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1 month ago

The Android phones we're using, December 2016

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We switch phones a lot. Here are the ones we're using right now.

Part of our jobs as editors here at AC is using all sorts of different Android phones. Big ones, small ones, red ones and blue ones — we try them all. And while you'll usually find more than one phone in our pockets or bags, we always have one that we use a little more than the rest and do our personal stuff like posting on Instagram or texting our friends with it. We tend to think of that one as our phone.

When we're talking about phones, which is like all the time, we get the same question over and over — which phone do you use? The answer will change as often as the weather, but this is what we're using right now.

Here are the phones the AC editors using in December 2016.

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1 month ago

Huawei Mate 9 review: The best big Android phone

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Huawei Mate 9

The quick take

Huawei has finally come of age — the Chinese company's enormous new flagship phone is a huge leap ahead in software terms — backed up by top-notch hardware and epic longevity.

The Good

  • Top-notch build quality
  • Big, attractive screen
  • Fast performance throughout
  • Great battery life and super-fast charging

The Bad

  • Lower screen resolution than rivals (regular Mate 9)
  • Camera not quite effortless as GS7/Pixel
  • Finicky capacitive buttons (PD Mate 9)

Big deal

Huawei Mate 9 Full Review

With the spectacular failure of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 comes an opportunity for everyone else with a big-screened Android phone to sell. A major competitor in the world of "phablets" has been taken out of the game, and China's Huawei stands to benefit handsomely from Samsung's misfortune.

The company's long-running Mate series — itself a reaction to the success of the Note line, back in the day — has carved itself out a niche among consumers who appreciate its metal construction, enormous displays and long battery life.

Android Central Choice Award

The new Mate 9 continues the family line — a slightly slimmer, smarter version of last year's Mate 8, with upgraded internals and a new dual camera setup courtesy of imaging partner Leica. Just as important as any hardware upgrade is the new EMUI 5 software, which is the biggest overhaul to Huawei's UI in years, bringing with it Android 7.0 Nougat.

But there's more than one Mate 9 model this time around. Alongside the vanilla 5.9-inch Mate 9 (with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage), Huawei will release a limited edition Porsche Design Mate 9, with a 5.5-inch curved AMOLED display, and a capacious 6GB of RAM and 256GB of storage.

Get the best price on the Huawei Mate 9 See at Jet.com

We've had a little over a week to get to know both the sensible and ludicrous Mate 9 models over the past month. And while it's easy to dismiss the "PD" model as an expensive sideshow, the regular Mate 9 shines through as the best big-screened Android phone of 2016.

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1 month ago

Moto M makes its way to India for ₹15,999

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The first Motorola phone with an all-metal chassis.

After an unveil in China earlier this year, the Moto M has made its way to India. The phone will be up for sale exclusively on Flipkart starting December 15 for ₹15,999 ($235). That's for the variant with 3GB of RAM and 32GB storage. Lenovo is also selling a model with 4GB of RAM and 64GB storage for ₹17,999 ($270).

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1 month ago

Latest Android 7.1.1 build for Pixel and Pixel XL fixes MMS issues on UK's O2

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This is how you do maintenance fixes.

A week after rolling out the Android 7.1.1 update to the Pixel and Pixel XL, Google is now rolling out a new build (NMF26Q) that fixes MMS-related issues on UK's O2.

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1 month ago

The best part of taking a trip is Google Photos

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Keep your vacation memories backed up and properly archived with the features built into Google Photos.

Vacations. They never happen soon enough and, for some of us, they're a luxury if they happen at all. That's why it's so important to not only relish every minute of free time but to also ensure that any memories you may have captured are properly archived and stored away for the next trip down nostalgia lane.

Google Photos is particularly helpful at making this happen. I recently took off on my first vacation since the new Photos features have made headway, including shared albums, high-resolution uploads, and the ability to create and edit movies. (Yes. It's been that long since I've taken some quality time off.) I took over 300 hundred photos with my Pixel XL, Galaxy S7 Edge, and Gear 360 while traipsing around New Zealand. Here's how Google Photos did all the hard work managing those memories.

Easy backup on the go

Admittedly, I may have committed a folly by purchasing the 32GB Really Blue Pixel XL, but Google Photos had me covered on my journey through Kiwi Land. Anytime I nearly hit my gigabyte limit, I'd find a Wi-Fi spot and get to uploading and offloading. It's exceptionally easy to do with Google Photos, too.

