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Thursday, June 21, 2018

3 Problems With USB-C You Need To Know About by Justin Pot

USB Type-C is clearly the future, but getting to the future isn’t always painless, and USB-C has a lot of problems. Here are a few things every new USB-C user needs to know.
Most new Android phones use USB-C, Apple’s laptops use this port exclusively, and it’s increasingly common to see at least one such port on new PCs. But not every USB-C port is the same, and not every USB-C cable you can buy works the same way.
If you have a USB-C port for the first time, here are a few things to look out for.

The Wrong Cable Could Fry Your Devices

This is the most pressing thing new USB-C users need to learn about. In previous generations of USB, a cable was pretty much a cable. Sure, if you plugged a USB 1 cable into a USB 2 port, it might not work—or at least, work well—but that was the extent of it. People mostly didn’t need to think about which cables to buy.
That’s not the case with USB-C, and ignoring this could cost you dearly.
The problem is specific to cables with the older USB-A connector on one end and the new USB-C connector on another. (USB-A, if you didn’t know, is the traditional USB plug we’ve all been using for years.) But, USB-C devices (and cables) support faster charging than USB-A. So, for example, if you plug a USB-A device (like a cell phone) into a USB-C port using one of these cables, the phone may draw too much power, frying your phone, USB-C port, or even computer.
Now, to be fair, properly-made cables can have resistors inline to prevent this from happening. The trouble is, it can be really hard figuring out which cables are good and which are not, unless you’re buying from a reliable vendor that provides good technical specifications.
My colleague Chris outlined how to buy a USB-C cable that won’t damage your devices, so I won’t re-hash that too much here. But it’s important to keep in mind that not all USB-C cables are created equally, and it’s up to you as a consumer to make sure what you’re buying is compatible with your device. Assuming a cable is fine because it fits is not good enough anymore—check out resources like to ensure your cable won’t cause any problems.

Not All USB-C Ports Are The Same

With USB-A, things were relatively simple: basically anything you could plug in would work. That’s not quite how USB-C is: adapters and cables may or may not work, depending on what features your device offers. And most of the cables on the market support USB 2.0 rather than USB 3.0 or 3.1.
Editor’s Note: we can’t overstate that last bit enough—most of the USB-C cables on the market are USB 2.0 rather than 3.1 because they are only designed for charging. If you need to use them for anything else, like connecting devices or transferring data, they will either not work, or will be extremely slow. Make sure you’re buying the right cable. We recommend Amazon Basics cables.
The complexity here is introduced by alternative modes, which use the USB-C form factor to offer additional features. Thunderbolt 3, for example, is a collaboration between Intel and Apple that offers transfer speeds of 40 gbps—four times faster than the USB 3.1 standard—and support for two 4K displays connected to a single port. But only devices built to be compatible with Thunderbolt 3 can get those speeds, and even then only if you have a Thunderbolt 3 compatible cable.
Are you confused yet?
There are a few other alternative modes: HDMI and MHL, for example, both allow certain kinds of displays to be connected. There’s also DisplayPort, which is bundled with ThunderBolt 3 but also offered independently on some devices. Your laptop has DisplayPort if there’s a D-Shaped icon next to your USB-C port, but it also might have it and not have that icon.
If you plan on connecting external displays to your laptop, you need to know which alternate mode your device supports and buy a display, or an adapter, that supports that mode.
There’s a lot of stuff a USB-C port might offer in addition to USB itself, and figuring out which devices and adapters work is entirely up to you. You could argue that this is a good thing, because it makes the USB-C port flexible. For most users, however, this is just confusing: cables and devices that fit into the plug may or may not work. And figuring out what things will work means spending some time plugging terms like “MHL” and “Thunderbolt 3” into Google.
That’s my idea of a good time, but possibly not yours.

