Android chief teases historic day, while Roku debuts a new line of set-top boxes, and the Honor 8 gets its first big update.

It rained a lot here this morning, and it occurred to me, during my second cup of coffee, that the Android news cycle is pretty predictable. So I took a look at rumor mills in the weeks prior to previous Nexus events, and it confirmed my suspicions: there’s always a few nuggets of truth amidst the pure BS. This year, history is repeating itself, but there appears to be something on top of the rumors and leaks, which is a sense of wonder and, dare I say it, hope, that we haven’t seen for quite some time.

In particular, people appear to be more excited about the prospect of Google taking a more active role in the phones that, for better or worse, bear its name. The Pixel phones are going to be just that — iterative improvements to the Nexus 5X and 6P, but they’re also representative of a change within Google itself. Perhaps it’s the leadership of former Motorola CEO Rick Osterloh that’s led to this decision, but I see it as being years in the making.

As Hiroshi Lockheimer tweeted last week, whatever is announced next week, it’s going to be amazing for Android — and Google — fans everywhere.

And now, to tonight’s news.

Honor 8 gets its September security update, notification nonsense unchanged

The Honor 8 is one of our favorite devices right now, but its software isn’t great. That said, the phone is receiving a nice little update, bringing it up to the September 2016 security patch level and fixing some irritating bugs. The notification shade still looks as bad as ever, but that’s unlikely to change until the phone gets updated to Nougat. More

BlackBerry’s upcoming phone strolls through the regulators

It’s pretty clear that BlackBerry and TCL are getting cozier, as the two companies are about to release the second phone formed under their collaboration. Dubbed the DTEK60, the phone is based on a yet-unreleased Alcatel Idol product, featuring a large 5.5-inch QHD display, a Snapdragon 820 chip, a healthy 4GB of RAM, and an ample 21MP rear camera. Privilege, indeed. More at CrackBerry

What is Andromeda, and why should you care?

If you’ve been following any Android-related news over the past few days, the word ‘Andromeda’ has certainly cropped up. What may be the product of an eventual merger between Android and Chrome OS, or something else completely, we’ve compiled everything you need to know in one place. More

Spotify moves its family (plan) to Canada

One thing that never quite made sense about Spotify’s competitive family plan is that, despite being available in dozens of countries, the $14.99/month offer never made it to Canada. Without explaining the delay, the company has announced that effective immediately the family plan is now available in the Great White North (yay!). Like in the U.S., up to six individual accounts can be combined into one family plan.

Roku debuts a bunch of new streaming things

Roku’s product lineup is confusing af. But it’s also one of the more successful streaming set-top box companies around, so the strategy must be working. To wit, the company has announced three new lines (and five new products), including the Express, Express+, Premiere, Premiere+, and Ultra, selling between $30 and $130. It looks like the Express is aimed at the Chromecast, while the Ultra goes for the Apple TV. And the Premiere? Well, at $80, it’s right in the middle — and a perfect Christmas gift.

Lockheimer alludes to news that’s big enough for the Android history books

Over the weekend, everyone’s favorite Android executive, Vice President Hiroshi Lockheimer, tweeted this salacious little number:

We announced the 1st version of Android 8 years ago today. I have a feeling 8 years from now we’ll be talking about Oct 4, 2016.

— Hiroshi Lockheimer (@lockheimer) September 24, 2016

That’s a bold claim, and the reasons why were covered in this morning’s exploration on Google’s Andromeda project. Is Lockheimer alluding to the fact that this is going to be the biggest change for Android in almost a decade? Maybe. But until we find out on October 4, take a stroll through our Android History series beforehand for a refresher on the OS’s biggest hits.

Honor 6X will be a phone that is on sale

Look, we weren’t huge fans of the Honor 5X. It had its moments, sure, but suffered from poor performance and inelegant software that, together, just failed to live up to its potential. But in the past year, Honor as a brand has come a long way, buoyed by the successful release of the Honor 8 and parent company Huawei’s succession of excellent releases. So that’s why we’re relatively excited about the Honor 6X, which has leaked by TENAA, China’s ever-loquacious regulator. The specs don’t excite too much (except for the dual camera), but it should be another top-shelf entry-level phone.

