Microsoft redesigns OneNote UI to make it more universally accessible

OneNote is changing to benefit users with vision and mobility impairments, Microsoft announced Thursday. The redesign will place navigation on the left-hand rail, where screen readers and Microsoft’s own Narrator will find it more accessible.

Microsoft OneNote UI

The redesign will apply to what Microsoft calls the Windows 10 (or UWP) version of OneNote, as well as the versions for iOS and Android, the Mac, and the Web. The traditional Win32 version of the software will apparently remain unaffected.

Microsoft OneNote everywhere

Microsoft

In Microsoft’s vision, content will be immediately updated on other devices.

 Microsoft said its redesign will streamline the look and feel of OneNote across platforms, so that changes made to a document on the iPad, for example, will show up on a Windows 10 PC. By placing the navigation on the left-hand rail, screen-reading utilities can easily navigate through the app to help those with vision impairment, Microsoft said in a blog post.

Microsoft has already built assistance for the visually or mobility-impaired directly into Windows 10, with a hands-free, Cortana-driven out-of-the-box setup experience. In the upcoming Fall Creators Update, Microsoft said Thursday that it plans to add a feature that lets Windows 10’s Narrator function explain keyboard commands and read apps more like a webpage Windows will even use machine learning to “read” images and provide descriptions where none are available.

Microsoft OneNote UI

Microsoft

It appears that OneNote users will be able to shrink the navigation UI to make it more usable.

 While the OneNote redesign is intended to help those who need automated assistance, it appears to rob a substantial amount of screen real estate. In OneNote 2016, the user has the option of displaying notebooks and sections along the top of the page, or even banish the navigation to a drop-down menu in full-screen mode. In the redesign, the three navigation elements in the OneNote hierarchy—Notebooks, Sections, and Pages—each have a physical column devoted to them. The area to jot notes appears to have been substantially reduced, and the full-screen workspace icon does not appear.

Video of the new changes within Microsoft’s blog post, however, appears to show one or just two columns in use, suggesting the columns will either “fly out” or compress when not in use. Microsoft didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

What we’d hope for: Placing OneNote’s navigation on the left-hand rail to benefit screen readers makes sense, and the option to increase the size of the UI does, too. Ideally Microsoft will strike some compromise between users who need the larger interface, however, and those whose work might be visually impeded by larger navigation elements.

The Windows 10 Game Bar: What PC gamers need to know

Microsoft’s Game Bar has picked up some new tricks in the Windows 10 Creators Update. The floating toolbar, which acts like a Swiss Army Knife for capturing in-game exploits, now supports live broadcasting to Microsoft’s Beam service, and provides access to Game Mode for more stable performance.

win10gamebar

If you’ve yet to check out the Game Bar, here’s everything you need to know:

Windows 10 Game Bar basics

To summon the Game Bar, just press the Windows key + G. This works in any game—and, in fact, any PC application—with one major caveat: The Game Bar only supports full-screen mode on a small number of games. In most cases, you’ll need to dig into your game’s settings and change the video mode to windowed or full-screen windowed for the Game Bar to appear.

 [ Further reading: These 20 absorbing PC games will eat days of your life ]
win10gamebar2

Jared Newman / PCWorld

Once the Game Bar is open, you’ll see a row of seven buttons. Here they are, from left to right:

  • Open the Xbox app
  • Take a screenshot
  • Record the last 30 seconds of gameplay
  • Start a recording
  • Start a Beam broadcast
  • Settings
  • Move (click and hold to drag the Game Bar around)

Keep in mind that to save the last 30 seconds of play, you must first enable background recording. The corresponding button will probably be grayed out by default, so just click on it, then click on the background recording checkbox before you start pulling any crazy in-game stunts.

Where do those recordings go? By default, they should appear in C:\Users\[YourName]\Videos\Captures. To change the recording location, move the Captures folder to a different directory.

As for Beam broadcasting, hitting the button will open a quick-settings menu, where you can make adjustments before starting the stream. Once you go live, the stream will appear at beam.pro/[YourGamerTag]. (For more details on Beam, check out PCWorld’s hands-on coverage.)

gamebarbroadcast

Jared Newman / PCWorld

The Game Bar lets you adjust Beam broadcast settings before going live.

One more thing: Even if the Game Bar isn’t open—or it won’t open because the game is in full-screen mode—you can still capture video and take screenshots. To start or stop recording, press Win + Alt + R. To grab just the last 30 seconds of gameplay, press Win + Alt + G. And for a screenshot, press Win + Alt + PrtScn.

Digging into Game Bar settings

Pressing the Settings button on the Game Bar takes you to a whole set of other options. This is where you’ll find Game Mode, a new feature in the Windows 10 Creators Update that tries to boost performance by disabling background processes.

