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5 months ago

These are the top Allo features you need to know

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'Allo Allo.

Google's smart messaging app Allo is now available. The service competes with WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, both of which boast a userbase of over a billion users. Google is looking to differentiate Allo with Google Assistant, a chatbot that provides answers to your queries by drawing on the search giant's machine learning smarts. AI is at the core of Google's strategy, and we'll see the assistant make its way into the Google Home and future products. And it's all kicking off with Allo.

These are the top Allo features you need to know. If you're just installing the app, be sure to check out our setup guide.

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5 months ago

How to install and set up Allo

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A chatbot that leverages Google's machine learning and AI skills. Welcome to the future!

Google's smart messaging service Allo is finally available. The app differentiates itself from the plethora of messaging clients by integrating Google Assistant, which calls upon the company's vast machine learning and artificial intelligence capabilities to provide contextual information as and when you need it. Here's how you can get started with Allo.

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5 months ago

How to transfer contacts from iPhone to Android

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How to transfer contacts from iPhone to Android

How do I transfer my iPhone contacts to my Android phone?

You've made the brilliant decision to switch from iPhone to Android. Congratulations and welcome! Now you just need to get all of your contacts off your iPhone and onto your new Android phone and your Apple ties will be severed and you shall be reborn anew (or something like that).

Here's how!

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5 months ago

How to add events and reminders to Google Calendar for Android

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How do I add events and reminders to Google Calendar?

Google Calendar allows you to easily keep track of your busy schedule. With events and reminders, you can ensure that you never forget the important days, no matter how busy you get. We're here to show you how to do it all the right way.

How to add an event to Google Calendar

  1. Open Google Calendar.
  2. Tap the red plus icon in the bottom right corner.
  3. Tap on the red event icon.

  4. Enter a title.
  5. Enter a location.
  6. Add people who are coming with you.

  7. Add a time and date for your event.
  8. Add a notification to remind you when the event is getting close to starting.
  9. Choose a color for the event in your calendar.

  10. Add notes to your event.
  11. Add attachments to your event.
  12. Save your event.

It's important to remember you don't need to enter notifications, change the color of your event, attach notes or have attachments in your event. These are just the options that Google has given you to make sure all the information that you need is included within your event.

How to add a reminder to Google Calendar

  1. Open Google Calendar.
  2. Tap the red plus icon on the bottom right of your screen.
  3. Tap the blue reminder icon.

  4. Enter what you need to be reminded of. Google will give you tons of options from making a call to making reservations for a trip.
  5. Enter when you need to be reminded.
  6. Enter whether this reminder needs to be repeated.
  7. Save your reminder.

You can make reminders for just about anything, and this includes upcoming events. By using the two together, you can make sure that you not only have a reminder of when an important event is coming up, but have easy access to it at a tap.

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5 months ago

Putting Linux on your Chromebook is easier than you think (and totally worth it!)

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If you need to use those productivity programs that Chrome OS just doesn't offer, or you just want to try something new, Linux on your Chromebook has you covered.

You've may have seen chatter on the internet about installing Linux on your Chromebook. Plenty of longtime Chrome OS users are doing it, and it allows the use of programs like GIMP (a Photoshop replacement), or Darktable, (a Lightroom alternative) as well as plenty of programs for video and audio editing. It's a way to use your Chromebook for the few power-user features you might need. It's also completely free and easier than you think.

Let's walk through an easy setup that keeps Chrome OS and is able to run Ubuntu with the Xfce desktop and any applications you might need. You'll be able to run both operating systems at once with a shared Downloads folder, a shared clipboard and web links opening in the Chrome browser you're already familiar with. You can even run them side by side in a split window.

And yes, it really is as cool as it sounds.

Getting started

Before you try anything we're talking about here, you need to do two things: back up all your user files to Google Drive, and have a Chrome OS restore image ready just in case. We're going to be unlocking developer mode and starting with a clean and current Chrome OS install. There's no way around that. The first time you unlock developer mode your Chromebook is Powerwashed and everything is erased. And whenever you're doing something like this there is always a chance that you'll need to reinstall Chrome from scratch with the restore image. Don't worry, none of this is difficult.

Get everything you need ready before you start so you're not stuck looking for it if things go wrong.

