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2 days ago

Samsung's developer pitch is all about Tizen, but that shouldn't worry Android fans

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New year, same story from Samsung when targeting the developer community.

Anyone following along with Samsung's Developer Conference (or any trade show where Samsung is represented, actually) is seeing a lot of the word "Tizen" mentioned — TVs, cars, appliances and the whole Internet of Things are running on it. As faithful Android observers, we sometimes have a visceral negative reaction to the word, as if Samsung saying "Tizen" automatically means that Android is no longer in the picture.

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3 days ago

Motorola all set to unveil the Moto G4 and G4 Plus in India on May 17

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Motorola has sent out invites to the Indian media for an event on May 17, where the vendor will unveil the Moto G4 and the Moto G4 Plus.

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3 days ago

Strong Galaxy S7 sales boost Samsung's profits in Q1 2016

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Strong demand for the Galaxy S7 and the S7 edge has allowed Samsung's mobile division to record its highest profit in nearly two years. The South Korean manufacturer posted an overall revenue of 49.78 trillion won ($43.46 billion), an increase of 5.7% from the same period a year ago. Operating profit at 6.68 trillion won ($5.84 billion) was 12% more than what Samsung recorded in Q1 2015.

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3 days ago

Hands-on with the Nextbit Robin update — a major improvement

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Nextbit has addressed issues with the Robin in the latest update, and we had a look to see how they did.

Nextbit released the Android 6.0.1 update for the Robin, promising better performance and battery life, improved camera response and better audio tuning for both the front speakers and through the headphone jack. They've also made the Robin available through Amazon Prime, which makes it easier to buy.

I've had early access to the update, and have used it long enough to have a few things to say.

I liked the Robin with its original software configuration. The cloud syncing sounds a little gimmicky — backing up infrequently used apps to save space on your phone — but I found it worked exactly as intended without interfering with the day-to-day operation of the phone itself. The phone's design is a bit different from anything else out there, and it's done very well. You'll have a phone that looks great and handles well while being unique and stylish.

Coincidentally, three areas where things were "adequate" at best were battery life, the camera and the audio. Let's have a look at what's changed in those areas and see if things have moved beyond mediocre.

Battery life and performance

For a lot of people, how long you can use your phone between charges is one of the most important parts of the buying decision. In our original testing, I found the battery life to be enough to make it through an average day, though I was skeptical how it would hold up under heavy use and wanted to spend more time with it.

With the latest update, I'm pretty pleased.

What stands out the most is the standby time. Even with the Nextbit cloud software running alongside syncing everything Google on multiple accounts, an idle Nextbit Robin does little more than lightly sip at its battery capacity. Left sitting and doing whatever it needed to do under the hood for Five days and a handful of hours, the battery still had over 50 percent of its charge and the software tells me there are five days left of this type of non-use.

Robin feels faster and has better battery life.

How it performs with heavy use is something that still needs more testing, but there's obvious improvement here. Watching half of a Let's Play series on YouTube, spending time on Twitter, Google+ and Steam's forums on top of the normal emails, messages. Slack, Skype and general goofing-off — with mixed time on Wi-Fi and on T-Mobile's LTE — left me with no fear that my battery would be dead before I put my head on the pillow and my Robin on the charger. I still need to spend time doing the things I want to do somewhere the signal's poor so I can compare that to other phones, but as I mentioned above, there's obvious improvement here, and I like what I'm seeing.

Something that got barely a passing mention in the update notes is improved performance. I didn't think the performance of the shipping software was poor, but the new update makes the phone feel like it does everything better. We've remarked how a recent update fixed many performance issues on the Nexus 5X — which shares some of the internals with the Robin — and you'll experience something similar here. Things have been changed that allow the processor to run better without reaching its thermal throttle point, and the result is a phone that "feels faster" in many ways. Doing so without adverse affects on battery life is a nice part of the update, and deserves a specific mention. Well done, Nextbit.