In the hamburger menu bar, simply tap the option to free up space and remove any photos and videos that have already been backed up to the cloud. Each shot taken with the Pixel XL took up about 4MB, so I hit my limit pretty fast. But whenever I cleared off those photos that were already backed up to the cloud, I recovered about 10GB of disk space.

You can also back up photos from other apps. I backed up all of my Instagram Stories and Snapchat snaps, as well as the folder containing content downloaded from the Gear 360. You can set up automatic downloads on any other mobile devices you might have in tow, too, so that everything is stored and ready to archive once you get home.

One note of caution, however: If you're concerned about redundant backups — for instance, you use Dropbox's camera upload feature for posterity — make sure that those photos are backed up before you free up disk space. I forgot to check and, as a result, a majority of my vacation photos were only backed up to Google Photos. That should suffice, but I like to have doubles in case disaster should strike. (Of course, you can download the photos again once they're uploaded, but unless you have a Pixel they may not have been sent to the cloud at their full resolution.)

Fully-functional photo albums

I love to snap every dynamic moment of my time away, but I hate the dread that settles in when I'm back and I realize that I have to individually tag and upload every single photo before I can share it. Thankfully, Google Photos did all that for me before I even got home.

Google compiled every relevant photo and video I had shot in New Zealand into its own, ready-to-share library. The album includes location stamps for each batch of photos, like the restaurants we ate at, the hikes we took, and the scenery we drove by. It started documenting those locales from the minute I touched down in Auckland and ended the day I flew back home to San Francisco. It even accounts for photos that I uploaded with other devices and paired those with relevant locales.

One thing to note, however: If you don't back up your photos during your vacation time, they won't be archived in this manner after the fact. I only backed up half of what I shot with the S7 Edge. Everything else had to be manually added to the album folder after Google had populated it with what was available. It's not a major deal, but it's something you'll want to keep in mind if you'd like to take advantage of Google's automated features.

A helpful Assistant

Who doesn't love a good home movie? The Photos Assistant offered up several videos of my trip based on the metadata of each file. I would have never thought to put together some of the clips that Photos compiled, but for the most part, it was right on the money.

Even better: You can add a bit of your own flair to the presentation by editing the video on your smartphone. In the Photos app, you can change the background music, tack on a filter, and edit the order of content. You can even add on any images and videos that Google may have missed. When you're finished, you can give the video a title and export it to YouTube for all to see. Just make sure that if you're not using the clips from the included music library that you're not uploading anything that's copyrighted — especially if you plan to show off your video publicly.

Google Photos can compile quick collages, too. If you'd rather not deal with choosing your own snapshots for an Instagram-friendly mock-up, Google will take a batch of photos you've shot in rapid succession and compile them for you. Of all the simple things that Google's Photos Assistant can do, this one is my absolute favorite. It's especially fun to include any outtakes.

How do you use Google Photos?

Have you used Google Photos on a trip? Did you like what it offered? Tell us!

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1 month ago

Everything you need to know about importing a Xiaomi phone into the U.S.

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Importing a Xiaomi phone is straightforward, but there are a few things to consider

There are plenty of great options in the U.S. if you're on the lookout for a budget phone, but they don't hold up against the likes of what Xiaomi has to offer in this segment. Ever since the Chinese company burst onto the scene a few years ago, it has consistently released entry-level phones that raised the bar in this segment.

The only problem with Xiaomi is that its products aren't available in Western markets. The manufacturer is focusing its attention on India and other parts of Asia, and while a U.S. launch is on the cards "in the near future", the brand isn't ready to venture into the country just yet. Judging by the way its Chinese rival LeEco debuted in the market, it's likely Xiaomi will want to hold off until it has the infrastructure and marketing in place.

Right now, your best recourse to getting your hands on a Xiaomi phone in the U.S. is through third-party resellers. That said, there are a few limitations with this option as well. Before we get to them, here's a look at some of the phones that Xiaomi has to offer.

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1 month ago

Samsung will limit Note 7 battery charge to 30% in the UK

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Samsung is doing all it can to persuade customers to return the Note 7.

It's been two months since Samsung officially terminated the Note 7, but an estimated 10% of devices sold in Europe are yet to be returned to the manufacturer. In a bid to further dissuade customers from using the phone, Samsung announced that it will roll out a software update to all Note 7 devices in the UK that will limit the battery charge to 30%:

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1 month ago

Google's iMessage competitor isn't Allo, it's texting

113

Android may get its iMessage competitor, but it's not going to be sexy or blue.

