The launch of Google’s 2017 Pixel devices isn’t expected until sometime in October, but we have a new rumor which gives us great insight into the design of the upcoming Pixel XL.

The image above says it all. The new … Read More

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In a year of comebacks, the LG V30 could be the phone maker’s best handset to date. Here’s what we’re hoping to see when it finally breaks cover.

We don’t know a whole lot about the LG V30 just yet. (That’ll likely change in the run up to release, as more details inevitably leak out online.) But for the time being, all we have is a collection of CAD renders and some vague details around its rough proportions — expect a 6-inch screen and standard 2017 flagship specs.

1. A serious wide-angle camera

LG’s wide-angle camera is one of the G6′s best features, letting you capture dramatic shots with a fuller field of view. But there is one major downside: With its lack of optical stabilization, small pixels and f.2/4 aperture, the wide-angle camera just isn’t great in low light. In fact, even in daylight shots, fine details tend to get stripped away, particularly around the edge of the frame.

LG has the chance to make its wide-angle camera as good as its main shooter.

So, with Samsung reportedly including two OIS-equipped cameras in the Note 8, the time would be right for LG to pull out all the stops, with a wide-angle lens that’s on par (or at least close) to the main shooter. Doing so would raise the cost of the phone (to be expected for a higher-end model) and likely add a camera bump (which we’re already seeing in the current crop of V30 leaks). Nevertheless, the improvement in image quality would surely be worth it.

I also want to see what LG can do when it’s not hamstrung by a main camera with small 1.1-micron pixels. The LG G6′s camera takes great photos, but it’s way slower than the likes of the Galaxy S8 and HTC U11, which use sensors with larger pixels.

With the extra budget afforded by a true flagship phone, I’m eager to see what LG can achieve in both the V30′s cameras.

2. Phablet-class battery life

Nobody’s expecting the V30 to bring back the removable battery. Because of this, and the fact that the V30 is going to be a good deal larger than the G6, LG has an opportunity to excel in battery life. Samsung’s need to include an S Pen in the Note 8 has reportedly limited that device to a 3,300mAh cell, which basically guarantees inferior battery life compared to the Galaxy S8+.

With no S Pen taking up room inside the chassis, LG’s new phone has a chance to outlast the Note 8.

LG has no such limitations in the V30, and so the extra size of the phone gives it the chance to push battery life as a major feature. Considering LG managed to cram a 3,300mAh cell into the G6, we’d expect a figure somewhere north of that for the new model. And given the exceptional efficiency we’ve been seeing from Snapdragon 835 phones in recent months, a 3,500 or 3,600mAh cell could go a very long way indeed.

3. No more weird regional differences

It’s time for equality among LG phones, with the same feature set wherever you buy. That’s a given for the majority of Android handsets, but the G6 found itself in the odd position of having major features like the Quad DAC, 64GB of storage and wireless charging missing in some regions.

To confuse matters further, there was no single G6 SKU with all of these features — at least not until the announcement of the G6+ many months later.

With a meatier flagship like the V30, there’s no excuse for LG’s various regional offices to be allowed to lop off major features. Wherever in the world you buy it, the phone needs to ship with at least 64GB of storage, wireless charging and whatever fancy audio stuff LG and its partners have developed.

4. Android 8.0 out of the box

The LG V20 arrived at just the right time to be one of the first handsets with Android 7.0 Nougat — though some of its thunder was stolen by the Google Pixel. This year, with similar timings expected for the stable release of Android 8.0, we’re hoping LG is able to get in on the ground floor with the new version of Android.

Another ‘first’ with Android O would be a big win for LG.

Again, this would give it a small but important advantage over the Note 8, which is expected to ship with Android 7.1.1, while also giving the new phone all the battery life and performance benefits offered by Android O. With 8.0 out of the box, whichever battery capacity LG opts for should go even further.

5. A fresh direction for software

LG’s UX 6.0 looks fine and all, but it’s clear the UX conversation has moved on since the company’s last major visual refresh in 2016. Samsung has brought us a fresh, futuristic aesthetic on the Galaxy S8. Others like OnePlus have shown how best to build on the look and feel of vanilla Android. Even Huawei is finally making progress.

LG’s latest UX is solid, but feels incomplete.

So it’s time for LG to finally do away with the bits of legacy UI that’ve been sticking around for the past couple of years, and, from the ground up, show what really great mobile software should look and feel like in late 2017. The 2:1 split-screen visual style it pioneered on the G6 is a great starting point, but it feels incomplete, and has too many weird holdovers from ancient LG handsets.

So with the next LG flagship, we’re hoping to see what LG can do to build out the latest version of Android with unique, complementary visual flair.

What do you want to see in LG’s new flagship phone? Share your hopes (and fears) down in the comments!

