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5 months ago

Amazon Fire 7 vs Fire HD 8: Which should you buy?


In the battle of Amazon's all new tablets, which is the right one for you?

Amazon's latest revisions to its 7 and 8-inch Fire tablets will go on sale in early June 2017. They will completely replace the older models, and while both are modest upgrades, they're upgrades nonetheless.

And better still, while the hardware gets a little bit better, the price stays the same. So, once again Amazon has two affordable tablets that are actually worth buying. But which should you go for?

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5 months ago

T-Mobile Digits is coming May 31: What is it, and should you use it?


T-Mobile's Digits brings phone calls and texts into the 21st century, but at a time when people care little about those things, will it make a difference?

Back in December, T-Mobile unveiled a new service called Digits, making phone numbers less reliant on a SIM card, and expanding the simple phone number into the smartphone age.

Now that service is live and available to all T-Mobile customers for free on May 31. It's a re-imagining of the phone number, but it's also a way to entice more people to sign up to more expensive T-Mobile One plans.

And for all of its big talk, Digits is a bit confusing, so let's break it down.

What is Digits?

At its core, Digits is T-Mobile's way of utilizing its new IMS (IP Media Subsystem) backend to dynamically direct calls to any device, or store multiple numbers on a single device.

Basically, without the technical mumbo jumbo, it's a way to free the phone number from its legacy place, and to utilize the flexibility data-based nature of Voice over LTE and Voice of Wi-Fi to allow a call to take place, or to be received, in the most convenient place. This is very similar to Google Voice, and to many other Voice over IP services like Viber and Skype, but T-Mobile has one major advantage: it owns the network, and it distributes the phones.

So what can Digits really do for me?

Provided you're on one of T-Mobile's compatible postpaid plans (yes, this is yet another way for T-Mobile to upsell you), Digits can make it easier to manage phone calls in the increasingly inevitable situation you have multiple devices.

The basic idea is that if you receive a call on your traditional T-Mobile number, your phone should ring, along with any device — another phone, a computer, a tablet, even a connected smartwatch — at the same time. You can also make calls from any of those same devices without your phone nearby, and without the need to have a SIM card.

A secondary but for many people equally important feature is the ability to have more than one number available on a single device. So instead of having separate personal and work phones, you can have a single smartphone make and receive calls from two or more numbers.

This sounds a lot like Google Voice

Yes, it does. The major difference here is that T-Mobile is committing to a couple of things that even Google, which creates both Android and Google Voice, can't do:

  • It is integrating Digits directly into the Android phones it sells, working with manufacturers like Samsung to seamlessly add Digits support into devices like the Galaxy S8, Galaxy S7 and Gear S3.
  • It is making it easy to do so-called "SIM replication," which allows you to duplicate a phone number onto a second device, such as another smartphone or a connected smartwatch.

This is in addition to the Google Voice-like Digits app that's available for Android and iOS, to make and receive calls and texts from any device, anywhere. There's also a Digits portal on the web for people who sit in front of a computer all day and want to be able to initiate communications that way. And because the app is available natively and through an app, devices with SIM cards from AT&T, Verizon or Sprint — any carrier, really — can access Digits messages. If you lose your phone, for instance, you can download the Digits app onto a friend's device and make and receive calls and texts from there, too.

Like many cross-platform messaging services, call logs and messages also sync in real-time between devices, which is a huge boon to productivity if you don't always have your phone in front of you.

It's tailor-made for Android

Android is the only platform on which T-Mobile can rely to help Digits grow.

Digits is a cross-platform play, sure, but it is tailor-made for Android. Not only does iOS have its own cross-device communications protocol in iMessage, which may mess with Digits' ability to route texts, but Apple doesn't allow for any system-level alterations, rendering one of Digits' primary use cases moot.

Indeed, Android is the only platform on which T-Mobile can rely to help Digits proliferate, but by potentially limiting half of the population to merely an app-based experience, it is almost immediately cut off at the proverbial knees. Still, Digits has a five-device limit, and can easily be tuned to be used on an iPhone or iPad, especially since as of iOS 10 VoIP apps can take over the lock screen like a regular dialer.

