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6 days ago

AT&T ditches monthly overages for reduced data speeds

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AT&T has announced that the carrier will be ending overage charges in favor of reduced data speeds once you've used your allotment. The carrier will offer plans ranging from 1GB to 200GB of high-speed data so you can pick the correct amount for what you use. Some customers will actually get more data in their allotment under the new plans without paying any more money. Instead of charging per gigabyte, AT&T is offering on some plans to bump up your data, like 10GB more for just $20 a month.

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6 days ago

T-Mobile gives all plans unlimited data in latest Uncarrier move

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What is Uncarrier 12 and why is T-Mobile offering unlimited data?

T-Mobile's latest Uncarrier move is less about thanking you and more about increasing its monthly revenue.

The company has announced that it is moving all postpaid plans to a so-called T-Mobile One scheme, getting rid of data buckets in favor of a single account type that includes unlimited, calls, text, and data, along with all the other Uncarrier benefits previously announced such as low-cost roaming, weekly perks, and low-friction carrier switching.

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6 days ago

Android 7.0: Multi-window for everyone

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Android 7.0's three multi-window modes can make sure you never miss a Pokémon — even when you have other things that need doing.

Android Nougat's biggest user-facing feature has to be the new native multi-window support. The concept isn't new. Samsung's been doing it for a while, Microsoft is changing the way they do it for smaller devices and even Apple is doing it on tablets. Now it's Google's turn.

It's not an entirely new concept for Google, either. The basic Android framework has always allowed what you see on your screen to be drawn at almost any size, and the idea of having more than one view shown at a time was kicked around in more than one session at Google I/O 2011 as part of the "next-step" for Android Tablets on Honeycomb. Five years later, it's finally ready.

A good part of the reason it took longer was because baking it into Android at the system level can be tricky. Android is designed to run on just about anything with a processor. It powers microwaves, washing machines, refrigerators, sprinkler systems and more. It can even solve a Rubik's Cube with ease. The things that run Android and have a display — like your phone — also come in many different sizes. Once you change the operating system so that every app can run in a multi-window environment, it has to work everywhere.

And that's what Google did. Android 7.0 supports three types of multi-window views natively. That means any app you download can use it unless the developer of the app writes it so that it tells the system no when you try to move it to a multi-window view. And it's not just a split screen system — the other views make it even more complicated.

Android Nougat has three different types of multi-window mode.

Split-screen view is almost the same as what we see on Samsung phones right now. You can either long press a thumbnail in overview mode or long press the overview button and you'll be able to have two separate windows with separate apps running in each. You can drag and drop data between them, and the dividing line is movable so you can make one app larger than the other. Developers can optimize their apps by doing things like declaring a minimum size for the window it's in, but even if they do nothing their app will try to run in split-screen multi-window mode. Google says split-screen mode was designed for handheld devices, which means tablets and most phones.

Multi-window can also be displayed in a picture-in-picture mode. We already talked about how it works and how it will make Android TV better. When an app goes into a picture window, things like the controls and interface elements need to be hidden and the content portion shrinks to a size based on the dot pitch of the display being used. Also, apps can sprout the second view and have a picture window of one part of the app while another part of the app is in full-screen mode. The new API's support the new window view, and a developer can use it in their app without too much of a hassle. This is designed for Android TV and the people who built the actual hardware need to enable it. An app designed for picture-in-picture mode won't do anything if the user tries to put it in any other mode unless the developer has also included support for them.

Multi-window has a third view — freeform mode. So far it only officially exists in the documentation. It got hacked onto the first Android N preview, but since we haven't seen it. The Android Developer website says:

Manufacturers of larger devices can choose to enable freeform mode, in which the user can freely resize each activity. If the manufacturer enables this feature, the device offers freeform mode in addition to split-screen mode.

Notice they don't specify what a larger device is. So far it seems that this doesn't include tablets like the Pixel C, but it could be enabled on bigger devices with 12-inch screens, or Chromebooks that run Android apps. It's up to the manufacturer to decide if they want to include support.

The short time we had to play with freeform mode during the Nougat Developer Preview showed that it puts apps into floating windows than can be resized, moved around, minimized or maximized. This is just like how the software on your laptop or desktop computer works. The apps will support drag-and-drop data sharing and every app knows when it's been moved to the top layer and we're actively using it. Apps can even open in a "shrunken" view provided the developer chooses to do so. The apps each run in their own process and are independent of each other, though.

If a developer targets their app for Android 7.0 they have a few options for a multi-window view. They can define the size and the layout of the app when it's not using the full screen and make it easier to use after it's shrunk down. Because that's a real issue — some apps just don't look good or aren't very usable if they only use half of an already small display — developers can also decide to not support the feature.

If apps aren't updated, they are forced into a multi-window view by the system itself — sometimes with bad results.