You'll need to search Google to find the exact instructions to unlock developer mode for your Chromebook. On some models, you'll need to toggle an actual switch, and on others it is done through the standard recovery software. If you're using a Pixel, for example, you press and hold the Escape and Refresh keys, then hold the power button until the system shuts off and the keyboard backlight comes on to enter recovery mode. On some older Samsung Chromebooks, you'll need to find a switch next to the SD card slot and flip it, then reboot. Everything you need to know is a web search away.

The same goes for grabbing a restore image. You'll find full instructions on where to download one and how to write it to an SD card or thumb drive. Don't skip this step — especially if you don't have another computer to use. The process is simple and it's always nice to have everything you need to factory flash your Chromebook on hand.

Once you're unlocked and prepared in case you need to start from scratch, we can start copying some files.

Crouton

No, not the breadcrumb kind of Crouton, the chroot kind from David Schneider, a Google hardware engineer who loves Chromebooks. Crouton is a script that you can run to automatically fetch all the bits and pieces you need, create an environment for them, and get everything working without doing it by hand.

Using the same principle that Android and Google Play are using to run on Chrome, you can install a full Linux desktop that runs in its own space yet is able to share your Chromebook's hardware. This isn't the only way to install Linux on your Chromebook, and nobody is saying it's the best way. But it is easy simple to uninstall or modify down the road. To get started, grab your Chromebook and download Crouton.

If you're not going to play Steam games, you can run Chrome and Ubuntu at the same time in separate windows.

For the next step you need to make a choice — are you going to install Steam and play games? We'll cover that with another how-to, but know that installing the full Steam client and installing any games your Chromebook meets the minimum requirements for is a thing. We're going to be using a Chrome extension called Crouton Integration (also from David Schneider) that works with the window manager to run your Linux desktop in a window while Chrome OS is still active. This allows you to share things like the clipboard and Downloads folder, as well as use Chrome itself to open web links and pages.

The only concern is that there are performance trade-offs when you're running something that taxes the GPU. For a program like GIMP, it's fine. For Rocket League or CS: Go, it's really not. If you're not going to install Steam, grab the extension from the link above and install it. We'll split out instructions anytime they're different.

Once you have Crouton downloaded, and the Crouton Integration extension installed if you need it, we can install Linux with just a few commands.

The Chrosh shell

This is Chrome OS's command line interface, and what you'll need to run the installer. Open one with by pressing Ctrl+Alt+T on your keyboard. A new tab will open with a text interface. Switch to it, and enter the command shell to change from the Chrosh (Chrome Shell) shell to a proper bash (Bourne Again Shell — a command interpreter that's universal across Linux, BSD, and OS X) shell. The text will change to green and you're ready to run the install script.

  • If you are using the Crouton Integration extension, type the following and hit enter. Mind the spelling, spacing, and punctuation.

sudo sh ~/Downloads/crouton -t xiwi,xfce

  • If you're not going to use Crouton Integration, use the following instead:

sudo sh ~/Downloads/crouton -t xfce

Now, we wait. Crouton is creating a chroot environment, fetching the right software packages and extracting them to the right place. You'll have to interact with the shell tab a couple of times, but it halts at the right spot and waits for your input so you don't have to try and read all the scrolling text. Depending on your internet connection, this will take anywhere between 5 and 20 minutes.

When it's finished downloading and unpacking, you're ready to fire things up.

Starting your new desktop

Using the same shell you used above, type sudo startxfce4 and press the enter key. A few lines of text will scroll by, then you're switched to a new GUI. What you're seeing is a full install of Ubuntu (12.04 LTS at the time of this writing) with the Xfce desktop environment running. You'll use the username and password you set up earlier, and you can install any application the runs on Ubuntu and built for your processor architecture.

If you choose to integrate Crouton into Chrome, you might need a couple tips to get started.

The first time you launch Ubuntu, it might open full screen and prompt you to use the F11 key to switch back to a windowed view. Your Chromebook has no F11 key so you'll need to use a little trick to exit. Right-click on the desktop and add an internet shortcut. It can point to any website or local file, so that's not important. It will use Crouton Integration to switch back to Chrome OS to parse whatever URL you entered and minimize the Ubuntu window. You can then switch between Chrome and Ubuntu using the tray icon for Crouton Integration and Ubuntu will stay inside a bordered window with standard minimize, maximize and window keys.

