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6 hours ago

How to make sure your phone calls sound as good as possible

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How to make sure your phone calls sound as good as possible

Make your voice calls sound better on both ends with these tips.

For some, phone calls are an important feature of a phone. There's always a lot of discussion about which messaging app is the best or why you would want to use one SMS app over another, and those things are worth talking about to be sure. But voice calling is a primary feature of the gadgets we have in our hands and when you need to make a call, you'll want it to sound decent.

There are a couple things you can do to improve call quality, especially if it's poor to begin with. The jump from bad to fair is a lot more noticeable than it is from good to great. We can't promise that you'll be able to hear that proverbial pin drop by following these tips, but following a few simple pointers should have an effect.

  • Make sure your microphone and earpiece are clear (and clean). This is something so simple it's often the last thing you'd check — are the mic and/or ear speaker blocked by anything? Anything means literally anything here. If you use a case make sure it's not covering any holes that shouldn't be covered (the same goes for your finger when you're holding it) because your phone probably has more than one microphone and uses one away from your mouth for noise reduction. The same goes for the clear plastic clingy wrap stuff that covers a new phone — peel it off or at least away from all the holes. While you're at it make sure no gunk is blocking any of the holes, too.
  • Check to make sure any High Quality calling settings are enabled. All four major U.S. carriers offer some sort of enhanced voice calling on phones sold through their stores. This might be called HD Voice or VoLTE (Voice over LTE) or Enhanced Calling or something similar depending on your network and your phone. You'll find a setting for it in the network settings or in the phone dialer settings (or both), again depending on your specific phone and carrier. When enabled it sends and receives audio at a much higher quality than without it enabled because it sends voice data over a fast connection.

There are a few things to know here. While High Quality calling isn't usually a thing you need to pay extra for, this wasn't always the case. If you're holding on to an old service plan from your carrier for one reason or another you might not just be able to flip a switch in the settings and will have to contact your carrier. And this will probably only work if you're calling someone on the same carrier because all four U.S. networks do things a bit differently. Finally, an unlocked phone might not be able to use any of this because the phone didn't go through carrier sales channels.

  • Wi-Fi calling can make a big difference. Wi-Fi calling is a thing on all major U.S. carriers and it can do wonders when calls sound bad because of your connection. They're not the best sounding calls — they can be a bit flat and have a tinny echo from the caller's end — but they are clear and you'll be able to understand each other, which can be a major improvement sometimes. Like advanced calling features, you'll find a setting to enable Wi-Fi calling in different places on different phones. Check the network settings for your carrier, the Wi-Fi settings themselves and the phone dialer settings and you'll find it in one of those places. It will be clearly labeled with the words Wi-Fi calls so it's not too tricky.

Of course you'll need to be connected to a Wi-Fi network with internet access to use Wi-Fi calling. Two other things to know is that sometimes (this depends on your area), SMS and MMS won't send if you have Wi-Fi calling enabled, and that you need both phone and carrier support. Most newer Androids support Wi-Fi calling, but unlocked phones might not be able to use it because of carrier restrictions. But that's OK, because there are ways around that and it's next on our list.

  • Use an app that makes voice calls over a data connection. By this we mean either Wi-Fi or LTE (or even 3G if that's you). A data connection is a data connection as far as these apps care, and as long as you're connected to the internet they'll work. Our choices for apps here are Hangouts, Skype, and Duo, but each have their own drawbacks.

Hangouts works great, lets you call any phone number, and calls from the U.S. to other U.S. and Canadian numbers are absolutely free using the Hangouts Dialer add-on, as are calls to anyone with the Hangouts app installed. The problems with Hangouts are that it can be a little intimidating the first time you use it (there are a lot of settings!) and nobody is exactly sure how long it's going to stay because google has said it would be phased out for all but business users in the future. You can check out Hangouts calling rates at Google.

Download: Hangouts (free)

Skype works great, too, and outbound call rates are cheap (or free if both parties use Skype, which is a free app). You can call any phone, mobile or landline, anywhere in the world, though rates are a bit higher outside of North America where unlimited calls can be made for $2.99 per month. See Skype's calling rates on its site.

Download: Skype (free)

Google Duo is great for voice calls, too! We know it as a video calling app, but the option for voice calls is there and they sound really clear on any good connection. The major hurdle is that both parties need to have the Duo app, but if you call someone without it, they'll be prompted through their dialer to install it, so finding it isn't hard. Since Duo is app-to-app-based, all calls are free.

Download: Duo (free)

There are plenty of other apps that have a calling feature built in that uses your Wi-Fi or data connection, and plenty of people make calls over WhatsApp or Viber every day. Be sure to explore all your options here.

Nobody is happy when phone calls sound like you're talking through mud. If you find yourself making them often enough for it to be more than just a minor nuisance, try these tips for a better experience.

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7 hours ago

Three tips and tricks for settling into the new Gmail

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Three tips and tricks for settling into the new Gmail

Gmail's recent redesign introduces a few new features you'll want to familiarize yourself with.

Google's Inbox might be in a state of limbo right now, but Gmail is alive and well, with a fresh new coat of paint and a handful of new features focused on productivity and security. While this may not be a big deal to those who use dedicated apps to manage their emails, there are still a ton of people who are happy to check their email straight from their web browser, and these changes could be a big deal to those people.

Some of Gmail's new features won't be rolling out for another few weeks (namely confidential mode), but if you're itching to test out the redesign, there's still plenty to enjoy right now. Here are some of the first things you might want to do.