If a developer doesn't update their app, it will be "forcibly resized" by the system after a dialog letting us know it's an older app that doesn't support the feature so things may be broken. If the app was written to only support a fixed size, multi-window mode is closed and that app takes the entire screen.

We already knew from hacking Samsung's Multi-Window feature that most apps just shrink down to one side or the other without much of a fuss if they aren't officially supported, and our time with the Nougat Developer Preview shows the same results. While the code used to do things is a good bit different as an Android native feature, the basic concept remains and apps that use best practices in the code look and work the same, only smaller. But not every app plays nice and we hope developers will soon update those to handle things gracefully even if they don't change anything else.

Finally, if you don't want to use multi-window on your phone, you don't have to. All Android apps will still run full screen until you tell them to change their view.

Android 7.0 Nougat

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6 days ago

Android 7.0 brings DVR features and picture-in-picture to Android TV

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Changes to the "time-shift" and multiwindow APIs for Android TV will make for a better living room.

Google didn't forget about the big-screen experience in Android 7.0, and two new features are here that are designed to enhance the experience on your Android-powered television.

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6 days ago

Galaxy Note 7 teardown reveals what's underneath the glass exterior

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It's time to see what's underneath that Gorilla Glass 5 back.

The folks at iFixit have managed to get their hands on a brand-new Galaxy Note 7, giving us a look at the innards of Samsung's latest flagship. The Note 7 has the same Sony IMX 260 camera sensor as the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge, but we're treated to two camera sensors at the front — one for the front camera and the other for the new iris scanner.

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6 days ago

Best cheap cases for OnePlus 3

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Best cheap cases for OnePlus 3

What's the best cheap case for OnePlus 3?

The OnePlus 3 is an inexpensive phone, but you of course still want to protect it. That being said, you might want to match what you spent on the phone to what you'll spend on a case, relatively speaking.

So, if you're not in for the expensive, bulletproof cases, then opt for one (or all) of our favorite cheap cases for the OnePlus 3. Cheap doesn't have to mean bad!

TUDIA slim-fit Heavy Duty Extreme

TUDIA Slim-fit Heavy Duty Extreme

Even though you're opting for an inexpensive case, that's no reason to skimp on protection. The TUDIA slim-fit Heavy Duty Extreme comprises two layers: an inner layer of shock-absorbing TPU and an outer layer of hard polycarbonate.

You have raised edges around the front of your phone to protect the screen when you place it face-down, and you've got a raised edge around the camera lens so that you won't be taking photos of just cracks any time soon.

This case's cutouts are quite precise, so you won't have to worry about taking it off to charge or take photos, and it fits snugly, making that TPU inner layer more effective.

The Heavy Duty Extreme comes in matte black, metallic slate, mint, and rose, so choose one to match your style.

If you want an expensive case feel with great protection for around $13, then the TUDIA Heavy Duty Extreme is the case you want.

See at Amazon

Spigen Rugged Armor

Spigen Rugged Armor

Spigen just makes great cases. I've had an used quite a few of them and they always fit just right. The Rugged Armor case is the perfect blend of solid protection and a slim fit that doesn't add much bulk or weight to the OnePlus 3.

Some cases, especially those with polycarbonate backs, can be slippery to hold, but the Spigen Rugged Armor case is made entirely of soft TPU, with a textured feel that's easy to hang on to.

The inside of the case has a spiderweb design, which disperses impact around the entire case, and each corner employs Spigen's "Air Cushion technology," which leaves a pocket of air between the phone and the case, again in order to disperse impact. If you've ever dropped a naked phone on its corner, you'll understand why this is very important.

If you're looking for solid protection and a non-slip, textured phone case, then the Spigen Rugged Armor is a great way to go.

See at Amazon

Love Ying Crystal Clear Ultra

Love Ying

If you'd like to add a little pizzazz to your OnePlus 3 — but not too much — the Love Ying Crystal Clear Ultra series of cases is a great minimalist option for something inexpensive yet effective.

These Love Ying cases are made of soft TPU and protect your OnePlus 3 from dirt, dust, scratches, and bumps. These are the most rugged cases but will protect your phone from everyday wear and tear.

Coming in mint, purple, clear, and pink, they add a lovely translucent color to your phone, so you can appreciate its design while adding a splash of personality.

Be aware that TPU can turn yellow over time, due to the way it absorbs sunlight, but that shouldn't be for quite a while, so grab a few of these cases (they're only around $7) and enjoy!

See at Amazon

OnePlus Protective Cases

One Plus Protective Case

Manufacturers may not make the coolest cases for their phones, but they at least usually fit pretty well. That being said, the OnePlus Protective cases from OnePlus are cool as hell!

You have five different case materials to choose from: Sandstone, Karbon, Black Apricot, Rosewood, and Bamboo, and they're all made from the materials after which they're named, mixed with kevlar (except sandstone – it's polycarbonate)! First off, who's ever even heard of Black Apricot, let alone had a phone case made out of it? Second, these cases are very lightweight and snap on easily, protecting the back and sides of your phone from bumps and scratches.

