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1 week ago

LastPass launching revamped family service with intuitive group features

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Keep everything locked tight from the public but freely shareable in your family.

LastPass is set to seriously improve its "family" tier of service, adding tons of intuitive features that make it easy to manage family-focused data between multiple users. The new LastPass Families, which is coming later this summer, is a big improvement over its current "family" plan which is simply a cheap way to get multiple individual subscriptions for people in the same household and offering one shared family folder.

The new LastPass Families focuses on actually offering family-oriented features, and they all sound great. You get unlimited sharing within your family group with as many folders as you want, and each folder will have its own permissions for different members of the family. So you can share your Netflix login with your kids, but only share banking information with your spouse, for example.

This is all about the permission model.

The designation of information expands to the LastPass "backup plan," where you can put critical information and designate which members can have access to it in an emergency. This keeps your data safe under normal circumstances, but gives you the ability to release it to your family members when necessary. The family manager will handle payment and be able to add or remove family members seamlessly.

When LastPass Families launches later this year, it will be available for a flat subscription fee for up to six family members. If you're excited to try it as early as possible, LastPass has a sign-up page where you can get in line for early access.

More: Best password managers for Android

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1 week ago

HTC U11 adds Amazon Alexa support, turning it into a portable Echo

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blank

HTC triples up on its artificial intelligence offering.

The HTC U11 launched in June with Google Assistant as its primary artificial intelligence service, though the promise was that at a later date we'd receive Amazon Alexa as a secondary choice. Now the time has come — with a new software update and an app install, you can use your U11 almost identically to the way you'd use an Amazon Echo sitting on your kitchen counter.

HTC U11 Amazon Alexa

Alexa can live right alongside Google Assistant on your U11.

The first interesting thing about the Alexa offering is that it can actually live right alongside Google Assistant. Long-pressing the U11's home button still launches Google Assistant, and as of now you can't actually remap that function to launching Alexa (though you can turn off Assistant there). So there are three ways to activate Alexa: by simply saying "Alexa" near the phone, by making Alexa an Edge Sense trigger for when you squeeze the phone, or simply by tapping the "HTC Alexa" app icon. Once you've activated the app once, you'll also get a notification with suggested things to ask Alexa and a microphone activation button.

Once you activate it, Alexa on the U11 works precisely like it does on an Echo in your home. You can configure it just like any other Echo using the Amazon Alexa app — by default it'll simply be called your "HTC Alexa" even. You can use any of the skills you're used to using, control smart home devices, buy items from Amazon, check on Amazon shipments, ask it knowledge-base questions, get your Flash Briefing and more.

Amazon Alexa on the HTC U11Amazon Alexa on the HTC U11Amazon Alexa on the HTC U11

The fact that Alexa on the phone works just like your Echo at home is a big deal for those who are already familiar with it, but there are also clear limitations to this setup.

This is simply an Echo virtualized on your phone — there's room to improve.

Nothing about Alexa on the phone takes advantage of the fact that it's on the phone. Unlike Google Assistant, Alexa can't control items on your phone like Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, can't give you directions to things that open up Google Maps, can't transition to showing you things on the screen and perhaps most importantly can't let you just type to it. It really is just an Echo virtualized into an app on your U11 — and that means at launch it lags behind Google Assistant in terms of raw capabilities and features that feel native to the phone.

Right now there are just a few limitations with Alexa on your phone compared to an Echo speaker. At launch you can't train the voice model for waking up Alexa, nor can you do some specific functions like create reminders or make calls. Presumably the gaps should close as Amazon works on its APIs to tailor to a mobile experience.

As with many Amazon products this is U.S.-only for now, but it should be localized for both the UK and Germany soon as well.

Amazon Alexa appAmazon Alexa appAmazon Alexa app

Further driving home the point that you're just using a virtualized Echo on your phone, you'll need to use the Amazon Alexa app to configure all of the things Alexa can do on your U11 ... which isn't the best app in the world, as you may have already experienced. You add skills, rename the phone, configure "do not disturb" hours and just about everything else right alongside your settings for Echos you may have.

