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1 week ago

One of the Galaxy S8's most important features won't be available at launch

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Bixby Voice is only going to be launched in the spring.

Samsung has come out ahead of the Galaxy S8 launch to say that Bixby Voice, one of the cornerstone features of the new phone's AI assistant, won't be available until sometime this spring.

With its intelligent interface and contextual awareness, Bixby will make your phone more helpful by assisting in completing tasks, telling you what you're looking at, learning your routine and remembering what you need to do. Key features of Bixby, including Vision, Home and Reminder, will be available with the global launch of the Samsung Galaxy S8 on April 21. Bixby Voice will be available in the U.S. on the Galaxy S8 later this spring.

In a statement, the company says while some Bixby features, including the clever Vision contextual camera helper, the Home interface embedded in the launcher, and Reminder, a place to store notes and to-dos, will be available when the phone goes on sale April 21, the ability to navigate the phone's UI and perform actions using voice won't come until "later this spring."

Samsung is making it clear Bixby isn't just a Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa or Apple Siri competitor, but "a conceptually new philosophy to the problem [of virtual interaction]," according to a blog post written by the company last month. "It is the machine that needs to learn and adapt to us." This is a very hard thing to do, and is likely why Samsung wants to make sure the experience is great for everyone.

In her briefing with Samsung last month prior to the phone's announcement, Florence Ion described Bixby Voice as "your own 'push to talk' for artificial intelligence."

It's not a search engine like Google Assistant; it is an assistant, and it can navigate around your smartphone the way that you normally would with your own fingertips. Bixby will support almost every task you ask it to do, like cropping a photo, applying a filter, or sharing it with your favorite social network. Eventually, you'll be able to talk Bixby through your process without looking at the screen at all.

Bixby is also supposed to complete tasks, even if you don't shout out the entire command. The idea is that as it's learning what you do with your device, it's also learning how to stay three steps ahead in anticipating what's next. And if it doesn't understand everything that you asked, it can get you most of the way there instead of failing and asking you to try again.

Samsung isn't saying what is holding up the release of Bixby Voice, which will only be available in the U.S. and Korea when it launches, but we expect it is being done with ample weight on the effects of this announcement.

Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+

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img { width: 100%; height: auto; } .devicebox ul { display: table; margin: 0 0 10px; width: 100%; } .devicebox ul li { background: #f7f7f7; margin: 2px 0; padding: 4px 15px; } .devicebox ul li:hover { background: #fff; } .devicebox ul li:before { display: none; } .devicebox p ~ p { line-height: 1.25; } .devicebox p:first-of-type + p { padding: 15px; } .devicebox a.buy-link { border-radius: 5px; display: inline-block; font: 14px/31px "Proxima Nova Extrabld",Helvetica,Arial,sans-serif; text-align: center; } .devicebox a.buy-link, .devicebox a.buy-link:link, .devicebox a.buy-link:active, .devicebox a.buy-link:visited { background: #37B5D7; color: #FFF; } .devicebox a.buy-link:hover { background: #2694B2; text-decoration: none; } .devicebox a.buy-link:before { content: "\e61e"; font: 40px/0 "ac_iconset" !important; margin: 0 3px 0 -8px; vertical-align: middle; } @media all and (min-width: 1025px), all and (max-width: 800px) and (min-width: 660px) { /* div:not(.columns-3) excludes help menu content */ .article-body-wrap > div:not(.columns-3) > *:first-child:not(.sticky-wrapper) .devicebox { padding: 20px 0 25px; } .article-body-wrap > div:not(.columns-3) > *:first-child:not(.sticky-wrapper) .devicebox .video { float: left; margin: 0 30px 0 0; width: calc(100% - 375px); } .article-body-wrap > div:not(.columns-3) > *:first-child:not(.sticky-wrapper) .devicebox h3 + p { bottom: 37px; display: block; overflow: hidden; position: absolute; top: 60px; width: calc(100% - 375px); } .article-body-wrap > div:not(.columns-3) > *:first-child:not(.sticky-wrapper) .devicebox p img, .article-body-wrap > div:not(.columns-3) > *:first-child:not(.sticky-wrapper) .devicebox p > img { position: absolute; top: 50%; transform: translateY(-50%); } .article-body-wrap > div:not(.columns-3) > *:first-child:not(.sticky-wrapper) .devicebox p:nth-child(n+3), .article-body-wrap > div:not(.columns-3) > *:first-child:not(.sticky-wrapper) .devicebox ul { box-sizing: border-box; margin-left: calc(100% - 345px); width: 340px; } .article-body-wrap > div:not(.columns-3) > *:first-child:not(.sticky-wrapper) .devicebox p.list-head { margin-top: -5px; } } @media all and (max-width: 1024px) and (min-width: 801px), all and (max-width: 660px) { .devicebox h3 { text-align: center; } .devicebox ul, .devicebox p { display: block; } } @media all and (max-width: 800px) and (min-width: 660px) { .devicebox { padding: 20px 0 25px; } .devicebox .video { float: left; margin: 0 30px 0 0; width: calc(100% - 375px); } .devicebox h3 + p { bottom: 37px; display: block; overflow: hidden; position: absolute; top: 60px; width: calc(100% - 375px); } .devicebox p img, .devicebox p > img { position: absolute; top: 50%; transform: translateY(-50%); } .devicebox p:nth-child(n+3), .devicebox ul { box-sizing: border-box; margin-left: calc(100% - 345px); width: 340px; } .devicebox p.list-head { margin-top: -5px; } } @media all and (min-width: 1025px), all and (max-width: 800px) and (min-width: 661px), all and (max-width: 500px) { /* 2x buy buttons */ .devicebox a.buy-link { width: calc(50% - 2.5px); margin: 0 5px 5px 0; } .devicebox a.buy-link:nth-of-type(even) { margin: 0 0 5px 0; } .devicebox a.buy-link:last-of-type:nth-of-type(odd) { width: 100%; } } @media all and (max-width: 1024px) and (min-width: 801px), all and (max-width: 659px) and (min-width: 501px) { /* 3x buy buttons */ .devicebox a.buy-link { width: calc(100%/3 - 10px/3); margin: 0 5px 5px 0; } .devicebox a.buy-link:nth-of-type(3n):not(:nth-last-of-type(2)) { margin: 0 0 5px 0; } .devicebox a.buy-link:only-child { width: 100%; margin: 0 0 5px 0; } .devicebox a.buy-link:nth-last-of-type(2):nth-of-type(3n+1), .devicebox a.buy-link:nth-last-of-type(2):nth-of-type(3n+1) ~ a.buy-link, .devicebox a.buy-link:nth-last-of-type(4):nth-of-type(3n+1), .devicebox a.buy-link:nth-last-of-type(4):nth-of-type(3n+1) ~ a.buy-link { width: calc(50% - 2.5px); } .devicebox a.buy-link:nth-last-of-type(2):nth-of-type(3n+1) ~ a.buy-link, .devicebox a.buy-link:nth-last-of-type(4):nth-of-type(3n+1) ~ a.buy-link:nth-last-of-type(odd) { margin: 0 0 5px 0; } } @media all and (max-width: 800px) { .devicebox { margin: 0 0 30px; max-width: none; width: auto; } } @media all and (max-width: 500px) { .devicebox { margin: 0 0 30px; max-width: none; width: auto; } .devicebox a.buy-link:before { display: none; } } .page-admin .devicebox {max-width: 350px;} .page-admin .devicebox .video_iframe {position: relative; height: 0; padding-bottom: 56.9%;} .page-admin .devicebox .video_iframe iframe {width: 100%; height: 100%; position: absolute;} /*-->*/ /*-->*/ /*-->*/

