The blue light that emits from your smartphone and laptop screens may seem harmless, but according to new research, it can be toxic for your eyes. Earlier this week, scientists at the University of Toledo said they’ve uncovered how blue light can lead to macular degeneration, a leading cause of vision loss in the US. Essentially, the light waves contain enough energy to erode the health of your eyes over time.
“It’s no secret that blue light harms our vision by damaging the eye’s retina. Our experiments explain how this happens,” said University of Toledo professor Ajith Karunarathne in a statement. On the light spectrum, blue light has a shorter wavelength, and thus carries more energy than red, yellow or green light.
That extra energy is why blue light can be bad for your eyes. Too much exposure can trigger a toxic reaction that’ll kill the light-sensing photoreceptor cells in your retinas. “No activity is sparked with green, yellow or red light,” Karunarathne said, noting that the “retinal-generated toxicity” was caused only by blue light.
Another molecule in your retinas normally acts as an antioxidant to prevent eye cells from dying.
But as people grow older, their immune system will struggle to keep the cells healthy. As a result, a constant bombardment of blue light may very well speed up someone’s chances of developing macular degeneration. “Photoreceptor cells do not regenerate in the eye,” said Kasun Ratnayake, a PhD student researcher who also worked on the study. “When they’re dead, they’re dead for good.”
So, how can you protect yourself? Unfortunately, blue light can be hard to avoid. It can come from sunlight and from our smartphones and PCs, which often sit directly in front of our faces.
But the researchers say that people should be careful about using their electronics devices in the dark. Doing so can focus the blue light directly into your eyes. “That can actually intensify the light emitted from the device many, many fold,” Karunarathne told Popular Science. “When you take a magnifying glass and hold it to the sun, you can see how intense the light at the focal point gets.
You can burn something.” People can also consider wearing sunglasses and other eyewear that’s designed to filter out blue light. In the meantime, Karunarathne is exploring whether an eye drop solution can be developed to counter the harmful effects.
Samsung revealed a range of new products at its Unpacked event in New York on Thursday, including the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 smartphone and the re-designed (and renamed) Samsung Galaxy Watch. We’ve been hands on with the new releases, along with the new flagship Galaxy Tab S4, to bring you our first impressions. The Korean firm also announced the Galaxy Home, Samsung’s new speaker and Bixby smart assistant, but this isn’t due to launch in the UK anytime soon.
Read on to find out more about the latest in the Galaxy range, including what’s actually ‘new’, release dates and prices, and what our experts thought when they got to test drive the new bits of kit. If you missed it, head over to our news story on the full reveal of the Galaxy Note 9 smartphone and Samsung Galaxy Watch.
Hands on with the Samsung Galaxy Note 9
As with the Galaxy Note 8, there’s no getting away from the size of this phone. With a 6.4-inch screen (which is marginally bigger than the 6.3-inch Note 8), it’s the biggest phone in Samsung’s range.
This is sure to appeal to those that prefer a large display for watch videos, gaming or browsing the web, but it won’t be for everyone. The nearly bezel-less Infinity Display is vibrant and crystal clear, and the rounded edges look good. Small touches that Samsung has made, such as making the camera unit the same colour as the smartphone itself, add to the high-end style of the phone.
One of the big features designed to separate the Galaxy Note 9 from rivals is the storage, but is it all it’s cracked up to be? I’m not completely convinced – mainly because the price made me wince. To remind you of the big claims, the top-of-the-range handset has an incredible 512GB of onboard storage plus the capacity to support a micro-SD card of up to 512GB, taking it up to a potential maximum storage of 1TB.
Now for the catch (you might want to sit down for this bit).
The phone itself will set you back a lofty GBP1,099, while a 512GB micro-SD card will cost an extra GBP300 on top of that. Is the extra storage worth it? That’s for you to decide.
The Note 9’s S Pen stylus
What really sets this smartphone apart from its Note siblings is the S Pen stylus.
I’m not usually a stylus fan (I’d be too worried about losing such a small piece of kit), but the features packed in to the S Pen are pretty impressive. It’s got Bluetooth for remote controlling your shortcuts (which can be customised), and it instantly and smoothly operates the camera on the Galaxy Note 9 too – gone are the days of unflattering group selfies with the S Pen at your side. Creating hand-written notes and doodles using the stylus is simple – these will be the same colour as your pen, so yellow notes for the yellow S Pen and lilac for the lilac version.