PCWorld’s tests have shown minimal frame rate gains for Game Mode, especially on high-performance PCs, but notable stability improvements on weaker machines. But here’s the rub: You’ll likely have to enable this mode on a per-game basis. (Microsoft does say that some games will utilize Game Mode automatically, assuming the option is turned on under Windows Settings > Gaming > Game Mode.)

gamebarsettingsall

Jared Newman / PCWorld

Game Bar settings at a glance.

Aside from Game Mode, the Game Bar’s settings menu offers some small behavioral tweaks—such as mapping or unmapping the bar to the center button on an Xbox controller—plus broadcast settings and audio settings.

Need even more settings? Head to Windows Settings > Gaming > Game Bar, where you can create your own alternative keyboard shortcuts for captures and broadcasts. In fact, all of the settings related to Game Mode, Game DVR, Beam, and the Game Bar are available through Windows Settings > Gaming. Head to that menu when you want to make adjustments without opening the Game Bar first.

Some Radeon RX Vega graphics cards will be faster than the Frontier Edition

When AMD announced the Radeon Vega Frontier Edition at its hardware-packed Financial Analyst Day earlier this week, enthusiasts around the world groaned—because Frontier Edition, the first graphics card based on the hotly anticipated Vega architecture, is built for “data scientists, immersion engineers, and product designers” rather than gamers. So the question on everybody’s lips during a Thursday night Reddit AMA with Radeon chief Raja Koduri was obvious: Where’s Vega for gamers?

radeon rx vega logo

Koduri’s PR handlers said right up front that “As a publicly-traded company in the US… we can’t legally discuss anything about unreleased products.” But despite that hedging, some interesting new information still came to light.

First and foremost: You’ll learn more about Radeon RX Vega, the gamer-centric incarnation, at Computex in a couple of weeks. Koduri didn’t reveal specifics, but AMD’s holding a press event on May 31 at 10 a.m. Taipei time, which translates to 10 p.m. Eastern/7 p.m. Pacific. Don’t expect a hard launch though. “We’ll be showing Radeon RX Vega off at Computex, but it won’t be on store shelves that week,” Koduri wrote.

radeon vega frontier edition

AMD

The Radeon Vega Frontier Edition.

Other tidbits are more heartening for enthusiasts. At the Financial Analyst Day, AMD showed the Vega Frontier Edition running Sniper Elite 4 at between 60 and 70 frames per second at 4K resolution, as Koduri declared that crossing the 4K/60 barrier was one of Vega’s goals. As it turns out, that’s not the pinnacle of Vega’s performance potential.

“Consumer RX will be much better optimized for all the top gaming titles and flavors of RX Vega will actually be faster than Frontier version!” Koduri said in the AMA. As expected, AMD’s new cards will also shine when developers use close-to-the-metal APIs. “Our architecture is very well suited for explicit APIs such as DX12 and Vulkan. If a game or a game engine prioritizes low level access to the GPU, Vega will soar.”

In response to another question, Koduri said that RX Vega cards will have fully optimized gaming drivers (duh), “as well as a few other goodies that I can’t tell you about just yet.” Such a tease.

raja radeon ama

AMD

Fortunately, he could say a wee bit more about Vega’s ultra-fast HBM2 memory. Koduri confirmed that the 16GB Frontier Edition rocks two stacks of 8GB each, rather than a 4x4GB HBM2 configuration. Koduri also said “We will definitely look into that” when asked about a consumer Radeon RX Vega graphics card with 16GB of HBM2.

The Radeon boss also addressed the availability of HBM2 memory. The Radeon Fury line, which used HBM1, suffered from severe stock deficiencies for months after launch, and whispered rumors online have suggested that Vega’s launch may have been delayed due to limited HBM2 stocks.

“On HBM2, we’re effectively putting a technology that’s been limited to super expensive, out-of-reach GPUs into a consumer product,” Koduri wrote. “Right now only insanely priced graphics cards from our competitors that aren’t within reach of any gamer or consumer make use of it. We want to bring all of that goodness to you. And that’s not easy! It’s not like you can run down to the corner store to get HBM2. The good news is that unlike HBM1, HBM2 is offered from multiple memory vendors – including Samsung and Hynix – and production is ramping to meet the level of demand that we believe Radeon Vega products will see in the market.”

amd radeon vega frontier edition

AMD

A water-cooled version of the Radeon Vega Frontier Edition.

The final interesting tidbit for gamers revolves around Vega’s new High Bandwidth Cache Controller. Canned AMD demoes have shown that the HBCC can greatly lift minimum gaming frame rates in memory-deprived situations, but it hasn’t been clear if developers actively need to support the technology. In the AMA, Koduri cleared that up:

“To realize the full potential of HBCC, yes we will need to see content from game developers use larger datasets. But we have seen some interesting gains even on current software, particularly in min frame rates. Part of the goal of launching Radeon Vega Frontier edition is to help speed up that process.”