A faster camera

Nextbit says it tackled the sometimes sluggish camera on the Robin, and they certainly have. This doesn't seem to affect image quality — the Robin still takes pictures that are good enough, but doesn't match what we see from phones at the top of the camera (and price) game like the Galaxy S7 or the LG G5. It's no slouch, and in capable hands you'll be able to get beautiful pictures, but it lacks the "idiot-proof" ease of use from some of the others.

Fast focus now matters because the shutter is faster.

A serious gripe was how long it took to actually produce a picture after you tapped the shutter button. On the shipping software, you'd regularly experience a delay of a full second or more — especially in HDR mode — once things were focused and ready until you actually took the picture.

That's gone. Nextbit says that this is now at least twice as fast, and it looks like they're spot-on with this assessment. The fast focus that comes from using phase-detection matters now, because taking the actual picture is also fast. This makes the Robin's camera acceptable, and you'll be using it more often because it works well. I was hoping to see some improvement to the white balance here (even though nobody at Nextbit claims it was adjusted or improved), especially in low light and under incandescent light, but image editing software like Snapseed can easily adjust the output now that you can get the picture you wanted instead of watching everything move out of frame while you were waiting for the shutter to fire. One other neat feature for the camera is a quick-launch ability. Double-tapping the power button brings up the camera, even while the screen is off.

Audio tuning

Disclaimer — this is an area where I pay close attention, so I might notice the impact of small improvements more than someone who isn't dialed-in on how things sound. Having said that, this is a pretty drastic move up in quality.

Nextbit worked with the French audio enhancement company Arkamys to improve the signal processing software, and it's instantly noticeable — in a good way. Music from both the front-facing speakers and the headphone jack sounds fuller, more separated and cleaner. This carries well when turning the volume up, and even at maximum levels you'll appreciate clearer (and louder) sound.

Compared to other phones using the same hardware, the audio improvements are remarkable.

Audio and the way your music sounds is a subjective thing. But these are improvements everyone will recognize and enjoy, no matter what kind of music you listen to or how you listen to it. And it doesn't just improve music — all audio, including the new custom ringtones from DJs Lauren Lo Sung and Giraffage benefit from the newly-tuned signal processing, and even the speakerphone is improved.

These changes won't transform the Robin into one of those products audiophiles will rave over, but they do make for a remarkable improvement. I was admittedly skeptical over these claims at first, but find that Nextbit has done a wonderful job with the Snapdragon 808's on-board Qualcomm Hexagon QDSP V56 DSP, and compared to other phones that use the same hardware like the Nexus 5X, the difference is remarkable.

I didn't have a chance to try the new AIAIAI TMA-2 headphones specially tuned for the Robin, but I imagine they make things even better here. I'll see what I can do about finding a pair to test with, and will revisit if I can make that happen.

The bottom line

This is a great update. That's simple, but sums it up nicely. Not only does the Robin get Android 6.0.1 (with the April security patch) with overall improvements to performance and security (and emojis!), but specific areas where the Robin needed improvement were addressed in demonstrable ways.

With the phone now available through Amazon, I'm even more apt to recommend it to anyone looking for a phone in this price range who doesn't want to be tied down to a carrier's whims.

See Nextbit Robin on Amazon (Mint) See Nextbit Robin on Amazon (Midnight)

Nextbit Robin

See at Amazon

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3 days ago

AT&T vs. T-Mobile: Best family plan

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 Best Family Plan

Comparing data, to minutes, to cost, to perks: which carrier is right for your family?

The wonderful world of wireless carriers can be confusing at the best of times. You might find cheap data with one, but it comes with expensive overage fees. Or one charges a low fee to add additional devices, but you can't bundle it with your home services.

When you're shopping between AT&T and T-Mobile it's important to know how much data you need, how many devices will be on your account, and how much data you expect to use.

What sharing plans are available from AT&T and T-Mobile?

Sharing plans allow you to purchase one big chunk of data and divvy it up between all the phones and devices on your account.

