Welcome to leak season

31 December 2016

Welcome to leak season. Enjoy the ride.

It’s the end of the year, which means cold weather in North America, hangovers for the festivity-goers, and beginning of what we inside the baseball diamond refer to as “leak season.” It’s slippery during leak season, so bring some salt.

There’s a cycle in tech media that resolves in an arc: the early inklings of a story that, initially vapor, builds and eventually coalesces into something tangible. We hear rumors that begin in an ephemeral state, eventually casting themselves in prescient rays of light that you can see but not touch. Over the months, the light hardens and becomes more coherent — photos, videos, specs — as the thing’s release date approaches.

The early inklings of a story that, initially vapor, builds and eventually coalesces into something tangible.

Given that CES begins in just a few days, it’s the perfect time to remind you that leak season is in full swing and, like snowfalls in the northern hemisphere, the severity ebbs and flows as we approach spring. Over the past few days, we’ve seen (and reported on) various aspects of phones that will likely be released in 2017: the Galaxy S8, the LG G6, the HTC whatever. We take leaks seriously, and, internally, debate the credulity of each one before reporting. We also judge the reliability of the source, too, the past success of which also dictates whether we follow the story down the proverbial rabbit hole.

At the same time, we also receive leaks, and have to decide whether or not, in the interest of protecting our sources, we publish the information. Of course, there’s a business benefit to posting leaks, since the intensity of public interest in pre-release hardware often outweighs (at times dramatically) the equivalent once it has been announced. This is doubly true of devices from manufacturers like Motorola, HTC, Sony and others that have small, loyal followings: the discourse is often hopeful and the communities disproportionately loud, which tends to die down in the weeks and months following availability.

The main issue I see around leaks today is that there are no consequences for getting it wrong. Many publications weave snippets or glances of an outer casing or a spec sheet into a cohesive narrative, large swaths of which is incorrect. But once the product is announced, and gets into people’s hands, all is forgiven and forgotten, and we move onto the next cycle. This is nothing new, but it’s worth keeping these points in mind as we move into leak season in earnest.

Be skeptical of what you see. Much of what you see out there is either partially or entirely incorrect, and while we’re not going to point at individual leaks or sources, I’d encourage you to maintain a healthy amount of skepticism while you enjoy what should be, for all intents and purposes, a piece of entertainment.

Have a happy and healthy new year, and we’ll see you in 2017!

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Best PlayStation 4 Games

31 December 2016

Want to know what to get for your PlayStation 4? Start with these, the best games you can buy!

The PS4 has a ton of great titles available, but we all have a limited amount of time (and money) so we can’t just aimlessly pick games. That’s why we have a list of fantastic choices for you to check out if you’re looking for something new to play on your PlayStation 4.

1. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

It’s impossible to talk PS4 games and not recommend Uncharted as a must buy. A Thief’s End is the first outing for infamous adventurer, Nathan Drake, on the current generation console and takes place three years along from the end of Uncharted 3.

Drake has given up the life of old, but gets dragged back into action when his brother come’s calling. Uncharted has never looked or played better than it does in a Thief’s End and it cements the series’ legacy as one of the best you can play on any platform.

See at Amazon

2. The Witcher 3

The Witcher 3 is one of the most acclaimed games ever made, taking place in a huge open-world densely packed with incentives to explore, secrets to uncover and stories to unravel. It’s as action-packed as they come, interweaved with a darkly mature plot, choice and consequences, and a virtual world teeming with life.

The game has been continuously updated and refined since its launch, adding new features for free in addition to large expansions that heap value on top of its solid foundation. The Witcher 3 is completely unmissable.

See at Amazon

3. Grand Theft Auto V

The legendary franchise initially missed the launch of the PlayStation 4, instead remaining exclusive to the PS3 and Xbox 360. Eventually that changed and with its arrival on the PS4 came much improved graphics and an optional first-person view that brings a whole new dimension to the GTA world.

What GTA V does best is what it’s always done. Thrown a huge open world map onto your console with a lengthy, compelling campaign and an abundance of side missions. And with GTA Online in for good measure, the action never stops.

See at Amazon

4: Overwatch

Blizzard’s first FPS game has literally taken the world by storm, and for good reason. There’s no single player campaign, which is perhaps all some might be able to criticize it for. But your average shooter this is not.