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1 week ago

Google's AutoDraw can help turn a disastrous doodle into a masterpiece

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It's exceptionally fun to use and you can save your project when you're finished.

Do you like to doodle? I find it particularly difficult to do so with just my mouse on the screen, but fortunately, Google has artificial intelligence that can help effectively translate what it is I'm attempting to draw.

Google's automated drawing bot is called AutoDraw and it's available to play with right now. The browser-based bot is based on the Quick, Draw! experiment launched some time ago and, per the introductory video, it's meant as a "drawing tool for the rest of us."

AutoDraw is exceptionally responsive and easy to use, though not always accurate. Select the Auto Draw tool to see suggestions as you're drawing. Once the Google's intelligence engine catches on to what you're attempting to do, you can select the image that's closest to what you're going for to convert your scrawl into passable clip art. Here are a few examples of mine, both of which I drew without the aid of a stylus.

Behold, my attempt at drawing with AutoDraw.

You don't have to hang with the artificial intelligence engine if you don't want to either. There's a "free draw" tool, which lets you create without Google looking over your shoulder. When you're finished practicing your Picasso skills, you can save and share your creation as a PNG file. And the best part is that AutoDraw works inside the browser on both your computer and mobile device.

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1 week ago

Instagram Direct disappearing messages work exactly like Snapchat's

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Thus continues Instagram's efforts to remain relevant among the messaging-obsessed millennials — and it seems to be working.

It appears Facebook's Instagram will stop at nothing until it's fully bumped out Snapchat in the social media wars. At least, that's sure what it seems like with all the Snapchat-like copycat features.

Instagram is rolling out new Direct messaging features to both Android and iOS devices. These new features employ the same disappearing photo and video mechanism that Snapchat became famous for. You can tap to view the disappearing content in the same message thread where you've already been chatting with your friends, and like Snapchat, you can only replay the messages one other time. The sender on the other end will know if you've viewed, replayed, or taken a screenshot of the message.

Snapchat ostensibly works the same. You can send direct Snaps to your pals or to a favorite group of pals, in the same chat window where you've been chatting it up already. You can see when each pal opens a message or screenshots it. You can also choose whether to post a recorded Snap to your story or as a direct message — the same way you can with Instagram Direct.

Instagram cites the reasoning for these Snapchat-like features are due to the vast increase in the number of people using its direct messages. "Since our last update in November 2016, the number of people using Direct has grown from 300 million to 375 million," wrote Instagram. "We want to make Direct the best place to have fun, visual conversations with your friends."

Instagram Direct (left) versus Snapchat's direct messages (right).

Indeed, Instagram is fast becoming the "best place to have fun." Months ago, analytics providers confirmed to TechCrunch about the rapid increase in Instagram Stories users after its debut last summer. And earlier, CNBC reported that Snap's shares had dipped after news of Instagram's Direct disappearing messages hit the airwaves.

