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4 days ago

What is an alternative mobile carrier?

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Alternative mobile carriers are often cheaper and just as reliable as the networks they rely on.

Alternative carriers abound around the world, and are becoming an increasingly reliable source of low-cost connectivity in the U.S. Also known as an MVNO, or Mobile Virtual Network Operator, these alternative operators are often no-frills, and cost less than the incumbent networks on which they operate.

What is an alternative mobile operator?

The idea behind an MVNO is simple: instead of spending the billions of dollars building an entirely new nationwide network, companies enter into deals with the incumbent providers in a particular country — in the U.S., that's T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint — to resell access to their networks. These often come in the form of contracts, where the smaller companies will buy space on the network — voice, messaging and, of course, data — at a heavily discounted, bulk rate, and sell it to you, the customer, for a profit.

This benefits everyone in the equation: the incumbent gets a bunch of money upfront to invest back into its business, or give to shareholders in the form of dividends; the alternate provider gets to sell access to the network at a lower cost to the incumbent while still making a profit; and you, the user, gets to purchase access to a high-quality, fast and reliable network at prices lower than those incumbents.

Such a market only works when there is robust competition in the wireless market, which increasingly exists in the U.S. and is extremely common across Europe, where the market was built with alternative providers in mind.

So what's the big deal?

Alternative providers don't often have the financial resources to build their own networks, which is why they purchase wholesale acces to the companies that do, like the ones mentioned above. But because these smaller companies don't have the overhead of maintaining a network — the virtual in the term MVNO — they have more flexibility to provide service at lower costs. For people looking just to connect to a network without all the frills and fringe benefits that come with a contract, these are great options.

Because these smaller companies don't have the overhead of maintaining a network, they have more flexibility to provide service at lower costs.

The other thing is that MVNOs are usually aimed at single account holders — most eschew the share or family plan model of the larger incumbents — or specific demographics that may not be hit directly by the Big Four. In other words, alternative carriers are exactly that: meant to capture the customers remaining in the margins, or those looking to pay bottom dollar to avoid the often-superflous frills — T-Mobile Tuesdays come to mind — that are, many times, built into the cost of the plans of the incumbents.

Some alternative carriers, such as Cricket Wireless and Boost Mobile, are owned by the Big Four themselves — AT&T and Sprint, respectively — which allows the major incumbents to get ahead of any customers who want to leave by offering them a simplified, often discounted alternative that keeps them in the network.

More than one network

But many alternative carriers don't just use one network. We've talked many times about Project Fi, which works with Google's Nexus and Pixel phones to make service incredibly easy and convenient. Well, Project Fi does't just connect to one network; it connects to four — T-Mobile, Sprint, U.S. Cellular in the U.S., and Three in then UK — deciding between the top one dynamically depending on the coverage.

Instead of spending the billions of dollars building an entirely new nationwide network, companies enter into deals with the incumbent providers in a particular country.

That's another advantage of these virtual operators: they can negotiate great deals with a number of carriers, and thanks to the beauty of the SIM card, give customers the best option wherever they are.

Fewer phones

Finally, one thing to keep in mind about alternative networks is that the companies often don't offer the latest and greatest smartphones. In fact, they often don't sell phones at all. That's because they don't want the hassle, and the overhead, of having to stock expensive devices they may not use. That's where unlocked phones come in.

If you're savvy enough to buy a phone that you know will connect to the network of a particular carrier, you can save big money over the same two-year period a phone is usually paid off when on a big carrier.

Your turn

Are you subscribed to an alternative carrier? If so, which one, and why? We're really curious, so let us know in the comments!

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4 days ago

Best Chromebook

Update, 22 February 2017: Our new pick for best Chromebook is the Samsung Chromebook Pro, bumping the Acer Chromebook R13, which is now our budget pick.

Best overall

Samsung Chromebook Pro

See at Amazon

Samsung and Google have built the best Chromebook you can buy with the Samsung Chromebook Pro. It's incredibly well built, has one of the best displays of any laptop and has the horsepower to handle anything you throw at it. And handle it well.

The bottom line: For anyone who wants to use a Chromebook on a regular basis, and values getting extra performance and hardware quality at an added price, Samsung has made the Chromebook for you.

One more thing: There's also a Samsung Chromebook Plus, built with a slightly slower ARM processor and available for a bit less money.

Why the Samsung Chromebook Pro is the best

Samsung has built a powerhouse with an incredible display.

The display on the Samsung Chromebook Pro is a 12.3-inch 2400x1600 IPS touch panel that steals the show. It's beautiful to look at and supports a stylus, which makes it the first Chromebook with a pen.