Overwatch has a big variety in its characters with different abilities and weapons for each one of them. The gameplay is objective based and just getting the most kills is no longer good enough. Throw in a unique look and some terrifically designed maps and Overwatch is one that will have you coming back for much, much more.

See at Amazon

5: Battlefield 1

In a world of futuristic sci-fi shooters, DICE and EA went back in time to World War 1 for the latest Battlefield game. Battlefield 1 is about as far from the likes of Call of Duty as you’ll find, and it’s all the better for it.

It looks gorgeous, or as gorgeous as the muddy fields of Northern Europe could look, and the campaign is something that just has to be played. It’s an emotional rollercoaster packed with historical gunplay, tanks and more besides. The multiplayer is ambitious, and has support for 64 players at once on a gigantic map.

See at Amazon

6: Doom

DOOM is a reboot of the classic series developed by id Software. After many delays, DOOM emerged from the depths of development hell and took everybody by surprise, delivering the possibly greatest shooter campaign of this generation so far.

Unashamedly violent and gory, DOOM riffs on the classic, fast-paced formula, atop some modern flare, a nightmarish art direction, and a fist-poundingly awesome soundtrack. DOOM has a sense of purity often lost in modern shooters.

See at Amazon

7: Rise of the Tomb Raider

PlayStation fans had to wait a whole year to get their hands on Lara Croft’s latest adventure and it comes in the form of the 20-year celebration pack that also includes a free PlayStation VR experience to boot. It sees Lara get back to her roots; raiding tombs, heading first to the freezing wilderness of Siberia.

It looks fantastic and feels just like the Tomb Raiders of old, which is in no way a bad thing. Lara may have grown up and got a little darker in places, but Rise of the Tomb Raider is one for fans and newcomers alike.

See at Amazon

8. Fallout 4

Fallout 4 is the latest installment in Bethesda’s post-apocalyptic RPG series, and is one of the finest open-world games around. This time Fallout heads to Boston and Vault 111, the hole in the ground from which you emerge in a future destroyed by nuclear weapons.

With its rich RPG systems, improved shooting mechanics, deep settlement construction engine and console-exclusive Xbox One mods, you’ll struggle to see everything Fallout 4 has to offer.

See at Amazon

9. Inside

INSIDE is among the most critically acclaimed games of 2016 for its meticulously polished gameplay, ravenously dark plot and fiendish puzzles that are just as likely to warp your mind as the game’s shocking ending.

INSIDE is from the creators of LIMBO, and is every bit as haunting. It’s not expensive and it’s one everyone should experience.

See at PlayStation

10. Journey

That this is a remaster of a PlayStation 3 game makes it no less rewarding to play. If anything it makes it more worthwhile because the game art looks better than ever and the higher frame rates mean its more polished, too.

There is no dialog, no real instruction, but you’re in a uniquely stunning world going on a journey. Get it? It’s quite short, but intense and emotionally involving. Not to be missed.

See at PlayStation

If you’re looking for the very best games you can find for PlayStation VR, then head on over and visit our buddies at VR Heads who’ll walk you through the best games for your headset!

Why is there PlayStation stuff here?

PlayStation on Android Central?!? We use our Android phones to interact with the PlayStation 4 — especially if you have a Sony Xperia phone. We’re also talking a lot more about VR, and PlayStation VR is just as big a part of that conversation. It stretches things outside of Android a little, but it’s also going to be a lot of fun. Enjoy!

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“Om” your way through life with the help of these meditation apps.

There’s no hippie mumbo jumbo here. Meditation is often encouraged by medical professionals as a way to decompress when life might be moving too quickly for you to catch up. On a physical level, meditation can be particularly helpful with lowering blood pressure, reducing anxiety attacks, helping insomnia, increasing serotonin production, and simply gaining clarity and peace of mind.

I’ve personally reaped the benefits of consistent meditation throughout my life. I practice yoga, so meditation is a part of it, but sometimes I don’t have the room or the time to get into a physical flow. So what do I do? I pop on a pair of headphones and the Daydream View to get going. I’ve found this method to be particularly effective in helping me drown out the noise around me, whether that’s my inner voice crowding around everything else I’m worrying about, or the cat yowling for a bowl of food. Virtual reality has helped me efficiently reach that state of “nothingness.” Here are some of the apps that I’ve found to be particularly effective in aiding my own meditative practice.