It had a great level of responsiveness when scrolling through menu screens too, making it a helpful for people with small hands trying to navigate around this monster phone. The Galaxy Note 9 has a whopping 4,000mAh battery, the largest to ever feature on a Samsung handset. We’ll put this to the test in our labs soon – look out for the full review.
Overall we’re impressed – this is a gorgeous behemoth of a phone. But there’s no escaping the fact that relatively speaking, this is a fairly iterative upgrade. Samsung may have done justice to its Note range with the 9, but we can’t help but feel it’s saving something pretty special for the next generation of its flagship range next year.
Hands on with the Samsung Galaxy Watch
The biggest changes to the Galaxy Watch, aside from the name, are the design and battery life. These are both reactions to feedback on the design and battery life of previous iterations of Samsung smartwatches, the giant Gear S3 and the weird circular-but-also-square bezel of the Gear Sport (both of which claimed between three and four days of battery per charge).
There’s nothing groundbreaking, but a few noticeable improvements. As for the name, I asked Samsung the reason behind the change away from the Gear moniker, but no-one seemed to know. Firstly, let’s talk design.
Samsung claims that the Galaxy Watch is made to look like a traditional watch, but it’s still fairly obvious (even without the Super AMOLED display activated) that this watch has more under the surface than clockwork. It’s available in 46mm and 42mm versions, and I’m glad to see a choice of sizes. Don’t get me wrong, the 42mm version is still larger than your average lady’s wristwatch and I found that it protruded more too, but it’s surprisingly lightweight and didn’t feel bulky or heavy on my wrist.
It’s a smartwatch that I could realistically see myself wearing, which I certainly wouldn’t have said about the sizable Gear S3. There’s the stylish rose gold option (the version I’d go for), and a sportier black option too.
The 46mm watch is only available with a silver bezel for now. The larger size was comically too big for my wrist, but it would be a stylish smartwatch for those that suit a bigger timepiece.
The Super AMOLED display is clear and bright, and the touchscreen is as responsive as a high-end smartphone. For those that want to personalise their smartwatch, there’s a range of watch faces available on the watch itself and more can be installed via the app.
Galaxy Watch battery life
Now to the, slightly convoluted, battery life claims. The Galaxy Watch has an all-new battery, designed specifically for smartwatches, and it claims that this will last for up to seven days – around double its predecessors.
But this differs for the two sizes – the 46mm watch has a larger 472mAh battery, which should last up to seven days based on low usage. The smaller watch, with its 270mAH battery, is claimed to last five days based on low usage. I’m interested to see how these perform in our battery life tests, which are based on an average usage scenario, as I’m not convinced there will be a particularly significant improvement in battery life for those that plan to wear and use their watch all day, everyday.
As we’ve come to expect from a lot of the big wearable launches, there’s a strong health and lifestyle focus for the Galaxy Watch, although nothing that’s ‘new’. Fitness features include built-in GPS, a heart-rate monitor, stress tracking and detailed sleep analysis. I didn’t get to try out the daily briefing feature, which will give you a personalised watch face with your schedule for the day on, but it sounds like it could be useful.
For the verdict on the fitness sensors, keep an eye out for our full first look review of the Samsung Galaxy Watch. Connectivity wise, there aren’t any suprises. There’s Bluetooth and NFC for Samsung Pay.
A 4G version, which can be used to make and receive phone calls, will launch in the UK later this year and this will be supported by EE. This is no longer the jaw dropping feature it once was, and I’m still not entirely convinced I’d walk along talking to my watch. It’s also sure to have an impact on battery life, and we’ll put the 4G battery life to the test soon.
Hands on with the Galaxy Tab S4
It’s hard for any company to usurp the dominance of Apple but, in the last few years at least, Samsung has proven that it has the mettle to take on Cupertino’s finest with desirable and genuinely innovative smartphone tech. With the Tab S4, it’s clear that Samsung is now serious about beating Apple at the tablet game.
It’ll be tough challenge – the term iPad is practically synonymous with the entire tablet market (some unnamed relatives claim to own a ‘Samsung iPad’, for example). But the Tab S4 has some unique features – and a competitive price – that should make anybody considering buying an iPad Pro at least think twice.
At its launch event, the feature Samsung was most keen to show off was its DeX software. DeX turns Android into a Windows-like experience with drag-and-drop functionality and multiple windows you can drag around, letting you switch between programs more quickly and get things done faster.
In theory, this is a winner, but having used DeX a year ago and again today, I don’t feel like an awful lot has changed. Samsung’s own branded apps such as the web browser, file explorer and email work just fine. But others, such as games, feel buggy and sometimes jump around the screen.