If you're someone who's already into the Echo/Alexa ecosystem in your home and you want that familiarity on your U11, it's simple to do and worth checking out. You just have to have the latest firmware update for the U11, which is rolling out now (version 1.16.617.6 for unlocked, 1.13.651.6 for Sprint), and install the "HTC Alexa" app from Google Play. If you're not invested in Amazon and just want a general-purpose assistant for your phone, Google Assistant is still the go-to choice until Alexa can improve its on-phone experience.

HTC U11

Amazon Sprint HTC

img { width: 100%; height: auto; } .devicebox ul { display: table; margin: 0 0 10px; width: 100%; } .devicebox ul li { background: #f7f7f7; margin: 2px 0; padding: 4px 15px; } .devicebox ul li:hover { background: #fff; } .devicebox ul li:before { display: none; } .devicebox p ~ p { line-height: 1.25; } .devicebox p:first-of-type + p { padding: 15px; } .devicebox a.buy-link { border-radius: 5px; display: inline-block; font: 14px/31px "Proxima Nova Extrabld",Helvetica,Arial,sans-serif; text-align: center; } .devicebox a.buy-link, .devicebox a.buy-link:link, .devicebox a.buy-link:active, .devicebox a.buy-link:visited { background: #37B5D7; color: #FFF; } .devicebox a.buy-link:hover { background: #2694B2; text-decoration: none; } .devicebox a.buy-link:before { content: "\e61e"; font: 40px/0 "ac_iconset" !important; margin: 0 3px 0 -8px; vertical-align: middle; } @media all and (min-width: 1025px), all and (max-width: 800px) and (min-width: 660px) { /* div:not(.columns-3) excludes help menu content */ .article-body-wrap > div:not(.columns-3) > *:first-child:not(.sticky-wrapper) .devicebox { padding: 20px 0 25px; } .article-body-wrap > div:not(.columns-3) > *:first-child:not(.sticky-wrapper) .devicebox .video { float: left; margin: 0 30px 0 0; width: calc(100% - 375px); } .article-body-wrap > div:not(.columns-3) > *:first-child:not(.sticky-wrapper) .devicebox h3 + p { bottom: 37px; display: block; overflow: hidden; position: absolute; top: 60px; width: calc(100% - 375px); } .article-body-wrap > div:not(.columns-3) > *:first-child:not(.sticky-wrapper) .devicebox p img, .article-body-wrap > div:not(.columns-3) > *:first-child:not(.sticky-wrapper) .devicebox p > img { position: absolute; top: 50%; transform: translateY(-50%); } .article-body-wrap > div:not(.columns-3) > *:first-child:not(.sticky-wrapper) .devicebox p:nth-child(n+3), .article-body-wrap > div:not(.columns-3) > *:first-child:not(.sticky-wrapper) .devicebox ul { box-sizing: border-box; margin-left: calc(100% - 345px); width: 340px; } .article-body-wrap > div:not(.columns-3) > *:first-child:not(.sticky-wrapper) .devicebox p.list-head { margin-top: -5px; } } @media all and (max-width: 1024px) and (min-width: 801px), all and (max-width: 660px) { .devicebox h3 { text-align: center; } .devicebox ul, .devicebox p { display: block; } } @media all and (max-width: 800px) and (min-width: 660px) { .devicebox { padding: 20px 0 25px; } .devicebox .video { float: left; margin: 0 30px 0 0; width: calc(100% - 375px); } .devicebox h3 + p { bottom: 37px; display: block; overflow: hidden; position: absolute; top: 60px; width: calc(100% - 375px); } .devicebox p img, .devicebox p > img { position: absolute; top: 50%; transform: translateY(-50%); } .devicebox p:nth-child(n+3), .devicebox ul { box-sizing: border-box; margin-left: calc(100% - 345px); width: 340px; } .devicebox p.list-head { margin-top: -5px; } } @media all and (min-width: 1025px), all and (max-width: 800px) and (min-width: 661px), all and (max-width: 500px) { /* 2x buy buttons */ .devicebox a.buy-link { width: calc(50% - 2.5px); margin: 0 5px 5px 0; } .devicebox a.buy-link:nth-of-type(even) { margin: 0 0 5px 0; } .devicebox a.buy-link:last-of-type:nth-of-type(odd) { width: 100%; } } @media all and (max-width: 1024px) and (min-width: 801px), all and (max-width: 659px) and (min-width: 501px) { /* 3x buy buttons */ .devicebox a.buy-link { width: calc(100%/3 - 10px/3); margin: 0 5px 5px 0; } .devicebox a.buy-link:nth-of-type(3n):not(:nth-last-of-type(2)) { margin: 0 0 5px 0; } .devicebox a.buy-link:only-child { width: 100%; margin: 0 0 5px 0; } .devicebox a.buy-link:nth-last-of-type(2):nth-of-type(3n+1), .devicebox a.buy-link:nth-last-of-type(2):nth-of-type(3n+1) ~ a.buy-link, .devicebox a.buy-link:nth-last-of-type(4):nth-of-type(3n+1), .devicebox a.buy-link:nth-last-of-type(4):nth-of-type(3n+1) ~ a.buy-link { width: calc(50% - 2.5px); } .devicebox a.buy-link:nth-last-of-type(2):nth-of-type(3n+1) ~ a.buy-link, .devicebox a.buy-link:nth-last-of-type(4):nth-of-type(3n+1) ~ a.buy-link:nth-last-of-type(odd) { margin: 0 0 5px 0; } } @media all and (max-width: 800px) { .devicebox { margin: 0 0 30px; max-width: none; width: auto; } } @media all and (max-width: 500px) { .devicebox { margin: 0 0 30px; max-width: none; width: auto; } .devicebox a.buy-link:before { display: none; } } .page-admin .devicebox {max-width: 350px;} .page-admin .devicebox .video_iframe {position: relative; height: 0; padding-bottom: 56.9%;} .page-admin .devicebox .video_iframe iframe {width: 100%; height: 100%; position: absolute;} /*-->*/ /*-->*/ /*-->*/