Read more at VR Heads!

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Can you use the AirPods with an Android phone?

I picked up a pair of AirPods last week, and have been using them with my iPhone, Mac and other Apple devices. The experience is fantastic — seamless, even — and the sound isn’t half bad, either. When you first open the dental floss-like lid and place an iPhone nearby, the two gadgets talk to one another, and a little window pops up on the iPhone’s screen to begin pairing.

But, not being an active iPhone user, the experience was short-lived. I turned to my LG V20 and asked, “Are you willing to behave the same way?” I placed the AirPods nearby, opened the dental floss lid, and nada. (Strain your credulity for just a moment, please.) But unlike the vast majority of Apple’s Lightning-specific accessories, the AirPods use a common standard, Bluetooth, to actually pair with devices and play music on them. So, knowing that this was a possibility on Android, I set out to test the universality of Apple’s latest sales phenom.

The pairing process

AirPods pair to an Android phone like any other Bluetooth device: relatively clumsily, and through the settings. Opening the lid and holding down on the earbud case’s single button, the system is placed into pairing mode when the LED turns white. It should then show up in the phone’s Bluetooth menu.

I did this reliably — more so than with most other Bluetooth headphones — a dozen or so times with various Android products, from phones to tablets, and the AirPods were found and connected quickly every time. It’s unclear how much juice Apple’s W1 chip gives to non-iDevices, but if nothing else it seems to be pointing things in the right direction.

Using them

Say what you will about the AirPods’ design, but you really shouldn’t dismiss them until you have them in your ears, jamming away untethered while you walk around the house or run errands. I’ve had the displeasure of using Bluetooth headphones that had one or more damning flaws, from discomfort to poor battery life, and the only thing I’d say about the AirPods is that they look a little funny, and take some time getting used to.

Once paired to any Android phone the experience was superb.

But once paired to any Android phone — I mainly used them with the LG V20 and Google Pixel — the experience was superb. Pairing, as said, was reliable, and I have yet to experience a lost connection. Even better, I’ve found them to be far more trustworthy over long distances than most other Bluetooth headphones; I’ve climbed stairs, closed doors, and even gone outside, all with my phone sitting two or more dozen feet away with no skips. Your mileage may vary, but these are the most problem-free Bluetooth headphones I’ve used to date, and if Apple’s name wasn’t on the box it would be a must-buy for many Android users.

The accelerometer in each of the AirPods also works as a gesture tool on Android. When paired with the iPhone, a double-tap on the side of either earbud activates Siri; on Android, the gesture functions as a play/pause button which, I’d argue, is far more useful. And it works, every time. (Not unlike how the Samsung Gear IconX earbuds work, in fact.)

The AirPods’ case provides around 24-hours of additional battery life to the five hours inside the AirPods themselves. And though it may seem annoying having to carry around a second thing to keep the earbuds going, in practice it means they last longer, and are more easily charged, than any Micro-USB-based Bluetooth headphones I’ve owned to date. That you can pop them into the case for 10 minutes and gain an extra couple of hours of uptime is an added bonus. And while the case itself charges using Lightning, if you have an iPhone or iPad in your house, you can easily charge these, and there’s an extra cable in the box. All you need is a USB-A port.

Sound quality

Here’s where things get a bit muddy, for lack of a better pun. AirPods sound a lot like EarPods, Apple’s in-the-box wired headphones. And while there’s a bit more oomph to the bass line and a slightly more even sound at the high-end, this is by no means an audiophile experience. That Apple discourages the use of seal-tightening ear tips makes it even harder to find an ideal placement, and while I have been lucky enough to find a position where the AirPods fit nicely and sound full, other people may not be as lucky.

Is this $160 sound? Definitely not. At best, it’s $100 sound. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth buying.

Should you buy AirPods with an Android phone?

Yes, you pay an Apple tax, and I too balked at the $159 price, but even as an Android user I feel comfortable recommending them.

There are plenty of great Android-compatible Bluetooth headphones that are both cheaper and sound better than the Apple AirPods. But there are none that I want to walk around in my ears with as consistently, and that leads to me listening to more music for longer. Unlike other in-ear Bluetooth earphones, AirPods are comfortable enough for me to wear for hours with no discomfort, and sound good enough that I’m happy to do so. They’re great for phone calls, too, and I’ve yet to receive complaints about sound quality from people on the other end of the line.