Will Instagram ever offer augmented reality face filtering effects for Stories? That's the one feature Snapchat can still leverage in the social media wars, especially since it actually owns the patent on that particular facial recognition technology. But with smartphone makers like Samsung already bundling these sorts of features into the native camera app, and now Facebook entering the story-making game, Snapchat seriously needs to consider looking for other ways to stay relevant in this ever-evolving social media landscape.

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1 week ago

Evie Launcher review: A zippy home screen experience that capitalizes on current trends

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Evie Launcher can evolve your home screen

In the vast world of third-party Android launchers, it's hard to cut through the pack and make an impression.

Evie Launcher, at first glance, looks like another easy-to-use launcher for those who just want to zip through their home screens and app drawer. Below that simple surface are a few features to help spice things up — but not every trick is perfectly pulled off.

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1 week ago

Best Tempered Glass Screen Protectors for LG G6

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Best Tempered Glass Screen Protectors for LG G6

The taller the phone, the longer the screen — protect it! {,intro}

Your LG G6's screen is extra long, so there's more to get scratched and scuffed. A tempered glass screen protector is the perfect way to keep the most important part of your phone safe and blemish-free. Here are the best you can buy.

Yootech

Yootech

Yootech's two-pack of tempered glass screen protectors is a great value for around $8. Yootech guarantees bubble-free installation and promises 99.9% clarity, meaning you shouldn't notice the protector on your screen at all. It also won't mess with touch sensitivity, which is awesome because you don't want to have to reach your thumb all the way up your phone twice.

See at Amazon


Omoton

Omoton

Omoton's tempered glass screen protectors are always highly rated on Amazon, and that's because they're easy to install and reliable. And for $7 for a two-pack, you really can't go wrong. These protectors are scratch-resistant and feature a hydrophobic and oleophobic coating to repel water and fingerprints.

See at Amazon


Spigen

Spigen

Spigen, maker of fine phone cases, makes a great tempered glass screen protector for your LG G6. This is a two-pack of case-friendly tempered glass screen protectors that leave a little room around the edges so that you can, presumably, pop a Spigen case on your phone without worrying about it peeling up at the edges (other cases will still work, of course)q.

Spigen's protectors get a lifetime replacement warrant, so if anything goes wrong, let them know and they'll send you a new one.

See at Amazon


Supershieldz

Supershieldz

If you're looking for the best value, then the Supershieldz three-pack is where it's at — only $8. These protectors also come with a hydrophobic/oleophobic coating, so water will bead and roll off and you shouldn't have to constantly be wiping your screen with your shirt to get the fingerprints off.

See at Amazon


Got a favorite?

Tell us about it in the comments below.

LG G6

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1 week ago

Sony is hedging its bets on VR to keep it chugging after smartphone slowdown

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President Kazuo Hirai spoke to the Financial Review about the company's plans for the post-smartphone era.

The Xperia XZ is an impressive phone, but it's hardly enough to move the needle Sony's stagnant smartphone business.

That doesn't seem to concern Sony, however. In Australia this week, the company's president, Kazuo Hirai, spoke to the Financial Review about the future of its mobile business and why it's focusing its efforts on experimenting in other areas — particularly virtual reality.

"Unless we can communicate with each other telepathically, there's always going to be some sort of a device and a network that is going to allow people to communicate with each other," Hirai told the Financial Review. He continued:

A paradigm shift in how we communicate with each other occurs every 10 years or so, but if we don't remain currently in the business then we don't get to play or we don't get to create the next paradigm shift of communication, we basically throw a towel in and lose all the relationships with our retailers and carriers around the world.

If we did that then whatever idea we may come up with, we're not going to be able to bring to market quickly enough.

It sounds as if Sony has reckoned with the fact that it needs to stay in the smartphone game to remain relevant in the industry, despite its inability to directly compete against its biggest players — namely Apple and Samsung.

Hirai continued that while Sony hasn't settled on what the "post-iPhone era" really is, it's hedging its bets on industries like the internet of things (IoT) and virtual reality. Of the latter, Sony is confident that it's in a particularly advantageous situation considering it's already invested heavily in PS VR. Hirai also expects virtual reality to influence other aspects of Sony's business, including movie and television production.

It's important that VR is successful, not just because it helps the video game business but in fact, the tide actually lifts all the Sony boats. We stand probably to benefit more than some of the other companies that are pursuing VR because we are involved in so many different aspects that touch the VR experience and the content creation."

In the interim, Sony is pursuing "strategic bets" through its Seed Acceleration Program (SAP), which backs ideas that could someday become a lucrative business line for the company. You can read more about that at the full article.

There are no firm global release dates for any of the experimental products Hirai mentions, however, just as there is no telling when smartphones will truly go the way of the dodo. But what's clear is that Sony is still a strong brand name, and as long as it continues to slap its name on quality products, there's no doubt consumers will continue to buy technology from the company in the years to come.

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1 week ago

Android and SD cards: The Ultimate Guide

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SD card

Everything you ever wanted to know about SD cards and your phone.

Android has supported SD cards since the G1 started it all. The overall idea is simple enough — slap an SD card in your phone and expand the storage so you have room for more stuff. While this is mostly the case, there are a few things to know about, especially before you go out and buy one.

We've rounded up everything you need to know about buying and using an SD card with your Android to try and make everything as simple as it can be.

