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The Best of IFA 2017

The IFA trade show in Berlin is Europe's version of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Every September electronics manufacturers all over the world come to Germany to show off their latest devices. It's the biggest source of major industry announcements of the fall, and we've been on the ground to cover it.

IFA takes place at Messe Berlin, a sprawling convention center with 25 separate halls scattered across multiple buildings. It's a labyrinthine schlep through hundreds of booths and displays showing off the newest appliances, hardware, phones, smart home tech, and wearables.

PCMag analysts Matthew Buzzi, Ajay Kumar, and Victoria Song spent the week in Berlin to survey the tech landscape as it shifts and evolves. And they came up with a handful of top picks from the show.

Remember, IFA is just the start. We're heading into autumn, and that means a lengthy holiday season with plenty of buildup to the shopping frenzy of Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the holiday month after. Then, after the New Year, we head to Las Vegas for CES to keep you on the cutting-edge of technology for 2018.

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  • 1

    Best Big-Screen Phone: LG V30

    The LG V30 is the heavyweight phone of the show, and LG's primary competitor to the Samsung Galaxy Note 8. It boasts a 6-inch Quad HD OLED display, a Snapdragon 835 processor, and dual camera sensors with a slew of software customizations for taking crystal-clear photos and cinematic video, especially in low light. Throw in some high-resolution audio playback and a top-tier microphone array for recording, and you have a multimedia powerhouse.

  • 2

    Best Small-Screen Phone: Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact

    Despite a petite build, Sony's 4.6-inch Xperia XZ1 Compact is powered by a Snapdragon 835 processor, making it the most powerful small phone at the show. It also has the same 3D-scanning camera capabilities of its larger sibling, along with a wide-angle selfie mode. The Compact is easily the most promising sub-5-inch phone to come out of IFA, and could very well become your best alternative to big-screen phablets.

  • 3

    Best Tablet: Acer Switch 7 Black Edition

    This Surface alternative impressed us in our hands on, with a clever kickstand that automatically extends when you push the spine against your desk or table. And when you want to stand it back up, it resets itself to rigid once it reaches a certain angle. Add to that an in-glass fingerprint reader and a fan-less design—a first for a tablet with discrete graphics—and it looks like a winner.

  • 4

    Best Desktop: Acer Aspire S24

    One of the most aesthetically pleasing products we saw at IFA, the super-slim all-in-one Aspire S24 desktop looks like another great entry in a category that still has room for improvement. Its 23.8-inch IPS display is only 0.23-inch thick, and gold trim gives it a sharp look. Though the Full HD resolution could be higher, it helps with another of the machine’s main draws—a $999 price point. Add in Intel's eighth-generation processors and a wireless charging base, and you've got quite an attractive package, in more ways than one.

  • 5

    Best Laptop: Lenovo Yoga 920

    Another great-looking system, the thin and convertible Yoga 920 is the most striking laptop we saw. The Yoga line is well-oiled at this point, and this looks another slick entry, with fresh Intel CPUs and up to 4K resolution for a 13.9-inch display. It also includes far-field mics for hollering at Cortana, as well as two Thunderbolt 3 ports and Dolby Atmos. There are even some sweet Star Wars lid designs available for super fans.

  • 6

    Best Gaming Machine: Asus ROG Chimera

    There were a number of appealing gaming systems at IFA—Acer's Predator Orion 9000 desktop among them—but the Chimera does something worth recognizing. It's the first laptop with a 144Hz refresh rate display, which it couples with Nvidia's G-Sync technology. Gamers pay big for monitors with these features, so building one right into a laptop (and combining it with a GTX 1080 and a Core i7-7820HK CPU) is a head-turning proposition. It's sure to be expensive, but it's a notable step forward.

  • 7

    Best AR: Lenovo Mirage and Star Wars: Jedi Challenge

    What kid hasn’t dreamed about being a Jedi? The Lenovo Mirage AR headset can finally make that dream a reality. Well, an augmented reality. Star Wars: Jedi Challenge bundles a Mirage headset with a lightsaber touch controller with haptic feedback and a tracking sensor. It gives you a wide range of gameplay options including duels, grand strategy battles, and Holochess straight from the movies. You'll need a compatible smartphone and some open space, but that's a small price to pay to become a Jedi Knight.

