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British Museum To Display More Than 100 Unseen Works By Katsushika Hokusai 

More than 100 postcard-sized drawings by Katsushika Hokusai will be on display to the public for the first time in two centuries after being acquired by the British Museum. The museum’s director, Hartwig Fischer, claims the drawings were “remarkable and unique, the discovery alone is incredible.” 

Hokusai is most famously known for The Great Wave, one of the most recognizable and reproduced artworks of all time. He’s known for having extreme influence on 19th-century European impressionist art; Van Gough was deeply inspired by Hokusai. 

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According to the museum, at some point in the 1840s, when Hokusai would’ve been in his 80s, he began working on a new project called The Great Picture Book of Everything, in which he let his imagination run completely wild with fantastical and intricate drawings of beautiful fantasy scenes. 

The project was never published, so the drawings were simply put in a box, and have been stored away ever since. The history of these prints is rather unknown. They were once owned by Henry Vever, a Japanese art collector who died in 1942; a century after they were originally made. 

In 1948 the prints appeared at an auction in Paris, and were purchased to become a part of a private French collection, where they were eventually forgotten about. In 2019, they reappeared at a Paris auction, where the British Museum purchased them for around $270,000. 

“They were created at a time modern audiences could relate to. These drawings were created in a period of lockdown, if you will, when Japan had closed its borders for almost 200 years.”

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Fischer explained that at the time, “contact with the outside world was limited and strictly regulated and even journeys within the country required an official permit. It is a situation many of us can sympathize with.”

The drawings mainly depict  religious and mythological figures as well as animals, birds, and flowers. Alfred Haft, a project curator at the museum, said “all 103 drawings were gems, each rewarding close study, each showing us Hokusai’s lively mind and hand at work together.”

Fischer said Hokusai’s art combined “boundless invention, subtle humour and deep humanity. The museum already has one of the most comprehensive collections of Hokusai’s work outside Japan, so this is the appropriate home for the drawings in my opinion.”

Currently anyone can view the drawings on the British Museum’s website, and the actual drawings will be on display in the museum for the first time in history starting September 30th until January 2022. 

Motorola RAZR

Motorola Joins the Foldable Phone Trend with its RAZR Refresh

Many of us who used cellphones in the early 2000’s remember the Motorola RAZR, a flip-phone that at the time functioned not only as a powerful telecommunications device but as a stylish status symbol in the era before the iPhone introduced smartphones to the masses. Now, nearly two decades after the launch of the original product, Motorola is banking on their customers’ nostalgia for this pre-iPhone era with a refresh of the original RAZR, featuring the same clamshell design with a folding screen, a similar technology as was included in the recently-released Samsung Galaxy Fold. After months of rumors, leaks, and speculation, Motorola has finally introduced their hotly-anticipated new flagship, simply called the “Motorola razr,” to the press. The media generally had a positive impression of the unique new device, despite only being able to spend a short amount of hands-on time with it. The razr is set to launch in January 2020 for $1,499, and only time will tell how reviewers react after being able to spend more time with the phone and use it in their day-to-day life.

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Fundamentally, the razr’s design is unlike any smartphone that’s been released as of yet. When closed, the phone resembles its years-old namesake, with the most notable difference being a larger, higher-resolution “quick view” display. The phone has a camera on its exterior, which functions both as a selfie camera and a rear-facing camera when the device is unfolded. For I/O, the phone has only a singly USB-C port with no headphone jack. The device is thin, even when folded, and features an attractive, simplistic design, with the Motorola logo adorning the back. In fact, Motorola says the device is exactly as thin as the original RAZR from 14 years ago. Members of the press praised the device’s hinge, which feels sturdy and allows the phone to fold completely flat when both opened and closed. The small “quick view” display present on the exterior is meant for simple tasks, like checking notifications and toggling settings as well as taking selfies.

There’s no denying that for most people the razr is a novelty device, with its most attractive characteristic being its immediate “wow” factor.

The device opens to reveal a 6.2” plastic OLED display, resembling a standard smartphone display with a slightly taller-than-average 21:9 aspect ratio. Otherwise, the device’s specifications are dissapointingly mid-range; the 16-megapixel camera isn’t going to win any photography awards, as it features only a single lens and a mediocre resolution, and journalists compared it to the cameras featured on flagship devices from several years ago. The front-facing camera, meant primarily for video calls, is even worse at just 5 megapixels. The phone’s processor is a nearly two-years-old Snapdragon 710, and while it is more than powerful enough to handle most ordinary smartphone tasks, it pales in comparison to devices released this year at half the price. The razr includes a reasonable 6 GB of LPDDR4 RAM, but its battery, at a capacity of just 2510 mAh, will likely struggle to provide a full day’s worth of use for power users. There’s no support for external storage, but the included 128 GB should be enough for most people. Motorola clearly needed to make some compromises to enable the device to be so thin, but these compromises are particularly hard to swallow given the phone’s hefty price tag, as it’s far pricier than nearly all other premium devices on the market.

