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1 week ago

Putting Linux on your Chromebook is easier than you think (and totally worth it!)

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If you need to use those productivity programs that Chrome OS just doesn't offer, or you just want to try something new, Linux on your Chromebook has you covered.

You've may have seen chatter on the internet about installing Linux on your Chromebook. Plenty of longtime Chrome OS users are doing it, and it allows the use of programs like GIMP (a Photoshop replacement), or Darktable, (a Lightroom alternative) as well as plenty of programs for video and audio editing. It's a way to use your Chromebook for the few power-user features you might need. It's also completely free and easier than you think.

Let's walk through an easy setup that keeps Chrome OS and is able to run Ubuntu with the Xfce desktop and any applications you might need. You'll be able to run both operating systems at once with a shared Downloads folder, a shared clipboard and web links opening in the Chrome browser you're already familiar with. You can even run them side by side in a split window.

And yes, it really is as cool as it sounds.

Getting started

Before you try anything we're talking about here, you need to do two things: back up all your user files to Google Drive, and have a Chrome OS restore image ready just in case. We're going to be unlocking developer mode and starting with a clean and current Chrome OS install. There's no way around that. The first time you unlock developer mode your Chromebook is Powerwashed and everything is erased. And whenever you're doing something like this there is always a chance that you'll need to reinstall Chrome from scratch with the restore image. Don't worry, none of this is difficult.

Get everything you need ready before you start so you're not stuck looking for it if things go wrong.

You'll need to search Google to find the exact instructions to unlock developer mode for your Chromebook. On some models, you'll need to toggle an actual switch, and on others it is done through the standard recovery software. If you're using a Pixel, for example, you press and hold the Escape and Refresh keys, then hold the power button until the system shuts off and the keyboard backlight comes on to enter recovery mode. On some older Samsung Chromebooks, you'll need to find a switch next to the SD card slot and flip it, then reboot. Everything you need to know is a web search away.

The same goes for grabbing a restore image. You'll find full instructions on where to download one and how to write it to an SD card or thumb drive. Don't skip this step — especially if you don't have another computer to use. The process is simple and it's always nice to have everything you need to factory flash your Chromebook on hand.

Once you're unlocked and prepared in case you need to start from scratch, we can start copying some files.

Crouton

No, not the breadcrumb kind of Crouton, the chroot kind from David Schneider, a Google hardware engineer who loves Chromebooks. Crouton is a script that you can run to automatically fetch all the bits and pieces you need, create an environment for them, and get everything working without doing it by hand.

Using the same principle that Android and Google Play are using to run on Chrome, you can install a full Linux desktop that runs in its own space yet is able to share your Chromebook's hardware. This isn't the only way to install Linux on your Chromebook, and nobody is saying it's the best way. But it is easy simple to uninstall or modify down the road. To get started, grab your Chromebook and download Crouton.

If you're not going to play Steam games, you can run Chrome and Ubuntu at the same time in separate windows.

For the next step you need to make a choice — are you going to install Steam and play games? We'll cover that with another how-to, but know that installing the full Steam client and installing any games your Chromebook meets the minimum requirements for is a thing. We're going to be using a Chrome extension called Crouton Integration (also from David Schneider) that works with the window manager to run your Linux desktop in a window while Chrome OS is still active. This allows you to share things like the clipboard and Downloads folder, as well as use Chrome itself to open web links and pages.

The only concern is that there are performance trade-offs when you're running something that taxes the GPU. For a program like GIMP, it's fine. For Rocket League or CS: Go, it's really not. If you're not going to install Steam, grab the extension from the link above and install it. We'll split out instructions anytime they're different.

Once you have Crouton downloaded, and the Crouton Integration extension installed if you need it, we can install Linux with just a few commands.

The Chrosh shell

This is Chrome OS's command line interface, and what you'll need to run the installer. Open one with by pressing Ctrl+Alt+T on your keyboard. A new tab will open with a text interface. Switch to it, and enter the command shell to change from the Chrosh (Chrome Shell) shell to a proper bash (Bourne Again Shell — a command interpreter that's universal across Linux, BSD, and OS X) shell. The text will change to green and you're ready to run the install script.

  • If you are using the Crouton Integration extension, type the following and hit enter. Mind the spelling, spacing, and punctuation.

sudo sh ~/Downloads/crouton -t xiwi,xfce

  • If you're not going to use Crouton Integration, use the following instead:

sudo sh ~/Downloads/crouton -t xfce

Now, we wait. Crouton is creating a chroot environment, fetching the right software packages and extracting them to the right place. You'll have to interact with the shell tab a couple of times, but it halts at the right spot and waits for your input so you don't have to try and read all the scrolling text. Depending on your internet connection, this will take anywhere between 5 and 20 minutes.

When it's finished downloading and unpacking, you're ready to fire things up.

Starting your new desktop

Using the same shell you used above, type sudo startxfce4 and press the enter key. A few lines of text will scroll by, then you're switched to a new GUI. What you're seeing is a full install of Ubuntu (12.04 LTS at the time of this writing) with the Xfce desktop environment running. You'll use the username and password you set up earlier, and you can install any application the runs on Ubuntu and built for your processor architecture.