Yes, you pay an Apple tax, and I too balked at the $159 price, but even as an Android user I feel comfortable recommending them. AirPods are even more useful if you use a Mac, since the included W1 chip — the thing that makes it super easy to pair with an iPhone — also works with Apple’s laptops, so it’s easy to switch between phone and computer in a snap, if necessary.

I don’t imagine I’ll have much luck convincing the hardcore Android stalwart to buy a pair of AirPods — the product exudes “Appleness” in every atom — but Apple did so many things right with this product that I have to try.

See at Apple

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The holidays are a great excuse to use your family as guinea pigs for new technology.

This year, I put my family and friends in the virtual reality hot seat with Google’s Daydream View. I loaded up my really blue Pixel XL (I’m obligated to remind you of that in every mention) with apps like Hello Mars, Evil Robot Traffic Jam, and the BBC’s The Turning Forest. I didn’t see my phone for about six hours, but I did make sure to take a few moments to study everyone’s reactions.

Kids are always first

Almost every parent at our holiday family gathering asked if their kid could have a go at the Daydream View. I obliged, of course, and made sure that everyone had the safety talk and the basics down before leaving them alone with the headset. This is exactly why I never had access to my phone — the kids were crazy about virtual reality and wouldn’t give it up!

Kids don’t care about hardware limitations.

The kids didn’t seem to mind the hardware limitations, either. At one point in the evening, the Pixel kept crashing during Hello Mars. I had a suspicion it had to do with the fact that the phone was scalding because of prolonged use, so I put it aside in a cool, dry place for a while. The kids could barely stand it, though; as soon as I turned my back, the phone was back in the Daydream View headset, doing its thing.

I also noticed that the View’s remote helps exponentially at keeping a person engaged. Virtual reality is more immersive if you can interact with it, and that coupled with a pair of headphones is certainly why the kids were so into it— much longer than recommended. It also kept them occupied enough so that the parents could enjoy a glass of wine on Christmas Day.

Socializing is a bigger priority

Yes, this is a total “no duh,” but I think it’s worth remembering if you’re planning to bring all of your Cool New Tech to the next major gathering. It’s not that VR is devoid of interactivity, but when people who are close haven’t seen one another in some time, the last thing they’re itching to do is pop into another reality.

As VR devices become more commonplace, it’s likely they’ll become a part of the party.

I want to give credit to those at my family’s Christmas gathering who took the plunge to check out what Daydream was about. However, I don’t fault those who weren’t interested, either: virtual reality still carries the stigma of being a solitary experience, so why would anyone be interested in jumping into that at a social event? Virtual reality makers, like Google, are aware of this preexisting notion and are working on fostering positive social experiences for the platform. As VR devices become more commonplace and more households adopt the technology, it’s likely that it’ll become a part of the party, but until we get there, it’s still just a one-person experience.

Makeup is hard to wear in virtual reality

It’s hard to don Daydream View with a fully made-up face — that was the biggest complaint from the ladies who emerged from the virtual world with a fresh “virtual reality” face. I’m still figuring out how to lessen the impact of having a thing strapped to your face and I promise that when I do, I’ll share the good news.

Did you show off virtual reality to the family this holiday? What were their reactions like? Tell us in the comments!

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Control your home’s lighting using Alexa and these smart bulbs.

Amazon offers an affordable way to start building out a voice-activated home automation system for your house or apartment with their Amazon Echo and Echo Dot powered by their A.I. assistant, Alexa. On its own, you can use Alexa to play music and find news, sports and other information. But things get really interesting when you start to connect Alexa up to smart devices, including connected LED bulbs and smart switches, around your house.

There are a number of light options compatible with Alexa. We’ve broken things down based on the different brands and ecosystems that each have their own compatibility with smart lights and smart switches that you’ll ultimately be able to control via Alexa on your Amazon Echo.

Last updated December 29, 2016: Commenters have recommended smart bulbs from LIFX and TP-Link, which both work well with Alexa and certainly are appealing due to their built-in Wi-Fi — but reports of spotty network connectivity make it tough to formally recommend over the tried and tested options below.

