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Sprint’s sub-6 GHz 5G network solves a coverage problem, not a speed one

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This is the first 5G network I’ve tried that actually feels ready for consumer use.

Over the last few months, Verizon has gotten almost all of the press surrounding real-world 5G tests in America. I’ve tested Big Red’s Ultra Wideband 5G network in Chicago twice over the last few months, and while the second visit yielded far more impressive results than the first, one huge problem persisted through both tests: the millimeter wave technology Verizon uses for its 5G network, while incredibly fast, has very short range.

Sprint is the first carrier in the U.S. to implement sub-6, rather than millimeter wave.

This means that even though I saw Ookla speed test results in the neighborhood of 1.5 Gbps while in close proximity of a 5G node (typically between 100 and 300 feet away), that signal would quickly degrade or even drop out entirely once I started moving away. To solve this range issue, Verizon is going to need to implement a lot of 5G nodes throughout the city (and every city in which it plans to launch).

That’s where Sprint comes in. Chicago is Sprint’s largest user base, with over 700,000 customers, so it makes sense that the Windy City is one of the company’s first 5G test areas. Sprint’s biggest differentiator against Verizon and other 5G competitors is that it’s the only carrier in the U.S. that’s implementing sub-6, otherwise known as mid-band, rather than mmWave.

Specifically, Sprint is deploying 5G over its excess 2.5GHz spectrum — the fastest of the three bands the company uses for its LTE network. This makes 5G amazingly cost-effective and easy to deploy; rather than installing entirely new hardware, Sprint is simply outfitting its existing towers with Massive MIMO equipment containing 128 antennae, divided evenly between 5G and 4G LTE.

Explaining 5G: Millimeter wave, sub-6, low-band and other terms you need to know

So what’s the benefit of sub-6 in the real world? In a sense, it’s the polar opposite of mmWave, which offers blisteringly fast speeds but suffers from a poor range. Right now, you won’t get gigabit speeds on sub-6 — I averaged 328 Mbps in my tests, with peak spikes of around 800 Mbps — but its signals travel much further. I’ve been told to expect close to a kilometer of range from each tower in Chicago, with some towers in Dallas, Texas reportedly reaching twice that distance.

Should the long-negotiated merger go through, Sprint is hoping to combine its sub-6 network with T-Mobile’s developing mmWave spectrum to offer massive 5G coverage under the New T-Mobile, even in rural areas.

Real-world testing

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Sprint loaned me a Galaxy S10 5G to test out its 5G network across Chicago, along with a list of addresses mapping out the locations of each tower. Those locations ranged across popular spots like Merchandise Mart, Navy Pier, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and even as far west as the United Center Arena — but my favorite part of my field test is that I never needed to refer to the map.

The best part about Sprint’s 5G is not having to hunt for it.

Walking around River North, there was no hunting around for a 5G signal; it was consistently just there, a dramatic improvement over my previous tests with Verizon. This is by far the biggest advantage of sub-6, and these tests marked the first time 5G has ever felt truly ready for consumers — at least, to me.

Once again, speed and latency suffer to achieve that range, since 2.5GHz doesn’t travel as quickly as the high-band frequencies used by other 5G networks, and in my testing, I saw speeds around 150-200 Mbps on average. Closer to my starting point at the Magnificent Mile on Michigan Ave, I exceeded 300 Mbps quite a few times, while closer to Millennium Park I averaged about 150.

Those speeds may feel paltry when compared to the 1.5 Gbps I reached on Verizon’s mmWave network, but the fact of the matter is that even 130 Mbps is far faster than most people typically see on 4G LTE — though admittedly, my colleague Sam Contreras and I were able to exceed it a few times over LTE during stops on the drive over from Indianapolis, with both AT&T and Sprint.

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Sub-6 5G is also less susceptible to interference from objects like buildings, tinted glass, and trees. While testing outside one of my favorite coffee shops in Chicago, Intelligentsia off of Randolph Street, I was able to reach over 160 Mbps, while walking inside resulted in only a 20% degradation in speed.

That said, I wasn’t able to get quite the same practical use from those speeds that Sprint claimed. Downloading an episode of Stranger Things 3 from Netflix — whose servers should be optimized for the 5G network — took just over a minute, rather than the mere seconds I was told to expect (yes, I’m well aware that complaining about having to wait more than 60 seconds for a high-quality, hour-long video is a bit ridiculous).

Same thing went for downloading shows and movies from Hulu, though I didn’t get a chance to try downloading any apps from Samsung’s Galaxy Store, which I’m told is also optimized for maximum speeds over 5G.

Is Sprint’s 5G worth it?