Dongle Hell Is Real

Switching to a device with only USB-C ports is a bit of a hassle. I know, because I’m a MacBook Pro user.
Here’s the problem. Most people have collected USB cables over the years for things like phones, hard drives, e-readers, printers, and so on. Switching to USB-C means those cables no longer plug directly into your laptop.
You’ve got two options. The first is to replace all of your cables with USB-C ones. This is tidy, but means potentially replacing a large number of cables. The second option is to purchase a couple of simple adapters, like these, and just use your old cables. This means keeping track of a couple of dongles, but it gets the job done quickly.
But that’s just USB. There are more potential dongles for things like Ethernet and displays. And outlined above, not every USB-C port supports the same display protocols, so you’ve got to purchase one that works with your device. It means that purchasing a compatible dongle can be a pain, and buying into all of these things can get expensive quickly. And if you carry your laptop around and connect it to different types of displays or projectors? More dongles.
But there is a bright spot in the USB-C world: USB-C docking stations. These things are great if you sometimes connect your laptop to multiple devices to use like a desktop—displays, mouse, keyboard, and so on. That one USB-C port can offer all sorts of connectivity, meaning that you can dock your laptop by plugging in one cable. My colleague Micheal outlined a few of the best ones over at ReviewGeek, and I recommend you check that out if you want to use one port on your laptop for basically everything at your desk.

Your Best Bet is AmazonBasics Cables

We’ve scared you enough at this point that you are probably going to be concerned about plugging in random USB-C cables into your devices, and that’s a good thing. But we shouldn’t leave you without a solution, and we won’t.
Your best bet for almost any cable, including USB-C cables, is to buy AmazonBasics cables—they aren’t just really affordable, but they are consistent, and most important, the listings on Amazon are clearly labeled with the speed. You can see in the screenshot above that the cable itself is labeled “SS” for SuperSpeed, and the listing clearly sayswhat connectors are on each end, and says “3.1” for USB 3.1 speeds.
The listings for cables for most random manufacturers will usually bury the information and use meaningless buzzwords, and you never know what quality you’re going to get. So based on our experience, we recommend Amazon Basics.

Amazon Fire TV Cube review: Now it's okay to talk to your TV by Daniel Howley

Amazon’s (AMZN) Fire TV Cube is what happens when a company takes two great ideas and asks, “What if we just smashed these together?” And as it turns out, that’s also a great idea. At least in the case of the Cube.
Available Thursday, June 21, Amazon’s Fire TV Cube brings you the best of the Amazon Echo and Fire TV — letting you control your smart home devices, get news updates, check the weather and more with Alexa. At the same time, the 4K, HDR-capable Cube lets you binge your favorite shows on Netflix, Hulu and any other number of services.
And it does all of that for $119, making the Fire TV Cube less expensive than the $229 Echo Show and $129 Echo Spot, while offering more functionality than both. In other words, if you’ve been looking to buy a Fire TV or Echo, the Fire TV Cube is a no-brainer.

Welcome to the Cube

Amazon’s Cube isn’t exactly a Cube. It’s more of a glossy black rectangle. Still, I’m willing to forgive the tech giant for that. Unlike Amazon’s cylindrical Echo, the Cube’s blue indicator light is only visible along its top, front edge. Amazon says that’s because the Cube is meant to face one direction, toward you. So putting the indicator on the back or sides would be unnecessary. It could also cast a light on your TV, which would be incredibly annoying.
When you’re using Alexa and your TV is on, the indicator light will appear both on the Cube and at the top of your television screen, which helps if you’re lying down and can’t see the Cube over the piles of soda cans and random nonsense on your coffee table. Not that I know that from experience or anything.
The Fire TV lets you control your television, smart home and streaming services with your voice.
During setup Amazon will repeatedly remind you to make sure the Fire TV Cube is about a foot away from your speaker to ensure its microphones can pick up what you’re saying even when you’re listening to “The Bachelorette” at full volume.
Amazon includes pretty much everything you need in the box including an IR extender and ethernet adapter. The one thing the company skimps on, though, is an HDMI cable, which is just ridiculous.

