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Smartphone sales fall for first time ever, says Gartner

Apple’s iPhone X wasn’t enough to boost smartphone sales in the holiday quarter.

CNET

Uh oh. Smartphones finally took a nosedive. In the fourth quarter of 2017, smartphone sales fell for the first time ever, according to Gartner.

Handset makers sold nearly 408 million smartphones to customers in the quarter, down 5.6 percent from the same period a year ago, the research firm said Thursday. That marks the first annual decline since Gartner started tracking the smartphone market in 2004. Fewer people are switching their feature phones to smartphones “due to a lack of quality ‘ultra-low-cost’ smartphones” and instead are buying nicer feature phones, Gartner analyst Anshul Gupta said Thursday.

And people who already own smartphones are upgrading to higher-end models and holding on to them longer, he added. “Moreover, while demand for high quality, 4G connectivity and better camera features remained strong, high expectations and few incremental benefits during replacement weakened smartphone sales,” Gupta noted.

The smartphone market has been slowing down of late. It’s become harder for handset vendors to make huge changes in their devices and differentiate from one another.

Prices for the latest and greatest phones have actually increased at the same time US carriers have gotten rid of subsidies. All of that’s meant people are waiting longer to upgrade. Even Apple has struggled.

It reported in April 2016 that its iPhone unit sales fell for the first time ever, and they ended up declining for that full year. Apple’s sales have largely rebounded, though they again slid in the December quarter despite the launch of the iPhone X. Samsung managed to hold on to the No.

1 position in the fourth quarter, even though its unit sales slid 3.6 percent to 74 million units, Gartner said. The company on Sunday will show off its newest phone, the Galaxy S9. The device is expected to feature tweaks but no major design overhaul.

Apple ranked No.

2 in the period with iPhone sales down 5 percent to 73.2 million, followed by Chinese vendors Huawei, Oppo and Vivo. Huawei and Xiaomi (which doesn’t rank in the top five) were the only smartphone vendors to see their unit sales grow in the quarter, Gartner said.

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(Note, Apple earlier this month reported it sold 77.3 million iPhones in the December quarter, but Gartner calculates its figure differently. It tallies devices in the hands of actual users, while Apple and others also include phones that have not yet been purchased by end consumers and are still held by Verizon Wireless, Best Buy and other vendors.)

For the full year, smartphone sales increased 2.7 percent to 1.5 billion units, Gartner said. Samsung’s market share stayed about flat at 21 percent, while Apple’s remained at about 14 percent. Huawei’s grew to 9.8 percent from 8.9 percent in 2016.

For smartphone operating systems, Android’s lead grew by 1.1 percentage points to 86 percent.

Apple’s iOS remained at about 14 percent.

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Stephen Beacham

Before I delve into today’s deal, a quick aside. Late yesterday I spotted this headline: “These £40 knockoffs look just like Apple’s £159 AirPods, and they sound almost as good.” Of course I was intrigued, so I checked it out. Guess what?

That story, which appeared on what I consider a pretty well-respected site, was straight-up linkbait. Not only did the author not test the product, she didn’t mention the 1-star review average from Amazon buyers. So those knockoffs “sound almost as good” according to whom?

All this is simply to say, I will never do that.

Whenever possible, I’ll test a product first so I can report on the pros and cons. When that’s not possible, I’ll try to point you to other reviews. And I’ll always draw on 30 years of tech-industry experience to provide context, caveats and so on.

My goal is, and has always been, to steer you to great deals while helping you make an informed purchase decision. Today, for example, there’s a deal to be had on an iPhone X — but with lots of catches. Take a look.

X marks the drop?

T-Mo is getting aggressive with iPhone deals.

But you gotta jump through a fair number of hoops.

T-Mobile

Starting tomorrow, Feb.

23, T-Mobile is offering a £200 rebate (in the form of a prepaid debit card) when you buy an iPhone X, trade in an eligible phone, finance the X for 24 months and get service while you’re at it. Never mind how weird it is that T-Mo announced this deal a day ahead (who in their right mind will buy an iPhone X from them today?). It’s a reflection of reportedly poor iPhone X sales and, I think, a sign that Apple will drop the iPhone X’s price in the coming months.