The top and bottom of the your OnePlus 3 are left open, so you don't have to worry about the cutouts being precise or not and removing the case is that much easier.

The cases range in price from $19.95 (Sandstone) to $24.95 (the rest), which is quite inexpensive when you consider what other phone manufacturer's charge for proprietary cases.

If you want a case that's unique, made of something other than TPU, silicone, or polycarbonate, and rather stylish, then grab one from OnePlus. It'll fit your phone well and you know people are going to ask you about it!

See at OnePlus

Cruzerlite Bugdroid Circuit case

Cruzerlite Bugdroid Circuit

Cruzerlite's Bugdroid Circuit case is a quirky and fun TPU case that features the Android Bugdroid (of course, he's Lloyd here at AC) on the back, with a sort of circuit board pattern. It's a great case for diehard Android fans and folks who are looking for a lightweight case that won't fatten up their OnePlus 3 too much.

This case comes in black, blue, clear, green, orange, red, smoke, and teal, so you'll be able to find one that matches your personal style.

As far as phone cases go, this one is a pretty run-of-the-mill TPU shell, but the design is really cool and the softer cases are better for shock absorption. Plus, they're only around $10, which is why they're one of the best cheap cases you can find for the OnePlus 3!

See at Amazon


Ringke Fusion

Ringke Fusion

The Ringke Fusion offers versatility in its design, with soft TPU around the edges and a hard polycarbonate back, expertly protecting your OnePlus 3 from all manner of scratches, scuffs, and bumps.

The clear back of the case means you get to admire the metal composition of your phone, but if you so choose, Ringke sends along a DIY template (basically a piece of cardboard) that helps you shape photos or images that you print out so that they fit perfectly in your case. Boom, you have a custom phone case design that you can switch out as often as you like!

You have your choice of two edge accents: Crystal View or Smoke Black.

The Ringke Fusion starts around $12 and is perfect for anyone looking to bridge the gap between a rugged case and a minimalist case.

See at Amazon

What's on your phone?

What inexpensive case did you pick up for your OnePlus 3? Was it worth it to go the cheap route? Sound off in the comments below!

OnePlus 3

OnePlus

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6 days ago

High-speed wireless networks are everywhere, but the U.S. is way behind on data speeds

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The U.S. lags behind many countries in terms of data rates, but a rising tide has lifted worldwide access and speeds.

If you live in any sort of relatively populated area around the world, chances are you have access to a solid LTE or at least 3G connection. High-speed mobile networks are practically ubiquitous, but that doesn't mean the experience is anywhere near the same around the world. Data from OpenSignal's latest State of Mobile Networks report backs up this notion, showing how widespread mobile connectivity is today, as just how big of a disparity there is in terms of data speeds around the world.

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6 days ago

How to avoid a driving warning in Pokémon Go

How do I avoid that annoying driving warning in Pokémon Go?

How many times a day do you hit that "I'm a passenger" button? Too many. In an attempt to decrease the number of Pokémon Go players in the world who think it's a good idea to play while driving, Niantic's last update added a pop-up message when the GPS determines you exceeding the speeds humans are able to travel using two legs.

You can dismiss the message quickly by letting the app know you're a passenger, but there's a whole lot of people out there tired of seeing this warning pop up when they're not anywhere near a moving vehicle.

Since Pokémon Go relies heavily on GPS for most of the game's behaviors, there are ways to avoid this driving warning in many situations. Here are some quick tips!

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1 week ago

The Honor 8 is more important to the U.S. market than you think

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The Honor 8 brings premium hardware from the Huawei-owned brand to the United States for the first time — and that's a big deal.

The Honor 8 has officially launched in the United States, bringing increased competition to the $400-level "affordable flagship" segment. Owned by Chinese tech giant Huawei, Honor intends to challenge the likes of OnePlus among younger people and tech-savvy phone buyers with an impressive glass and metal design, impressive internals and a competitive price point. Throw in some serious pomp and ceremony — and celebrity brand ambassadors like Brooklyn Beckham — and you've got a notable product launch during what is turning into a very busy summer for smartphones.

But beyond the launch-day hype and beautiful hands-on photos, what really matters about the latest from Huawei and Honor? Let's dive in with some first thoughts.

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1 week ago

Galaxy Note 7 benchmarks: Exynos vs. Snapdragon head-to-head

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Which version of the Galaxy Note 7 is faster: the Snapdragon 820 or Exynos 8890 version? Benchmarks, anyone?

It's always been our opinion that benchmark apps for Android phones really only tell you how well a phone runs the benchmark apps. They give a score that, while meaningful in some ways, tend to be used as some sort of gospel about how one phone is clearly better than another when that's not really the case. And they can be confusing for some folks who aren't exactly sure what any of those scores mean. We usually forgo running any or talking about them at any length and instead focus on the user experience.