Here’s the good news: Sprint’s 5G network isn’t just more spread out than Verizon’s, it’s more aggressively priced. While Verizon plans to eventually add a $10 surcharge to the monthly bills of its 5G customers, Sprint is offering 5G at no additional cost on its Unlimited Premium plan, which offers unlimited data and 100GB of mobile hotspot along with premium memberships to services like Hulu, Amazon Prime, Tidal, and Twitch.

This means that the only entry point to using Sprint’s 5G network — aside from living in one of its early test markets — is getting a 5G-capable device. At the moment, that list includes the Galaxy S10 5G, LG V50, or the HTC 5G Hub, all of which utilize Qualcomm’s X50 5G modem. The X50 has support for both Sprint’s and T-Mobile’s 5G networks, so if/when the carriers finally merge, Sprint says you shouldn’t need to buy a new device again, which is more great news. (Whether prices stay low if/when the carriers merge, however, is a topic of heavy debate.)

Sprint may not have the fastest 5G network around, but holding a consistent 5G connection all throughout River North was an entirely new experience for me, and it’s one that I can’t wait to see more of. If you live in the area and you’ve been considering a 5G phone anyway, there’s really no reason not to try it out — just keep in mind that those phones are pricey, but such is the cost of living on the bleeding edge of technology.

The best 5G phone

Samsung Galaxy S10 5G

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$40.28/month at Sprint

A huge display and half a dozen cameras.

The Galaxy S10 5G is a souped up version of Samsung’s most powerful phone, with a massive 4500mAh battery, six cameras, and support for both mmWave and sub-6 technologies. It’s water resistant, and features a stunning curved 6.7-inch AMOLED display.

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Galaxy Note 20 gets first update with performance improvements, bug fixes

The two phones are slated to begin shipping on August 21.What you need to knowSamsung has released the first software

Tribit StormBox portable wireless speaker review

Bluetooth speakers come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and price points. To say that it’s easy to find something that works for you would likely be an understatement.Bluetooth speakers are also widely available; they’re found not just in electronics stores, but general retail stores and myriad online outlets, too.For every big-name branded speaker that you’ll encounter in your hunt, there also will be unknown companies competing for your attention and money. Take, for instance, Tribit.Although it doesn’t have the same market presence as Ultimate Ears, it does have a growing portfolio of competing products with lower prices. Its StormBox speaker is one of the brand’s latest products and we’ve had a chance to check one out.DesignThe Tribit StormBox is a cylindrical speaker that takes up about as much space as a large energy drink. Although its buttons lead you to believe there’s a specific front to it, the shape lends itself to a 360-degree sound.Speaking of buttons, the StormBox keeps things simple. There are volume controls and a multi-function power/pairing button. Oh, and there’s also an XBass button that’s used to take sound to the next level.The speaker has a hard mesh exterior and an IPX7 rating which means it’s built to withstand splashes and scrapes. At the top is a lanyard that makes it easy to carry or connect to a bag. Nice and portable, it weighs in around one pound total.Although it pairs via Bluetooth, the StormBox also has a 3.5mm auxiliary input for directly connecting to audio sources. It, and the microUSB charging port are located under a protective rubber flap that keeps things dry.Also worth noting, you can pair multiple StormBox speakers together to create a stereo sound. We did not have the chance to test the feature out.What’s Included?Tribit Bluetooth SpeakerMicro USB CableBlack LanyardUser ManualSetupThere’s very little to mess with here as it’s more or less a case of powering on and holding down the pairing button. You don’t have to worry about any apps or phone settings.PerformanceI was quite happy with how the speaker performed as it did everything it promised. The StormBox had no problem filling large rooms and open spaces. You could easily hear whatever was playing throughout any room.The water-resistance worked pretty well. It was a bit muffled, but nothing drastic. Overall, I thought the speaker did really well underwater.As for the special button, I didn’t feel that the XBass button had much effect. I wish it had been a bit stronger.The battery life is reported to be twenty hours. I used it right out of the box and used it for about ten hours, and haven’t had to charge it yet. The manual includes a guide to figuring out the different functions, including how to understand your battery level. It isn’t very obvious, but there is a column of lights on the back that will give you a general idea.ConclusionOne of the best selling points of the StormBox is that it comes with an 18-month warranty. Not only that, but you can extend it out to 30 months at no extra cost. This process is done online at Tribit’s website.Given the affordable ($60) price, this is a great speaker option for people who might want something for around the home, office, or pool. It’s portable, sounds great, and has an excellent battery life.AvailabilityThe Tribit StormBox comes in a variety of color options, including blue, black, and red. Look for it at Tribit’s website and Amazon for about $60.