SD card form factors

SD card sizes

Before you do anything, make sure your phone can use an SD card! Since so many different companies make Android phones in so many different models, you will run across some that don't have a slot for a card. Phones from Google are this way, and every name you recognize when it comes to making phones has made at least one model that doesn't have support for an SD card. If you're not sure, poke around the outside of your phone to see if any doors or flaps open up, or grab the manual out of the box and see what it says.

Phones use the smallest microSD card form factor.

Once you've got that sorted, you need to make sure you get the right type of SD card. For your Android phone, you're looking for the microSD form factor. SD cards come in three different sizes. An SD card is the biggest — a little larger than a postage stamp — and is used for things like standalone cameras. The Mini SD form factor is about half the size of a full SD card and they aren't very popular. Chances are you won't ever buy anything that needs a Mini SD card. The microSD card is about the size of your fingernail and the one we're looking for.

When you buy a microSD card, you often get an adapter in the package. The smaller card slides into the adapter so it can fit into something that needs a full-size card — like your computer — as well as something like your phone that needs a microSD card. Keep track of this, because it's pretty handy when transferring pictures or video from your phone to your computer.

SD card storage versions

SD cards

There is a method to the madness of all those letters you see.

The next thing you need to know is the storage version. You can buy microSD cards, microSDHC cards, and microSDXC cards. A microSD card was designed to hold up to 2GB of information, though a few 4GB versions are available that work outside of the specifications. microSDHC cards (Secure Digital High Capacity) are designed to hold up to 32GB of data. microSDXC (Secure Digital eXtra Capacity) cards are designed to hold between 32GB and 2TB of data. It's important to know what version your phone can use. Most modern phones — Android or otherwise — will be able to use a microSDHC card. Many newer phones are capable of using a microSDXC card.

There are no easy-to-see differences between a phone that can use a microSDXC card and one that can't. You'll need to consult the documentation that came with your phone or hop into the forums and ask other folks who have already found the answer. The versions are backward compatible (a microSDXC card slot can use a microSD or microSDHC card) but there is no forwards compatibility, and if your phone can't use a microSDXC card, it won't ever work.

SD card speed classes

MicroSD card

No card is going to be as fast as the listed maximum.

You need to understand the speed class ratings. Those are the numbers and letters you see printed on the card and the packaging. The short version is to never buy one with a number lower than 10 when it comes to speed class, and if you use a phone with a 4K camera, go even faster and look for a UHS class card.

We've broken down the specifics of what all this really means and which you need, and you can read that right here:

Everything you need to know about SD card speeds and your phone

Adoptable storage and you

You'll probably see people talking about adoptable storage when SD cards and Android are in the conversation. It's a really neat thing that your phone probably doesn't have and chances are you're better off for it.

The idea is to use a fast SD card and make it a permanent part of the system. Once it goes in, it never can come out or all your stuff stops working. It's also a part of the phone it came out of and nothing else will be able to use it unless you reformat it and start over.

This, and concerns about performance, is why most companies making Android phones don't let you use Adoptable storage without hacking it in yourself. On Android things that aren't phones — like the NVIDIA Shield TV for example — you can plug in USB stick drives or hard drives and "adopt" them into the system. This makes a little more sense and a 500GB USB drive is a great match for your Android TV box. We go into details at the link below.

Everything you need to know about your SD card and Adoptable storage

Should I encrypt my SD card?

This is one of those things that if you have to ask, the answer is usually no.

SD card encryption is a great way to make sure nobody can see anything you have stored on your card without being able to sign into your phone, but there are a few drawbacks:

  • It takes a little longer to read something from or write something to the SD card. Not a lot but it's a definite thing.
  • You can't take the card out and do something like transfer pictures and music from a computer.
  • If your phone dies, you've lost everything on the card because your phone is the only thing that can decrypt it.

Keep all this in mind if you decide to try it, and make sure to have a good plan to keep your data backed up somewhere else.

Quick Q&A

MicroSD card

  • How should I format my SD card? Insert it into your phone and follow the instructions in the notification you get. Since there are several different file formats an SD card can use, you should let the phone pick the one it wants. Don't worry, your card will still work in a computer to copy files.
  • Do SD cards go bad? Yes, but that's becoming less of a thing with recent cards. Your SD card has a limited amount of times it can be read from and written to before it starts to have errors. If you start to get errors when you are using it, consider buying a new one before it goes bad. As mentioned, newer cards last longer than cards from just a few years ago.
  • Is my SD card waterproof? Maybe. It will say on the packaging if it is designed to get wet. Always try to not let it get wet, but if it does, don't stick it into anything until it dries, then take a Q-tip and some 99% rubbing alcohol and clean the copper contacts on the end you plug in. Let that dry and give it a try.
  • Why does Google hate SD cards? I don't think it hates them because every Chromebook can use one. Officially, Google says SD cards are not as secure and having more than one storage drive is messy for the end user. Feel free to add your own theory here.
  • Which SD card should I buy? Only you know the answer based on how you will use it. We've done our research, and you can check out our favorites here:

Best microSD Card for Android

When it comes to using SD cards in your phone, things don't need to be confusing. After you see all the hype from companies making them, take a minute or two and read through this again, then think about what you need a card to do. It really is that simple.

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1 week ago

Google has completely messed up Assistant's 'shopping list' feature

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I don't have Google Home or Google Express. Why make my experience worse?