This time, we're going to venture into the benchmark waters because we have both the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 version and the Exynos 8890 version of the Galaxy Note 7 here. Samsung promises that users won't see any real-world performance differences between the two — and we agree — but we wanted to see the synthetic differences from a handful of benchmark testing apps in Google Play. We're not going to read too much into any of this, and we're certainly not about to declare any winner. Both models offer the same experience while you're using them. For the folks who do care about those numbers but may not have an opportunity to get both models, here are the results.

About the tests

We tested a Samsung SM-N930F (UK model) with an Exynos 8890 CPU and a Samsung SM-N930T (U.S. T-Mobile model) with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820. Both phones have the same basic configuration — a personal account, a work account, and a small handful of apps from the Play Store installed.

Nothing special was done before we tested. We used the phone normally, installed the apps, then ran the tests without restarting or clearing anything or killing any apps. We even tested in the evening after a day of normal use. None of the phone's features were disabled. Really, we treated them like we do every phone and just ran the apps we installed to benchmark them.

Geekbench 3

Geekbench 3 has several tests that aim to simulate real-world CPU performance, and can utilize all of the processor cores. The results are calculated and returned as an overall indicator of your phone's processor performance in both single core tests and multicore tests. Higher scores are better.

As expected, the Exynos clearly calculates and processes data "better" than the Snapdragon. Surprisingly, the single core scores are both much lower than leaked benchmark results from early versions. We'll attribute that to two things — fully set up devices with apps and account synchronization running, and not clearing app cache and killing off the background processes. But keep in mind that a lower multi-core score on the Snapdragon 820 is expected because it has four cores, half the number as the Exynos 8890.

Download Geekbench 3

AnTuTu 6

AnTuTu runs a series of tests of four key areas of your phone's performance — the processor, 3D graphics ability, memory, and user interface. The results are calculated and delivered as four individual scores, with a higher score being better.

The Exynos again scores better in processor performance testing, but the Snapdragon marks higher in 3D and user interface features. The RAM testing is as expected — both phones have the same memory modules and controllers, and the results are identical within an acceptable margin of error.

Download AnTuTu Benchmark

GFXBench

GFXBench measures graphics performance with a focus on long-term performance stability, render quality and power consumption. The tests use high-quality and high polygon 3D graphics, and we tested the off-screen versions of the Car Chase, both Manhattan and Manhattan 3.1, and T-Rex at 1080p.The results are the average frames per second (fps) for each test.

We are unable to compare the results of the render quality tests because our Exynos version would only return an Out Of Memory error. The Snapdragon version scored 2510 for the standard render quality test, and 3632 for the HQ render quality tests. These numbers are the PNSR (peak-to-peak signal-to-noise) values.

Download GFXBench

Hipxel's Disk Speed and Performance

This benchmark measures the read and write speeds of the internal memory in MB/s. The labels can be confusing as both tests (internal and external) are measuring the built-in internal memory and not any SD card or other attached storage.

The internal tests are the read and write speeds of the phone's application data storage partition. This is where the private data is stored and where most apps are installed. The external tests measure the speeds of the internal SD card storage, where media and some application data is stored.

The app will measure SD card performance, but we choose to pass on that test as we don't have two brand-new SD cards of the same make and model to use for a comparison. The results would be similar, and won't show any measurable differences.

Download Disk Speed/Performance Test by Hipxel

What does this mean?

Not a lot, really.

Sure, the Exynos has a "better" CPU and the Snapdragon has a "better" GPU if you go strictly by the numbers in these benchmarking apps. Both phones have the same memory and the same storage, as well as the same parts and logic to control each, and the results reflect that.

But using them will always count more than any benchmark numbers. As mentioned, we were curious and had both versions so we're sharing with people who are curious as well. Don't use these as proof of anything, and we'll call them both winners — it's like youth soccer where everyone wins a trophy because it's all good.

Feel free to do what you will with the numbers in the comments.

Samsung Galaxy Note 7

Verizon AT&T T-Mobile Sprint

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1 week ago

Join the Dark Side with these awesome AMOLED-friendly wallpapers

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There are a lot of wallpapers out there. Unfortunately, most of them are bright and busy.

That can be a problem. Maybe you want a simple wallpaper for their elegance. Maybe you want a dark wallpaper that lights up less of your screen. Maybe you want a clean wallpaper so it's easier to see what's actually on your screen instead of being overwhelmed by the wallpaper. Maybe you just like black because it goes with everything, from your shoes to your shirts to your soul. Whatever your reasons, we've got the ultra-dark wallpapers for you.

