They get you with the fine print, then make the fine print hard to find.

I spent the better part of last week digging through websites, calling representatives and generally pulling my hair out trying to sort out all the details about cellular phone service from the Big Four. I came to a couple of conclusions, the clearest of which is that all four of them do whatever they can to hide the tiny details that can make a big difference for some of us.

I know that most companies do this. But most companies aren’t all over your TV, paying for ads on YouTube and everywhere else, and have huge colorful graphics plastered all over their website with tiny disclaimers and superscript references way down at the bottom in a different color font. I’ll go out on a limb and say it’s damn near deceitful.

You don’t have to trick people into buying something that’s worth the money. Phone service included.

The things they feel the need to hide behind three links aren’t even that terrible. I doubt many people would fault a company for cutting off your service if you make too many calls from outside the U.S. on the “wrong” plan or using your phone to do something against the law. And we all know there are fees for everything, so why bury them? It only makes a carrier and their service look better to people who aren’t aware of all the baggage that comes with any phone plan, so I’ll assume they are doing it to purposefully deceive new customers. If you know someone shopping for their first phone plan, help them out.

I also saw two things that I really liked this week. Verizon and Sprint get a shout out here for doing something better than anyone else.

Starting with Sprint, I want to talk about their new changes to their unlimited plans. They are super basic — calls, texts. data and some tethering. They are also super cheap, especially if you need more than one phone line. This is just what a lot of people are looking for. There are options for calling to Canada and Mexico (for example) but they are options, as is not added to a base plan making it more expensive. I’d like to see the rest follow and show us something a good bit cheaper with zero frills.

Verizon and Sprint each buck a trend and get a good-guy award.

Verizon does something important about those hidden details I talked about earlier. If you go through the motions to set up new phone service through Verizon on their new unlimited plan, part of the checkout process has a big blue link saying “see all the details of this plan” right where you can see it. When you click on it, you’ll find the full terms and conditions for everything you picked and have in your cart. They are written in garbled legal language, of course, but they are there. Where you can find them. The only thing they could do better would be to force you to click to agree and put them in those bullet points telling us how great the plan is on the front page of Verizon.com.

So thanks, Sprint and Verizon. I’m not a fan of any service company, but I do appreciate the little things.

Short and sweet this week so we all can prep for an onslaught of phonery stuff in the next 48 hours.




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Is getting high and playing in VR really a good life choice?

Virtual Reality is able to transport you to entirely new worlds, sometimes with little more than a headset and a good pair of headphones. This offers up plenty of questions, including of course whether using VR while you are high is a good idea or not. After smoking with friends you might be tempted to jump into a game of Eagle’s Nest or Thumper, keeping in mind that your perception of things gets warped after smoking and that will definitely affect your experiences.

Getting high and checking out VR is now entirely legal in plenty of places, but whether that is a good idea isn’t exactly clear. Here’s some advice from our own… research.

Editor’s Note: This article is not advocating the use of marijuana in places where it is not completely legal to do so.

Read more at VRHeads.com




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It’s time for us all to pretend we care about movies as an art form for one night!

This weekend, millions will gather at Oscar parties and act like they knew Hidden Figures was going to win Best Picture. Or Moonlight. Or Arrival. As the proud holder of a Radio-Television-Film BA, I’m gonna ooh and aah over the fanfare, whine when Disney doesn’t sweep everything, and squee within an inch of my life when Lin Manuel-Miranda performs. And I’m gonna do it with a snazzy, wallpaper on my Android phone.

Who is your home screen wearing?

Fences is a tale of family drama, racial divides, betrayal, and reconciliation. It’s about the fences we put up between each other and how we learn to tear them down. It’s a powerful film based on a powerful play, and may finally earn Viola Davis an Oscar. If you only go see one Oscar-nominated film, make it this one.

Fences poster

La La Land is a love story about Hollywood made for Hollywood by Hollywood, featuring a bounty of movie and musical magic. Yes, another one. Feels like we just had the slightly meta Hollywood homage movie just a few years ago, but here we are again, and it’s just as intoxicating as ever. The problem for me with La La Land isn’t that I can’t get enough of it. It’s that once I watch it, I’m gonna want to curl up on the couch and watch Gene Kelly movies for the next month, and I can’t do that. I’ve got themes to make!