Philips Hue

Philips Hue is the leader in smart bulbs, and are downright cool. You can connect up to 50 Philips Hue bulbs, lamps and lighting strips via the Philips Hue Bridge, so chances are you could convert all your home’s lighting over to the Philips Hue system. Whether you’re looking for 60W equivalent white LED bulbs, bulbs that feature 16 million colors, or LED light strips for futuristic accents, there’s a reason why so many people have gone with Philips Hue.

Alexa syncs right up to the Philips Hue Bridge, which means you’ll be able to set up different lighting groups for your rooms and IFTTT recipes on your phone, then also control everything with the sound of your voice via your Amazon Echo. There’s a lot of fun to be had here, as Philips Hue lights can be synced up to your music for epic dance parties, and otherwise customized in countless different ways to suit your lifestyle.

If you’re interested in getting started with Philips Hue, you’re best off getting a starter kit. There are a couple different options to consider:

No matter which starter kit you choose, the beautiful part of going with Philips Hue is that it’s super easy to add extra bulbs or other elements to your ecosystem later.

Samsung SmartThings

SmartThings provides a full suite of options for home automation, which includes a few options for smart lights. You’ll need a [SmartThings Hub] to get started, but from there you can connect plug-in smart switches for appliances, lamps and outdoors, and in-wall dimmers which support dimmable LED and CFL technologies along with legacy support for incandescent, halogen, Mark 10, and magnetic lighting loads.

You can also connect smart bulbs from Philips Hue or Osram to your SmartThings Hub, along with a host of other super handy home automation products that all work within the SmartThings ecosystem.

If you’re mainly interested in smart lights, you can get a SmartThings Hub and an Osram bulb bundle. If complete home automation is your ultimate goal, you might be more interested in the SmartThings Home Monitoring Kit, then build your own lighting arsenal from the available SmartThings-compatible lighting options.

Insteon Hub

Insteon’s offerings for smart home lighting mostly include in-wall dimmers and switches and plug-in dimmers. They do offer their own programmable, dimmable LED bulbs, available in two styles: 8W LED bulbs and 12-watt recessed bulbs. You can use the Insteon app to set bulbs into groups for scheduling and creating scenes, then take control via Alexa.

To start building out your Insteon smart lighting ecosystem, you should get the Insteon Starter Kit, which comes with the necessary Hub, and two Dimmer Plugs, perfect for setting up a voice controlled bedside lamp. From there, you’ll need to buy compatible bulbs as you need them.

Insteon’s system is a decent option for those looking for home automation, but overall their lighting options are somewhat lacking.

WeMo switches and outlets

WeMo offers Wi-Fi enabled smart switches and outlets that you can control via Alexa. The WeMo Light Switch can be used to replace any light switch in your home, letting you schedule and control your lights and appliances without the need of a central hub.

This one is better for the DIYers out there who are interested in manually creating their own home automation network with in-wall switches and plug-in adapters to control lamps and other small appliances. Those looking for hassle-free installation and smart bulb options are best looking elsewhere.

Lutron dimmers and switches

Lutron Caseta Wireless products offer a selection of smart dimmers and switches that connect via the Caseta Wireless Smart Bridge. Connect your Smart Bridge to Alexa allows you to control all the dimmers and switches with your voice.

Check out the Lutron Caseta Wireless Smart Lighting In-Wall Dimmer Kit or the Plug-in Dimmer Kit to see what this system is all about. This is another route that’s going to require DIY effort with initial setup and is also lacking branded LED bulb options, but the Hub is compatible with a bunch of other smart devices from leading brands including Ecobee, Nest, Honeywell, Logitech, and Sonos.

Which should you get?

Thanks to Alexa’s compatibility with a variety of smart light systems, you’ve got several great options for automating and customizing your home. Which system you go with will greatly depending on your current living situation.

If you’re living in an apartment and are just looking to control some funky lighting options via Alexa voice controls, Philips Hue is your best bet. Buying a starter kit is a great investment that you can take with you as you move — and with the lifespan of LED lighting well exceeding a decade, you’ll enjoy the freedom to rearrange, expand and easily move your Philips system wherever you go.

If you’re a homeowner looking to integrate IoT devices throughout your home, you’ll want to buy an Alexa-compatible hub that shares a wide range of compatibility with other brands and products, such as SmartThings or even a Wink Hub 2, then build out your smart bulb and other devices to the exact specifications of your home.

