Health

Limiting social media use reduced loneliness and depression in new experiment

Posted by | depression, Facebook, Health, instagram, Mobile, psychology, science, Snapchat, Social, social media | No Comments

The idea that social media can be harmful to our mental and emotional well-being is not a new one, but little has been done by researchers to directly measure the effect; surveys and correlative studies are at best suggestive. A new experimental study out of Penn State, however, directly links more social media use to worse emotional states, and less use to better.

To be clear on the terminology here, a simple survey might ask people to self-report that using Instagram makes them feel bad. A correlative study would, for example, find that people who report more social media use are more likely to also experience depression. An experimental study compares the results from an experimental group with their behavior systematically modified, and a control group that’s allowed to do whatever they want.

This study, led by Melissa Hunt at Penn State’s psychology department, is the latter — which despite intense interest in this field and phenomenon is quite rare. The researchers only identified two other experimental studies, both of which only addressed Facebook use.

One hundred and forty-three students from the school were monitored for three weeks after being assigned to either limit their social media use to about 10 minutes per app (Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram) per day or continue using it as they normally would. They were monitored for a baseline before the experimental period and assessed weekly on a variety of standard tests for depression, social support and so on. Social media usage was monitored via the iOS battery use screen, which shows app use.

The results are clear. As the paper, published in the latest Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, puts it:

The limited use group showed significant reductions in loneliness and depression over three weeks compared to the control group. Both groups showed significant decreases in anxiety and fear of missing out over baseline, suggesting a benefit of increased self-monitoring.

Our findings strongly suggest that limiting social media use to approximately 30 minutes per day may lead to significant improvement in well-being.

It’s not the final word in this, however. Some scores did not see improvement, such as self-esteem and social support. And later follow-ups to see if feelings reverted or habit changes were less than temporary were limited because most of the subjects couldn’t be compelled to return. (Psychology, often summarized as “the study of undergraduates,” relies on student volunteers who have no reason to take part except for course credit, and once that’s given, they’re out.)

That said, it’s a straightforward causal link between limiting social media use and improving some aspects of emotional and social health. The exact nature of the link, however, is something at which Hunt could only speculate:

Some of the existing literature on social media suggests there’s an enormous amount of social comparison that happens. When you look at other people’s lives, particularly on Instagram, it’s easy to conclude that everyone else’s life is cooler or better than yours.

When you’re not busy getting sucked into clickbait social media, you’re actually spending more time on things that are more likely to make you feel better about your life.

The researchers acknowledge the limited nature of their study and suggest numerous directions for colleagues in the field to take it from here. A more diverse population, for instance, or including more social media platforms. Longer experimental times and comprehensive follow-ups well after the experiment would help, as well.

The 30-minute limit was chosen as a conveniently measurable one, but the team does not intend to say that it is by any means the “correct” amount. Perhaps half or twice as much time would yield similar or even better results, they suggest: “It may be that there is an optimal level of use (similar to a dose response curve) that could be determined.”

Until then, we can use common sense, Hunt suggested: “In general, I would say, put your phone down and be with the people in your life.”

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iPharmacy Roman fights stigmas with premature ejaculation meds

Posted by | Apps, eCommerce, Erectile Dysfunction, hair loss, Health, Hims, Medication, Mobile, online pharmacy, PillPack, Ro, Startups | No Comments

There’s a war brewing to become the cloud pharmacy for men’s health. Roman, which launched last year offering erectile dysfunctional medication and recently added a ‘quit smoking’ kit, is taking on $97 million-funded Hims for the hair loss market. Today, Roman launched four new products it hopes to cross-sell to users through a unified telemedicine subscription and pill delivery app. It now sells meds for premature ejaculation, oral herpes, genital herpes, and hair loss at what’s often a deep discount versus your local drug store. And for those who are too far gone, it’s launching a “Bald Is Beautiful, Too” microsite for finding the best razors, lotions, and head shaving tips.

Roman CEO Zachariah Reitano

“It’s unlikely that you’ll buy razors from Bonobos or pants from Dollar Shave Club. But with a doctor, it’s actually the exact opposite” Roman CEO Zachariah Reitano tells me. “As a customer you’re frustrated if they send you somewhere else.” And so what started as a single product startup is blossoming into a powerful product mix that can keep users loyal.

Roman starts with a telemedicine doctor’s visit where patients can talk about their health troubles without the embarrassment of going to their general practitioner. When appropriate, the doc can then prescribe medications customers can then instantly buy through Roman.

“If you have something that’s truly consuming your day-to-day, it makes it really hard or nearly impossible to think about the long-term. If you’re 30 pounds overweight and experiencing erectile dysfunction, [it’s the latter symptom] that’s dominating your head space” Reitano explains. The doctor might focus on the underlying health issue, but most humans aren’t so logical, and want the urgent issue fixed first. Reitano’s theory is that if it can treat someone’s erectile dysfunction or hair loss first, they’ll have the resolve to tackle bigger lifelong health challenges. “We’re hoping to work on this so you can take a deep breath and get the monkey off your back” the CEO tells me.