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 | Posted by | Categories: Android |

How far would you go to save money on your smartphone? If you said “far enough to sell space on my lock screen for ads,” then you probably don’t care that Amazon Prime Exclusive lacks the flagship-grade smartphones your tech geek friends always gush about. The Moto E4 and IDOL 5 are hardly the most exciting devices on the block, after all. That said, the Nokia 6 is a hotly anticipated piece of kit if all of your review requests are any indication, and its arrival on Amazon Prime Exclusive coincides with its official U.S. debut.

Couple that with a $50 savings off the retail price in exchange for a few ads, and Amazon Prime Exclusive might just tempt the affordable smartphone crowd — assuming they’re already Amazon Prime members, of course. For all the other caveats (and cool bits), click on through to MrMobile’s test drive of Amazon Prime Exclusive!

Featured Products

Stay social, my friends

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Prime Day is here! The Thrifter team has been hard at work since 7 p.m. last night when the Prime-only deals began to go live. Not only have we been updating our site and Twitter feed with the best deals, but we’ve also been live blogging the entire thing. At this point, we want to make it a bit easier for you to find the overall best deals of Prime Day.

The following list compiles our favorite deals of Prime Day 2017 that are still live and will be updated throughout the remainder of the day.


  • Amazon Fire Tablet – $30 (previously $50)
  • Echo Dot – $35 (previously $50)
  • Echo – $90 (previously $180)
  • Seagate Backup Plus Slim 2TB External Hard Drive – $65 (previously $77)
  • SanDisk Ultra II 500 GB SSD – $137 (previously $175)
  • Philips Hue Smart Bulb – $40 (previously $50)
  • Sandisk Ultra 256 GB MicroSDXC – $105 (previously ~$150)
  • Blue Yeti USB Microphone: Blackout Edition – $90 (previously $130)
  • ARRIS SURFboard SB6141 Cable Modem – $41 (previously ~$95)
  • Acer Chromebook 11, 2GB Ram, 16GB storage – $130 (previously $170)
  • Samsung 128 GB Metal Flash Drive – $25 (previously $40)


  • FitBit Blaze – $139 (previously $199)
  • Backpack for SLR/DSLR Cameras by AmazonBasics – $20 (previously $27)
  • Bright Multipurpose Copy Paper (3 reams / 1,500 sheets) – $10 (previously $14)
  • AmazonBasics Commercial Patio Heater – $99 (previously ~$120)
  • High-back Executive Desk Chair – $80 (previously $110)
  • Bose SoundLink Mini Bluetooth Speaker – $129 (previously ~$190)
  • Coleman Road Trip Propane Portable Grill – $100 (previously $135)
  • GreenWorks Battery Powered 3-in-1 Lawn Mower – $225 (previously $349)
  • 23andMe DNA Test: Ancestry Personal Genetic Service – $49 (previously $99)
  • Sennheiser HD 598 SR Open-Back Headphones – $110 (previously $170)
  • Crock-Pot Programmable Cook & Carry Slow Cooker – $32){.nofollow} (previously ~$50)
  • AmazonBasics Laptop Backpack – $12 {previously $25)
  • Free $5 credit when you purchase $25 or more in Amazon Gift Cards.


  • Xbox One S 500 GB Bundle – $240 (previously $370)
  • Xbox One S 1 TB Bundle – $290 (previously $418)
  • Sony PS4 Dualshock 4 Controller – $40 (previously $48)
  • Sony PS4 Slim 500 GB Bundle – $229 (previously $300)
  • Nintendo New 3DS XL Console (Galaxy Style) – $175 (previously $200)

Be sure to keep refreshing this page and tune into the Thrifter live blog to stay up-to-date with all the best Prime Day deals!

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 | Posted by | Categories: Android |

Google’s Pixel XL may be going bigger, and sleeker, in 2017

We now have a solid idea of what the Pixel XL’s 2017 successor will look like. Android Police, which is generally good about these sorts of things, has published renders of its approximation of what the so-called “Pixel XL 2017″ will look like, based on information it has from internal sources. For those keeping up with all of the Pixel rumors back at home, this is the phone known by the codename “Taimen.” That’s the largest of the three rumored upcoming Google devices, with both “Muskie” and “Walleye” also in some progression of development.

For what it’s worth, the naming of the forthcoming device has yet to be finalized. We could be looking at simply “Pixel XL” with no further denomination, “Pixel XL 2″ or something else entirely. Names can be finalized much later than the hardware, and often are — we’ll stick to calling this the Pixel XL 2 for now.