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That being said, the razr is a fascinating device, and potentially represents the future of smartphone design. When folded, the phone is smaller than virtually every other smartphone on the market, making it ideal for people with limited pocket space. And as the RAZR is the most successful flip phone ever, consumer nostalgia is likely to drive sales, as the phone is undeniably cool. Though some journalists worried about the long-term durability of the device, as the similar Galaxy Fold had a number of devastating issues with reliability prior and even after its eventual release, engineers at the press event announcing the device were confident in the strength of the hinge’s complex design. The phone is water-resistant but not water- or dust-proof, and the device’s folding design may even help with its durability, as the phone’s main screen is protected when in its folded position, obviating the need for a case or screen protector. The main display’s crease is mostly invisible, whereas the Galaxy Fold’s crease is prominent, and folding displays generally are prone to damage from strong pressure or sharp objects.

There’s no denying that for most people the razr is a novelty device, with its most attractive characteristic being its immediate “wow” factor. Nonetheless, it is shaping up to be a perfectly usable and decent smartphone for those willing to pay up and for those looking to impress their friends with their unique and eye-catching device.

Girl on Computer

Who is the Pixelbook Go For?

There’s no question that the Pixelbook Go is an impressive-looking device. Multiple reviewers have praised the product’s sleek build quality and carefully considered design, in addition to its unusual twelve-hour battery life. But for a laptop that starts at $650, it offers little in the way of features. Instead of the traditional, more powerful Windows or macOS operating systems, the Pixelbook Go runs Chrome OS, a platform designed to handle Google’s Chrome web browser and do little more. To its credit, the Pixelbook Go has the hardware chops to perform this task excellently, but its constrained featureset may leave prospective buyers skeptical of its practicality, particularly considering the expansive spate of options available at this price point.

Though the company is often praised for the build quality and design of its products, including its flagship Pixel line of smartphones, Google has been known to introduce consumer products that fail to take off in the competitive personal electronics market. Take, for instance, last year’s Pixel Slate, a ChromeOS tablet starting at $599 with a premium look and feel that offers even less functionality than the company’s laptops, especially without its optional $199 keyboard case or $99 Pixelbook Pen. Even though this expensive tablet runs Android apps, many are not optimized for the Pixel Slate, leading to an unreliable user experience when dealing with third-party software. The Pixel Slate supports split-screen multitasking, for instance, but many third-party apps are not yet compatible with this feature. While the product was nonetheless praised by reviewers for what it was, it was a commercial flop, and Google seems to have shifted its focus away from ChromeOS tablets towards laptops at least for the time being.

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While the Go is significantly cheaper than Google’s premium version released earlier this year, its price point, at essentially twice the cost of Chromebooks by other manufacturers, puts the product into a class all of its own. For that additional price, consumers are treated to impressive hardware specs that ensure the task of browsing the web, even when using multiple tabs and accessing content-heavy sites, remains fast and smooth. Chrome on the Pixelbook Go runs about as well as it does on any other laptop on the market, with the exception of Google’s own, more expensive 2-in-1 hybrid Pixelbook. And the Go features a high-quality, 1080p display, which, combined with a battery life that lasts all day and then some, renders the device perfect for extended Netflix or Youtube binge sessions.

The problem with the Pixelbook Go is the existence of laptops running exactly the same software almost as well for half the price or less. For $299, Samsung’s take on the Chromebook concept features a display of the same resolution and a similar, attractive design, with specs that are likely more than adequate for the tasks one might seek to accomplish within the confines of the Chrome web browser. And for $100 less, Asus’s Chromebook C423 features a lower-resolution screen but can handle light web browsing with ease. Consumers willing to spend $650 on a laptop are likely better off purchasing one that features a full operating system like Windows or MacOS, rather than what is in essence little more than a stripped-down version of Android. At this price point, Windows laptops with similar specifications are abundant, including Microsoft’s own Surface Laptop, and while they may not share the attention to detail of the Pixelbook Go’s build quality, the boost in functionality their more sophisticated software environments offer more than makes up for it. 

With all that being said, I still wouldn’t say the Pixelbook Go looks like a bad product. It’s simply one with an unclear market. While people who buy the Go are likely to be satisfied with their decision, the fact of the matter is that any number of better value propositions exist at and below its price point. As such, though it appears to be an acceptable device with some impressive specifications, it’s hard to recommend the Pixelbook Go to anyone when considering its alternatives.