Upgrade to the new Gmail

You can't enjoy Gmail's new features until you're using the new version! Luckily, making the switch only takes a few clicks, but again, the option to upgrade is still rolling out, so you may not be able to follow these steps just yet.

  1. From the main Gmail screen, click the gear icon in the upper right corner.
  2. In the dropdown menu, click Try the new Gmail.
  3. You'll be taken to the redesigned homepage. Click Next on the welcome splash screen.
  4. From here, you can choose your display density. If you manage a lot of emails, you may want to try the compact view. If, like me, you make liberal use of the archive and trash tools and try to keep a clean inbox, you'll get the most information at a glance from the default view.

Once that's all said and done, you should be looking at the fancy new Gmail interface! Don't worry if you change your mind on the display density or the redesign itself — both options sit in the same gear icon as before.

Customize your sidebar

One of the first things you might notice with the new Gmail interface is the addition of a column of apps on the righthand side. This is different from the grid icon at the top of screen, which houses shortcuts to Google's other services — instead, this sidebar is home to mini apps that extend out from the side for quick access.

By default, the sidebar holds miniaturized versions of Google Calendar, Keep, and the new Tasks, but you can add more apps by clicking the plus button beneath the other icons.

The best part about these apps is that you can still click and scroll through the rest of the Gmail interface without the column collapsing. This can be useful for anything from taking notes from certain emails and Hangouts conversations to checking your calendar for prior appointments before making plans.

Snooze now to remember later!

If you're like me, you forget to reply to important emails from time to time. Don't worry, I won't tell, but Gmail's new snooze feature can help minimize unhappy clients and missed appointments. Just hover your mouse over any email you might need to remember, then click the rightmost icon.

You'll see a popup window prompting you to choose how long to snooze the email. You can choose from presets like tomorrow or this weekend, or set the exact time and date yourself. Once that time comes, the email will move from your snoozed folder back to the top of your inbox as if it had just been sent out. If you can get yourself into the habit of snoozing important emails, you might never forget to pay a bill or respond to your boss again.

Hold out for new features

Most of Gmail's new privacy-focused features, including expiring emails and two-factor authentication on a per-email basis within confidential mode, still haven't rolled out just yet. You'll have to wait a few more weeks for those features, but it never hurts to get familiar with the new interface in the mean time.

Are you using Gmail's redesigned interface yet, or are you holding onto the classic view until Google has finished rolling out every new feature? Let us know in the comments below!

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1 day ago

Google Tasks: Everything you need to know

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Google Tasks: Everything you need to know

Here's how you can stay on task with Google's help.

Over the years, Google's allowed you to create basic to-do lists through its Tasks platform from a variety of different apps – including Google Calendar, Keep, etc. The system technically worked, but up until now, there's been no single app that's allowed you to view your reminders/tasks in one single area.

Thankfully, alongside the launch of the new Gmail redesign, that's finally changing.

In addition to the new Tasks section found on Gmail's desktop site, Google's also released a dedicated mobile app for Android and iOS. It's pretty barebones in its current form, but for folks that want to give it a shot, here's what you should know.

The UI looks very Googely

As you'd probably expect, the user interface for Tasks is about as Google-like as they come. There's a lot of white space, Google's Product Sans font is in full effect, and there are plenty of rounded corners.

The overall design is a bit different compared to some of the company's older apps, but it could be yet another glimpse into the rumored Material Design 2 scheme that we'll see with Android P (and how about that bottom navigation bar? 👀)

It's not the best-looking app I've ever used, but it's clean, functional, and keeps your tasks front and center.

You can make tasks as simple (or detailed) as you'd like

To create a new task, all you need to do is tap the large "Add a new task" button near the bottom of your screen. You'll then get a pop-up with your keyboard to type in whatever you need to get done, and tapping the Save button will add it to your list.

If you want to add a bit more detail to your task, touching it in your list will show options for adding a description, due date, and any subtasks you want to go along with it.

There's currently no way to add priority levels to tasks you create, and while this isn't too big of an issue for basic lists, it could prove to be an annoyance if you've got a lot going on at once. Should Google decide to add this later on, we'll be sure to let you know.

Tasks can be sorted manually or by date

By default, your tasks are listed in the order they're created. If you want to move them around as you wish, you can hold down on a task and move it above or below any other ones you've created.

Alternatively, tapping the three dots near the bottom right will bring up an option to sort your tasks by the date they're due.

Google Tasks ties in beautifully with the new Gmail

Once you've got access to the revamped Gmail experience, you'll also have easy access to your Tasks from your desktop.

By clicking on the Tasks icon in Gmail's new right-side panel, you can either manually type in new tasks or drag and paste emails to your list. If you do the latter of these two things, you'll be able to quickly jump to the email the task was created from via the mobile app.

There are a few missing features

As positive as my early impressions are of Google Tasks' new app, there's still a lot that needs to be added. Some of the missing things I noticed include:

  • Adding a time of day to due dates
  • Recurring tasks
  • Priority levels
  • Snooze tasks
  • Integration with Google Assistant
  • Location-based reminders
  • Etc., etc.

It's still worth checking out

Despite its shortcomings, Google Tasks is still worth checking out. I imagine Google will be adding a lot more to Tasks over the coming weeks, and for anyone that's been waiting for a proper to-do list app from the company, this is a decent start.

Download: Google Tasks (free)

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1 day ago

You can now upload multiple photos/videos to Instagram Stories at once

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You can now upload multiple photos/videos to Instagram Stories at once

It's also easier to find the location tag you're looking for.