Stormtrooper

Most stormtrooper wallpapers are as white as the day is long, but this minimalist wall flips the script and shows what would be a terrifying sight to any self-respecting rebel scum: the mask of an Imperial Stormtrooper creeping out of the shadows to put you in its terribly aimed sights…

Stormtrooper

Neptune and Triton

Space. A seemingly endless void where no one can hear you scream… But there's still a serene peace to it. Even on a distant and bitterly cold planet like Neptune, we can find beauty and tranquility.

Neptune and Triton

Tron Light Cycle Wallpaper

Try and tell me you don't want a light cycle. Just try. You can't do it. They're so cool, and whatever you thought of Tron Legacy (and the threequel that got canned), the way it did light cycles was even cooler, and such a dark wallpaper meshes well with our setups, and our souls.

Tron Light Cycle Wallpaper

Batman Beyond

Okay, I take back my earlier statement. The Stormtrooper isn't that terrifying. If I was in a dark alley and all I saw were two glowing eyes and the bat symbol, I'd be scared witless, and I'm not even a criminal. Batman is a badass and the only line he won't cross is releasing you to the sweet, sweet mercy of death after breaking every bone in your body. He is a symbol of justice to the masses and a symbol of terror to those who would do wrong.

Batman Beyond

Beauty and the Beast Minimalist Wallpaper by chrisaloo

Great as the film was, there's something about musicals that can (and in many cases do) surpass the original. Musicals are where we see the awesome numbers that were cut from the film for timing. Musicals are where we can see new depth to storylines we knew and loved as a kid.

Who says princesses can't be dark? Now excuse me, I need to go belt out 'Home' in a dark tower somewhere…

Beauty and the Beast Minimalist Wallpaper by chrisaloo

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1 week ago

These Galaxy Note 7 cases are just $7 for a limited time!

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Update: All of the coupons have been redeemed. Be sure to keep an eye out for more deals!

If you've placed an order for the Galaxy Note 7 and have been looking for a case for it, you'll want to check these out. Right now, you can score a number of Caseology's cases for just $7 with a coupon code, which is a pretty awesome deal. Depending on which color you are interested in adding to your Note 7, or whether you want something protective or slim, there are some great options here to check out.

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1 week ago

Spigen U100 Universal Kickstand review

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Spigen U100 Universal Kickstand review

We check out Spigen's new universal kickstand for your phone!

Spigen is great at pretty much all things to do with phone accessories. Their cases fit exceptionally well, their style ring is one of the most oddly convenient accessories ever, and now they've got their U100 Universal Kickstand to try and add to that legacy. But does it live up to Spigen's reputation?

This kickstand does exactly what it's supposed to do: it stands your phone up on an angle for hands-free viewing and gaming. Whether it's well-made or works well is a bit of a different story.

Let's break things down in terms of:

Aesthetic

U100

No one wants to admit they're shallow, but come on: the first thing you notice is how a phone accessory looks. Lucky for all of us, the Spigen U100 Universal Kickstand is a pretty slick little product.

It's a sleek and good-looking, minimalist accessory.

If you have a phone with a metallic back, it looks particularly sexy, thanks to its silver metal composition and compact design. It basically looks like a slightly larger tie clip with the Spigen logo etched into it.

The closer your phone is to the color of the kickstand, the more it blends in and actually just looks like it's built-in. However, if you use it with a slightly curved phone, like the HTC 10 (like I did), then you'll notice it a lot more from the sides.

All in all, it's a sleek and good-looking minimalist accessory that doesn't scream "cheap" and won't detract from your phone's good looks.

Design

U100

I'll start this section off by saying that this kickstand is meant exclusively for phones with mostly flat backs. It works with the HTC 10, but I mainly use a Moto X Pure Edition and the kickstand won't stick at all, both because of the phone's curvature and its textured back (depending on the customization).

The way the U100 works is via what Spigen calls "one-touch technology" and "semi-automatic spring tension". Really, it's essentially a spring-loaded leg that is held in place by a magnet and deployed when you slide your nail under the indentation at the bottom of the stand. If you have short nails, you may have a hard time unlatching the leg.

That being said, the magnet really holds the leg in place nicely; repeatedly shaking my phone, trying to loosen it, did not dislodge it.

When not in use, the kickstand is about 5mm thick, which, depending on where you place it, may make things feel a bit strange when regularly using your phone or taking a call. I situated mine just under the camera lens as Spigen recommends, and gripping it during a call has never felt comfortable.

Be gentle: The stand is thin strip of metal that can withstand almost no pressure.

The adhesive is made by 3M and sticks fairly well, although not as well as the adhesives Spigen was using for their first run of Style Rings (the ring broke before the adhesive let go!). Our recommendation is to make sure you place the kickstand exactly where you want it – constantly replacing it diminishes the stickiness. And if you have it almost in place and try to slide it into better placement, it'll just move back to where it was; 3M's adhesive is quite elastic.

U100

Regarding the metal composition of the kickstand, I'm a little put off. It doesn't look cheap; it doesn't feel cheap, but somehow it is flimsy.