 

Featured image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/momandson/8229514301

Foldable Smartphone

Folding Screens: The Next Smartphone Design Trend?

Today’s high-end smartphones are so sophisticated and pack so many features that it’s hard to imagine how phone manufacturers will be able to improve their offerings for the next generation of products. The just released Galaxy Note 10+, for instance, packs an impressive edge-to-edge, nearly bezel-less 6.8” display, a whopping 12 gigabytes of RAM, and four cameras on the back that work together to allow for professional-grade photography. But the ultra-competitive high-end phone market demands continual innovation and improvement, year after year, forcing manufacturers to explore increasingly exotic and radical designs for their flagship devices. Perhaps the most promising development in the phone design space is the introduction of folding-screen technology, allowing devices to double their screen real estate and enabling users to fit a tablet-sized display into their pockets.

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The most infamous example is the Samsung Galaxy Fold, which the company showcased in February alongside the Galaxy S10 and S10+, and was initially slated for an April release date before being delayed due to concerns about the device’s durability. While early reviewers praised the unique and innovative form factor of the phone, they brought to light some glaring design flaws: several outlets complained that the Fold’s design allowed dirt and other debris to get caught underneath the display, and that if the user attempted to remove what seemed like a removable screen protector, the device would be irreparably damaged. For a $1,980 device, these issues were considered by many to be unacceptable, and Samsung took the surprising step of indefinitely postponing the launch of the product in order to work on addressing these problems.

Now, several months later, Samsung has unveiled their newer, redesigned Galaxy Fold, which specifically addresses the concerns of early reviewers: the screen protector has been tucked underneath the folding screen’s plastic bezels, making it impossible to accidentally remove and preventing foreign objects from getting lodged underneath the screen. Also, Samsung has reinforced the hinge mechanism to improve the overall durability of the device. As of September 6th, 2019, the device has officially launched in South Korea, and a global launch is planned for the month of September. Reviewers have had the opportunity to handle the redesigned device, and while they praised Samsung’s improvements, some of their original complaints remained: when the device is opened, a distracting visible crease runs down the center of the display, and the phone’s mediocre battery life and small exterior display when the phone is in its folded form leave much to be desired, particularly in light of the hefty price tag.

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While Samsung’s Fold is not technically the first device with a folding screen to hit the global market — the “Royale FlexPai,” which feels more like a proof-of-concept device than a consumer product, has been available in China since January — it’s the first device of its kind to appeal to a general audience, albeit one willing to shell out nearly two grand for a phone with a relatively untested form factor. But it won’t be the last. Huawei has introduced the competing Mate X, a folding-screen phone that differs from the Galaxy Fold with a screen that works differently — whereas the Galaxy Fold opens like a book to reveal its display, the Mate X has a screen that wraps around the exterior of the device, allowing the same display to be used for both folded and unfolded operation. 

Like the Galaxy Fold, the Mate X is marketed as a premium device, carrying a substantial price tag of $2,600. Huawei’s phone features an even larger 8-inch display, and because the device folds outward, not inward, it promises compelling features, such as the ability to show both you and your subject the viewfinder when taking a photograph. A release date for the Mate X has not yet been announced, but Huawei says the phone should be available for purchase before the end of 2019.

Motorola is also rumored to be working on a phone with a folding screen, drawing inspiration from their once-ubiquitous RAZR line of phones to envision a device with a display matching the size of those found on more traditional phones, but which folds into a compact size ideal for portability. Though the underlying technology has existed in various forms for years, mainstream integration of folding displays in consumer electronics is still in its infancy, and as of yet it’s unclear which style of implementation the industry will favor.

What is certain, however, is the disruptive potential of smartphones with transforming form factors. The concept of a device that combines the portability of a smartphone with the usability of a tablet has the capacity to fundamentally alter the relationship we have with mobile computing. Reviewers of the Samsung Galaxy Fold have observed that using the device on a daily basis feels more deliberate and immersive than what is achievable with a standard smartphone, even ones of the high-end variety, as the screen real estate afforded by the Fold’s 7.3” display enables opportunities that are impractical on standard smartphones, such as easily working with multiple open applications simultaneously. As such, devices with folding screens have a good shot at replacing multiple devices used by technology enthusiasts; it’s not hard to imagine a future where one transforming device takes the place of a user’s phone, tablet, and laptop. Nobody knows for certain how the smartphone industry will evolve in the coming years and decades, but devices like the Galaxy Fold offer a glimpse into a future in which radically different mobile computer technology fundamentally changes our collective way of life.

Featured image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/janitors/40280137773/in/album-72157707246668014/