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5 days ago

More Android phones are using encryption and lock screen security than ever before

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Galaxy S7 lock pattern

An increasing number of people are making the right decisions.

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We like to harp on security here from time to time, but it's for good reason. Many often have a false sense of just how secure their private data is on their devices — that is, if they're thinking about it at all. Your average smartphone user just wants to access the apps and people they care about, and not worry about security.

That's why it was extremely encouraging to hear some of the security metrics announced at Google I/O 2017. For devices running Android Nougat, roughly 80% of users are running them fully encrypted. At the same time, about 70% of Nougat devices are using a secure lock screen of some form.

Android encryption adoptionAndroid lock screen adoption

That 80% encryption number isn't amazingly surprising when you remember that Nougat has full-device encryption turned on by default, but that number also includes devices that were upgraded from Marshmallow, which didn't have default encryption. Devices running on Marshmallow have a device encryption rate of just 25%, though, so this is a massive improvement. And the best part about Google's insistence on default encryption is that eventually older devices will be replaced by those running Nougat or later out of the box, meaning this encryption rate could get very close to 100%.

The default settings are immensely important.

Full-device encryption is particularly effective when paired with a secure lock screen, and Google's metrics showing 70% adoption in this regard definitely needs some work. It's a small increase from the roughly 60% secure lock screen rate of Marshmallow phones but a decent jump from the sub-50% rate of devices running Lollipop. The most interesting aspect of these numbers to my eyes is that having a fingerprint sensor on the device doesn't signal a very large increase in adoption — perhaps just a five percentage point jump. On one hand it's great to see people using secured lock screens even when they don't have something as convenient as a fingerprint sensor, but then again I'd expect the simplicity of that sensor to help adoption more than these numbers show.

The trend is heading in the right direction in both of these metrics, and that's a great sign despite the fact that secure lock screens show a slower growth rate. The closer we get both of these numbers to 100%, the better.

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5 days ago

There's nothing fab about a phablet TV remote

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What are the odds of buying a Vizio SmartCast TV but not owning a smartphone? I ask, because the last thing I need is a publicly available tablet in my living room.

Once upon a time the idea of a television relying on Google's Chromecast for content and shipping with a 6-inch Android remote might have excited me. Because for the most part television manufacturers have tried too hard to be UX designers an ended up making TVs that send me running for a set-top box as quickly as possible.

But Chromecast and Android? I love those things.

So when Vizio said "Hey, we want to send you this TV — the M50-D1 ..." my ears perked up. (For the record: This is a loaner they sent for review, review it I did, and now I'll have to figure out what to do with it.)

But things have changed a little bit between the time the set arrived, and the time you're watching this video and reading these words. First and foremost is that this is a 2016 model, and the 2017 sets revert to something a little more traditional.

Let's rap.

Truth be told, I rather enjoy the idea of a dumb display. I've never really been a fan of built-in apps. Do they work well? Will they ever be updated? It's a crapshoot, really. I'll rely on set-top boxes, mostly. The NVIDIA Shield TV with Android TV is great, Apple TV is excellent, and Roku is my recommended box for anyone not locked to either of those those ecosystems. (And I just recently fell in love with HDHomerun for a TV tuner.)

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Vizio tablet remoteBut there's still something rather odd about relying so much on Chromecast. Or maybe it's just that this thing's trying to make me believe I have to rely on Chromecast. Because really it's making me rely on having some sort of set-top box. Because for as great as Chromecast is as a streaming protocol, it's not great if you're the type who likes to lean back, remote in hand, and go all stick-and-throttles on your viewing experience.

That's where the 6-inch tablet comes in, of course. On one hand it's superfluous. There's something like a 99 percent chance you either run Android or iOS in your house, and both of those handle Casting things just fine, and so you don't really need another device. But you can't just sell a TV without apps and assume the user will figure things out. And, so, Android remote.

But tablets and phones suck as in-hand remotes. You have to look down at them. You can't navigate by feel.

And you know what? Vizio must have come to that conclusion, too. Because it's gone back to more full-featured remote controls in its 2017 line and has ditched the Android tablet altogether. The other thing is that the newer sets have apps built in. (And this older model apparently will see them return in a software update.)

So. We now have a decent mid-range display. (By the way, the LED panel itself is about what I'd expect for something in the $800 range. It's good, but not great, and the picture falls off a little bit as the viewing angle increases.) It's overcomplicated by a lack of build-in apps and the inclusion of a full Android remote. (Also by the way: If you don't want to have your full Google account laying around the living room for anyone to pick up, be sure to lock down this tablet, or don't bother signing in in the first place.) And we have Vizio going back to something more traditional.

Can't say I blame 'em.