AT&T offers their Mobile Share Value plans. These plans are different sizes and allow you to choose exactly how much data you and your family need to share each month.

T-Mobile doesn't really offer a true sharing plan. Instead of sharing one big chunk of data, each person on your account is given a monthly allotment of data. Once they surpass their data limit, they can still use data on their phone or tablet, but their download speeds will be slower.

How many devices are allowed on a shared plan?

With both AT&T and T-Mobile you are charged for each device on your plan. Adding smartphones to your plan costs more than adding tablets or wearables, so knowing how many devices you want to share data with will impact your total bill each month.

AT&T cost per device

AT&T allows up to 10 devices to be on one of their shared plans. The cost of adding a device depends on how many GB of data you are sharing.

  • $25/month/smartphone (on plans with 5 GB or less of data)
  • $15/month/smartphone (on plans with 15 GB of data or more)
  • $10/month/tablet (no data restrictions)
  • $10/month/wearable (no data restrictions)
  • $20/month/laptop or hotspot device

T-Mobile cost per device

With T-Mobile you can have up to 12 devices on one account. The more devices you add, the cheaper it is per device (until you eventually bottom out at $10 each). Adding a tablet to your T-Mobile plan is only $10/device if you also have a cell phone on your plan, otherwise it's $20.

  • Phone 1, $50
  • Phone 2, $30
  • Phone 3, $10
  • Each additional phone $10
  • Each additional tablet $10 (or $20 if you don't have a phone)

Remember, if you're not bringing your own phone, your carrier will also charge you a monthly fee to purchase one of their phones. Costs vary, but if you want the most up-to-date phone, you'll be looking at about $25-$30 per month.

How does data work on a shared plan with AT&T and T-Mobile?

This is where things get tricky. AT&T lets your whole family share from one big pile of data, while T-Mobile gives you a specific data allotment for each device.

If you go over your allotted data on AT&T you get charged extra. If you go over on T-Mobile your data speed slows down, but you won't have to pay more.

AT&T monthly data rates

  • 300 mb, $20
  • 2 GB, $30
  • 5 GB, $50
  • 15 GB, $100
  • 20 GB, $140
  • 25 GB, $175
  • 30 GB, $225
  • 40 GB, $300
  • 50 GB, $375

Overage Charges: If you go over your allotted data on one of these plans you will be charged an additional $20/300 mb on the 300 mb plan, or $15/1 GB on all other plans.

Rollover Data: Unused data is rolled over into the next month and expires one month after rolling over.

T-Mobile monthly data rates

  • 2 GB (included with your monthly charge for each device on your account)
  • 6 GB, $15/device
  • 10 GB, $30/device
  • Unlimited, $45/device

Overage Charges: If you go over your monthly data limit with T-Mobile your connection speed can be reduced (If you have a normal, 4G, LTE connection your speed can be reduce from between 6 and 20 Mbps to between 64 and 128 kbps which is less than a 2G network connection). Even on an unlimited plan, if you exceed 25 GB on a device in one bill cycle your speeds may be reduced. This may only happen during peak use times, or if you're lucky, not at all, but T-Mobile reserves the right to limit your speeds if you go over.

Rollover Data: T-Mobile offers a service called Data Stash which allows you to rollover any unused data in future months and will save this unused, high speed data for an entire year.

How do talk and text work on a shared plan on AT&T and T-Mobile

Both AT&T and T-Mobile include unlimited talk and text with their shared plans.

With AT&T if you purchase a 15 GB or higher plan, you also get free talk and text to for Mexico and Canada.

T-Mobile includes unlimited talk and text to Mexico and Canada with no matter how much data you buy.

What perks come with a shared plan from AT&T and T-Mobile?

Sometimes it's tough to decide between one carrier or another, so each provider will offer something to sweeten the pot and hopefully make you choose them over someone else.