That’s it for tonight! We’ll be making some changes to the news brief going forward, consolidating our two posts into a single late afternoon/early evening post. Thanks for bearing with us while we find the right format for this new endeavor, and please continue to give your feedback, it’s always welcome!

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Do you spend a lot of time traveling and hate to carry around big bulky chargers? If so, Samsung’s 2A Micro-USB travel charger is a great choice to keep in your bag. The charger will help get you the most power in the littlest amount of time, and right now you can pick one up for just $8.95!

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Anker is currently celebrating its fifth birthday with 20% off most of its accessories at Amazon. Whether you need a portable battery pack, some new cables or even a vacuum for your house, you can get it discounted right now. There are a few different models of each available, some higher capacity or longer than others, so be sure to see what you can add to your collection at this nice savings.

Here are some great accessories on sale:

There are a bunch of other items on sale, so be sure to hit the link below to check them all out. Which will you pick up? Let us know in the comments!

See at Amazon

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The next stage of Android’s evolution is starting to come into focus. Google’s Andromeda, like the galaxy, is vast, complex and — for the moment — unknowable.

Slowly and quietly, Android has been growing into a desktop OS. (That’s in addition to being a phone OS, a tablet OS, a TV OS and a watch OS.) This year’s 7.0 Nougat release debuted with a feature we’ve still yet to see on any production device: freeform window mode. Freeform, one of three multi-window modes, basically lets your Android tablet handle apps the same way your Mac or PC does — in a moveable, resizeable window.

It looks mostly the same as Android apps running on a Chromebook. (And with good reason: There’s every chance Chrome OS’s Google Play support was central to the decision to include freeform in Nougat in the first place, allowing devs to make apps that play nicely in a window.)

Rumors of Android’s merging with Chrome OS have been swirling for years — until recently without much substance behind them.

This seemingly niche feature was an early hint at something that’s been rumored since the first days of Android on tablets: the fabled merging of both operating systems into one — or at least the advancement of one over the other.

One of the first authoritative reports claiming that this may actually be happening emerged last October from the Wall Street Journal. Google would fold Chrome OS into Android, and the new OS would go on to conquer larger devices like tablets, convertibles, laptops and perhaps even full desktops computers. An early version would be shown in 2016 and ship the following year. At the time, Google didn’t explicitly deny the report, but strongly restated its commitment to Chromebooks.

In the meantime, we’ve seen Android apps (through Google Play) arrive on Chromebooks — the result of a ton of engineering work, bringing the two closer together than ever before.

And now, in recent days, there’ve been tantalizing hints that something is indeed afoot. Android Police first reported the codename “Andromeda” on Saturday as a name for the new, allegedly “merged” OS. A tweet from Android, Chrome and Google Play SVP Hiroshi Lockheimer prompted the report, with the suggestion that events at the Pixel shindig on October 4 would be as significant as the original announcement of Android eight years ago. Since then a new report has clarified that it’s completely separate from the current effort to bring Google Play to Chromebooks.

We announced the 1st version of Android 8 years ago today. I have a feeling 8 years from now we’ll be talking about Oct 4, 2016.

— Hiroshi Lockheimer (@lockheimer) September 24, 2016

The “Andromeda” codename has since been tracked back to code and comments in AOSP (the Android Open Source Project). In one instance, Nougat code on the Nexus 9 defines minimum performance requirements for Andromeda. In another, code was written to detect either Android or Andromeda based on whether the freeform window mode feature was available. In another, a Googler talks about “flushing” (likely meaning flashing) the Nexus 9 with an Andromeda image to test performance thresholds.

We’ve also dug up references to Andromeda in the Chromium bug tracker dating back to February, in the form of a “go” URL — a link on Google’s internal network.