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Modern Dad

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5 days ago

Video: Google I/O 2017 impressions from the AC editors

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It's been a busy couple of days in Mountain View, with big announcements from Google around Android, VR, AR, AI and other acronyms. Google I/O is a platform for developers, enthusiasts and journalist to learn about what's next from the company, and this year's event continued many of the trends that Google kicked off in 2016: virtual reality, with the unveiling of Daydream 2.0 and standalone headsets from HTC and Lenovo.

Google Assistant became more capable with new regional launches for Google Home, and visual computing chops in Google Lens. And Android O became more fleshed out, with new features like notification dots and Android Go for emerging markets.

As we wrap up here at Shoreline Amphitheater, the AC editors took some time to sum up their thoughts on this year's show. So join Alex, Flo and Jerry as they machinegun through some of the top I/O 2017 happenings in a little over 15 minutes!

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5 days ago

The best announcements from Google I/O 2017

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There was a lot of cool stuff in Mountain View this week, but what was the coolest?

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Another Google I/O is in the can, and everyone has something to say about what they saw, including the Android Central staff!

Here's what we saw that impressed and wowed us at this year's dev conference.

Russell Holly

How about that new Unified Messaging app, huh? Oh right, we still don't have one for Android.

Alright, saltiness over. Honestly, I'm a fan of the huge improvements to Google Assistant. Google is getting serious with Home, making it integrate more deeply into damn near everything. I'm eager to see what's going to happen with displaying on the Chromecast and comparing that experience to the Echo Show. Google integration matters a lot to me, but Amazon is still a dominant force in this itty bitty corner of the world right now.

Naturally, the VR things excite me, tool. Daydream's UI overhaul is going to be amazing, and being able to Cast and share without any hurdles is a big deal. A lot of this is catching up to the Gear VR, but it's going to be a big deal for those who jumped on Daydream early. It's also a great reason to be excited about the next Google Pixel, but we'll save that hype for another time.

Alex Dobie

The most impressive thing for me, and the feature I think will go the furthest in the next couple of years is Google Lens. The potential of Lens is huge — and although, like Google Assistant itself, it's likely to be a slow burn — I'm excited. The difference between Google Lens and the disappointing Bixby Vision feature is Google has practically infinite troves of data to fall back upon to make Google Lens as accurate and useful as it wants.

If it's handled right, Google Lens could be one of the first mainstream AR applications, in much the same way Pokemon Go provided a really compelling use for the tech in 2016. What's more, Google has the potential to roll this stuff out all the way back to Android 6.0 through Assistant updates. Of course it's also an enviable differentiating feature, so it's entirely possible it could be exclusive to the Pixel 2 phones at first.

Daniel Bader

This year's Google I/O was rather muted; no big announcements, no new products. Rather, it was a consolidation of many ideas into one cohesive message: "We do these many different things, but they're all underpinned by AI and machine learning. Oh, and here's a neural net for your neural net."

That idea is no better exemplified than with Google Lens, the evolution of Goggles and Google Now on Tap and Image Search and a bunch of other things into a single, cohesive "world camera". Google Lens solves the problem of context, since in its simplest form it allows you to point your phone's camera at anything — a flower, a barcode, a person — and get real-world results from Google's Knowledge Graph. To be honest, the whole thing is a bit intimidating just thinking about how many disparate parts have gone into creating Lens, but combined with Assistant, which is itself becoming incredibly powerful and more difficult to separate from the rest of Google's products, it morphs into the backbone of Google's future.

Why am I so bullish on Lens? Because I agree with Snapchat, Facebook and every other company that's betting on the camera: people are increasingly documenting, communicating and learning through their phone's camera, and Lens turns Google Search into that familiar and intuitive medium — the viewfinder — that we're using more and more every day.

Jerry Hildenbrand

This was one of the best Google I/Os we've seen in a long time. Rather than waste time on product announcements or shill hardware for someone else, Google got down and dirty at what they do best: make cool stuff everyone wants to use.

And we got to see why Google's AI platform is the coolest of the cool. Assistant, Google Lens, Tango, VR and AR features, security features, and a slew of other stuff is only here becasue of Google AI. It will get better because of Google AI, and we will use it to keep making it better.

I've been talking for a year about how AI was going to be Google's thing and their future, and it was awesome to see them start to capitalize on it. This ride's going to be bumpy and rough, but it's also going to be really fun. Hang on tight.

Ara Wagoner

WHERE THE $%*(&@#% IS MY DARK THEME?!?! Sorry, had to get that out of my system.

Google Assistant's new features and the goal of feature parity between Assistant on Google Home and on your phones is great… but there's still a big area where Google Assistant on the phones is horribly behind Google Home: media controls. I want to be able to say "OK Google, rewind" to my phone while I'm listening in the office and more importantly while I'm in the car. I don't text in the car, I use hands-free to make calls, but I still have to hit the buttons on my phone to control my music in the car because the BT controls in my 2003 Honda Odyssey aren't consistent. Google Assistant can already do this on Google Home while I'm in the shower, so what's stopping them from bringing it to Android Auto in the car, or Google Assistant on my phone?