AT&T offers a popular TV service called DIRECTV, giving you access to local and network shows as well as a DVR. If you subscribe to this TV service, AT&T will give you unlimited data on for your cell phone, which could save you a lot of money each month depending on how much data your family uses. However, AT&T will slow down your connection if you use more than 22 GB of data between your mobile devices.

T-Mobile's incentive package helps protect your high speed data, by making certain data-draining activities exempt from your overall high speed data allotment. T-Mobile's Music Freedom allows you to stream music from popular services you already have an account with like Apple Music, Google Music, Pandora, without counting against your data. Binge On works the same way as Music Freedom, but for popular video services you have an account for like YouTube, Netflix, and Hulu.

Which carrier's shared plan is right for your family?

Both AT&T and T-Mobile have a lot of room to customize their services based on the needs and budget of your household. For comparison purposes, we will look at share plans that have two phones and two tablets on them.

If you want the absolute cheapest plan, that can be built with AT&T, but beware, this plan has an unrealistically low 300 mb of data to share, so you'd likely be paying their $20/month overage fee.

If you want the plan with most high speed data, you can get that with AT&T, but you're going to pay through the nose for it. T-Mobile let's you purchase an unlimited plan, but reserve the right to de-prioritize your access speed during peak times if you go over 25 GB on a device in a billing cycle.

If you want the best value for your data T-Mobile lets you buy the amount of data you think you'll need for each device and won't charge you overage fees.

If you have many devices consider the T-Mobile plan as it's per-device account fee bottoms out at $10 for three or more devices, which is less expensive than AT&T's rates.

If you want to avoid overage fees then T-Mobile is a clear winner since they only slow down your data if you go over your limit instead of charging you per GB of data.

If you're primarily concerned with talk and text from your provider, AT&T and T-Mobile are pretty equal. The only difference is if you frequently talk or text with people in Mexico or Canada, you need to have a minimum GB plan with AT&T (starting with the 15 GB plan for $100) whereas with T-Mobile, it's included for any data amount.

If you already pay for TV service in your home you might find more value with AT&T depending on how much data you use in a typical month.

Keep calm and carrier on

Ultimately choosing a shared plan for your family comes down to how many people are in your home, what devices they use, and what they use them for. AT&T and T-Mobile have slight advantages between each other depending on what category you look at.

Overall T-Mobile's plan offers the most customization and flexibility whereas AT&T is a good option if you are pretty consistent month-to-month in the way you use your data and devices.

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3 days ago

Nextbit unveils major Robin software update, AIAIAI headphone collaboration

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Nextbit AIAIAI

Android 6.0.1 update brings battery, sound and camera improvements, as Nextbit partners with AIAIAI for custom headphones and launches Robin on Amazon.

Nextbit, the company behind minty cloudphone Robin, has announced the first major software update for the handset, alongside a new partnership with Danish audio brand AIAIAI.

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4 days ago

Swipe Elite Note offers a 5.5-inch 720p display, 3GB RAM and LTE for just ₹7,999

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Swipe Technologies has launched the Elite Note in India, with the phone going up for sale on Flipkart. The highlight of the phone is that it offers a 5.5-inch 720p display as well as 3GB of RAM and LTE connectivity for just ₹7,999.

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4 days ago

Gionee Marathon M5 Plus finally makes its debut in India for ₹26,999

0

After unveiling the phone in China late last year, Gionee has commenced sales of the Marathon M5 Plus in India for ₹26,999.

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4 days ago

Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 and Mi 5 open sale kicks off in India

1

Update: That didn't last long. All products are now showing out of stock, with the sale lasting a few seconds. We'll let you know of the next flash sale once we get more details.

Xiaomi's conducting an open sale of the Redmi Note 3 and the Mi 5, making the phones available for purchase without a registration for the first time. The sale commences later today, April 27, and if you're in the market for either handset, be sure to head to Mi.com at 2PM IST to get your hands on Xiaomi's latest.

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4 days ago

The LG G5 spare battery coffin is a brilliant little charger

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LG G5 spare battery charger

This is what you can get for free in the U.S. if you get an LG G5 by April 30.

