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4 days ago

These are the Android Central team's favorite things from CES 2018!

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CES sign

With so much to see, it's easy to find something to love at CES 2018.

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CES 2018 has come to a close, and Android Central as a whole handed out Best of CES Awards to some fantastic products.

But the AC team is large and diverse, as is CES itself, so we wanted to round up the one favorite announcement from each of us here at AC to tell you how we all saw the show personally. That means some things that we saw personally at the show, some we lusted after from a far, and a couple that go beyond the Android and mobile world we typically deal with. These are the Android Central team's favorite things from CES 2018!

Alex Dobie

The new generation of Google Assistant products with displays represent something really interesting and new. Google framed its first major CES presence around "Hey Google," the new, slightly less awkward hotword for Assistant, but bringing the service's AI smarts to displays that aren't your phone was the shows biggest development for me.

Google is already making plenty of headway in enabling Assistant in Bluetooth earbuds from countless manufacturers, and at CES we saw Assistant make its debut on the long-neglected Android Auto as well. But devices like the Lenovo Smart Display give us the clearest picture of where Google sees Assistant going as a platform, when it's not limited to audio because it's using earbuds, or a limited subset of features because you're driving.

Before long I'm sure we'll see a similar interface replicated on TVs, Chromecasts and other devices, and that process starts with the early Assistant builds we played with at CES this week.

Andrew Martonik

I could very easily choose several different things here and have good justifications for doing so. Most of them will be covered by others here. So just to pick a less-than-popular one, I'm going with the Sony Xperia XA2 and XA2 Ultra.

I think Sony does so many awesome things with its phones. It just also happens to get in its own way with a lot of stupid things, like not having fingerprint sensors in the U.S. and overpricing phones with very iterative designs. But the Xperia XA2 and XA2 Ultra are promising because they show Sony's still up for a fight, and that fight will happen in the U.S. alongside other markets — even when most would have assumed it would be understandable for it to leave the U.S. market entirely.

The XA2 and XA2 Ultra have fantastic feeling and looking hardware — now with fingerprint sensors — and also subtle changes like much larger batteries, actually interesting cameras (at least on the front here), subtle hardware tweaks for usability rather than just style, and other increasingly niche features like a headphone jack. All while having really clean software and design that's still unique and striking. And this is in a pair of phones that will retail for around $400.

Sure these phones aren't industry-changing titans, but they do indicate Sony's going to keep trying. Maybe its upcoming flagships will take these cues and run with them — and that's exciting to me. For a show that's increasingly about more than "just phones," Sony definitely used CES as a nice little nod to the phone lovers.

Sony Xperia XA2 and XA2 Ultra hands-on: No more quirks, these are just good phones

Tom Westrick

Optoma 4K UHD HDR Laser UST

My favorite announcement from CES has nothing to do with Android or Google. Optoma is a company known for making great projectors at various prices, and they did announce the first projector with Alexa built-in. Part of the appeal of projectors (for me at least) is that most projectors are just dumb displays that can be expanded as I see fit, so I don't care for that model. What did interest me is Optoma's 4K UHD HDR Laser UST.

That's a mouthful of a product name, but it tells you everything you need to know. "UST" stands for "ultra short throw", which is a type of projector that can be placed on a TV stand instead of needing to be mounted on a wall or ceiling. Those projectors can display almost straight up, and it makes for an easier set up. The Optoma UST projector is priced at $5,000, which isn't anyone's definition of cheap. At the same time, Sony's latest UST 4K projector is $30,000, so the Optoma projector is a much easier pill to swallow. I'm probably going to wait until next year before taking a serious look at 4K projectors, but it's great to know they're coming down in price.

Ara Wagoner

Android Auto wireless connection

I don't have any one true favorite at CES this year, but I do have a few things that stood out among the blackouts, the robot strippers, and everyone trying not to say what the F in BFGD really means:

  • I refuse to leave the house without my Bluetooth headphones, so Qualcomm announcing a new SoC that aims to help make Bluetooth headphones sound better and last longer on a single charge is fantastic. However, as more and more phones ditch 3.5mm headphone jacks and users become more reliant on Bluetooth to keep their tunes flowing all day, this is the announcement at CES that could impact the most people. Getting all-day battery, crystal-clear sound, and Google Assistant shouldn't cost the $250 JBL is charging.
  • Android Auto going wireless is great, and I can't wait for it to come to more carmakers. No, really, I can't: I've been waiting three years to buy a Honda CR-V with Android Auto. I can't wait another three years to get wireless Android Auto.
  • I use my Shield Android TV every day, and if I could get one of those Big — Friendly — Gaming Displays with the best Android TV inside, I would probably never get anything done again. I use my OTA antenna maybe twice a year, I use the Blu-ray player maybe three times a year, so really, all I need is a massive screen and Android TV.

Daniel Bader

Amazon Echo Dot and Google Home Mini

My take on CES this year is a bit different than the rest. I am not going to highlight a single product or service but an idea: that despite the platform wars still going strong, they appear to be well-established and no longer in danger of being toppled.