The deal itself is pretty standard fare for anyone who doesn’t mind getting into bed with a carrier for two years. Me, I continue to prefer buying a phone outright and then shopping for the cheapest service I can find — but T-Mo does have its perks. There’s also a BOGO deal: Buy any iPhone (including a 7 or 7 Plus, weirdly!) and you’ll get an iPhone 8 for free.

Again, there are trade-in and service requirements. But for anyone in the market for one or two iPhones, these are deals worth considering. My £.02: The iPhone X is not worth £1,000. (No phone is, and that includes whatever Samsung bakes into the S9 that’s coming this weekend.) Is it worth £800?

More in the ballpark, at least. I like the screen size, the bezel-free design and the cameras; I don’t like Face ID or the notch. Frankly, I want Apple to quit monkeying with hardware and fix the many, many terrible things about iOS.

Anyway, now you have the iPhone-deal news. Let’s hear what you think of it.

A tiny terabyte for just £41.

Toshiba

Bonus deal: Need a big hunk of portable storage? Most 256GB flash drives will run you at least £50.

How about four times the storage for £10 less? For a limited time, and while supplies last, Amazon is selling the Toshiba Canvio Connect II 1TB portable hard drive for £40.59, shipped free with Prime. It’s a compact, SB© USB 3.0 drive that’s both Windows- and Mac-compatible.

It comes with backup software and a 2-year warranty.

Assuming you don’t need something that’s actually flash drive-size, this offers incredible mobile-storage bang for the buck.

Oh, and it has a 4.3-star review average from over 2,500 buyers. (A brand like Toshiba, you probably don’t have to worry about fake reviews.)

Klipsch Forte III review

In the same way that hearing you well-heeled friends rattle off lightning-fast 0-60 times while driving their sports cars in the center lane is hardly relatable, most audiophiles aren’t very fun to talk to about actual music. As cultured connoisseurs of tube watts and lossless digital audio files, high-end buyers often use music as a means of gear-tasting, rather than to relish in imbibing the songs themselves. As such, it’s easy to see why many models on the £4000/pair speaker segment feel designed for folks who pour themselves small amounts of expensive scotch and spend hours discussing impedance on internet forums.

That is what makes the Klipsch Forte III, a new US-made iteration of the company’s beloved Forte loudspeaker from 1985, so special to us: They’re meant for people who put music first. The new Forte III is a set of vintage throwbacks for those of us who want to blast The Rolling Stones while shredding air guitar and spilling cheap beer all over ourselves. They offer the kind of thick sound that will bathe you in the warm throaty tones of Stevie Wonder while you sip your morning coffee, or pump AC/DC into your bloodstream while you do push-ups on the floor.

Best of all, they won’t have you considering cable thickness or what amp you’re listening to them through, instead overpowering you with the sheer joy of the music itself. If these speakers were a car, they’d be one of those gold Corvettes the astronauts drove — and they’d be fresh off the assembly line.

Video review

Out of the Box

The first thing you’ll notice when you take delivery of the Forte III is that they pack some serious heft. You’ll need some help to move the cardboard box containing each 72-pound speaker near your listening area before removing various layers of protective coating, at which point you’ll catch your first glimpse of what will seem to be a very familiar sight for fans of vintage stereo speakers — especially those of us who have experienced the company’s previous Forte and Forte II models.

Features and Design

Fashioned as big wooden rectangles with off-white lambswool grill cloth, the new speakers look like they could have been sitting in your grandpa’s living room spinning Frank Sinatra records for decades.

That’s not to say they aren’t stunning to behold; each set of Forte III speakers comes with cabinets that were hand-made in Hope, Arkansas, and the workmanship is immediately evident. In fact, each pair is grain matched so that they look nearly identical to one another when sitting side-by-side. Our review set featured a gorgeous distressed oak veneer, but the Forte III can also be had in black ash, natural cherry, or American walnut finishes.