But this poster might live on my home screen a little while. Dancing in the darkness…

La La Land Poster by isadena (La La Land, because Hollywood loves homages to itself)

I currently call Waco home, and I think the whole town is pulling for this movie for one simple reason: Jeff Bridges’s character is based on McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara. I want you to close your eyes for a moment and imagine a Texas lawman cliche. Now look at this man. He looks like he just stepped out of a movie, doesn’t he? That’s our sheriff.

Stereotypes aside, Hell or High Water was kind of a surprise as far as the Oscars went, and while I’m not dreaming of it becoming the next No Country for Old Men, it’s an interesting little Western with great casting, good cinematography, and is well worth a Google Play rental

Hell or High Water Poster

Moana‘s about to get robbed. Ironic, considering her whole movie centers on her taking a thief to return what he stole. It might get Best Original Song, because Lin Manuel-Miranda is a musical god, but Zootopia is going to take home the Best Animated film statue. It’s okay, though, because this movie was gold in my heart and it’s gold on my home screen with this beautiful, beautiful wallpaper.

I was a sequel. Or a TV show. If Tangled can get one, so can Moana!

Moana Poster by christon-clivef

Need a wallpaper that hedges your bets and lets you keep that Oscars spirit? Well, this wallpaper is one you can use year after year after year, with a nice bright pattern and an understated elegance. It’s like your apps and widgets are right there on the red carpet, posing before they head into the Dolby Theater.

Oscars logo wallpaper




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‘Mercury’ is coming soon! Here’s how to follow along with the big announcement!

There will be two ways to follow along with Android Central and CrackBerry for the unveiling of the BlackBerry Mercury on Saturday, February 25 at 1pm ET / 7pm CT. You can watch the video below, or follow along with the livestream above. Your choice!




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Android 7.1.2 is out for the Nexus 6P. Here’s how to get it.

The Nexus 6P: Great phone, but occasionally left out of some of the recent Android beta fun.

Last month, when Google announced Android 7.1.2 for a bevy of Nexus devices, along with the Pixels, the Nexus 6P was conspicuously absent from the list, without explanation from Google. Even its cheaper, slower counterpart, then Nexus 5X, was invited.

It’s been a long month for those Nexus 6P owners waiting for their near-1.3GB update, but it’s here, along with the requisite bug fixes and performance improvements that came with it. The build is NPG05F.

I’ve been running it on my Pixel XL since day one and have yet to experience any problems — and I sidestepped the soon-to-be-resolved Bluetooth dropout issues at the same time, thank goodness — so I’d say if you’re itching to try it, go right ahead.

How to sign up for the Nexus 7.1.2 beta

Thanks to everyone who sent this in!




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The messaging app was no match for Google’s confusing messaging strategy.

Remember Spaces? The group messaging app that was sort of, kind of aimed at developers? It launched last May around the time of Google I/O and featured a bright, colorful tile interface. Each tile would have a bevy of Chrome, YouTube, and Google search links attached to it.

Well, Google’s retiring Spaces to the old app farm in the sky, as confirmed by Google’s John Kilcline. The app will alert you of its imminent irrelevance and subsequently link to a support page with all of the details. So, uh, finish up what you were doing on Spaces before it goes read-only on March 3. You’ll be able to reclaim your data until April 17.

Did you use Spaces? Tell us about it.




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Another carrier report, another win for Verizon… but the gap is closing

T-Mobile’s been jumping up and down claiming it’s the best network now, pointing to an OpenSignal report in some of its most recent bragging. This week, we have another report from RootMetrics, which claims, as it has claimed for a while now, that Verizon is still top dog nationally in each of their six categories. So, who’s right? Who’s wrong? Who’s best? Who’s worst?

Well, like a lot of statistics and reports, it comes down to the method for collecting the data.

OpenSignal is crowd-sourced, meaning that they pull data from users where they can get them, and since most of the crowd on OpenSignal is in cities (like most of the nation’s populace), T-Mobile gets a better rating and a better report because T-Mobile performs better in metro areas than rural areas. RootMetrics isn’t crowd-sourced, but a more calculated analysis that balances rural and metro demographics more accurately.