All of this points to Andromeda indeed being a real thing, and from the wording of the remarks in AOSP, in some ways separate from the Android we know right now. One AOSP commit talks about “performance thresholds for Andromeda and Android devices.” Another code comment says: “We distinguish results for Andromeda and Android devices. Andromeda devices require a higher performance score.”

Note: As an aside, the comments say the Nexus 9 just about meets the performance requirements for Andromeda. But don’t get too excited about a big update for the tablet just because Google’s developing Andromeda on it: There are no guaranteed Nexus 9 platform updates beyond October 2016.

At a technical level, it sure looks like Andromeda is Android.

At a technical level, it looks like Andromeda is Android. Just like Android Wear is Android and Android TV is Android. We know Andromeda on the Nexus 9 uses freeform window mode — no surprise — and likely adds a bunch of other stuff we haven’t seen yet to make it a much better tablet/convertible OS than Android 7.0 is right now. As such, it has higher performance requirements than plain old Android.

And that’s the central puzzle of all this: What’s the real distinction between Android and Andromeda? If Chrome OS features are being “merged” into Android to form Andromeda, which features are they, besides freeform mode which is technically available to anyone building a tablet on Nougat? (Not that anyone’s really doing that.) Nobody outside Google’s circle of trust knows for sure, but there are some strong possibilities.

Andromeda would likely add a traditional, functional desktop as we’ve seen in Chrome OS, along with wild ideas like a file manager and right-click support, and changes to the way apps are managed in memory. Major changes to the Android platform would also be needed to allow full desktop-class applications — think Adobe Premiere, Lightroom or even Android Studio itself — to flourish.

Image credit: Android Police

The potential launch hardware for Andromeda is just as interesting. Android Police and 9to5Google suggest a laptop informally known as “Pixel 3″ (codenamed Bison) will land Q3 2017 with internals targeting MacBook Pro buyers. Specs are said to still be in flux, but AP reports that we’re looking at 32GB and 128GB storage configurations, an Intel M3 or Core M5 chip, 8 or 16GB of RAM, two USB-C ports and a headphone jack. Stylus support is also reported, along with a glass touchpad and haptic feedback. Other notables: 10-hour battery life and a $799 start price.

9to5 also reports a much earlier launch of Andromeda on, bizarrely, a Nexus-branded Huawei table. That suggests Andromeda could live alongside Android, at least in the short term.

To conquer the desktop, Google has to fix Android’s built-in update problem once and for all. And that could be huge for phones.

There’s one potentially exciting longterm change, though: To conquer the desktop (and, let’s be honest, realistically take on the iPad) Andromeda would need to decisively fix Android’s built-in update problem once and for all. Nobody’s going to buy a laptop that sits on an old OS version for up to a year at a time. Or one that’s only guaranteed updates for two years after launch. If Android (through Andromeda) is to play with the big boys in the desktop world, there is simply no way the current Android update model can continue.

Assuming Andromeda isn’t just for Google hardware, the most likely solution is to recreate the way Chromebooks are updated — working closely with the manufacturer, but basically with updates going out directly from Google. Perhaps not entirely synchronized across every device, but way more quickly and reliably than the current mess of Android version distributions. (Google has taken early steps towards this with seamless updates in Nougat.)

And that could have game-changing implications for Android on phones. (Because if this is going to be a true merger, a true single-OS-for-everything, Andromeda — whether it’s called Android or not — should to be on phones too.) Andromeda on phones, if it’s basically the same OS, would surely be updated in the same way — quickly, and directly by Google. (Delays due to carrier approval, unfortunately, would likely continue.)

To make this happen, and not lose every single Android phone maker in the process, Google also needs to come up with a way for companies like Samsung, LG and Huawei to customize phones without messing with the update process. That’s a huge technical and business challenge, but if anyone can do it, Google can. It’s certainly had plenty of time — if the original WSJ article is to be believed, by the time Andromeda is ready, it will have been four years in the making.

Having a desktop-capable OS living in a phone also presents the possibility of a Microsoft Continuum-like feature in future Android/Andromeda phones — an exciting prospect for a number of obvious reasons. (Microsoft had that feature working pretty well on hardware far less powerful than phones will be when Andromeda is ready.)

