
iPhone 5 11:15
Samsung Galaxy S III (Sprint) 9:20
Samsung Galaxy S III (global) 9:02
HTC One X (AT&T) 8:55
Nokia 808 PureView 8:40
iPhone 4S 8:00
HTC One X (global) 6:00
Nokia Lumia 800 N/A (different benchmark)

Findings: Which phone wins this fourth and final section? That’s largely up to you to decide, depending on which measure is most relevant to the way you listen to music. We’d have to pick the Galaxy S III though, because it offers the most flexible OS alongside the best and cheapest storage options, and it also very good battery life.

Wrap-up

Smartphones for audiophiles the iPhone 5 vs rival flagships

We’re now able to round this musical journey off with a cadence that — we hope — does justice to all the handsets we’ve tried. The main conclusion is quite straightforward: tests one, two and three all deliberately gave preferential treatment to the loudest phones with the least distortion, which resulted in a unanimous victory for the iPhone 4S. By extension, some of that glory also belongs to the iPhone 4, which as far as we can tell possesses virtually identical audio circuitry.

The iPhone 5, meanwhile, joins the ranks of smartphones which generally sound great but which aren’t especially well-suited to those audiophiles who want to stick with high-impedance headphones. In terms of pure audio quality, it was above average in the subjective tests and probably deserves to tie in second place with the global HTC One X, which has its own peculiar but attractive sound.

We need to ask Apple why it has now joined in with other manufacturers in limiting the volume on its newest handset. It’s possible that there are very good reasons, such as avoiding the risk of hearing damage. Or perhaps restricting the headphone amp is seen as a way of maximizing battery life. Either way, it’s curious that some manufacturers seem to be moving in the exact opposite direction: for example, we’re told the voltage has been bumped up on the headphone jack of the forthcoming HTC Windows Phone 8x specifically in order to cater for hefty headphones, which leaves us very keen to give that phone a listen.

As for the majority of smartphone users who prefer low-impedance or closed-back headphones that are designed for mobile devices, and that are better suited to an office environment or public transport, then the first three tests aren’t especially relevant. The only test that really matters is the fourth one, which broadened the scope of comparison.

If you demand a flexible OS, then Android shines in that area. If you need a sensible price for at least 32GB, then a Galaxy S III and iPhone 4S stand out as the smartest options in the US, alongside the global HTC One X and PureView 808 in other lands (or on import). If battery life is all-important, pick the iPhone 5, Galaxy S III or AT&T HTC One X. But if you want a phone that really shines on all of those criteria, then we’d have to recommend the Samsung Galaxy S III. Although it didn’t win us over to the same degree as the global One X in terms of subjective audio quality, it excels in every other respect: it’s a great smartphone with the advantage of LTE in the States (missing on the iPhone 4S, for example), it can be heavily tweaked with apps and third-party mods, and it’s every inch an audiophile device.

Smartphones for audiophiles: is the iPhone 5 more musical than its rivals?
Newton Coull Videos – We are a video performance network.

BlackBerry 10 L-series tutorial videos surface online, give a literal peek at the future (video)

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BlackBerry 10 Lseries tutorial videos surface online, give a literal peek at the future video

Those of us who’ve used a BlackBerry PlayBook will be familiar with the inevitable first-boot tutorials showing how to navigate the swipe-driven interface before we’re let loose. Thanks to a series of demonstration videos leaked by BlackBerryItalia, it’s apparent that we won’t escape that educational process on BlackBerry 10 devices, either. The four clips show the basics of what we know the gesture experience will be like on full-touch L-series phones, including the signature BlackBerry Peek to check notifications and the unified inbox. Anyone looking for a direct clue as to what production BlackBerry 10 hardware will entail might be frustrated, mind you — the rendered phone appears to be a placeholder rather than the L-series or a Dev Alpha B, and the device name is censored in an attempt to protect the source. That said, the clips provide a very straightforward explanation of the new interface concept and give us one more indication that RIM is closer to launch.

Newton Coull Videos – We are a video performance network.

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