A quick trick in case it happens again after you shut down — open the extensions page in the settings and scroll to the very bottom. Click the link titled Keyboard shortcuts and create one for Crouton Integration. You can use that shortcut to move to and from full screen.

If you didn't use Crouton Integration, none of this applies. When you start an Ubuntu session, Chrome is suspended and when you log out you're returned.

If you lose your mouse pointer the first time you start Ubuntu, don't panic. On some hardware, this is expected. Just press and hold the power button until you're at the login screen, and use Tab and Enter to shut down. When you reboot things are fine and it won't happen again.

Make it your own

Using these instructions you'll have a very basic setup. You'll probably want to customize it a bit. You can go through the settings and try them all, but there are a few things you will probably want to install to get started — a bash utility and the Ubuntu Software Center. To get both up and running, right-click on the desktop and open a terminal session from the menu. Type the following commands one line at a time, hit enter and let them finish before moving on.

sudo apt-get update

This synchronizes the internal package database with the online servers. Ubuntu uses packages to install software, and will automatically install everything you need to run a program when you install the program itself. The command line version is apt, and we want to update the package lists before we fetch any new software.

sudo apt-get install bash-completion ttf-ubuntu-font-family software-center synaptic

This installs a utility that lets you enter the first letter or letters of a location in the terminal, and use the Tab key to fill in the rest, as well as the fonts you'll need for the software store (otherwise some entries will have squares in place of letters) and the store itself. During the installation of the True Type fonts, you'll need to accept a license. Use the arrow keys to scroll the window, then tab key to choose an option and the enter key to accept.

Ubuntu has its own app store to install programs with just a click of the mouse.

Once finished, you'll find the Ubuntu Software Center in your apps list. That's Ubuntu's version of an app store where you can download just about any program available. If you're using a Chromebook with an Intel processor, there's nothing to do except look through it and grab the things you'll need. If you're using an ARM Chromebook, some of the programs aren't going to run — check the description and reviews to see if someone has mentioned it. If something you want isn't working for ARM processors, hit Google to find one that does. There a really good chance someone has compiled it for ARM because they wanted to use it, too.

You'll be told when updates to your operating system are available and can install them with the click of a button. You'll probably see a notice that a new version of Ubuntu is available to download. Don't just click yes and try it! Ubuntu 12.04 LTS isn't the newest version, but it is the best-supported version for most Chromebooks. Any and all critical updates and patches are available for 12.04, so there is no urgent need to try it. Google around a bit and see how newer versions work with your particular model before you jump in.

One last thing

Because your Chromebook is in Developer Mode, you'll need to hit Ctrl + D at the boot screen every time you start it. You'll also get a scary warning about security. Know that doing any of this makes your Chromebook less secure. It's still more secure than most other laptops, but you are giving someone with physical access another way to try to get in.

When you log out of Ubuntu you go back to Chrome. the tab with your shell session is still open, and to go back just type sudo startxfce4 again. When you shut down, you'll need to reopen a shell session tab (Ctrl+Alt+T) again, and switch to bash with the shell command. You can then start Ubuntu with the sudo startxfce4 command. The tab with the shell running will need to stay open while you're in Ubuntu.

All that's left now is to try it and see why the people "dual-booting" on their Chromebooks love it so much!

Chromebooks

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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5 months ago

What makes a phone battery explode?

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We're all a little curious about why a battery might explode, so let's talk about it.

Exploding battery talk is something you can't escape right now, thanks to a problem with the Samsung Galaxy Note 7. It's good discussion to have: the more people talk about it, the less likely it is for a child to get hurt from a battery failure. As much as we hate to see a product we like experience safety issues, we hate seeing people get hurt far more.

But the Note 7 isn't the first phone to ever go through battery problems, and it won't be the last. There will always be isolated incidents of batteries failing as long as we use phones with lithium-ion cells, and the Note 7 isn't the first phone whose battery needed a widespread recall because something is wrong under the hood — as long-time Nokia fans know too well. It happens. It's never a good thing, but it's a thing. Let's talk about why it can happen.

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5 months ago

Who do I contact when I need help with my phone?

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Finding out who to talk to and how to reach them can be tricky. We filled out all the forms and clicked all the buttons to find the phone numbers so you don't have to.

