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1 week ago

Wind Mobile beefs up network coverage in Calgary area


If you're a Wind Mobile customer in the Calgary, Alberta area, you should begin seeing better cellular coverage and faster LTE speeds across the board.

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1 week ago

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


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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1 week ago

HTC reportedly cooking up two Nexus products with Google


HTC is reportedly building a pair of Nexus products in partnership with Google, likely for release later this year. The devices are said to be built around Android N, and according to noted leaker Evan Blass, the devices have the codenames M1 and S1.

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1 week ago

Nexus 9 makes its exit from the Google Store


The HTC-built Nexus 9 tablet is no longer available from the Google Store. The 8.9-inch tablet, which originally launched in October 2014, has been replaced by Google's Pixel C as the flagship Android tablet.

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1 week ago

What Samsung Pay means for Canadians


Samsung has announced that in addition to expanding to larger markets like China this year, Samsung Pay will be coming to Canada as well.

Update, April 27: During Samsung's Developer Conference in San Francisco, the company once again reiterated that it plans to roll out Samsung Pay to Canadians this year, as well as to the UK, Australia, Turkey and others.

Like other mobile payment services like Apple Pay and Android Pay, Samsung's version substitutes a physical credit card for a smartphone — in this, a Galaxy S6 or S7 series — to make physical payments in stores. Unlike those services, though, Samsung relies on a technology called MST, or Magnetic Secure Transmission, to transfer the payment credentials from the phone to the payment terminal. This does two things: it removes the onus on the merchant to have an NFC-enabled payment terminal; and it allows Samsung Pay to work with practically any existing payment terminal in the U.S. Essentially, Samsung Pay mimics the physical magnetic stripe on the back on a credit card. Pretty smart, actually.

Android and Apple Pay, on the other hand, require NFC-based terminals because they use a system called EMV, a standard formed by Europay, MasterCard, and Visa (hence the name) which moves secure card credentials from the easily-duplicated (and often-stolen) magnetic stripe to a small gold-colored microchip usually located on the top of the card.

Now, Samsung Pay also supports NFC-based payments using EMV technology along with MST, but regardless of which method is used to make a payment, Samsung smartly implemented a second layer of protection: tokenization. Essentially, instead of transmitting the actual PAN, or credit card number, from the phone to the payment terminal, when the card is first added to Samsung Pay it generates a token — a random series of numbers that only the payment network, such as Visa or MasterCard, can decode — that is given to the merchant. If, for some reason, that number is intercepted, it will not be of much use to any potential hacker, since it's single-use number that can easily be changed if reported stolen.

So what does this mean for Canada?

While we don't know when exactly Samsung Pay will come to Canada, we know a few things: Samsung added Canada to its "2016 Roadmap" for the mobile payment service; and when it arrives, it will likely have limited credit card support.

Apple Pay launched in Canada last November with, ironically, only American Express support, since the payments company operates as both a bank and credit card issuer in Canada. The move was mirrored in a number of other countries, including Spain and Australia, which likely means Apple is attempting to "batch" negotiate with Visa- and MasterCard-issuing banks in multiple countries at once.

While Samsung claims that Samsung Pay will support loyalty and gift card storage at some point in the future, it's likely that it will look and feel very similar to Apple Pay when it launches in Canada. The company has confirmed that it will have NFC support (which means it will definitely use EMV technology, though that isn't explicitly stated) when it comes to Canada, since most merchants no longer accept payment through magnetic stripe for security and liability reasons.

How would you like to see Samsung Pay evolve? And are you excited to see it come to Canada? Let us know in the comments below!

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1 week ago

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

 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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1 week ago

The weird, wonderful, and very early world of gaming on the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive


There are a lot of folks out there wanting VR to start out as mature as console and PC gaming.

The number one complaint you'll see about gaming on Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive right now is a lack of popular — commonly referred to as AAA — games. As gamers, we're used to a major hardware launch including a list of games that were made in coordination with the manufacturer. Games that, at least in part, show off what the system you're playing on is capable of. Perhaps more important than how functional the games are, some those launch titles in the last few generations have been staples in the console ecosystem.

While these expectations aren't unreasonable from the perspective of someone who has grown up on consoles, it's a thought that misses the larger picture when it comes to VR gaming. It also unnecessarily puts the smaller VR experiences that already exist in an box they don't belong in.

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1 week ago

Grab an unlocked BlackBerry Priv for just $399 at Newegg


Newegg has a great deal going on right now for the BlackBerry Priv, dropping the price down to just $399. The units being sold are unlocked AT&T variants (STV100-1), so you will be able to use it on the GSM carrier of your choice.

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1 week ago

Samsung will begin Gear 360 sales online in select countries on April 29


On stage during its annual developer conference, Samsung announced that sales of the Gear 360 will begin on April 29. The sales will be online-only to start, and only in select countries, with more available in the coming months.

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1 week ago

Minecraft jumps into virtual reality on Samsung's Gear VR


Microsoft-owned developer Mojang has released a version of its hit sandbox game Minecraft for the Samsung Gear VR headset. The game is now available to download from the headset's version of the Oculus Store.

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1 week ago

Samsung Pay will expand to Canada, UK, Australia and other countries later in 2016


Samsung has announced that it will be bringing its mobile payment system, Samsung Pay, to additional countries later in 2016. The service will be expanding to Canada, Singapore, Brazil, Australia, Spain and the UK to begin, and Samsung hopes to continue the expansion beyond that.

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1 week ago

Google Calendar for Android makes scheduling meetings much easier


Google is rolling out a new feature to Google Calendar that should make scheduling meetings much easier.

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1 week ago

Samsung moves Knox beyond security with business services push


Samsung is expanding its Knox security platform with a new group of business-focused tools. The new Knox will move beyond not just mobile, but security as well, transforming into the platform on which Samsung's enterprise services are built.

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1 week ago

Samsung Dev Con 2016 opening keynote liveblog: 9:30 a.m. PT April 27!

SDC 2016

Get the scoop on SDC 2016 with the opening keynote.

Samsung's annual Developer Conference is kicking off in San Francisco, and it all starts with the opening keynote at 9:30 a.m. PT on April 27. Android Central is there to cover the big news and upcoming trends coming from Samsung Dev Con, and that means we kick things off with a liveblog of the keynote.

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1 week ago

AltspaceVR makes virtual reality more social, at least for Samsung phones


AltspaceVR has introduced a new virtual reality app that provides a new kind of social experience. The app works with Samsung phones from 2015 or later and allows you to engage in different social activities with your friends including calls, VR events, and more.

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