One of the more important features of the LG G5 is the battery. Specifically that it's removable. And because you can swap in a spare battery whenever you feel like it, it makes sense to have an extra on on hand. To that end, LG is giving a good many folks who ordered early a free spare G5 battery, complete with charging cradle coffin — and a sweet little adapter to boot.

As you might well have guessed, this isn't just a charging cradle.

Let's take a quick look.

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4 days ago

HTC introduces the familiar-looking One S9 in Europe for €499

16

HTC has announced a new phone for European markets, the HTC One S9. The phone takes after the One M9 in style, while changing up the internals. The phone comes with Android 6.0 Marshmallow pre-installed.

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4 days ago

Unlocked HTC 10 has Wi-Fi calling support

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HTC 10 Wifi calling

Make calls over Wi-Fi without carrier-branded firmware.

It used to be that in order to use Wi-Fi calling — the ability on certain carriers to place calls and texts over Wi-Fi, even when you have no cellular reception — you had to be using a carrier-branded handset. But we've seen a trend towards Wi-Fi calling on unlocked Android phones of late, including the Galaxy S7 and Nexus 6P with the Android N developer preview.

The latest Android phone to bring support for Wi-Fi calling in an unlocked model — at least on some carriers — is the HTC 10

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4 days ago

AT&T vs. Verizon: Best family plan

33
 Best Family Plan

Comparing data, to minutes, to cost, to perks, which carrier is right for your family?

Wireless carriers don't necessarily make it easy for you to compare between their services. They all offer data, and minutes, and messaging, but the small details between them can mean a big difference on your monthly bill.

Choosing a shared plan for your family is a big decision. When you're shopping between AT&T and Verizon it's important to know how much data you need, how many devices will be on your account, and how much data you expect to use.

What sharing plans are available from AT&T and Verizon?

Sharing plans allow you to purchase one big chunk of data and divvy it up between all the phones and devices on your account.

AT&T offers their Mobile Share Value plans. These plans are different sizes and allow you to choose exactly how much data you and your family need to share each month.

The Verizon Plan lets you choose between plans sized from S-XXL depending on how much data you need. From there you add the number of devices you want to share the data with.

How many devices are allowed on a shared plan?

With both AT&T and Verizon you are charged for each device on your plan. Adding smartphones to your plan costs more than adding tablets or wearables, so knowing how many devices you want to share data with will impact your total bill each month.

AT&T cost per device

AT&T allows up to 10 devices to be on one of their shared plans. The cost of adding a device depends on how many GB of data you are sharing.

  • $25/month/smartphone (on plans with 5 GB or less of data)
  • $15/month/smartphone (on plans with 15 GB of data or more)
  • $10/month/tablet (no data restrictions)
  • $10/month/wearable (no data restrictions)
  • $20/month/laptop or hotspot device

Verizon cost per device

On Verizon, you pay a flat rate per device, regardless of the size of your plan; however, the rate varies depending on what kind of device you're using. At least one of the devices on your plan must be a smartphone in order to share data.

  • $20/month/smartphone
  • $10/tablet/month
  • $10/mobile hotspot/month
  • $5/device/month

Remember, if you're not bringing your own phone, your carrier will also charge you a monthly fee to purchase one of their phones. Costs vary, but if you want the most up-to-date phone, you'll be looking at about $25-$30 per month.

How does data work on a shared plan with AT&T and Verizon?

Both AT&T and Verizon let you choose a set monthly data amount for your family to share. If you go over your monthly allotment, you will be charged an overage fee.

AT&T monthly data rates

  • 300 mb, $20
  • 2 GB, $30
  • 5 GB, $50
  • 15 GB, $100
  • 20 GB, $140
  • 25 GB, $175
  • 30 GB, $225
  • 40 GB, $300
  • 50 GB, $375

Overage Charges: If you go over your allotted data on one of these plans you will be charged an additional $20/300 mb on the 300 mb plan, or $15/1 GB on all other plans.