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1 week ago

How to change the keyboard on your Android phone

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How to set default keyboard on your Android phone

Setting up a default keyboard on your Android phone is a lot easier than you think!

One amazing thing about Android phones is the plethora of customization options you have, including the option to change keyboards. There are a bunch of great keyboard apps for Android to choose from, so find the one that feels right for you.

We'll be working with the SwiftKey keyboard today to show you how to set a default keyboard on your Android phone, but the process is the same no matter which keyboard app you choose.

Note: This method applies to devices that run "stock" Android like the Google Pixel, Nexus phones, and the OnePlus 5. Your experience may be slightly different, but the general steps still apply.

  1. Download and install new keyboard from Google Play.
  2. Go to your Phone Settings.
  3. Find and tap Languages and input.

  4. Tap on current keyboard under Keyboard & input methods.
  5. Tap on choose keyboards.
  6. Tap on the new keyboard (such as SwiftKey) you would like to set as default.

  7. Read the Attention prompt that comes up on screen and tap OK if you wish to continue.
  8. Make sure the switch beside the keyboard has changed from gray to green.
  9. Go back to the main language & input screen.

  10. Tap on current keyboard again.
  11. Select the new keyboard (such as SwiftKey). This will save automatically.
  12. Make sure the keyboard is working by writing a quick message to someone.

Enjoy using your new third-party keyboard on your Android phone! If for any reason you want to go back to the stock keyboard or want to try out a different keyboard, it's the exact same process.

Updated July 2017: This article was updated with updated links and text.

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1 week ago

Google Maps now tells you how long a future trip will take

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"If I don't leave now, it's only going to take longer."

It's hard to know the perfect time to go somewhere, because there's no one outside mailmen and UPS drivers that really know when traffic is best in your city... except for Google Maps. With millions of users and millions more Waze users helping them graph traffic in real-time, day after day, Google Maps really can tell when the best time is to go run down to that trendy bistro downtown with a handy new chart.

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1 week ago

Best VPN apps for Android

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Keep your browsing secure and anonymous with a quality VPN service.

Using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) when you're online is becoming increasingly important these days. While the internet is a public space, a VPN acts like an invisibility cloak and makes your online activity virtually anonymous, making it hard for someone to track you when you're online — whether you're concerned about your internet service provider, the government, or malicious hackers.

We've previously looked at the best VPN services across all platforms, but here we're going to specifically look at VPNs for your Android devices. These are apps that are free to download, but typically require you to pay a monthly or yearly subscription. We've run down the best, so check it out!

Not sure if you need a VPN? We've got your explainer right here.