A couple of special-edition colors are also available for a little more cash. The speakers themselves are 36 inches tall, 16.5 inches wide and 13 inches deep, making them a formidable addition to any living room or listening space. They are also perfectly designed to place their tweeters at ear level for those relaxing on a couch or in an easy chair.

The warmth, depth, and intricacy is astonishing. The back of the Forte III reveals two sets of binding posts for optional bi-amping or bi-wiring, as well as a glimpse of one of the key upgrades Klipsch made to its best-selling model from the mid-80s: A massive 15″ passive woofer which replaces the smaller radiator found on the original model for punchier bass response. Under magnetically affixed grills you’ll find a black bafflie with three black drivers.

A single 12-inch bass driver is positioned towards the base of the cabinet, with two titanium-diaphragm horn drivers above it — one updated 1.75-inch unit for midrange, and a one-inch driver for treble. Those horn-loaded drivers are a key element of the classic Forte sound – and a hallmark of Klipsch speaker design, in general — and we welcome their return in this model. Though a somewhat polarizing technology in the audiophile universe, the “classic” Klipsch sound is often associated a zesty top end which avoids distortion, even at high volumes.

Performance

Our review team listened to the Forte III speakers over several months, playing virtually all formats and genres of music via Naim Uniti Atom, Yamaha R-N803, and Peachtree Nova 220SE amplifiers, and placing the speakers head-to-head against other high-end options like the Bowers and Wilkins 702 Series 2 and Paradigm Persona B.

To make a long story short: We’re in love. These speakers devour any genre with a smile. It’s very difficult to describe the perfect blend of faithful reproduction and spirited coloration that manifests inside speakers this good, but we can say that the simultaneous warmth, depth, and intricacy with which these updated classics handle sound is nothing short of astonishing.

It doesn’t matter what you are listening to or how you are listening to it, every song you put through these speakers becomes a deep, revel-inducing experience. The Forte III are earth-shatteringly good. It’s not just that you can practically reach out and touch the upright bass when listening to Lou Reed’s Take A Walk On The Wild Side — most other speakers in this price range can do that — it’s how the speakers slightly warm everything in the soundstage, making each element of the sound buttery, but not overwhelming any one instrument with too much coloration.

It’s not just that you’ll sob as classic ballads like The Eagles’ Desperado come through like the band was playing it on a stage 20 feet in front of you, it’s that the speakers somehow make each note more vibrant and passionate than you’ve ever heard them before.

When compared to other expensive floorstanders like B&W’s 702 Series 2, the Fortes offer a similarly scintillating treble response, but their punchy low end easily bests the B&Ws, thanks to that 15-inch radiator on the rear and its 12-inch active bass driver. That said, these are not overtly bass-heavy speakers. They are punchy and exacting.

Every note, every phrase, every subtle mixing technique, it’s all there in front of you, yet where the B&Ws offer a crisp, HD-feeling image, the Fortes somehow blend in just the right amount of 72mm film grain. Very few speakers feel as explicitly designed to purvey musical joy, and because of their nimble agility and warmth, the Forte III devour any genre with a smile. Feed them Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. and you’ll bathe in near-perfect bass response and clean hi-hats ticks between passionate vocal bouts.

Feed them Ahmad Jamal’s classic jazz trio album Ahmad’s Blues, and you’ll bob along to every intricate brush stroke and piano tickle. Feed them Purple Rain and let Prince’s heart-wrenching vocals melt you into a multicolored puddle on the floor.

Klipsch Heritage Series Forte III Compared To

It’s tough to count the number of songs that I had never heard sound better on any other set of speakers. It’s embarrassing to admit, but over the several months we’ve had the review units sitting in the Digital Trends A/V room, I’ve wondered how soon we will have to send them back with the same heartache I once attached to summer camp girlfriends.

There is not a single set of speakers I want to personally own more; On a sheer smiles-to-songs ratio, the Forte III rank somewhere up there with placing a bouncy castle in your listening room.

Warranty information

Klipsch offers a five-year limited warranty for defective materials and workmanship on all of its passive speakers.

