Google I/O is about more than just keynote presentations, big announcements, developer sessions and sunburn. Each year, Google also has a tent full of wacky computational “experiments” based around some of its most important products, platforms and technologies, and I/O 2017 was no exception. This year’s “Experiments” tent combined everything from machine vision, with an AI-powered electronica robot, to VR ping-pong and machine learning picture recognition games.

As the show was winding down late last week, we stopped by the tent in question to capture these experiments in all their glory. Check out our video feature above to see how both professional and amateur developers are using Google’s technology to do fun, crazy and interesting things!

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Is Amazon’s newest budget tablet worth your $50?

The online giant is calling it the “all new Fire 7,” which is perhaps more a marketing thing than actual hard truth when it comes to the tablet in question. It is new, and it is improved, but marketing hype is still marketing hype.

So, let’s actually break down what is new and whether this latest budget tablet is worth your time.

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What’s actually new?

There are subtle differences in the hardware on the all new Fire 7, but ones that will make for a solid improvement in user experience. The first of these is that it now supports the microSDXC standard which means you can now expand your internal storage by up to 256GB based on currently available cards.

The next important improvement is the inclusion of dual-band Wi-Fi, which means you’re now able to use the Fire 7 on the 5GHz band. Traditionally these give you better speeds over your local network, and it’s a notable upgrade over the single-band available in the old model.

Amazon has also an improved 7-inch IPS display in the new Fire 7, though just how good that is will have to wait until we actually see one.

Then there’s a little thing called Alexa. Amazon’s AI platform continues to grow, and following its inclusion on the most recent Fire TV products, Alexa is now on the basic Fire tablet, too. Holding the home button launches Alexa and from there you can ask questions and control your connected home devices just as you can with an Echo.

Is it worth getting one?

Absolutely. We’ve long recommended the Fire 7 as a cheap tablet that’s actually worth buying and that hasn’t changed with the new one. The improvements that have been made strengthen an already great product for $50.

Alexa is probably only going to excite you if you’re already getting into that ecosystem, but if you are, it’s yet another piece of tech you can use to turn on your lights and much more besides.

If you already have a Fire 7, it’s not necessarily worth ditching it just to grab the latest one. If it’s working just fine still, keep hold of it for now. Then again, $50 is almost an impulse buy, which is part of what makes the Fire 7 so good in the first place.

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Snapchat’s new feature isn’t a killer one, but it will certainly give its existing users another reason to keep using it.


A new Snapchat feature could help you when encouraging your friends to at least install the Snapchat app for the weekend. Snap has introduced custom Stories, which are designed to help friends and family groups collectively snap even the most mundane of events on the fly.

Custom Stories are easy to set up and don’t require that much planning beforehand. Tap the new Create Story icon in the top-right corner of the main Stories screen. Type in a name for the event, and then invite your friends. You can extend the invitation to anyone you’d like to participate in the as-it-happens festivities, regardless of their location. The new feature isn’t geofenced. You can also invite nearby Snapchat users to participate if it’s, say, a public event, like a high school prom or college graduation. Snapchat will create a one-block geofence around your current location.

Custom Stories will stay up on the main Stories page for as long as they are live, or until no one contributes for 24 hours. Each user is limited to three custom Stories at a time.

Is this a killer feature that will bring back hoards of budding Snapchat users? Not likely. It’s hard to ignore Snapchat’s declining numbers, especially when Instagram has all but run rampant with its own story-making features. But in the realm of mobile-first apps, it’s encouraging to see social networks attempting to become more of an extension of our social lives rather than a replacement.

The update is slowly rolling out to Snapchat users right now. If you don’t see it in the Google Play Store just yet, hang tight.

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The television and internet conglomerate has teamed up with Verizon Wireless in an attempt to become its own mobile operator.

In its ever-present quest for wireless superiority, Comcast quietly launched its own mobile network, aptly dubbed Xfinity Mobile. The service offers an unlimited data plan or you can pay by the gigabyte. It’s only available to those with existing Comcast internet service, however.