If you choose to integrate Crouton into Chrome, you might need a couple tips to get started.

The first time you launch Ubuntu, it might open full screen and prompt you to use the F11 key to switch back to a windowed view. Your Chromebook has no F11 key so you'll need to use a little trick to exit. Right-click on the desktop and add an internet shortcut. It can point to any website or local file, so that's not important. It will use Crouton Integration to switch back to Chrome OS to parse whatever URL you entered and minimize the Ubuntu window. You can then switch between Chrome and Ubuntu using the tray icon for Crouton Integration and Ubuntu will stay inside a bordered window with standard minimize, maximize and window keys.

A quick trick in case it happens again after you shut down — open the extensions page in the settings and scroll to the very bottom. Click the link titled Keyboard shortcuts and create one for Crouton Integration. You can use that shortcut to move to and from full screen.

If you didn't use Crouton Integration, none of this applies. When you start an Ubuntu session, Chrome is suspended and when you log out you're returned.

If you lose your mouse pointer the first time you start Ubuntu, don't panic. On some hardware, this is expected. Just press and hold the power button until you're at the login screen, and use Tab and Enter to shut down. When you reboot things are fine and it won't happen again.

Make it your own

Using these instructions you'll have a very basic setup. You'll probably want to customize it a bit. You can go through the settings and try them all, but there are a few things you will probably want to install to get started — a bash utility and the Ubuntu Software Center. To get both up and running, right-click on the desktop and open a terminal session from the menu. Type the following commands one line at a time, hit enter and let them finish before moving on.

sudo apt-get update

This synchronizes the internal package database with the online servers. Ubuntu uses packages to install software, and will automatically install everything you need to run a program when you install the program itself. The command line version is apt, and we want to update the package lists before we fetch any new software.

sudo apt-get install bash-completion ttf-ubuntu-font-family software-center synaptic

This installs a utility that lets you enter the first letter or letters of a location in the terminal, and use the Tab key to fill in the rest, as well as the fonts you'll need for the software store (otherwise some entries will have squares in place of letters) and the store itself. During the installation of the True Type fonts, you'll need to accept a license. Use the arrow keys to scroll the window, then tab key to choose an option and the enter key to accept.

Ubuntu has its own app store to install programs with just a click of the mouse.

Once finished, you'll find the Ubuntu Software Center in your apps list. That's Ubuntu's version of an app store where you can download just about any program available. If you're using a Chromebook with an Intel processor, there's nothing to do except look through it and grab the things you'll need. If you're using an ARM Chromebook, some of the programs aren't going to run — check the description and reviews to see if someone has mentioned it. If something you want isn't working for ARM processors, hit Google to find one that does. There a really good chance someone has compiled it for ARM because they wanted to use it, too.

You'll be told when updates to your operating system are available and can install them with the click of a button. You'll probably see a notice that a new version of Ubuntu is available to download. Don't just click yes and try it! Ubuntu 12.04 LTS isn't the newest version, but it is the best-supported version for most Chromebooks. Any and all critical updates and patches are available for 12.04, so there is no urgent need to try it. Google around a bit and see how newer versions work with your particular model before you jump in.

One last thing

Because your Chromebook is in Developer Mode, you'll need to hit Ctrl + D at the boot screen every time you start it. You'll also get a scary warning about security. Know that doing any of this makes your Chromebook less secure. It's still more secure than most other laptops, but you are giving someone with physical access another way to try to get in.

When you log out of Ubuntu you go back to Chrome. the tab with your shell session is still open, and to go back just type sudo startxfce4 again. When you shut down, you'll need to reopen a shell session tab (Ctrl+Alt+T) again, and switch to bash with the shell command. You can then start Ubuntu with the sudo startxfce4 command. The tab with the shell running will need to stay open while you're in Ubuntu.

All that's left now is to try it and see why the people "dual-booting" on their Chromebooks love it so much!

Chromebooks

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1 week ago

Fess up: Who's buying an iPhone 7 today?

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iPhone launch day yay magical give us your money sheeple

Spend a night in the rain to buy a smaller version of the phone you actually wanted.

For Android people, today is Friday — a good day, to be sure. Elsewhere though, it's iPhone launch day, a magical, revolutionary time that (usually) comes just once a year. It's the time of year when people camp outside a glowing retail cuboid only to be told the phone they actually want is out of stock. That's right: today is the first day actual humans, as opposed to weirdo tech bloggers, can get their hands on the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus.

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1 week ago

Evening brief: Motorola fibs, Note 7 burns 92 times, and SwiftKey goes neural

39

"I got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell!"

I flew home from New York to Toronto this morning, and prior to the flight attendant warning everyone about seatbelts and emergency exits, they told us to "power down all Samsung Galaxy Note 7s." Like all infectious diseases, this one seems to be spreading quickly and widely before it can be contained, and Samsung, despite its best efforts, is having a tough time doing that. Obviously the implications for the company's reputation are unclear right now, but it wouldn't be unrealistic to say that this patient is going to take a long time to heal.

Speaking of healing, today was the first day I needed a sweatshirt in Toronto, which is both exciting and upsetting. Winter is coming, friends.