Or maybe not. Maybe phones are outside the scope of Andromeda. Or maybe Andromeda is only for Google hardware. Either would be a huge missed opportunity, however.

Whatever form Andromeda takes, Chromebooks aren’t going away anytime soon.

Andromeda could represent the future of Android as an OS for everything. For Google-powered laptops, it represents a possible path from Chrome OS — a capable web browser that can also run phone apps — to a first-class desktop OS to rival macOS and Windows. For Google-powered phones, it’s an opportunity to largely banish Android’s update woes and make the devices that are many people’s primary computers more powerful than ever.

The branding side of things is interesting too. Our money is on any “merged” OS continuing to carry the Android name, but it’s not impossible that there might be some branding distinction between older Android devices and post-Andromeda ones. (Who knows, “Andromeda” itself might turn out to be more than a codename.)

Either way, Chrome OS can’t disappear overnight. And neither can Android as we currently know it. There are millions of Chromebooks that still need supporting — and many engineers employed to do just that — and new Chrome-powered laptops coming later this year designed around running Android apps from Google Play. There would inevitably be a lengthy crossover period between Chrome OS and Andromeda. And even if our ideal vision of post-Andromeda Android on phones comes to pass, Nougat and older versions will continue to be used.

But who knows. If Hiroshi Lockheimer’s tweet — that October 4 will be as historic as the day Google first announced Android — is more than hype and showmanship, maybe we’ll see a whole lot more than two new Pixel phones.

In either case, it looks like 2017 is going to be a really interesting year.

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Sony’s latest small phone is now up for sale directly from Amazon unlocked.

The list price on the Xperia X Compact is a somewhat-steep $499, but if it’s the phone for you and you want it right at launch you can now pull the trigger on one. At $499 the X Compact is a bit more palatable than the $699 Xperia XZ, though it still lands in an awkward pricing bracket — slightly above solid mid-range phones that hit the $399 price point, but below flagships near $600.

More: Our complete Sony Xperia X Compact review

If you aren’t up to speed with what the X Compact offers, let us offer a quick primer. The 4.6-inch little sibling to the Xperia XZ offers a really solid (and undeniably Sony designed) build, and runs on a Snapdragon 650 processor with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, plus an SD card slot. Though it’s smaller than the XZ, it isn’t short on performance or battery life, and even has Sony’s latest 23MP camera setup.

The X Compact sits in an awkward price category, but is a great little phone.

The phone doesn’t quite match other flagships as it’s lacking a fingerprint sensor and waterproofing, but in nearly every respect is the “small flagship” many have been clamoring for. And of course it’s less expensive than Sony’s last couple of high-end phones. If it seems like a phone worth your consideration, be sure to read our full review and then hit up the link below to order.

Amazon was running a $50 off discount for pre-orders of the X Compact, but at the time of writing that offer seems to have disappeared. Keep an eye out if it happens to come back.

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What is VoLTE and why should I care about it?

Here in the U.S., most carriers have rolled out the red carpet for Voice over LTE. If it is available in your area and through your carriers, taking advantage of the upgrade currently depends on your having the right hardware. Once you have everything you need, setting VoLTE up on your phone is very easy and well worth it.

Let’s take a deeper look.

What is VoLTE?

Image courtesy of Ericsson

As the name suggests, Voice over LTE is what happens when your carriers allows you to place a phone call over your LTE connection instead of the more common voice networks. Verizon Wireless, for example, traditionally used 1XRTT for all of your voice calls, relying on LTE for data. This used to be why Verizon phones couldn’t simultaneously use voice and data. AT&T and T-Mobile, which relied on a combination of LTE for data and HSPA+ for calls, would drop down to a 3G signal when talking to someone on the other line. With VoLTE, neither of these scenarios are necessary anymore.

What both network types now have in common thanks to VoLTE is the ability to use more bandwidth to make phone calls with higher quality audio traveling both ways. When you are on a call with someone else who is using VoLTE, you immediately notice the difference in call quality on both ends. You’ll also notice the calls connect faster if you are calling someone near you, and while that’s not a feature worth bragging about it’s a cool thing to test for yourself.