Talking to your TV

What makes owning a Cube better than simply connecting your Echo to your existing Fire TV, besides that fact that it’s cheaper than buying both, is that the Cube allows you to control your television and connected accessories in addition to certain apps.
For instance, say your TV and soundbar are off, but you want to switch them on and watch the New York Mets bludgeon the very concept of baseball to death. Instead of turning on your TV with your remote, then turning on your soundbar with another remote and, finally, flipping to the game, you can say, “Alexa, turn on the TV and tune to channel 62,” and the Cube will switch on your set and start broadcasting the waking nightmare that is Mets baseball.
When the TV is off, the Cube handles speaker duty, but when your set is on, it takes over audio output. This way, if you’re using your PlayStation and want to switch back to the Cube, you can still hear Alexa confirm your request. It also means you can still listen to music, use skills, get your flash briefing or activate smart home devices without having to also turn on your TV.
Unfortunately, Amazon doesn’t include an HDMI cable with the Cube.
Amazon built a number of impressive voice controls into the Cube beyond just turning on your TV and soundbar. You can also ask Alexa to change outputs, or, if you’ve renamed them, ask the assistant to switch to your PlayStation (SNE) or Xbox (MSFT). You can also control videos by telling Alexa to fast forward or rewind, and switch to specific apps. I ran into some trouble with these commands, though, especially rewind and fast forward, but Amazon says it’s always improving its products.
Amazon said it wanted to essentially let users control their Cube with just their voice, and the company has largely accomplished that goal. If you’re on the Home screen, for example, you can say, “Alexa, show me more,” and the voice assistant will scroll to reveal additional apps.
The Cube’s menu also changes when you use your voice, adding numbers to each selection so you can say, “Alexa, select number 1,” to choose an app or show. It’s not necessarily the fastest way to do things. I still prefer to use the included remote to scroll through menus since it’s faster. But it’s helpful knowing that if I misplace my clicker, I can still get to Netflix without having to download the awful Fire TV remote app for my phone.
I’m also not a huge fan of using Alexa to turn up the volume on my TV, since it moves in such small increments, and requires that you ask the assistant to pump up the audio several times. If Amazon lets you change the volume to a specific level, it would be much more useful. Rewinding TV shows and videos was equally slow, and at times didn’t seem to work quite well. Thankfully, the software I tested on the Cube isn’t the final retail version, and should be updated to address any issues.
Since the Cube is also an Echo, it pretty much provides the same utility as the Echo Show. Ask it what the weather is like, and you’ll see the weather forecast on your TV just like the Show. Listen to music, and your television will display the album art and lyrics. Check sports scores, your flash briefing or play “Jeopardy” and, you guessed it, they will all show up on your TV.
And since the Echo Show is still $229, the Cube pretty much makes it obsolete. At this point, the only reason to own a Show is if you don’t have a TV in the room you want to keep it in.

Should you get it?

Amazon’s Fire TV Cube is an easy purchase for anyone looking for an Echo or Fire TV. The Cube offers virtually all of the Echo’s features with the added abilities of a Fire TV. You’d be silly not to pick up the Cube rather than a regular Echo or Fire TV. The only time I’d say you should skip the Cube is if you’ve already got a perfectly fine Fire TV and have no interest in owning an Echo.
For, everyone else, the Fire TV Cube is an impressive device that’s worth picking up. Just make sure you buy an HDMI cable too.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Ring vs. Nest Hello vs. SkyBell HD: Which Video Doorbell Should You Buy? by Craig Lloyd on June 19th, 2018

If you want a video doorbell for your front door, but aren’t sure which one to get, we’ve tested out the top three models—the Ring Video Doorbell 2, Nest Hello, and SkyBell HD—to see which one might best fit your needs.

RELATED: Should You Buy a Video Doorbell?
While there are a handful of video doorbells available on the market, the Ring Video Doorbell 2, the Nest Hello, and the SkyBell HD are the three most popular options. But which one is the better buy? Here are some things to keep in mind about all three units so that you can make an informed decision when it comes time to purchase.

The Ring Can Run on Battery Power

One of the biggest benefits of the Ring Doorbell (and what separates it from the pack) is that it comes with an internal battery that can power the unit for months. This means you don’t need to wire it up to an existing doorbell system—simply mount it anywhere you want and off you go. This makes the Ring the easiest to install.

RELATED: How to Charge Your Ring Doorbell When the Battery Gets Low
Both the Nest Hello and SkyBell HD, on the other hand, must be powered by your existing doorbell’s wiring, as they don’t come with an internal battery. If it’s easy enough to replace your current doorbell with a video doorbell in the same location, then this really isn’t a huge deal, but if you’re like me, a video doorbell unit wouldn’t fit where the existing doorbell is, so re-routing wires is required.