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1 week ago

Samsung officially recalls Note 7 with U.S. CPSC, 92 incidents reported thus far

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It's all very official now, but the recommendation hasn't changed — return your Note 7.

Following its informal announcement last week, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has announced an official recall of the Galaxy Note 7. The official notice from the CPSC says that "about 1 million" Note 7s were sold prior to September 15, and claims there have been 92 official reports of Note 7 batteries overheating or exploding.

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1 week ago

PlayStation 4 vs PlayStation 4 Slim: What's the difference?

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How much thinner is the new PlayStation 4?

While all eyes were on Sony's big PlayStation 4 Pro during the announcement, a new slimmer PlayStation 4 snuck onto store shelves. Instead of being called a Slim model like previous generations, it's simply also called PlayStation 4.

The goal is to replace the current PlayStation 4 on store shelves eventually, leaving only this new model and the PlayStation 4 Pro for shoppers to choose between. Until that happens, there are a pair of boxes labeled PlayStation 4 on shelves and it's not entirely clear what the differences between them are. Here's what you need to know!

In keeping with Sony's previous slim PlayStation releases, the goal with this new PS4 is mostly aesthetic. Sony claims the new PlayStation 4 consumes less power, but the big feature here is size. The new PlayStation 4 is noticeably thinner, and slightly narrower. As you can see by comparing the two side by side, the updated design drops the even split on either side of the big black line in the middle of the console and instead makes the top way thinner. This updated design is also matte black instead of glossy on half, and the under side of the casing swaps out streaks of anti-skid rubber for PlayStation themed anti-skid marks.

As silly as this may seem, the biggest update to the new PlayStation 4 design is the inclusion of discrete buttons on the face of the console. These two buttons, instead of the touch sensitive strips on the face, make it abundantly clear when you're powering on/off and ejecting a disk. It's a fairly small update in the grand scheme of things, but anyone who regularly tapped the front of the original PlayStation 4 only to have nothing happen will welcome the change.

Sony's DualShock 4 controller has also received a slight update, though you wouldn't know it by looking at them powered off. The touch pad in the center of the controller now shows you a sliver of light coming from the light bar. This means you know when the controller is producing light without looking at the back of the controller, and no extra power is consumed in the process. It's a nice little detail, but not something that will send most folks scrambling to replace their existing controllers.

The new PlayStation 4, which is currently being sold in a 500GB bundle with Uncharted 4, is exactly what we've come to expect from Sony with its "slim" releases. It's a physical update so this standard PlayStation 4 looks like a sibling to the PlayStation 4 Pro. It looks nice unless you're a fan of the white version of the PlayStation 4, and as the packaging suggests it's everything you need to get ready for PlayStation VR. Just like choosing between this new PlayStation 4 and the PlayStation 4 Pro, the biggest reason anyone would choose the original version over this newer version is price.

See at Amazon

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1 week ago

Samsung's Galaxy S7 camera lens case is a wonderful, hard-to-justify accessory

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Samsung Galaxy Note 7

Just about everyone's taking smartphone pictures with the same focal length — but you can change that.

Since the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge were released, I've been enamored by the official Samsung "camera lens case" that lets you attach two high-quality camera lenses — one wide-angle, one telephoto — to the phone for unique shooting possibilities. Then Samsung just didn't launch the cases in the U.S., or pretty much any big market around the world. Being a self-proclaimed photography nerd I just had to try them, though.

So when the good people over at MobileFun offered to send me a Galaxy S7 camera lens case for review, I took them up on it right away. Here's what I've found using is odd-looking contraption for my photographic escapades.

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1 week ago

Best Smartwatch For Kids

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Your kids want a smartwatch? Android Wear isn't where you start.

Russell has been covering Android since the G1, and has had his head in VR headsets since the first Oculus Rift dev kit. Managing editor at VRHeads, video and podcast host, you can follow him on Twitter @russellholly. For suggestions and updates, you can reach him at [email protected]

*/ /*-->*/ /*-->*/

Best overall

VTech Kidizoom Smartwatch DX

Find on Amazon

Instead of a tool for connecting to a smartphone, VTech created an experience that is mostly toy but partially useful. Amid all the games and onboard camera tricks you'll find a functional calendar for appointments, a voice memo app, and several other tools that work well with the smartwatch aesthetic. This is a great way to get kids thinking about using technology for more than entertainment, without completely pulling them away from the shiny world of fun things.

Bottom line: If you have a youngster who wants a smartwatch just like you, this is a fantastic place to start.

One more thing: This watch comes in Blue and Purple, depending on what color you think your child will prefer.

Why VTech Kidizoom is the best

Smartwatches are already luxury accessories, and for kids they become little more than toys. VTech's smartwatch for kids has a few games, but also lets them take photos from their wrist and have some fun with the photos. It's a fun way for a kid to emulate their smartwatch-wearing parent without needing to be tethered to a smartphone, and it actually includes some tools that could be useful. Calendar access, for example, gives you an teaching opportunity. Calculator apps let children explore math on their own. There's plenty of fun to be had here, but the need to charge the watch regularly in order to use it and the availability of actually useful apps could become tools for teaching children how to care for their hardware and use it properly.