Interesting stuff. It sounds like we’ll hear more about Radeon RX Vega at Computex. In the meantime, Raja Koduri’s AMA also digs into developer-focused graphics tech if you’re interested. If you want to learn more about what we already know AMD’s new graphics architecture, brush up on the 5 things you need to know about Radeon Vega, or watch PCWorld’s exhaustive conversation with Raja Koduri from CES 2017 to learn about Vega, FreeSync

How to buy and read ebooks in Edge as part of the Windows 10 Creators Update

As part of the blitz of new features in the Windows 10 Creators Update (see our full review here), Microsoft has added e-reading capabilities to its Edge browser. It’s a bit quirky, given its infancy, but with a bit of practice you can be lounging by the pool with an electronic novel in no time.

The first question you’ll ask: Does it surpass Amazon’s Kindle app. Well, sort of: The Kindle app available for Windows tablets rejected my (correct) Amazon password, a bug that numerous other users have reported. (The Kindle for PC app buried within Amazon’s site works, however).

Edge offers pretty much what you want from an e-reader app anyway: a progress bar, the ability to resume where you left off (mostly), and solid text-formatting options. Reading ebooks is also an opportunity to take full advantage of a detachable Surface tablet, as opposed to a traditional notebook PC.

edge bookstore microsoft store

IDG / Mark Hachman

Microsoft’s Store now has a nice collection of ebooks to go along with its movies, music, apps, and more.

 The Windows Store makes buying ebooks easy

Windows’ ebook-buying process begins with Windows 10’s Store app, which as of the Creators Update adds an ebook store alongside its selection of apps, games, music, and movies. All told, the Store app has evolved into a respectable marketplace.

Not surprisingly, the ebook store looks remarkably like the other categories: At the top of the screen are a few “hero” selections, a handy link to some free classics, and some links to “top” and “featured” books. How many books does Microsoft offer? “Hundreds of thousands,” according to a company representative, with plans to offer New York Times bestsellers as well as other top titles across a range of genres.

Scroll down, and you’ll see the handiwork of Microsoft’s curators, with collections of different genres and other featured works. Though there’s a search box, you can’t do something as basic as search for “cookbooks.” That term appears in the genre-based collections at the bottom of the main page, however.

As I was writing this in mid-March, Microsoft had not highlighted any sales or discounts, something the company will need to do if it truly wants to compete. My own poking around revealed some price differences between ebooks sold on Kindle vs. the Microsoft Store: Jim Edwards’ Rookie Cooking was $11.69 on Microsoft and $17.09 on Amazon; more popular ebooks like Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves, however, were priced comparably. Amazon competes notoriously hard on price, however, so it’s possible that any discrepancies simply escaped its notice. Disappointingly, some books, like the Harry Potter series, simply weren’t available in the Microsoft Store as of this writing.

Microsoft Store ebooks screen

IDG / Mark Hachman

If you’re the type of person who reads a band’s biographical info in Groove Music, you’ll notice a similarity: massive blocks of summary text.

 Microsoft’s individual descriptions of the books are a bit sparse, lacking previews or any art beyond the illustration on the book jacket. Since Edge’s e-reader only supports DRM-protected books in the EPUB format, that’s all you’ll find inside the Store. (Edge itself includes a PDF reader, too.)

If you choose to buy a book, Microsoft uses any stored payment information you have inside its system to charge you. Unfortunately, there are no refunds or trial periods. What’s nice, though, is that Microsoft defaults to using biometric identification within Windows Hello to streamline the purchase, if your device supports it. (If it doesn’t, you can use a PIN or password instead.)

edge purchase using windows hello edit

IDG / Mark Hachman

Purchasing an ebook is easy-peasy.

 The Edge easy e-reading experience

Once you’ve purchased an ebook, feel free to open it immediately. Otherwise, you’ll be off on a merry little hunt—where is my ebook library, again? Instead of tucking shortcuts to your library all over the place, you’ll need to return to the Store’s main “Books” homepage, and then click the My books link.

Doing so will launch Edge. Unfortunately, Edge opened my “Reading List”—a collection of web pages I stored to read later—and not my collection of ebooks. Even in Edge, “Books” isn’t found intuitively; you’ll need to navigate to the Hub—the icon to the right of the “star” in the URL bar—then navigate to the icon that looks like a collection of books leaning against one another. Microsoft might not force you to open a separate app to read an ebook, but that doesn’t mean it’s any easier a process.

Microsoft edge books

IDG / Mark Hachman

The Microsoft Edge Hub, in which your ebooks are stored within the Books section.

 Within the Books sidebar, you’ll see your collection of books, with a progress bar showing how much you’ve read. At the bottom of the sidebar is a link back to the Store.