Google Lens is cool, and I'm all for Google Photos improvements, but if we're not going to announce a long-overdue Google Play Music overhaul, then the most important overhaul to me is the overhaul on Android TV. My NVIDIA Shield TV is used wayyy more than my Google Home, and when on-board Assistant controls and the overhauled home screen for Android O for TV arrive, I'm going to be a very happy TV nerd. It's gonna be a long summer waiting for this new UI, but here's hoping the Assistant upgrades mean I'll be looking at the old UI less and getting to content more quickly.

On the topic of the NVIDIA Shield TV and Google Assistant… where's that NVIDIA Spot?

Marc Lagace

Mere days before the Google I/O keynote, I was sharing with some friends about how long it's taking Google Home to come to Canada. I mentioned that as time has passed, and due to some struggles I've experienced using Google Assistant on the Pixel, I wasn't as hot for Google's smart speaker as I was a year previous when it was first announced.

Now that I know that Google Home is for sure coming to Canada, and will eventually include free voice calling to any mobile or landline in Canada or the U.S., I'm back aboard the hype train. I share a home with two roommates, so the voice recognition feature that determine who's calling so you can simply say "call mom" and just knows which mom to call is super enticing.

The theme of the keynote was Google's advancements in AI and machine learning, and to that end, I was also really impressed by Google Lens. I've played around a bit with the limited functionality that Samsung's Bixby Vision offers on the Samsung Galaxy S8 and it's pretty cool — when it works. I'm much more confident in Google's ability to better implement the technology, and can't wait to test out all the different use cases for Google Lens in the future.

Andrew Martonik

The biggest thing from Google I/O wasn't a single product or feature announcement, but it was the clear reliance on Google Assistant as the smarts behind everything it does going forward. Google Assistant received new features across a handful of different devices, but the biggest common thread was interoperability and consistency between them.

Within the next couple of months, Google Assistant will operate the same on both Google Home and phones — now including the iPhone — and also be able to quickly share information between the two. Assistant will also be able to send information from a Home to a phone, or a Home to a Chromecast.

Google Assistant really only makes sense if you can rely on it, and Google I/O 2017 marked that experience as a big point of emphasis going forward.

Florence Ion

Photos Books were definitely the standout feature at Google I/O, and I'm not just saying this to kid around. This tangible thing that Google Photos now offers is another step in the company's reach for the mainstream. Sure, Android is the dominant mobile operating system around the world, but with Photo Books it can take that reach offline by sitting pretty on a bookshelf. Every time you pick up that book to look through it or show to a family member, you'll be reminded of Google's photo-storing service, and that that's where a majority of your memories live. And that's how integrated Google wants to be in our off-the-internet lives.

Your pick

What say you? Of all the things Google showed us and we know are coming, what was your fav? Shout out in the comments!

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5 days ago

Want the best Galaxy icons on your S8? Try these icon packs!

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The icons on the Galaxy S8 are unique… and really mismatched.

The squircle icons with the incomplete wireframe logos are very interesting, and there is a very real appeal to that look… but it doesn't cover all of the apps that come on the Samsung Galaxy S8 — it doesn't even cover all the Samsung apps on the Galaxy S8 — and it covers none of the apps that come from Google Play or Samsung Apps. That's a bummer, but never fear!

Icon packs are here, and just as icon pack developers have put out "tribute" packs for every previous Samsung flagship, they have taken the new Samsung icon style to its logical extension. These are the ones that do it best.

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5 days ago

Google's Daydream strategy is getting the right kind of attention

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Google is focused on a moving target in ways no other company seems prepared for right now.

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VR and AR got prime-time Keynote energy at Google I/O, as well as a separate keynote the next day with heaps of extra details.

And as cool as it is to see a new UI coming to Daydream or the "VPS" system in Tango being used in Lowe's stores later this year, the big news from I/O was neither of these things. It's the reaction from VR developers already embedded in the ecosystem that should be paid attention to right now, because their excitement is very good news for the future of these platforms.

Nobody likes to admit it, but the largest group of active VR users is by far the most boring. Mobile-based VR outsells the Oculus and HTC by orders of magnitude, because they're cheap or free and only require your phone to work. The barrier to entry is as low as it gets, but the experiences available in this format are incredibly limited. It is occasionally difficult to call frantically dodging weapons fire while hunting targets with a bow in an HTC Vive the same thing as sitting on your couch turning a small plastic wand to steer a car. Both experiences are flawed, and the reality is most people are going to quickly move to the middle once it exists.

So how do you get the people tirelessly working for every set of eyeballs they can find on Desktop VR platforms to pay attention to the things you're announcing? Microsoft thought the answer was to fold VR and AR into a single thing, the so-called Mixed Reality container that is supposed to be the branding for all of these experiences. That hasn't gone over well, and in fact has added confusion to the conversation right now. Google's approach was a little more direct, showing off a new fully standalone Daydream experience while addressing all of the biggest criticisms surrounding the existing Daydream experience.