I assume you won't be trying to bend it to test its limits, but when I tried to bend the stand leg on its own, it did so to a point and then just snapped, and it was not difficult to do. When I tested how much pressure I could place on the stand, the leg just snapped right off before I applied as much force as I had planned – the holes that the pins on the leg sit in make for an incredibly thin strip of metal that can withstand almost no pressure.

All in all, the kickstand is fairly well-made, but never pick your phone up by the stand leg or apply too much downward pressure or it will likely snap off in your hand. Also, don't sit on it. Just don't. Trust me.

Functionality

U100

As I said at the beginning of this review, the U100 Universal Kickstand does exactly what it's meant to. So long as you place it properly on your phone, it will prop it up and you will be able to watch videos hands-free.

It's also rather convenient, since that "one-touch technology" claim is pretty true, however obvious it may be. The magnet is secure, but not so strong that you have to pry the leg away with a crowbar.

The U100 Universal Kickstand does exactly what it's meant to.

I tried the U100 in both orientations on the back of my HTC 10; I placed it horizontally and vertically and both ways work just fine, though placing it vertically makes your phone easier to knock over.

When placed horizontally, it looks like your phone is being held up with a small popsicle stick and it really looks like it should be tipping all over the place, but it's actually perfectly stable when the kickstand's in use and might even work in the car on a portable lap desk.

The "semi-automatic spring tension" is quite handy, since once you pop the leg off, it springs into action and that's it — you're ready to go. Basically, everything about the kickstand works like it should and like you want it to. What more can you really ask for?

Final verdict

U100

Despite some design flaws, the Spigen Universal U100 Kickstand is very handy. If you can get used to the way it feels on the back of your phone, it's a convenient, minimalist way to watch YouTube and be able to eat dinner at the same time.

It looks great and works just like it should, so if you're looking for an accessory in this vein, you have no reason not to pick this one up … as long as your phone has a flat back.

See at Amazon

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1 week ago

No, we don't need a 'flat' Galaxy Note 7 model

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Here's the thing: we already have a 'flat' Galaxy Note 7.

When the Galaxy Note 7 was announced and Samsung talked about how wonderful the curved display was, Note fans were riled up about the prospect that there wasn't a "flat" version announced alongside it. And to be fair to them, we've had simultaneous curved and flat variations of Samsung flagships for the past four iterations — it became an expectation.

To set the stage here, I'm hardly a fan of the Galaxy S7 edge's curved screen design and what it does to hurt usability — no matter how cool it may look while doing it. Especially when considering that the accompanying "Edge UX" software is useless at best and completely duplicative at worst. And for that reason, I totally sympathized with the group who immediately cried foul over seeing that there was no "flat" version of the Galaxy Note 7 — not understanding the differences, it was frustrating to think that the only Note 7 you could buy was to be saddled with the same curved edges that make the phone harder to use.

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1 week ago

Samsung Gear VR 2016 review: a master class in refinement

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Gear VR

Seven small but important changes come together to shape the next wave of smartphone-based VR headsets.

With all the excitement surrounding the more powerful and more interactive desktop-class VR headsets, it's easy to forget that most VR users today are mobile VR users. It's not hard to guess why, either. The barrier to entry is often an order of magnitude less if you already own a compatible smartphone, and with mobile VR there's an inherent portability that makes sharing the experiences you discover that much easier.

In many ways, Samsung has cornered the market on smartphone-based VR through their partnership with Oculus. There's nothing quite like the Samsung Gear VR right now, but that hasn't stopped either Samsung or Oculus from repeatedly enhancing their hardware and software, respectively, to raise the bar even higher when competition finally does arrive.

The latest update comes alongside the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 to ensure those with the new USB-C device are still able to use the Oculus-powered VR experience we've seen on previous Galaxy phones. In the process of updating to support this new Note, Samsung has refined the hardware in ways that make the ability to swap between USB-C and microUSB through an interchangeable port the least significant change to the headset.

Samsung Gear VR

One size might actually fit all

Samsung Gear VR Hardware

It's bigger, it's blacker, and it's without a doubt the most comfortable Gear VR to date. The glossy white plastic from Samsung's first Gear VR revision has been replaced with a matte black plastic — only unlike the original Gear VR the darker plastic is on the outside as well. It's a superficial external change, but it gives the headset a much more polished look. The previous generations looked almost like a toy; this new Gear VR stands out as something more mature.

This new Gear VR stands out as something more mature.

The matte black interior is the opposite of superficial. The goal here is to stop glare from the displays bouncing around and causing distortions or distractions, and to that end Samsung has succeeded. This has been a multi-step process for Samsung, which actually switched away from a matte black interior in early models to help deal with light bleed distractions. Light bleed on the original Gear VR was a design decision to help deal with air circulation and reduce lens fog. Both were largely resolved in the updated Gear VR that was given away with the Galaxy S7, but the update introduced new points of frustration.