The best Digits experience will always be on Android, and initially is only natively available on the Galaxy S8, Galaxy S8+, Samsung Galaxy S6, Galaxy S6 edge, Galaxy S6 edge+, Galaxy S7, Galaxy S7 edge, Galaxy Note 5, or LG G5 purchased through T-Mobile.

Unlike using the app, which will enable T-Mobile Digits when you log in for the first time, users of the native Digits experience on the above phones need to explicitly enable it in the T-Mobile account app by.

  1. Open the T-Mobile app.
  2. Tap Menu.
  3. Tap on Usage & Plans.
  4. Tap View line details.
  5. Scroll down to the DIGITS tile.
  6. Tap Unlock.
  7. On the unlock page, tap the Unlock button.

Does it cost anything?

All postpaid T-Mobile numbers can now access Digits for free. There is no additional fee at all, which is nice. That means that you'll be able to use Digits on a T-Mobile number and, through the app, any non-TMobile phone over Wi-Fi or cellular.

T-Mobile is also running a pretty nice promotion starting May 31 for those who want a second Digits line for, say, giving to online account signups or Craigslist ads. As long as you start the process with a T-Mobile One plan, upgrading to a T-Mobile One Plus or One Plus International line ($5/mo and $25/mo respectively) gets a second Digits line for free as long as that account type is active.

If you don't want to upgrade to a T-Mobile One Plus plan, an extra Digits line costs $10/mo when AutoPay is enabled.

Learn more

Where do I download the app?

Right here!

On May 31, you'll be able to log into the Digits app and begin using it on any device you want, receiving phone calls and text messages like you would on your main line.

So should I sign up?

Digits is an intriguing product, and an example of what it looks like when a carrier turns next-generation core technology like IMS and HLR (which works to virtualize SIM data on the core network) into something that is truly compelling to consumers.

At its core, Digits is about making the phone number more flexible by putting it — phone calls and text messages — on practically any device regardless of screen size or type. Tablet? Sure. Smartwatch? Absolutely.

The use cases for Digits are plentiful, and that may be its downfall; unless you know exactly why you should use such a service, I feel many people will be intimidated by the prospect of juggling one number across multiple devices or, even more so, multiple numbers on one device. The service's bugs have certainly been ironed out during the beta period, and there's no cost to try Digits once it launches May 31.

See Digits at T-Mobile

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5 months ago

Should you buy the all new Amazon Fire 7?


Is Amazon's newest budget tablet worth your $50?

The online giant is calling it the "all new Fire 7," which is perhaps more a marketing thing than actual hard truth when it comes to the tablet in question. It is new, and it is improved, but marketing hype is still marketing hype.

So, let's actually break down what is new and whether this latest budget tablet is worth your time.

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6 months ago

Amazon Fire Tablet 7 vs. Fire Tablet Kids Edition: Which should I buy?


You want to get your youngsters an Amazon Fire Tablet, but which version is right for you?

The Amazon Fire Tablet 7 is a great buy at $50, especially for the kids. It's capable enough to keep them entertained while not costing enough to pull your hair out if it gets accidentally destroyed. You can also get all the (non-Google) major content services on there as well as a dedicated kids mode to keep those little fingers from buying a new laptop on your Amazon account.

But, when you go to buy, there's both a "regular" 7-inch and a Kids Edition, which now also has an 8-inch version. Underneath they're both regular Amazon Fire tablets. So what's the difference and which should you buy?

Let's break it down.

Updated May 23 2017 to reflect the updated versions of the Fire tablet.

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6 months ago

Pre-order a 3-pack of Amazon's newest Alexa-enabled Fire tablets and save 20%


Our friends at Thrifter are back again, this time with a discount on Amazon's latest Fire tablets!

Amazon's Fire tablet has been an extremely popular device since its release, and a large part of that is due to its aggressive price point. The company just announced a refreshed version of it with a higher contrast display, the addition of Alexa and more, yet kept it at the same price point. That's right, the new version still starts at just $49.99, but you can actually get it for less if you buy more of them.

You may be considering picking up a few of these for your family, and if you grab three of them at the same time you can save 20% on the purchase with promo code FIRE3PACK. This drops the price of three Fire tablets down to just $128.38, saving you $29.99.