And if you’re in the process of planning a home renovation, it might be worth looking at WeMo, Insteon, and Lutron’s in-wall switches or dimmers to convert your existing home wiring into a smart lighting system that you can then control with your voice. Don’t just update the look of your home — upgrade its functionality, then let Alexa control it all with the power of your own voice.

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 | Posted by | Categories: Android |

Amazon Echo Wish List 2017

30 December 2016

Alexa, it’s time for some upgrades.

News that Amazon sold nine times more Echo speakers this Christmas is unsurprising. Echo Dot is absurdly cheap, and Amazon’s Alexa service is by far the most capable when you look at total available commands. At the same time, there’s a lot of room for Alexa to grow and improve in the coming year. Things to be added, changed, and in general improved in order to make this the best possible connected home hub.

Here’s where I’d like to see Amazon Echo head in 2017.

Connect to one another

Because they’re so cheap, I now have a single Amazon Echo and multiple Echo Dots in my house. Yet if I want to play music, I can only play on one of them at a time. I’d like to be able to sync all of my Echo systems together for total home audio.

We’re already seeing this work on other platforms, so it’s unlikely Amazon will wait too long to adopt this feature. In doing so, Amazon is making it possible to easily connect any kind of speaker, since the Echo Dot can connect via 3.5mm jack. That makes every decent speaker an Echo, which is going to be a great feature to have.

Unified command structure

Amazon’s command list is huge, but it’s also broken up into classes right now. You can say “Alexa, do X” or you can say “Alexa, ask Y to do X” and that second part gets complicated. Sometimes partner app names are long and the command becomes more complicated than just picking up your phone.

Amazon could unify these commands and make it possible to set favorite apps from the Alexa app, so if you have multiple skills enabled with the same basic command structure Alexa knows which service you prefer unless otherwise specified. It seems like a small change, but it’d make a big difference in how people speak to their connected hubs.

Alexa from my phone

I’m not always in the same room as one of my Echo speakers, and there’s no way I’m going to convince my family it’s alright to put an Echo Dot in the bathroom. Sometimes Alexa needs to be portable, and the way to do that is to make it something I can enable from my phone.

This isn’t going to be easy, and will likely never be allowed to be as functional on phones as Siri or Google Assistant or Cortana, but people embedded in this ecosystem that don’t own a Fire Tablet would love the Alexa function wherever they are.

Voice reminders for re-ordering

Once you figure out all of the details, shopping for quick things through Alexa is great. The one thing it doesn’t handle super well right now is re-ordering things, especially if you’re on a subscription and it’s not time for that subscription to re-send.

Being able to check in on a subscription status with something like, “When am I set to order toothpaste again” would be incredible useful. It’d also be nice to ask for a re-supply of something you have on a subscription order and have Alexa respond by asking if you want to adjust the ship date of the next subscription since you’re ordering early. Making Alexa seem more aware of your ordering history and acting based on that would be a great way to create a more complete experience here.

What would you ask Alexa to do?

Did I miss anything here? Are you looking for Amazon Echo to support something more? Share your thoughts with us!

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If you’re reading this in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s winter time! You’re probably huddled under your blanket with some hot cocoa and a warm laptop, trying to fend off Jack Frost in all his guises. But the sad reality is you’re going to have to head outside sometime soon, for work or school or a snowball fight with the darned neighbor kids. You’re not going to leave your tech behind when you go out, right? That laptop could probably protect you from more than a few snowballs…

MrMobile drops some holly-jolly knowledge about what you can wear this winter to look tight and keep your tech on you. If you need some winter gear, start your search right here with Michael Fisher.

Stay warm, my friends

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 | Posted by | Categories: Android |

After the catastrophe of the Galaxy Note 7, what can fans look forward to in the next Samsung flagship?

2016 started as a promising year for Samsung, with the Galaxy S7 series earning critical acclaim and commercial success. But the contrast with where we are now couldn’t be starker. Battery fires and a bungled recall process led to the cancellation of the Galaxy Note 7, making it the most calamitous smartphone launch ever, by a wide margin.

Samsung will already be looking ahead to its next flagship, the Galaxy S8, to pull it out of this quagmire and rebuild consumer trust. So what can we expect from such a crucial product? Let’s take a look.