So, in cities, T-Mobile has a bit better chance of working well, and if you’re a city-dweller, that’s great news for you. If you’re out in the sticks, those OpenSignal numbers aren’t going to be as accurate to you as the RootMetrics score. RootMetrics still puts Verizon in first place and AT&T as a close second.

Who’s the best? Well, that depends where you are.

Who’s the worst? Sprint.




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Ain’t no theme like a BlackBerry theme!

I’ve shown you how to make your phone feel like a Nexus, a Windows Phone, even an iPhone. Next up was BlackBerry, but in all honesty, some things just can’t be replaced and replicated. Don’t get me wrong, there are a few tweaks that bring back a little of that old BlackBerry magic — and I’m gonna share them with you — but there’s no magic icon pack or launcher that just pulls it together into a real complete BlackBerry theme.

That’s a testament to BlackBerry’s unique design — and its (sometimes painful) simplicity.

BlackBerry fans, if you haven’t jumped over to Android yet (or you jumped over a few years ago and are in the market to upgrade), you can buy a few phones that are entirely Android yet distinctly BlackBerry. The BlackBerry Priv has the best physical keyboard on an Android phone in years, is getting security updates just as fast as Google’s Nexus phones. Unfortunately, it’s also over a year old now. BlackBerry launched two more reasonably-priced phones last year — the DTEK50 and DTEK60 – but they’re lacking a keyboard.

We’ve also got a new Blackberry phone coming to Android this year. Codenamed Mercury, many are lovingly referring to the new keyboard-sporting as Merc, and with a new phone comes a new chance for BlackBerry to win our hearts again with the security and productivity-based approach they have to Android.

If you don’t have room in the budget for a BlackBerry phone, hope is not lost. You won’t have an exact BlackBerry theme, because BB10 was — how do I put this delicately?— unique. Even our friends over at CrackBerry who gave me the reference material for this post said BB10 was rather basic. And to that end, here’s how to bring some of that basic beauty back to your phone.

Home screen

While it’s not quite the same system as BlackBerry 10 (which was little more than a recents page and an app drawer), the closest I’ve come to the BlackBerry layout for a launcher is the recently resurrected ADW.Launcher. ADW has a very different feel from launchers like Nova Launcher and Action Launcher, but it contains the numbered home screen and app drawer pages that you’re used to. If you really want it to feel like a BlackBerry, you’ll keep the first home screen page clean except for maybe a date/time widget, and you’ll put all your apps on pages 2-5.

For icons, you can take one of two paths. The first path is to download what few stock BlackBerry icons you can and apply them to system apps as custom individual icons and then just take the stock Google icons for the rest, the same way BlackBerry itself has done on the Priv. The second path is to forget the BlackBerry icons and just grab a consistent, good looking icon pack that’s dark, has depth, or both. Here are a few icon packs often touted among the CrackBerry community:

Belle UI Icon Pack, left, and Moko icon pack

Retro icons pack, left, and Stealth icons pack

  • Belle UI Icon Pack (Free) is all very rounded squares with soft shadows and subtle depth to them. Belle UI supports an impressive number of launchers and while we always wish it themed more icons, it’s a beautiful pack to start with.
  • Moko – Icon Pack ($1.00) is another rounded rectangle icon pack, but this one is a bit more pastel, a bit more a bit flatter, and absolutely adorable. It features over twice the number of icons Belle UI does, and has supports icon masking on most launchers to keep things consistent.
  • RETRO ICONS Pack (Free) gives all its icons a faded, far-out, retro vibe (hence the name), and is based off the awesome, now open-sourced Moonshine icon pack. It’s a definite departure from the polished, businessy look of BlackBerry, but this was a pack that was recommended a fair bit in our CrackBerry forums.
  • Stealth Icon Pack ($1.99) however, was the most recommended icon pack we came across on CrackBerry, with the dark, shadowy pack showing up time and time again in icon pack recommendation threads and home screen threads.

I’ll repeat it as long as I have to, but I implore you to use a wallpaper that brings some personality and life to your device. But if your heart is set on using one of BlackBerry’s wallpapers, they’re all right here… Please at least use one of the fun ones!