One of the main reasons the iPhone, and iOS, continues to be so compelling is iMessage, the thick blue bubble of exclusivity in the messaging space. Android users are left out, and will likely continue to be for the foreseeable future — despite the occasional rumor to the contrary.

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1 month ago

Samsung is permanently crippling the Note 7 in the U.S. [Update: Verizon says nope]

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It's been... real.

Samsung has encouraged the return of 93% of the 1.9 million recalled Galaxy Note 7s since the second recall was issued on October 13. That's a lot of phones, but that still means there are over 130,000 units still to be recovered, many of which could have defective batteries.

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1 month ago

Wileyfox Swift 2 Plus is once again down to £149 in the UK

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Swift 2 Plus will be on sale for £149 for the duration of the holiday season.

Wileyfox's Swift 2 Plus is once again discounted to £149 on Amazon UK, making it an enticing option if you're in the market for a budget phone that offers great value for money. The £70 discount is valid until the end of the year, and Wileyfox is bundling a free one-time screen replacement service and a hard case for the phone.

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1 month ago

Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 is finally picking up the Android 6.0 Marshmallow update in India

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Latest MIUI 8 build brings Marshmallow.

Xiaomi sold over 2.5 million units of the Redmi Note 3 in India, and the manufacturer is finally starting to roll out the Android 6.0 Marshmallow update to the phone, albeit in beta form. The phone was updated to MIUI 8 — the latest iteration of Xiaomi's custom ROM — earlier this year, but the base kernel was still Android 5.1.1 Lollipop.

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1 month ago

What is T-Mobile Digits and why do I want it?

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T-Mobile's Digits brings phone calls and texts into the 21st century, but at a time when people care little about those things, will it make a difference?

T-Mobile has unveiled a new service called Digits, making phone numbers less reliant on a SIM card, and expanding the simple phone number into the smartphone age.

But for all of its big talk, Digits is a bit confusing, so let's break it down.

What is Digits?

At its core, Digits is T-Mobile's way of utilizing its new IMS (IP Media Subsystem) backend to dynamically direct calls to any device, or store multiple numbers on a single device.

Basically, without the technical mumbo jumbo, it's a way to free the phone number from its legacy place, and to utilize the flexibility data-based nature of Voice over LTE and Voice of Wi-Fi to allow a call to take place, or to be received, in the most convenient place. This is very similar to Google Voice, and to many other Voice over IP services like Viber and Skype, but T-Mobile has one major advantage: it owns the network, and it distributes the phones.

So what can Digits really do for me?

Provided you're on one of T-Mobile's compatible postpaid plans (yes, this is yet another way for T-Mobile to upsell you), Digits can make it easier to manage phone calls in the increasingly inevitable situation you have multiple devices.

The basic idea is that if you receive a call on your traditional T-Mobile number, your phone should ring, along with any device — another phone, a computer, a tablet, even a connected smartwatch — at the same time. You can also make calls from any of those same devices without your phone nearby, and without the need to have a SIM card.

A secondary but for many people equally important feature is the ability to have more than one number available on a single device. So instead of having separate personal and work phones, you can have a single smartphone make and receive calls from two or more numbers.

This sounds a lot like Google Voice

Yes, it does. The major difference here is that T-Mobile is committing to a couple of things that even Google, which creates both Android and Google Voice, can't do:

  • It is integrating Digits directly into the Android phones it sells, working with manufacturers like Samsung to seamlessly add Digits support into devices like the Galaxy Note 5, Galaxy S7 and Gear S3.
  • It is making it easy to do so-called "SIM replication," which allows you to duplicate a phone number onto a second device, such as another smartphone or a connected smartwatch.

This is in addition to the Google Voice-like Digits app that's available for Android and iOS, to make and receive calls and texts from any device, anywhere. There's also a Digits portal on the web for people who sit in front of a computer all day and want to be able to initiate communications that way. And because the app is available natively and through an app, devices with SIM cards from AT&T, Verizon or Sprint — any carrier, really — can access Digits messages. If you lose your phone, for instance, you can download the Digits app onto a friend's device and make and receive calls and texts from there, too.

Like many cross-platform messaging services, call logs and messages also sync in real-time between devices, which is a huge boon to productivity if you don't always have your phone in front of you.

It's tailor-made for Android

Android is the only platform on which T-Mobile can rely to help Digits grow.