But one thing Roman won’t do is prescribe homeopathic remedies or spurious remedies. “We will only ever offer products that are backed by science and proven to work” Reitano declares. Taking a shot at Roman’s competitor, he says “Hims sells gummies. Roman does not.  No doctor would say Biotin would help you regrow hair”, plus the vitamin can distort blood pressure readings that make it tough to tell if someone is having a heart attack.

“Roman will never slap sugar on vitamins, sell them on Snapchat, and say they’ll regrow your hair” Reitano jabs. Roman also benefits from the fact that Reitano’s father and one of the company’s advisors Dr. Michael Reitano was a lead author on a groundbreaking study about how Valacyclovir could be used to suppress transmission of genital herpes.

So what is Roman selling?

With Roman, Hims, Amazon acquisition PillPack, and more, there’s a powerful trend in direct-to-consumer medication emerging. Reitano sees it as the outcome of five intersecting facts.

  1. The evolution of telemedicine regulation allowing physicians to have a national presence by seeing patients online
  2. Physicians are being reimbursed less by Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurers for the same activity, pushing them towards telemedicine
  3. A patent cliff is making many medications suddenly affordable under generic names.
  4. Insurance deductibles are increasing, turning patients into consumers
  5. Technology is making it easier and cheaper to start medical startups

Roman’s $88 million Series A it announced last month is proof of this growing trend. Investors see the traditional pharmacy structure as highly vulnerable to disruption.

Roman will have to defeat not just security threats and competitors, but also the status quo of keeping a stiff upper lip. A lot of men silently suffer these conditions rather than speak up. By speaking candidly about his own erectile dysfunction as a side-effect of heart medication, Reitano is trying to break the stigma and get more patients seeking help wherever feels right to them.

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Not to be overshadowed by the Apple Watch, AliveCor announces a new 6-lead ECG reader

Posted by | AliveCor, Apple, Apple Watch, Atrial fibrillation, ceo, fda, Gadgets, Health, heart attack, medicine, TC, Vic Gundotra, Wearables | No Comments

Apple’s announcement last week of a Watch with an FDA-approved ECG reader to track heart health looked to be the undoing of original ECG reader company AliveCor. But, to prove it still has a hearty pulse, AliveCor tells TechCrunch it is coming out with a “never-before-seen” 6-lead electrocardiogram (ECG), pending FDA approval.

In a care clinic, a patient typically has 12 leads, or stickers placed across their chest to pick up data from their heart. However, other ECG readers typically have one or two leads. The Apple Watch places a single lead system on the wrist. The 6-lead ECG reader is, in theory, more accurate because there are more sensors picking up more information, which could be critical in saving lives.

AliveCor’s and the Apple Watch’s current function is to pick up AFib — or the detection of an irregular heart beat. AliveCor announced earlier this month it had received FDA-approval to use its ECG readers to detect a rare but dangerous blood condition called hyperkalemia.

With 6-lead ECG readers, the AliveCor device could also pick up about 100 different diseases, according to CEO Vic Gundotra, who rattled off a bunch of long-worded maladies I can’t even begin to pronounce but he’s hoping his reader will soon be able to detect.

However, one important detection would be ST elevation — one of the key factors associated with the onset of a heart attack and which could get a person on their way to the hospital before they start displaying other physical symptoms.

Of course, Apple — which already holds 17 percent of the wearables market — could easily decide it, too, needs to add a 6-lead ECG reader to the Watch and beat AliveCor’s market yet again. But Gundotra shrugs at that suggestion.

“They could but we have some pretty good patents in the space,” he told TechCrunch, adding “Apple has done me a great service, actually. We’re a small company but you are talking to me, calling about this [because of their announcement].”

No formal name has been announced yet for the 6-lead product, but AliveCor will be working with the FDA on the regulatory pathway for it and hopes to bring it to over-the-counter consumers by 2019.

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Daily Burn plans a new line of fitness apps, starting with HIIT Workouts

Posted by | Apps, Daily Burn, Health, IAC, Mobile, workout app | No Comments

Daily Burn, the online fitness brand owned by IAC, launched a new iPhone app today devoted to the popular workout style known as HIIT (high-intensity interval training).

Daily Burn already offers a general training app, but the company says it’s planning a whole series of vertical workout apps, starting with HIIT Workouts. They are “bringing personalized workout training to every member tailored to their interests.”

If you’re wondering exactly what HIIT is, the individual exercises may be familiar, but as a Daily Burn article puts it, it’s all combined into “quick, intense bursts of exercise, followed by short, sometimes active, recovery periods.”