Private Internet Access VPN

For those who are new to using a VPN, one of the most important features will be an easy-to-use interface. You want something as easy as flipping a switch. Private Internet Access offers just that, with an extremely simple Android app. Best of all, a yearly subscription is around $40, which is one of the lowest prices you'll find for a premium VPN.

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Private Internet Access uses over 3,000 servers in 24 different countries and has received numerous nominations as one of the best commercial VPNs you can use. They don't log any of your online activity and the app is compatible not only with your Android devices, but also any computers running Windows, macOS or Linux.

Learn more at Private Internet Access.

Download: VPN by Private Internet Access (Free, $39.99/year or $6.95/month subscription)

ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN is another highly-rated premium VPN service that has been praised for its customer service and includes all the features you'd expect from a top-rated VPN such as unlimited bandwidth, unlimited speed, and strong encryption. You're able to connect up to three devices simultaneously via ExpressVPNs thousands of servers in more than 94 different countries.

The app for Android is easy to use for beginners, with settings and features that heavy users will appreciate. Subscriptions are a bit pricier but ExpressVPN offers a 7-day free trial and a no-hassle, 100% money-back guarantee for your first 30 days of service, so you can try it out for yourself.

Learn more at ExpressVPN.

Download: ExpressVPN (Free, $99.95/year, or $12.95/month subscription)

NordVPN

NordVPN is a great option if you're looking for an encrypted connection for up to six devices. Operated out of Panama, NordVPN has no legal obligation to record the activity of its users, so you can confidently connect to one of more than 1000 servers in 57 different countries.

It, too, comes highly recommended from a variety of outlets including CNET and PCMag, with an app for Android that's dead simple to use. Connect to a server with the press of a button and keep your phone protected when browsing on public Wi-Fi.

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You can try NordVPN for free with a 7-day trial before deciding whether to commit to a subscription.

Learn more at NordVPN.

Download: NordVPN (Free, $69/year or $11.95/month subscription)

TunnelBear VPN

Don't mistake the cartoony layout of TunnelBear VPN's Android app — it's a simple-to-use app that offers serious VPN protection. You can create an account for free, which gives you 500MB of secure data a month but we'd recommend checking out a paid subscription that lets you connect up to five different devices at a time to servers in 20 different countries.

The Android app is actually fun to use, and you got to give TunnelBear credit for really doubling down on its name by really running with the concept. TunnelBear does not currently support torrenting, so if that's an important feature you're best to look elsewhere. If you're only looking for a casual VPN for your phone, TunnelBear is a great free option with affordable pricing for upgrading to the premium service.

Learn more at TunnelBear VPN.

Download: TunnelBear VPN (Free, $59.88/year or $9.99/month subscription)

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1 week ago

Amazon Alexa: Everything you need to know

4

Getting to know your Alexa.

Amazon's Echo brings you an assistant in the form Alexa. She can help you with traffic, play you music, read books, and even help you get the shopping done. With so many features, it can get overwhelming, which is why we've collected everything you need to know in place. Welcome to your Amazon Alexa ultimate guide.

How to enable and disable Alexa skills

Alexa is the beating heart of the Amazon Echo and the platform upon which all of its abilities are based. Think of it like an operating system with apps that developers can build for it.

In this case, the apps are known as skills, and they're what makes your Echo do all kinds of things like turn on your lights, control your Wi-Fi and tell you what's happening in the world today. You can turn skills on and off as you want access to them, and there are plenty to choose from!

How to enable and disable Alexa skills

How to use Alexa for sports updates

If you're a sports fan, then it can be difficult at times to keep track of your favorite teams. With Alexa, you can program in your favorite teams and get updates by simply asking her for sports updates. You can add multiple teams, too, so you'll never miss a score again.

How to use Alexa for sports updates

How to add a user to an Alexa household

Household profiles are an option that you can use on Alexa to share certain Amazon content and purchases with another user. This means that you and your sweetie can share your audiobooks, music, shopping lists, and plenty more.

How to add a user to Alexa

How to use Alexa for traffic updates

Traffic is the bane of existence for anyone who's ever been late to a meeting because of gridlock. While you can use your phone, the radio, or the internet to check on traffic before heading out of the house, you can also ask Alexa. She'll let you know what your commute looks like; all you need to do is let her know where you're going.