Best value

Supvin U80 Smartwatch

Find on Amazon

U80 is a barebones traditional smartwatch. It pairs to a phone via Bluetooth 4.0 and acts as notification sync. It's a limited experience, but one that covers the basics of smartwatch use and fitness or sleep tracking. It's simple, and the biggest feature here is the price. If you're looking for a very basic smartwatch, this is where you start.

Bottom line: This is the beginner smartwatch you buy for a kid on their first smartphone, who really wants something inexpensive.

Only on AT&T

FiLIP 2

Find on AT&T

FiLIP 2 is less about giving your child a cool watch full of features and more about giving your child a one-way phone they can strap to their wrist so you can reach them and track them as you desire. The FiLIP app allows you to send one-way text messages and track the GPS in the watch, and because the watch has a phone number you can call to check in whenever necessary. For the child, it's a fairly simple watch with an emergency button that calls each of the contacts built in to the watch while recording the background audio just in case.

Bottom line: This is more or less a tracking bracelet for a child you don't trust with a phone.

Only on Verizon

GizmoPal 2

Find on Verizon Wireless

LG's GizmoPal 2 is a wrist-mounted phone with some simple features for both parents and children. For kids, pre-programmed messages and emoji can be sent to a list of approved contacts. Two-way calling ensures your child can reach and be reached when necessary, and there's a fitness function onboard for jump rope or step counting. The big feature for parents is real-time tracking through the Android app, which gives you GPS coordinates and offers notifications if your child strays from GPS boundaries you have set up.

Bottom line: This is a simple, friendly watch for kids who aren't ready for their first phone yet.

Conclusion

While there are certainly some great Android Wear watches out there, these are the best options for most kids. VTech offers a great fun accessory that doesn't require a phone. U80 is an inexpensive way to offer base smartwatch features. If you'd prefer the smartwatch be more for your peace of mind than your child's entertainment, AT&T and Verizon have you covered with the FiLIP 2 and GizmoPal 2 exclusives.

Best overall

VTech Kidizoom Smartwatch DX

Find on Amazon

Instead of a tool for connecting to a smartphone, VTech created an experience that is mostly toy but partially useful. Amid all the games and onboard camera tricks you'll find a functional calendar for appointments, a voice memo app, and several other tools that work well with the smartwatch aesthetic. This is a great way to get kids thinking about using technology for more than entertainment, without completely pulling them away from the shiny world of fun things.

Bottom line: If you have a youngster who wants a smartwatch just like you, this is a fantastic place to start.

One more thing: This watch comes in Blue and Purple, depending on what color you think your child will prefer.

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1 week ago

Best AT&T phones

What are the best phones you can buy at AT&T right now?

Whether you're a loyal AT&T subscriber, or you're looking to jump ship to its giant cellular network, take a peek at our list of the best smartphones the carrier has to offer.

We'll be updating this guide throughout the year to keep you informed of the latest devices worth wielding as your daily driver. Be sure to read through our reviews for the full rundown on each smartphone.

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1 week ago

How much faster are Samsung's Fast Wireless Chargers?

58

How much faster are Fast Wireless chargers?

Wireless charging is one of those things most folks tend to ignore for two reasons. No Android phone that supports wireless charging has ever included a wireless charger in the box, and wireless charging is never as fast as the charger you do get in the box. It's only marginally more convenient to set a phone on a little tray than it is to plug it in, so the list of positives has never really been high enough to justify mass adoption.

Samsung's recent phones have included a new kind of wireless charging — dubbed Fast Wireless Charging — which aimed to do something about the charging rate. With more Samsung phones arriving with this Fast Wireless support, we decided to take a look at the difference between these new chargers and the older Qi chargers from the Nexus 5 days.

Your average wireless charger

Qi and Powermat chargers have been around for a while, and while most of them look like small platters you connect Micro-USB cables to there are a few that have drifted from this design. Zens has a cool Qi car charger you just slip your phone into, Fonesalesman makes a battery pack with a Qi coil on top, and the list goes on. The problem with these chargers is rarely design, and usually output. These chargers had a maximum output of 5V/1A, which charges a Galaxy S7 from 9% to 100% in about five hours.

This is fine if you're charging your phone overnight, or if you're leaving your phone at your desk all day during work, but when your power cable can replenish 30% of your battery in 10 minutes that wireless charger becomes a lot more difficult to justify. The only real benefit here is less stress on your Micro-USB or USB-C port, which is frequently not worth the cost of a wireless charging accessory. Even a really cool one.

Fast Wireless Charging

Setting the same Galaxy S7 on a new Samsung Fast Wireless charger offers a mostly similar experience. You get a notification that your phone is charging wirelessly with a fun animation, and the phone starts charging. There's a small indicator for faster charging, like you get with Samsung's included rapid charger, but the results are a little different.

On a Fast Wireless charger, our Galaxy S7 charged from 9% to 100% in just over two hours, cutting the total charge time in half. A quick look at power input through Ampere confirmed that Fast Wireless Charging was delivering almost exactly twice the amount of energy to the phone. This isn't quite as fast as a rapid charger, which will take this same Galaxy S7 from 9% to 100% in 90 minutes, but it's still pretty great when compared to the alternative.

Should you upgrade?