There’s no shortage of HIIT workout apps, or HIIT workouts in broader fitness apps (for example, I’ve tried out several through my Fitbit Coach subscription). But Daily Burn points to the combination of guided video workouts (so you’re less likely to mess things up) with a specific focus on HIIT. Plus, the workouts are tailored to your goals and endurance levels.

“We spent months researching how people interact with their phones, and combined it with Daily Burn’s world-class fitness and streaming expertise to create a best in class HIIT app that is effective and fun,” said Daily Burn CEO Tricia Han in the announcement. “With personalized workouts led by expert trainers and optimized for mobile, members have access to top instructors, progress reports and a supportive community in the palm of their hand.”

HIIT Workouts by Daily Burn offers a free seven-day trial; it then costs $9.99 per month.

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AliveCor gets a green light from FDA to screen for dangerously high potassium levels in the blood

Posted by | AliveCor, artificial intelligence, Gadgets, hardware, Health, Mayo Clinic, medicine, neural network, TC, Vic Gundotra | No Comments

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has granted AliveCor the designation of “breakthrough device” for its ability to detect a rare but dangerous blood condition called hyperkalemia without taking any blood from the patient.

Hyperkalemia is a medical term describing elevated potassium levels in the blood and is usually found in those with kidney disease. The correct amount of potassium is critical for the function of nerve and muscles in the body, including your heart muscle. A blood potassium level higher than 6.0 mmol/L can be dangerous and usually requires immediate treatment, according to the Mayo Clinic.

A surprising 31 million people in the U.S. suffer from chronic kidney conditions leading to potentially elevated levels of potassium. Nearly 500,000 of those with the condition are on dialysis as their kidneys are no longer able to function.

AliveCor is able to detect elevated levels of potassium in the blood using the company’s specifically trained deep neural network and data from its electrocardiograms (ECG) technology, similar to those captured by AliveCor’s KardiaMobile and KardiaBand devices.

The new designation means the FDA will begin to fast-track the technology, enabling patients with kidney disease to use AliveCor for home-based detection of elevated potassium levels.

AliveCor was cleared late last year by the FDA to use its KardiaBand technology as a medical device for the Apple Watch to detect abnormal hearth rhythm. Allowing kidney and heart patients to use this technology at home would potentially save lives by detecting and warning them that something is wrong before heading into the doctor’s office to get checked.

“We are gratified that the artificial intelligence work we’re doing at AliveCor has been deemed so meaningful that it has achieved FDA ‘Breakthrough Device’ status,” AliveCor CEO Vic Gundotra said in a statement. “We view it as a key milestone in our corporate history and look forward to the further development of our non-invasive Hyperkalemia detection tools.”

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Taking a spin with Garmin’s vivosmart 4 activity tracker

Posted by | activity tracker, bezel, electronics, fitbit, Gadgets, Garmin, Health, Internet of Things, sleep, TC, tracker, ubiquitous computing | No Comments

Garmin continues to go head-to-head with Fitbit with the launch of its latest offering — the vivosmart 4 activity tracker. This sleek new wristband not only tracks steps, activities and gives you the weather but also comes with a blood oxygen sensor and will tell you how much energy you have saved up for your next full throttle burn session.

That new body battery energy calculator estimates the body’s energy reserves to help you figure out when you feel more rundown and why. You simply swipe through the menu on the display to get to your energy levels or a number of other data offerings like steps, heart rate, stress levels and stairs climbed. The blood oxygen sensor will tell you how well oxygen is being pumped from your heart to the farthest regions of your body and can help you figure out if you are getting a good sleep in.

I took the new vivosmart 4 for a spin this week and was not disappointed in the upgrades. First off, this is a very nice looking piece of jewelry. Its slim, fashionable design fits neatly on the wrist and comes in berry with gold bezel, powder grey with rose gold bezel, azure blue with silver bezel, and black with slate bezel. It also feels good to wear. The material is smooth, soft and lightweight, slipping on easily.

The new model comes equipped with a newly redesigned wrist-based heart rate sensor, VO2 max and tracker for various activities like running, strength training and yoga.

One other interesting feature includes stress level measurement tool that will remind you to relax and take a breath throughout your busy work day.

Like its predecessor, the vivosmart 3, the 4 comes with the ability to check the weather, play music, and receive text message updates. It is safe to use under water so it can be worn in the shower or if you want to go for a swim.

The battery life is also strong enough to stay charged for up to a week at a time. Compare that to the Fitbit HR and Charge 2, which last up to five days.

The body energy feature is also a nice touch. The tracker figures out your energy levels using a combination of data including heart rate, sleep, stress levels and activity from the previous few days so it will likely take a while to figure out how much output you’ve got before a workout.