Daydream is becoming more functional, more social, and available on more phones.

Unpacking everything Google is going in this space is not a quick or casual thing. Tango is finally in a form that people might actually want to use. Daydream is going to be much more than just a Gear VR competitor, and you're going to be able to watch YouTube with other Daydream users. It'll be easy to cast what you see to the nearby TV, and not in the same lame screen mirroring way you can already do right now. Daydream is becoming more functional, more social, and available on more phones. The big thing that comes next will let you move around just like you can on those Desktop VR headsets. Even better, you won't need a PC or any cables to do any of this. Each of these things are important. Together, they're a road map to a very exciting experience next year.

It's also important to remember what we saw at I/O is just the beginning. Google will change and improve things between now and the late Fall launch window, and a big part of those changes will likely be the amazing company it just acquired. Owlchemy Labs got a lot of attention recently for the incredible job done on Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality, but long before we were rescuing Rick from the thing that totally wasn't his fault this company was doing amazing things. This team has done incredible work with body detection and that other kind of Mixed Reality, both of which will no doubt be used to help power this new wave of updates to Daydream and Tango.

Google's buildup to this event and the detailed explanations, a full day of sessions and open dev time to help explain how all of this will work, made a lot of developers very happy. Right now, that's exactly what Google needs for Daydream to succeed. It's not enough for the phone-based VR experience we currently know as Daydream to have feature parity, or even a slight feature advantage, over the Gear VR. The best experiences need to come to Daydream, and while Google has already accomplished some of that over the last year it's this big leap forward that will help really push things forward.

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5 days ago

These are the 9 thinnest cases we could find for Galaxy S8

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What's the thinnest Galaxy S8 case?

You wanna protect your Galaxy S8 a bit, but cases make it look a li'l plump. Here are the thinnest cases we could find!

1. Impossibly thin

Impossible? Yeah! "Air Skin"? Like pudding skin? Sure, we'll bite. You can find it for around $10.

2. Awwww mSnap!

Give your S8 a "Maxboost" (see what I did there?) with this thin'un. Only $10.

3. Thinness out the Ying yang

"Crystal" might be pushing it as far as clarity's considered, but this one's about as thin as they come.

4. Straight from the horse's mouth

At 0.8mm thick, Samsung knows what's up for thin cases for its phone.

5. Yihailu: Go ahead, we'll wait while you try to pronounce it too

Yee... High loo? Meh. Thin case is *thin.

6. Because nudity rules!

When it comes to phones. Put your pants back on, Steve.

7. Highway to the Geekzone

That girl in the photo is crying tears of joy. Don't worry; be happy.

8. Looking for thin cases? We have the Anccer!

GET IT? ANCCER???!!! HAHAHAHAHAHA! Love me.

9. Olixar are saying is give thin a chance

FlexiShield kinda sounds like a sanitary pad brand, but we're not judging.

Find anything thinner?

Sound off in the comments below!

Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+

Main

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About

The Galaxy S8, and its larger sibling the S8+, are Samsung's top-end devices for 2017 meant to appeal to the general consumer and power user alike. The two phones are only differentiated by screen and battery size: 5.8 inches and 3000mAh, and 6.2 inches and 3500mAh.

The displays have a new 18.5:9 aspect ratio with a QHD+ resolution, meaning they're extra tall and narrow. Samsung moved to on-screen buttons and reduced bezel size dramatically in order to fit as much screen into the body as possible. That moved the fingerprint sensor to the back of the phones, where it sits somewhat-awkwardly next to the camera lens. Iris scanning makes its return in a new-and-improved version from the Note 7.

Though the batteries haven't increased in size from the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge, the hope is that the improved efficiency of the new 10 nm processor inside will provide some help. The processor is backed up by 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. Waterproofing and wireless charging are still here as well, plus a new USB-C port on the bottom. The rear camera is unchanged in terms of its 12MP sensor and f/1.7 lens, but has improved processing thanks to a new ISP and software.

Specs

Width Height Thickness 5.86 in
148.9 mm
2.68 in
68.1 mm
0.31 in
8 mm
5.47 oz
155g grams
  • Display:
    • 5.8-inch AMOLED display
    • 2960x1440 resolution
    • 18.5:9 aspect ratio
    • Dual-curve infinity display
  • Cameras:
    • 12MP ƒ/1.7 rear camera
    • Dual-pixel phase detection autofocus
    • 1.4-micron pixels
    • 8MP ƒ/1.7 front camera
  • Battery:
    • 3000 mAh battery
    • Non-removable
    • USB-C fast Charging
    • Qi + PMA wireless charging
  • Chips:
    • Snapdragon 835 processor
    • Samsung Exynos 8896 processor
      (varies by region)
    • 4GB RAM
    • 64GB internal storage
    • microSD card slot
    • Android 7.0 Nougat
  • GS8+
    • Samsung Galaxy S8+
    • 6.2-inch AMOLED display
    • 3500mAh battery
    • 6.28 in x 2.89 in x 0.32 in
      159.5mm x 73.4mm x 8.1mm
    • 6.10 oz / 73g

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5 days ago

Samsung Chromebook Pro is (finally) coming May 28

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The best Chromebook is going Pro.