You’ll have to be selective about which apps you use while you’re in DeX mode. Ignoring the bugs, everything feels snappy and fast on this tablet and it can even run the smash-hit game Fortnite without a hitch and without getting hot, which is no mean feat.
DeX automatically starts as soon as you connect the tablet to the keyboard cover (GBP119 extra). The keyboard itself is excellent, with a responsive button press and most of the buttons in the right place.
I hate the tiny backspace key as it’s very hard to hit, but this is something you’ll get used to. The keyboard cover doubles as a stand, too, and it’s pitched perfectly for desk use, but a bit steep for on-lap use. It’s usable when it’s resting on your knees and it feels stable, but there is a temptation to lean it back a bit, which then makes it feel more likely to tip over onto the floor.
I expected this tablet to be unwieldy when using it handheld, but it actually feels far smaller and far lighter than I would have expected from a 10.5-inch tablet. The screen, too, is fantastic, with extraordinarily bright whites and vibrant colours that feel about as close to an iPad as you can get. The speakers, too, seem loud enough to enjoy a bit of Netflix at home on the couch without having to resort to headphones.
Taking notes on the S-Pen stylus is a pleasure; Samsung has had the stylus concept nailed for a few years and it feels natural – and comfortable – to write and sketch onto the screen.
At GBP599 for the tablet and S-Pen alone and GBP719 with the keyboard, we’re well into laptop pricing territory for an experience that, in many ways, is inferior to a laptop. But those who know they need a small tablet for taking notes and getting work done already know they don’t want a laptop, and as a result, this feels like a very tempting piece of kit. And it certainly isn’t unhelpful that altogether this is GBP200 less than a kitted-out 10.5-inch iPad Pro.
Michael Passingham – Which? tablets expert
Voting in West Virginia just got a lot more high-tech–and experts focused on election security aren’t happy about it.
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This fall, the state will become the first in the US to allow some voters to submit their federal general election ballots using a smartphone app, part of a pilot project primarily involving members of the military serving overseas. The decision seems to fly in the face of years of dire warnings about the risks of online voting issued by cybersecurity researchers and advocacy groups focused on election integrity. But even more surprising is how West Virginia officials say they plan to address those risks: by using a blockchain.
The project has drawn harsh criticism from election security experts, who argue that as designed, the system does little to fix the problems inherent in online voting. This piece first appeared in our twice-weekly newsletter Chain Letter, which covers the world of blockchain and cryptocurrencies. Sign up here—it’s free! We first heard of the West Virginia pilot in May, when the state tested a mobile app, developed by a startup called Voatz, during primary elections.
The test was limited to overseas voters registered in two counties. Now, citing third-party audits of those results, officials plan to offer the option to overseas voters from the whole state. Their argument is that a more convenient and secure way to vote online will increase turnout–and that a blockchain, which can be used to create records that are extremely difficult to tamper with, can protect the process against meddling.
But that premise has been controversial from the start. After two fellows from the Brookings Institution penned an essay praising West Virginia for pioneering the use of blockchain technology in an election, Matt Blaze, a cryptography and security researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, pushed back hard. It’s not that blockchains are bad, said Blaze, who testified (PDF) before Congress last year on election cybersecurity.
It’s that they introduce new security vulnerabilities, and securing the vote tally against fraud “is more easily, simply, and securely done with other approaches,” he said. Blaze and many other election cybersecurity experts oppose online voting of any kind because, they feel, it’s fundamentally insecure. Although a number of countries have embraced the practice, in 2015 a team of cryptographers, computer scientists, and political scientists looked closely (PDF) at the prospect of internet voting in the US and concluded that it was not yet technically feasible.
Protecting connected devices against hacking is hard enough, and, even if that could be achieved, developing an online system that preserves all the attributes we expect from democratic elections would be incredibly difficult to pull off. The Voatz system uses biometric authentication to identify individual users before allowing them to mark an electronic ballot, and the votes are then recorded in a private blockchain. The company says that in a general election pilot, its system will use eight “verified validating nodes,” or computers (all controlled by the company) that algorithmically check that the data is valid before adding it to the chain.
The system isn’t so much a blockchain-based app as it is a mobile app with a blockchain attached, says Marian K.
Schneider, president of Verified Voting.
The blockchain can’t protect the information as it travels over the internet, and doesn’t guarantee that a user’s choices will be reflected accurately. “I think they’ve made a lot of claims that really don’t justify any increased confidence in what they are doing versus any other internet voting system,” Schneider says.