Overall, I’d say it’s a nice watch to hang on your bod. However, there are some drawbacks. The display is hard to work with. I found I had to tap several times, not just twice, as the instructions indicate. It’s also not very intuitive to maneuver and doesn’t pick up immediately that you are trying to swipe through the menu at times. You’ll need to take some time playing around with it to get the hang of it.

This is an activity tracker I would like to recommend for the fitness and life balance oriented individual, except for the difficulty in navigating the screen. That is one area that could be vastly improved by the manufacturer and would put it at the top of my list for trackers instead of somewhere in the middle.

For those interested, the vivosmart 4 will retail for about $130 and can be found online or at a sports gear shop near you.

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VR optics could help old folks keep the world in focus

Posted by | accessibility, disability, Gadgets, hardware, Health, science, siggraph, stanford, Stanford University, TC, Wearables | No Comments

The complex optics involved with putting a screen an inch away from the eye in VR headsets could make for smartglasses that correct for vision problems. These prototype “autofocals” from Stanford researchers use depth sensing and gaze tracking to bring the world into focus when someone lacks the ability to do it on their own.

I talked with lead researcher Nitish Padmanaban at SIGGRAPH in Vancouver, where he and the others on his team were showing off the latest version of the system. It’s meant, he explained, to be a better solution to the problem of presbyopia, which is basically when your eyes refuse to focus on close-up objects. It happens to millions of people as they age, even people with otherwise excellent vision.

There are, of course, bifocals and progressive lenses that bend light in such a way as to bring such objects into focus — purely optical solutions, and cheap as well, but inflexible, and they only provide a small “viewport” through which to view the world. And there are adjustable-lens glasses as well, but must be adjusted slowly and manually with a dial on the side. What if you could make the whole lens change shape automatically, depending on the user’s need, in real time?

That’s what Padmanaban and colleagues Robert Konrad and Gordon Wetzstein are working on, and although the current prototype is obviously far too bulky and limited for actual deployment, the concept seems totally sound.

Padmanaban previously worked in VR, and mentioned what’s called the convergence-accommodation problem. Basically, the way that we see changes in real life when we move and refocus our eyes from far to near doesn’t happen properly (if at all) in VR, and that can produce pain and nausea. Having lenses that automatically adjust based on where you’re looking would be useful there — and indeed some VR developers were showing off just that only 10 feet away. But it could also apply to people who are unable to focus on nearby objects in the real world, Padmanaban thought.

This is an old prototype, but you get the idea.

It works like this. A depth sensor on the glasses collects a basic view of the scene in front of the person: a newspaper is 14 inches away, a table three feet away, the rest of the room considerably more. Then an eye-tracking system checks where the user is currently looking and cross-references that with the depth map.

Having been equipped with the specifics of the user’s vision problem, for instance that they have trouble focusing on objects closer than 20 inches away, the apparatus can then make an intelligent decision as to whether and how to adjust the lenses of the glasses.

In the case above, if the user was looking at the table or the rest of the room, the glasses will assume whatever normal correction the person requires to see — perhaps none. But if they change their gaze to focus on the paper, the glasses immediately adjust the lenses (perhaps independently per eye) to bring that object into focus in a way that doesn’t strain the person’s eyes.

The whole process of checking the gaze, depth of the selected object and adjustment of the lenses takes a total of about 150 milliseconds. That’s long enough that the user might notice it happens, but the whole process of redirecting and refocusing one’s gaze takes perhaps three or four times that long — so the changes in the device will be complete by the time the user’s eyes would normally be at rest again.

“Even with an early prototype, the Autofocals are comparable to and sometimes better than traditional correction,” reads a short summary of the research published for SIGGRAPH. “Furthermore, the ‘natural’ operation of the Autofocals makes them usable on first wear.”

The team is currently conducting tests to measure more quantitatively the improvements derived from this system, and test for any possible ill effects, glitches or other complaints. They’re a long way from commercialization, but Padmanaban suggested that some manufacturers are already looking into this type of method and despite its early stage, it’s highly promising. We can expect to hear more from them when the full paper is published.

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Samsung Galaxy Note 9 review

Posted by | Bixby, galaxy note 9, Health, Mobile, note 9, Reviews, Samsung, smartphones | No Comments

There are no secrets in consumer electronics anymore. Sometimes it’s the fault of flubs and flaws and leakers. Sometimes it’s by design. In the case of the Galaxy Note 9, it’s a little bit of both.

The Galaxy S9 wasn’t the blockbuster Samsung’s shareholders were expecting, so the company understandably primed the pump through a combination of teasers and leaks — some no doubt unintentional and others that seemed suspiciously less so.

By the time yesterday’s big event at Brooklyn’s house that Jay-Z built rolled around, we knew just about everything we needed to know about the upcoming handset, and virtually every leaked spec proved accurate. Sure, the company amazingly managed to through in a surprise or two, but the event was all about the Note.