How can I use it VoLTE?

Most major U.S. and Canadian carriers have rolled out VoLTE to some extent, as of September 2016.

  • Verizon rolled out VoLTE in September 2014, and has since been building it into most new high-end devices from Samsung, LG, and Motorola. Consolidated under its HD Voice brand, VoLTE is rolled into video calling and Wi-Fi Calling, but all customers need to know is that a VoLTE-enabled device will be able to stay on LTE on a phone call, and connect to other cellphones and landlines at much higher qualities. Verizon also recently rolled out VoLTE support to prepaid devices.

  • AT&T rolled out VoLTE in May 2014, and most new devices support the protocol. Also bundled under its HD Voice brand (coincidence?), AT&T says that the higher-quality codec and reduced background noise that come with such calls are currently limited to other AT&T customers, but that it has worked with Verizon to test interoperability between networks.

  • T-Mobile rolled out VoLTE in May 2014, and says that over 50% of the calls made on its network use the new standard. Earlier this year, it appended EVS, Enhanced Voice Services, on top of the VoLTE standard, claiming to improve call quality, reliability, and connectivity speed. Most new T-Mobile phones support VoLTE out of the box, and the company has been great about updating its older devices to support it, should the hardware allow.

  • Sprint and US Cellular are in the testing stages for VoLTE, and have not yet rolled it out to customers. Sprint is in a unique position where it doesn’t need VoLTE, since it has fewer customers than the other big carriers, but a comparable amount of spectrum, making it less essential to refarm the spectrum they currently use for voice calls to the more-efficient VoLTE standard. US Cellular wants to wait until VoLTE is mature enough to be revenue-positive for the company. Neither company has committed to a timeframe for public availability.

  • In Canada, Rogers, Bell, and Telus have rolled out VoLTE to some customers, though the two former have considerably wider support than Telus, which is limited to Alberta and British Columbia. The good news is that, unlike in the U.S., carrier interoperability was built into the carriers’ plans, meaning that calls made between VoLTE users on Rogers and Bell will sound just as good as those made intra-network.

What else do I need to know?

One of the curious problems associated with VoLTE is accurately measuring usage to ensure that those on tight data budgets aren’t getting ourselves in trouble by taking advantage of higher quality audio.

Today, all carriers count HD Voice/VoLTE calls towards the minutes in one’s monthly bucket, and not data, even though VoLTE uses the same data network as video streaming or browsing the web. But for carriers like Verizon that support video calls under the VoLTE standard, the voice portion of a chat will use minutes, while the video portion will use data. Verizon says that “an average 1-minute video call uses about 6 – 8 MB of data,” beware of that before making that video call — or just use Wi-Fi.

It’s also worth noting that all carriers in this list also offer Wi-Fi calling, which routes regular voice calls through a Wi-Fi network in a seamless way that, in areas of poor cellular coverage, improves call quality and reliability.

While the VoLTE revolution has been slow and steady, it’s good to see most U.S. and Canadian carriers beginning to take the benefits of the new technology more seriously, and ensure the experience is as seamless as possible for users like you.

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Google Play is finally on the Chrome Stable channel for the Asus Flip and the Acer R11.

Google has made a lot of progress getting Google Play and Android apps working on Chrome. It wasn’t the worst thing to come out of Mountain View when it initially launched, but there were bugs and it lacked a lot of polish, especially when running next to Chrome itself which is dead-simple and very user-friendly. The worst part of the experience for me and many others was using the Chrome Dev channel.

I really like being able to run a handful of apps from Google Play on my Asus Flip. I actually enjoy using a Chromebook for work and play, and the addition of apps like Slack and Hangouts — that are far better than their corresponding Chrome extensions — make me more productive. Each is one less thing I have to use my phone to do. But some of that shine was taken away when the browser would crash, or tabs would reload while I was a few hundred words into a writing groove, or everything would just stop working for a few seconds at a time. That makes things pretty rough, and eventually, I was back to the Stable channel on another Chromebook and left my Flip be a “testing device” which is really what the Dev Channel or Canary are for. Playing with developer software is fun, but I don’t recommend you try to depend on it.