I've recently begun using Instagram Stories in place of Snapchat, and for the most part, the experience has been a great one. Now, it's going to get even better thanks to a couple new features making their way to the Android app.

The biggest change is the ability to upload multiple photos and videos to Instagram Stories at once. From the page where you usually upload content to Stories, you'll see a new button near the top right of your screen. Tapping this will bring up your gallery of photos/videos, and you can choose up to 10 of them to upload at once.

Once your content is selected, you'll see them lined up at the bottom. Tapping on each photo will bring it into a fullscreen view with options for adding stickers, filters, etc. as you normally would.

Instagram's also making it easier to find a location tag for where a photo or video you took was captured. Per Instagram

It's also now faster to find the right place when adding the location sticker to a photo or video you're uploading to your story. Now, when you're sitting at lunch daydreaming about last weekend at the beach and you decide to share a photo, the location sticker will suggest places from near where your media was captured — making it easier to tag that great taco spot, even if you didn't exactly remember what it was called.

These features are available in the Android app now, with Instagram noting they'll be available for iOS in a few weeks.

Download: Instagram (free)

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1 day ago

Samsung Pay: Everything you need to know

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Samsung Pay: Everything you need to know

Almost every phone offers mobile payments these days, but Samsung Pay is the most flexible and universally accepted form.

Paying with your phone is still a relatively new prospect, but it's become a ubiquitous feature on just about every NFC-capable phone over the last few years. The concept is simple; just hold your phone up to a compatible payment terminal to complete a transaction — secured with end-to-end encryption and authorized by your biometrics. Whether you forgot your wallet at home or simply have too many credit cards to manage, mobile payments can be a huge convenience.

There are plenty of different payment solutions, ranging from Google Pay to Apple Pay, but they all fall victim to the same problem: not every payment terminal supports NFC. Luckily for Samsung users, that's not necessarily a problem. Samsung makes use of a technology called Magnetic Secure Transmission (MST), which emulates the magnetic strip on a physical card to ensure that Samsung Pay works even on older terminals that don't typically support mobile payments.

The basics

If you're new to mobile payments in general, there's a lot to learn. Samsung Pay is largely popular thanks to its MST support, but there are plenty of other reasons one would want to use Samsung Pay over the alternatives. Some may prefer its UI over Google Pay, while others may prefer its selection of supported cards and banks.

What's the difference between Android Pay and Samsung Pay?

Mobile payment systems have stagnated, unless you have Samsung Pay

Samsung Pay updated with a cleaner and more traditional UI

What devices are supported?

Samsung Pay is available on a long list of Samsung phones, but in the U.S. at least, it's constrained to Samsung's flagship Galaxy S and Galaxy Note phones, starting with the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy Note 5. In addition, some smartwatches support Samsung Pay — namely most variants of the Gear S2 and Gear S3, though the former lacks MST capability and only makes payments over NFC.

How to use Samsung Pay on the Gear S3 without a Samsung phone

How to set up Samsung Pay with your Samsung Galaxy S8

How to set up Samsung Pay on your Galaxy Note 8

Is Samsung Pay safe?

One of the biggest concerns people have with mobile payments is security. What's to say someone won't hack your phone and steal all of your credit card information?

Samsung Pay only works once it's identified you with biometrics using the fingerprint sensor or iris scanner. From there, it uses tokenization, which replaces your actual card information with generated tokens that are then decrypted by the card's payment network to authorize the final transaction. Samsung Pay also utilizes Samsung's Knox platform for additional security.

How secure is Samsung Pay?

How to set up and secure your phone using Samsung's My Knox

What about the rewards programs?

One of the biggest reasons to use Samsung Pay is its generous rewards programs. With every purchase you make using Samsung Pay, you can earn rewards points that contribute to free gift cards. You can also store existing membership and rewards cards from your favorite stores, giving you one less reason to carry your wallet.

Samsung Pay now offers its own rewards program in the U.S.

Samsung Pay's rewards program just got a lot less awesome

Where can I use Samsung Pay?

While mobile payments are most commonly used at payment terminals in stores and restaurants, Samsung Pay works elsewhere, too. These days, you can use Samsung Pay to make purchases online and even within apps, with more payment methods than ever — including online services like PayPal.

Samsung Pay adds online and in-app purchases, expands to new countries

Samsung and PayPal strike deal for new in-store and online payment methods

PayPal support finally makes its way to Samsung Pay

What other countries support Samsung Pay?

Samsung Pay is hugely popular in the U.S., but it works in plenty of other places in the world, too. Samsung is constantly expanding its reach — most recently, it launched in Italy, and at the moment it covers 21 unique markets. Depending on where you live, there may be other information relevant to your Samsung Pay experience.

Samsung Pay in the UK: Everything you need to know

Samsung Pay in India: Everything you need to know

What's your take?

Do you or have you ever used Samsung Pay? How do you feel it compares to other mobile payment services like Google Pay? Is MST a big deal to you? Share your thoughts on this and anything else related to Samsung Pay in the comments below!

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1 day ago

Gmail's massive redesign is now live: Here's a look at the new features

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Gmail's massive redesign is now live: Here's a look at the new features

Gmail picks up a new design and a host of new features.

Google announced earlier this month that it would revamp Gmail's design on the desktop, and the changes are going live today. Gmail is getting a significant design overhaul that makes it more in line with its Android counterpart, and Google is introducing a whole host of new features centered around security and ease of use.