Rollover Data: Unused data is rolled over into the next month and expires one month after rolling over.

Verizon monthly data rates

  • 1 GB, $30
  • 3 GB, $45
  • 6 GB, $60
  • 12 GB, $80
  • 18 GB, $100

Overage Charges: If you go over your data limit, Verizon charges $15 per GB (rounded up). This means if you have a 6 GB plan and use 6.1 GB, Verizon rounds up and charges you an additional $15 overage fee for a full extra GB of data for that month.

Rollover Data: Verizon does not let you carry unused data into the next month. If you don't binge through all your data in one billing cycle, it's gone.

How do talk and text work on a shared plan on AT&T and Verizon?

Both AT&T and Verizon include unlimited talk and text with their shared plans.

With AT&T if you purchase a 15 GB or higher plan, you also get free talk and text to Mexico and Canada.

Verizon doesn't include talk with countries outside the U.S. but it can be added to your plan. However, you will be able to send an unlimited number of text and multimedia messages internationally from any device on the shared plan as long as you're in the US when you send them.

What perks come with share plans from AT&T and Verizon?

Sometimes it's tough to decide between one carrier or another, so each provider will offer something to sweeten the pot and hopefully make you choose them over someone else.

AT&T offers a popular TV service called DIRECTV, giving you access to local and network shows as well as a DVR. If you subscribe to this TV service, AT&T will give you unlimited data on for your cell phone, which could save you a lot of money each month depending on how much data your family uses. However, AT&T will slow down your connection if you use more than 22 GB of data between your mobile devices.

Verizon will let you bundle services together which could be helpful if you're also interested in having a home phone, and/or TV hookup. They also offer a loyalty program called Verizon My Rewards + which allows you to earn points when you pay your cell bill or order products from their shop or third-party services. You can use these points to put toward gift cards at restaurants, receive discounts on products, or use them for travel rewards program.

Which carrier's shared plan is right for your family?

There are a few important factors that will ultimately help you decide which carrier will get your business when it's time to choose a shared plan for your family.

For comparison we'll judge AT&T and Verizon on plans that share two smartphones and two tablets.

If you want the absolute cheapest plan, that can be built with AT&T. Beware this plan has an unrealistically low 300 mb of data to share, so you'd likely be paying their $20/month overage fee.

If you want the plan with most high speed data you can get that with AT&T, but you're going to pay through the nose for it.

If you want the best value for your data there are some really great options through Verizon if you're not a complete data-fiend and have access to Wi-Fi for most of your day.

If you have many devices consider the Verizon plan as it's per-device fee is lower than AT&T's.

If you are concerned about overage fees then there is no clear winner between either provider as they both charge $15/GB (though on the lowest AT&T data plan they charge more for overages).

If you're primarily concerned with talk and text from your provider, AT&T includes talk AND text with people in Mexico and Canada on all plans with more than $15 GB of data; however, Verizon includes unlimited international messaging (with optional talk-plan add ons), so this is a draw.

If you already pay for TV service in your home you might find more value with AT&T depending on how much data you use in a typical month, but both carriers offer bundling services.

Keep calm and carrier on

Ultimately choosing a shared plan for your family comes down to how many people are in your home, what devices they use, and what they use them for. AT&T and Verizon have slight advantages between each other depending on what category you look at.

Overall Verizon's plan is straight-forward and simple if you are looking for data on multiple devices for a good price. AT&T offers a few extra services with their base price, which could be advantageous if you like to talk with family and friends in Canada and Mexico rather than text with them.

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4 days ago

Marshmallow is here for the BlackBerry Priv: Here's everything you need to know

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Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow rolls out to the Priv today. Here's what you need to know.

After an interminably long wait for most — and a relatively short beta period for some — some Privs will be updated to Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow today. Curious about what's in the update? Here's everything you need to know, with the help of Michael Clewley, BlackBerry's Director of Software Product Management.