Using developer software can be fun, but I can’t depend on it.

Thankfully, the Chrome Stable update to 53.0.2785.129 for the Asus Flip and the Acer R11 carried the Google Play store along with it. It’s still in beta, and it can still be a little finicky. The Play Store tells me I have no connection more often than it should. Every once in a while when I go to pull up an app from my shelf it has to restart. Annoying, but not show-stopping because everything else is working fine again. And it’s nice to have those few apps available again even if not perfect. My long national nightmare is over. Or something like that.

There are plenty of other Chromebooks that will get access to Google Play “soon.” The Chromebook Pixel (the 2015 version) hasn’t been updated to a Stable channel build with Google Play just yet, but we know it’s coming. Along with plenty of models from HP and Dell and everyone else who makes them. We have no exact timeline, for I’m looking for it to be a few weeks yet so Google and everyone involved can make sure the initial push to more users goes as smoothly as they had hoped before they push things out to any more models — we all know how Google likes to take its time with software rollouts and extended testing. When it happens we’ll let you know.

Here’s where I ask you to write a bunch of words! If you have an R11 or a Flip and didn’t jump to Dev to try Google Play (a longshot, I know) tell us what you think about it now. It’s a definite improvement on the Stable channel, and that might make us think it’s better than it is because we saw how much worse things could be. And if you’ve been using Google Play all along on your Chromebook, let me know that I’m not crazy and it really is a better experience on Stable.

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iPhone 7 takes the world by storm, Forza races onto consoles everywhere, and yet another chat platform says Allo.

If there’s only one iPhone 7 review you read, make it Rene’s at iMore. Diving deep into what makes the new iPhone, both good and bad, it’s everything you need to know about the phone you’re going to start seeing everywhere. Oh, and there’s also a whole new version of tvOS and even an updated and renamed Mac operating system.

The HP Elite x3 is the best Windows phone that Dan’s ever used, but it’s not yet ready. It’s an awkward position. Forza Horizon 3 is one of the best racing games ever, if not the best — and the best Xbox One game. And Gears of War 4, coming in October is shaping up to be one heck of a game, and as an Xbox Play Anywhere title it’ll work on both Xbox One and PC with one purchase.

After a few months of gestation, Google’s anticipated chat app slash smart assistant Allo has launched. It’s Google’s latest attempt at a communications platform, and it’s mostly stripped down the messaging side and seriously ramped up on the artificial intelligence. But if you’re more into the hardware side of things, Google’s next Nexus Pixel phones are coming on October 4. Probably.

If VR’s your thing, Sony’s PlayStation VR appears to be threading the needle between the accessible and affordable options that lack power (Samsung Gear VR) and the super powerful versions that demand an expensive PC to even function (HTC Vive, Oculus Rift). You might have heard of Sony — they’ve been doing the whole console gaming thing for a few years now — so it’s no surprise that PlayStation VR has an impressive list of games lined up for launch.

Which smartphone camera do YOU think is the best?

Android Central — Say Allo to new Pixels

It was a big week in Google land, where we got confirmation that there’s an event happening on October 4 with a big teaser that phones will be launched. Leaks show off some sleek hardware for the supposed Pixel and Pixel XL, and we’re also expecting even more hardware announcements.

Google also launched its much-anticipated chat app Allo, with new group messaging features and integrated Google Assistant intelligence. There’s a lot going on in Allo — mostly good, but some puzzling — and it’s going to take a while before we’re all up to speed on it.

In hardware news, Sony and Moto both unleashed very expensive U.S. unlocked models of their phones. The Xperia XZ and Moto Z are both out, and they’ll each set you back $699.