For example, Google Assistant was everywhere at this year's CES, but it didn't preclude Alexa, which continues to slowly creep toward smart home ubiquity. SmartThings is becoming the overarching brand for all of Samsung's IoT ambitions, while Bixby, for better or worse, will play front-end to all those commands, from washing machines to televisions. LG's webOS, now in its fourth year, is a stable and good-looking smart TV platform with plenty of interesting features, and LG has added an element of AI to the proceedings with ThinQ. Even Microsoft's Cortana and Apple's Siri/HomeKit was well represented at the show this year, and there appears to be room for all of them to live in harmony.

With expansion to screens and cars, Google Assistant is officially everywhere

Marc Lagace

Since CES is all about featuring tech and toys I'll likely never get to mess around with, I tend to be drawn to crazy concept products like Razer's Project Linda, which aims to turn your Razer Phone into a slick-looking laptop.

Turning a smartphone into a computer itself isn't a new concept, but I can't help admiring Razer's design choices here. I thought Razer was simply trying to buck the latest flagship trends with a brick-shaped phone lacking curved edges. Razer turned around and used the industrial design of the phone to complement the laptop hardware perfectly with its front-facing speakers and side button fingerprint sensor. I really don't even care how it runs, it just looks downright cool and an encouraging adaptation for the Razer Phone — and hopefully a glimpse at Razer's future endeavors building Android devices.

And here I thought Razer could top themselves after last year's Project Valerie laptop ...

Razer's Project Linda turns your phone into a laptop

Joe Maring

My favorite announcement from CES 2018 is easily Lenovo's Smart Display. I use my Google Home on a daily basis, and while it works perfectly fine, I've been yearning for Google to finally take on the Echo Show since its announcement last June.

I'll probably end up waiting to see what Google Home-branded Smart Display we end up getting this fall before handing over any cash, but Lenovo's caught my attention the most so far. The bamboo back on the 10-inch model looks stunning, the ability to stand it up vertically or horizontally thanks to the funky wedge is fantastic, and the physical switch to cover the camera lens is ingenious.

Actually, now that I think about it, maybe I will buy one of these as soon as Lenovo lets me.

Lenovo's Smart Display is the Google Assistant-powered Echo Show we've been waiting for

Jerry Hildenbrand

65 inches of 4K G-Sync enabled 120Hz gaming pixels from ASUS.

The ROG Swift PG65 is one of the new NVIDIA Shield TV enabled giant gaming monitors and it looks like a big old box of Viagra. They have me counting all the money I can find in hopes that it's enough. (It won't be. It never is.) I currently use the second input on my gaming display with a Shield TV, so I'm already loving the way you can flip back and forth between a game and a movie. But my dinky little 27-inch gaming monitor is a far cry from 65 inches, so I'm sure I'll like it even better.

Here's hoping that the "later this year" release date is somewhere between the time it takes to save up the cash and before I see something else shiny and blow it.

NVIDIA partners with Acer, ASUS and HP for new 65-inch 4K HDR gaming displays that run Android TV

Hayato Huseman

Android Auto

I've been looking for a good Android Auto head unit for my car, so I'm pretty excited about Pioneer's new models. They're the first head units to offer wireless Android Auto (each unit creates a WiFi network for your phone to connect to), finally bypassing the need for cable routing and the risk of compatibility issues. You can also just say "Hey Google" to access Assistant hands-free, which is great for the road.

There's also that Vivo phone with the fingerprint sensor under the display. I mean, come on. You know you're excited to see that Synaptics module work its way into more mainstream devices.

Android Auto is fantastic with the addition of Google Assistant and wireless connectivity

Russell Holly

HTC Vive Pro

I love my HTC Vive, but you better believe I will be first in line to upgrade to this new Vive Pro HTC announced. The resolution bump is going to make the headset that much more immersive, the lighter body is going to make it way easier to use for longer, and the baked in headphones sound amazing.

This is an improvement on the original Vive in every way, and when you add in the wireless adapter that will be available later this year it's going to be an entirely new VR experience for me. I am genuinely excited for what happens in VR gaming this year, and a lot of it is going to happen through that new Vive.

Hands-on with the HTC Vive Pro

Your favorites

That's the list that the folks here at Android Central loved. What were your favorites from CES 2018? Let us know in the comments!

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5 days ago

Action Launcher v33 adds impressive 'AdaptiveZoom' app animations

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AdaptiveZoom might be our new favorite app opening animation of all time.

Action Launcher has long been one of our favorite third-party Android launchers, and one of the reasons for this is that developer Chris Lacey relentlessly adds new features and settings for us to spend endless hours playing with. The latest v33 update for Action Launcher keeps this trend going, and the big feature this time around is something called "AdaptiveZoom."

AdaptiveZoom is a new app opening animation for Action Launcher, and while these animations aren't anything new, AdaptiveZoom is unique in the fact that it naturally fills your screen with the background color of adaptive app icons as they load. It really is quite gorgeous, and it might result in me mindlessly opening apps on my home screen just to see the animation over and over and over and over.