Galaxy S8 build and form factor

Samsung has been slowly refining its metal and glass design language over the past couple of years, so it’s reasonably likely it’ll stick with this into 2017. A glass back allows Samsung to easily build in wireless charging, and it’s shown over the past year how the use of curved glass can create a phone that feels luxurious and unique.

Metal and glass have worked well for Samsung.

Speaking of which, there’s also the question of whether we’ll see an “edge” model Galaxy S8, as we have the past two years. The latest reports from Korea suggest that, like the Note 7′s subtly curved display, the GS8 might come in two models, both with Edge screens.

Sources said the company has already started securing display panels in two sizes — 5.1-inch and 5.5-inch — from its own display-making unit Samsung Display, the world’s sole producer of double-edged screens.

That might make the “edge” monicker redundant, so it’s possible we might instead be looking at a Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus at those two screen sizes.

(Other reports out of Korea have pointed to the possibility of a 6-inch Galaxy S8 Plus, alongside a 5-inch regular GS7.)

Another point of debate: Recent rumors have pointed to the possibility of an optical fingerprint sensor in the next Galaxy S flagship, allowing the GS8 to embed its biometric security features in the display itself. If that happens, we could be looking at the first Samsung flagship without a traditional clicky home button.

And that’s exactly what’s been rumored recently, with at least one report pointing to a buttonless GS8, with on-screen keys and a fingerprint sensor built right into the display.

Galaxy S8 display — standard RGB

The next generation of flagship Samsung phones won’t see a bump in the pixel density, but Samsung could move away from Diamond PenTile to a standard RGB layout.

With PenTile (RGBG), there are two sub-pixels per pixel — with twice as many green sub-pixels as red and blue. With RGB, there are individual red, green, and blue sub-pixels that combine to form one pixel. When it comes to the Galaxy S7 edge, RGBG translates to 7,372,800 pixels overall, whereas RGB would result in 11,059,200 pixels.

The change is said to have been borne out of need to showcase more immersive virtual reality environments.

Galaxy S8 — audio, 3.5mm jack and #donglelife

Recent rumors suggest Samsung may get rid of the 3.5mm jack in the Galaxy S8, with the manufacturer opting for USB-C audio. Samsung won’t certainly be the first manufacturer to do so — we’ve already seen LeEco and Lenovo go the USB-C route — but the move could polarize Samsung’s user base.

It’s also been reported that Samsung will include wireless earbuds in the box with the GS8 — a move which will surely eat into the company’s margins, but may soften the impact of the 3.5mm jack removal.

Galaxy S8 specs

Aside from the rumored display size and resolution, there’ve been indications that Samsung could choose a powerful new GPU from chip designer ARM. The ARM Mali-G71 would be a significant upgrade from the earlier generation graphics processors used in the Galaxy S6 and S7.

According to ARM’s own documentation, the chip offers “40% better performance density and 20% external memory bandwidth saving compared to Mali-T880.” The Galaxy S7 and Note 7 use a variant of that GPU, the Mali-T800 MP12.

The docs for Mali-G71 provide reference specs based on a 16nm FinFET process, but Samsung is likely to use a more efficient 10nm process in its 2017 Exynos chip — which potentially means it’ll be even faster than ARM’s reference numbers.

The Mali-G71 is rumored to outperform the GPU used in Qualcomm’s upcoming Snapdragon 835, raising questions over whether Samsung will once again use a mix of Snapdragon SoCs and Exynos processors in various regions. That’s backed up by one (uncorroborated) report from China suggesting that there’ll be two variants of the new Exynos 8895 processor at different clock speeds — alongside an S8 running Qualcomm’s latest.

Galaxy S8 cameras

Cameras are one area of smartphone hardware that has yet to plateau, and in the past year we’ve seen plenty of innovation in this area from Apple, Google, Huawei and of course Samsung.

Samsung focused on low light performance in its 2016 flagships, and we’d expect this trend to continue into the next generation Galaxy phones — expect brighter lenses and bigger pixels, and for Samsung to likely remain around the sweet spot of 12 megapixels for its main camera.