Corroborating with previous reports, this confirms that LG is the manufacturer of this new Pixel XL 2, rather than HTC that built the original Pixel and Pixel XL (of course, without any branding indicating the fact). Some of that influence is immediately apparent in the phone — there’s a tall and skinny 18:9 display with rounded corners like the LG G6, which is reportedly 6-inches diagonal, with much smaller bezels than the current Pixel XL. Curved glass on the front is very pronounced, though the screen itself is actually flat underneath.

Lots of LG G6 influence, but plenty to tie it back to the original HTC-built Pixel XL.

The large glass pane at the top of the back of the phone remains, though the fingerprint sensor is no longer inside that glass as the phone is taller than before. In addition to the the back glass panel, there’s a clear familiarity in design from the current Pixel XL to the new Pixel XL 2. There’s still a metal frame that’s nicely brushed to a simple texture that’s flat across the back and rounded on the edges and corners.

Though the manufacturing has changed hands from HTC to LG, the report says the Pixel XL 2 will have a squeezable frame not unlike the HTC U11, which is mildly interesting to see.

The question remains, though, what is to be done with the standard Pixel’s successor in 2017. Will it be a smaller version of this design? Or perhaps a simpler refresh of last year’s phone? And what about the expected third Google-branded phone to be released this year? We can expect to see more information leak as we get closer to the launch.

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Amazon recently discounted a selection of Philips Hue products during its Prime Day sale. Philips Hue is a line of smart bulbs which can be automated via the Philips Hue app to turn on or off even when you’re not home.

The following deals are available for Philips Hue products during Amazon’s Prime Day:

  • White and Color Ambiance LED Bulb – $39.99 (was $49.99)
  • White and Color Ambiance Starter Kit – $138.95 (was ~$175)
  • Hue Go Portable LED Smart Light – $50.81 (was $79.99)

If you’re looking for more ways to make your home a smart home, we also just posted a guide on the best smart home accessory discounts available for Prime Day featuring items such as a garage door opener that works via app and a ceiling fan you can talk to.

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 | Posted by | Categories: Android |

The quick take

Amazon adds a touchscreen and camera to a couple of decent speakers, giving us the best Echo yet for only $50 more than what the original Alexa device is selling for. Video calling is an easy-to-use (if still novel) feature, and Amazon’s paving the way for developers to make use of the 7-inch display. Now it just has to get them to update those thousands of skills to take advantage of it.

The Good

  • Alexa as you’ve come to know and love
  • Not prohibitively expensive
  • Good sound and video quality
  • A reasonably attractive design

The Bad

  • Third-party skills taking advantage of the touchscreen
  • Amazon’s Alexa app is still a little clunky
  • Video “drop-ins” are fraught with danger
  • Alexa calls and messaging are still a walled garden

Watch this

Amazon Echo Show Video Review

Two round speakers and a microphone (and a display and a camera)

Amazon Echo Show Full review

The Echo Show is the best Alexa-enabled device Amazon has made yet. Let’s just get that out of the way. If you’re considering between the original Echo and the Echo Show, find the extra $50 and get the newer one with the display.

Yes, there’s still reason to keep reading. Because while the Echo Show is the best Amazon has done so far, it’s not perfect. Far from it. In fact, it’s entirely possible to have an Echo Show — with its 7-inch display and camera and integrated speakers — and very quickly realize its shortcomings. It is an imperfect device that simultaneously excites and occasionally infuriates. It’s yet another example of Amazon beating everyone else to market, but with a product that in a number of ways still feels incomplete.

And that, I think, actually is a good thing.

This is the Amazon Echo Show.

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About this review

I’ve been using the Amazon Echo Show (as purchased from Amazon for the two-for-$500 deal) for nearly two weeks as of the time of this review. They’ve been on software 581231520, for what that’s worth, and have lived in my kitchen, living room, bedroom, and office during that time.

Echo meets tablet

Amazon Echo Show Hardware and setup

At its simplest, the Echo Show is this: a 7-inch touchscreen at 1024×600 resolution, with a 5-megapixel camera and a pair of 2-inch speakers at the bottom. On top you’ll find a trio of buttons — from left, there’s a kill switch for the microphones and camera, then volume down and volume up. (I’d have put the mute button in the middle, but no one asked me.) And there’s a round hole on the back of the Echo Show for the proprietary power plug. Eight microphones are hidden within the device.

And that’s it. It’s a very nicely designed, if cleverly simple Echo. It’s just big enough — about 7.5 inches tall and wide — to be conspicuous without being so large that it gets in the way. It fits on a nightstand or into a kitchen nook or alongside living room knickknacks. And that’s a key feature, because as the name implies the Echo Show will show you things as well as talk to you in the traditional sense of Alexa.

The matte plastic body comes in any color you want, so long as it’s either murdered-out black or a white body with a black face for the display and speaker grille. I’ve leaned toward liking the black-and-white model a little more — I think it blends in to the background a little better — but I’ve also liked having the darker model on my nightstand in the bedroom. The white one definitely hides dust a little better, though.