Once an ebook is opened in Edge, navigating its contents is simple enough. Edge will open the book to the title page, possibly (depending upon how the book itself is organized) with a list of hyperlinked chapters. At the bottom of the screen you’ll see the title of the book, the chapter (if any) and your progress as a percentage of the book.

microsoft edge ebooks recipes

IDG / Mark Hachman

Lush, lavish cookbooks lose a little something in the EPUB format, though traditional text-heavy books look just fine.

 More options open up if you simply tap the screen, which reveals a black border at the top of the page. At the upper left there’s an icon that displays the table of contents, which slides out from the left. Click the icon next to that and any bookmarks you’ve saved will appear. Edge also includes a search function to look for specific terms.

In the right-hand corner, the Options icon (alternatively Ctrl + Shift + O) lets you adjust text font, size, color, and spacing. There’s also an icon to “read aloud” via text-to-speech, which also lets you adjust pacing, evidence of Microsoft’s commitment to assisting those with vision problems (although there doesn’t seem to be a hands-free Cortana command to “read my ebook”—hopefully that’s forthcoming).  There’s also an icon to set bookmarks within your ebook, one per page.

Unfortunately, features you might expect in an e-reader app, and which are available elsewhere in Windows—inking, highlighting, sticky notes, titled bookmarks—haven’t yet made it to Edge’s e-reading experience.

microsoft edge ebooks options

IDG / Mark Hachman

There aren’t many options within Edge’s Books e-reader, but you don’t need many, either.

 If you stop reading an ebook—say, because Windows 10 unexpectedly reboots your PC—your progress will be saved. That’s how it’s supposed to work, anyway. As I was evaluating Edge using a build of the Windows 10 Creators Update that Microsoft provided to journalists, the OS updated to a new build—forcing me to redownload all of my books, and losing my progress. That needs to be fixed.

Unfortunately, Microsoft’s mobile ebook experience is limited to the small number of Windows phones in existence, as Microsoft doesn’t make a version of Edge for Android or iOS. That’s a serious and unfortunate handicap for train or bus commuters. Since Microsoft does include a browser inside its Bing app for both mobile platforms, it’s at least theoretically possible that this capability could be added later.

How successful will Microsoft’s ebooks gambit be? Microsoft’s real advantage is that its Store app is just a click away in your Windows 10 Start menu, versus opening a browser to hunt down a similar book on Amazon. What’s more, Amazon doesn’t sell books in EPUB but rather than in its own proprietary Kindle format, which requires the dedicated (and for now, buggy) Windows app. Truer competition comes from sites like eBooks.com, which includes EPUB among its formats.

For now, you’ve probably already settled on an ebook format and reader. If Microsoft launches its ebook store with a splashy sale, however, you could be lured in. And aside from the obvious mobile limitations, reading ebooks within Edge isn’t half bad.

Waze lets you order coffee and a donut from Dunkin’ before you get there

The next time you drive near a Dunkin’ Donuts on the way to work, Waze won’t just offer to reroute your there—it’ll let you place an order, too. The navigation app recently announced a partnership with Dunkin’ Donuts that lets users order items while they’re en route.

donuts primary

The new feature is rolling out now. If you don’t see an option to order ahead you may need to update Waze. You’ll also need to install the Dunkin’ Donuts app.

To start, the new Waze feature only works with Dunkin’, but the company plans to partner with other businesses in the near future, according to the Associated Press. Pretty soon, you could be ordering ahead via Waze for groceries, prescriptions, parking spaces, and take-out.

While this is a new revenue stream for Waze, the company isn’t taking a cut from order ahead sales with Dunkin’, the AP says. Instead, the donut maker has committed to increasing its ad spend with Waze. It’s not clear if Waze will make that same arrangement with future order-ahead partners.

The story behind the story: At its core, Waze is still a navigation app and mapping company, but it’s slowly adding services and integrations that serve its core mission. In 2016, Waze rolled out a ride-share program called Waze Carpool in the United States after debuting in Israel the year prior. More recently, Waze announced an integration with Spotify for managing your commuting tunes. Now, Waze is looking to augment its ads that offer to re-route you to nearby businesses with an order-ahead program.

Privacy advocates plan to fight Congress’ repeal of Internet privacy rules

Privacy advocates haven’t given up the fight after the U.S. Congress voted to allow ISPs to sell customers’ browsing histories and other personal information without their permission.

Privacy advocates will continue push to prevent ISPs from selling customer data.

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives voted 215 to 205 to strike down ISP privacy regulations approved by the Federal Communications Commission only months ago. House’s passage of a resolution of disapproval followed a Senate vote to pass the same resolution days earlier.

President Donald Trump is expected to sign the Republican-pushed bill. But Senator Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, said he will introduce new legislation to require the FCC to pass new ISP privacy rules.

 [ Further reading: How the new age of antivirus software will protect your PC ]

“The Republican-controlled Congress wants broadband companies to use and sell sensitive information about Americans’ health, finances, and even children, without consent,” Markey said in a statement.