There's a new confidential mode that lets you set an expiration date for a particular email, smart replies, easier options for snoozing emails, an offline mode, high-priority notification setting that cuts down on the push notifications, and much more. Here's a look at all the new additions in Gmail.

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1 day ago

Google Play Music might be killed off this year in favor of YouTube Remix

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Google Play Music might be killed off this year in favor of YouTube Remix

Users are said to be forced off Play Music by the end of the year.

Right now, the state of Google's music streaming services is a bit of a mess. Google Play Music is the company's most notable player, but you can also listen to tunes and watch music videos via YouTube Red. If you're on mobile, you can separately download the YouTube Music app that also comes with a Play Music/YouTube Red subscription. This jumble of services isn't the easiest to understand, and to fix this, Google might replace them with YouTube Remix.

This is a rumor that first popped up back in December, but according to a new report from Droid Life, it's said that Google will shut down Play Music following the launch of YouTube Remix. It's unknown how quickly the domino effect will happen, but users will reportedly be forced off of Play Music by the end of the year.

It's unclear at this time if playlists, liked songs, and saved local files will transfer over to YouTube Remix, but I've got to imagine Google's got some sort of system in place for making the transition as seamless as possible.

If YouTube Remix replaces Play Music, what'll happen to YouTube Red?

YouTube began signing deals with record labels for Remix towards the end of 2017, and just before this year's SXSW, a representative from the company confirmed the service was in the works but wouldn't launch in March (which it clearly didn't).

If YouTube Remix will replace Play Music, does that mean YouTube Red will stick around? What about YouTube Music? I personally think Google's best bet would be to kill off the YouTube Music app entirely and just house Play Music and YouTube Red's offerings under the new YouTube Remix branding, but they could also choose to go an entirely different route. This is Google we're talking about after all.

Google I/O is set to begin on Tuesday, May 8, and in my eyes, that's as good a place as any for Google to officially unveil what it's been working on.

Download: Google Play Music (while you still can)

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1 day ago

Instagram's 'Data Download' lets you save all your content offline

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Instagram's 'Data Download' lets you save all your content offline

Available now on desktop, coming soon to Android and iOS apps.

Earlier this month, Instagram announced that it was working on a tool to allow users to download and save offline copies of their data. Today, that tool is being launched as Data Download.

Data Download is rolling out to Instagram now, with access currently available on the web and coming soon to the Android and iOS apps. You'll find Data Download within your privacy settings, and after requesting your info, it'll be compiled and delivered within a matter of hours/days.

Once your data is ready to go, you'll have offline copies of your photos, videos, any stories you've archived, comments, direct messages, and your profile info.

Why is Instagram just now releasing something like this? While Data Download should have been in place a while ago, it also ensures that Instagram is in compliance with the European Union's new GDPR privacy law that'll officially go live on May 25, 2018.

If you want to check out Data Download for yourself right now, here's what you need to do:

  1. Go to Instagram from your computer
  2. Click on your profile and then the gear icon
  3. Choose Privacy and Security
  4. Scroll down and click Request Download under the Data Download section
  5. Enter your email and click Next

Download: Instagram (free)

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2 days ago

Six months later, Google Lens still isn't great

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Six months later, Google Lens still isn't great

I know it's a preview, but I want to use this every day.

For a company aimed at being the knowledge graph of the entire planet, image-based AI services are an obvious thing for Google to want to get right. And for anyone using Google Photos over the last couple of years, you know there have been huge strides made in enhancing these capabilities. Facial and object recognition in Google Photos, can be incredible, and there's a lot of good that can come from using these features in the real world. Being able to offer a camera with the ability to rapidly identify storefronts and street signs to visually impaired people alone is incredible.

Google Lens is headed in the right direction, but it's clearly not ready for daily use just yet.

As a Google Pixel owner, I've had access to Lens for six months now. This beta period for Lens has been a little clumsy, which is to be expected. I point Lens at an unusual book a friend of mine had, and instead of telling me where I can buy that book for myself I get a text snippet from the cover identified. I ask Lens to scan a photo of a movie theater marquis, it has no idea what is in the photo and does not offer me the ability to but tickets for the show like it was supposed to. I take a photo of my Shetland Sheepdog, Lens identifies her as a Rough Collie. Alright, so that last one is nearly impossible to get right in a photo, but the point is Google Lens doesn't reliably do most of the things it claims to be able to do yet.

To Google's credit, the things Lens gets right it gets right fast. I love being able to use Lens for real-time language translation. Point Lens at a menu written in another language, you will get immediate translations right on the page as though you were looking at the menu in English the whole time. Snap a photo of a business card, Lens is ready to add that information to my contacts book. I've used individual apps for these features that have worked reasonably well in the past, but unifying these features in the same place I access all of my photos is excellent.

I'm also aware that this is still very early days for Lens. It says 'Preview' right in the app, after all. While Pixel owners have had access to the feature for half a year, most of the Android world has only had access to it for a little over a month at this point. And when you understand how this software works, that's an important detail. Google's machine learning information relies heavily on massive contributions of knowledge, so it can quickly sift through it all and use thing that have been properly identified to better identify the next thing. It could be argued Google Lens has only just begun its beta test, now that everyone has access to it.

At the same time, Lens was announced a full year ago at this point, and I still can't reliably point it at a flower and have it tell me which kind it is. It's a cool thing to have access to, but I sincerely hope Google is able to make this feature something special in the not-too-distant future.