The Fire tablet has a 7-inch IPS display and comes with a base of 8GB of storage in it. You can opt to upgrade that to 16GB of internal space for $20 more, or you could spend that extra $20 on a microSD card since the tablet can handle up to 256GB of expandable storage. You can grab one in black, yellow, blue, or red depending on your preference.

See at Amazon

For more great deals be sure to check out our friends at Thrifter now!

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6 months ago

Amazon's Fire tablets just got a big refresh


Amazon is driving costs down even further, making its tablets irresistible.

Remember way back when there was such a thing as a company capable of competing with Amazon on price for tablets? Those days are long gone, and today Amazon is making sure things stay that way. Four of Amazon's tablets have been refreshed today with new features and colors, and the prices just keep getting better.

Lets see what we're looking at!

Amazon Fire 7 and Fire HD 8

The new Fire 7 tablet from Amazon is lighter and thinner than its predecessor, with a 7-inch IPS display Amazon claims is noticeably improved with higher contrast and less battery drain. This new tablet promises up to 6 hours of batter, 8GB of onboard storage with microSD card support up to 256GB, and Alexa enabled in the OS. If you're looking for a cheap tablet that isn't terrible to use, it's hard to argue with $50 for this offering.

See on Amazon

If you want something a little more capable, the Fire HD 8 bumps the screen resolution to 1280x800 and starts with 16GB of onboard storage. This version of the tablet also offers 12 hours of battery, and like the new 7-inch version comes in the standard black as well as Punch Red, Marine Blue and Canary Yellow. This upgraded experience will run you $80, which is clearly not much considering what you're getting.

See on Amazon

Amazon Fire 7 and Fire HD 8 Kids Edition

According to Amazon, the new Fire 7 and Fire HD 8 are already more durable than the current generation iPad. That doesn't stop the company from releasing a Kids Edition variant of its tablets with big silicone bumpers and a two-year "worry-free" guarantee to replace if you actually manage to break yours. The new Fire 7 Kids Edition increases the default storage to 16GB onboard and includes a year of Amazon's FreeTime Unlimited so your kids have access to more apps and shows and books than can be read in that timeframe. This new kid-friendly setup will run you $100, and comes in the three colorful silicone options based on your choice.

See on Amazon

The HD 8-inch variant, like the Adult version, has a better display and larger battery. It's also packing 32GB of onboard storage by default and includes the same two-year guarantee as the smaller version. Like the Adult Fire HD 8, you're paying $30 more than the smaller version for the boost in specs.

See at Amazon

Amazon is clearly not done making a lot of noise when it comes to inexpensive tablets packing all of the best features the company has to offer, so will you be upgrading? Sound off in the comments!

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6 months ago

Qualcomm goes all-in on all-day battery with new Snapdragon 630 and 660 platforms


Qualcomm is going to make budget phone buyers very happy.

Qualcomm is back with two new 600-series chips to power the next generation of mid-range phones. The company has announced the Snapdragon 630, a successor to the wildly popular Snapdragon 625 (and little-used 626), along with the Snapdragon 660, a completely revamped and more-efficient sequel to the Snapdragon 650 (and 653).

Let's start with the basics.

Snapdragon 630

The Snapdragon 630 is the more minor of the updates, keeping much about what made the popular Snapdragon 625, which quickly became a battery darling in phones like the Moto Z Play and Huawei Nova Plus (and the upcoming BlackBerry KEYone). It maintains the eight-core Cortex-A53 breakdown of four high-speed cores and four lower-clocked cores, though they are up to 30% faster across the board. And while the graphics chip has also been updated from the Adreno 506 in the Snapdragon 625 to a faster Adreno 508, the fundamental architecture hasn't changed — both are still built on a 14nm process — and improved performance isn't the priority.

Instead, the Snapdragon 630 brings the platform into 2017, with support for LTE speeds up to 600Mhz with 3x carrier aggregation; Bluetooth 5.0, Quick Charge 4.0, and USB 3.1 with USB-C; and a better camera experience with the new Spectra 160 image signal processor.

The Snapdragon 630 will be powering mid-range devices starting in Q3 of this year, and it's definitely going to help devices in the $300 to $400 range reach their potential — aside from the older CPU architecture and anemic GPU, most of the improvements in the platform come directly from the Snapdragon 820 and 835 line.