Samsung's Fast Wireless Charger certainly delivers a much faster charge than the previous generation of Qi and Powermat chargers, but it's still an additional accessory you need to buy for your phone. That means shelling out around $50 for one of these accessories from Samsung, or keeping your eye out for a deal on third-part Fast Wireless Chargers. Now that Fast Wireless chargers exist for the house and car, it may be worth considering a full replacement to wireless charging. On the other hand, your included power cable still delivers the fastest overall charge.

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1 week ago

Visually stunning puzzler Pavilion makes debut exclusively on SHIELD TV

8

Discover the mysterious world of Pavilion on your Nvidia SHIELD Android TV!

Fans of the Nvidia SHIELD will get a rare exclusive look at a brand new indie title, as Pavilion makes its debut exclusively for the Android TV console today, available on the Google Play Store for $10.

Pavilion is a beautiful "fourth-person puzzler", which drops you and the main character into a mysterious world without any text instructions, backstory or really any context at all. With no tutorials or guides, players explore and interact with objects in the beautifully crafted levels as an omnipresent orb, as you try to help the A.I.-controlled main character work through intricate puzzles.

The real standout here is the beautiful, hand-drawn 2D levels, which has earned the game developers at Visiontrick Media heaps of praise over the past year. The environments are rich with fine details and take on a dreamlike aesthetic that runs throughout the game. Accompanying the beautiful images is a wonderfully ambient soundtrack that blends environmental sounds with a calming musical score. Taken as a whole, Pavilion's sounds and visuals create a fully-immersive experience.

After a week of SHIELD exclusivity, Pavilion will launch on Steam and the Humble Store on September 22. The game will hit consoles such as the PlayStation 4 and mobile Android devices later in the year. This release is called Chapter One, so we can also expect more Pavilion puzzles in 2017.

Check out the launch trailer to prepare yourself for an otherworldly gaming experience!

Android Gaming

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1 week ago

Grab an unlocked HTC One A9 and 15000mAh power bank for just $360

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Newegg is currently offering the unlocked HTC One A9 in topaz gold for just $360, and to sweeten the deal you can also score a free 15000mAh power bank with your purchase. The HTC One A9 has 32GB of internal storage and 3GB of RAM under the 5-inch display. HTC has already stated the One A9 will be receiving an update to Android Nougat in the future, which makes this an even better deal.

If the $140 savings on the phone isn't enough, the free 15000mAh power bank sweetens it even further. This will help you keep it charged while on the go, ensuring you don't run out of power. This deal is only available for a limited time, so be sure to act quick if you are interested.

See at Newegg

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1 week ago

Riptide GP: Renegade, a beginner's guide

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High-speed racing thrills: wheels not required.

It was 20 years ago when games like Wave Race 64 for the N64, and the Jet Moto series for PlayStation proving that racing games need not be confined to the asphalt track. In the time since, notwithstanding a few sequels and reboot attempts, not much has been done with the jet-ski racing genre.

Developers Vector Unit had done their part to breathe new life into the genre. Their first title, Hydro Thunder Hurricane, was a surprise hit on the Xbox Live Arcade. Since then, they've turned their focus to bringing console-quality racing to Android and other mobile platforms. Their latest game, Riptide GP: Renegade, is the third in the series and a guaranteed blast of nostalgia for fans of Wave Race 64 or Jet Moto.

Set in not-too-distant future where water is seemingly everywhere and rocket-powered hydrojet racing is apparently a huge big deal, Riptide GP: Renegade is a visually stunning game featuring outstanding water physics and a great sense of speed. There are multiple single player and multiplayer options to choose from — a story-based Career mode where you must redeem your racer's reputation after a run-in with the law, as well as leaderboard challenges, quick races, and both online and local split-screen multiplayer options — which help to justify its $2.99 price in the Google Play Store.

But before you dive in, we've compiled our best tips for beginners so you can leave your opponents in your wake.

Control is everything

If you're playing Riptide GP: Renegade on your phone, by default you'll be stuck using the all-too-common tilt steering controls. The tilt control scheme is quite apropos, given the riders really lean into their turns on their hydrojets. Unfortunately, it's just hart to steer precisely — more than fine in games when you're drag racing a car down a flat strip. But when you're dealing with the choppy waterways in Riptide GP, the slightest angle difference can fling you way off your preferred line and, given how unrelenting the AI, likely knock you out of a podium finish. Fortunately, you also have the option of using a Bluetooth gamepad.

The first time you play Riptide GP with a controller, the added control an analog stick allows is instantly noticeable. Making small tweaks as you line up an epic jump suddenly involves less guesswork than finding the sweet spot with the tilt controls.

Using a controller also lets you pull off stunts more efficiently. With the default control scheme, you swipe with both thumbs in tandem to pull off stunts in the air. That works just fine. But again, the tactile responsiveness of the sticks and the sheer fact that your thumbs naturally rest right on them as you play just makes pulling off tricks that much faster and easier.

And of course, if you ever want to make use of split-screen multiplayer — a rarity on console games these days and nearly unheard of for mobile games — you'll need at least two (up to four) gamepads. For what it's worth, Riptide GP: Renegade also plays fantastically on the Nvidia Shield TV Box, so you can play with friends without cramming around your tablet.