This third version aims to reduce ventilation and light bleed concerns even further, and almost nails it. The only source of outside light when wearing this new headset comes from a slight gap between the top of the nose gap and my nose. It's something I've only noticed when the Gear VR displays are entirely off, though, which is better than what I get using an Oculus Rift in the same conditions. It's possible this could be tweaked further with a facial gasket that touches the nose bridge, but the potential for discomfort likely wouldn't be worth the tradeoff.

Not only is the inside of the headset darker, it's also noticeably wider and taller. More of your face fits inside the opening with the lenses, and that is fantastic news for glasses wearers. Whereas the original Gear VR was nearly unusable with glasses, and the first revision was usable if you were careful, this new Gear VR is downright spacious. Just about everyone will be able to easily wear eyewear inside the headset without having to worry about them being pressed up against their face or cramming them up to the lens before putting the headset on. In fact, the comfort level on the new Gear VR is second only to Sony's PlayStation VR.

Samsung has set the bar incredibly high in creating a refined experience you actually want to wear.

Samsung still relies on a pair of straps to wear the Gear VR, but the setup is a little different this year. Out of the box you set up a single strap to wrap around your head, and if you are comfortable you can leave it at that. Should you decide to add the top strap, however, a small velcro spot in the back strap makes do so simple. This is a lot more comfortable than the plastic spacer that was there before, especially when laying down with your Gear VR, and makes it feels just as secure on your head as with previous iterations of the three strap system.

Once you have the Gear VR securely attached to your head, you need to set the lens distance to match your eyes. Samsung has always made this easy with a simple scroll wheel on the top of the headset, but this year that wheel has almost no resistance to it. Such a small change would only be notable if you've used the previous two headsets, but that smooth scroll wheel makes it so much easier to dial in the perfect lens distance for your eyes. Sitting all three headsets together, the increase in polish on this simple tool exemplifies the refinement Samsung has aimed for in this revision.

Samsung Gear VR

One final example of Samsung's borrowing from the original design of the Gear VR to enhance the overall experience is the touchpad. The original Gear VR had a touchpad with no texture to it at all, aside from a small dip in the plastic so you knew where it was when you ran your finger across it. Samsung "fixed" this in the next Gear VR with a D-Pad groove embedded in the plastic with a circular section in the middle to act as a button for selecting things. While this was helpful for casual navigation, it became a pain when gaming.

Samsung's latest Gear VR goes back to the all-flat touch area, with a single raised line in the center to help you determine where the middle of the pad is when wearing the headset. It's a welcome return to form with a little enhancement to meet everyone halfway, and to take things forward there are now two buttons above the touchpad instead of the single back button. This makes it a little easier to jump back home, and since the two buttons feel very different as you run your fingers over them this couldn't be simpler.

For those keeping score, the last 800 words represent a remarkable amount of polish that most people won't see at first glance. Samsung applies the same level of careful attention and engineering to this new Gear VR that we've seen recently on the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy Note 7, and the difference is subtle and fantastic. Knowing there's going to be significant competition in the not-so-distant future in the form of Google Daydream, Samsung has set the bar incredibly high in creating a refined experience you actually want to wear.

Oculus Home

Getting better all the time

Samsung Gear VR Software

Building a virtual environment is a lot more complicated than the app launcher you use on your phone. It's the first thing every user sees when jumping into VR, and has to offer more than merely icons represented in 3D space around you. It's where you adjust the headset to make sure it's comfortable, where you check to see which of your friends is online, and where many people buy apps and adjust settings. What makes this a unique space is how the creator approaches it, and whether the space is inviting or deeply technical. In a Gear VR this experience isn't a launcher but a special room where all of your favorite VR experiences live. It's warm, relaxing, and all-encompassing. It's a killer backstage room, with your apps existing on the main stage.

As expected, interacting with apps on the new Gear VR isn't any different than its predecessors. Samsung offers a slightly wider field of view with this new Gear VR — 101-degrees over the previous 96-degrees — but the difference is imperceptible in most situations. If you're using a Samsung Galaxy S7 instead of an S7 edge or Note 7, you'll notice you need to be a little more specific about where your eyes are positioned in front of the lenses. This means you'll need to adjust where the headset is on your face until things come into total focus. Other than this minor adjustment, it's the same overall experience. All of your games and apps work the same, and all the settings are in the same place.

The biggest difference in day to day user interface controls on this Gear VR is the home button. In the past you had to hold down the back button and tap on the home icon in the Oculus Menu. Now, if you want to close an app and move on to something else, pressing the home button immediately raises the prompt asking you if you want to return to Oculus Home. A small change to be sure, but one that feels a lot faster than the previous implementation.