In addition to AdaptiveZoom, v33 also adds Android 8.1's bounce animation when opening up the app drawer, improved animations and appearance of the home screen indicator, the ability to delete everything on your home screens at once and use empty home screens, and a re-enabling of Action Launcher's ability to use Android's Accessibility API.

Lastly, Action Launcher's Supporter program has been updated with three new exclusive wallpapers and AdaptivePack is being pushed to v4.0 with support for 3500 apps and 1100 unique icons.

Action Launcher's best hidden treasures: Covers, Shutters, and Quicks

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5 days ago

ZTE plans on releasing more foldable phones like the Axon M

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Axon M will be a series of foldable phones – not just phones with two screens.

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Towards the end of 2017, ZTE made a surprise announcement with the Axon M. The Axon M is the latest phone to tackle the dual-screen smartphone, and it's the first big attempt we've seen since the Kyocera Echo back in 2011. The Axon M is not a perfect phone, but unlike a lot of the competition, it took a risk to try something different.

In an interview with Engadget, ZTE's Vice President of Marketing, Jeff Yee, confirmed that the Axon M will not be the last of its kind. Yee says that ZTE will release successors to the M, and throughout the interview, Yee reiterates that the Axon M is a foldable phone, not one with two screens.

While the current iteration of the Axon M very clearly has two separate screens, Yee says that ZTE's end goal is to release a phone with one single display that can fold in and out depending on how much screen real-estate you want to use.

It's unlikely that the next version of the Axon M will utilize this tech, but even so, it's clear that this is the direction the mobile industry is very quickly heading. Samsung is reportedly planning to start production of its foldable smartphone by the end of 2018, and ZTE likely won't be the last company to follow in its footsteps.

Aside from the single foldable screen, what else would you like to see from future Axon M releases?

Samsung said to start producing foldable smartphone in November

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5 days ago

Android's notification dots are coming to Chrome OS

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A new commit suggests that Chrome OS will soon get Android Oreo's notification dots.

Oreo wasn't the biggest Android update ever released, but one of the features it did add was notification dots. Notification dots are those colorful circles that appear next to your app icons, and long-pressing on an app with one of these reveals the notification(s) for that app above your app shortcuts.

A new commit was recently discovered by Chrome Story, and it suggests that these notification dots will soon make their way to Chrome OS. The commit itself is fairly long, but one of the highlights that leads us to believe notification dots are coming to Chrome OS includes "ShelfView::OnShelfItemChanged handles update the icons indicator."

There are also a few comments regarding the commit, including "Add a notification for the app", "Pin the app after the notification posts", and "Draws an indicator in the top right corner of the image to represent an active notification."

It's unclear when exactly notification dots will make their way to Chrome OS, but it's possible they'll be added within the coming months.

Chrome OS will finally let you run Android apps in the background

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5 days ago

This could be our first look at the LG G7

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Spoiler alert – it's a black bar with slim bezels.

Samsung and LG are often the first two companies to release major Android flagships for the year, and we're expecting this to be the case once again in 2018. The Galaxy S9 has already leaked in just about every way possible, but details on the G7 have been fewer and further between.

TigerMobiles recently shared a render of what's supposedly our first look at the LG G7, and while it's impossible to say for sure if this is what the phone will end up looking like, there's nothing here that looks too far-fetched.

LG will more than likely be sticking with the 18:9 aspect ratio that it introduced with the G6 last year, and although we can't tell from the render, we're expecting an OLED panel to finally make its way to the G-series. It appears that LG will be trimming down bezels quite a bit compared to the G6, and if you look at the top left of the phone, you'll see two front-facing cameras.

The LG G7 should be announced at some point in February, and according to a previous statement from an LG spokesperson, it'll actually feature a completely different name and ditch the G-series branding.

Assuming this render is legit, does it have you excited about LG's 2018 flagship?

LG will stop releasing new phones every year

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5 days ago

New bill aims to block U.S. government agencies from communicating over Huawei or ZTE network equipment

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H.R. 4747 wants to stop government contracts with telecom companies that use equipment from Huawei or ZTE.

Huawei and ZTE are familiar around these parts because they make some pretty good Android phones, but the bulk of their business comes from the networking equipment the two companies manufacture and sell. Worldwide, both Huawei and ZTE are known for providing equipment like network switches that perform well and aren't crazy expensive. Their gear is popular, with Huawei being the top seller of networking equipment and ZTE coming in at number five — both companies are very important to China's economy.

Past findings show a strong relationship between both companies and China's Communist Party.

Another thing both companies have in common is controversy when it comes to the very same equipment. A 2011 congressional investigation found that Huawei and ZTE were both "directly subject to direction by the Chinese Communist Party," and former NSA chief General Michael V. Hayden has said that Huawei shared "intimate and extensive knowledge of foreign telecommunications systems" with the Chinese state. These allegations led to bans and regulations against any government agencies buying equipment from either company.