Starting April 10, Google moved Assistant's excellent shopping list feature from Keep to Express, which means that users that rely on Google Keep, like me, to track shopping items are going to have a harder time.

The gist is this: Google is pushing its Home speaker and Express delivery service to make it relatively easy for people to save a shopping list and fulfil the order in one fell swoop. That's great, because Google Assistant is awesome for that. Until recently, asking Google Home, or Google Assistant on your phone to "add eggs to my shopping list" would automatically populate a running list in Google Keep. So far, so good, since Keep is ubiquitous, available on the web or mobile, and is saved offline in case you're somewhere that doesn't have internet service.

With this change, Google now saves the list to either the Google Home app, or Google Express. If you have neither, the list opens a Chrome tab, which is only accessible through a mobile browser and has no actual desktop web presence. It's also not available offline.

For someone like me, who has access to neither Google Home nor Google Express, this change is for the worse. The kicker, too, is that using the Google search tab on your phone, either from a browser or in the "Feed," saves your written requests to... Google Keep. Yes, the confusion is real.

Also, why won't Google Assistant let me add pears?

Google Home

Google Store Best Buy Target

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1 week ago

Samsung may bring its fancy 6GB Galaxy S8 to North America

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The higher-storage Galaxy S8 may come to North America!

While Samsung's native Korea tends to keep its special edition Galaxys to itself, the company is keeping open the possibility that its impressive 6GB/128GB model of the Galaxy S8 will be available in other countries.

According to Yonhap News, Samsung is mulling the idea of bringing the configuration to other markets.

Samsung Electronics said the 6GM-RAM Galaxy S8 Plus will be initially sold in South Korea, but plans to expand the sales to other countries will be considered depending on market's demand.

This would be the first time Samsung has offered a 128GB configuration of its flagships outside of its native Korea, and could, if paired with, say, a new color, prove to be a popular choice amongst enthusiasts looking to eke the most performance and resale value from the phone. It would cost more than the regular S8, at around $1,018 at today's exchange rate.

The standard Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ come with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. Would you spend the extra two hundred dollars or so for the 6GB Galaxy S8?

Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+

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img { width: 100%; height: auto; } .devicebox ul { display: table; margin: 0 0 10px; width: 100%; } .devicebox ul li { background: #f7f7f7; margin: 2px 0; padding: 4px 15px; } .devicebox ul li:hover { background: #fff; } .devicebox ul li:before { display: none; } .devicebox p ~ p { line-height: 1.25; } .devicebox p:first-of-type + p { padding: 15px; } .devicebox a.buy-link { border-radius: 5px; display: inline-block; font: 14px/31px "Proxima Nova Extrabld",Helvetica,Arial,sans-serif; text-align: center; } .devicebox a.buy-link, .devicebox a.buy-link:link, .devicebox a.buy-link:active, .devicebox a.buy-link:visited { background: #37B5D7; color: #FFF; } .devicebox a.buy-link:hover { background: #2694B2; text-decoration: none; } .devicebox a.buy-link:before { content: "\e61e"; font: 40px/0 "ac_iconset" !important; margin: 0 3px 0 -8px; vertical-align: middle; } @media all and (min-width: 1025px), all and (max-width: 800px) and (min-width: 660px) { /* div:not(.columns-3) excludes help menu content */ .article-body-wrap > div:not(.columns-3) > *:first-child:not(.sticky-wrapper) .devicebox { padding: 20px 0 25px; } .article-body-wrap > div:not(.columns-3) > *:first-child:not(.sticky-wrapper) .devicebox .video { float: left; margin: 0 30px 0 0; width: calc(100% - 375px); } .article-body-wrap > div:not(.columns-3) > *:first-child:not(.sticky-wrapper) .devicebox h3 + p { bottom: 37px; display: block; overflow: hidden; position: absolute; top: 60px; width: calc(100% - 375px); } .article-body-wrap > div:not(.columns-3) > *:first-child:not(.sticky-wrapper) .devicebox p img, .article-body-wrap > div:not(.columns-3) > *:first-child:not(.sticky-wrapper) .devicebox p > img { position: absolute; top: 50%; transform: translateY(-50%); } .article-body-wrap > div:not(.columns-3) > *:first-child:not(.sticky-wrapper) .devicebox p:nth-child(n+3), .article-body-wrap > div:not(.columns-3) > *:first-child:not(.sticky-wrapper) .devicebox ul { box-sizing: border-box; margin-left: calc(100% - 345px); width: 340px; } .article-body-wrap > div:not(.columns-3) > *:first-child:not(.sticky-wrapper) .devicebox p.list-head { margin-top: -5px; } } @media all and (max-width: 1024px) and (min-width: 801px), all and (max-width: 660px) { .devicebox h3 { text-align: center; } .devicebox ul, .devicebox p { display: block; } } @media all and (max-width: 800px) and (min-width: 660px) { .devicebox { padding: 20px 0 25px; } .devicebox .video { float: left; margin: 0 30px 0 0; width: calc(100% - 375px); } .devicebox h3 + p { bottom: 37px; display: block; overflow: hidden; position: absolute; top: 60px; width: calc(100% - 375px); } .devicebox p img, .devicebox p > img { position: absolute; top: 50%; transform: translateY(-50%); } .devicebox p:nth-child(n+3), .devicebox ul { box-sizing: border-box; margin-left: calc(100% - 345px); width: 340px; } .devicebox p.list-head { margin-top: -5px; } } @media all and (min-width: 1025px), all and (max-width: 800px) and (min-width: 661px), all and (max-width: 500px) { /* 2x buy buttons */ .devicebox a.buy-link { width: calc(50% - 2.5px); margin: 0 5px 5px 0; } .devicebox a.buy-link:nth-of-type(even) { margin: 0 0 5px 0; } .devicebox a.buy-link:last-of-type:nth-of-type(odd) { width: 100%; } } @media all and (max-width: 1024px) and (min-width: 801px), all and (max-width: 659px) and (min-width: 501px) { /* 3x buy buttons */ .devicebox a.buy-link { width: calc(100%/3 - 10px/3); margin: 0 5px 5px 0; } .devicebox a.buy-link:nth-of-type(3n):not(:nth-last-of-type(2)) { margin: 0 0 5px 0; } .devicebox a.buy-link:only-child { width: 100%; margin: 0 0 5px 0; } .devicebox a.buy-link:nth-last-of-type(2):nth-of-type(3n+1), .devicebox a.buy-link:nth-last-of-type(2):nth-of-type(3n+1) ~ a.buy-link, .devicebox a.buy-link:nth-last-of-type(4):nth-of-type(3n+1), .devicebox a.buy-link:nth-last-of-type(4):nth-of-type(3n+1) ~ a.buy-link { width: calc(50% - 2.5px); } .devicebox a.buy-link:nth-last-of-type(2):nth-of-type(3n+1) ~ a.buy-link, .devicebox a.buy-link:nth-last-of-type(4):nth-of-type(3n+1) ~ a.buy-link:nth-last-of-type(odd) { margin: 0 0 5px 0; } } @media all and (max-width: 800px) { .devicebox { margin: 0 0 30px; max-width: none; width: auto; } } @media all and (max-width: 500px) { .devicebox { margin: 0 0 30px; max-width: none; width: auto; } .devicebox a.buy-link:before { display: none; } } .page-admin .devicebox {max-width: 350px;} .page-admin .devicebox .video_iframe {position: relative; height: 0; padding-bottom: 56.9%;} .page-admin .devicebox .video_iframe iframe {width: 100%; height: 100%; position: absolute;} /*-->*/ /*-->*/ /*-->*/