The Samsung Chromebook Plus has been around for a while, having been announced at CES and released shortly after. The higher-end, professional-aimed Samsung Chromebook Pro, which was delayed from the original launch window, is finally coming to stores May 28.

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5 days ago

Android Go is the smartest thing Google can do to win the next billion smartphone users

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Android Go isn't a big deal, and that makes it an incredibly powerful and meaningful change for Android users everywhere.

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You may know this well-known idiom: fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. Such a phrase can be applied to many circumstances, but it also works in the context of Google's salvo into the world of unifying the experience of budget smartphones, Android One.

One is the loneliest number

Android One was unveiled in 2014 as a way for hardware manufacturers to spend less time building custom software, and assigning expensive engineers to update that software, by putting the onus on Google to keep those phones updated. But Android One floundered soon after its launch, since the Indian companies Google partnered with on the project didn't put nearly as much marketing muscle behind those phones as the ones they could profitably customize to their hearts' content.

By the time Google fixed Android One's biggest problems, its partners were recreating its best features for less money.

And while Google rectified the problem a year later with the second generation of Android One devices, by that time the likes of Xiaomi, Vivo, Oppo and Lenovo were mimicking the positive aspects of Google's enterprise while simultaneously undercutting them on the hardware, leaving Android One to flounder. It had some success in countries like Turkey, Japan, Indonesia and Portugal, but by the end of 2016 it was clear Google's partners were on the verge of abandoning their low-cost Android One strategy. Google learned that, especially in the low-end smartphone space, hardware vendors want Android, not Google's Android, spurned by the very companies it wooed just a couple years earlier.

Along comes Go

Now we're hearing about Android Go, and how it's also going to revolutionize the Android experience for people who are just about to buy their first smartphone, or have limited budgets in developing regions where their phone is perhaps their only computer. And while we've heard this before, Google's latest salvo for "the next billion" actually makes a lot of sense. Here's how it breaks down:

  • Android O and beyond will be optimized for devices with 1GB of RAM and under. These days, that's a number that often gets derided as too little, especially for a memory-hungry OS like Android, but the foundations have been in place since Project Svelte debuted back in 2012 with Jelly Bean. Google is taking things even further by separating parts of the operating system that can be pared down. At this point, Android — Google's Android — is as lean as it's ever been, and with advancements in battery optimization and app caching, Android O should run well on almost any piece of hardware.
  • Google is optimizing its own apps — YouTube, Gboard, Chrome — to use as little mobile data as possible. Chrome will use its Data Saver feature by default. YouTube will preview videos before using expensive mobile bandwidth. And Gboard, Google's excellent virtual keyboard, has been updated to support multiple languages and transliteration.
  • When a device ships with Android Go, Google Play will automatically populate apps that have been "lightened" — YouTube Go, Facebook Lite — to use less data. Apps installed on the phone will also remain in a compressed state and the OS won't continually ask for "updates," potentially saving battery life. That doesn't mean that the Play Store will be limited, though: while Google will highlight lightweight apps on the Play Store's home page, the entire app catalog will be available to download.

All of these together will allow Google to make any phone, not just those from manufacturers it partners with, to work really well on limited memory without necessarily forcing those vendors to use a "stock" version of Android that may not allow for its well-regarded customizations. Yes, in certain countries, customized versions of Android are preferred to what we know as vanilla Android.

The next billion

This is a platitude that we hear all the time: there are seven and a half billion people in the world, and with two billion active Android devices, there are hundreds of millions of others in countries like India, Indonesia, Brazil, Turkey, Philippines and Cambodia, to name a few, that, frankly, don't have good experiences when they spend $50 to $100 on an Android device.

Android Go is about more than controlling software updates. It's about making Android leaner and more efficient for everyone.

But Android Go isn't about Google controlling updates, nor is it about offering a separate version of Android that needs to be maintained and continually optimized year over year. As we've learned since Android debuted, Google has a tendency to debut and support features for a brief time only to abandon them completely for something shinier. To put Android Go in a position to succeed, Google made the inspired decision to merely integrate it into its general Android plan. It is so simple, so uninteresting that it has a much better chance of success.

That's because, by default, when a company builds a phone with 1GB of RAM or less, Android Go will just be the default state; the lighter configuration of Google's first party apps will be installed, and the version of the Google Play Store users see will automatically highlight low-bandwidth apps.

But the end result will be an Android experience that will seamlessly cause fewer performance hiccups, and fewer accidental data cap overages. It may also improve the reputation of low-cost devices since, even though they are getting better over the years, there is still a stigma around using a phone with low memory.