A new bill introduced by Texas Republican Michael Conway dubbed "H.R. 4747 — 115th Congress: Defending U.S. Government Communications Act" aims to take things a step further and block any government agency from using a network service provider that has Huawei or ZTE equipment installed. Specifically, service providers with any of the following would be banned from government contracts should the bill pass:

  • Telecommunications equipment produced by Huawei Technologies Company or ZTE Corporation (or any subsidiary or affiliate of such entities).
  • Telecommunications services provided by such entities or using such equipment.
  • Telecommunications equipment or services produced or provided by an entity that the head of the relevant agency reasonably believes to be an entity owned or controlled by, or otherwise connected to, the government of a covered foreign country.

Language in the bill references the past findings of Huawei and ZTE's relationship with the Chinese government, but many U.S. officials are also concerned with trade between both companies and other countries that aren't exactly allies, like Syria, Cuba, or Iran. Last year ZTE was fined over $1 billion for violating U.S.-Iran sanctions and a current investigation into Huawei's dealings with Syria, Cuba, Iran, and Sudan is underway by the U.S. Treasury Department.

This news comes on the heels of AT&T and Verizon dropping support for the Huawei Mate 10 after concerns were reportedly expressed from the Senate and House Intelligence Committees about the companies ties to China's Communist Party. It's also not unusual to see government officials calling for product bans when they think a hostile government may be involved with a company, as we're recently seen with Kaspersky Labs products and Russian spying concerns.

We're unsure how much effect this would have on U.S.-China relations or either company's bottom line, but it surely can't be good news. The bill is currently being considered by a committee and if approved would go before Congress.

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5 days ago

Best Cheap Android Phones in 2018

Best overall

Moto G5 Plus

See at Amazon

Motorola performed yet another pricing miracle with the Moto G5 Plus, the successor to last year's excellent Moto G4 series and a contender for the best affordable smartphone today.

It starts with the excellent 5.2-inch Full HD display, but the real benefit to the G5 Plus this year is the excellent performance and battery life from the combination of a Snapdragon 625 platform and a 3000mAh battery.

Also of note is the improved low-light performance from the 12MP camera, which boasts the same hardware as (and similar results to) the Galaxy S7.

Bottom line: This is the best sub-$250 phone you can buy today, and it's still a great device even if price isn't a factor.

One more thing: Motorola.com is offering the Moto G5 Plus with inexpensive financing if you don't want to pay up front.

Why the Moto G5 Plus is the best

Last year, we recommended the $199.99 Moto G4 over its $249.99 Plus variant, but this year the only distinction is between memory and storage amounts: the Moto G5 Plus comes in either a $199 2GB RAM / 32GB storage version, or a $239 4GB RAM / 64GB storage version — they are otherwise identical.

With either decision, you'll be happy with your purchase. Motorola has changed up the phone's design this year, adding a metal back and a more compact, mature look that complements the Moto Z series, and the excellent 5.2-inch IPS display is much more manageable in one hand. Also more manageable is the improved shape of the front fingerprint sensor, which is turned oblong and considerably easier to activate.

Motorola has also bestowed a fantastic camera on the Moto G5 Plus this year, giving it the same 12MP sensor and lens combination that's in the Galaxy S7 — though the results aren't quite as good. The phone isn't perfect — there's no NFC on the U.S. model, and it still uses the older Micro-USB charging port — but it's close.

Best all-metal

Honor 7X

See at Honor

A big upgrade to the Honor 6X is the Honor 7X, a capable and well-made all-metal budget phone coming in at $199. Launching with Android 7.0-based EMUI 5.1, the device takes everything that made its predecessor good and adds a great new design, an improved dual camera setup, and plenty of power from the Kirin 659 chip and 3GB of RAM. Best of all, the new 5.9-inch 2:1 screen is bright and beautiful, and provides plenty of space for, well, everything!

Bottom-line: A fantastic flagship-like experience at $200.

One more thing: If you're looking to save a bit of money, or get it from Amazon, the Honor 6X is a solid pick at $140.

Best for even less

Moto E4

See at Amazon

The Moto E line has always been about getting a barebones smartphone experience in order to get a super low price, and that's where the Moto E4 still lands. The specs aren't amazing, nor is the physical design, but you get that core Moto DNA that means this is a slick little phone for a great price.

You get a 5-inch HD display, a Snapdragon 425 processor, and 2800mAh battery. But you also get nice-to-haves at this price, like an 8MP auto focus camera and a fingerprint sensor.

It all retails for just $129 brand new, and it's tough to argue with that. Amazon has a Prime Exclusive version for $99, and Verizon's prepaid service charges just $70 for this phone — both are a steal of a deal.

Bottom-line: For a bargain basement price, it's tough to get a phone that performs better or has the features of the Moto E4.

One more thing: Be on the lookout for better deals and sales — this is a phone that will be discounted regularly to entice budget buyers.

Best for battery

Moto E4 Plus

See at Amazon

Whereas you get a lot for your money with the Moto E4, its Plus variant is only slightly more expensive and gives you a bigger screen, slightly more power and, best of all, a massive 5000mAh battery that lasts, well, forever.

Aside from that two (or three) day battery life, you get a decent 13MP rear camera, a nice 5MP front-facing camera with a flash, and Motorola's excellent Android software. The phone is available for a reasonable $139.99 through Amazon's Prime Exclusive series, but its $179.99 MSRP isn't bad, either.