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1 week ago

Fitbit Alta HR review: Everything I need

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The Fitbit Alta HR isn't much of an upgrade over the original, but at $150, it's a pretty great fitness tracker.

At this point, Fitbit isn't new — even if you've never owned one, you kind of know what it does: It tracks steps, helps you log workouts, and lets you know how little sleep you're getting, because life.

The Alta HR is the natural evolution of the company's more fashion-forward product, the Alta, which was unveiled in early 2016 as "the stylish one". Interchangeable bands and a sleek, vertical OLED display made it one of the most popular fitness trackers of the year, and it was the basis for the larger Charge 2, which came out towards the end of 2016.

The Alta HR takes what made the Alta great and adds a bigger battery and a heart rate monitor, which tracks all day for up to seven days. It's not a massive change, but it's one that has turned me from an Alta skeptic into a believer.

What's good

The Alta HR isn't any bigger than its predecessor; aside from the Flex 2, which is still the company's smallest (and only truly waterproof) tracker, the Alta HR is among Fitbit's most hideable trackers, blending into practically any situation and outfit.

The main thing I learned from the new Sleep Stages feature is that I don't sleep enough. Thanks, Fitbit.

My review unit shipped with the black band, but there are four regular models to choose from, including black, blue/gray, coral, and fuchsia, along with two special editions that cost slightly more and fancy up the tracker itself. Because of the heart rate monitor, the unit needs to be snug-yet-comfy against the wrist, which is why Fitbit replaced the loose-fitting snap strap of the original with a traditional clasp that wears much more like a watch.

I've been wearing the Fitbit Alta HR for the past two weeks and have barely remembered it's on my wrist. It doesn't get in the way when I'm typing, nor does it irritate the skin under the heart rate sensor (though I never had that issue with old Fitbits either). Battery life has been amazing, too: I've only needed to charge it twice since taking it out of the box, and as of this writing, this is my 14th day wearing it, and I'm still only at 30% battery, according to the app. That seven-day uptime is actually conservative.

Fitbit's also done a good job implementing its automatic heart rate sensing into the Alta HR; I just go about my day, attend my workouts, and let the software take care of the rest. It's not a particularly complicated proposition, since I don't really vary my workouts all that much, but I can see the product working out well for someone who varies his or her cardio routine on a weekly basis, since the app has become quite good at detecting various forms of activity. Manual logging is still possible, too, as is food journaling, though that isn't a feature I've ever used.

Sleep Stages, an updated form of the company's well-regarded sleep tracking system, has also been interesting, though, like the fitness data, it's unclear how much I will learn and change from wearing the Alta HR over the long term. Sleep Stages uses a combination of movement and heart rate monitoring to determine whether you're awake, in REM sleep, light sleep, or deep sleep.

While it's interesting that I'm learning I only get 90 minutes of REM sleep a night, I' more concerned with the fact that I'm only sleeping an average of five hours 30 minutes a night — and I don't need a Fitbit to tell me that. As good a gadget as this is, it has yet to— over the course of five years or so — change my poor habits for the better. That's something I need to undertake myself.