How to use Alexa for traffic updates

How to add new smart home hardware to your Alexa groups

Alexa works hard to make itself a hub for all of your questions and technology. This, of course, includes smart home hardware, like Hue bulbs. Before you can go about making your house listen to your spoken commands, though, you'll need to add that new hardware to Alexa.

How to add new hardware to Alexa

How to sync your calendar with Alexa

Our lives have gotten progressively busier. Whether you're bouncing between doctors appointments, play dates, meetings, or family occasions, keeping track of everything you have going on is easier said than done. Thankfully, Alexa is here to help you out by keeping track of your calendar for you. All you need to do is sync your account, and you'll be good to go!

How to sync your calendar

How to listen to audiobooks using Alexa

Talking to Alexa can make keeping organized easier, but it's definitely useful for more than just an interactive to-do list and search engine. You can also use Alexa to listen to your audiobooks when you're ready to relax.

How to listen to audiobooks

How to connect your favorite music to Alexa

Most of us spend some time every day listening to music, podcasts, or audiobooks. For some folks, it's how they workout at home, while others like to lounge on the couch and listen to a good story after a hard day at work. You can connect Spotify, Pandora, and more when you're ready to relax with some sweet tunes!

How to connect your favorite music to Alexa

How to shop on Amazon with Alexa

Everything Amazon ever does has some form of hook into buying things from its onine store. On its tablets, that extends to adverts on your lock screen, but on the Amazon Echo, it's pretty much the opposite.

You can use it to buy things from Amazon, but only if you want to. There are no ads, no upsell. But instead of reaching for your phone or going on the computer, just ask Alexa to order things for you.

How to shop on Amazon with Alexa

How to customize your Alexa flash briefing

Alexa, what's in the news? That's a question you can ask your Amazon Echo every single day and receive a custom report based on what you want to hear about. Cut out the fluff, keep the good stuff.

Thanks to the Alexa skills catalog, there are a number of different news sources you can call upon to tailor your flash briefing to your particular tastes. It's really easy to set up, too.

How to customize your Alexa flash briefing

How to use Alexa's to-do list

The beauty of using something like Alexa to manage your to-do list at all is the voice interaction. You suddenly think of something that you need to take care of later, but where's your phone, or even a pad and pen?

Alexa can take down that note for you, and all you need to do is ask.

How to use Alexa's to-do list

How to improve Alexa's voice recognition

Out of the box, the impressive microphone array in most Amazon Echo and Echo-like products ensure your voice is clearly heard from across the room. Being heard isn't the same thing as being understood, and whether it's due to an accent Alexa doesn't quite process or some interference in the room, if Alexa doesn't get what you're saying, there's a relatively simple fix. Contained within your Alexa app is a tool to improve its ability to understand you, and as long as you have a couple minutes to spare and a quiet room that tool can make a significant difference in making the Echo, and Alexa, your best assistant friend.

How to improve Alexa's voice recognition

How to send a voice message using Alexa

You can now send messages through Alexa using just your voice, but there are some caveats.

Messaging with Alexa is one of those features you either don't know how you managed without or you're completely uninterested in. For those falling into the former category, there are a few quick tricks for getting the most out of this new Alexa-based messaging system.

How to send a voice message using Alexa

How to track what's being said to Alexa

Alexa learns about you as you interact with her, and part of the reason she's able to do this is that she records all of your conversations. The history is where all of these conversations are stored and where you can delete conversations you don't want Alexa to learn from.

Get Alexa's voice history

How to stop Alexa from buying things

Alexa can make your life easier in dozens of different ways, including ordering items off of Amazon for you. However, just because you're asking about something doesn't mean you actually want to purchase it. Since voice ordering is turned on by default when you set up your Amazon Echo, you may want to know how to add security when making purchases, or turn off voice purchasing entirely.

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How to get the most from Alexa in Canada

Amazon hasn't officially brought its Echo speakers to Canada yet, but that hasn't start eager early adopters from getting their hands on them. The good news is you can set it up to work in Canada, although it takes a bit of work to do so, including manually downloading the Alexa app and tweaking some settings in your Amazon account.