The resolution of the display isn’t exactly anything to write home about. But then again, you shouldn’t expect it to be. A mere 600 vertical pixels might not seem like a lot in this age of 4K and “retina” and all that. But remember that you’re not going to have your nose up against the Echo Show like you would a phone or tablet. Most of the time I’m barking orders at the Echo Show from a good 6 or 8 feet away in the kitchen. So the display is just fine. It’s bright enough and the colors are accurate enough for this sort of use.

I love that you can use your own pictures for the background on the Echo Show and have it display your own albums. But I’m not sure I love it enough to start using Amazon Prime Photos as my photo storage system.

Echo Show is Alexa with a display and a camera. Don’t overthink it.

The speakers also are just fine for what I’d expect in a $229 device. No, it’s not as good as the more expensive Sonos Play:1. This is decent directional sound, but it won’t be filling a room like a Sonos can. There’s enough bass to keep things interesting but not so much as to make this a primary entertainment device. Music sounds fine, as do podcasts and other spoken-word events. This is another one of those times when “good enough” is good enough, particularly in the kitchen, which tends to get noisy.

Setup is excellent. Chances are you ordered directly from Amazon, and so your Amazon account will be preloaded. Just enter your Wi-Fi and confirm your Amazon password and you’re up and running. The initial boot may take a few minutes, though, depending on whether a Day 1 software update is in order. (If you had any lingering doubts whether this was an Android-based OS, the post-update boot time should confirm that suspicion.)

From there you’re run through a couple of instructional videos of what to do and how to do it — tl;dr: You talk to the Echo Show most of the time and tap the screen some of the time — and through the new video calling features.

Plug-in baby

Using the Echo Show Eyes, ears and now a screen

Echo Show is, above all else, an Alexa device. So you can talk to it just like you can the OG Echo or Echo Dot or Tap or even the strange little Echo Look. And Alexa will talk right back to you. There’s really nothing new here, except to say the eight microphones generally pick out my voice just fine, even when I’ve got music playing through the Show. (That’s an important thing to be able to do, of course.)

The game-changer here is the display. Now Alexa can, as the name implies, show you information and content. That’s maybe not as easy as you might expect. It’s easy to clunk up a display with too much or too little information or with horrible fonts or an otherwise unusable user interface. (Look at pretty much any car stereo interface and you’ll know exactly what I mean by that.) But Amazon has adopted an excellent design aesthetic here.

Nobody likes to read about fonts and UX (except for those of us who have to deal with such things for a living), so I’ll just say that there’s nothing haphazard here. The mix of serifs and san-serifs and italics help the time and weather stand out from headlines, and headlines (and their keywords) stand out from the prompts for how to get more information out of the Echo Show. It’s all understated, easy to read, and ultimately very well-done. The transitions between cards and fade in/out times are damn near perfect.

My only real complaint here is that a lot of the time I just don’t find what’s on the screen to be all that informative. Time and weather? OK. Actual news? Fine, I guess. (Though I’d argue that “news” and “what’s actually important” are two very different things these days.) Upcoming calendar events? Definitely helpful (assuming you’ve connected your calendar to Alexa).

Echo Show’s home screen looks great. The problem is it’s wasted real estate so far.

Dive in and turn off …

I’d recommend turning off a couple things. First is the “Trending Topics” content. I rot my brain plenty of other ways, thanks. I’d also turn off the option to have cards continuously repeat. (At least until they time out and are replaced by something else.) Those two sort of go hand in hand, though. I guess maybe it’s fine to see the fluff once. But not over and over again.

How do you change settings like this on Echo Show? Pull down from the top of the screen like you would a phone or tablet. This is where you’ll find options for the display settings — including the all-important do-not-disturb mode — and themes, as well as for what you see on the cards themselves. Most of these settings can be changed in the Alexa app on your phone, too, save for what you see on the screen. (Which is sort of a weird thing to leave out.) In any event, it’s worth taking a few minutes to look around these parts, though it shouldn’t be something you have to come back to very often.

The exception to that would be the “Home” icon. If you have Alexa read you news or stories or get into one of the thousands of “Skills” available (more on that in a minute), you’ll want a way to get back to the main home screen. For that, just say “Alexa, go home.” Or you can pull down from the top of the screen and use the on-screen button. I think I might prefer a hardware button for this, though — say, short press for Home, long press for mute. That’s not a huge deal, though.