CrackBerry — Android and Argon

A bit of an odd week for BlackBerry ahead of their earnings results on Sept. 28. Their, presumably, upcoming Android device better known as Argon made a brief appearance. They announced Caravan Transport Group Inc. has deployed BlackBerry Radar, and one of their rare test devices appeared for sale. On top of that, they forged a new partnership with Zimperium to provide mobile threat protection for Enterprise and Government.

iMore — What kind of week has it been

It’s been a busy seven days at iMore HQ, with new iPhones, new versions of macOS, camera tests, and more. We took a first look at the AirPods, reviewed tvOS and macOS Sierra, and, of course, reviewed the new iPhone 7 and 7 Plus — and recommended some must-have iPhone accessories.

We chatted with readers and each other about iOS 10 features, asking what you would change, as well as providing an alternate solution for unlocking your iPhone if you really hate the way it works in iOS 10. And for camera-inclined iOS 10 users, we wrote a guide to shooting RAW on your iPhone.

That’s not the only thing iPhoneography lovers had to look forward to this week, however: We’ve been doing a battery of comparison tests, including zoom tests between the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, 4.7-inch iPhone comparisons, and pitted the iPhone 7 Plus’s upcoming Portrait mode against a pro DSLR camera.

We’ve got lots more about iPhone, iOS, macOS, and camera features coming soon — as well as our Apple Watch review next week — so stay tuned for more excitement!

VR Heads — All things PlayStation VR

Sony is continuing their incredible PlayStation VR promotion efforts at trade shows and demo stations around the world, and that means lots of new games to play. With mere weeks before the official launch, we took a look back at what we’ve learned from these experiences so far.

Windows Central — A new Horizon

This week we took a deep dive into the new HP Elite x3, which is slowly hitting markets around the world. Although the phone has some rough edges that are to be patched in an update the phone’s hardware and quality is the best we’ve ever seen.

Gears of War 4 is the long awaited sequel to the gaming franchise due in October. We spent a few days up at The Coalition getting a sneak peek at the campaign and even interviewed studio head, Rod Fergusson.

Speaking of games, Forza Horizon 3 is one of the best racing games we have ever tried and we gave it a perfect rating in our review. You can learn more in our ultimate buyer’s guide.

Finally, the AT&T Microsoft Lumia 950 picked up the long awaited firmware update enabling double-tap to wake and many other features.

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In 2003, Nokia declared war on Nintendo with the N-Gage, a Game Boy Advance lookalike with a Series 60 mobile phone inside. The conflict – to put it mildly – did not go in Nokia’s favor. With a cumbersome design that required the owner to remove the battery in order to change games, the N-Gage wasn’t exactly user-friendly, and with only a handful of available titles compared to the Game Boy Advance’s 1,200, the N-Gage ecosystem hardly justified the device’s $299 asking price. Worse still: the phone’s earpiece was mounted on its spine, making for a bizarre look and feel when it came to voice calls and leading to the unfortunate nickname “Taco Phone.”

Needless to say, Nokia’s N-Gage experiment did not go well. The company launched a sequel (the N-Gage QD) in 2004 and eventually repositioned N-Gage as a gaming platform that spanned its Symbian smartphone line, but it never gained the traction Nokia sought and the brand was shuttered in 2010.

Today, the original N-Gage is a monument to the days when new form factors flooded a nascent mobile market, and a still-dominant Nokia led the charge to pack ever more functionality into the humble cell phone. Join MrMobile for the Nokia N-Gage Retro Review – and if you owned one of these (or even if you just wanted one) drop a comment below with your story!

Gettin’ social with it!

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Android is safer than ever for the people who want (and need) it to be safe. We should be happy about that.

There’s some talk about Pixel phones and root — specifically that it’s not working with any of the existing methods. All the nuts and bolts are at XDA — excellent job on that Mishaal — for those who want to dig deeper into the how and why, but I want to just talk about what it means for us.

And why it’s a really good thing. Before you grab your torches and teach me a lesson for thinking it’s good that we can’t root a Pixel phone, hear me out. I think you’ll agree when we’re finished.

This isn’t about a Pixel phone, it’s about Android 7.0 and new security methods.