For the rest

Android O will integrate a number of memory and battery usage improvements into its core, available to phones with 1GB and 6GB of RAM alike. That's the beauty of the enterprise — it just works.

If OnePlus or Samsung can't make Android smooth with 4GB of 6GB of RAM, it's clear that there's more work to be done.

But we've heard this before, and RAM usage continues to dog Android's reputation. Companies like OnePlus and Samsung have been accused of poor memory management, despite outfitting their flagships with plenty of memory. From errant apps to poor governor management, Google can only do so much to make Android a smooth and problem-free experience. Once the code is in the hands of external vendors, all bets are off.

So once again, Google is just trying to make things a little bit better for everyone. Android is already pretty good at scaling, but it could always be better. Usually when we talk about scaling, though, we talk about it scaling up — for better screens, faster CPUs and more powerful GPUs — not down. In 2017, when it's pretty easy to nab a great phone for $300, it makes sense that Google is optimizing the experience for the increasingly important $100 phone so that one day, when phones are $10, we'll look back on this move and consider it a turning point.

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5 days ago

Best Customer Service from a Mobile Carrier

Which carrier has the best customer service in the U.S.?

Prices? Sure. Coverage? Absolutely that's important. But how does your carrier treat you? When you call, are you answered promptly and courteously? Are your problems fixed easily? Does the person on the other end sound like they even care? What about tech support?

Here's how you should pick if customer service is most important to you.

Best customer service: Verizon Wireless

For top-notch customer support, look to Verizon. In Tom's Guide's testing, which took into account online support, social media responses, and over-the-phone support, Verizon scored the highest with a 94/100 rating. In terms of coverage, The Wirecutter rates Verizon number one, so you get the best on both fronts.

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Whether it's a question about your plan, your specific device, or tech support, Verizon nails it on the phone, online, and via social media. It even has an online device simulator, which can virtually take you through tutorials on your specific phone so that you can figure out problems or simply learn how it works without having to wait on hold or heading into a Verizon store.

Runner up: T-Mobile

In Tom's Guide's ratings, T-Mobile didn't fall far behind Verizon, since it has a great social media presence when it comes to support, and its over-the-phone support is quick and helpful. That being said, its online resources could be a little better. Having had to do a ton of research on T-Mobile, I fully agree with that assessment. T-Mobile's website is quite frustrating at times, and it takes quite a bit of googling to find help pages that should probably be easier to find right on its site.

Having chatted online with some reps as well, I've noticed (similarly to Tom's Guide) that T-Mo reps assume that the customer knows more than they they really do, so their instructions aren't always explicitly clear.

Batting in the hole: AT&T

Since AT&T switched to an automated answering service, its over-the-phone support isn't the best. That being said, its support site is quite helpful, with quick response times for email, but its responses on social media are lacking.

This rating is despite J.D. Power's assertion that AT&T ranks the highest in overall customer satisfaction. J.D. Power's rating only takes customers with unlocked phones into account.

Bringing up the rear: Sprint

In Tom's Guide's ratings, Sprint is actually in fifth place, behind Cricket Wireless (an MVNO owned by AT&T). According to Tom's Guide, reps are friendly and quick to respond, but testers were consistently given incorrect information, even on topics reps should know well.

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Top Ten Reviews' rating is consistent with Tom's Guide, placing it in fourth place in its guide of best carriers and giving it the lowest score of the bunch for customer help and support.

Looking at Sprint as a consumer, putting customer service reps aside, Sprint's bring your own device policy is frustrating and a major turn off. Wanting to buy your phone from a provider is one thing, but having to is another. Sprint's dated CDMA technology holds it back on all fronts.

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5 days ago

Samsung's Two Piece case is actually kind of perfect

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I'm not sure I'd call this a case, but I love it and want one for every phone.

A common thread alongside the unveil of the Galaxy S8 was a critical side-eye at the Two Piece case that would be sold for both sizes of the phone. Samsung didn't spend a lot of time explaining how this case worked, only that it had a top and a bottom that didn't connect and several color options that didn't match would be made available after the phone was released.

While everyone else was laughing, I bought one to see how it actually worked. To be perfectly honest, what Samsung did here is brilliant and I'm eager to see other companies follow suit.

I don't think this really qualifies as a case, but it's a nice-looking bumper.

If you've been reading my stuff for a while, you know I don't use cases. I can't ever stand them for long, something about $40 of plastic and silicone making the phone bulkier and generally not feeling as nice as the actual phone bothers me. It's not that I don't care about the phone, but I place value in the whole experience being enjoyable. Yes, I occasionally regret this choice a little when the phone looks beat to hell a year later. It's an conscious choice on my part, but if I could find a way to keep the phone slightly more safe through day to day use without compromising the design I will always consider it. Which is how I got here in the first place.