Those really are the basics. A lot of this is self-explanatory. And I’m not going to spend and real time here on playing music and videos. Echo Show plays music — though Amazon Music or Spotify or Pandora or iHeartRadio — just fine over Wi-Fi. For anything else you can connect via Bluetooth. (I still greatly prefer Google’s Chromecast or Apple’s AirPlay, but Bluetooth is simple enough.) And Amazon Prime Video is front and center, and you can tell Alexa to show you videos from YouTube, with the touchscreen serving as a decent way to let you pick exactly what it is you were hoping to see.

That’s table stakes, though, and it’s actually pretty limited by design. You’re relying on Alexa to understand you — there’s no on-screen way to launch music or video, you have to use your voice — and return the right result, and then you chose what you actually want. It’s like you’re using a tablet, with a couple of extra steps thrown in, including voice commands. (Want some bedtime music? You’ll need to tell Alexa first. Just try not to wake anyone who’s sleeping next to you while you and Alexa are chatting away.)

There aren’t really any rough edges on Echo Show in terms of software. Things tend to work really well, and it’s obvious there was a lot of time spent on getting them right. But what we have is a tablet-like interface without the usual tablet-like paradigms.

We had a saying in the newsroom of my newspaper when I was younger. “Less yapping, more tapping.” The opposite often is true of the Echo Show. You’ll talk to it more than you will tap to get to where you want to be. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — it’s quicker to say “Show albums by Muse” than it is to tap into an app, and then either type out “M-u-s-e” or drill through a menu system.

But it’s a bit like going to a restaurant and needing to have some idea of what’s available, instead of being handed a menu. I might know I want the grilled salmon. But then again the blackened snapper looks pretty good, too. You lose that sort of discovery this way, and the interaction is much slower than if you see another option.

And you have to remember to be specific. If I say “Show me Tesla Model 3 videos,” Echo Show will return results from Amazon Prime Video, which isn’t actually what I want. User error? Maybe. But better might be to show results from multiple sources and then let me choose which one is best.

Skills start to fall short pretty fast

Then there’s the issue of Alexa’s “skills.” Think of these as apps for Alexa that bridge gap between traditional apps and the voice-only interface of the previous Echo devices. But now we have a display. And a touchscreen, at that.

The good news is that all the skills pretty much still work. (At least in my testing.) The bad news is that as I write this in early July 2017 (a week after the Echo Show shipped) there’s very little that actually takes advantage of the display. And that goes for some of Alexa’s native features, too.

A few examples that I’ve run up against:

  • Flash Briefing: One of my favorite early features of Alexa, this news roundup reads you content from any number of sources. Seems like a perfect opportunity for video. Only there isn’t any yet. Not even a basic slideshow.
  • Audio books: Echo Show hooks into Amazon’s Kindle and Audible services just fine. (Alexa is still a lousy narrater, though.) … The screen is wasted here, too. Or at least it was on the examples I used. Music — some of it, anyway — gets the lyric treatment. Why not books?
  • Dominos Pizza: Ordering a pizza by voice is easy and doable. Better would be to be able to actually see what it is you’re ordering. Amazon’s done it with its own listings. Third parties need to as well.
  • Recipes: An Echo Show in the kitchen is a very good thing, and being able to view recipes is key. But you immediately get kicked into the Allrecipes skill. And if the specific recipe you want isn’t available, there’s no way to get to it. No web browser. Just frustration.
  • Security: I was extremely excited to see the Ring doorbell as a launch partner for Echo Show. Turns out all you can do is tell the Echo Show to show you the live view from the camera. It doesn’t pop up the feed when someone triggers the motion sensor or hits the doorbell. Ring says they’re working on it.

And that’s just for starters. The point is that in these very early days, the Echo Show is still a very long way from being the sort of whole-home digital hub that I so badly want it to be. Nobody else has come close yet. Especially not in an affordable package like this.

Should skills on the Echo Show actually be full-fledged Android apps? Maybe. And there’s really no reason they couldn’t be. It’s just that it’s disappointing there’s not more available at launch that takes advantage of the hardware. Amazon’s skills are pretty robust, and I’ve no doubt that developers will improve on what we have now.

And they’ll need to.

Drop in any time. Or don’t.

Echo Show Camera, calls, drop-ins and privacy

Another area of great potential — OK, a really big deal I’ve said previously — on the Echo Show is video calling. Amazon sort of eased us into this with messaging and voice calling a couple months ahead of the Echo Show’s release. And all that still stands today. You can call another Echo device — or a phone with the Alexa app — exactly the same way as we could previously.

Now? We have video. In its simplest form, it’s video calling just as we’ve come to know with Skype and FaceTime and Google Hangouts.

Do you really want someone to be able to turn on your camera?

Where things get interesting is with Drop-in.

This feature lets you literally “drop in” on someone who has an Echo device. As in, you call them, they don’t touch anything, and then you can talk at them. Sort of like an intercom.