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2 days ago

Google 'Chat': Everything you need to know

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Google 'Chat': Everything you need to know

Google might have finally found a way to fix online chat for everyone after years of trying.

Google Chat is said to be the latest messaging solution from the company and if the rumors are true, every problem with online messaging could disappear. That's a pretty bold statement, but what Google Chat is (and what it isn't), as well as how it's different from previous attempts, makes me believe that there's nothing else any one company can do and it this doesn't work nothing ever will.

Let's have a look at what it is and why it's different than previous attempts to "fix" online messaging.

The current problem

Right now online messaging is a digital battlefield filled with companies who only care what's best for themselves instead of making it easier for us. Services like iMessage and WhatsApp are great, but only if both sides of any online conversation are using the same app. There are several different standards that can be used and two of them we're all familiar with — SMS and XMPP — but that doesn't seem to matter because no service seems to want to use them the right way. SMS has been corrupted by companies like Verizon who try to use their version as a marketing tool and XMPP (what old apps like Jabra or Google Talk used) has been all but abandoned.

As usual, corporations are being corporations and making money comes before what's best for users. Same as it ever was.

The solution

RCS (Rich Communication Services) is a standard that can enhance and replace SMS and is able to give users an experience like iMessage or WhatsApp without both parties needing the same app, being on the same platform or through the same carrier. It's based on the premise that both users will have an active data connection and messages can be sent like they would through an instant messenger client using a set of protocols about how and what can be displayed. There's also a fallback that can use SMS for a "lesser" version of a message if a user doesn't have a data connection for a short period of time.

More:What is RCS and why is it important to Android?

SMS is one of those things that needs to die. We use it because it works, but it's expensive to maintain and horribly insecure and your phone company would be very happy for it to go away forever. That's not really feasible just yet, so the next best thing is for SMS to be a last resort when all the better ways to chat won't work. That's exactly what services like iMessage or Verizon Advanced Messaging are doing right now. When both sides are using it you'll have a nice messenger experience but if one side isn't the chat falls back to a text-only affair. Apple and Verizon both use this as a way to let you know how much better things would be if you used their products in the way they want you to use them.

RCS would make this become universal. No matter what app you are using on any phone, you'll have that enhanced experience as long as you have a data connection.

Where Google comes in

Google has tried all sorts of ways to give users a rich service for chatting that doesn't depend on SMS. This started with Google Talk (which used the XMPP standard) then Hangouts became a thing then Allo arrived and each service was a little bit better than the last. But each had a problem, and while that problem was different each time it always went back to one thing: Google was trying to fix it with an app and not a standard.

This has one major flaw — both sides need to use the app. Google made the app free and available for everyone, but everyone already had an app for chat and there was no incentive to change. I've said it before and I'll say it again — Allo is a wonderful app that everyone would love if there was anyone else using it. But nobody is ever going to switch away from iMessage or WhatsApp or Verizon Advanced Messaging and use Allo, and they shouldn't; switching from one app that locks you in to another that locks you in is silly.

What needed to be done is to find a way to get every company to adopt the same universal RCS protocol, and that's what Google seems to have accomplished. Mostly.

There have been a handful of carriers that jumped on the RCS train as soon as it became available. Sprint, Orange and Claro are names that come to mind and are also not the major players in each of their markets (that'd be AT&T, Vodafone and Vivo) so you always had more users unable to use a fully RCS capable messenger than you had that were. Android, Windows and iOS are all able to use RCS capable messaging clients but without carrier support that doesn't mean much.

Google Chat looks like it will just be a rebranding of the Messages app that already exists (and is already RCS-ready) and it's not the important part of of all this. The important part is that Google somehow convinced carriers to adopt the RCS universal profile and got Samsung to include it in their Messages app. These are the two things that kept us all from having a good chat experience by default all along and if the reports about Google Chat are true, we'll all be able to have that rich messaging client we want by using the same messaging client we've been using all along for texting.

The one unknown

It's important to remember than Google hasn't said much of anything just yet. Google Chat is one of those things that exists as a leak or rumor that looks to be 100% legitimate and comes from a trustworthy source. But there will probably be more details once Google makes it all official.

With that in mind, there is one big piece that will still be missing and that's the iPhone. iMessage is not RCS capable and actually uses the fact that it's not fully compatible with any other messaging service as a selling point. Because you can't change the default messenger app on an iPhone, this means that messages between an iPhone and everything else will still fall back to just text. Google can't fix this and it would take Apple adding the RCS universal profile abilities to iMessage to make things just work.

We expect more details about Google Chat and the RCS solution to come up at Google I/O 2018 in a few weeks. There are certainly a handful of unanswered questions and once we get any more details we'll add them right here. In the meantime we can think about all the extra space we'll have once we can uninstall all the various messaging apps we use now and just use one really good one for everything.

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2 days ago

Spotify revamps its mobile app, adds on-demand listening for free users

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Spotify revamps its mobile app, adds on-demand listening for free users

Free users are also getting recommended playlist creation and a low-data mode.

During a recent event in New York City, Spotify talked about a heap of new goodies that are in the works for its mobile app and free users.

Looking first at the new app, there are visual changes in tow for just about everything – including the search page, now playing tab, and more. The bottom navigation bar is also less cluttered, and Spotify says it's currently in the process of pushing the new UI to all of its users.

Spotify's main focus was clearly on its free members, however, and there's a lot in the pipeline for them.