Samsung's big design decision this year also left off the front cover that came with all of the previous Gear VR headsets. Samsung claims this is so app developers can start better taking advantage of the camera, which had already started in small ways with a handful of apps. Apps that let you take photos with active filters, or place a pretend Terminator vision in front of you are cute, but exactly as limited as they sound. Also, given the position of the camera relative to the rest of your body, it's still a bad idea to try walking around with Samsung's camera as your eyes. The Note 7 and Galaxy S7 have awesome cameras, but the 2D video positioned on the left half of your body presented as a stereoscopic image is still very disorienting.

The Gear VR puts you in a special room where all of your favorite VR experiences live. It's warm, relaxing, and all-encompassing

All told, this is the same Gear VR software we've seen slowly evolve separate from the hardware. After the last update, the software is not much more in line with what you see with an Oculus Rift, and the new navigation button doesn't really change much. Head tracking is still smoother than anything else you'll see on a smartphone right now, and the new frictionless touchpad makes playing games a little nicer. In the future it's possible we'll see some new software to take advantage of the USB-C port on the Gear VR, which Samsung says could possibly be used for accessories but currently doesn't do anything but charge the phone. It's nice to know this headset is reasonably future-proof, but first we'll need to see what exactly that means.

Until that happens, there are still a ton of things to do in the Gear VR.

Gear VR

Far from passive VR

Samsung Gear VR Experience

The sharp sound of polished metal grinding against a socket in the wheels under me persists through the pounding and the screams as I'm wheeled down a hallway. The nurse to my left is reassuring, trying to explain away the sounds and make it clear that everything will be alright. The look of the guy pushing me makes that difficult to believe, and as she wanders off to attend another patient he makes it clear we're going somewhere less than pleasant. The lighting in the next hallway flickers constantly, and with each flash it becomes obvious we're in a wing of the hospital built on nightmares. There's no elevator, so he carelessly pushes me along a flight of stairs until we reach the filthy surgical room at the bottom. Another nurse comes around the corner with a massive needle in her hand, and before this can get any worse I rip the headset off and stare out into the daylight, pleasantly reminded that I'm safe at home and no one is about to cut into my brain.

This new Gear VR is the golden standard by which everything else will be judged

In 2016, having a smartphone means you have more entertainment than you could possibly experience at your fingertips. Music, video, games, books, and so much more live in your pocket at all times. We consume so much through that 5-inch screen, many ask what's the benefit in adding a plastic face harness to something you can already conveniently take with you everywhere. When the Galaxy S7 launched, we said the answer was presentation. You weren't just watching a show, you were sitting in a crazy future space station watching TV. I think we got that wrong, though. VR isn't just the entertainment center that holds your virtual game console and streaming video services. It certainly can be that, but if you limit yourself to those experiences you're barely scratching the surface.

Great VR experiences are deeply emotional. Some of them are designed to scare you half to death, while others are designed to make you fully alert and ready to act. You might be tasked with escaping a room, or you might be guiding an animated bumblebee through a leaf maze. There's no one thing VR offers, but nearly everything is immersive enough that as the user you feel something you'd never experience by just touching the screen on your phone. Even 360-degree videos aren't a truly passive experience. You're meant to feel like you are there, and in many situations that illusion holds.

Samsung's latest headset improves this experience subtly. It's more comfortable to wear and an improved design makes it considerably easier to feel fully immersed in what you're doing. That immersion is the most important part of being in VR, and these little changes make a big difference when you're in the seat of a gun turret defending your ship against wave after wave of enemy vessels. It's not something you need to have with you at all times like a smartphone, but it's absolutely something you'll want nearby to enhance those relaxation times.

Samsung Gear VR

Good luck competing with this

Samsung Gear VR Bottom line

Samsung could have easily released the exact same Gear VR we already had with a USB-C port and Note 7 users would have been just as happy. The change had to happen, Samsung needed to support USB Type-C, and having a phone as amazing as the Note 7 without this great VR experience would have been a huge disservice to its growing VR audience.

The coolest part of this headset is the way it all comes together. None of the individual changes Samsung made are particularly impressive. They're nice to have, but are neither necessary nor a massive step forward in any significant way. Together, however, these changes take an already great VR experience and make it the most comfortable mobile VR experience by far. This new Gear VR is the golden standard by which everything else will be judged.

Gear VR design progression

Should you buy it? Most likely

As cool as these little changes are, calling this headset a need if you already own a Gear VR is a stretch. If you plan to purchase a Galaxy Note 7, this is clearly what you want. If you own a Galaxy S7 or S7 edge and have not yet purchased a Gear VR, this is clearly what you want. If you have already shelled out the $100 for a last-generation Gear VR and are curious about this being a worth upgrade, you should try one before you put your money down.

Where to buy the Samsung Gear VR

You can find this updated Gear VR available for pre-order from Amazon and Best Buy. As with previous versions of this headset, you can expect the headset to also be available in carrier stores alongside the Samsung Galaxy Note 7.

See at Amazon

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