It would be difficult for a new ISP privacy bill to pass in the Republican-controlled Congress, however.

Trump’s signature on the resolution passed Tuesday would kill FCC rules requiring broadband providers to receive opt-in customer permission to share sensitive personal information, including web-browsing history, geolocation, and financial details with third parties.

Privacy advocates say the rules are necessary to protect broadband customers, but critics say the FCC’s rules subjected ISPs to much stronger privacy regulations than web-based companies like Google and Facebook.

The FCC has limited authority to regulate other web-based companies. The ISP privacy rules, passed in October, were “designed to benefit one group of favored companies over another group of disfavored companies,” said Ajit Pai, the new FCC chairman, a Republican who opposed the regulations.

The FCC’s sister agency, the Federal Trade Commission, can bring privacy complaints against web-based companies that aren’t ISPs, but the FTC can’t create privacy regulations. Instead, the agency typically takes action on a case-by-case basis when companies violate their own privacy promises.

Supporters of the regulations say they were necessary after the FCC reclassified broadband as a regulated service, taking privacy enforcement away from the FTC, as part of net neutrality rules in early 2015.

Trade groups representing broadband providers and some other tech companies praised the House’s vote to repeal the FCC rules.

The House vote “to repeal the FCC’s misguided rules marks an important step toward restoring consumer privacy protections that apply consistently to all internet companies,” the NCTA, a cable broadband trade group, said in a statement. “With a proven record of safeguarding consumer privacy, internet providers will continue to work on innovative new products that follow ‘privacy-by-design’ principles and honor the FTC’s successful consumer protection framework.”

Privacy groups will continue to push to protect consumers, said Katharina Kopp, policy director at the Center for Digital Democracy. They will enlist allies in the European Union to push the U.S. to project privacy, she said.

Some privacy advocates said they will encourage the European Union to re-examine Privacy Shield, an agreement that allows companies to move customer data between the EU and the U.S., in light of the congressional vote on the ISP privacy rules.

The House vote “may be a win for ISP monopolies, but it’s a tragic loss for our democracy,” Kopp said by email. “If President Trump allows this bill to become law, his Administration will place new burdens on hard-working Americans and their families —who will be at the mercy of a handful of digital giants.”

Samsung launches the Galaxy S8 with a stunning design and Bixby AI assistant

Samsung is back. After the Note7 recall stripped us of our end-of-year Galaxy fix, Samsung has officially unveiled its flagship S8 and S8+ phones, and they should be enough to make you forget all about the phablet fiasco.

Packed with a slew of high-end features and wrapped in a stunning, near-bezel-less enclosure, the Galaxy S8 and S8+ are sure to turn heads, dispensing of the home button and the somewhat stale S7 form factor, and putting Apple and its rumored iPhone 8 on notice. With the S8, Samsung has returned to the flagship market in a big way, and assuming they don’t have any recall-level issues, it should rocket the company back to the head of the class.

Pricing varies by carrier: Verizon is selling the S8/S8+ for $30/$35 a month for two years. That’s $720 or $840 dollars. At T-Mobile they’re $750/$850, respectively. The same pricing applies at AT&T. Sprint customers will be able to lease the Galaxy S8 for $31.25 a month for 18 months ($562.50) or the S8+ for $35.42 a month for 18 months ($637.56). Not that Sprint has only released lease pricing, not purchase pricing. All preorders get a new GearVR with motion controller, but some carriers are offering other trade-in incentives and bonuses (like a free microSD card).

Out of this world: Samsung may have made us wait a few weeks longer than usual for the S8, but it’s been worth it. Samsung has clearly used the Note7 debacle as motivation for the S8, and the result is a sexy, powerful handset that just might be the coolest phone ever made. As you can see in our hands-on, the S8 pretty much does everything you could possibly want a phone to do (and then some), but its design will steal the show.

Size matters

With the Galaxy S8, Samsung set out to address “market barriers” and “consumer pain points,” most notably when it comes to form factor. Unlike the past couple Galaxy S releases, Samsung is going all-in on the Edge design, which it is now branded as an Infinity Display. To that end, it has created a new benchmark in the bezel wars, with an 83 percent screen-to-body ratio.

galaxy s8 s7 g6 2Michael Simon
Left to right, the Galaxy S7, S8, LG G6, and S8+.

The two sizes are 5.8 inches and 6.2 inches, both sporting a 2960×1440 resolution and a 570 and 529 PPI, respectively. Like the S7, the S8 is 8mm thick (with the S8+ being ever-so-slightly thicker at 8.1mm), but it’s just 6.5mm taller than the S7, despite having a screen that’s more than a half-inch bigger. And the larger model is only 8mm taller.