Bottom-line: The Moto E4 Plus is one long-lasting candy handset. Expect two or three days on a single charge.

One more thing: It's compatible with all four major U.S. carriers, including Verizon and Sprint.

Conclusion

If you don't want to spend over $250 and still want a great Android phone, the Moto G5 Plus is the best choice. You don't get the best looking or feeling phone, but it offers a top-notch experience, especially for the price.

Best overall

Moto G5 Plus

See at Amazon

Motorola performed yet another pricing miracle with the Moto G5 Plus, the successor to last year's excellent Moto G4 series and a contender for the best affordable smartphone today.

It starts with the excellent 5.2-inch Full HD display, but the real benefit to the G5 Plus this year is the excellent performance and battery life from the combination of a Snapdragon 625 platform and a 30000mAh battery.

Also of note is the improved low-light performance from the 12MP camera, which boasts the same hardware as (and similar results to) the Galaxy S7.

Bottom line: This is the best sub-$250 phone you can buy today, and it's still a great device even if price isn't a factor.

One more thing: Motorola.com is offering the Moto G5 Plus with inexpensive financing if you don't want to pay up front.

Best Android phones under $400
Best Android phones under $100

Updated January 2018: We've replaced the Honor 6X with its successor, the Honor 7X, and removed the aging Wileyfox Swift 2 X from the list.

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5 days ago

Go hands free in your car with a $7 Aukey air vent car mount

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One of the easiest mounting solutions around.

An Aukey air vent magnetic car mount is down to $6.88 with code AUKEYC38 on Amazon. This mount is normally $13 and only drops this low through the occasional coupon code.

That mount is best for phones around the size and weight of the iPhone 7. If you need something bigger for a phone like the iPhone X, this similar air vent car mount is down to $5.99 with code AUKEYHC5. It sells for $8 without a coupon code.

These car mounts easy secure to one of the air conditioner vents in your car. You then put one of the included magnetic plates between your phone and a case, and you can easily place and remove your phone on the mount. Because there are only magnets holding the phone to the mount, you can rotate it to any angle and easily switch between landscape and portrait mode.

All Aukey products are backed by a two-year warranty.

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5 days ago

Sony Xperia XA2, XA2 Ultra, and L2 now available for pre-order

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Prices start at $249 for the L2 and go up to $449 for the XA2 Ultra.

One of the biggest smartphone announcements of CES 2018 came from Sony in the form of the Xperia XA2, XA2 Ultra, and L2. All three of these are mid-range handsets with pretty typical specifications, but this is the first time in years that Sony has announced phones in the United States with working fingerprint sensors.

Xperia XA2 and XA2 Ultra

Sony previously said that these phones would be available at some point in February, but pre-orders have already gone live in the United States at Best Buy and the United Kingdom through Clove.

Along with the working fingerprint sensors, you'll find a pretty standard array of mid-range specs. The XA2 and XA2 Ultra are the more powerful of the bunch, and each comes with a Snapdragon 630 processor, 1920 x 1080 display, and 23MP rear-facing camera. The XA2 has a 3,300 mAh battery, but the XA2 Ultra kicks things up to 3,580 mAh.

With the Xperia L2, you're getting a lower-res 1280 x 720 display, MediaTek MT6737T processor, and a 3,300 mAh battery.

The Xperia XA2 Ultra is the most expensive of the bunch at $449, the XA2 comes in at $349, and the L2 costs (you guessed it) $249.

See at Best Buy

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5 days ago

Huawei VR2 aims to be the one-stop headset for phone and PC virtual reality

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Huawei VR 2 headset

Huawei is taking another swing at virtual reality, both in viewing and creation.

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Huawei's VR2 headset was unveiled officially in late 2017, but CES 2018 served as a Western debut and the first chance for most people to get their eyes and hands on one. This is Huawei's second take on virtual reality, and it comes in partnership with IMAX (perhaps you've heard of that) instead of Google — yes, this VR headset doesn't run Daydream.

In some ways, that IMAX partnership makes sense, as Huawei is positioning VR2 as more of a competitor with higher-end VR headsets rather than the likes of Daydream View and Samsung Gear VR. This standalone headset has built-in screens rather than a spot for a phone, and that means it takes its data connection via USB cable — it can be powered by a new Mate 10 Pro, or a PC like an HTC Vive.

This is an interesting take on semi-mobile VR, bridging the gap between phones and PCs.

The screens are interestingly LCD, and come in at 3K, or 1440x1600 resolution, per eye. They have a 90Hz refresh rate, which is supposed to smooth out the experience and help with motion sickness if you're someone who faces that issue in VR. I'll say that it was very comfortable and eye strain wasn't an issue for the 15-20 minutes I spent in the experience, though I could notice a little pixelation on the screen still. Being an IMAX partner product the most visually compelling experience was a virtual theater with a handful of action-packed movie trailers playing — it looked (and sounded) fantastic, and was running off of a Mate 10 Pro. The IMAX partnership means the Huawei VR2 has its movies fed directly from IMAX, whereas Google's ongoing IMAX deal simply gives you access in Daydream to some 3D titles that are already in the Play Store.