Take note, though, that the Ring Video Doorbell 2 can hook up to your existing system; it just doesn’t need to. However, the Ring Pro (which is smaller in size) and the Elite model must hook up with wires. If you do decide not to connect the Ring to your existing doorbell’s wiring, just know that it won’t be able to use your existing doorbell chime, so you’ll have to buy an electronic chime from Ring.

The Nest Hello Has a Bit More Smarts

While the Ring and SkyBell can sense motion, the Nest Hello takes things a step further by being able to detect whether or not that motion is an actual person.

Furthermore, the Hello can even recognize certain faces with a little help on your end. So not only can it detect people in general, but it can also tell you who exactly is at your door if it recognizes them.

However, this feature does require a Nest Aware subscription, which starts at $10 per month. So unless you’re paying for that, then the Nest Hello will only detect whether it’s a general person or not, which is still a bit better than the other two video doorbell options.

Ring Has Better Motion Sensitivity Controls

Motion sensitivity can be adjusted on the Ring and SkyBell HD, but the Ring is much more versatile in this area.

You can set the sensitivity for specific zones and make one side more sensitive than the other, which can come in handy if your driveway is off to the left and you don’t want to get an alert whenever you or someone else pulls into your driveway—just when they’re at your front door.

RELATED: How to Adjust the Motion Sensitivity on the Ring Doorbell
On the SkyBell, you only get Low, Medium, and High options, and there’s no customization when it comes to zones. And on the Nest Hello, you can’t customize motion sensitivity at all.

Regardless, all three doorbells are susceptible to false positives, depending on where your house is situated. For example, I live on a fairly busy street, so whenever larger vehicles pass by, it triggers my video doorbell and tells me there was motion at my front door. So keep that in mind.

The Nest Hello Has the Best Video Quality

Out of the three doorbells, the Nest Hello definitely has the best video quality out of the bunch. While it doesn’t quite get up to the 1080p resolution (instead, it’s 1600×1200), the colors look way better than the other two video doorbells, and the image looks a lot sharper.

You can customize the video quality of the Nest Hello and the SkyBell HD, while the Ring has no such customization and just sets itself to 1080p (or 720p on the first-gen Ring).

Of course, your Wi-Fi connection will have a lot of say in the video quality you actually use. 1080p would require a faster Wi-Fi connection, while 480p or even 720p would be ideal for slower connections.

And if night vision is on your want list, all three video doorbells come with that capability out of the box.

The Nest Hello Is the Perfect Size

Because of its internal battery, the Ring Doorbell is comically large compared to other video doorbells. This isn’t a huge deal, but if you want to install it on your door trim where the existing doorbell might be, have fun getting it to fit.

The SkyBell HD is sort of the same way—it’s much smaller, but its circular shape doesn’t fit well on door trim. However, SkyBell does make a skinnier version called the Trim Plus, which has most of the same features, but only does 15 frames per second rather than the SkyBell HD’s 30 frames.

The Nest Hello is naturally small and skinny enough that it can be installed on most door trims with ease, preventing you from having to install it somewhere else and possibly requiring a wire reroute if your existing doorbell is installed right on the door trim.

Smarthome Integration Varies

One thing that many smarthome enthusiasts will want to consider is interoperability with other third-party products and services with their video doorbells. In this case, both the Ring and SkyBell HD work with IFTTT and Alexa, but only the Nest Hello works with Google Assistant.

The Ring can also integrate with a few smart lock models (including Kwikset’s Kevo) so that you can unlock your door from the Ring app. The SkyBell HD only works with the Kevo, though, and the Nest Hello only works with Yale smart locks.

The Nest Hello and SkyBell Worked Best for Me, But Your Mileage Will Vary

All three video doorbells will be very dependent on the speed and strength of your Wi-Fi network. In my experience, though, the SkyBell HD and the Nest Hello were the most reliable.

When I installed the Ring, it often took 6-7 seconds before I’d get a notification on my phone—sometimes longer. Both the Nest Hello and the SkyBell HD only took a second or two on the same network, if that.

Again, this is very dependent on your house and your Wi-Fi. Our editor tried the Ring Doorbell at his house, and says the notifications are nearly instantaneous. The smaller your house (and thus the closer your doorbell is to the router), the fewer problems you’ll probably have. It could also have a lot to do with what your walls are made out of, how they’re arranged, and so on. In my case, the SkyBell worked better.