We get a lot of questions about Android and the phones that use it. People can (and should) Tweet us, or email us, or shout to us on Facebook and we will do our best to answer, even if we don't have time to get to all of them. One thing we see a lot of is that people are confused about exactly who they should talk to — and how to contact them — when they need some assistance with their Android.

That's understandable. There are countless combinations of different models from different companies sold through different channels and unlike an iPhone or a BlackBerry (or a Toyota or a Kenmore), there is no one company who takes care of them all. And that can be frustrating — when you need help the last thing you want to hear is someone saying that you need to talk to someone else. Especially after you've filled out web forms, signed up for an account or jumped through other hoops just to find the phone number you called. If you're not really sure about who you need to call or how to get in touch with them when problems arise, or you have a question about how things work, you can always come to us. But talking to the people who are there to help with the phone you have in your hands is always a great idea. Let's tally them up!

Your carrier

If you ever have a problem with the network "stuff" — data cutting in and out, calls dropping, poor signal or anything of the sort, the company you get your phone service from are the first people you should call or email. They would know about any network changes that could be affecting you, and if a problem crops up that affects a lot of their customers, they will be the ones to look into it.

Issues with your phone itself or questions about it can be a bit more complicated. Generally, if you bought your phone from your carrier's store or an authorized third party, the carrier is the company that will need to help you. Most times, a visit in-person is a quick way to resolve issues. If you would rather talk to support another way, here are the various contact details for the major U.S. companies.

AT&T

  • General customer service: 800 331 0500 (7 am to 10 p.m. your local time).
  • To ask about new service or service upgrades: 888 333 6651 (Mon. - Fri. 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., weekends 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Central time).
  • To check the status of an order: 877 782 8870 (24-hour service).
  • Support when you're outside the U.S.: 1 916 843 4685 (24-hour service and this is a free call from your phone).
  • Support for folks with disabilities: 866 241 6568 (Voice), 866 241 6567 (TTY). These are both 24-hour numbers.
  • Support via Twitter: @attcares.
  • Support via Facebook: facebook.com/ATT.

You can also chat with an AT&T representative using the AT&T Wireless support page.

Sprint

  • General customer service: 888 211 4727 (postpaid) 855 639 4644 (prepaid).
  • New service or equipment: 866 275 1411.
  • Support when you're outside the U.S.: 888 226 7212 (Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands), 817 698 4199 (international number).
  • Support via Twitter: @sprintcare.

Para compatibilidad con el idioma español.

For online chat options visit the Sprint support pages.

T-Mobile

  • All customer service questions and issues: 611 (from your T-Mobile phone), 877 746 0909 (from another phone).
  • Support when you're outside the U.S.: 505 998 3793 (free from a T-Mobile phone).
  • TTY service for support issues: 877 296 1018 (3 a.m. to 10 p.m. Pacific time)
  • Support via Twitter: @tmobilehelp.
  • Support via Facebook: .facebook.com/TMobile.
  • Support via Google+: +T-Mobile

For online chat options visit the T-Mobile support pages.

US Cellular

  • All customer service questions and issues: 611 (from your US Cellular phone), 888 944 9400 (from another phone), 866 872 4249 (business customers). These numbers are available from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Central time.
  • Support via Twitter: @uscellularcares.
  • Support via Facebook: facebook.com/USCellular.

To message a support agent online visit the US Cellular support pages.

Verizon

  • All customer service questions and issues: 611 (from your Verizon phone), 800 922 0204 (from another phone).
  • Support via Twitter: @vzwsupport.
  • Support via Facebook: facebook.com/verizon.
  • Support via Google+: +Verizon.

Para compatibilidad con el idioma español

For support for folks with disabilities, see Verizon's accessibility services portal.

To chat with an online representative visit the Verizon support portal.

To ask about new service or service upgrades visit the Verizon online help portal.

Who made your phone?

If you're having a problem and didn't buy your phone from a carrier store or third-party store or reseller, you'll need to contact the company who made it for troubleshooting or any warranty issues. Seeing who made your phone is usually obvious, just flip it over and see who's name is on the back. If you're using a Google phone, you should talk to Google instead of the actual company who manufactured it. Talking to support in-person is not going to be an option most of the time, Samsung and their Samsung Experience stores being the exception, so here's how to get in touch if you're in the U.S.