Perhaps the biggest feature for free users is the ability to listen to certain titles on-demand. Free Spotify members have previously been limited to listening to only shuffled playlists, but now they'll be able to pick and choose which songs they want to listen to as many times as they'd like – as long as those songs are offered in one of Spotify's personalized playlists (such as Discover Weekly, Daily Mix, etc.)

Speaking of playlists, Spotify's also adding "assisted playlisting" to the free version of its mobile app. Previously reserved for Premium subscribers, this will show recommended tracks to add to a playlist you're creating based on what's currently in it.

Along with all this, free members will also be able to turn on a new data-saver mode that'll decrease data usage by as much as 75%.

While these new features for Spotify's free service are great to see, there are still plenty of reasons to pay for its Premium offering. If you want to get rid of ads, listen to any song on-demand, or download your tunes for offline listening, you'll still need to cough up 10 bucks each month.

Download: Spotify Music (free)

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2 days ago

Netflix: Everything you need to know

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Netflix: Everything you need to know

Educate yourself on the world's biggest video streaming service 📺

When it comes to video streaming companies, few are as iconic as Netflix. What started out as a DVD rental service quickly turned into the world's largest platform for binging old movies, classic TV shows, and a heap of original programming.

No matter if you're looking to cut your cable cord or simply want some extra content to supplement it, Netflix can be a great addition to any household's entertainment needs.

To ensure it has exactly what you're looking for in a video service, here's everything you need to know!

April 19, 2018: Mobile Previews are Netflix's take on Snapchat Stories

Ever since Snapchat popularized the Stories format, we've seen it expand to Instagram, Facebook, and even Google search. On April 19, Netflix announced it was launching its own take on stories with its Mobile Previews feature.

Launching first on iOS and coming soon to Android, Mobile Previews will show up as circles at the top of the Netflix app and showcase a 30-second vertical preview of recommended shows. According to Netflix –

The previews are shown like a slideshow, so if you see something you like, you can tap to play or add to your list. If not, you can swipe or tap the screen to advance to the next preview.

Plans start at just $7.99/month

Netflix has three main plans to choose from, including Basic, Standard, and Premium.

Basic is the cheapest plan with a subscription fee of just $7.99/month, but since it's limited to Standard Definition and only allows you to have one stream going at a time, you'll likely want to upgrade to the Standard tier for $10.99/month. With Standard, you'll get access to HD streams and can watch Netflix on up to 2 screens at once.

If you've got a 4K television and/or have a big family that wants to use one account, Netflix's Premium plan will likely be the best fit. For $13.99/month, you'll get access to Ultra HD video content and can watch any shows you'd like on 4 different screens at once.

New members can sign up for a 1-month free trial of whatever plan you'd like, and you can cancel at any time as there's no commitment required.

T-Mobile customers get the Standard plan for free!

Netflix's current pricing is more than reasonable, but if you happen to be a T-Mobile customer, you'll get it for free!

T-Mobile subscribers get Netflix's Standard plan bundled with their cell service at no extra charge, and if you want to upgrade to the Premium tier, you'll pay just $3/month extra.

It's available on pretty much everything

In addition to its excellent library of content, one of Netflix's strong suits is its wide availability across pretty much any gadget you can think of.

For watching Netflix on the big screen, you can download its official app on Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Apple TV, cast it from your phone using Chromecast, and access built-in apps across a variety of smart TVs and Blu-Ray players.

You'll also find the Netflix app on Android, iOS, Windows Phone, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and from your desktop/laptop at netflix.com.

Netflix's official list of all supported devices

The Android app recently got a big overhaul

Netflix's Android app is one of the best ways to access the service, and it recently got a big update that makes everything look much more polished.

The old navigation menu on the left-hand side has been replaced for a simple navigation row at the bottom for Home, Search, Downloads, and More. Home is where you'll be taken upon opening the app and tapping the TV Shows, Movies, and Originals tabs near the top will allow you to quickly filter the content that's presented to you.

The Search and Downloads sections are pretty self-explanatory, and More is where you'll be able to switch profiles, customize notifications, and adjust all of your other account/app settings.

Everything works about the same as it did before, but the new layout is still greatly appreciated and considerably easier to understand.

New content's being added (and removed) all the time

Every month, Netflix changes its content library by adding and removing titles from its lineup. The company's taken a big bet on original movies and TV shows over the last few years, but you can still find a wide array of third-party content, too.

The Netflix app does a pretty good job at highlighting new/trending content as it's released, and Joseph Keller at iMore does a regular roundup of the best shows you should be watching at any given time.

Best TV shows and movies on Netflix right now

You can still rent physical DVDs

Although renting physical DVDs to customers may not be its primary focus anymore, this is something that Netflix does still offer.

The DVD business has since been moved to DVD.com, but it's just a full-featured as ever before. Plans start at $4.99/month to rent one disc at a time with a cap of two discs per month, or you can step all the way up to $11.99/month to have two discs out at once and rent as many movies as you want each month (prices are increased to $5.99/month and $14.99/month respectively for HD Blu-Ray).

Netflix finally brought its DVD app to Android in October of 2017, and while the service may not be nearly as popular as the on-demand streaming platform, it's still alive and kicking for anyone that wants to see that iconic red envelope in their mailbox.

What are you waiting for?

If you somehow still haven't checked out Netflix, you owe it to yourself to at least sign up for a free trial. My fiance and I use Netflix just about every day, and whether you're using it to re-watch The Office for the eighth time or catch up on the latest Marvel movies, it's well worth every penny.