But no matter which you try, if one video doorbell isn’t working quite well for you, it might be a good idea to try the other and see if you get better results.

Which Macs will run Apple's macOS Mojave? by Gregg Keizer

As the Cupertino, Calif. company has done before, its two-year cycle scratched out Macs that had been able to run the immediate predecessor, macOS High Sierra. Apple's odd-even cadence has alternately retained the prior year's models (odd-numbered years, odd-numbered editions) and dropped models (even-numbered years, even-numbered editions).

In 2016, for instance, macOS Sierra (10.12) struck 2007's, 2008's and some of 2009 Macs from support. Last year, High Sierra (10.13) stuck with the same models as Sierra.

Apple has not published an actual list of Mojave-works Macs, but when it rolled out the developer beta two weeks ago, the company said macOS 10.14 is "for Macs introduced in mid-2012 or later, plus 2010 and 2012 Mac Pro models with recommended Metal-capable graphics cards."

That short sentence rubbed out all Macs introduced in 2009, 2010 and 2011, leaving these on the Mojave approved list:
  • MacBook Air; mid-2012 (6/2012) and later MacBook;
  • early-2015 (4/2015) and later MacBook Pro;
  • mid-2012 (6/2012) and later MacBook Pro with Retina, 15-in. model;
  • mid-2012 (6/2012) and later MacBook Pro with Retina, 13-in. model;
  • late-2012 (10/2012) and later iMac;
  • late 2012 (10/2012) and later iMac Pro;
  • 2017 (12/2017) and later Mac Mini;
  • late-2012 (10/2012) and later Mac Pro;
  • late 2013 (12/2013) and later, mid-2010 (8/2010) with Metal-capable GPU, mid-2012 (6/2012) with Metal-capable GPU.
The revamped requirements dropped Macs that were up to nine years old, including MacBook models sold between October 2009 and July 2011, and MacBook Air machines sold between October 2010 and June 2012. Those older systems were supported by High Sierra at its debut last year and can continue to run that edition even though they cannot upgrade to Mojave. They will receive macOS 10.13 security updates through the summer of 2020.

macOS Mojave will be offered as a free download from the Mac App Store when it launches this fall, most likely in September.

The best iPhone camera apps by [Engadget] Lance Whitney

You like snapping photos on your iPhone. But you find the default Camera app limited in certain ways. Maybe you want more power and control over the photos you take. No problem: A variety of apps can beef up your phone's photo-taking skills. Camera+ 2 offers a range of advanced and easily accessible manual controls. ProCamera gives you several layers of controls and features both for photos and videos. Halide provides a host of manual controls and settings that you can adjust and customize. Obscura 2 presents a range of advanced controls in a user-friendly package. And ProCam 5 is the ultimate camera app with more than enough features to satisfy even the more die-hard photographer.

At this point, you might be asking why you'd want to download more software when you can just use the built-in and free iOS Camera app. Third-party apps offer manual controls and advanced tools and features that you'd typically find only in a dedicated digital SLR. You can manually adjust the exposure and focus to override the automatic settings. You can fine-tune the exposure by setting the white balancing, tweaking the ISO number, and varying the shutter speed. Some apps provide an on-screen histogram so you can better eyeball your exposure settings. You can line up your shots with gridlines and straighten them with a leveling feature. You can choose a specific image format, such as JPG, TIF or RAW. You can tap into special shooting modes, including slow shutter, burst mode and time lapse. Many apps go a few steps further by providing creative filters, cool frames and detailed metadata on each shot.

But why not just fine-tune your iPhone photos after the fact by using a good editing app? That's always an option. But a dedicated camera app helps you control and perfect your photos as you snap them so you don't have to spend time in an editing app. Plus, certain mistakes and weaknesses in a photo can't easily be fixed in the editing room. Still, many camera apps include their own built-in editors if you need to tweak your photos after you've snapped them.

The features and options offered by third-party camera apps vary depending on your model iPhone. This software can help you take advantage of the dual lenses found in the iPhone X, iPhone 7 Plus and iPhone 8 Plus. They can also tap into the Portrait Mode available on these iPhones to better highlight a foreground subject.