All three colors (black, orchid gray, and silver) come with unified black front bezels, so fans of white might be disappointed. Under the hood there’s the long-expected Snapdragon 835 chip, 4GB of GAM, and 64GB of storage. SD card storage is supported, too. There’s also the same 12MP camera on the back (though Samsung says there will be improvements with image processing), and a new 8MP auto-focus front camera. The phones are once again IP68 water and dust resistant.

As rumored, the fingerprint sensor is tucked away next to the rear camera, but Samsung doesn’t think you’ll be using it as often as you do on other phones. It has built in iris scanning and face detection for unlocking, as well as a haptic-enabled bottom bezel that serves as a virtual home button.

AI on board

Samsung is also bringing its own digital assistant to the S8. Named Bixby, the service is designed to replicate the things you can do with touch for voice, letting you speak commands while also using augmented reality to scan devices with the camera, and supports more than 50 languages.

galaxy s8 bixbyMichael Simon
Samsung’s new AI, Bixby, will control things that you usually use your fingers to do.

 Like its contemporaries, Bixby utilizes a female voice. It will work with “a handful of apps” at launch, and it’s intuitive enough to understand what you’re doing between voice commands. So if you ask to see your movies, it will take you there. Then you can tap to navigate to one, and say, “Play this,” and it will know what you’re referring to. A dedicated button above the volume rocker on the left side of the device will summon Bixby wherever you are, and you can also say, “Bixby” to wake it up.

While Bixby won’t be able to answer general knowledge questions when it launches, an update will bring the functionality in the future. However, it will utilize a feature called Bixby Vision that lets you use the camera to scan items such as books and wine bottles to get AR-style shopping links and other details about them. You can also utilize the Bixby home screen to view a stream of your personal information, such as fitness stats, weather, and reminders.

Safe and sound

Then, there’s the elephant in the room: battery safety. The Galaxy S8 has gone through Samsung’s new 8-point battery safety check, and it notes that the the process represents “a commitment to innovate process and quality.” So, it’s confident that these batteries won’t explode.

To that end, the battery in the Galaxy S8+ is the same 3,500 mAh size found in the Note7, while the smaller model comes with a 3,000 mAh one. Both models support wireless charging, IP68 water resistance, and for audio fans, Samsung has resisted the wireless-only trend, so there is a 3.5mm headphone jack. Additionally, there will be a pair of AKG earbuds in the box, which Samsung says are worth $99.

Expanding universe

The S8 is the center of a new strategy for Samsung that includes two new products, Samsung Connect and DeX Station. It’s all part of a new ecosystem that Samsung is building around the S8 that includes a refined productivity push.

galaxy s8 dex dockJorge Arzac
Samsung’s Dex is a USB-C dock that connects to your monitor.

 Samsung Connect Home is a 4×4 Mu-Mimo mesh Wi-Fi router system. Designed to connect to all of your Samsung and compatible devices, the system has a SmartThings Hub built into it with a new intelligent app to control those devices. For example, you can set an away mode that will dim the lights and start up your Powerbot vacuum when you leave the house.

DeX Station is designed to be a “pocketable solution” that lets you use your phone as mini computer, projecting your apps onto a monitor and using a Bluetooth or USB keyboard and monitor to operate them. The dock includes two old-school USB ports, as well as ethernet and HDMI ports. Once plugged in to the circular dock, you can hook it up to an HDMI monitor and access your apps just as if you were sitting down at a PC.

Point and shoot

There are also updates to the Gear VR and Gear 360 cameras. In addition to a tweaked color and design to accommodate the S8, the new headset includes a bundled controller like Google’s Daydream with four buttons and a touch screen. Designed for gaming, the Bluetooth remote will also be sold separately for S7, S6, and Note 5 users. Samsung says there are some 70 remote-ready apps already in development.

galaxy s8 pairMichael Simon
The Galaxy S8 has a 5.8-inch screen while the larger S8+ has a 6.2-inch one.

 The Gear 360 camera has a new design. Instead of a sphere, it’s now a small stick that’s pocketable and more travel-friendly. The battery is no longer removable, but the SD card still is, and you can now shoot in 4K resolution and live-stream in 2K.

You can preorder the S8 beginning Thursday, March 30 for delivery on April 21. All preorders will include a Gear VR and an Oculus game pack. The DeX dock and Gear VR will also be available for sale alongside the S8, with the Gear 360 camera launching a little later in the spring.

5 Samsung Galaxy S8 features Apple should steal for iPhone 8

Samsung just took the wraps off its new Galaxy S8 and S8+ smartphones in a bid to make people forget about last year’s exploding Note 7 disaster. While the Galaxy S8 has a few things working against it—namely that it runs Android—Samsung gave its new flagship an impressively slick redesign. We wouldn’t mind if Apple lifted a few of the S8’s features for its 10th anniversary iPhone.