And understandably so. The phablet, along with the Galaxy S line, forms the cornerstone of Samsung’s entire consumer approach. It’s a portfolio that expands with each event, to include wearables, productivity, the smart home, automotive, a smart assistant and now the long-awaited smart speaker. None of which would make a lick of sense without the handsets.

If the Galaxy S is Samsung’s tentpole device, the Note represents what the company has deemed its “innovation brand,” the uber-premium device that allows the company to push the limits of its mobile hardware. In past generations, that’s meant the Edge display (curving screen), S-Pen, giant screen and dual-camera. That innovation, naturally, comes at a price.

Here it’s $1,000. It’s a price that, until a year ago seemed impossibly steep for a smartphone. For the Galaxy Note 9, on the other hand, that’s just where things start. Any hopes that the new model might represent a move toward the mainstream for the line in the wake of an underwhelming S9 performance can be put to rest here.

The Note is what it’s always been and will likely always continue to be: a device for the diehard. A very good device, mind, but one for those with an arm and or a leg to spare. Most of the good new features will trickle their way down the food chain to the company’s more mainstream device. At $720/$840, the S9 isn’t a budget phone by any stretch of the imagination, but at the very least, keeping it to three digits seems a little more palatable.

A good rule of thumb for a hardware review is incorporating the product into one’s own life as much as possible. It’s a pretty easy ask with a device like the Note 9, which has the advantage of great hardware and software design built upon the learnings and missteps of several generations.

It’s still not perfect by any means, and the company’s everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach to the line means there are plenty of features that never really made their may into my routine. And while, as the largely unchanged product design suggests — the Note 9 doesn’t represent a hugely significant milestone in the product line — there are enough tweaks throughout the product to maintain its place toward the top of the Android heap.

All charged up

Let’s address the gorilla in the room here. Two years ago, Galaxy Notes started exploding. Samsung recalled the devices, started selling them, more exploded and they recalled them again, ultimately discontinuing the product.

Samsung apologized profusely and agreed to institute more rigorous safety checks. For the next few devices, the company didn’t rock the boat. Battery sizes on Galaxy products stayed mostly the same. It was a combination of pragmatism and optics. The company needed time to ensure that future products wouldn’t suffer the same fate, while demonstrating to the public and shareholders that it was doing due diligence.

“What we want to do is a tempered approach to innovation any time,” Samsung’s director of Product Strategy and Marketing told me ahead of launch, “so this was the right time to increase the battery to meet consumer needs.”

Given Samsung’s massive business as a component manufacturer, the whole fiasco ultimately didn’t dent the bottom line. In fact, in a strange way, it might ultimately be a net positive. Now it can boast about having one of the most rigorous battery testing processes in the business. Now it’s a feature, not a bug.

At 4,000mAh, the Note 9 features a 700mAh increase above its predecessor. It’s not an unprecedented number — Huawei’s already hit the 4,000 mark — but it’s the largest ever on a Note device, putting the handset in the top percentile.

As far as how that actually translates to real-world usage, Samsung’s not giving a number yet. The company simply says “all day and all night” in its release. I found that to be pretty close to the truth. I unplugged the handset at 100 percent yesterday afternoon. I texted, listened to Spotify, took photos, downloaded and just generally attempted to live my life on the damn thing.

Just under 22 hours later, it gave up the ghost and after much notification-based consternation about a critically low battery, the screen went black. Like I said, it’s not crazy battery life, but going most of a full day and night without a charge is a nice little luxury — and the sort of thing all phone makers should strive to achieve on their flagship products.

The company also, kindly, included the new Wireless Charging Duo. The charging pad is not quite as ambitious as the AirPower, but unlike that product, introduced nearly a year ago by Apple, I have this in my hands right now. So, point: Samsung. Charging the device from zero to 100 percent took three hours on the dot with the $120 “Fast Charge” pad. And it’s nice and toasty now.

Memories

Okay, about that price. Again, we’re talking $999.99 to start. There’s also a second SKU. That one will run you $1,295.99. Take a moment if you need to.

That’s a silly amount of money if you’re not the starting point guard for the Golden State Warriors. So much for the rumors that the company would be working to make its devices more economically accessible. And while the premium hardware has always meant that the Galaxy line is going to remain on the pricey side, I can’t help but point out that a few key decisions could have kept the price down, while maintaining build quality.

Storage is arguably the primary culprit. The aforementioned two SKUs give you either 6GB of RAM with 128GB or 8GB of RAM with 512GB. With cloud syncing and the rest, it’s hard to imagine I would come close to that limit in the two or so years until the time comes to upgrade my handset.