But there’s been speculation over whether Samsung might take inspiration from the iPhone 7 Plus’s unique telephoto camera. As a company that’s always sought feature parity with Apple, we wouldn’t be surprised if a next-gen Galaxy eventually incorporates a second lens for clearer zoomed-in shots.

Galaxy S8 AI Assistant

AI is becoming ever more important in consumer tech, as evidenced by products like Google Assistant, Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa. Samsung is rumored to be getting in on the AI game with its next smartphone launch, with technology from its recent acquisition, Viv.

With Viv, Samsung will be able to unlock and offer new service experiences for its customers, including one that simplifies user interfaces, understands the context of the user and offers the user the most appropriate and convenient suggestions and recommendations.

Viv was built with both consumers and developers in mind. This dual focus is also what attracted us to Viv as an ideal candidate to integrate with Samsung home appliances, wearables and more, as the paradigm of how we interact with technology shifts to intelligent interfaces and voice control.

So the potential of Viv extends far beyond Samsung’s relatively crude voice assistant, S Voice, which debuted more than four years ago on the Galaxy S3. There’ve even been reports that the GS8 may feature its own dedicated VR key.

Based on a recent trademark filing, SamMobile theorizes that “Bixby” could be the name for Samsung’s upcoming AI assistant. It’s a quirky monicker, but one that might just stick in the minds of consumers.

Galaxy S8 release date

The most reliable report points to an April launch for the GS8.

There’s been some speculation that Samsung might seek to launch the Galaxy S8 earlier than previous years in order to counter the fallout from the Galaxy Note 7. While this is certainly possible, we’re not sure appearing to rush a product to market after a previous model suffered serious quality assurance issues would be seen as a good thing.

Contrarywise, there’ve also been reports from The Wall Street Journal that Samsung may hold back as late as April to get everything just right. Such a move would have the firm leaning on the Galaxy S7 series for up to 14 months. That would be a much longer wait than usual, but it’s understandable that Samsung might want to hold back and make doubly sure there are no quality issues before the phone ship

However Samsung handles the launch of the Galaxy S8, expect the specter of the Note 7 to remain, and for Samsung to underscore additional steps it’s taking this time around to ensure the new phone is safe.

In light of recent events, the Galaxy S8 will be a vitally important launch for Samsung, as it looks to recover its reputation, and move past the biggest crisis in its corporate history.

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A quick tip for Chromebook users — powering down when you’re done using your laptop keeps things running smoothly and makes sure your software is up to date.

Your Chromebook does a good job of going to sleep and staying asleep when you shut the lid, which is the sort of thing you’d want any laptop to do well. But that doesn’t reset and recycle your current session in Chrome OS. And those are both things you want to do when you’re finished working (or playing) for the day. There are two big reasons why — keeping your software current and resetting what’s stored in your memory (RAM).

Your Chromebook uses what’s called Verified Boot along with automatic updates to keep the software current and secure. When an update is available for the operating system, it gets fetched from the Internet and installed alongside the version you are currently running. Before and during the installation process, the integrity of the software is checked by matching it against the official copy. If the tests performed all match, then your Chromebook knows that the software is official and hasn’t been tampered with. (The same process is done each time you start things up, too.) The next time you shut off your Chromebook then restart it, this new copy of the operating system is what gets loaded. The old copy can then be erased and replaced the next time there is an update. This process is also coming to Android N for our phones and tablets because it works really well.

Your Chromebook also manages memory a little differently than most other operating systems. We go into it a little more here, but the short version is that the things you’re looking at and the things you recently were looking at are kept in the memory. Your RAM has a 10MB portion reserved for this, and the only way to free it up is to shut your laptop down. This doesn’t make much of a difference if you were looking at cat pictures yesterday and are going to look at cat pictures again today, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense to keep Google Docs and that boring company spreadsheet in the reserved portion if you’re done with it.

You don’t have to wipe this cached data away because it will overwrite itself as you do different things, but there could be a small performance hit if you do things that way. Chrome boots so fast it’s easier on the system (and your battery) to shut down and start fresh for each session.

To be clear — your Chromebook will work just fine if you never shut it off. Chrome is Linux, and some Linux computers go for years without being power cycled.

But to take advantage of the update system as well as the way Google uses your RAM for great performance, the best thing you can do each night is power down. You can shut down by pressing and holding the power button, or by clicking in the status area (next to your account picture on the tray) and clicking the power icon.

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