Huawei also demoed the same headset paired up with a PC and a controller playing a game from Steam, which puts that 90Hz refresh rate to the test and also looked good. In both cases the headset feels comfortable compared to your typical Daydream headset, which makes sense considering it has better weight distribution and a more structured head strap system with tons of padding. The headset felt tight and stable and didn't put pressure on my cheeks or nose. Unfortunately Huawei didn't have the phone-based controller working when I was using it, but it feels near-identical to the latest Gear VR and Daydream View controllers in terms of weight and buttons.

For content creation, Huawei was also showing off its EnVizion 360-degree camera attachment released in 2017. This little pod plugs straight into the USB-C port of your Mate 10 Pro (as shown here) or other recent Huawei phone, and captures photos right into the native gallery. Yes that means your phone is held upside down, but it's not awkward at all — and it means the 360 camera is very compact and easy to stow away when not in use.

This is a nice little 360-degree camera.

The camera captures 5K photos and 2K video from a pair of 13MP wide-angle cameras, and the shots we took (in admittedly bad trade show lighting) looked good on the Mate 10 Pro's display. To my eyes the stitch line between the two cameras was very well hidden, except for the usual spots down near the bottom where you held the phone. The app was useful, but nothing surprising — it basically offered a couple shooting modes, live filters and video recording. That gets the job done. The most important thing was it all seemed very smooth to operate and the process of switching to 360 and capturing took just a few seconds after plugging in.

Huawei's EnVizion 360-degree camera is available online through resellers if you're dying to have one, with prices around $150-200. The Huawei VR2 headset, though, doesn't yet have a release date but the expected price is about $300 — plus the phone or computer to power it, of course. There are a whole lot more moving pieces involved there, including phone- and computer-side software and content partnerships. With a name like IMAX involved you'd hope that Huawei follows through, but we'll have to wait to see future developments on this one.

Huawei Mate 10

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5 days ago

Samsung Gear Sport vs. Fitbit Ionic: Fitness smartwatch showdown

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Samsung and Fitbit have two of the best smartwatches out now for Android users, and we're here to help you determine which is best for your lifestyle.

If you're an Android user and are in the market for a new smartwatch, you're currently in a slightly awkward position. Google doesn't seem to be giving Android Wear any sort of real attention for the time being, and as such, your best bet is to go with third-party solutions.

The Samsung Gear Sport and Fitbit Ionic were both released in late 2017, and they've quickly become two of the best wearables on the market. Samsung's Gear Sport is an evolution (and a shrinking) of the Gear S3 that came out in 2016, and the Ionic is Fitbit's first real shot at the whole smartwatch game.

Both are excellent products, but the one that's best for you will ultimately come down to services and features you're looking to use.

Let's dive in.

Design and fit

As someone with small wrists, I was very pleased to find that both the Gear Sport and Fitbit Ionic aren't oversized like most Android Wear options. The Gear Sport has a round display that sits atop a shiny, metal squircle body, and it's definitely the better looking of the two. The watch doesn't look out of place whether you're at the gym or in the office, and thanks to the 22mm band size, you can swap out the included silicon band with just about anything you'd like.

There are two physical buttons on the right side of the Gear Sport's body, and while these work fine, the real star of the show is the rotating bezel that surrounds this display. The bezel can be rotated left and right for navigating the Gear Sport's UI, and along with having excellent tactile response it also makes it easy to go find what you're looking for without covering up the screen with your fingers.

Samsung has the looks and Fitbit excels at comfort.

On the other hand, the Fitbit Ionic very much looks the part of the fitness-focused watch that it is. The square body is boxy and not nearly as sleek as Samsung's option, but what the Ionic lacks in looks it makes up for with how darn comfortable it is.

The Gear Sport isn't an uncomfortable watch by any means, but you almost immediately forget that you're wearing the Ionic as soon as you strap it on. Not only is the included band soft and easy to adjust, but the lighter weight of about 50 grams compared to 67 grams with the Sport makes a big difference.

Samsung's nailed the aesthetics down, but if you prefer comfort over looks (which is arguably more important when being active), the Ionic is the way to go.

Fitness features

Speaking of being active, this is the thing that both Samsung and Fitbit are marketing the most for their respective wearables.

As expected, both the Gear Sport and Fitbit Ionic do a great job at counting your steps, calories burned, and recording a variety of different exercises (including swimming thanks to 5 ATM waterproofing on each one). There are obviously small discrepancies between the stats that each one tracks, but one area where I found the Ionic to be much more accurate is with how many floors I walked up and down. On the Gear Sport, I found myself having to walk up and down a flight of stairs twice before it registered a single one, whereas the Ionic was able to keep up without any trouble.

Another area where the Ionic shines is with on-screen workouts. There are three loaded onto the watch by default, and you can get more with a subscription to Fitbit Coach. Being able to follow personalized workout routines right on your wrist is extremely convenient, and while Fitbit Coach will cost you $40 for an annual subscription, it's one of those things that's hard to live without once you've tried it.

