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This is the Samsung Galaxy Note 9

Everything you thought you knew about the Galaxy Note 9… well, it’s pretty spot on, honestly.

Between the images, promo videos, teasers and that image of Samsung CEO DJ Koh using the damn phone out in public, it’s hard to shake the feeling that the company simply embraced the leaks in hopes of generating a little extra excitement ahead of launch during these (excruciatingly hot) dog days of summer.

As expected, little has changed aesthetically this time out — and that’s just fine. There are a couple of new colors, a shifted fingerprint sensor and a screen that’s larger by a fraction of an inch, which is perhaps why the aforementioned C-level executive thought he’d be able to go unnoticed. That’s all perfectly fine, of course — it’s probably too much to expect some radical design departure with each subsequent generation by the time you’re on number nine or so.

Really, like the S9 before it, the new Note isn’t a radical departure in any respect. The latest version of the industry-defining phablet is more focused on the fundamentals. It’s honestly a welcome change from a company like Samsung that often feels entirely focused on the bells and whistles. More storage, a better camera, an improved S-Pen and a considerably larger battery are all on-board this time out.

Which isn’t to say there aren’t any new whistles or bells, of course. This is Samsung, of course.

In a briefing, Samsung referred to the Note line as “our innovation brand,” a nod to the fact that it’s regularly been the first device to receive many now standard Galaxy features — see: the Edge display (curving screen), S-Pen, giant screen, dual-camera. If there’s one new feature that stands out, however, it’s actually that larger battery, which now measures 4,000mAh hours — that’s a 700mAh jump over its predecessor.

That’s great news, of course. Samsung doesn’t have any official hour estimates to share at the moment, and is instead still calling it an “all day” battery — though the vast majority of users should be able to squeeze out more than that with standard usage. The real significance of all of this likely won’t be lost on anyone who’s been paying even the slightest bit of attention to the mobile industry over the past couple of years.

The Note 9 marks the first significant battery capacity increase since the Note 7’s exploding lithium-ion led to two separate recalls for the company. Naturally, Samsung’s on the offensive about this one, noting the eight-point safety check the company instituted when the literal and figurative smoke cleared with the Note 7. The company subjected the phone to external scrutiny from UL.

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

Of course, the company had to consider both the pragmatic concerns over battery combustion, along with the optics of rushing too quickly to push the bounds of capacity. There was, after all, a general notion that the company had flown too close to the sun on this one. As such, battery life has stagnated on the last several Galaxy phones.

As the initial invites for today’s event suggested, the S-Pen also gets a lot of love this time out, featuring the most significant upgrades since the stylus was announced all the way back in 2011. The most obvious difference: the striking new colors. The image on the invite was, indeed, a closeup of a neon yellow stylus. There’s a purple one, too — each writing on the off-screen memos in a color that matches their design.

The real differentiator here, however, is the inclusion of Bluetooth low energy inside the S-Pen, which allows it to function as a remote. That, of course, requires a battery, so the stylus now includes a super capacitor so it charges when it’s in the slot. Samsung says it should get around 30 minutes of standby time with 40 seconds of charging. Mileage will vary, of course, but given the fact that it will effectively be charging whenever it’s not in use, that shouldn’t be an issue.

The new S-Pen can be used to control things like the camera, slideshows and music playback. In Spotify and Google Music, one click of the button does Play/Pause and two clicks advance the trick. There’s no back, but there’s really only so much one can do with a single button. In photo mode, it can be used as a shutter, with a double-click flipping the camera around for a selfie.

The functionality will only be available for a select number of apps at launch, but the company’s going to be opening up the SDK for developers. There also will be some level of customization available in the settings, so users can designate different functions.

Here’s what you’re working with as far as camera hardware:

  • 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

The biggest change on the imaging side is software, however. Scene Optimizer is similar to technologies we’ve seen on recent flagships from companies like HTC. The system uses an on-board AI process (no cloud connection required) to determine what you’re taking a photo of. There are 20 categories, all told, including Night, Snow, Street Scene, Birds, Indoors, Text, Food, Pets, Flowers and Sunset. Once the system has decided what it’s shooting, it adjusts the white balance, color and saturation accordingly.

I was only able to try it on a limited number of objects during a brief hands-on, but it worked well with things like flowers and a plate of food, really highlighting colors in the process. You can’t actually manually override the system to choose one of the aforementioned 20 scenes, but if you’re getting a false positive, you can just shut the thing off.

Even more compelling is Flaw Detection, which points out when you’ve messed up. The system will notify 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.

Spec-wise, we’re talking a 2960×1440 (516ppi) display, Octa-core Snapdragon 845 and 6 or 8GB of RAM, running Android Oreo.

Oh, and then there’s storage. The Note 9 comes with beefy 128GB, standard. If you really want to go all-in, there’s also a 512GB version, which, as Samsung notes, makes the device “1TB ready,” when you factor in the expandable 512GB microSD that exists for the the price of a mid-tier smartphone (PNY’s is $350 right now). Oh, and speaking of money.