Our Take

The Klipsch Forte III offer a near-perfect blend of new-school finesse with old-school charm, easily ranking among the finest speakers that have ever graced our listening room. Is there a better alternative? While speakers like the Bowers and Wilkins 702 Series 2 compete in terms of price, Klipsch are the only major manufacturer we can think of that is offering reissued and tweaked versions faithful to its classic design aesthetic.

If you’re looking for the same vintage audiophile sound, you may want to spring for a vintage set of Klipsch Forte or Forte II, Dynaco A-29, Acoustic Research AR3a, or Large Advent speakers to get what you’re after. How long will it last? Given Klipsch’s long history of manufacturing excellent-quality loudspeakers, as well as this particular product line’s longevity, we expect that the Forte III will last for generations if treated properly and maintained every decade or so.

Should you buy it? Yes. The Klipsch Forte III are easily among the most fun-to-listen-to speakers we have ever tested, and they offer the kind of classic styling and tone that you can pass down for generations.

You may pay a pretty penny up front, but the existential question lingers brightly with these speakers in particular: Can you really put a price on musical happiness?

Land Rover's Explore phone won't flake out on a mountain hike

The Land Rover Explore is built to weather the snowstorm.

Dom Daher/Bullitt

Ever had your phone battery flake out on you because it caught a chill? You’re not alone. On the surface, the modern smart phone is the ideal tool for the outdoor adventurer — it’s got maps, cameras, a clock, a compass, a torch and its lifeline to the civilised world.

But the reality is that when you’re out in the elements, most phones out there prove kinda wimpy. Enter the Land Rover Explore. This rugged phone built by British manufacturer Bullitt is a device for people who need something that won’t conk out them at the first sign of a rainstorm or blizzard.

Design cues pay homage to the Land Rover Discovery through the speaker grille, the grooves on the back, which mirror those on the car’s roof, and the headlight effect around the camera. But Bullitt insists that this is not just a phone for car lovers — it is a phone for those who love the outdoors.

The speaker grille is borrowed from the Discovery.

Katie Collins/CNET

At its heart lies a 4,000mAh battery, which has been tested at the top of Mount Snowdon and the Bavarian Alps for reliability. “This is where you learn how the phone is going to respond,”Bullitt chief branding officer Charlie Henderson told CNET in a briefing. When it comes to interface, the Explore is as close to Vanilla Android as possible (it arrives running Nougat, but an Oreo upgrade is planned).

One thing Bullitt has built in is a dashboard with access to advanced weather metrics through the on-board barometer. It also has an SOS torch and night red filter (to stop your eyes from being affected by your phone light in the dark) easily accessible from the pull-down menu. The phone undergoes the same drop tests and boasts the same IP68 waterproof rating as the Cat phones, which are also made by Bullitt.

But whereas the people who buy Cat phones are largely male and working in manual jobs, the Land Rover Explore is designed to fit much more easily into the day-to-day life of someone who works in an office during the week but heads to the hills at the weekend.

A number of accessory packs are available.

Katie Collins/CNET

To that end, the Explore has a range of accessory options, which are designed to take the phone from soft to hard adventure in an instant. These accessories take the form of packs — one that boosts the battery, one that allows it to easily attach to the handlebars of a bike, and the adventure pack, which combines extra battery, a patch antenna and views of the local topography in augmented reality courtesy of ViewRanger. The antenna offers a more advanced version of GPS than is available in the average phone — it’s more like that of a proper sat-nav.

To take advantage of this, the adventure pack comes with a premium maps voucher that you can use to purchase digital versions of advanced local maps (like Ordnance Survey in the UK).

ViewRanger’s AR view is exactly what you need in a whiteout.

Bullitt

This sounds like the kind of feature you wouldn’t want to miss out on if you’re keen on the Land Rover Explore. Fortunately the adventure pack will come bundled with the phone when it launches in Europe this April for GBP599 or 649 euros. A US launch is on the cards, although details are not currently available, as are further product partnerships between Land Rover and Bullitt, with tablet and IOT projects in the pipeline.

No mention was made of availability in Australia, but its UK price converts to about AU£1050.

Mobile World Congress 2018
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