Master the motions of the ocean

As Vector Unit boasts on the Google Play page for Riptide GP: Renegade, "Every race is different because the surface you race on is always changing."

This is very true, and the outstanding water physics are one of the features that makes this game worth checking out. But they can make each race completely unpredictable in a bad way. If you awkwardly bounce off an opponent's wake or don't properly prepare for that massive wave coming your way, you're bound to be flung well off course, or into something that will cause your rider to crash.

The problem is the learning curve for mastering how to maintain top speeds through choppy sections is pretty high. Considering you often need a perfect run to finish first, knowing how to read the water and, most importantly, how to quickly recover when you're thrown off course is crucial. In the end, you'll have to play through each track multiple times to figure out your best lines through the choppiest bits so you can keep up with your competition.

Tricks are cool, but upgrades are more important

Every time you level up your rider in Career mode, you earn skill points. Skill points can be spent to unlock different upgrades for your rider, including a bunch of super cool tricks. Once you start collecting skill points and checking out everything that's available, you're going to be tempted to spend them on a flashy new trick because landing tricks during a race is how you fill up your boost bar — the crazier the stunt, the more boost you receive.

But you should really hold off on upgrading your bag of tricks until you've snagged the first three skill point upgrades on the list: Boost Bonus, Boost Start, and Drafting. These three upgrades are absolutely necessary to keep up with your opponents as you progress through Career mode.

Boost Bonus increases the length of your boosts, which is crucial for when you're trying to pass opponents down the final stretch, or when you bail and need to get back up to speed. Boost Start gives you the option to tap the boost icon right when the lights turn green at the start of the race for an acceleration boost off the line. Drifting lets you get a minor speed boost when you're riding behind your opponents, indicated by wind effects.

Drifting seems to be the most important of the three, as once you get good at following your opponent's lines you can use the added speed from drifting to blast past them at the perfect moment.

There are three levels for each upgrade, which become available at rider levels 2, 5 and 10. Ensuring you have the skill points saved up to unlock these crucial upgrades will be key for a smooth progression through Career mode.

Don't trip yourself up with tricks

On the topic of tricks, you'll soon learn to use them sparingly and strategically. The basic set of tricks are typically easy to do off of every jump, wave, or drop — but they barely fill the boost meter. This will lead you to take more risks and try to squeeze a trick into every jump. Do not do this.

The risk-reward for tricks is pretty steep. Sure, filling the boost meter can help you zip past an opponent on a straightaway, or recover after taking a speed-killing sharp turn. However, if you don't finish the trick before you hit the water, you crash causing the rider to go flying.

You'll quickly learn how impossible it is to fully recover from a crash in Riptide GP: Renegade. If you're in first place and you crash, you'll likely drop down to fourth. If you ride clean for the remainder of the race, you might be able to claw back up to second place, but getting back to the front of the pack is incredibly hard.

The AI is just not as prone to messing up their stunts, so you really got to be strategic when to pulling off tricks. If you didn't hit a jump at max speed, you're probably better off just taking the jump, forgoing collecting some boost, and focusing on maintaining speed and lining up the next section of the course.

Find all the shortcuts

Vector Unit did a great job with the level design for all the courses in the game, throwing in a bunch of objects to interact with and at least one or two secret shortcuts on every track.

Finding shortcuts isn't too hard, as long as you keep an eye on your surroundings as you race. Our best tip for discovering and mastering shortcuts is to really explore the courses outside of the competitive races in Career mode or multiplayer. Pick a track in Quick Race mode and take a slow, leisurely tour. Think you saw one? Turn around and check it out. You'll quickly notice the off-map paths, and can learn their twists and turns at your own pace. Once you've mastered them, you can incorporate them into your competitive races and — hopefully — cut out in front of the other racers.

But just like pulling off tricks, you really have to be confident and strategic with using shortcuts. Try to cut into a shortcut too late and you risk bailing and making things much worse for yourself.

Got any other tips?

Have you played Riptide GP: Renegade? Let us know your favorite tips in the comments!

Android Gaming

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1 week ago

Awesome early access games available on Gear VR

What Early Access games are best to try?

Early access games give players the chance to check out games that aren't quite polished yet, or ready for mass consumption. You may have seen them over on Steam, without realizing there is an entire category of them available for play on your Gear VR. There are over a dozen different games and experiences that you can take a look at, and we've gathered the best of the best. Best of all, each game that we talk about here is available for the low, low price of free.

Read more at VR Heads!

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1 week ago

'Safe' Galaxy Note 7s may use a different battery icon

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Galaxy Note 7 power consumption

New Galaxy Note 7s will reportedly use a green battery icon, not white — but will it make any real difference?

As Samsung prepares to replace potentially explosive Galaxy Note 7 phones with new versions, it seems the company is considering new ways help Note owners know whether their device is safe or not. Now it appears a visual change to the phone's software may reassure Note 7 owners (and possibly airlines, aviation authorities and others) that their phones are safe.

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1 week ago

OnePlus 3 vs. Honor 8: When $399 is a bargain

104

Which is better: the OnePlus 3, or the Honor 8?

I can't tell the last time we've been asked by so many people for one specific comparison. This is the hype machine at work, with two phones that aesthetically couldn't be more different artificially paired by the most important consideration of all, price.