Xfinity Mobile began its nationwide rollout last week. It’s typically $65 a month for unlimited data access, but Comcast is currently offering a promotion at $45 a month. Speeds will be reduced after 20GB, however, which might not make it the best option for large family plans. The alternative is to pay-as-you-go at the $12 per gigabyte rate, but that option becomes quite pricey if you’re using more than four gigs a month. The subscription also garners you access to Verizon Wireless’s network, as well as access to Comcast’s Wi-Fi hotspots in the U.S. and its TV streaming service.

All this this not without its caveats. Xfinity Mobile is available to Comcast’s internet customers only, so you’ll have to pay for internet in addition to the mobile service. And though the $45 a month rate will continue to apply to existing high-end X1 plan subscribers, that quickly adds up when you’re paying for the whole suite of offerings. You also can’t bring your own device to the network, though you can pick from a Samsung Galaxy S8, Galaxy S7, Galaxy S7 Edge, or a low-end LG X Power at typical prices.

But for light data users who maybe don’t rely on their smartphones outside of the home as much as the rest of us do, Xfinity Mobile could be a convenient add-on when a tethered internet connection is already getting the most use. Just as long as you don’t mind being entirely beholden to Comcast.

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Our expectations of what it takes to get into our phones have been set too high.

The Galaxy S8‘s iris scanning is quicker and more accurate than when it debuted (for a short period) on the Galaxy Note 7, saving us from using the fingerprint sensor every time we want to unlock the phone. But it doesn’t guarantee your phone can’t be accessed by an unwanted person, as the Chaos Computer Club has easily demonstrated.

The CCC shows how it could simply take a photo of a person’s eye — with up to a 200 mm lens from 15 feet away, it says — and then print it out on typical paper, cover the paper with a wet contact lens to mimic an eye and instantly gain access to the phone. With a sufficient amount of time and complete access to the phone, you could theoretically unlock any Galaxy S8 with iris scanning enabled.

Despite Samsung’s claims that iris scanning is nearly on-par with a fingerprint sensor’s security and far stronger than face recognition, this shouldn’t come as any surprise. But in the CCC’s own article on the iris scanner bypass, it links to its defeating of Apple’s TouchID fingerprint sensor years ago. It has been demonstrated numerous times that other fingerprint sensors can be bypassed with a certain level of trickery and time — so how worried should you be?

Each option you have for unlocking your phone comes with trade-offs and potential risks. For most of us out there who simply want to keep our private information locked up should our phone be lost or stolen, a fingerprint sensor or iris scanner is sufficient. It’s easy enough to use that we’ll actually keep it enabled 100% of the time, while being difficult enough to deter the most-common threats to the physical security of the device.

The average criminal looking to steal a phone isn’t printing a high-resolution image of your eye.

The average criminal or sleuth looking to steal a phone and unlock it for a quick factory reset and sale isn’t taking a high-resolution photo of our eyes and printing it out. Not only would they be far better off looking over your shoulder in public to see what your backup PIN or pattern is instead, they’d just as easily throw your stolen phone in the trash when they realize it couldn’t be unlocked and quickly resold. But the most important thing at that point is that all of your data is safe, because they weren’t going to be willing to go through the process to get a scan of your irises or fingers to unlock it.

Yes, your Galaxy S8′s iris scanner can be defeated in the right circumstances — those circumstances include a targeted attack that requires time and complete physical access to the phone. But that doesn’t mean you need to move away from iris scanning or be unnecessarily worried about the security of your data when using it.

Only roughly two-thirds of modern Android phones are using lock screen security at all — we need to get that number a lot closer to 100 percent before we start nitpicking about which security form we’re using and how easy it is to defeat.

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It was time to update my home weather station from something functional but ugly to something decidedly more modern. Netatmo has fit the bill nicely.

I was going to show you my old weather station — a venerable beast from Oregon Scientific, which is quite good at this sort of thing. But alas, as soon as I took it off the wall it disappeared to wherever Phil’s Old Stuff disappears. (Basically an older, less sexy version of this.)

So. Time for something new. Something connected, and something definitely more modern.

A quick search of ye olde internet consistently returned offerings from Netatmo. They haven’t changed a lot over the years, which actually is a good thing in this case. So that’s the direction my credit card was pointed.