This works from one Echo device to another or from a phone (via the Alexa app) to an Echo device, video or no video. It works for any devices that are on a single account — so I or my family can drop in on any of my devices wherever they may be located. This turns all your Echo devices into an intercom. And that’s kind of cool, actually.

The drop-in

Drop-in also works for any contact in your Alexa app — but only after you give that person permission to drop in on you in the individual contact listing. So while it’s still very bad that Amazon doesn’t give you better control over who can contact you on your Echo, it does keep random folks from dropping in.

This all might seem a little unnerving at first. In reality, it’s not that bad.

Back to dropping in on an Echo Show, though, which is where things get a little interesting. Because the Echo Show has a video camera, it’s much more intrusive — particularly if you decide to keep an Echo Show in the bedroom. But this really is true for any camera anywhere in your home.

So when you drop in on someone else, you won’t see them at first. Instead, you’ll get a mostly opaque view of what’s going on. After 10 seconds or so the pictures clears up. In that time, anyone on the other end can choose to nuke the connection. Of course, that’s assuming they’re paying attention and weren’t doing something more fun than answering their Echo Show.

So drop in on someone at your own risk. Conversely, teach your kids to drop in on your Echo Show at their own risk.

Alexa Messaging: Neat, but not very useful yet

In any event, video calling on Echo Show is very cool. Voice calling on any Echo is still very cool. The ability for a youngster or an aging parent to get ahold of me anywhere without the complication of a phone or tablet is a big deal — especially when you consider all you need is a $50 Echo Dot.

Messaging and video calls are great. Now Amazon just has to get you to use them.

What Alexa messaging is not, thus far, is ubiquitous. At this point it’s still just one more means of messaging in an era in which we already have too many ways to do it. Phone calls. SMS. MMS. Facebook Messenger. iMessage. FaceTime. Whatsapp. WeChat. Telegram. Signal. Skype. Slack. Duo. … The list goes on. Right now the only differentiator for Amazon is that it’s easy to use on a $50 Echo Dot.

What I’d really love to see happen is for Amazon to get one of the big players to come on board. But everyone has their own interests, and this isn’t something I’d expect to see anytime soon.

So for now, Echo Show-to-Echo Show video calling is a novelty, not a necessity, even if it’s done very well.

Oh, Alexa …

Amazon Echo Show The bottom line

Almost 3,000 words ago I said that the Amazon Echo Show is the best Alexa you can get today. That hasn’t changed. First, it looks cooler than the original obelisk Echo. It also does all the things that the OG Echo does. The addition of the touchscreen is what really opens it up.

Or, rather, I think it will. Like I first said about the OG Echo, there’s a ton of potential here. Back then it was needing skills to be built out. That’s true again, but for different reasons. Now skills need to be refined for the touchscreen.

This is the best Alexa yet — and makes headless speakers seem tired.

The simple act of adding lyrics to music is good. Being able to see what Alexa is ordering from Amazon is a great improvement. Rudimentary integration with smart home tech is a nice start, though it needs to go much further. And video calling is a vast (if natural) improvement — now Amazon needs to get it to more people.

But you can see how Amazon is sort of coming in through the back door. A $50 Echo Dot gets the Alexa app onto your phone. And now you’re on your way to messaging and video calling with anyone else via Alexa. It’s not WhatsApp, but you can tell there’s a strategy in there.

What the Echo Show is now, however, is inexpensive at $229. But it’s easily the best, and it looks like it will be for some time.

See at Amazon

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 | Posted by | Categories: Android |

BlackBerry Mobile promised it would make things right, and it has done just that.

In early June, a prominent YouTuber broke — nay, destroyed — a KEYone, and BlackBerry Mobile was forced to defend its new baby, a phone that had, until that point, been largely without controversy. The company promised it would make things right, and it has done just that.

It claimed that only a small number of people were experiencing issues with the KEYone’s display detaching from its body like a chocolate bar, but nonetheless it was taking action to reinforce the component using additional adhesives.

Now, the company says that work is complete and better, stronger KEYones are rolling off the manufacturing lines and onto shelves. From the CrackBerry forums:

In a further effort to ensure all our BlackBerry Mobile customers and fans have an outstanding experience, we’re implementing additional measures that add even greater strength and adhesive to the BlackBerry KEYone display. These new measures are already being implemented on new KEYone’s and are beginning to hit our retailer and carrier inventories – and will continue to come in stock throughout the summer. If you’ve already purchased the BlackBerry KEYone, you’re fully covered by our manufacturer’s warranty, so if any issue arises, please contact us and we can help you with a warranty replacement if needed.

The last sentence is also worth noting, because the company is not proactively replacing functioning KEYones but is merely saying that, should damage to the screen occur, it is covered under warranty.