Cool tech gifts under $100

In the era of digitalization and lots of tech advancements appearing every day, you have no choice but adapt to our quickly-changing world. Tech gadgets are cool: they simplify our life and make it much more convenient. Besides, they become an irreplaceable part of our daily routine, just like smartphones once did. More attention to tech gadgets are paid in college: students are in need of helpful devices as well as reliable services like papercoach, which you can pay for an essay or just delegate your homework. Tech gadgets can also become a great gift for everyone, from a teenager to a retired person. In this guide, we will cover the top popular of them that will not cost you a fortune.Top gadgets for under $100 budgetHow many times have your smartphone, quick Internet connection, and professional student service united to make wonders? You just choose a reliable resource based on speedy paper review and other agencies’ feedback, then send a request like «Can you do my homework for me?» or «Can you write my essay for me cheap?» and receive a completed task within a short timeframe. Just a decade ago, we couldn’t imagine it would have ever become possible. Now there is a variety of gadgets aimed to make our life easy and comfortable. We offer a list of top tech gifts everyone would be happy to get and which cost no more than $100 (however, today $100 can get you quite far):Streaming stickA device like the Chromecast will cost you around $70, if not less, and is good for people who love streaming like bloggers or just enjoy watching Netflix. All tech giants like Apple, Amazon, and Google have invested in the development of the streaming revolution so you can find a variety of models appearing every year (for example, Roku). It is able to deliver 4K HD video and helps you find the best place to enjoy the content easily;Portable chargerThis is a must-have device for active smartphone users that never have enough battery power (that is, for everyone). We recommend getting the one with 20,000mAh or more, which will likely cost you around $50 and will keep your phone charged seven times (this is especially convenient during the trip in the mountains, concerts, and other places where you can`t get charged a standard way). It is small, lightweight, and easily fits in the pocket or backpack. Besides charging quickly, it also does it safely based on your cable and device;Amazon Echo DotThis device is a mini voice assistant speaker that has access to multiple apps and using which you can control smart home devices (lights, garage door, water, and thermostat), listen to music, and order pizza. It will cost around $50 and is totally worth this money: it has a far-field system of voice recognition so you can make commands across the room while the device will react to your speech, accent, vocabulary, and patterns;E-readerFor example, it can be Amazon Kindle for the cost of $80. If the person loves reading and cannot invest much money into regular books buying, this one will make a perfect gift. The most recent models have a nice design, enough memory to download hundreds of books, a great touch screen, and a powerful processor for convenient reading. Talking about Amazon, it also has a built-in vocabulary and the battery life of one month by active reading;Wireless headphonesIf you are looking for a gift under $100, you can consider the Shure SE112 model that has a solid construction, built-in microphone for making calls, great quality of the sound, and a smooth Bluetooth connection. These headphones provide outstanding performance within a limited budget so you can enjoy music on the go;DroneDepending on the model, it will cost you around $100, and it will be a perfect gift for travelers and just nature lovers. It is lightweight, has stabilization features, and is controlled via an app. Cheaper models can record videos in 720p, which still makes great quality.EDITOR NOTE: This is a promoted post and should not be viewed as an editorial endorsement.

Android’s file sharing Nearby Share is now live

One feature that has been missing in the Android space for some time is the option to easily share files and contacts wireless with other Android users. Apple has had this with AirDrop for years, but Google has never brought a comparable protocol to the table. Finally, the rumors have been confirmed with Nearby Share available to Android.Nearby Share gives consumers a great option to quickly share links, photos, contacts, and documents with Android users instantly. The service works over cell networks, Bluetooth, WebRTC, or WiFi. This gives folks multiple avenues to deliver the shared files both on and offline.Google’s blog post also states that privacy settings are available in the app to make sure you have some more granular controls over how you can be found and receive files. You can change this from “all contacts” to “some contacts” or “hidden”. These privacy settings should allow you to add a layer of security to make sure you are only receiving or sending files to your most trusted friends or colleagues.Chromebooks are also not forgotten in this update. Chrome OS is quickly becoming the jack of all trades operating system and Google has made Nearby Share available on this platform as well. File sharing seemed like a natural progression of the already good continuum experience of Instant Tethering from Chrome OS devices to Android phones and we are glad Moutain View’s finest took the time to make this compatible day one.Nearby Share is a long-awaited addition to the Android ecosystem. While we like to think that Apple steals from Google on a consistent basis for new iOS features, this has been a gap in the Android experience that just needed to be fixed.Pixels and “select Samsung devices” should already see Nearby Share on the devices. Google will continue the trend of rolling releases of new Android options like this with future handsets getting Nearby Share over the coming months.