That doesn't mean everything else isn't great, though. The 6th generation Intel processor will power through websites, spreadsheets and presentations in Google Docs and Android apps while you're working, or play something from Netflix on the gorgeous screen when you're not.

With a more power-hungry configuration than many other Chromebooks, the Chromebook Pro still had great battery life. It will last most people a full workday (8-10 hours) on a single charge. And when it's time to charge the battery, you'll appreciate the standard USB-C charging instead of a proprietary input. With the right cable, your Chromebook Pro will charge anywhere your phone does.

The Samsung Chromebook Pro is a great all-around package, and right now it's the best Chromebook available.

Best on the go

ASUS Chromebook Flip (C100)

See at Amazon

The ASUS Chromebook Flip was rather unassuming and a little confusing when it was first unveiled, but has turned into a mini revelation. This little laptop with its 10.1-inch display and folding design that turns it into a pseudo-tablet is the go-to choice for anyone that wants a good, inexpensive and hyper-portable Chromebook.

For less than $300 you're getting a 1280 x 800 touch screen, a metal build, great battery life and solid performance. If you're always on the move and looking for a great Chromebook, you can't do much better than this.

Bottom line: The Chromebook Flip is also one of the first models slated to pick up Android app compatibility through the Google Play Store, which could tip the scales a bit for folks looking to be ready for the new feature addition.

Best on a budget

Acer Chromebook R13

See at Amazon

The Acer Chromebook R13 is a mid-range offering that seems like it should cost more. It has a 1080p IPS touch screen for interaction with Android apps, can fold back into various modes for an all-touch experience, and charges using the new USB-C standard rather than an older connector.

The standout feature of the Chromebook R13 is the great way it's built. It's solid and well machined and not something you would expect from a sub-400 dollar laptop. The Chromebook R13 is an excellent choice for anyone who wants a premium product without a premium price.

Bottom line: The Acer Chromebook R13 looks and feels like a laptop that would cost a lot more, and is a great choice for savvy shoppers.

Conclusion

There's a Chromebook to satisfy most any need that you may have. Whether you're buying for yourself, as a gift, or giving guidance to someone else for their own purchase, be sure to start here before making a buying decision. For most people, though, most of the time, the Samsung Chromebook Pro is the overall best bet.

Best overall

Samsung Chromebook Pro

See at Amazon

Samsung and Google have built the best Chromebook you can buy with the Samsung Chromebook Pro. It's incredibly well built, has one of the best displays of any laptop and has the horsepower to handle anything you throw at it. And handle it well.

The bottom line: For anyone who wants to use a Chromebook on a regular basis, and values getting extra performance and hardware quality at an added price, Samsung has made the Chromebook for you.

One more thing: There's also a Samsung Chromebook Plus, built with a slightly slower ARM processor and available for a bit less money.

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4 days ago

How to set up Kodi profiles

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Your family can have their Kodi their way. It's as easy as setting up some new Kodi profiles.

Your kids want to watch something on your Kodi system, but you're not so keen on filling up your add-ons list with child-friendly channels. That's fine, because just as you can with popular services like Netflix, you can create profiles for your kids to keep their stuff separate.

The process for creating Kodi profiles is not immediately obvious, because it's not exactly user-facing. But it's also not very difficult, as long as you know where to look.

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4 days ago

Samsung's 10nm Exynos 8895 chipset is now official

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Samsung's high-end SoC for 2017 gets detailed.

Samsung announced last year that it was partnering with Qualcomm to build the Snapdragon 835 on its new 10nm FinFET manufacturing process. The company is now introducing its own chipset based on the new node, the Exynos 8895. The SoC falls under the Exynos 9 Series, and the node shift along with an improved 3D transistor structure means that the Exynos 8895 delivers 27% more performance or 40% less energy consumption when compared to 14nm chipsets.

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4 days ago

Korean media says LG G6 will launch on March 10, Galaxy S8 debuting globally April 21

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We now have launch dates for this year's biggest flagships.

A report out of Korea's ET News suggests Samsung and LG have finalized the launch dates for their upcoming flagships. The publication states that the Galaxy S8 — which is rumored to be unveiled in New York on March 29 — will be launching globally on April 21, while the LG G6 is slated to become available on March 10 following an unveil at Mobile World Congress later this week.

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4 days ago

Sony launches the 'world's fastest' SD cards

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Sony's latest SD cards are designed for photographers shooting in 4K.

Sony's upcoming SF-G series of SD cards will be the fastest in the world, according to the company. The SD cards will be debuting sometime in the month of March, and will be available in 32GB, 64GB, and 128GB storage configurations. The cards feature read speeds of 300MB/s and write speeds of 299MB/s, which Sony says will come in handy not only for shooting 4K content, but also for transferring large amounts of data to a computer.