Google

  • Google does things a little differently for Nexus support calls. Instead of having callers stay on hold, you use an online form to queue up and they will call you. Find that form here. Alternatively, you can call support yourself at 855 836 3987.
  • For order inquiries from the Google Store: 855 836 3987 (24-hour support).
  • For support for Google Play purchases: 855 836 3987 (24-hour support).
  • The Nexus Help Center.

HTC

  • All customer support inquiries: 866 449 8358.
  • HTC Store support: 888 216 4736.
  • Support via Twitter: @htcusa.
  • Support via Facebook: facebook.com/htcusa/.
  • Support via Google+: +HTC
  • Support via online chat: HTC Support.

HTC also has an extensive support website with plenty of options and FAQs for all of their products and apps. You can visit it here.

Huawei

  • All customer support inquiries: 888 548 2934 (English and Spanish, Mon. - Fri. 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., weekends 10 am to 6 p.m. Central time).
  • Support via Twitter: @huaweimobile.
  • Support via Facebook: facebook.com/huaweimobile.
  • Support via Google+: +HuaweiMobile.

Huawei has a dedicated online support web site complete with a contact form. See it here.

LG

  • All customer support inquiries: 800 243 0000.
  • Make an appointment to talk with customer support here.
  • Support via online chat: LG Support.
  • Support via Twitter: @lgus.
  • Support via Facebook: facebook.com/LGUSA.
  • Support via Google+: +LGUSA.

LG has an extensive online portal filled with support options for phones and their software. See it here.

Motorola

  • All customer support inquiries: 800 734 5870 (Mon. - Fri. 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., weekends 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Central time).
  • Use the online troubleshooter here.
  • Support via online chat: Direct link.
  • Support via Twitter: @Moto_USA.
  • Support via Facebook: facebook.com/motorola.
  • Support via Google+: +Motorola.

See Motorola's online support web pages and community here.

Samsung

See Samsung's extensive online support portal with live chat and email options here. Help with an existing order requires a login.

As always, we're here and can try to help with any Android problems you might be having, or answer any questions you may have. Our contact information is below.

Another great way to find help for many common problems is through the forums. You'll find the specific forum for your device here or you can ask a general question without signing up here. You'll find plenty of people who know just about everything there is to know about Android and your phone and it's a wonderful resource.

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5 months ago

How to sign up for Reliance Jio and get free data

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Reliance finally launched Jio earlier this month, making the 4G service available to everyone in India. Jio is offering fast data speeds and voice calls through VoLTE, but the main attraction is the Welcome Offer, through which everyone who signs up for the service gets free data until the end of 2016. Considering the SIM itself is being given away for free across retail stores across the country, you should absolutely get on the Jio bandwagon right away.

Here's how you can register for a Reliance Jio SIM and avail free data until the end of the year.

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5 months ago

What you need to know about U.S. carrier plans and subsidies

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Can I still buy a smartphone with a carrier subsidy?

I forgot what it's like to actually buy a smartphone. I've been living in a bubble because of my privileged position as a former smartphone reviewer and I missed out on the fact that carrier subsidies aren't really a thing anymore.

Back in the day—that is to say, a mere two years ago—you could purchase the latest smartphone at a significant discount after signing on for another two years of service. But in the last year, U.S. carriers have effectively changed their policies so that their customers have to either finance or lease their smartphones, or just buy them outright.

Are there any major carriers still offering subsidies? The answer is, not really. But that doesn't mean that purchasing your next smartphone has to be a daunting experience. Here's what the four major U.S. carriers are offering in terms of upgrades.

Tip: Most of the major carriers have special offers throughout the year that could save you some cash on your next device. For instance, Verizon offers up to $300 trade-in value for your old smartphone when you upgrade or add a line on select devices. These deals change from time to time, but like buying a car, if you can wait to upgrade until the next promotion, it could afford you some major savings.

Verizon Wireless

At present, Verizon only offers two smartphone buying options: Financing the phone with monthly payments, or buying the phone outright. By default, Big Red will allow you to pay for your phone over the course of 24 months, or two years from your purchase date. For instance, if you wanted to buy the 32GB Samsung Galaxy S7, you'd be paying $28 a month until you reach the $672 retail price. Alternatively, you could also put some money down, like $200, and only pay $19.67 per month for 24 months. Unfortunately, you can't pay extra towards the balance of the phone each month after the fact, though you can choose to pay it off entirely at any time if you have the funds.