Snapdragon 660

The Snapdragon 660 is the biggest announcement of the day, making massive improvements over the current Snapdragon 650, 652 and 653. The most important takeaway is the additional battery savings from the switch to a 14nm manufacturing process from the aging and inefficient 28nm process that reached maturity in 2013. That, coupled with the move to Qualcomm's Kryo cluster, based on the custom CPU design that debuted with the Qualcomm 820 last year, means that the Snapdragon 660 should be one of the most-coveted upper-midrange chips on the market.

Coming to devices as early as June — expect the first announcement within the next few weeks — the Snapdragon 660 has eight Kryo cores, four performance cores at 2.2GHz and four at 1.8GHz, and promises a 30% improvement in speeds over the Snapdragon 653. There's also a new Adreno 512 GPU, which is a nice bump over the 510 in the previous generation, and support for Qualcomm's 2016-era X12 baseband, which includes 3x carrier aggregation for speeds up to 600Mbps. Quick Charge 4.0, Bluetooth 5 and USB 3.1 are also included, too.

Aside from the new features, Qualcomm is making perhaps the biggest noise about the improved camera experience inside the Snapdragon 660. While it has the same Spectra 160 ISP as the Snapdragon 630, better support for 4K capture and the same electronic image stabilization that was popularized in high-end phones from 2016 has filtered down to this mid-range line.

Finally, the battery savings that people saw in the Snapdragon 625 are also included in the 660, which is promising; Qualcomm says that users will see an average of two additional hours when moving to a Snapdragon 660 from a 653 using the same hardware (which obviously won't happen, but they're looking for an apples-to-apples comparison).

The takeaway

These chips are going to be very interesting, especially given the success of the Snapdragon 625 and the relative failure of the 650 lineup. For the 630, this is very much an evolution, sticking with what works while shoring up on auxiliary features like cellular speed and camera performance.

The Snapdragon 660 is revelatory, largely because it will bring most of the Snapdragon 835's best features to the $400 to $500 range, and will allow manufacturers to get away with offering a mid-range chip for their flagships.

What do you think of these new chips? Will you be holding out for one or the other? Let us know in the comments!

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6 months ago

From the Editor's Desk: Google I/O 2017 and beyond

Google IO

Get ready for the most interesting I/O in years.

In just over a week's time, we'll be heading out to Mountain View for Google I/O, the annual developer conference where we'll see, in broad terms, what's next from Google. At its core, I/O is a developer conference, but it's also been a platform for other major announcements from the firm, and sometimes the occasional product launch. Looking back at last May's conference, Google foreshadowed its big push into consumer hardware with Google Home and Daydream, showed us the next evolution of Android Wear (which, incidentally wouldn't actually be ready until the following February), and laid the foundations for Android apps on Chrome OS and Instant Apps across all Android devices.

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6 months ago

Amazon's 7-inch Fire Tablet dropped to £35 again in the UK


If a cheap, yet not terrible Android tablet is what you seek, you can do worse than Amazon's excellent 7-inch Fire Tablet. And if you're in the UK now is definitely the time to buy as Amazon has dropped the price again.

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7 months ago

Xiaomi rolls out the Mi Pad 3 with upgraded hardware, unchanged exterior


The Mi Pad 3 delivers much-needed upgrades while retaining its affordability.

Xiaomi has rolled out an update to the 2015 Mi Pad 2, switching out the Intel SoC — which offered the ability to run both Android and Windows 10 — for a MediaTek MT8176 with two 2.1GHz Cortex A72 cores and four 1.7GHz Cortex A53 cores. The external design hasn't changed with the Mi Pad 3, and the tablet features the same 7.9-inch 2048 x 1536 screen as its predecessor.

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7 months ago

Phones with 'foldable' AMOLED displays may not debut until 2019

Foldable OLED

Samsung Display pours cold water on prospect of a foldable Galaxy anytime soon.

Rumors of a foldable Samsung smartphone have been circulating for years, with the name "Galaxy X" doing the rounds recently to refer to a phone that opens like a book to transform into a larger, tablet-sized screen.