This "case" is really two pieces of silicone with a pad of that adhesive stuff you usually see called magic anti-slip material underneath. Each piece adheres to the top and bottom, and once in place neither piece moves unless you really try hard to remove them. I don't think this really qualifies as a case, but it's a nice-looking bumper for each of the four corners. At a minimum, it's enough material that I know I can set the phone down on its back without it sliding around anywhere or scratching the back and lens area.

Technicalities aside, this case offered me some immediate benefits. The grooves in the top half make it much easier to find the fingerprint sensor with my finger. I almost never put my finger on the camera anymore, which actually makes me want to use fingerprint unlock now. The bottom half provides just enough grip that I am comfortable using the phone with one hand in landscape, which means I can more quickly pull the phone from my pocket and take a photo. The edges of this phone made this particular maneuver pretty awkward for me up to this point, but now I'm able to really use the S8 the way I've wanted to from the start.

The biggest benefit for me is how easy you can remove Two Piece from the phone. There are no plastic notches to fumble with, and no worry that I'm going to damage the case by applying pressure in the wrong place. Apply a little force under one of the flat edges, and the adhesive releases. This means I can quickly jump in and out my Gear VR, where most other cases for this phone make this process tedious and time consuming.

For my needs, Samsung's Two Piece case is nearly perfect.

As much as I have enjoyed this bumper case thing so far, it has one glaring flaw. The adhesive pads are not flush with the edges of the silicone, which means the small gap in between your phone and the case quickly fills with whatever small junk is floating around in your pocket or bag. It's a trivial thing to remove the bumper and clean the back of the phone occasionally, but it's important to remember the back of this phone is glass. This means sand particles rubbing against the case over time will score the glass, eventually making it more fragile and prone to deeper scratches and breaks. It's also super gross to look at when you do eventually take the case off.

For my needs, Samsung's Two Piece case is nearly perfect. It gives me grip, a little peace of mind when using the phone, and I still get to enjoy the actual phone Samsung spent so much time and energy designing. It also helps that the asking price, $20 on Samsung's website, is pretty reasonable. Right now the only color for me is black, the pastel options Samsung has available aren't my thing. I'd like to see Samsung release a nice deep blue or green, but I'm very happy with what I have right now.

See at Samsung

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5 days ago

Grab the world's smallest camera drone for only $25!

Drones keep getting faster and smaller, but that usually means they're stripped of extra features, like cameras. The small size usually also means you're paying more for the drone. What if you could have a small drone with a camera attached for under $30?

Get the world's smaller camera drone and a 2GB microSD card for just $25! Learn more

What if that drone was actually the world's smallest drone to have a camera mounted on it? Right now, Android Central Digital Offers has a deal on this little marvel. Instead of paying $50, you'll instead get it at 50% off. That's a final price of $25. Not only do you get the drone, you also get the controller, a 2GB microSD card, extra blades, and cables and adapters to charge the battery and transfer photos and videos.

This quadcopter's four blades allow it to zip around in any direction, and the LEDs allow for night flights — no getting lost in the grass. The camera mounted on the drone can take video and still photos, and it takes less than 30 minutes to fully charge the battery.

Take your photography to new heights with this tiny $25 camera drone! Learn more

If you've been waiting to get your hands on a drone, why not grab one with a mounted camera and included storage? This drone is small enough that you won't have to register it with the FAA. Ready to start flying? Grab this deal today; it won't last forever.

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5 days ago

The Best Smartphone Camera, as judged by YOU!

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So who makes the best smartphone camera? Here's what you picked.

We've long run camera comparisons on our own, but it's hard to remove our own biases — and frankly, it's just our opinion. With some new high-profile phones on the market, we thought it was again time to pit these cameras against each other and see who came out on top. So we showed you 20 sets of photos taken by four unspecified phones, stripping out all identifying data and presented in a randomized-on-load order, and asked you to pick the best. We did this so you'd judge the photos on their quality alone.

With a wide range of photos, it's time to determine the best.

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5 days ago

For as little as $3.29 a month you can use NordVPN to secure your browser's connection

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Our friends at Thrifter are back again, this time with a VPN deal you won't want to pass up!

Have you ever stopped to think about how much of your day you spend connecting to networks that aren't your own? Whether you're working at a Starbucks, trying to finish something up at the airport before your flight, or sitting in the public library, odds are you're connected to a network that isn't the most secure without even thinking about it. Daily we do things like accessing our bank account, pay bills, send personal emails, and much more, all while not knowing if someone is tracking these moves and getting ready to steal your information.

Sounds a bit scary, huh? Well, personal information is something that should be kept personal, and luckily there are some easy ways to protect yourself. Odds are, by now you've heard of Virtual Proxy Networks, or VPNs, but you may be wondering why you would want to invest in one, right? Some of them can be a bit expensive, and others are unusually cheap, leaving you wondering which to end up with. NordVPN is one of the many great services out there, and right now you can save big on its plans.