Let’s start at the beginning — this isn’t about the Pixel phones, it’s about Android 7.0. There’s a very good chance this will apply to the LG V20 (nobody outside of Korea has seen the production version yet), too. It’s because of the new security methods Google has placed in Android starting with 7.0.

When Nougat boots, it checks to see if anything in the system partition has been tampered with. Google calls this Verified Boot and it’s something they also use on Chromebooks and OnHub routers. We also knew it was coming, along with a handful of other big changes on the security front. The short version of how it works — the system partitions (this is tied in tightly with Seamless Updates and Direct Boot) are verified and given a hash file. Any changes to the partition will change the crypto hash. When you boot the phone up, this hash is checked against the known “right” value, and if they don’t match your phone won’t boot. The public crypto key is stored on the boot partition and when the people who made your phone want to update (which changes the hash file) they have to verify things with their own private key to change the software. This will create a new hash file and the phone can boot. These changes also include the ramdisk (which is where systemless root worked) so modifying it is out of the picture, too. And yes, this is the short version.

What this means is new hardware designed for Android 7.0 isn’t going to boot if we try to change any files to give us root. If we change even one bit on either system partition or the ramdisk it will fail the verified boot check. There are no known root methods that will ever work with this system. Period. Very smart people will try, and if somehow they find a way Google will patch it within 30 days. And this is not an accident.

Google is always trying to beef up the security in Android. They do a pretty good job and Android, as it comes directly from the source code, is really secure. But since anyone can change any of it to their liking, much of that gets undone. One of the things this change does is fix things so that no matter what you download or what it tries to do, if it tries to inject anything that gives it elevated permissions your phone won’t start up. I love that idea, and you should, too.

Every phone that’s sold should be damn near impossible to root without custom firmware.

This means that those drive-by root exploits — both the intentional ones as well as the malware ones — all stop working if the people who made your phone update it to 7.0 or you buy a new one with Nougat installed. That means everyone who just bought their phone to chat with friends, pay for stuff at Walgreens, or even clash against other clans or catch ‘em all have a lot less to worry about. The factory software (and this is the important part) is secure.

The rest of us who like to root and do “stuff” can’t do it while running the factory software, but we can still do it. With a new boot image, things can be altered so we can do whatever we want to do. Everything needed to create the Android boot image is open source and builds with no changes and little effort. Unless the Pixel phones come with a locked bootloader — and nobody thinks they will or is saying as much — you can still install your own modified software with all the root you can eat. Google truly does not care if we root the phones we bought and paid for, but they do care if we try to modify their software and make it less secure. They should, that’s the way every OEM should think. I’m sorry if that means you might have to learn how to set up fastboot or won’t be able to get an OTA, but you (and I mean the collective you which includes me, too) are not more important than anyone else who should be able to expect that the phone they bought is safe from random dumb shit they downloaded from somewhere. Get over it.

That goes for the phones that aren’t a Pixel and might not have a bootloader that can be unlocked. Yes, I mean the V20. With an unlocked bootloader rooting and everything that comes with will be trivial when all is said and done. But with a locked and encrypted bootloader, none of this applies. If the V20 ships with a dual partition setup and Verified Boot in place (and it should) with a locked-up bootloader, you might not ever be able to root it. That means LG cares about its customers more than they care about a handful of people who want to change their status bar or cheat at games or whatever we need root to do. The solution (and my advice) if you’re eyeing the V20 and will want to root it is to hold off until someone checks it out. A retail version should be in the right hands very soon. The same goes for every phone that ships with Android 7.0 or higher from now until forever.

The LG V20 should also be this secure. But will we be able to unlock the bootloader?

Getting worked up over any of it will do no good. There is no good reason why Google should make Android less secure, so us demanding it or moving to iOS (which has similar precautions in place) is silly. Adapt. If you want to root, buy phones with a bootloader that can be unlocked. Save your rage for something that deserves it, like selling phones with no headphone jack. Don’t even get me started, ’cause I’ll get stupid.

In the meantime, be good to each other. I’ll see ya next week.

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