Top 8 things to love about the BlackBerry KEYone

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Unlocked phones are becoming more popular, but the prices often prevent some from being able to afford the initial investment. Prime Day has brought some steep discounts to several unlocked Android phones, and you won’t want to miss these deals. From Samsung’s latest and greatest, the Galaxy S8, to Amazon’s Prime exclusive phones, there is likely a deal here for everyone in the market.

There are likely to be more deals throughout the day, so be sure to check back frequently for the most up-to-date list!

SanDisk 256GB microSD card is down to $105. It typically goes for $145+.

— Thrifter (@ThrifterDaily) July 11, 2017

See at Amazon

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 | Posted by | Categories: Android |

OnePlus’s latest is the fastest phone out there right now. And despite some reservations around its highly finicky camera setup, it’s hard not to recommend for the price.

Contrary to its marketing mantra, picking up a OnePlus phone has always involved “settling” in some way or other. When the very highest of the high-end sell for almost twice the price of the company’s latest, something’s got to give.

What’s more important is the question of whether the OnePlus makes the right compromises: Whether corners are cut and savings are made in a way that makes sense, or whether vanity specs are pushed at the expense of the day-to-day user experience.

The OnePlus 5 is a mix of both good and bad compromises. It’s not a home run, and there’s still room for improvement on the software side, particularly when it comes to the (somewhat controversial) camera setup. Overall, though, this is still a fantastic phone, and one I’m going to be sticking with for a while.

Read on to find out why.

I don’t completely buy into the idea that the OnePlus 5 is a straight iPhone 7 Plus rip-off. Sure, it’s similar. And OnePlus does itself no favors when it publishes side-by-side images like this on its own Instagram account, but the reality of using and holding a OnePlus 5 is nothing like the feel of an iPhone.

If anything, the OnePlus 5 is better described as a slightly nicer OnePlus 3T. That’s not the most flowery description you’ll hear of a phone. But let’s face it, this isn’t the most interesting-looking phone out there. Countless other Chinese handsets — including the R11 from OnePlus’s sister company Oppo — have been pushing this “almost an iPhone but not quite” look over the past year.

What the OnePlus 5 lacks in pizzazz it makes up for in ergonomics and svelte proportions.

What the OnePlus 5 lacks in pizzazz it makes up for in ergonomics and svelte proportions. The overall footprint is slightly smaller than the 3T, and the chassis more curvy. Despite the presence of actual bezels sandwiching in the 5.5-inch display, it’s still pretty compact for a 5.5-incher.

That panel itself hasn’t changed from last year — same 1080p Optic AMOLED, and it still works pretty well in most conditions, though auto-brightness tends towards darker levels than I’d like indoors. Daylight visibility is fine, but not exceptional, and you have to imagine if a mid-cycle refresh is coming later in the year (OnePlus isn’t saying, for what it’s worth), the screen would be one obvious area to upgrade.

For now, though, it’s fine. It’s no GS8, but I’m not about to gouge my eyes out anytime soon.

The one major area of controversy around the display — the so-called jelly scrolling is something that hasn’t bothered me at all during my time with the phone. I don’t notice the effect unless I really, really go looking for it. And even when I do, it’s so subtle as to not be bothersome at all. For some people it’ll be a deal-breaker; I’m one of the few who can notice it occasionally, but have a hard time caring about it.

The same mixed praise applies to the loudspeaker — plenty loud, but also tinny as a can of digestives, and certainly no HTC BoomSound Hi-Fi. For what it’s worth, the Snapdragon 835′s integrated DAC ensures the OnePlus 5′s output sounds great when paired with a decent set of studio headphones, providing more than sufficient oomph. Bluetooth audio support was also flawless, and for what it’s worth the 5 also supports Bluetooth 5 for additional future-proofing.

8GB of RAM won’t help you out — but 128GB of storage might.

On the subject of future-proofing, how about those eight gigabytes of RAM? This is what I’ll call a pure vanity spec. In 2017, there’s no practical utility for this much memory — especially when there’s also a 6GB version which runs just as fast. OnePlus is doing it to show off, and that’s fine. But if you opt for the higher-specced, higher-priced OnePlus 5, do so because of the extra storage — 128GB in total — and not because you expect a DVD and a half’s worth of RAM to get you anywhere.

Qualcomm’s very latest Snapdragon 835 is running the show here, powering an incredibly fast software experience in OxygenOS 4.5. The OnePlus 5′s absolutely screaming performance is a team effort of hardware and software, of course, but it strikes me that it’s software tuning more than anything that makes this the fastest smartphone I’ve ever used. (And I’ve used every major smartphone for the past six years.) Everything from the flawless scrolling speed (jelly jokes aside), superior app load times and top-class gaming performance is industry-leading.