The two phones I am talking about are, of course, the OnePlus 3 and the Honor 8, both priced at $399 and offering well-rounded spec sheets that jump off the page in one more than one area. But which one is better depends on what you value in a smartphone, and how amenable you are to a software that errs on the side of eccentric (in this case the Honor 8, but potentially soon the OnePlus 3, too).

(There's another phone that should be in this comparisons, the ZTE Axon 7, a pretty great $399 phone that does most everything well. Suffice it to say, we'll be including it in future roundups, but the high-profile nature of the OnePlus 3 and Honor 8 necessitate a head-to-head.)

Hardware

These two phones couldn't be more different unless one was made of, say, maple syrup. Fine, I won't go that far but for the same price you're getting a drastically different chassis and, for the most part, internal makeup.

Let's start with the more traditional of the two, the OnePlus 3. Eschewing the metal-and-sandpaper combination of its predecessor, the OnePlus 3 is a beautifully-crafted all-metal phone with soft angles, visible antenna lines, and a small camera bump. I would say it looks like an iPhone except that an iPhone looks like every other phone these days, so let's split the difference and say though in losing some of its distinctiveness the OnePlus 3 appears mature and confident its averageness.

The OnePlus 3 is a big phone, though: at 5.5-inches, with a hefty bottom bezel to house the front fingerprint sensor, it's not a one hand-friendly phone for many. And while its 1080p display has been criticized, I'm a fan: it's sharp and saturated, with lovely colors, ample (albeit less than remarkable) brightness and endless viewing angles. Below the phone lives a single speaker, a headphone port, and a USB-C port. What's remarkable about the OnePlus 3 is how unremarkable it is, and how much value you get for the price.

The Honor 8 approaches that value-conscious narrative from a very different place. All diminutive form factor and reflective glass, the phone is derived from the more-expensive, and arguably less interesting, Huawei P9. The 5.2-inch 1080p display may be slightly sharper than the OnePlus 3's, but they are comparable in most other respects; it is vivid and responsive, with excellent viewing angles and good-not-great maximum brightness.

I find it fascinating that both phones get to a similar place from such divergent designs.

In my hands, despite the slippery and fingerprint-soaking nature of its rear glass, the Honor 8 gets my pick, mainly for its size. The bottom ports are mirror images of the OnePlus 3's, with the same etched mono speaker grill, USB-C and headphone port. And while the larger phone boasts a mute toggle on its left side above the volume keys — another similarity to the iPhone — the Honor 8 looks like nothing I've ever used, especially from the back. With dual cameras (more on that later, obviously), and a rear fingerprint sensor that doubles as a button, this thing has gimmick written all over it.

And yet there is nothing gimmicky about either of those features (well, nothing much). Let's start with the rear fingerprint sensor: it's very fast, one of the fastest I've used, and combined with some of EMUI's gestures and button combinations, it's a joy to use. Seriously, it's an honor to use the Honor 8's fing... OK, I'll show myself out.

Above it, the dual 12MP rear camera sensors are intriguing to look at, but work very simply: one takes a photo in color, and the other in monochrome. Though it's possible to do all kinds of depth-related tricks in Huawei's convoluted camera app, left on Auto the two sensors combine to take just great daytime photos. But so does the OnePlus 3's 16MP shooter. Neither are wonderful at night, and don't compare well to the kings of low-light, the Galaxy S7 and Note 7, but that's to be expected from phones nearly half the cost.

It may be trite to say, but I find it fascinating that both phones get to a similar place from such divergent designs. The Honor 8 is slippery to a fault, but otherwise incredibly comfortable and perfect for one-handed use. The OnePlus 3 is a known quantity if you've used a big phone over the past couple of years. But I couldn't tell you which is the better phone just from holding and eyeing them; each will attract a particular type of user and you'll know who you are right away.

Internally, things are a bit different. The OnePlus 3, with its Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 chip, is more powerful than the Honor 8, which boasts a Kirin 950. All things being equal, the differences between the two chips, at least from a CPU perspective, are slight. Where the two really differ is in the speed of their graphics processors, with the Adreno 530 in the OnePlus 3 coming out way ahead. In real-world comparisons the differences are small, but you should know that going in to the purchase that the long-term prospects for the Snapdragon are slightly more auspicious than the Kirin 950, which isn't even the fastest variant in Hisilicon's current lineup.

Both phones, however, have ample amounts of RAM, the Honor 8 4GB and the OP3 6GB, and provide a fluid experience. Short of comparing benchmarking (which I did, and the OnePlus 3 came out ahead by a small margin in every instance) I found little between them, even though the OnePlus 3 has what appears to be a software layer with considerably less overhead than Huawei's divisive EMUI 4.1.

With dual cameras and a rear fingerprint sensor that doubles as a button, the Honor 8 has gimmick written all over it — but they're not gimmicks at all.

The OnePlus 3 does have double the storage — 64GB to 32GB in the Honor 8 — though it lacks a microSD slot for expandable storage. But in lieu of expandable storage, it has an extra slot for a second SIM card, which is increasingly useful to many travelers, both in the East and West. Honor offers a dual-SIM variant in Europe, but forgoes that option in the U.S., where such a configuration is uncommon.