Fitbit's Android app has improved a lot over the past couple of years, and it's now not only really easy to sync — and keep synced — but I can pick up where I left off on a new phone. Bluetooth connectivity is no longer finicky (Google thankfully fixed this a few Android versions ago) and I don't have to remember to explicitly open the app to sync it — it just works.

The new dashboard, which shows steps taken, miles or kilometers walked, calories burned, and total active minutes, is both intuitive and data-heavy, which I like, and Fitbit's social features are still second to none. I've spoken to many Fitbit fans who, despite the lackluster hardware, have bought new trackers instead of leaving for Android Wear or an Apple Watch strictly because of the expansive community of friends and fellow cardioheads pushing one another to hit that 10,000 daily step goal and beyond.

What needs work

The Alta HR is still very much a fitness tracker; you can add heart rate monitoring to it and call it smarter, but at the end of the day this thing doesn't come close to being "smart". That's OK — Fitbit isn't exactly advertising smartwatch-like features, but it's still something to keep in mind when you're shelling out $150 for something. To that end, the Alta HR supports phone and text notifications — but only for one app — as well as basic calendar appointments, so this isn't going to be close to what you get with a smartwatch.

I don't really use the Alta HR to check anything but the time. I prefer to use the app.

Another thing that isn't like a smartwatch is the OLED screen, which is hidden behind a scratch-prone piece of plastic. You physically tap — hard — against the panel to change what you see, and though there is raise-to-wake, it's barely readable in sunlight. The screen, too, isn't touch-responsive, so it sometimes takes a few good pecks at it to get it moving.

The order and specificity of the screens can be adjusted in the app, but, beyond checking the time, I find myself barely using the Alta HR itself to dig into my stats; I tend to open the app, which is far more useful in 99% of situations.

While the bands are replaceable, they're not cheap — a standard rubber replacement is $30, while the leather options go for $60 and the metal for $100. After a couple of weeks with the black rubberized band, it's grown quite dirty, and even with soap and water I've found it difficult to get it back to pristine. The leather bands are a bit more hardy, but they're also not appropriate for every situation.

Should you buy one? Probably, but the Charge 2 is better

I love the Charge 2. I think it's Fitbit's best product ever. The Alta HR has most of that product's DNA but lacks the larger display and side button that makes navigating the UI a bit easier. Both the Charge 2 and Alta HR are the same upfront price, $149.95, but the latter has a metal clasp option, which may appeal to some who want to dress it up a bit more.

The Alta HR isn't leaving my wrist any time soon, but I'm not convinced it's enough of a change to justify an upgrade from the original Alta — not unless you absolutely need heart rate monitoring — and despite the excellent battery life, it's just not as good a product as the Charge 2, even for those looking to combine sport and fashion.

See at Fitbit

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1 week ago

Rachio's second-gen smart sprinkler controller is still a must-have for homeowners

7

If you have a lawn, you'll need to water it. And the Rachio connected controller will do it smarter — and save you money at the same time.

There are many shameful things that can happen to a homeowner. Your car rolling out of the garage and into your neighbor's azalea is one. The sewer pipe getting crushed on Mother's Day (and on a Sunday no less, and quite possibly as you're headed out for a few days of meetings in a Miami mansion is another.

(Yes, these things might or might not have happened to me at some point. Use your best judgment.)

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One thing I've managed to avoid for a few years, though, is watering the grass while it's raining out. That's not just a Florida thing, either. Dumb timers are dumb. Smart sprinklers are better.

So a few years ago Rachio sent me one of their first-generation smart sprinkler controllers. And the original Iro has served me well. Now it's time to update, and Rachio sent over the current generation of its controller. The second gen starts at $199 for an 8-zone model, or you can get a 16-zoner for $50 more. There's also a $29 waterproof enclosure if you need to mount things outside.

Even in its initial form, Rachio wasn't just a timer that you can control from your phone. It goes a good bit further. It pulls in local weather information to tell if it's going to rain, and whether a watering cycle should be skipped. You can input soil type for more precise watering.

Rachio water savingsAnd ultimately it should save you from wasting water — and that means you'll be wasting less money.

Installation will vary depending on your setup, of course. Mine's pretty simple, though. The controller is on a wall in my garage, just within range of my wireless router. (That part's important, of course. If you don't have a Wifi connection in the garage, you'll need to adjust.) From there it's just a matter of popping off the old controller, screwing the new one into the wall, and reattaching the wires. Rachio's quick-start guide does a good job walking you through things if needed. But really this is basic homeowner stuff.

From there you'll setup through the app. (It's available on Android and on iOS, of course.) That part's been greatly improved since the first generation controller. The other major upgrade is the addition of manual controls, which was definitely needed.

After that you set zones and times and what not, and that's that. If you need to adjust, you can do so in the app, or from the Rachio website.

Or if you're feeling a little extra cheeky, yes, it'll work with Amazon Alexa, as well as with the Google Assistant. (The latter is buried under More Settings -> Services and not under the higher-level Home Control.)

You can be as hands-off as you like here. I generally just let the system take care of things, at least at the start of the season. If I think the lawn needs more water, I'll adjust. But the best part is that I don't have to worry about watering my lawn with my own money while it's getting a good drink for free.

And especially here in Florida, that pays for itself pretty fast.

