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3 days ago

Inside Action Launcher's Quicktheme

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Action Launcher has garnered a fair bitt of praise from us at Android Central. Some love Quickdrawer and being able to ditch the traditional app drawer. Some love the Covers and Shades, which free up space and get us into apps faster. But as a themer, Action Launcher's got a great trick that can make your home screen feel completely new with one easy step.

Setting a new wallpaper in other launchers just gives you a new image behind all your widgets and folders. Setting a new wallpaper in Action Launcher will change not only that image but will recolor your Quickbar, Quickdrawer, and folders. Quicktheme does this by sampling colors from your wallpaper and using them to color the launcher's other elements in colors it believes it'll match. That beats digging around in Nova Launcher's settings to re-color everything manually.

You can even choose between several tints for your themes, most are pulled from your wallpaper but there will always be two defaults: Material Light and Material Dark. In most instances the algorithm Action Launcher uses to pick these shades will be enough. For wallpapers with a lot of colors, or wallpapers with a very small amount of an accent color you're trying to match, it can sometimes miss. Sadly, the only way to draw new colors is to set the wallpaper again with a different zoom or crop. There are also rare instances when Action Launcher fails to pull colors from a wallpaper.

While the ability to manually set colors when the pre-selected colors fail would be great, the built-in tones work well for most wallpapers and themes. Being able to simply set your wallpaper and watch the rest of your launcher re-theme itself to match is gratifying, instead of having to fuss around in your launcher's settings manually re-coloring your folders and drawers.

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3 days ago

Battle the xenomorphs in new Aliens vs Pinball tables from Zen Studios

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Zen Studios has released Aliens vs Pinball, a set of three pinball tables based on the popular sci-fi movie franchise. The game is available for Android owners as a free-to-play app, with all three tables accessible for $9.99 as an in-app purchase.

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3 days ago

YouTube app redesign taps into machine learning for better recommendations

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Starting today, the YouTube Android app is getting a slightly updated look with more personal recommendations.

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3 days ago

$100 million in funding puts real money into HTC's virtual reality play

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HTC has announced a new global accelerator program for virtual reality start-ups called Vive X. The $100 million investment will help provide expertise and mentorship to help the VR ecosystem continue to grow at a quick pace.With this, HTC hopes that these start-ups will be able to create valuable content for the Vive platform and get it to the market for everyone to enjoy.

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3 days ago

Google's new MODE bands change the smartwatch game forever

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Being together without being the same now also applies to watchbands.

Watch any of the Android Wear commercials, and you'll see the same basic message. Take any smartwatch design you like, and the basic features will be the same. It's a great message, and a fantastic embodiment of the overall Android motto right now. It looks like Google has plans to take that idea one step further with a new watchband tech called MODE, and to help introduce this idea to the world they've partnered up with Hadley Roma to release a collection of impressively designed watchbands.

Here's a quick look at how it all works, and where you can get you hands on these bands.

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3 days ago

Early Samsung Gear 360 photos look amazing

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It's starting to look like Samsung's Gear 360 camera might be one of the best you can buy.

A good photosphere or 360-degree photo is mostly about the stitching. Done right, these photos can take you to another place and time, allowing you to see the whole area as it was captured in that moment, instead of just a planned window into that space. There's more to see, more to explore, and the act of doing so is just plain fun as long as there aren't messy lines or jagged edges to pull you back to reality. When dealing with 360-degree cameras that take pictures with multiple sensors, it's hard to avoid distortion when connecting those two images.

One of the big questions we've had about the Gear 360 is how well Samsung handles the stitch between the two cameras. While we've not yet been able to wander around and take photos with a Gear 360 of our own, some early shots we've found make it look like Samsung may be preparing to release one of the most capable 360-degree cameras under $500.

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3 days ago

AT&T vs. Verizon: Best family plan

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 Best Family Plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How many devices are allowed on a shared plan?

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

AT&T cost per device

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

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

Verizon cost per device

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

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

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

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

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

AT&T monthly data rates

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

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

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

Verizon monthly data rates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep calm and carrier on

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

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

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3 days ago

Google's new six-second 'Bumper' ads are destined for YouTube

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Google is introducing a new video ad format called Bumpers, which allow advertisers to create six-second advertisements for YouTube. The company hopes that advertisers see Bumpers as a cost-effective way to drive incremental reach for their products.

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3 days ago

Google, Uber, Ford, and others team up to push for U.S. self-driving car regulations

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Google is teaming up with a number of other companies to try to push U.S. lawmakers to pass regulations for self-driving cars. The company, along with Uber, Ford, Lyft and Volvo have now formed the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets.

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3 days ago

Amazon further bolsters its FreeTime Unlimited content catalog for kids

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Amazon has bolstered its FreeTime Unlimited service for kids with new additions. The online retail giant has added content specifically catering for older children, aged between 9 and 12. There are new videos, education-based apps, games, books and more bringing the total number of catalog items up to 13,000.

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3 days ago

Twitter now allows you to report harassment with multiple tweets at a time

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Twitter is adding another improvement for people who want to report harassing messages on their social network. The company is rolling out a feature that will allow users to send multiple tweets in one report, rather than just sending them one at a time.

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3 days ago

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

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

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

When is it available?

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

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

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

What's the big deal?

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

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

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

About that security

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Hub to love

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

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

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

Keyboard swiping

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

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

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

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

Can't fix a camera through software

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

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

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

A launcher to remember

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

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

A longer-lasting conversation

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

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

Practice makes perfect

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

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

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

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

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

More on the Priv's Marshmallow update at Inside BlackBerry

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3 days ago

Samsung teases hot new projects at this week's Dev Con

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Samsung will unveil five new C-Lab projects during its upcoming developer conference in San Fransisco. Projects that come from the C-Lab are ideas from its own employees that the company then helps make their ideas a reality. The projects vary from a single app that can control multiple smart devices via a smartphone camera, a lifelogging camera that produces 360-degree videos and more.

Samsung notes that the projects include:

  • LiCon: an app that controls various smart devices via a smartphone camera
  • Ahead: a communication device for people who wear helmets
  • AMe: a wearable lifelogging camera that produces 360-degree VR videos
  • ItsyWatch: a wearable that helps children form good habits
  • Entrim 4D+: a VR accessory that lets users feel the movements of the on-screen action.

Samsung's Developer Conference is scheduled for April 27 and April 28 in San Francisco. Be sure to stay tuned for additional information on these projects from our live coverage of the event.

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3 days ago

Tesco Mobile will let you use your phone abroad for free this summer

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Tesco Mobile will be letting customers in the UK use their mobile phones abroad for free, without incurring any remaining charges. The UK mobile network will unlock free access to and from 31 European countries, but only for a limited time through summer.

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3 days ago

T-Mobile added 2.2 million new customers in Q1 2016, revenue up 10%

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T-Mobile has published company financial results for Q1 2016, showcasing an increase in revenue of 10.6% as well as adding 2.2 million new customers. This quarter marks the 12th consecutive quarter the Un-Carrier has experienced total net growth of more than 2 million.

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