Software

Here's where the two phones diverge: Honor's EMUI 4.1 layer, though based on Android 6.0, is not great. It's good in places, sure, but there are areas, like the notification shade and app drawer-lacking launcher, that feel, to a Canadian used to doing things a certain way, change for change's sake.

The OnePlus 3, on the other hand, looks remarkably like a Nexus device from a software perspective. But there are small hints, from the optional Shelf that stands in for Google Now in the launcher, to support for app-launching gestures, that remind you this is made by a company influenced as much by Xiaomi as by Google.

My biggest issue with the Honor 8's software is the unabashed disturbing of the sacred notification shade.

Let's be clear: there are some great ideas in the Honor 8's software. In particular, I like the way Huawei makes full use of the rear fingerprint sensor-button combo to do things like quickly launch apps, run shortcuts, or (my personal favorite) lower the notification shade. Every phone with a rear fingerprint sensor should do this (looking at you, LG). And I'm not outright dismissing the no-app-drawer launcher idea, either: to some extent the app drawer is an anachronism, a throwback to a much earlier time in the Android world. But this only works as long as you keep things organized.

My biggest issue with the Honor 8's software is the blatant — there's no right way to say this — fuckery of the notification area. Persistent notifications, such as a Google Maps direction banner, are egregiously squashed and basically unusable. Other apps push notifications as banners that overlay in ugly, disruptive ways over the active app. It's all just bad, and wrong.

The good news is that it seems like Huawei is slowly learning, since good guy Alex Dobie tells me things used to be a lot worse in the Huawei space. Being the first EMUI-based device I've ever used, I will take him at his word and be thankful I didn't have to suffer through that super awkward phase. Even better, EMUI 5.0, based on Nougat, is reportedly much better, and has reverted the notification shade to something more along the lines of what Google intended for Nougat. We shall see.

The flip side is that though OxygenOS 3 has grown into a pretty powerful, stock-plus-useful-features build of Android Marshmallow, there are bad tidings that suggest, due to internal unrest, the company's software is now being overseen by the team in charge of the much less Western market-friendly HydrogenOS. OnePlus assured me that things won't change for the worse, and any changes to OxygenOS going forward will be measured, but I'm not so sure.

Either way, I'd give the overall edge to OnePlus here, even if its gesture support isn't quite as good.

Camera

The funny thing about the cameras on both of these devices is that, like their designs, on paper they couldn't be more different, and yet their output is remarkably similar.

As I said earlier, the Honor 8 sports two 12-megapixel sensors, one color and one monochrome. You don't have to toggle anything to take advantage of the second sensor's optics, and it's certainly true that it confers an ample amount of additional detail to daylight photos. I was really impressed with the photos I took on the Honor 8, and that's not even getting into the myriad modes, options and toggles in Huawei's mostly good camera app. Yes, there's an excellent manual mode, too.

The OnePlus 3 takes great photos, too, in most situations. It has the advantage of boasting optical image stabilization, which the Honor 8 lacks, so low-light photos are slightly better (though still not great). In fact, I found that the OnePlus 3 takes better indoor photos as well, since its OIS is able to keep the sensor more stable at lower shutter speeds, preventing the blur that, in the same scene, crept into the Honor 8.

OnePlus 3 (left) / Honor 8 (right) — click image to view larger

In daylight, the Honor tends to shoot a little bit warmer and deals with areas of high contrast a little better, but there isn't a huge difference between them. And while the number of features in the Honor 8's camera eclipses that of the OnePlus 3, the latter's is much easier to master. At night, the OnePlus 3 uses its OIS to great effect, eking much sharper photos than the Honor 8. It also ramps up the ISO, which offers a vividness that, for some reason — even with two sensors — the Honor 8 isn't willing to do. The above nighttime shot sees the Honor 8 stick to ISO800 at 1/15; the OP3 ratchets up the sensitivity to ISO2000 at 1/17, and produces a much better photo as a result. Impressively, despite the increased light sensitivity, grain isn't an issue on the larger device.

In all, despite the extra sensor, I don't think the Honor 8 offers a superior photo-taking experience, from the software stack to the hardware itself. The OnePlus 3 consistently takes photos that, in my review, I preferred over its Huawei-built counterpart. That's not to say the differences are huge, but they're certainly noticeable.

Which should you buy? OnePlus 3

That's the big question, isn't it? Both the OnePlus 3 and the Honor 8 are surprisingly strong phones for $399, and each has its advantages over the other. While the Honor 8 is arguably more visually arresting, with its reflective glass backing that, especially in blue, draws the eye, the OnePlus 3 is more robust and is more likely to withstand a fall. It's also got a faster processor and slightly better camera, with software that doesn't feel as painted on as the Honor 8.

See at Hihonor

It remains to be seen whether the shakeup within the OnePlus software division negatively affects the quality of its releases in the long term. It's also going to be interesting to see whether Huawei can significantly improve the quality of its own EMUI and — even more important — push it out to the Honor 8 at a decent speed.

See at OnePlus

Until then, you can't go wrong with either phone, but you can go less wrong with the OnePlus 3.

OnePlus 3

OnePlus

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