But comments by a leading engineer at Samsung Display — the arm of the Korean electronics giant responsible for making those screens — suggest such a device is still a couple of years off.

Technical challenges and strong demand for bezel-free panels are responsible for pushing back the 'foldable' phone.

The Korea Herald quotes Kim Tae-woong, Samsung Display's principal engineer, at the Display TechSalon in Seoul.

"Because the bezel-free display currently sells well," Kim says, "we still have enough time to develop foldable display. The technology is expected to be mature around 2019."

Kim notes that there were still some technical challenges to be overcome before foldable smartphone displays could ship in a retail product, the outlet reports, adding that single-sided foldable phones will likely arrive first. Double-sided foldable devices — where the entire surface area of both sides is basically a screen — should come later.

So unless the demand for bezel-free displays slows unexpectedly in the next year, don't expect a foldable Galaxy anytime soon. The idea of carrying around a single, super-slim device that can instantly double its screen area as needed remains exciting. But it's unlikely we'll see anything besides concept demonstrations from Samsung for the next couple of years.

Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+

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7 months ago

For a limited time you can grab the Fire Tablet for just $39


Our friends at Thrifter are back again, this time making the Fire Tablet even more affordable!

Right now you can pick up Amazon's Fire Tablet for just $39, a savings of $10 from its regular price. Even at $49 this thing is an incredible value, so being able to save an additional $10 on it makes it an even easier purchase. The tablet features a 7-inch IPS display, a 1.3GHz processor and now works with Amazon's Alexa cloud-based voice service. There are tons of great apps, games and more that are completely free through Amazon Underground, so you won't have any shortage of content here.

Amazon is also discounting the Fire HD 8 by $20 and the Fire Kids Edition by $20 as well. Storage in these tends to fill up fast, so you may want to check out some of the best microSD cards to add so you don't find yourself running low. This pricing won't last long, so be sure to pick one up before it is too late!

If you're looking for just an E-reader instead of a tablet, Amazon also has some great savings on its Kindle lineup, so be sure to check those out.

See at Amazon

For more great deals on tech, gadgets, home goods and more be sure to check out our friends at Thrifter now!

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7 months ago

How to edit the Air Command menu on the Galaxy Tab S3


The S Pen is already pretty great. You can make it even better by customizing its companion Air Command dock.

The S Pen is the Galaxy Tab S3's most powerful trait. It features a clickable button that, when pressed while hovering the S Pen above the Tab S3's display, brings up the Air Command dock. You can program this pop-up menu window with oft-used S Pen actions or shortcuts to your favorite stylus-compatible apps.

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7 months ago

How to enable night mode on the Galaxy Tab S3


Avoid messing up your circadian rhythm with the built-in blue-light filter.

I love to read late at night, but doing so on a backlit tablet display isn't the best idea before settling in for some shut eye. Studies have shown that the blue-hued light emitted from screens are detrimental to keeping the circadian rhythm functioning as it should.

Samsung equipped the Galaxy Tab S3 with a yellow-hued night mode so that when you're using the tablet before bed – reading digital magazines or e-books, for instance — you aren't surreptitiously telling your brain you're avoiding rest. You can set it up to automatically switch on after sundown, or toggle it on from the Quick Settings.

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7 months ago

Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 vs. ASUS Chromebook Flip: Which one is better for productivity?


Tthe Galaxy Tab S3 and the ASUS Chromebook Flip are exceptional as productivity machines. But one is better for productivity.

I've always been particularly dubious about whether a tablet could fulfill all my productivity needs. And that's why I purchased an ASUS Chromebook Flip: to write copy and edit photos, and then upload all that to the internet. I need to be able to do this quickly and efficiently, which is possible on Chrome OS.

I'd hoped the Galaxy Tab S3 could have shattered those preconceived notions I had about tablets since it comes bundled with a ubiquitous pressure sensitive stylus, the S Pen. But after a week with it as my secondary productivity machine, I went crawling back to my Chromebook. There are still some elements of the Android tablet interface that make it clunky to use for work, and even though Samsung's S Pen makes the Tab S3 such a pleasant experience, it's not enough that I could trust it out on the road as my only productivity device.

Scrawling is nice, but typing is faster

Typing is faster than writing.