See at Netflix

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2 days ago

Your apps' default settings don't put your privacy first, so make sure to check them

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Your apps' default settings don't put your privacy first, so make sure to check them

Default settings never have your bests interests in mind, so check them out!

When you get something new, the first thing you'll want to do is start using and enjoying it and seeing the things it can do. That's why we want those new things in the first place, whether we're talking about a physical thing like a phone or a toaster oven, or a digital thing like an app or a new album. But if your new thing uses the internet, you should take a look at what else it might be doing before you dive in.

The recent (and ongoing) Facebook shenanigans really highlight what I'm talking about here, so I'm going to use it as an example. But know that applies to more than just Facebook, it's just the low-hanging fruit that makes it so easy to talk about. Facebook did a lot of ugly things but it only did the things you said it could do. I'm not here to say it's our fault — you'll never hear me come at you with that lame excuse because this was all Facebook relying on us not knowing what it was doing and trusting that the company wasn't willing to screw over every single user to make a few more pennies. But we could have prevented it from happening and hopefully we'll be more skeptical and untrusting in the future because of it all.

Predators like Facebook will always exist, so we need to do whatever we can to make things more difficult for them.

If you were to buy a new phone with Facebook installed or install the app as new, you might think that understanding the apps permissions would be enough to keep tabs on your privacy. We don't care about all of the details of our lives or who knows them; if we did businesses like Facebook wouldn't exist in the first place because we would never talk about what we're doing, who we're doing it with or where we did it. But all of that needs to be on our terms and shared with the people we decide to share it with, and no extra details need to be given. But a look at the default privacy settings for Facebook — and again, this goes for any app — will let you see that this isn't the case at all.

You're sharing details you had no idea you were sharing, had no idea could be shared, and had no idea that they were important enough for anyone to care in the first place. Your location, a history of your location, your internet history, details about your contacts, things you've purchased (and how you purchased them), and more are scalped from your phone or computer and shared with Facebook and its advertisers by default. Facebook is in the news because of how fast and loose it uses this information, but plenty of companies through plenty of services want the same kinds of data. That's why default settings usually have you opted into sharing it all — you are a cash cow to be milked as often as possible.

You might be OK with sharing some things to get better services.

This doesn't have to be a bad thing. What you get in return can be worth what you're giving away, especially when it comes to companies who offer services you love. Amazon, Microsoft and Google come to mind here. You can share private information and have a better online experience or a better personal assistant or a better way to shop. These three companies are also straightforward about what they take from you and how they treat it once its in their hands, too. But you should still take a look and see what you tell them be default, because like Facebook, the default settings are what's best for the company not what's best for you.

Those seemingly unimportant details of your life are worth millions of dollars.

The same goes for the phone or tablet or computer that's used to run these apps and services, too. An end-user licensing agreement will tell you part of the story so you really should read through them before you tap OK, but the settings need to be checked, too. That's where you can fine-tune things and say no to any of the things you're not required to give away to use the product. You'd be surprised at what you're sharing with Samsung or any other phone maker on top of what you're sharing with Google when you sign in to a new phone, so make sure you understand what you have to share and how to opt out of the things you don't.

These seemingly minor details are worth millions of dollars. You should make sure you're treating them the same way you treat your money.

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3 days ago

Best Chrome extensions to protect your online privacy and security

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Best Chrome extensions to protect your online privacy and security

Use these Chrome extensions to stay safe and manage your privacy online.

The internet has become more than just a fun tool and is now considered a necessity the same way electricity and indoor plumbing are. You can do without it, but you don't want to and your life will be a good bit more difficult. It's also filled with sites and scripts that are designed to harvest as much as your information as possible through malware. A Chromebook is more secure than most because Google has a vested interest in blocking as much of this sort of behavior as possible because its ad business relies on data collection under a strict privacy policy. If you block all ads and scripts and third-party content when you use the internet, Google doesn't make any money. That's why the company spends so much money and time to make Chromebooks secure.

As good as Google's efforts might be, they sometimes aren't enough. Especially when it comes to things like tracking cookies and "bad" ads. The internet is huge and millions of people will come in contact with something before Google finds a way to blacklist it. There is something you can do though — install a few extensions that can make the internet a better place. Here are our picks of the best Chrome extensions when it comes to online privacy and safety.

AdGuard AdBlocker

AdGuard isn't necessarily the very best ad blocker. It can use the same blacklist as all the others but it does use a little more processing power to do its thing than Ublock Orgin (our next pick). AdGuard is the best all-in-one blocking tool for someone who doesn't want to use more than one extension, though.

it gets a special shout-out here (and a hearty recommendation) because it blocks crypto-mining. A website can hijack your CPU to mine cryptocurrency for it while you are visiting a web page. Some websites tell you this up front as it can be a good way for a website to make a few dollars, but most don't. AdGuard stops a site from doing it unless you say differently.

Download AdGuard (free)

uBlock Origin

An ad blocker that's open source and easy on your CPU and memory. If you choose to install a stand-alone mine blocking extension, this should be your ad blocker of choice. it's also easy to turn on and off for the times when you want to allow ads to support a specific website.

Download uBlock Origin (free)

No Coin

No Coin is open source and only does one thing — blocks websites from hijacking your CPU and memory to mine cryptocurrency. There are several miner blocker extensions available on the Chrome store, but No Coin is the only one I've found that doesn't hit your processor about as hard as a coin miner would anyway so it's our top pick in the category.