Digits is a cross-platform play, sure, but it is tailor-made for Android. Not only does iOS have its own cross-device communications protocol in iMessage, which may mess with Digits' ability to route texts, but Apple doesn't allow for any system-level alterations, rendering one of Digits' primary use cases moot.

Indeed, Android is the only platform on which T-Mobile can rely to help Digits proliferate, but by potentially limiting half of the population to merely an app-based experience, it is almost immediately cut off at the proverbial knees. Still, Digits has a five-device limit, and can easily be tuned to be used on an iPhone or iPad, especially since as of iOS 10 VoIP apps can take over the lock screen like a regular dialer.

The best Digits experience will always be on Android, and initially is only natively available on the Samsung Galaxy S6, Galaxy S6 edge, Galaxy S6 edge +, Galaxy S7, Galaxy S7 edge or Note 5 purchased through T-Mobile.

So should I sign up?

Digits, while free during the beta period, won't be afterwards, and T-Mobile isn't saying how much it will cost.

Digits is an intriguing product, and an example of what it looks like when a carrier turns next-generation core technology like IMS and HLR (which works to virtualize SIM data on the core network) into something that is truly compelling to consumers.

There are a couple of caveats, though: Digits, while free during the beta period, will not be afterwards, and T-Mobile isn't saying how much it will cost. It's likely going to be just a few dollars per month, but users already need to have one of the carrier's postpaid plans such as T-Mobile One or Simple Choice. And only the primary account holder can actually sign up for a second line in order to carry two on a single device; secondary users can merely share their existing number across multiple devices.

During the beta period, which is indeterminate but should go into next year, T-Mobile will ask users to provide feedback on the service. This is a complicated thing, despite its upfront simplicity, and bugs will need to be worked out.

In the long run, though, Digits is coming to market at a time when the phone number is likely the least important aspect of a smartphone user's experience. Data, and the avenues to the internet it provides, is the backbone of the mobile experience. Phone calls and rich texts sent over a carrier network, even one as advanced as T-Mobile's, still feel somewhat anachronistic.

Nonetheless, the Digits beta seems like a great option for T-Mobile users running select Samsung phones on Android, and we look forward to trying it out!

See Digits at T-Mobile

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1 month ago

MrMobile Head to Head: Pixel vs iPhone!

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A war is brewing! Well, not a war. It's more like... not a war. But for the iPhone and the Pixel, it can only mean one thing — War! Alright, this paragraph may be ridiculous, but what we're talking about isn't. It's time for the iPhone and Pixel to face off!

MrMobile is pitting these two titans head-to-head, bringing to light the most important questions of our day. Do the iPhone's lush camera colors outshine the intense image stabilization of the Pixel? Can having an headphone jack edge out those who might want to Snapchat underwater? And who really is behind the mystery of the abandoned theme park? Michael Fisher reveals all in this thrilling episode! (Except the one about the abandoned theme park — that was Old Man McCreevy.)

Stay social, my friends

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1 month ago

Galaxy S8 may feature an 'all-screen' bezel-less display

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Get ready for a bezel-less panel on the Galaxy S8.

Following on from rumors that Samsung is ditching the home button on the Galaxy S8 (as well as the 3.5mm jack), Bloomberg is now reporting that the phone will feature an "all-screen front" with a bezel-less display:

The bezel-less displays will provide more viewing real estate while a virtual home button will be buried in the glass in the the lower section, the people said, asking not to be identified because the details haven't been released. The new phones will only come with wraparound displays using organic light-emitting diode technology, the people said.

Samsung Display is said to have invested significant resources into creating a panel with a display area ratio exceeding 90%. The panel will feature a fingerprint sensor that's embedded within the glass, negating the need for a dedicated home button.

It looks like Samsung will also retain the 5.1-inch and 5.5-inch form factors with the Galaxy S8, and the company will stick to offering a combination of Qualcomm's Snapdragon 835 and its in-house Exynos SoC for various markets.

The Galaxy S8 won't be the first to feature a bezel-less panel. Xiaomi has that honor with its revolutionary Mi Mix, but the phone is sold in limited quantities in China. If Samsung decides to go bezel-less with the Galaxy S8, it will be the first company to do so at scale.

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1 month ago

Blue Coral Galaxy S7 edge is now available in India for ₹50,900

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You'll be able to buy one starting December 15.

Samsung is continuing to roll out the Blue Coral Galaxy S7 edge in global markets. The color variant is now available in India for ₹50,900, with sales kicking off December 15. The phone will be up for sale online, as well as offline stores.

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