I’m sure those sorts of crazy media-hoarding power users do, in fact, exist in the world, but they’re undoubtedly a rarity. Besides, as Samsung helpfully pointed out, 512GB SD cards already exist in the world. Sure, that’s another $350 tacked onto the bottom line, but it’s there, if you need it. For most users, it’s hard to see Samsung’s claim of having “the world’s first 1TB-ready smartphone” (512GB+512GB) exists for little more reason than racking up yet another flashy claim for the 1960s Batman utility belt of smartphones.

Sure, Samsung no doubt gets a deal on Samsung-built hard drives, but the component has to be a key part in what’s driving costs up. For a company as driven by choice as Samsung, I’m honestly surprised we’re not getting more options up front here in the States.

Remote control

Confession: After testing many Galaxy Note models over the course of many years, I’ve never figured out a great use for the S-Pen. I mean, I’m happy that people like it, and obviously all of the early skepticism about the return of the stylus was quickly put to rest, as the company has continued to go back to the well, year after year.

But all of the handwritten note taking and animated GIF drawing just isn’t for me, man. I also recently spoke to an artist friend who told me that the Note doesn’t really cut it for him on the drawing front, either. Again, if you like or love it, more power to you, but it’s just not for me.

As silly as the idea of using the S-Pen as a remote control might appear at first glance, however, it’s clear to me that this is the first use of the built-in accessory I could honestly see using on a daily basis. It’s handy once you get beyond the silliness of holding a stylus in your hand while running, and serves as a handy surrogate for those who don’t own a compatible smartwatch.

The S-Pen now sports Bluetooth Low Energy, allowing it to control different aspects of phone use. Low Energy or not, that tech requires power, so the stylus now contains a super conductor, which charges it when slotted inside the phone; 40 seconds of charging should get you a healthy 30 minutes of use. Even so, the phone will bug you to remind you that you really ought to dock the thing when not in use.

The compatible apps are still fairly limited at launch, but it’s enough to demonstrate how this could be a handy little addition. Of the bunch, I got the most out of music control for Spotify. One click plays/pauses a song, and a double-click extends the track. Sure, it’s limited functionality, but it saved me from having to fiddle with the phone to change songs went I went for my run this morning.

You’ll need to be a bit more creative when determining usefulness in some of the other apps. Using it as a shutter button in the camera app, for instance, could be a useful way to take a selfie without having to hold the phone at arms’ length.

The entire time, I wondered what one might be able to accomplish with additional buttons (volume/rewind/gameplay)? What about a pedometer to track steps when you’re running on the treadmill without it in the pocket? Or even a beacon to help absent-minded folks like myself find it after we invariably drop it between couch cushions.

But yeah, I understand why the company would choose to keep things simple for what remains a sort of secondary functionality. Or, heck, maybe the company just needs to hold some features for the Note 10 (Note X?).

Oh, and the Blue and Lavender versions of the phone come in striking yellow and purple S-Pens, with lock-screen ink color to match. So that’s pretty fun.

Hey man, nice shot

Nowhere is the Note’s cumulative evolution better represented than the camera. Each subsequent Galaxy S and Note release seem to offer new hardware and/or software upgrades, giving the company two distinct opportunities per year to improve imaging for the line. The S9, announced back in February, notably brought improved low-light photography to the line. The dual aperture flips between f/1.5 and f/2.4, to let in more light.

It’s a neat trick for a smartphone. Behold, a head to head between the Note 9 (left) and iPhone X (right):

Here’s what we’re dealing with on the hardware front:

  • Rear: Dual Camera with Dual OIS (Optical Image Stabilization)
  • Wide-angle: Super Speed Dual Pixel 12MP AF, F1.5/F2.4, OIS
  • Telephoto: 12MP AF, F2.4, OIS
  • 2X optical zoom, up to 10X digital zoom
  • Front: 8MP AF, F1.7

This time out, the improvements are mostly on the software side of things. Two features in particular stand out: Scene Optimizer and Flaw Detection. The first should prove familiar to those who’ve been paying attention to the smartphone game of late. LG is probably the most prominent example.

Camera hardware is pretty great across the board of most modern smartphone flagships. As such, these new features are designed to eliminate the current weakest link: human error. Scene Optimizer saves amateur photographers from having to futz with more advanced settings like white balance and saturation.

The feature uses AI to determine what the camera is seeing, and adjusts settings accordingly. There are 20 different settings, including: Food, Portraits, Flowers, Indoor scenes, Animals, Landscapes, Greenery, Trees, Sky, Mountains, Beaches, Sunrises and sunsets, Watersides, Street scenes, Night scenes, Waterfalls, Snow, Birds, Backlit and Text.

Some are pretty general, others are weirdly specific, but it’s a good mix, and I suspect Samsung will continue to add to it through OTA updates. That said, the function itself doesn’t need a cloud connection, doing all of the processing on-board. The feature worked well with most of the flowers and food I threw at it (so to speak), popping up a small icon in the bottom of the screen to let me know that it knows what it’s looking at. It also did well with book text.