Take a deep breath.

Samsung had suggested early on that it was going to attempt to rein in the cost on this one. Maybe next generation. The 128GB model runs $999.99. The 512GB version will set you back $1,249.99. Both are available starting August 24, with pre-order starting August 10. The latter will be limited to “select retail locations and carrier sites, including AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon and U.S. Cellular.

The Note 9 comes in Ocean Blue and Lavender Purple, which ship with a purple and yellow stylus, respectively. And yes, there’s a headphone jack.

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Facebook cracks down on opioid dealers after years of neglect

Facebook’s role in the opioid crisis could become another scandal following yesterday’s release of harrowing new statistics from the Center for Disease Control. It estimated there were nearly 30,000 synthetic opioid overdose deaths in the US in 2017, up from roughly 20,000 the year before. When recreational drugs like Xanax and OxyContin are adulterated with the more powerful synthetic opioid Fentanyl, the misdosage can prove fatal. Xanax, OxyContin, and other pain killers are often bought online, with dealers promoting themselves on social media including Facebook. Hours after the new stats were reported by the New York Times and others, a source spotted that Facebook’s internal search engine stopped returning posts, Pages, and Groups for searches of “OxyContin”, “Xanax”, “Fentanyl”, and other opioids, as well as other drugs like “LSD”. Only videos, often news reports deploring opiate abuse, and user profiles whose names match the searches are now returned. This makes it significantly harder for potential buyers or addicts to connect with dealers through Facebook. However, some dealers have taken to putting drug titles into their Facebook profile names, allowing accounts like “Fentanyl Kingpin Kilo” to continue showing up in search results. It’s not exactly clear when the search changes occurred. On some search result pages for queries like “Buy Xanax”, Facebook is now showing a “Can we help?” box that says “If you or someone you know struggles with opioid misuse, we would like to help you find ways to get free and confidential treatment referrals, as well as information about substance use, prevention and recovery.” A “Get support” button opens the site of The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a branch of the US department of health and human services that provides addiction resources. Facebook had promised back in June that this feature was coming. Facebook search results for many drug names now only surface people and video news reports, and no longer show posts, Pages, or Groups which often offered access to dealers When asked, Facebook confirmed that it’s recently made it harder to find content that facilitates the sale of opioids on the social network. Facebook tells me it’s constantly updating its approach to thwart bad actors who look for new ways to bypass its safeguards. The company confirms it’s now removing content violating its drug policies, it’s blocked hundreds of terms associated with drug sales from showing results other than links to news about drug abuse awareness. It’s also removed thousands of terms from being suggested as searches in its typeahead. Prior to recent changes, buyers could easily search for drugs and find posts from dealers with phone numbers to contact Regarding the “Can we help?” box, Facebook tells me this resource will be available on Instagram in the coming weeks, and it provided this statement: “We recently launched the “Get Help Feature” in our Facebook search function that directs people looking for help or attempting to purchase illegal substances to the SAMHSA national helpline. When people search for help with opioid misuse or attempt to buy opioids, they will be prompted with content at the top of the search results page that will ask them if they would like help finding free and confidential treatment referrals. This will then direct them to the SAMHSA National Helpline. We’ve partnered with the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration to identify these search terms and will continue to review and update to ensure we are showing this information at the most relevant times.” Facebook’s new drug abuse resource feature The new actions follow Facebook shutting down some hashtags like “#Fentanyl” on Instagram back in April that could let buyers connect with dealers. That only came after activists like Glassbreakers’ Eileen Carey aggressively criticized the company demanding change. In some cases, when users would report Facebook Groups or Pages’ posts as violating its policy prohibiting the sale of regulated goods like drugs, the posts would be removed but Facebook would leave up the Pages. This mirrors some of the problems it’s had with Infowars around determining the threshold of posts inciting violence or harassing other users necessary to trigger a Page or profile suspension or deletion. Facebook in some cases deleted posts selling drugs but not the Pages or Groups carrying them Before all these changes, users could find tons of vendors illegally selling opioids through posts, photos, and Pages on Facebook and Instagram. Facebook also introduced a new ads policy last week requiring addiction treatment centers that want to market to potential patients be certified first to ensure they’re not actually dealers preying on addicts. Much of the recent criticism facing Facebook has focused on it failing to prevent election interference, privacy scandals, and the spread of fake news, plus how hours of browsing its feeds can impact well-being. But its negligence regarding illegal opioid sales has likely contributed to some of the 72,000 drug overdose deaths in America last year. It serves as another example of how Facebook’s fixation on the positive benefits of social networking blinded it to the harsh realities of how its service can be misused. Last year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that learning of the depths of the opioid crisis was the “biggest surprise” from his listening tour visiting states across the U.S, and that it was “really saddening to see.” The fact that he called this a “surprise” when some of the drugs causing the crisis were changing hands via his website is something Facebook hasn’t fully atoned for, nor done enough to stop. The new changes should be the start of a long road to recovery for Facebook itself.

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