See at Amazon

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1 week ago

Best Wireless Charging Pads for the Galaxy S8

28

Your new Samsung Galaxy S8 supports wireless charging, so take full advantage of the convenience!

The Samsung Galaxy S8 is a beautifully designed phone packed with convenient features. That includes wireless charging, which allows you to forgo dealing with cables and elegantly have your phone charging on your desk at work or nightstand at home and simply grab it when it's time to get up and go.

There are a variety of wireless charging stands and pad options compatible with the Galaxy S8, from chargers designed by Samsung to third-party products. Here are your best available options for the Samsung Galaxy S8.

Samsung Fast Charge Convertible Wireless Charging Pad

Samsung has come out with a completely redesigned wireless charging pad/stand, which launched alongside the Galaxy S8. Besides the premium leather-like appearance and ingenious design which allows you to easily convert this pad into an angled charging stand, you can be sure that this charging pad was created with your Galaxy S8 in mind.

The charger comes with a spare Samsung Fast Charge wall charger — because let's be honest, you can never have too many OEM wall chargers — and allows you to fast charge your Galaxy S8 wirelessly at your home or office. At nearly $100, this is the most expensive option on this list, but if premium quality and functionality are your top priorities, this sure looks like a real winner.

Pre-order at Samsung

Samsung Wireless Charging Pad w/ 2A wall adapter

If functionality and cost are your two biggest buying factors, you'll want to consider Samsung's older wireless charging pad, which has been deeply discounted on Amazon.

These UFO-like charging pads can charge Qi-compatible devices and are Fast Charge-compatible with your Galaxy S8. It also comes with a Samsung 2A wall charger — always great — and also has a standard one-year warranty. This is a great option if you're looking to set up wireless charging at your home and at work because they're so damn cheap right now. You can also get the older style as a charging stand if you prefer that look instead.

See at Amazon

Spigen Qi Wireless Charging Stand

Spigen is one of the best accessory makers, and its Qi Charging Stand is a fine example to back that claim. This charging stand is angled so you are still able to see your display easily while your phone is charging. If you need a way to quickly top off your phone on your desk or a new place to keep it safe on your nightstand, this may be the choice for you. Pick yours up for under $30 at Amazon.

See at Amazon

TYLT Qi Wireless Charging Stand

TYLT has been in the wireless charging game for years, proving itself to be one on of the most trusted third-party manufacturers. This is another angled wireless charging stand that lets you keep your phone accessible while it charges at your desk. What separates TYLT from Spigen's stand is the color options — you can get this charging stand in black, red, blue and yellow.

See at Amazon

Aukey Wireless Charging Pad

Aukey's wireless charging pad for Qi-enabled devices is sleek and minimalist, which might jibe well with your personal tastes. It's roughly the size of a coaster and available in both black and white, so it won't take up too much space on your desk or nightstand. The trade-off here is that the smooth charging surface may not be the best for the slick glass back of the Galaxy S8, but it should also charge through most cases.

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Do you charge wirelessly?

Have you owned any of the wireless chargers we've featured here? What has been your experience? Let us know in the comments below!

Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+

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1 week ago

How to watch Plex in your Gear VR

Enjoy your favorite movies and television shows even when you're in VR with Plex.

Plex gives you the ability to watch your movies and tv shows, listen to your music, or look at your photos, no matter where you are using the Plex app. While there isn't a Plex app available for Gear VR quite yet, that doesn't mean that you can't use Plex while you're in VR. It just requires a few extra steps to get there, instead of opening an app. It's simple, and easy, and we've got the details for you here.

Read more at VRHeads.com

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1 week ago

Which Galaxy S8 features will come to the Galaxy S7?

38

The core Samsung interface, along with Bixby, should make the cut. Everything else remains up in the air.

So the Galaxy S8 has its fancy Infinity Display and iris scanners, not to mention faster processors and other upgraded specs, but when it comes to the actual feature set, it's likely the year-old Galaxy S7 will be inheriting at least some of the tricks that make the GS8 such a desirable handset.

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1 week ago

Reminder: Ask Daniel is the most caffeinated place to get your questions answered!

20

AC's Managing Editor answers your questions in a new forum!

Everyone has a story. How they got where they are, and what they want to do next. I have been very lucky to be able to do a lot of wonderful and interesting things in my life, and it's a privilege to be able to write for a living, turning some of those experiences into narratives. And I love talking to the people that make it possible.

The humble editor and his favorite t-shirt.

Ask Daniel, the most caffeinated place to get your questions answered!

I love hearing from the people that visit this site every day, and there's nothing better than building a relationship out of a community that has been here for a long time. Android Central's forums are vital and alive, and they're full of inquisitive and intelligent people looking for, and offering, thoughtful and intelligent answers every day. I hope I can add a small amount to that general knowledge base. With ☕️ in hand. I drink way too much of it.

If you're curious about my first phones or what inspires me to write about Android, join me in the forums!

Join me in the Ask Daniel forums!

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Daniel Bader 03-12-2017 11:35 AM “

Well, I ended up here a little sideways. I love the Canadian mobile market, but it's a bit stale (as I'm sure you know, being Canadian). So I started looking for opportunities to work at a more U.S.-centric publication that also, occasionally, dabbles in Canada. Mobile Nations made a lot of sense because it is a remote company, so you can essentially work from anywhere, which is exactly what I...

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