The success rate of other things, like trees, were, unsurprisingly, dependent on context. Get just the top part and it identifies it as “Greenery.” Flip the phone to portrait mode and get the whole of the trunk and it pops up the “Tree” icon. I did get a few false positives along the way; the Note 9 thought my fingers were food, which is deeply disturbing for any number of reasons.

[Without Scene Optimizer – left, With Scene Optimizer – right]

Obviously, it’s not going to be perfect. I found, in the case of flowers that it has the tendency to oversaturate the colors. If you agree, you can disable the feature in settings. However, you have to do this before the shot is taken. There’s no way to manually override the feature to tell it what kind of object you’re shooting. That seems like a bit of a no-brainer addition.

[Super slow-mo matcha under the flicking lights]

Flaw Detection serves a similar role as Scene Optimizer, helping you avoid getting in your own way as an amateur photog. The feature is designed to alert you if a shot is blurry, if there’s a smudge on the screen, if the subject blinked or if backlighting is making everything look crappy. In the case of lens smudging and backlighting, it only bothers with a single alert every 24 hours.

The blink detection worked well. Blur detection, on the other hand, was a bit more of a crap shoot for subjects in motion and those that were too close to the lens to get a good focus. The feature could use a bit of work, but I still think it’s one of the more compelling additions on the whole of the device and anticipate a lot of other companies introducing their own versions in the coming year.

Design Note

The more the Note changes, the more it stays the same, I suppose. As expected, the design language hasn’t changed much, which is no doubt part of what made Samsung CEO DJ Koh think he could get away with using the device in public ahead of launch. The footprint is virtually the same in spite of the ever-so-slightly larger screen (6.3 > 6.4-inches, same 2,960 x 1,440 resolution) — from 162.5 x 74.8 x 8.6 mm on the 8, to 161.9 x 76.4 x 8.8 mm on the 9.

That’s perfectly fine. Samsung’s done an impressive job cramming a lot of screen into a manageable footprint over the past several gens. The only major change (aside from the lovely new blue and purple paint jobs) is the migration of the fingerprint sensor from the side of the camera to underneath it.

This was a clear instance of Samsung responding to feedback from users frustrated by all the times they mistook the camera for the fingerprint reader. The new placement helps a bit, though it’s still fairly close to the camera, and the fact that both are similar shapes doesn’t help matters. Thank goodness for that new smudge detector.

Oh, and the headphone jack is still present, because of course it is. For Samsung, it’s an important way to distinguish the product and approach from a world gone dongle mad.

Note on Notes

Oh Bixby, you eternal bastion of unfulfilled potential. A full rundown of new features can be found here. Overall, the smart assistant promises to be more conversational, with better concierge features. That said, Samsung’s once again tweaking it until the last moment, so I can’t offer you a full review until closer to the phone’s August 24 street date.

So stay tuned for that, I guess. I will say that the setup process can be a bit of a slog for a feature designed to make everything easier. Playing with Bixby voice required me to navigate several pages in order to connect the two. Thankfully, you should only have to deal with that the one time.

Samsung’s continuing to tweak the internals to make its device more suitable for gaming. The water-carbon cooling system tweaks the liquid cooling system found on the device since the S7, to help diffuse heat more efficiently. The large, bright screen meanwhile, is well-suited to mobile gaming, and the 6GB model handled Fortnite fairly well.

A final note

The next smartphone revolution always seems to be a year away. The potential arrival of a Samsung device with a foldable display makes the notion of carrying a massive device around in one’s pocket almost quaint. For the time being, however, the Note remains one of the best methods for transporting a whole lot of screen around on your person.

A lot has changed about the Note in the past seven years, but the core of the device is mostly the same: big screen and stylus coming together to walk the line between productivity and entertainment. It’s big, it’s bold, it’s too expensive for a lot of us. But it remains the phablet to beat.

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Femtech hardware startup Elvie inks strategic partnership with UK’s NHS

Posted by | Apps, biofeedback, Elvie, Europe, Gadgets, hardware, Health, healthcare, National Health Service, pelvic floor, sexual health, smart technology, Tania Boler, United Kingdom, Wearables | No Comments

Elvie, a femtech hardware startup whose first product is a sleek smart pelvic floor exerciser, has inked a strategic partnership with the UK’s National Health Service that will make the device available nationwide through the country’s free-at-the-point-of-use healthcare service so at no direct cost to the patient.

It’s a major win for the startup that was co-founded in 2013 by CEO Tania Boler and Jawbone founder, Alexander Asseily, with the aim of building smart technology that focuses on women’s issues — an overlooked and underserved category in the gadget space.

Boler’s background before starting Elvie (née Chiaro) including working for the U.N. on global sex education curriculums. But her interest in pelvic floor health, and the inspiration for starting Elvie, began after she had a baby herself and found there was more support for women in France than the U.K. when it came to taking care of their bodies after giving birth.