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The basics: the standard Netatmo Weather Station comes a relatively small indoor sensor, and an outdoor sensor. They look, well, like silver cans. The indoor one measures temperature and humidity and sound level and carbon dioxide levels. The outdoor sensor does temperature and pressure and humidity. They connect to your smartphone, and connect to each other. Note that there’s no external display here — you have to use a phone or tablet or computer or something to actually get data.

There are two additional modules that can be connected — a rain gauge, which I grabbed because Florida, and a wind gauge, which I didn’t get because I don’t care quite that much about just how breezy it is.

Setup was as simple as you’d expect for this sort of thing — you just follow the instructions in the app. I’ve used it with Android and on iOS — but there’s also an honest-to-goodness Windows Phone app as well. The web interface may be my favorite of the bunch, actually, full of features and nicely designed. And finally I’ve settled on the third-party app Baratmo for my Mac menu bar.

So now I have access to all my weather information — inside and out. And I can get to it from anywhere, and in more detail than what even my $250 Nest thermostat provides. (By the way: Netatmo is a Works with Nest device, but you can tie it in via third-party services like IFTTT.)

What’s missing? Not a whole lot. I do miss having a single place at home where I can see all this info at one time. For as much as I loathed that aging LCD display, it did its job without complaint. So I’m hoping someone builds a skill for it to work with the upcoming Amazon Echo Show. And I’d like a little more historical data — how much rain did I get in the last week versus just the last day.

But strictly from a data standpoint? This has been a good purchase.

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Since it’s clear that the camera on the HTC U11 is better than the Samsung Galaxy S8’s, we thought we’d take things to the next level. No one in their right mind would think that the HTC U11 would be … Read More

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Just because you chose Google’s Android over every other rendition doesn’t mean you should be left out of the wireless fun.

Mophie has concocted a clever solution for those of you who may adore your Pixel XL smartphones, but have been secretly ruing the day you abandoned your wireless charging privileges. The newly released Juice Pack case for the Pixel XL not only tacks on an additional 2950mAh battery, but it also adds Qi wireless charging capabilities.

The Juice Pack offers protective covering and up to 50 hours of additional talk time, claims Mophie. You can charge both the battery pack and the Pixel XL’s internal battery via a Qi wireless charging pad, though Mophie also mentions compatibility with “other wireless systems.” If you need even faster charging, you can plug in a USB Type-C cable instead and Juice Pack will prioritize re-juicing the Pixel XL first.

Perhaps the only drawback of the Juice Pack is that it tacks on an additional 3.8 ounces to your current load, making the Pixel XL an even bigger device. But if you need the extra energy and like the idea of tapping to charge, the Mophie Juice Pack for the Pixel XL sells for nearly $100.

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Google! A giant among giants who other giants think are giant (yeah, how’s that for writing?) Google’s I/O conference this year has been plagued by the specter of yawns from journalists who wonder where all the fun of the previous year has disappeared to. But what were they expecting? It’s a developers conference!

I’m Michael Fisher, AKA MrMobile, and while it’s not splashy or gadget-heavy, there’s a lot to be interested in coming from I/O this year. From simple things like easy ways to save battery life on your smartwatch, to the ease of the Kotlin programming language, to the 50 billion apps a DAY that Google scans for malware, there’s a lot of cool things to do. Check out this video and Android Central’s coverage of the event for all the reasons you should be excited about what we saw at Google I/O.

Stay social, my friends

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Our friends at Thrifter are back again, this time with some extremely affordable Bluetooth headphones you should try!

If you’ve been considering making the move to Bluetooth headphones but don’t want to spend a ton to try them out, this may be the perfect set for you. Right now you can pick up Mpow’s sweatproof Bluetooth headphones for just $9.99 with coupon code WQMZZ4LE, which is a savings of $23. Keep in mind that at this price you won’t be getting Bose quality headphones, but if you are looking to try something out, or need a new set of headphones for the gym, these may be perfect for the job.

The headphones are lightweight and comfortable, and the non-slip rubber ear hooks help keep them in place. Odds are you can find sillier ways to spend $10 today, so why not give these headphones a shot!

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For more great deals be sure to check out our friends at Thrifter now!

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