Big Red will allow you to pay for your phone over the course of 24 months.

Long time customers have a little more luck. Verizon stopped offering subsidies to new customers late last summer, but if you were on contract at that time and you're only now considering an upgrade, you can still buy your next smartphone at a discount until Verizon decides otherwise.

AT&T

Like Verizon, AT&T allows you to pay for your smartphone over time or in one lump sum. There are is an option if you're aching to upgrade early on, however, and depending on your credit, you might even have the luxury of paying off your phone slowly, up to 30 months after initial purchase.

AT&T Next is a bit more flexible than Verizon's offering.

AT&T's financing plan is called AT&T Next, and it's a bit more flexible than Verizon's offerings. For example, if you're looking to upgrade to the 32GB Galaxy S7 edge and you have a good credit score, you can choose to put nothing down and pay $36.50 a month for 30 months. You could also lower your monthly rate by adding on an optional down payment and then choose to pay off your device over 24, 18, or 12 months if you qualify.

AT&T also offers a Next Every Year program, which makes you eligible for a discount on a new phone with a trade-in, but only after your current device is halfway paid off (this takes roughly one year). And if you cancel your service in the middle of paying off the device, you'll have to pay it in full before you can leave.

Sprint

If you're a Sprint subscriber, you can choose to lease your phone, buy it outright, or pay for it in monthly installments.

Sprint's leasing program works similarly to leasing a car. You choose almost any phone you want and then pay for it over the period of 24 months. At the end of the lease, you can choose to pay off the remaining balance on the device, trade it in for a new model, or continue paying month-to-month until you figure out what you want. There's also a $5 monthly Early Upgrade option, though you'll have to have paid toward your device for 12 consecutive months before you can upgrade to a new phone. And if you're crazy for every new Samsung device, you can sign up for the Galaxy Forever leasing program.

Sprint's leasing program is a bit problematic. You don't actually own the device unless you choose the purchase option and should something major happen to the device in your care before it's paid off, you'll be liable for the Damaged Device Fee unless you're enrolled in the Total Equipment Protection plan, which also costs a monthly fee.

Sprint's leasing program is problematic in that you don't actually own the device.

At the end of it all, Sprint's leasing program doesn't sound like the best deal. You'll have to pile on program fees just to ensure you're not paying up the wazoo at the end of the lease, and if you decide to keep the phone, you'll actually be paying more than the current value of the device at the end of the leasing terms. The full terms of Sprint's leasing program are here.

It's also unclear if Sprint has done away with subsidies. On its cell phone upgrades page, Sprint says, "If you have completed a 2-year commitment, you can upgrade to another discounted device if you enter into a new 2-year Service Agreement." This applies only to those customers that are paying at least $40 a month for their bill.

T-Mobile

T-Mobile's Jump program costs $10 a month and includes device insurance. Once you're signed up, you'll pay for the device in monthly installments, and after it's halfway paid off, you can trade it in for a new one.

T-Mobile will let you pay for your phone outright or in 24 month installments.

Like Verizon, T-Mobile will also let you pay for your phone outright, or in installments over 24 months, though you may have to fork over a down payment depending on your credit score. At the very least, that down payment goes towards the full price of the phone. You can also choose to pay extra each month so that your phone is paid off sooner, though you'll have to file that separately from your monthly bill so that it's registered in the system as a device payment.

Lastly, T-Mobile offers a leasing program called Jump! On Demand, which is great for smartphone enthusiasts who are keen on having the latest and greatest but don't necessarily want to commit to shelling out all the cash at once. You'll essentially be making monthly payments to use the phone, though you'll never actually own it. The upside you can walk into any T-Mobile store and trade your months-old phone in for a new one, up to three times in a year. But it also means that you can't get too attached to your daily driver.

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5 months ago

Here's what the new S Pen can do on the Galaxy Note 7

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Learn what you can do with the S Pen and the Galaxy Note 7

Samsung's flagship releases for 2016, the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy Note 7, are arguably the top-class smartphones of the year. While there are a number of similarities in terms of design and features between the two phones, the most marked difference is the Note 7's S Pen, which adds a host of awesome features.