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4 days ago

Huawei P10 shown off in new leak, EMUI 5.1 and 360-degree camera teased

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Huawei P10 gets shows off once again ahead of its official debut.

Huawei confirmed last month that it would launch the P10 at Mobile World Congress. We saw the device break cover earlier this month, which showed off the blue, gold, and green color options it will be available in, and today we're getting a look at the press renders of the Huawei P10 ahead of its official unveil.

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4 days ago

HTC 10 is picking up the Nougat update in India

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Nougat update is now available for the HTC 10 in India.

HTC rolled out the Nougat update to the HTC 10 back in November, with unlocked units in the U.S. receiving the update first. The company has since rolled out the update to customers in the UK at the end of last month, and is now making Android 7.0 Nougat available to Indian users.

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4 days ago

Galaxy S8+ specs materialize: 6.2-inch extra-tall display with rounded corners expected

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This is shaping up to be a big phone ... but not as big as you'd think.

We're still over a month away from an expected announcement of the Galaxy S8 and S8+, and that means we're well into the flow of leaks. The latest, which comes from @evleaks, details purported specs for the larger Galaxy S8+ — and aside from physical size it looks to be very similar to the smaller Galaxy S8.

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4 days ago

Instagram's new gallery feature lets you showcase up to ten photos and videos

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Post more than one memory at a time without overloading your followers.

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Ever wanted to post a bunch of pictures in a row on Instagram, but felt too bad about inundating timelines? Instagram's new gallery feature lets you attached up to ten photos or videos to a post to share multiple scenes from a memory with your friends and family.

The new feature is easy to use. Simply tap on the "Select Multiple" option when creating your post and then tap up to ten existing photos or videos from your gallery. When you're finished, Instagram will publish the post to your timeline with a small dotted indicator bar on the bottom of the photo to lets your followers know there's more to see if they swipe left.

The update is available today for Instagram on Android. If you haven't seen the update already, you can grab it directly from the Google Play Store.

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4 days ago

Here's every bit of the LG G6 prior to the announcement

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Well, there it is. After leak upon leak, there is now very little left to learn about the LG G6.

Thanks to prolific leaker, Evan Blass, you now know exactly what the LG G6 will look like. As predicted, it's got tiny bezels, two cameras, presumably of different focal lengths, and a fingerprint sensor on the back. That's what we can see in this render.

Aside from that, we've learned that the phone will have a 2:1/18:9 aspect ratio, along with waterproofing, (unfortunately) a Snapdragon 821 processor, and perhaps a larger battery than the 2800mAh cell on the G5 because... drum roll please it's sealed in.

Now that the full picture of the LG G6 is coming into focus, are you more or less excited than before? And what would it take for you to pick one up over a Galaxy S8, which is presumably coming just a month later with a considerable faster processor and similarly slim bezels.

LG G6

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4 days ago

You can now register for Google I/O 2017!

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Registration for Google's developer conference is now open!

Last year, Google Allo, Duo, Assistant and Home were announced at Google I/O 2016, and that was just at the keynote. The annual developer conference is full of interesting pieces of news, but the real reason it exists is for developers to learn how to build great apps and experience for the Android and Chrome platforms.

This year, with rumors swirling about Andromeda, Fuschia, and whatever else Google has in store for the future of Android, Google I/O is sure to be an excellent time.

And now it's officially open for registration! As with last year, the conference is in May — May 17-19, to be specific — at Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, California, home of Google's own campus (in fact, the Amphitheater is just a few miles away). Registration is open from today, February 22, until February 27 at 5PM PST.

As with previous years, too, the draw is random, so it doesn't matter when you apply in the process; Google will begin picking people as of February 28. This year, though, the price of a general admission ticket has risen to $1,150, up from $900 in 2016. Academic tickets are still relatively reasonable at $375.

If you're applying to attend Google I/O, let us know — and good luck! We'll see you there.

Register for Google I/O 2017

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4 days ago

Every Daydream app you can install right now, and a look at what comes next

Just go ahead and install all of them. You know, for fun.

Google's first Daydream headset is finally shipping to people who purchased the first Daydream phone, and are quickly finding it's not easy to locate the whole list of Daydream apps from the Play Store. While we've been having a lot of fun showing you the best free Daydream apps and the Daydream games everyone should have installed, the act of browsing for apps and then waiting for them to install while in VR isn't a good time.

To make it a little easier, we've tracked down the first wave of Google Daydream apps that are available to install now, so you can load up your Pixel with VR goodness and see what this new experience is all about.

Read more at VR Heads!

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4 days ago

No, Project Fi will not destroy your Google Voice account (update: that was then, this is now)

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Project Fi

Changes in the Google Voice app have some worried that Project Fi will lose features.