  • 8

    Best Smartwatch: Fitbit Ionic

    Technically Fitbit announced its first official smartwatch, the Ionic, right before IFA, but it's still one of the buzziest wearables in Berlin. It’s set to ship in October and will feature NFC payments, its own app gallery, customizable clock faces, and an open SDK for third-party developers. It also adds two red LEDs in addition to the typical optical heart rate sensor, which opens it up to monitoring for sleep apnea in the future.

  • 9

    Best Fitness Watch: Samsung Gear Sport

    The Gear Sport took center stage at Samsung’s press conference. It has the same distinctive bezel as the Gear S3, but a slimmer profile for a sleeker look. And swimmers rejoice. The Sport is water resistant to 5 ATM, or 165 feet, and comes with an exclusive Speedo On app to track your laps, strokes, and splits.

  • 10

    Best Fitness Tracker: Garmin Vivomove HR

    While Garmin already has some serious street cred among, it hasn’t exactly won points among the fashion crowd. Until now. The Vivomove HR is a comfortable hybrid smartwatch complete with GPS, continuous heart rate monitoring, and subtle on-screen notifications. Best of all, it’s wrapped up in a chic, classic design.

  • 11

    Best Smart Home Device: Neato Botvac D7 Connected

    Roomba might be the more recognizable name, but Neato threw down the gauntlet at IFA with the Botvac D7 Connected. Rather than having to use "virtual walls" to cordon off a section of your home you don’t want vacuumed, the D7 will map your space in an app and you can simply draw a line where you don't want it to go. Plus it supports integration with If This Then That (IFTTT) and has its own chatbot for Facebook Messenger.Neato Botvac D7 Connected

  • 12

    Best Speaker: Sony LF-S50G

    Sony’s LF-S50G isn't exactly a name that rolls off the tongue, but “Ok Google” might suit you better. The LF-S50G is an attractive wireless speaker (yes, it looks like the Apple HomePod) powered by Google Assistant. Aside from the excellent search capabilities and machine learning protocols the AI assistant is known for, the speaker supports useful gesture controls that replace physical navigation buttons. It also has Bluetooth 4.2, NFC, dual-band Wi-Fi, and Chromecast support, providing you with no shortage of ways to stay connected.

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Facebook’s Kodi box ban is nothing new