From tools to keep you productive and organized to instant translations and animated gifs, the S Pen will be at the center of your experience with the Note 7 if you embrace it. Here are the core features that use the S Pen and how they work.

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5 months ago

How to disable auto Bluetooth audio streaming on Samsung Galaxy phones

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Are you bothered by your music playing every time your Galaxy phone connects to your vehicle's Bluetooth? Here's how to fix it.

Owning a Bluetooth-enabled car stereo makes life easier in many ways. Once paired to your Samsung Galaxy phone, you'll be able to quickly connect your phone every time you get in your car and receive phone calls and text messages hands-free while you drive.

It also enables you to play music from your phone on demand, and by default you may notice it automatically playing the tracks stored on your Galaxy phone as soon as you turn on the vehicle. If you find autoplay to be more of a nuisance than a useful feature, here's how you can toggle media audio from playing in your Bluetooth car stereo.

  1. Swipe down from the top of the screen to pull down the Notification shade.
  2. Tap the Settings icon.
  3. Tap Connections.
  1. Tap Bluetooth
  2. Tap the Settings icon next to the paired device you're having issues with.
  3. Tap the Media audio toggle switch to turn it off.

This will turn off all audio media from playing via Bluetooth in your car — an admittedly extreme option for fixing autoplay issues. When you decide you want to play music through your car stereo, you'll have to go back into your phone's Bluetooth settings and re-enable media audio.

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5 months ago

Here's why Google Play Music needs an alarm feature

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Recently, Google Play Music added a sleep timer to its popular app at long last. If you fall asleep to music, congratulations — our phone doesn't have to run your lullaby all night! It's a wonderful addition to the app, one that brings two questions to my mind: where's a Material Dark theme so we aren't blinded listening before bed, and where's an alarm feature so we can wake up to music, too?

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5 months ago

How to use Inking in Microsoft Office for Android

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Create notes, sketches, drawings, and annotations in Microsoft Office using the Inking feature.

The new Inking feature on Microsoft Office apps – Word, Excel, and PowerPoint – for Android allows you to draw or write in documents using a pen or stylus – or even a finger.

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5 months ago

What you need to know about dark themes and battery savings

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Dark is beautiful.

I've said this for years: Every time I have any support interaction with Google Play Music, I conclude the conversation asking about the return of that glorious dark theme. Dark themes in apps can be awesome, but dark themes for your home screen can be pure perfection. If you're using an AMOLED phone, dark themes can be energy-efficient as well as gorgeous — but only in very specific circumstances.

Here's what they are and how to make your own.

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5 months ago

How to choose the right Chromebook

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Knowing what to look for before you buy will make you happier and can save you money — which also makes you happier.

Whether you're buying your first Chromebook or upgrading from an older model, you need to know what to look for before you part with your cash. Really, most purchases are this way — especially electronics of any sort. We can help you figure out which Chromebook features are right for you so you can be an informed buyer.

If you're not yet sure that Chrome OS will work for you, go cheap.

Before you begin, you should set your budget. Thankfully, a fully capable and future ready (if not future proof) model can be had for well under $300 if you don't want to go for the top-shelf. And realistically, you don't. Chrome OS runs really well on hardware that might not have enough "oomph" for another operating system. In fact, there's a good chance your phone will have more cores, be clocked higher and have more memory than a Chromebook that can do everything it's intended to do. That's not to say you won't benefit from having a more premium model with better specs, but it's certainly not necessary.

And that makes the first thing on our buyer's checklist easy: if you're not yet sure that Chrome OS will work for you, go cheap.

The top selling Chromebook on Amazon (with a 4.5-star rating, too!) is the Acer Chromebook CB-3. It sells new for $149.99 (as of September 2016). And while it's not the nicest laptop you'll ever see, it has a great IPS screen and runs the very latest version of Chrome OS. And runs it pretty well. You will see things get bogged down a little if you're trying to do too much at one time, but a browser session with a handful of tabs open or a few Chrome apps or documents open won't be a problem at all. It's a perfect way to see how Chrome will handle doing the things you want it to do.

Amazon is also a great place to look for refurbished models that still carry a full warranty. I have seen Chromebooks for as little as $99 for Amazon Prime accounts, and any of them would be a good way to try a taste of Chrome OS so you know if you're ready to spend a little more.