The Gear Sport has a surprisingly extensive fitness package.

The Gear Sport doesn't have anything like this, but it does have a few nice features of its own that the Ionic surprisingly lacks. You can use the Gear Sport for logging your food, water, and caffeine intake throughout the day, set desired targets you'd like to hit during a workout, and even view your weekly performance for steps, calories, heart-rate, etc. These are all things that Fitbit could add to the Ionic with a future software update, but for the time being, you have to go to the Fitbit app on your phone to see/do any of this.

Even with that said, I still found myself more motivated to be active with the Ionic. The frequent reminders to get 250 steps in per hour is a nice encouragement to keep moving, and a lot of Fitbit's clock faces do an excellent job at showing your steps, heart-rate, and calories burned. This is entirely subjective on my part, but I did actually notice myself wanted to hit the gym more often than not when wearing the Ionic.

Smartwatchy stuff

When it comes to non-fitness-related features, this one's a mixed bag.

To be perfectly blunt, notifications on the Ionic just aren't that good. You'll get notified of any calls, texts, calendar appointments, and other apps that you grant permission to, but there's no way to interact with them. You can answer or decline phone calls, but that's about it. If you get a text or message on Hangouts, the only thing you can do is swipe it away.

The Gear Sport is the best with notifications, but Fitbit's quickly gaining strong developer support.

You can dismiss notifications on the Gear Sport, but you can also Like messages on Facebook Messenger, archive/delete emails, and respond to texts by typing on a T9 keyboard, handwriting, using your voice, or even sending emojis. I certainly wouldn't advise writing long emails on the Sport, but being able to send off a quick reply to incoming messages without having to pick up your phone helps this feel a lot more like a proper smartwatch than the Ionic.

Fitbit's app selection is smaller, but there are more big names here.

Both the Ionic and Gear Sport can store music for offline listening, have NFC chips for mobile payments, and can run apps. I prefer the use of Spotify on the Sport as opposed to Pandora on the Ionic for storing songs, and Samsung Pay has support for a lot more banks than Fitbit Pay in its early stages. When it comes to apps, however, I have to give the upper hand to Fitbit.

Samsung's wearables have had a lack of compelling apps since the original Galaxy Gear that came out in 2013, and this, unfortunately, hasn't changed all that much five years later. There are some big names here, such as MyFitnessPal, ESPN, Bloomberg, and Endomondo, but most of what you'll find in the Galaxy Apps store isn't worth messing with.

Numbers-wise, there are much fewer apps available for the Ionic. However, just about three months since its release, there are already apps for Starbucks, Yelp, Philips Hue Lights, Nest, Strava, Flipboard, E*TRADE, and others. Smartwatch apps aren't something I enjoy spending a lot of time in, but paying for my coffee at Starbucks and turning on my Hue lights (with an official app I don't have to pay for) are things I can't do on the Sport, and likely won't ever be able to.

Other tidbits

A few other things I noticed while using the Gear Sport and Ionic before we wrap things up:

  • You have to download four apps to use the Gear Sport on a non-Samsung phone. For the Ionic, you only need one (the Fitbit app).
  • The Gear Sport lasts for a solid two days on a single charge, but the four or more days of use on the Ionic is amazing.
  • Fitbit chose to use a proprietary band system on the Ionic, but there are already a ton of third-party options to choose from on Amazon.
  • You can change watch faces directly on the Gear Sport, but have to open the Fitbit app to do so with the Ionic.

Final verdict

The Gear Sport and Fitbit Ionic share the same retail price of $299 (though they're both cheaper than that right now), and to be perfectly honest, both are well worth the price.

If you're in the market for a smartwatch that looks great, handles notifications well, and is a very respectable fitness tracker, it's hard to be disappointed with the Gear Sport. This is the smartwatch I've been wearing since the day it came out in mid-October, and I've really enjoyed my time with it.

See Samsung Gear Sport at Amazon

With that said, I'm moving over to the Ionic as my daily wearable. The Ionic may not be as flashy as the Gear Sport or have its rotating bezel that's endlessly fun to use, but it works better for my lifestyle. For someone who's at Starbucks just about every single day, using my watch to pay for my morning coffee is a big convenience that I like to have. The Ionic stays more secure on my wrist when I'm running compared to the Sport, Fitbit's companion app is more enjoyable to use, and when you pair the watch with the Aria 2 scale, it's easy to see why the Fitbit community has become as large as it is.

See Fitbit Ionic at Amazon

If you own a Samsung Gear Sport or Fitbit Ionic, which one did you choose and why?

Smartwatches are awesome. So why aren't they more popular?

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5 days ago

Can you survive in the rough and tumble lands of Ashworld? [Best games of the week]

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What are the latest games worth checking out in the Google Play Store?

Update January 12, 2018: Check out Ashworld, a cool new adventure game set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, then have some goofy fun with Run Sausage Run!