When is it available?

The Android 6.0.1 update will be available starting April 26 to BlackBerry models purchased directly from ShopBlackBerry. Those models include:

  • STV100-1 in the U.S. and Canada
  • STV100-4 in the UK, France

The update will roll out to STV100-2 and STV100-3 models (sold through carrier channels) beginning May 3.

What's the big deal?

Aside from the fact that it brings the Priv up to Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow and all it entails, there are some pretty nice features added to this build.

On a high level, BlackBerry has added improvements to security, to the Hub, to the keyboard, and to the camera. We'll get to specifics in a moment.

But more than that, after using the Priv on Marshmallow for about a week, it's clear that the phone's software has matured; already a fast device on Lollipop, the Priv now screams. Moreover, the UI's rough bits have been smoothed over, and the whole experience, from the Hub to the camera, feels just a little bit more cohesive.

About that security

"We are the world's most secure smartphone," says Clewley during an interview with CrackBerry. "We have all the native Marshmallow underpinnings from a security perspective on Priv, and we have only enhanced that now."

Clewley notes that BlackBerry spent a long time ensuring that its hardware-based security advantages — kernel hardening, including the application of Linux patches ignored by other OEMs and even Google itself; and on-device encryption — were equalled by improvements to Marshmallow.

Of particular note is the integration of DTEK, BlackBerry's app for overseeing the Priv's security status, with Marshmallow's new app permissions model. As in Lollipop, it's possible to see which apps requested access to specific parts of the hardware, but now, thanks to Google, users can actually disable those permissions.

Clewley points out that BlackBerry is practically the only OEM to keep up with Google's pace of monthly security updates. "I just don't think other OEMs care as much about security as much as we do," he says, pointing out that carriers more often than not make things too difficult for manufacturers to roll out regular updates, so they just don't bother.

"We've done a lot of work with carriers to make sure users get these security patches monthly, and many carriers welcomed that hands-on approach," he says. He also tacitly acknowledges that many of the bigger U.S. carriers have less incentive to push out regular updates, and that while the Priv is still the most frequent, getting a phone direct from the manufacturer is the best way to ensure regular updates.

On one hand, it's great to see BlackBerry so committed to regular software patches. On the other, though, given that Android N is only a few months away, its advantage over, say, a Nexus 6P with the latest version of Google's software may disappear overnight.

To that end, I ask Clewley whether, with Google releasing an N Developer Preview so early, we'll see the next version of Android more quickly on the Priv. He hedges, saying, "Updates are very complex for OEMs. They don't just have to wait for Google; they have to wait for chip manufacturers to certify their parts, generally after Google declares their latest software as gold."

In other words, "it would require bigger changes to how Android is effected."

More Hub to love

On the software side, BlackBerry has made the Hub even more impressive. Not only does it now support S/MIME email signing and encryption (you'll know if that's important to you), but for regular consumers there is now Instagram, Slack, Skype and Pinterest integration, along with the existing hooks for Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

According to Clewley, many of these integrations came from direct user feedback (I begged for Slack integration on more than one occasion), but most were the logical continuation of the Hub as a platform.

Of course, unlike BlackBerry 10, the Hub is still a separate app that must be opened, and it still conflicts with Google's own Gmail app, but with Marshmallow is has become an indispensable part of my Priv life, and I wish it were usable on other Android devices.

Keyboard swiping

BlackBerry has added, for better or worse, swiping support on not only the virtual keyboard but the physical one.

What this means in practice is that if the Priv's width doesn't strain your thumb's reach while using it in one hand (I have stubby digits, so it doesn't quite work for me), it's now possible to enter text without lifting your finger. In practice, the swipe isn't nearly as accurate or reliable as Swype or SwiftKey, but BlackBerry has done an admirable job in its limited time.

More impressive, and equally strange, is the feeling of swiping on the Priv's physical keyboard, the act of which was previously reserved for moving the cursor around the screen while selecting text. It's likely not an everyday use case, but I can see it being used to impress friends — and occasionally enter a line or two of text.