See at Amazon

If you're already sure you want a little better hardware or are looking forward to Android apps, you still don't have to spend a lot of money. But you do need to know what to look for.

Android apps will change how we use a Chromebook.

Android apps are going to change how we use a Chromebook. Adding almost 2,000,000 apps to one of the fastest and safest operating systems available will also make it one of the most capable for many of us. Don't expect to run specialty programs like Adobe Photoshop or a CAD program, but for things like light video editing or 3-D drawing, you'll find a handful of apps that can handle the task. Chromebooks weren't designed for folks who need to use a high-end desktop or laptop. But most of us don't need a high-end desktop or laptop and will be served well with a Chromebook. If Android apps are going to be important to you, here are a few things you need to look for.

  • Make sure it's on the list. You'll find a list of Chromebooks that will be able to run apps from Google Play when it's launched later in 2016. Any existing model will be listed if it's going to support them. For newly-announced models, ask someone about Android apps before you buy. You can ask us — if we don't know, we'll find out.
  • More storage is better. This goes without saying, but we are saying it anyway. Chromebooks were designed as a cloud-centric device. Because of this, many don't come with a lot of storage space. Android apps can change how much you'll need. Consider some games for Android (which will play just fine on your Chromebook) are up to 2GB or more in size, and you'll see why. You can store a lot of data or documents or photos on the SD card, but apps will go on the actual device storage. Ideally, you'll want 32GB or more, but 16 can work if you're not interested in any games.
  • Know how you plan to use it. Some of us want a convertible model that we can use like a tablet. Others want a traditional clamshell-style. Spending a little more to get something you'll find more useful is worth it. Screen size comes into play here, too. If you're on the go a lot, you might want an 11-inch model. Or the 14-incher would be better for your desk. Think about how you'll be using your Chromebook before you buy one.
  • Get a model with a touch screen. Using a touch screen for "normal" computing kinda sucks. Editing something in Google Docs or writing a long email just isn't designed for touch input no matter which platform. That's why the people who make tablets also make keyboard covers. But that changes when you add in apps originally designed fro a phone. They are built for a great experience when poking and swiping with your finger, and that translates well from a 5-inch screen to a 13-inch screen. While you can use the trackpad for most any of it, it's just not as good.
  • How much memory do you need? That's determined by what you plan to do. A model with 2GB will be enough to have a few tabs open in the browser as well as an app or two running, but if you're the power-user type you'll want to go with 4GB. The video experience benefits from more memory, too. A 1080p video on YouTube or Google Play Movies can get a little stuttery with 2GB, but 720p runs great.
  • Buy one with the right CPU. For most of us, a Chromebook with an Intel Core i3 or Core i5 CPU is absolute overkill. They are also a good bit higher priced. Unless you plan to really tax the system or dual-boot with Linux, you don't need one. A late-model Intel Celeron (if you're not sure based on the spec sheet, just ask) or ARM CPU is more than enough for most of us.
  • How premium do you want to go? Every other item on this list can be had in a sub-300 dollar Chromebook. You can also spend upwards of $600 for one that works. The $300 model will handle most anything you throw at it, but the $600 model just feels better. I won't toss a silly car analogy in here, but only you know how much a nicer look and feel is worth. Of course, more expensive models tend to have nicer displays and smoother trackpads, too.

You'll have to decide which Chromebook is best for you, but we can toss a couple recommendations out. I've been using an ASUS Chromebook Flip for a while now (I'm writing this blog post with one) and for anyone who wants a tablet-like experience, it's marvelous. I have to try hard to get it to struggle and the screen, trackpad and keyboard are more than acceptable. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to anyone looking for a smaller (11-inch) model.

See at Amazon

If you're ready to go all-in with Chrome and don't mind spending a little more, The Dell Chromebook 13 is what I consider the best Chromebook available today. It's not the most expensive model — that award goes to the HP Chromebook 13 which lacks a touch screen — but it's not exactly cheap either. For someone using a Chromebook for business or anyone who just wants the best (it's OK to treat yourself once in a while), the Dell 13 is the one to buy.

See at Dell

Of course, new Chromebooks are coming out all the time and something coming up may be even better. You can keep up to date on our Best Chromebooks page, and keep an eye out for our reviews. And as always, the forums are a great place to learn more about anything Chrome.

Chromebooks

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