Start protecting yourself right now Learn More

If you could protect yourself, and the information on your computer, from unprotected networks for just $4 a month, would you be interested? You should be! NordVPN offers double data encryption, which encrypts your data twice (and is the only company offering it), fast speeds, a strict no logs policy, automatic kill switch in case your VPN session drops off, and much more. The company has server locations in 57 different countries and covers every continent except for Antartica (because penguins don't browse the web!).

Signing up for one year of service scores you the discounted $4 a month rate, and signing up for two years can get you an even deeper discount. If you just want to give the one-year plan a try, you'll need to use coupon code NORD70 for the lower price, and for the two-year plan use code 2YSpecial2017. These offers from NordVPN won't last very long, so you'll want to act quick so you don't miss out!

Save up to 72% Learn More

You may be worried about investing in something you've never used before, but don't worry. NordVPN offers a 30-day money back guarantee, so there is no risk in trying its service. You won't know if a VPN works for you until you give it a shot. Here is a way to try it without worrying about losing a boatload of cash, and if you like it then you score a sweet deal on the next two years of protection!

For more great deals be sure to check out our friends at Thrifter now!

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5 days ago

Best Kid-proof Cases for Amazon Fire Tablets

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What's the best Amazon Fire case for kids? The one that keeps it in one piece!

Update May 2017: With Amazon announcing the new line of Amazon Fire tablets, why not pass your 2015 model down to your kids? Also added the Moko case to our list!

With Amazon recently announcing a new refresh for its Fire tablet line, it's time to consider upgrading to the latest and greatest. But what to do with your old tablet?

Slap on a kid-proof case and let your kids have fun with a tablet of their very own!

Fintie Casebot Honey Comb Series

Fintie Casebot Honey Comb

Bouncy, durable, flexible silicone is totally the way to go if you have kids who can't wait to get their sticky mitts all over your Amazon Fire.

The honeycomb design helps to disperse the force of impact, so that your Fire stays in one piece when dropped from a short height. It wraps around the front of your tablet to protect the bezel and create a bumper between your screen and whatever your kid happens to lay it down on.

Comes in 10 colors and only fits the 2015 7-inch Fire.

See at Amazon


Topsky heavy duty case

Topsky

These Topsky cases are made of polycarbonate and flexible silicone, so that they're easy for your child to hold and durable enough to withstand playtime, even if playtime means playing with your Fire tablet instead of on it.

The kickstand is perfect to help you set up your tablet for the little ones when they want to watch cartoons or play games.

Comes in seven colors and fits the 7-inch Fire tablet (2015).

See at Amazon


Avawo convertible handle stand

Avawo

Tablets can be awkward for the kidlets to hold onto without dropping, so having a case with a handle made for little hands is perfect.

The handle folds into a convenient stand, and the case is thick and made with heavy duty EVA foam, which protects your Fire tablet from drops and the odd toss.

Comes in purple, green, red, or black and fits the 2015 (5th generation) Fire tablet only.

See at Amazon


Tinkle One EVA case

Tinkle One

EVA foam is where it's at for shock-proof cases that help kid-proof your Amazon Fire tablet. It's wipeable with a damp cloth and durable enough to survive short drops.

That being said, drops shouldn't be common, since the case is designed with little hands in mind, and it comes in six fun colors (well, five and black) to appease even the most discerning of toddlers.

Fits the 7-inch Amazon Fire tablet (2015).

See at Amazon


EpicGadget hybrid case

EpicGadget

EpicGadget's hybrid case is shock-proof and provides great drop protection, thanks to its flexible silicone and hard polycarbonate makeup.

The vertical kickstand lets you stand your Amazon Fire tablet upright or horizontally, so your young'uns can watch cartoons or play games hands-free.

The color combinations are fun and bright, and you can count on the silicone to be grippy and easy to clean.

Fits the 7-inch Amazon Fire tablet.

See at Amazon


Amazon FreeTime

Amazon FreeTime

Amazon's own FreeTime case is totally designed with kids in mind, with a shape meant for little hands, reinforced corners for extra drop protection, fun colors, and made from a material that's kid-safe and easy to clean.

All the buttons and ports are easily accessible for adults and children alike, and raised bumps on the inside help to further disperse impact.

Fits the 7-inch Amazon Fire tablet (2015).

See at Amazon


Moko case

This rugged case from Moko is made of impact-resistant EVA material to protect from drop damage with a convenient handle so your kids can easily carry it around and hopefully prevent it from being dropped in the first place. There's an ample bezel around the screen to keep that protected while keeping the buttons and camera accessible.

The handle also folds over to create a kickstand which is convenient indeed. This case only works with the 2015 edition of the Amazon Fire 7 tablet and is available in seven funky colors.

See at Amazon

What's on your Fire?

Do you have an awesome go-to case to make sure your kids don't destroy your Amazon Fire tablet? Let us know in the comments below!

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