But hardware and software keyboard lovers alike will appreciate the 200-odd new emoji, along with improved word prediction.

Can't fix a camera through software

Even when the Priv was released late last year, its 18MP camera, while good, didn't match up to the industry's leaders. Today that is even more pronounced as a new lineup of Android flagships, led by the Galaxy S7, show what is possible with a smartphone camera.

But BlackBerry has not stopped improving the software experience, adding two new video modes — 24fps capture at 4K, 1080p and 720p; and 120fps slow motion — to the phone's repertoire. The latter feature is found on nearly every device on the market, but the former, a so-called "cinematic" mode, according to Clewley, is relatively uncommon.

With Marshmallow, the Priv's shutter is slightly faster, but still below what you'd want from a flagship, while image quality seems to be about the same. As we've learned with many devices over the years, you can't fix a poor sensor through software.

A launcher to remember

BlackBerry's Priv launcher, with its support for custom icon packs, pop-up widgets and an array of app shortcuts, separated itself from the largely derivative feature sets found on most competitors' devices, when it launched last year.

With Marshmallow, that launcher has received a host of improvements, including better ways to organize apps into categories. They're small changes, but I still haven't reached Action Launcher, my go-to on most other devices — and that's saying something.

A longer-lasting conversation

As with all Marshmallow-based devices, the Priv benefits from Google's implementation of Doze and App Standby, which extends the uptime by around an hour in my findings. The 3,410mAh battery already lasted all day (and then some, most of the time) so it's a well-appreciated bonus that it gets better with Android 6.0.1.

While Clewley says that BlackBerry had to find the right balance between performance and battery optimization, he thinks that Google will continue to improve on Doze — as it has promised — and that there were some issues OEMs didn't take into account. Specifically, apps like BBM that rely on push notifications rely now more than ever on persistent notifications to ensure thats service doesn't get killed in the background.

Practice makes perfect

With BlackBerry poised to release at least two more Android-powered handsets in 2016, it's good to see the company iterating on its software in meaningful ways. Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow for the Priv is an example of a company taking its time to make sure everything is in its right place before pressing the big red button.

And while we're on the verge of yet another Android version, with its own set of user-facing security and privacy improvements, there's no question that on the face of things BlackBerry has a commitment few others OEMs have shown.

That said, questions still remain about just what changes BlackBerry has made to the Android kernel, with Clewley mentioning proprietary "special sauce" that, for competitive reasons, will remain private. And with most new Android 6.0-based shipping with encryption on by default, and companies like HTC and Samsung stepping up their monthly security update game, it's unclear just how much of an advantage, if at all, the Priv has over, say, the Galaxy S7 or HTC 10 when it comes to security.

BlackBerry would have you believe that the Priv's combination of hardware and software-level security improvements separate it from the pack, but many of these advantages are subjective rather than quantifiable.

In the end, the BlackBerry Priv is a great smartphone, made better by its latest software update.

More on the Priv's Marshmallow update at Inside BlackBerry

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5 days ago

HTC 10 vs. Samsung Galaxy S7 edge: The first big Android rivalry of 2016

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HTC 10 vs GS7 edge

Is HTC's best phone yet enough to challenge Samsung's all-conquering GS7 edge?

There's been more buzz around the HTC 10 than any recent phone from the Taiwanese company. Based on our review, it's clear that HTC has finally addressed a couple of long standing weaknesses, and returned with a modern take on a classic metal-bodied design.

But the HTC 10 doesn't exist in a bubble. It'll have to go up against not only the Galaxy S7, but also its strikingly curvy sibling, the Galaxy S7 edge. As evidenced by Samsung's marketing this time around, the "edge" is the real focus of this year's Galaxy lineup, with a bigger battery, an impressive curved glass design and a larger 5.5-inch display.

So how do these two shape up? We'll put them head to head after the break.

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