Lock screen

The lock screen that best brought back the BlackBerry magic — and used by CrackBerry editor-in-chief Chris Parsons in his own quest for a BlackBerry theme — is Next Lock Screen by Microsoft, another company that knows a thing or two about productivity. We covered it in our Windows theme, it’s not so much a lock screen replacement as it is a layer atop your lock screen, and so long as you’re using a fingerprint to lock your phone or frequently using Smart Lock, you shouldn’t notice the dual layers much.

Next offers a quick launch bar for your most-used apps and shows your latest notifications and appointments on your lock screen, giving you a glanceable way to check your phone without having to unlock it during a meeting or do a lot of swiping. The only major change for most users will be swipe down to unlock rather than the traditional swipe over/up.

BlackBerry Apps

Want the true BlackBerry experience? Just download their apps.

Once upon a time, you had to own a BlackBerry phone into order to enjoy the BlackBerry suite of Android apps, but no longer! Apps like BlackBerry Hub+ Services, BlackBerry Calendar, and even BlackBerry Launcher are available on phones running Android 5.0 and up. The BlackBerry Launcher is closer to Google Now Launcher than BlackBerry 10, but it has some useful features like unread counts (via BlackBerry Hub+ Services), icon pack support, and swiping up on apps on the home screen to reveal their widgets.

There is a catch here, and that’s that BlackBerry is very much in the business of selling individuals and businesses services. Hub+ Services is a subscription, and even apps like BlackBerry Launcher that can technically work without Hub+ have ads if you’re not a subscriber so that BlackBerry can get at least a little revenue off non-subscribing users.


So, what BlackBerry touches have you been missing on your Android phone? Are there are more tweaks you have for getting that old BlackBerry magic on your device? Share you tips, tricks, wants and desires in the comments below!




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Google Assistant is coming to the desktop through Allo.

One of the main drawbacks of Allo has been the lack of a desktop version, but it looks like that’s about to change. A tweet from Google’s VP of Communications Products Nick Fox shows a screenshot of Allo running on the desktop.

From the screenshot, it looks like Allo will follow in the footsteps of WhatsApp, offering a web client that runs in your browser before rolling out a full-fledged desktop app. The web version will support Google Assistant, and offer similar functionality as the mobile app, including emojis, stickers, smart replies, and the ability to share media.

It’s unclear if the web version of Allo will be an extension of the phone, like WhatsApp, or if Google is looking to pull information directly from the cloud (à la Hangouts). The latter could mean that Google is lifting the one-device limit, making Allo available on multiple devices at the same time.

We don’t know how the signup process will work, or how the app will sync messages. Fox tweeted that the desktop client is in “early development,” so it could be a while before it’s available for all users.

As for Allo itself, interest in the app nosedived after the initial weeks, mainly because of its limitations when compared to other messaging apps. Allo still doesn’t offer a way to restore messages when switching devices, the app lacks SMS integration, and you can’t make calls using the service.

With WhatsApp steadily rolling out new features and offering an all-in-one messaging platform with voice and video calls, it’s getting harder to convince people to switch to Allo just for the sake of Google Assistant.




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When Google gets wonky, everything gets wonky.

If you have a Google account error that says “something has changed” and asks you to log in again, there’s no cause for alarm. Google tells us they know something’s up and it’s not related to any suspicious activity.

We’ve gotten reports about some users being signed out of their accounts unexpectedly. We’re investigating, but not to worry: there is no indication that this is connected to any phishing or account security threats.

Please try to sign-in again at accounts.google.com and if you cannot remember your password, please use this link (g.co/recover) to recover your password. If you use 2-Step Verification, there may have been a delay in receiving your SMS code. Please try again or use backup codes.

OK, cool. Nobody is trying to get into our email accounts, but signing in again isn’t as easy as they make it sound. If whatever is going on glitches your account, all the things logged in with that account can be royally hosed and need to be set up or attached to your account again.

We know Google Wifi went crazy for some users earlier, and they tell us there were “issues with the Google Accounts Engine today” which caused problems, and that could be tied into whatever is happening with Gmail, Google Home, and Chromecasts that are being reported as not working tonight, but Google hasn’t said anything just yet.

We’re happy that it’s not a security thing, but it’s still a thing if you’re one of the unlucky people affected. For now, you can follow the advice and log-in again from your phone or computer. Hopefully, Google tells us more if only to satisfy our curiosity.




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