Ashworld

Set in an apocalyptic wasteland, Ashworld is a really intriguing open world game in which you must survive and scavenge for limited supplies and resources while avoiding or fighting aggressive enemies and creatures of the night.

You start off with a top-down view of the world and have the option to explore the world on foot, or in a vehicle. When you discover and enter buildings, the game shifts to classic platformer gameplay as you search for folks to talk to or try and find supplies.

The game is filled with weapons and vehicles to discover and use and features a full slew of story-based missions and side quests to complete — or you can simply go out exploring on your own. The touch controls and animations are smooth which makes Ashworld an absolute joy to play.

Download: Ashworld ($3.99)

Run Sausage Run!

For fans of endless runner games on mobile, check out Run Sausage Run!, a fun new cartoony addition to the Google Play Store.

Certainly inspired to some degree by the forgettable animated film Sausage Party, you play as a sentient sausage trying to escape from being cooked and eaten by making a mad dash out of the kitchen while dodging all sorts of deadly kitchen tools. Your sausage automatically saunters along, and you simply press and hold to make him run, which in turn also makes him hilariously fold over which helps you avoid deadly blades.

Endless runners are a dime a dozen on Android, so it's rare to find one with an interesting concept and unique art design. There's a ton of skins and content to unlock in this ad-supported free game.

Download: Run Sausage Run! (Free w/Ads)

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5 days ago

TiVo announces Google Assistant, Alexa, and IFTTT support

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TiVo's smart features will be rolling out over the next few months.

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CES 2018 has been home to a ton of different announcements, but one trend that's been more prevalent than ever is the integration of virtual assistants in a variety of smart home gadgets. TiVo is one of the companies following this trend, and over the coming months, it'll be rolling out support for Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, and IFTTT.

TiVo will launch a Google Assistant app and Amazon Alexa skill in a few months' time that allows you to use your voice for controlling all of your media playback, but before these are released, you'll still be able to talk to your Echo or Google Home speaker and control your TiVo box using IFTTT Applets.

This will require a bit more handiwork on your end to get everything set up the way you like it, but with enough tinkering, you'll be able to use IFTTT to automatically skip commercials without having to raise a finger, pause whatever it is you're watching when your smart doorbell rings, and dim your smart lights and launch Netflix with a custom phrase.

Exact release dates for any of this have yet to be announced, but once they are, we'll be sure to let you know.

Google Assistant is coming to Dish Network this year

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5 days ago

Learn to build apps, program for the web, and more with Python for $44!

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The wild world of app develop keeps getting wilder and there's almost always work in the field, whether it's for various organizations or as an independent consultant. Some apps sell to larger companies for tons of money. On the other hand, some folks just like to build apps for the fun of it. Maybe there's an app you wish existed, but it doesn't — you could build that app yourself. Or at least, you could with the right training.

The Python Power Coder Bonus Bundle is the education you need to start building mobile apps with Python 3. It features seven courses, and though it regularly retails for $1,075, you can grab it for only $44 on Android Central Digital Offers — you save 95%! You'll get 70 hours of content that you can use to learn the basics of Python 3 to not only better your skill set, but to pad your resumé out as well!

With the Python Power Coder Bonus Bundle, you'll get the following online courses, to which you receive a lifetime subscription: - The Developers' Guide to Python 3 Programming - Step by Step: Build a Data Analysis Program - The Python Mega Course: Build 10 Real World Application - The Complete Computer Vision Course with Python - Learn Python 3 from Scratch - Python Tutorial: Python Network Programming - Build 7 Apps - Python Web Programming - Taming Big Data with Apache Spark and Python

You'll get the knowledge base to build awesome apps, program for the web, deal with Big Data (including data analysis programs), and more! And the best part is that you'll get it all for 95% off retail!

See at Android Central Digital Offers

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5 days ago

You can make Duo calls to Android phones that don't have the app installed

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This might be the most important Duo update ever.

If you want to make video calls on an Android device, Google Duo is easily your best bet. Google's added a lot of new features and improvements since its release in 2016, but like any other communications app, it's faced the same issue of forcing you to encourage your friends and family members to actually download it so you can talk to them.

The folks at Android Police recently did some digging around, and it looks like Google actually has a solution for this. With the latest version of Google Duo, you can still successfully call a contact on your phone even if they don't have Duo installed on their end.

As you can see in Android Police's video below, a call is made to an Android phone that doesn't have Duo installed, but it still receives the call as if it did have the app. Duo's Knock-Knock feature is present to show what the incoming caller's camera sees, you can swipe up to answer/swipe down to decline, and once the call is accepted, you've got regular controls for turning your camera flash on and muting the microphone.

Once you end the call, a pop-up message appears asking if you'd like to install Duo, in addition to blocking that person from calling you again. The whole process looks ridiculously sleek, and it has the potential to solve one of Duo's biggest hurdles. This only works on Android phones as it uses Google's App Preview Messaging service that was first used with Allo in 2016, so trying to call iPhone users that don't have the app still won't work.

Even so, this is a huge step for Duo and one that could finally make it the mainstream video calling app Android needs.

Lead Google Duo engineer teases group calls, web app, and more

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