According to recent reports, Facebook has updated its Commerce Policy to specifically ban the sale of Kodi boxes on its site – that is, devices that come with pre-installed Kodi software, which are often used for illegally streaming digital content. However, the ban is not a new one – Facebook confirms its policy on Kodi box sales hasn’t changed since last summer, and its external Policy Page – the one being cited as evidence of the new ban – was updated in December. It’s true that the changes have flown under the radar until now, though. The policy change was first reported by Cord Cutters News, and later linked to by TorrentFreak and Techdirt. The original report claims that Facebook added a new rule on its list of “Digital Media and Electronic Devices” under “Prohibited Content,” which specifically calls out Kodi boxes. It says that Facebook posts “may not promote the sale of devices that facilitate or encourage streaming digital content in an authorized manner or interfering with the functionality of electronic devices.” The Policy page lists a few examples of what this means, including wiretapping devices, jamming or descrambling devices, jailbroken or loaded devices, and, then “promoting the sale or use of streaming devices with Kodi installed.” (The only permitted items are “add-on equipment for Kodi devices, such as keyboards and remotes.”) But this ban on Kodi boxes, Facebook says, is not a recently implemented policy. According to a Facebook spokesperson, it launched a new policy last summer that prohibited the sale of electronic devices that facilitate or are intended for unauthorized streaming or access to digital content – including Kodi boxes. This policy has not changed since last summer, but its external Policy Page – this one being cited by the various reported – was updated in December 2017 to offer additional illustrative examples and more detailed information on all its policies, including the one related to unauthorized streaming devices. In other words, Facebook has been banning Kodi boxes since it decided to crackdown on unauthorized streaming devices last year. It’s just now being noticed. The ban affects all posts on Marketplace, Buy and Sell Groups, and Shop Sections on Pages. Facebook explains it takes a very strong enforcement approach when “Kodi” is mentioned with a product for sale. As Techdirt pointed out, that’s problematic because the Kodi software itself is actually legal. However, device makers like Dragon Box or SetTV have been using the open-source Kodi platform and other add-ons to make copyright infringement easier for consumers. Facebook does seem to understand that Kodi software isn’t illegal, but it knows that when “Kodi” is mentioned in a product (e.g. a device) listing, it’s very often a product designed to circumvent copyright. The company tells us that its intent is not to ban Kodi software altogether, however, and it’s in the process of reviewing its guidelines and these examples to more closely target devices that encourage unauthorized streaming. That could mean it will, at some point, not outright ban a device that includes Kodi software, but focus more on other terms used in the sale, like “fully loaded” or some sort of description of the illegal access the box provides, perhaps. (Facebook didn’t say what might change.) As for Kodi, the company says Facebook’s move doesn’t affect them. “It doesn’t impact us, since we don’t sell devices,” says Keith Herrington, who handles Business Relations at the XBMC Foundation (Kodi). He said his organization would love to talk to someone at Facebook – since they’ve never been in touch – in order to ensure that devices that are in compliance with Kodi’s trademark policy are not banned. Both Amazon and eBay have worked with Kodi on similar policies, he added. “We’ve gotten thousands of devices which were in violation of our trademark policy removed from eBay,” Herrington said. It’s unclear how well-enforced Facebook’s ban really is – I’m in Facebook groups myself where people talk about how to jailbreak “Fire sticks” and include posts from those who sell them pre-jailbroken. (It’s for research purposes. Ahem.) Industry crackdowns go beyond Facebook Facebook isn’t the only company that’s attempting to crack down on these devices. Netflix, Amazon and the major studios are suing Dragon Box for facilitating piracy by making it easy for consumers to access illegal streams of movies and TV shows. In January 2018, a U.S. District Court judge handed down a preliminary injunction against TickBox TV, a Georgia-based set-top box maker that was sued by the major studios, along with streaming services Netflix and Amazon, for profiting from the sale of “Kodi boxes.” Google has removed the word “kodi” from the autocomplete feature of Search, along with other piracy-related terms. And more recently, the FCC asked Amazon and eBay to stop selling fake pay TV boxes. It said these boxes often falsely bear the FCC logo to give them the appearance of legitimacy, but are actually used to perpetuate “intellectual property theft and consumer fraud,” the FCC said in letters to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and eBay CEO Devin Wenig. Why Streaming Piracy is Growing There’s a reason Kodi devices are so popular, and it’s not just because everyone is being cheap about paying for access to content. For starters, there’s a lack of consequence for consumers who do illegally stream media – it’s not like back in the day when the RIAA was suing individuals for pirating music. While there has been some activity – Comcast several years ago issued copyright infringement notices to Kodi users, for example – you can today basically get away with illegal streaming. The copyright holders are currently focused on cutting off piracy at the source – box makers and the platforms that enable their sale – not at the individual level. The rise of cord cutting has also contributed to the issue by creating a highly fragmented streaming ecosystem. Shows that used to be available under a single (if pricey) cable or satellite TV subscription, are now spread out across services like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Sling TV, HBO NOW, and others used by cord cutters. Customers are clearly willing to pay for some of these services (largely, Netflix and maybe one or two others), but most can’t afford a subscription for each one. And they definitely don’t want to when all they’re after is access to a single show from a network. That’s another reason they then turn to piracy. Finally, there is the fact that film distributors have forever withheld their movies from streaming services for months, creating a demand for illegal downloads and streams. Though the release window has shrunk some in more recent years, the studios haven’t yet fully bought into the idea of much smaller windows to cater to the audience who will never go to the theater to watch their movie. And when this audience is cut out the market, they also turn to piracy. Eventually, the record industry adapted to consumers’ desire for streaming, and services like Spotify and Apple Music emerged. Eventually, streaming services may be able to make piracy less attractive, too. Amazon Channels, could become a key player here if it expands to include more add-ons. Today, it’s the only true a la carte TV service available. And that perhaps – not skinny bundles – is what people really want.

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