Camera+ 2

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(Camera+ 2)
As the sequel to the original Camera+ app (which is still around), the $2.99 Camera+ 2 tries to outdo its predecessor with more convenient controls, updated filters, an integrated lightbox and simpler ways to switch camera modes. The app offers a friendly home screen with all the major controls easily accessible. With just a tap, you can jump into macro view or portrait mode. You can bounce between telephoto and wide angle. An on-screen slider lets you easily zoom in and out. You can change the aspect ratio from portrait to square to landscape. And you can opt to save a photo in RAW format. Other handy settings include gridlines, a leveler and geotagging.

Tap the screen with two fingers to adjust the exposure and focus separately with two different controls. From here, you can set the white balancing, adjust the shutter speed and change the ISO. Camera+ 2 offers some cool shooting modes, including Smile to detect when your subject is smiling, Stabilizer to shoot only when your hands are steady, Slow Shutter for long exposures and Burst to snap a series of shots to score the best one.
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Screenshots by Lance Whitney
When you're done shooting, head over to the Lightbox to share your photos or view their metadata. As a bonus, you can edit them from here. Aside from adjusting the size, cropping, exposure, and brightness, among other things, you can play with different color temperatures, apply filters and spice up your photos with frames. There's even a dedicated RAW editor.


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ProCamera ($5.99) is another advanced picture-taking app with a bevy of bells and whistles. From the home screen, you can control the flash, snap a shot via the self-timer, adjust the exposure through an onscreen dial or choose from different preset camera modes such as high dynamic range (HDR) and Lowlight. You can zoom in and out by moving a slider button. Another tap opens the room to an array of manual controls, allowing you to set the white balancing, adjust the ISO and shutter speed, enable anti-shake, turn on gridlines, and lock the focus and exposure. You can also change the format from JPG to TIF to HEIF to RAW. You can even reveal a histogram to finely tune the exposure levels. On an iPhone with dual lenses, easily switch among wide, telephoto, and dual modes.

ProCamera gives you a helping hand when shooting videos. In video mode, you can tap into several of the same manual controls available for picture taking. You can also vary the resolution from VGA (480p) to HD (720p) to HD+ (1080p) to 4K (2160p) and play with different frame rates from 24 to 240 frames per second. And those of you who own an Apple Watch will enjoy some cool options. Through the ProCamera Apple Watch app, you can remotely snap photos, adjust and trigger the timer, set the image format, switch between photo and video mode, and even preview your last photo.
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(Lance Whitney for Engadget)
Screenshots by Lance Whitney
I like the smart tricks in ProCamera. You can adjust the focus and exposure separately via dedicated onscreen controls. I also recommend trying full screen mode, where you can tap anywhere on the screen to take a picture. From the Settings screen you can manage a variety of features and options, such as focus and exposure, stabilization, file format and geotagging. An Advanced Settings screen helps you tweak the focus and stabilization options for your video shots.

When you're finished snapping your photos, you can edit them within the app, easily playing with the size, color, contrast, temperature, filters and effects. And if you're an Adobe Creative Cloud subscriber, you can send your photos directly to Creative Cloud for more advanced editing.


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Halide ($5.99) starts you off with a brief tutorial, a helpful touch since the screen can look perplexing at first. Right off the bat, you can easily tweak the exposure by moving your finger around the screen. You can also turn on a histogram to gauge your exposure adjustments. Next, try jumping from autofocus to manual focus by swiping left and adjusting an onscreen dial. With screen touches and pinches reserved for exposure control, you tap a button to bounce between telephone and wide-angle view on an iPhone with dual lenses. From here, you can set up the white balancing and tweak the ISO numbers to further fine-tune the exposure.

Swipe up on the main control bar, aka the Quick Bar, to unveil even more tools. With this second round of controls, you can adjust the flash, turn on the timer, enable RAW mode and turn on gridlines. You can also customize the controls accessible on the Quick Bar just by dragging and dropping them. And here's a unique feature. On iPhones with dual lenses, a Depth Peaking control shows you the three-dimensional depth of your subject so you can see what the camera is scanning.
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Screenshots by Lance Whitney
Through a range of advanced settings, you can choose how RAW images are processed and saved, tell the app when to use JPG or TIF, and limit location sharing when posting a photo on Facebook or Instagram. Through Halide's companion app for the Apple Watch, you can remotely trigger a shot, turn on the timer, and preview your last photo. Halide doesn't include an editor as do some other camera apps. But it does provide a photo reviewer. Tap on the thumbnail of a photo to get to your Camera Roll. For each photo, the app displays key metadata, such as the date, time, shutter speed, ISO and image format.