The extension has a small UI when you click it to allow you to whitelist a website or allow mining for a limited time so you can support your favorite places on the web.

Download No Coin (free)

Ghostery

Ghostery does a great job of blocking trackers that want to know where you are, what site you came from and what sites you're going to next. They track you, which is why they are called trackers. You probably don't want them to be tracking you.

Ghostery works without any setup though you can create an account and customize things if you like. it's also easy to pause, which is important because many website design elements will be falsely identified as social trackers because social trackers are crafty and mimic them.

Download Ghostery (free)

Flashcontrol

Adobe Flash is a horrible thing. Page elements and ads that use it will eat your CPU cycles and have a huge memory footprint, Flash is notoriously insecure, and anything that plays by itself — especially if there is audio — is annoying and needs to go away.

Flashcontrol stops Flash elements from playing on every web page. You'll see a grey box instead, and if you want to see the content you click it and it appears. Don't use the internet without it.

Download Flashcontrol (free)

Disconnect Facebook

Facebook is so good at tracking your every move when you have your browser open that you need a standalone extension to stop it. Disconnect Facebook will kill Facebook trackers and pixel trackers and stop them from following you when you leave a website that has them running.

Using this extension doesn't stop you from opening Facebook and using your account, but it will stop Like and Share to Facebook buttons from appearing on websites, too, but if you want to keep Zuckerberg out of your business that's the trade-off.

Download Facebook Disconnect (free)

Chromebooks

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6 days ago

Google evolving Android Messages with new 'Chat' RCS features, will pause Allo development

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Google evolving Android Messages with new 'Chat' RCS features, will pause Allo development

This may finally be the one Google chat service that works.

Stop me if you've heard this before: Google has a plan to launch an enhanced messaging system. Right, it's done this what feels like a dozen times before — but the reality is it's been like half a dozen, and that's still bad. Google Talk, Google Voice, Google+ Huddles, Hangouts, Allo ... yeah, not a set of successes right there. The latest attempt, coming to light in a great report from The Verge, is a new system simply called "Chat" that will be built into the Android Messages app by the end of the year. And thankfully, this isn't following the same playbook as previous attempts.

The short version is that Allo, launched just two years ago, is having its development halted indefinitely — and the entire team that's been evolving that standalone chat app will be moving to work on Android Messages. Yes that's Google's default SMS app — but once you see what's going on here it makes a whole lot of sense. We've already seen trickles of this move, with little additions like Allo's Smart Replies arriving in Messages, but now it's going all in.

In the coming months, and for sure by the end of the year, Google will build out a comprehensive set of advanced messaging features — if not fully duplicating Allo — in the Android Messages app. It's not a new app, or a new mode inside the app — it's just a new set of features that you'd expect in a modern messaging app. Things like easy-to-manage groups, high-resolution media, read receipts, typing indicators and more. It will be available to anyone who installs the app (with one caveat of carrier support), regardless of what company made your Android Phone, including the hundreds of millions of people who will have it loaded on their phone by default.

Chat isn't a new app, it's a brand new set of features in Android Messages.

Seeing Chat in Android Messages succeed where Google has failed so many times all hinges on this new standard called RCS, or Rich Communication Services. You've heard us talk a lot about it, though in fits and starts as various carriers and phone makers got on board. RCS, as the name implies, is a standard for providing rich chat services not unlike Google Hangouts, WhatsApp or WeChat or any of the dozens of other super-popular over-the-top chat services. The difference is that RCS is built on SMS, and designed to effectively replace it, so it's backwards-compatible with the legacy SMS/MMS system we know today. That means that these new "rich" communications will happen right in your regular SMS app, using your phone number as a profile identifier, and if you send a message to someone who doesn't have RCS it'll just come through as a regular SMS. It also makes sending Chat messages simple and easy, because it's tied to your phone number without any sort of additional sign-up or management required — it's just like sending a text message today.

But that compatibility with SMS cuts both ways: in order for RCS to work, you need the carriers of all people involved in the chat to support it and be using phones that support it. Carriers like T-Mobile got on board early, but bigger names like Verizon straggled. Google now has over 50 carriers on board worldwide, plus lots of big names like Samsung and Huawei committing to including RCS compatibility on their phones (Samsung ships its own SMS app called Messages). That last part is important, because it drives home one of the biggest strengths of this new Chat standard: this isn't tied to a Google app or a specific Google service, it's just a roundup of features that are part of the new RCS standard that any phone maker can implement in their own app. Android Messages, being from Google and installed on millions of phones as their default SMS app, will simply be the flagship example of using Chat features.

You get all of the messaging features you expect, but in an app everyone already has.

Like iMessage and WhatsApp, there will also be a desktop component to the new Chat features in Android Messages. Using a QR code (again, similar to WhatsApp) to authenticate, users will see a mirrored version of Chat on the web. But you use Hangouts, you claim. What's happening there? Hangouts has been in the process of being converted into an enterprise service to compete with the likes of Slack, but with the announcement of Chat, it sounds like Hangouts for personal use will eventually be wound down.

The new Chat team is being run by a familiar face: Anil Sabharwal. His team led the launch of Google Photos, which is arguably Google's most important recent product and one that's widely liked from smartphone nerds down to average users. With Sabharwal taking the lead and a whole bunch of people working with him that made a great app in Allo, this really has legs. Getting dozens of carriers and key Android manufacturers on board took a lot of work, but now explaining exactly what Chat is and how it works to everyone as the feature rolls out is the next hurdle.

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