This article was updated in February, 2017 with new information about both Project Fi and Google Voice.

In January 2017, Google Voice was given the big update many of us using it had been waiting for. A rich user interface with things like threaded messaging and MMS for everyone, as well as a new web interface all worked to make using Google Voice easier. But for some, namely Project Fi users, it put an end to being able to use the app the way we had been using it. And to add a little salt to the wound, we've all been hearing about how Hangouts — the only option for Fi subscribers to use more than one phone — is moving away to become some strange corporate enterprise thing.

If Hangouts morphs into something else, what happens to Fi users who need Google Voice features?

A Project Fi subscriber can no longer have a traditional Google Voice account. Both systems share the same infrastructure, so tying more than one number to the same account isn't possible. Your Project Fi phone number is your Google Voice number and vice versa. Before the update, users with a Project Fi-issued phone number were able to install the Google Voice app on a different phone or a tablet so sending and receiving SMS was available using the Fi number and calls would come in or could be made using the Fi number.

This update takes that option away, leaving Hangouts as the only method to use one number across different devices. And Hangouts is going away, at least as we know it today.

We reached out to Project Fi and heard the same well-intentioned line everyone eventually received; nothing to announce, Google understands the situation, pair of aces in the wrong places and all that. But there is light at the end of the tunnel when we veer away from the official word and look to the unconfirmed but reliable sources.

Google is said to be adding the functionality Project Fi users currently have via Hangouts into the new Google Voice. That could mean a merging of Fi and Google Voice, additional features in the Project Fi app for devices with a different SIM card and phone number, or a fix for Google accounts associated with a Fi account so that they can access the Google Voice app and its features using a Fi number.

Google's messaging strategy is an unknown and can be confusing. Still, we expect they have some plan in mind for folks paying them to use Project Fi. Google Voice has been a favorite for many since it was Grand Central and is still a great way to have a second number or use the same number everywhere. We hope it stays that way.

The original text of the article follows below.

News that Google was finally pushing Project Fi invites to a handful of people led to a whole lot of users asking those lucky enough to get in on the action what the experience was like. In doing so, a screenshot appeared that suggested using Project Fi meant destroying your Google Voice account. The dialogue box from the screenshot explains you can either bring your Google Voice number over to Project Fi, or you can use a different number with a caveat explaining your current Voice number will be released if you go with a different number.

If all you know about Project Fi and Google Voice comes from that one screenshot, there'd be plenty of reason to be concerned. Fortunately, after a quick chat with the folks at Google, we know things aren't nearly as dire as they seem.

Project Fi uses the same infrastructure as Google Voice, and all of those features follow with you from Google Voice to Project Fi.

The first thing you need to know about Project Fi is how the system is built to function. Fi operates on a special hybrid network that allows users to move seamlessly between Wifi, T-Mobile, and Sprint networks, with unique pricing that lets you pay for what you use and not a penny more. The service also lets you use your Fi number on devices that aren't connected to the Fi network. You can use your Fi number to make calls, send SMS, and access call forwarding and voicemail transcripts on anything running Google Hangouts, including your desktop.

Sound familiar? That's because Project Fi uses the same infrastructure as Google Voice, and all of those features follow with you from Google Voice to Project Fi.

Project Fi

Google Voice isn't being destroyed by this new service, it's growing up and becoming Project Fi. You have the same features that work the same way, with the added bonus of being able to use the Project Fi mobile carrier service if you choose. Remember, Project Fi is month to month, so you can jump on and off the service as you please. More importantly, Google has confirmed users who stop using Fi will be able to continue using the Google Voice features in Hangouts, only now it'll be called Project Fi when setting it up on new devices. If you want access to your old Google Voice information, like call history and old voicemail, there's a button to do exactly that inside the Project Fi web interface.

So relax, Google isn't taking Voice from you. If anything, Google is doing what folks have been begging them to do for well over a year now by bringing Voice into the modern era and tacking new features onto it. If you're only casually interested in Fi and don't want to move your Voice account over, you can use another Gmail account and get a fresh number generated. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy the ride.

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4 days ago

App Shortcuts on Nova Launcher: A little taste of Nougat

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Shortcuts are cool

App Shortcuts are cool, if you can get them. Problem being most can't.

App Shortcuts — the little dropdown menu of shortcuts sorted into specific activities — came with Android 7.1 rather than 7.0, and haven't been widely implemented in the 4 months since it started rolling out in the Android 7.1 developer preview. It's half Force Touch, half gestures on steroids, and all awesome when implemented properly. There's just a few problems with getting it implemented properly: we need more devices that can use App Shortcuts, and we need more developers who are willing to enable it.

That's where Nova Launcher comes in.

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