With the NHS partnership, which is the startup’s first national reimbursement partnership (and therefore, as a spokeswoman puts it, has “the potential to be transformative” for the still young company), Elvie is emphasizing the opportunity for its connected tech to help reduce symptoms of urinary incontinence, including those suffered by new mums or in cases of stress-related urinary incontinence.

The Elvie kegel trainer is designed to make pelvic floor exercising fun and easy for women, with real-time feedback delivered via an app that also gamifies the activity, guiding users through exercises intended to strengthen their pelvic floor and thus help reduce urinary incontinence symptoms. The device can also alert users when they are contracting incorrectly.

Elvie cites research suggesting the NHS spends £233M annually on incontinence, claiming also that around a third of women and up to 70% of expectant and new mums currently suffer from urinary incontinence. In 70 per cent of stress urinary incontinence cases it suggests symptoms can be reduced or eliminated via pelvic floor muscle training.

And while there’s no absolute need for any device to perform the necessary muscle contractions to strengthen the pelvic floor, the challenge the Elvie Trainer is intended to help with is it can be difficult for women to know they are performing the exercises correctly or effectively.

Elvie cites a 2004 study that suggests around a third of women can’t exercise their pelvic floor correctly with written or verbal instruction alone. Whereas it says that biofeedback devices (generally, rather than the Elvie Trainer specifically) have been proven to increase success rates of pelvic floor training programmes by 10% — which it says other studies have suggested can lower surgery rates by 50% and reduce treatment costs by £424 per patient head within the first year.

“Until now, biofeedback pelvic floor training devices have only been available through the NHS for at-home use on loan from the patient’s hospital, with patient allocation dependent upon demand. Elvie Trainer will be the first at-home biofeedback device available on the NHS for patients to keep, which will support long-term motivation,” it adds.

Commenting in a statement, Clare Pacey, a specialist women’s health physiotherapist at Kings College Hospital, said: “I am delighted that Elvie Trainer is now available via the NHS. Apart from the fact that it is a sleek, discreet and beautiful product, the app is simple to use and immediate visual feedback directly to your phone screen can be extremely rewarding and motivating. It helps to make pelvic floor rehabilitation fun, which is essential in order to be maintained.”

Elvie is not disclosing commercial details of the NHS partnership but a spokeswoman told us the main objective for this strategic partnership is to broaden access to Elvie Trainer, adding: “The wholesale pricing reflects that.”

Discussing the structure of the supply arrangement, she said Elvie is working with Eurosurgical as its delivery partner — a distributor she said has “decades of experience supplying products to the NHS”.

“The approach will vary by Trust, regarding whether a unit is ordered for a particular patient or whether a small stock will be held so a unit may be provided to a patient within the session in which the need is established. This process will be monitored and reviewed to determine the most efficient and economic distribution method for the NHS Supply Chain,” she added.

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Google plans to roll out digital wellness features in Pie but Apple’s already got ’em

Posted by | Android, Apple, digital wellness, Gadgets, Google, Health, iOS, TC | No Comments

Google hopes to add a few digital wellness features to its latest desserted update, Pie (out today) but Apple is already on this health track with its latest update for iOS 12.

Digital wellness allows users to keep track of time spent on and unplug from your digital device when needed. Google announced the new wellness features coming to Android at I/O in May, including a dashboard for digital wellness, or the ability to track just how much time you spend on your device, an app timer that lets you set time limits on apps, a new Do Not Disturb feature that silences pop-up notifications and Wind Down, a feature to help you switch on Night Light and Do Not Disturb when it’s time to hit the hay.

Apple is also making digital wellness a focus. New features in this space were announced during its WWDC conference earlier this summer and the company has included an updated “Do Not Disturb” feature in the iOS 12 update, also out today.

Several studies have suggested the importance of unplugging and breaking our addictions to our smartphones for our sanity’s sake, and it seems Google would like to help us do just that with these new features. However, the new digital wellness features aren’t quite available in the latest Pie update, out today. We’ve asked Google why not and will update you when and if we hear back on that.

Meanwhile, Apple continues to roll ahead, adding its own controls to help iPhone owners curb their app and screen time usage. Similar to Android’s future offerings, iOS 12 includes a dash with a weekly report on how you spend time on your device. A feature called Downtime helps you schedule time away from your screen (versus just leaving your phone somewhere, seeing a notification and being tempted to pick it up), a feature to set time limits on apps and a way to block inappropriate content from reaching your screen as well.

Apple beats Android in this department for now, but those features will supposedly be made available to everyone with a Google phone eventually. For those wanting to check out the new digital wellness features for Android, you can still do that today, but only if you happen to have a Google Pixel — and only if you’ve signed up for the beta version.

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