And OnePlus’s software continues to play host to dozens of useful little tweaks and customizations atop a clean, near-stock Android 7.1.1 interface. You’ll have to go digging in the settings to find them all, but there’s a mess of different gestures you can enable to launch the camera, take a screenshot or control your music. The alert slider makes a welcome return too, giving you an easy way to silence distractions while you sleep, or take in a movie.

OxygenOS 4.5 is the fastest smartphone software I’ve ever used.

I also want to single out OnePlus’s ambient display and tap-to-wake features for praise. These features combine the best parts of Android 7.0 and 8.0′s ambient notification features to provide glanceable info when you want it, but without the accidental triggers I’ve come to hate on the Google Pixel.

Speaking of Google’s phones, OnePlus’s launcher has inherited some Pixel traits, keeping around the (marginally useful) widget deck, but implementing a swipe-up app drawer, in addition to the hefty loadout of customization features that debuted on the OnePlus 3 and 3T.

Bottom line: If you value raw speed and appreciate the look and feel of stock Android, you’ll absolutely love OxygenOS on the OnePlus 5.

The OnePlus 5′s dual camera setup is also lightning-quick — fast to launch, with instant captures and zero shutter lag to boot. But image quality is kind of a mixed bag right now, and my working theory is that there’s still some work to be done on the software side.

The 5′s camera is identical to those of the Oppo R11, combining a 16-megapixel f/1.7 standard camera with a 20-megapixel telephoto camera with f/2.6 aperture. Neither has OIS, which in my view is the most problematic thing about this camera setup.

Even after a handful of software updates, the OnePlus 5′s camera feels a little half-baked.

For the most part, I’ve been pleased with the photos the OnePlus 5 has been able to capture. In particular, the telephoto lens is a fun way to re-frame outdoor shots without relying on digital zoom. (Though the portrait mode, I’ve discovered, is rather useless at detecting depth, with the fake bokeh effect often overlapping with the subject.) In darker conditions, the phone automatically switches to a digitally zoomed crop from the main sensor, with its brighter lens.

Low-light performance is decent, with ample color detail being retained and photos appearing less noisy than contemporaries like the Honor 9. But the OnePlus 5′s aggressive noise reduction can cause fine detail in night shots to be totally obliterated.

That’s par for the course in a smartphone camera at this price point.

However the most problematic thing about the OnePlus 5′s camera performance is how much subtle hand motion will affect daylight shots. Even in photos taken on bright sunny days, there’ll be noticeable loss of detail and even occasional ghosting in handheld photos, regardless of whether you’re using Auto HDR mode, or HQ mode, which is designed to improve fine detail capture.

This is exactly the reason why most high-end phone cameras now include optical stabilization, and it’s a real shame that this feature didn’t make the cut on the OnePlus 5. The more sensible decision, I feel, would have been to just put that camera budget into one really good shooter. Instead, we have two cameras that, right now, feel a bit half-assed.

Of course software should also be able to mitigate this issue, by taking faster exposures at higher ISO levels — which is one of the reasons why I think some extra software tuning needs to be done here. For what it’s worth, AC India Editor Harish Jonnalagadda tells me the OnePlus 5′s sister phone, the Oppo R11, often takes better photos than the 5. That’s significant considering the weaker internal hardware of the R11, and suggests OnePlus may be able to make up some ground with future software updates.

Rounding out the spec sheet is a 3,300mAh battery, which has served me well over the past couple of weeks, routinely getting me through a full day’s use with between four and five hours of screen-on time throughout heavier days of around 14 hours.

I’ve quickly fallen back in love with Dash Charge.

The OnePlus 5 isn’t really a multi-day phone, but with Dash Charge at its disposal it doesn’t need to be. The fast, fast, fast fast-charging tech makes a return, unchanged from the OnePlus 3 and 3T, refilling to around the halfway mark in around half an hour. (That’s markedly faster than just about everything right now, with the exception of Huawei’s SuperCharge.)

One minor side note on battery performance: On a couple of occasions I noticed the Android OS process would wakelock the phone overnight, leading to quicker battery drain than expected. I haven’t been able to track down the cause of the problem, but a reboot seemed to set things right.

Overall, then, I’m generally pleased with the OnePlus 5, though I’d question the focus on vanity specs like 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage over features increasingly seen as table stakes in the high-end world, like water resistance and a bright 2K display. (Hell, I’d trade that extra 2GB of RAM for OIS in the camera any day.)

You can’t do everything when you’re selling a phone for less than $500, though. And I feel that despite these price constraints, OnePlus has done a fantastic job, creating a phone that’s worthy of praise, your money and — for the foreseeable future — my SIM card.

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 | Posted by | Categories: Android |