Samsung's Galaxy S8 and S8+ smartphones

In fact, Apple is reportedly working on a few of these features already. We’re not saying that Samsung looks at Apple product rumors to define its own roadmap, but…anything’s possible.

Here are five Galaxy S8 features we’d like to see in the next iPhone:

Bye, bezels

Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ smartphonesAdam Patrick Murray, IDG Worldwide

 Look at that edge-to-edge display.
 Samsung’s basically bezel-less “infinity display” on the Galaxy S8 is bananas, to put it mildly. The new phone has an 83 percent screen-to-body ratio, which means this thing is basically all display—a Super AMOLED display, at that.

Apple is reportedly working on an edge-to-edge display of its own, which is a good thing. At this point, the iPhone’s thick bezel and LCD screen feel a bit dated, although the iPhone 7 LCD display’s quality has been rated as comparable to its competitors’ OLED versions. But we would love if the iPhone 8 featured an expansive screen with hair’s-width side bezels and a super slim “forehead” and “chin.”

Samsung has also gone all-in with curved OLED screens, which Apple is also reportedly considering, though it’s unclear if the company has found high-quality suppliers that can produce enough curved OLED panels for all those iPhones.

Home button, be gone

galaxy s8 fingerprintMichael Simon

 Samsung put the Galaxy S8’s fingerprint sensor on the back, which we hope Apple doesn’t do.
 With its vast screen, Samsung banished the phone’s physical home button. The S8’s home button is now beneath the display, so you can press the screen and the button will respond with haptic feedback (though our Greenbot colleagues report that the S8’s vibrations are nothing like the iPhone’s).

Samsung kept its flagship’s fingerprint sensor, but moved it to the back—right next to the camera lens. This is a bad move, and one we hope Apple doesn’t follow.

Rumor has it Apple is planning to embed Touch ID right into the iPhone’s display, which makes much more sense than sticking it on the back.

Use your face to unlock your phone

The Galaxy S8 turns your face into the password you use to unlock your phone, with an iris scanner to recognize your “eyeprint” instead of a fingerprint. The S8 also uses biometric facial recognition, so you hold your phone in front of your face and the S8 will immediately slide into your home screen. Given that Samsung put its fingerprint sensor in such an awkward spot, this is a necessary design decision. But it’s also an insanely cool advance for smartphone technology, and something we hope Apple is exploring for the iPhone.

A useful voice assistant

Last year, Samsung acquired Viv, an AI-powered voice assistant created by the founders of Siri. Viv become the foundation of Bixby, the voice-activated assistant baked into the Galaxy S8.

Bixby is contextually aware with the ability to answer follow-up questions. This is something Siri can’t do. At all. If you’re looking at a map on your screen, Bixby knows what it is and what you mean when you say, “Bixby, capture this.” Siri doesn’t know what you’re looking at on your screen, and saying, “Siri, capture this,” would likely take you to a list of Bing search results for “this.”

To be fair, the early word on Bixby is that it’s incredibly limited and not as cool as it sounds, though Samsung didn’t let anyone try it out before unveiling the S8.

Apple is slowly improving its assistant’s capabilities, but its glacial pace of progress is due to privacy concerns. Apple doesn’t want Siri to store information about you or what you’re doing on your phone. Anyone who cares about protecting their data appreciates Apple’s premium on privacy, but there must be some middle ground that would make Siri smarter.

Augmented reality comes to the camera

galaxy s8 cameraMichael Simon

 Samsung redesigned the Galaxy S8 camera to include augmented reality.
 Samsung also introduced a new feature called Bixby Vision, which lets you use your camera to scan items. Bixby Vision will then overlay details about the item, such as a book, and give you a link to buy it.

Apple is reportedly working on augmented reality, too—CEO Tim Cook has hinted as much in a series of comments over the last year. And rumor has it Apple is still considering the best AR applications for the iPhone camera, though it’s unclear whether the company’s ideal use cases are product scanning and shopping. (Our guess is no.)

Samsung still has to prove that Galaxy S8’s new safety-checked battery won’t set the phone on fire, which is a pretty low bar to clear. But the S8’s new features are ones we hope Apple is already working to perfect for the iPhone 8, which we expect to launch this September.

What’s in Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and S8+ smartphones?

Samsung’s new Galaxy S8 and S8+ smartphones look beautiful, and are loaded with new features that could make an upgrade worthwhile.

The handsets are superfast and 4K capable, and also herald the arrival of new technologies like Bluetooth 5 and LTE gigabit modems.

We take a look inside the handsets and see how they have improved from the Samsung Galaxy S7.

 [ Further reading: The best Android phones for every budget. ]

Screen size is bigger

The Galaxy S8 has a 5.8-inch screen, while the S8+ has a 6.2-inch screen, which are larger than the 5.5-inch S7 and the 5.7-inch Note 7. The screen resolution is 2960 x 1440 pixels, a slight uptick from S7’s 2560 x 1440-pixel screen. Samsung was able to increase the S8 screen size by cutting the home button, and also adding to the height. The screen area now constitutes 83 percent of the S8 front surfaces.