I'd much prefer to type on the Chromebook Flip than scrawl out my notes with the Tab S3.

The Galaxy Tab S3's S Pen is incredibly convincing. It's easy to use, to wield, and to write with. You can use it to crop parts of the screen as you need to save a screenshot, or draw on parts of the screen and save that as a diagram. You can even write on the screen while it's off — sort of — and that's my favorite feature because I'm constantly scrawling throughout the day. I can even launch a new Google Keep post-it to scribble down what I need — another great feature to have, particularly if you're furiously jotting down shorthand.

But you don't need to pay the money that's required of the Tab S3 to get that sort of functionality from a tablet-like device. The Chromebook Flip flips into a tablet, which you can then use with a cheap stylus for diagram drawing. It's not as good at handwriting as the S Pen, but it is better for typing marathons; its keyboard is soft and velvety, and more comfortable to use compared to the constricted layout that's offered with the Tab S3's optional $130 keyboard.

See at Amazon

Apps are better with a desktop

The desktop can help you get more done.

The desktop can help you get more done.

Apps are a major part of the productivity realm, and thankfully, many companies have embraced the life of the mobile worker. You can find most of the Microsoft Office suite in the Google Play Store, for instance, as well as various titles from Adobe's camp. There are also apps for other services you might need for work, like VPN clients, chat applications, and collaborative boards. Since Chrome OS has adopted Android apps, these suites have also become available to the Chromebook ecosystem, though many of them also sport companion browser apps.

The Chromebook can use Android apps; Android tablets don't have the flexibility of Chrome apps.

Using Android and Chromebook apps interchangeably have made me realize that I have an easier time flipping between apps on Chrome OS not only because I have a choice between the app and the web app, but there's a desktop available for sprawling out that work. I can spread out windows and place them around as I need them to compare information between apps. I can also easily drag and drop between apps and services without having to tap a multitasking button and sifting between the apps I'm using. And though the Tab S3 employs Nougat's excellent multi-window feature, having to set up two apps side-by-side while up against a deadline is a major stressor. I can move faster on a Chromebook.

Dealing with photos

Photos aren't easy to edit on the Tab S3.

RAW photos aren't easy to manage on the Tab S3.

I'm sticking to the Chromebook Flip, primarily because it can handle a massive batch of those RAW files where the Tab S3 can't.

Neither the Galaxy Tab S3 nor the Chromebook Flip are particularly outstanding at importing a massive batch of RAW photos, but I've found that it's easier to develop a method to the madness with Chrome OS. I set up a virtual "My Documents" folder where I can store RAW files and import only the ones I need into an editing app like Polar. I also appreciate the physical sensation of dragging and dropping files around, which is possible on Chrome OS — even though the trackpad on the Chromebook Flip isn't very good.

I also tend to use a microSD card in an adapter in my DSLR, so that I can mount the card inside the Chromebook. I can do the same with the Galaxy Tab S3 and its expansion slot, but the way that Android handles SD cards means that some apps won't accept the methods of storage, and so I can't access those files or open a batch of them in an editing app.

Which is it? The Chromebook

Which one to use?

Which one to adopt for work?

I worry for my future as I'm realizing that I may be the last generation that's used to a desktop-style environment; that relies on that drag-and-drop sensation in our digital lives. Is my inability to catch on to the Tab S3's tablet interface a true folly of Android's? Or is it that I'm just not used to interface's mechanisms because that's not what I've been conditioned to use?

The answer to that lies in another story, for another time. For now, I'm sticking to the Chromebook Flip as the secondary work machine, primarily because it can handle a massive batch of those RAW files where the Tab S3 can't. Multitasking between windows is easier, too, and though the Chromebook doesn't play as nicely with a stylus, I hardly found myself missing the S Pen after putting it down.

Everyone has different needs, which is what makes the variety of technology that's available so exciting for the rest of us. My experience shouldn't deter you if you're looking to adopt a tablet-only lifestyle, and the Tab S3's S Pen capabilities may be worth the price for you. If you're an artist or a creative type who needs to physically write to be prolific, you're likely to have a better experience with Samsung's tablet than with a convertible Chromebook and some after-market stylus.

See Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 at Amazon See ASUS Chromebook Flip at Amazon

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