Obscura 2

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Some advanced camera apps are beset by cluttered and confusing screens. Obscura 2 ($4.99) app offers a more minimalist and simple approach. Each of the core manual controls works the same. Tap the Expose button and spin the dial to tweak the exposure. Do the same with the Focus button to manually adjust the focus. Repeat those steps for the ISO and shutter speed controls.

Go for a ride on the Control Wheel with icons for other key controls. You can change the image format from JPG to HEIF to RAW. You can switch from telephoto to wide angle on a phone with dual lenses. You can also set up the flash and self-timer, turn on gridlines and levels, and apply any one of 19 included filters from Mono to Woodgrain to Hazy to Crisp. If you're really into filters, you can purchase a seven-filter black-and-white pack or a seven-filter Analogue set.
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Screenshots by Lance Whitney
Swipe down the screen to access the Settings where you can tweak the preferences for filters, image format, Control Wheel, and metadata. You can also access your Camera Roll to view the photos you've snapped. The app displays all the key metadata, including the aperture settings, shutter speed and ISO. You can share, delete, copy, or hide a photo. Editing options are minimal, with only an option to apply filters.

ProCam 5

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Looking for the ultimate adventure in manual camera apps? ProCam 5 delivers. For $5.99, this app packs in all the advanced controls you'll ever need. Fire up ProCam 5, but don't be afraid. Yes, the screen looks intimidating with so many controls and settings visible off the bat, and even more tucked away. I had to spend a lot of time with the app before I could do more than scratch the surface. To help you along, ProCam displays tips that appear when you first try to use a certain feature or control. From the bottom bar on the main screen, swipe a dial to set the white balancing, ISO, focus, exposure and shutter speed. At the top, you can play with the flash, set the image format and switch lenses on a dual-lens iPhone. Another toolbar at the top displays the current settings for the app, such as the flash and exposure levels, so you know what you're getting.

Tap on the bottom arrow to reveal even more settings. You can now adjust the aspect ratio, display any one of three sets of gridlines, and turn on the leveler to keep your shots straight. You can also experiment with different shooting modes, including portrait, slow shutter, burst mode and time lapse. With a dual-lens iPhone, you can even create a 3D shot to save a photo as a short clip in video or GIF format.
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Screenshots by Lance Whitney
Next, tap on the Set icon to reveal settings for all the key features from exposure to focusing to format to histogram. And if you're a videographer with a supported model iPhone, you can shoot videos with the app at 720p, 1080p, and 4K at speeds ranging from 48 to 240 frames per second. Through the companion Apple Watch app, you can use your watch to snap a picture remotely and trigger the self-timer.

ProCam provides one-tap access to your Camera Roll where you can call up a specific shot to share or delete it. A handy info pane shows you the metadata on a photo, such as resolution, size, shutter speed, ISO and aperture. Want to edit your photo? No problem. With the built-in editor, you can tweak the size, cropping and exposure of the shot. You can try out different filters and colors temperatures. And you can have fun playing with certain lens effects, such as Fisheye, Wormhole, Ripple and Halftone. I can't think of a feature that ProCam left out. Just be prepared to do your homework if you hope to master the app.

The best of the best

Which is the "best" app among these five? The answer to that question hinges on your skills, know-how, comfort level, and how fast your fingers can work. The answer also varies based on what you're shooting and how much control you want to exercise. I tend to switch between several of these apps depending on the subject and shooting conditions, among other factors. If I'm trying to shoot something fast, I'll likely use an app that doesn't require much manual tinkering. If I'm shooting something static and want to get artsy, I might go for an app that has more finely-tuned manual controls. That said, my top choice among the five apps is Obscura 2: It offers a clean and simple interface, consistent and easy-to-access controls, advanced settings and options, along with some really cool filters.