Thinner

At 155 grams, the S8 is two grams lighter than the S7. The S8 is 8 millimeters thick, while the S7 is 7.9 millimeters thick. The S8+ is 8.1 millimeters thick.

Beefier processors

In the U.S., the Galaxy S8 and S8+ will have the eight-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, while in other regions the phones will have Samsung’s homegrown eight-core Exynos 8895. On paper, the chips are competitive and you should notice little difference in performance. The chips are made on the latest 10-nanometer process, and on average about 20 percent faster performance and 40 percent more power efficient than chips in the Galaxy S7.

Better VR and gaming

The smartphones will be great to use with the Gear VR headset. The Galaxy S8 and S8+ will be capable of shooting and playing 4K video at 120 frames per second via an external monitor. Qualcomm has said its Adreno 540 GPU in the S8 is about 25 percent faster than the Adreno 530 in the Galaxy S7. The Mali G71 GPU in Galaxy S8 is about 20 than its predecessor in the S7. The chips have custom features to speed up multimedia playback and VR, but the Adreno 540 holds an advantage over the Mali GPU.

LTE faster than your wired Internet

The S8 and S8+ have LTE modems than can achieve download speeds of up to 1Gbps, which is faster than most home wired Internet connections. However, cellular networks offer much lower download speeds and are not ready for those blazing modems yet. The S7 had an LTE modem will download speeds of up to 600Mbps and upload speeds of up to 150Mbps.

Hopefully safer batteries

Samsung executives stressed they had learned lessons from the fiasco in which Note 7 batteries exploded, and had implemented rigorous battery-testing processes. Only time will tell if the changes have worked. The S8 has a 3,000 mAh battery, which is similar to the S7. Being a larger phone, the S8+ has a 3,500 mAh battery.

Hello, Bluetooth 5

The S8 smartphones will be among the first handsets with Bluetooth 5. The new wireless protocol will allow S8 smartphones to communicate with devices like wireless speakers at longer distances and faster speeds. With a range of well over 100 meters, Bluetooth 5 has four times the range of Bluetooth 4.2. In theory, devices with Bluetooth 5 can transfer data at 2Mbps, twice that of Bluetooth 4.2, but chipset makers like Nordic Semiconductor recently said they aren’t yet hitting full speeds.

Camera and other features

The S8 smartphones have 12-megapixel rear cameras, similar to the S7, and 8-megapixel front cameras, an upgrade from the 5-megapixel equivalent in the S7. The S8 handsets have 4GB of memory, 64GB of storage, 802.11ac Wi-Fi and GPS, similar to the S7.

Trojan source code leak poised to spur new online banking attacks

The source code for a new Trojan program that targets banking services has been published online, offering an easy way for unskilled cybercriminals to launch potent malware attacks against users.

Nuclear Bot will serve as a framework for other malware.

The Trojan is called Nuclear Bot and first appeared for sale on underground cybercrime forums in early December for $2,500. It can steal and inject information from and into websites opened in Mozilla Firefox, Internet Explorer and Google Chrome and can also open a local proxy or hidden remote desktop service.

These are all features commonly seen in banking Trojans, as they’re used by attackers to bypass the security checks of online bank websites to perform fraud. For example, the proxy and remote desktop functionality allows hackers to initiate rogue transactions through the victims’ browsers after they have been tricked into providing the second authentication factor.

What’s interesting about Nuclear Bot is the failure of its author to market it properly to other cybercriminals. According to researchers from IBM, who have closely monitored the Trojan’s history, over the course of several months the Nuclear Bot creator broke many of the unwritten rules of the cybercriminal community, which resulted in his losing all credibility and being flagged a scammer. For example, the program’s author did not not provide test versions of the software to forum admins or potential buyers and used different names when advertising the malware  on different forums.

Even though it did not attract any buyers, the Trojan did turn out to be real and quite potent. And in order to prove his legitimacy as a malware coder, it appears that the Nuclear Bot author took the unusual step of releasing the Trojan’s source code himself.

The source code for other banking Trojans, including Zeus, Gozi and Carberp, has been released in the past, but usually as a result of unintentional leaks. Regardless of the reason, whenever something like this happens, it’s never good news for the rest of the internet.

“Publicly available source code makes for more malware,” the IBM researchers said in a blog post. “This is often incorporated into existing projects. X-Force researchers noted that NukeBot is likely to see the same process take place in the wild, especially since its code is not copied from other leaked malware, per the developer’s claims.”

At the very least, source code availability puts new malware into the hands of cybercriminals who don’t have the resources to build something themselves or to buy a ready-made solution from someone else.