But once you've got things set up, you'll be able to enjoy the full benefits of having Alexa at your beck and call.

How to get the most from Alexa in Canada

How to get Alexa in your home without buying an Echo

One of the coolest parts of Amazon's Alexa service, especially when comparing the tech to other platforms, is the commitment to many different hardware partners. Any company can make something that works with Alexa, giving that new accessory complete control over all of the things an Amazon Echo has access to. That may mean a more capable speaker, or something a great deal more portable. There's a lot of flexibility here, and that means there are many different options to choose from.

How to get Alexa in your home without buying an Echo

Amazon Echo

Amazon

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1 week ago

Chromecast for Gear VR has started its rollout

What is Chromecast for Gear VR?

Back in May 2017, Oculus announced that they were toying with Gear VR support for Chromecast, and gamers rejoiced. Now it would be even easier to play awesome group games like "Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes" or to show off just how awesome a particular game or experience is when you only have one headset. However, there wasn't anything resembling a timeline on when we were to expect this update; only news that the update would be rolling out slowly.

For some folks, this update has already hit, and we're excited to fill you in!

Read more at VRHeads

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2 weeks ago

The OnePlus 5 is filled with great little software customizations to make it your own

11
OnePlus 5

It's your phone, and you should be able to change things — no matter how small.

The OnePlus 5 receives appropriate praise for its clean software experience, but there's more to it than simplicity. OxygenOS, as OnePlus calls it, integrates a ton of little useful customization options to let your OnePlus 5 look and act just how you like it. Now there isn't so much customization in here as to let you change the entire experience, but there are things you can change on a OnePlus 5 that you typically have to load a custom ROM on your phone to get, and that's great.

Here are some of the little things you can change on your OnePlus 5's software to make it your own.

Status bar

OnePlus 5 status bar customization

Now this is a really nerdy thing, but one that's wonderful: you can choose exactly which icons show up in your OnePlus 5's status bar. Just head into Settings and then Status bar to get started.

Of course most people will keep the usual set of icons for the volume status, Bluetooth connection, Wi-Fi and such ... but the best part about this is being able to turn off the more annoying and relatively useless icons. Things like the VoLTE status, Wi-Fi calling, NFC, and the headset indicator. If you don't want to see them, you don't have to. It's rather magical and we seriously wish every phone did this.

On top of that, you can of course choose what battery indicator you want, show the active network speed, and change the clock to actually show the seconds as well.

Navigation buttons

OnePlus 5 button customization

Probably the best example of the software's customizability is the navigation buttons. Not only can you decide between on-screen and capacitive navigation keys, but you have so many options beyond that simple choice. Head into Settings then Buttons to get started.

If you choose to go with the capacitive keys below the screen, you get the most customization options — and the most screen real estate, of course. You can of course swap the back and recents keys but also enable both a "long press" and "double tap" action for all three buttons. Each of the six actions can do things like open or close the menu, launch Google Assistant, turn off the screen, open your last-used app, and more. It will take a while to learn but can be extremely powerful and save you time.

For the software navigation bar, you can simply choose to swap the back and recents keys (if you're perhaps used to Samsung phones), or enable the hardware home button so it works even though you have an on-screen button. That's useful in full-screen apps. If you turn on the hardware home button, you also unlock the long press and double press actions for that button as well.

Gestures

OnePlus 5 gestures

OnePlus honestly had some troubles with its gesture control system early on, but has refined it to make it relatively useful for those who want extra "hidden" things they can do with their phone. Found in Settings then Gestures, you'll see a few different things you can do by swiping your finger around on the screen when it's turned off.

The basics are double-tap to wake, which we've seen on many phones, and music controls that let you swipe down with two fingers to play/pause media or draw an arrow to skip back or forward.

You then get five more gestures you can turn on and customize. By drawing an O, V, S, M or W, you can choose to perform actions like launching the camera, turning on the flashlight, or just launching any app on your phone. Between all five letters, you can do a whole lot without actually turning on your phone and tapping an app icon. That's powerful.

Launcher, theme, and icon packs

OnePlus launcher icon packs

If you choose to stick with the stock OnePlus Launcher, which closely mimics the Pixel's launcher and is quite nice, you get a few nice features. One hidden nugget is the ability to swipe up anywhere on the home screen to access the app drawer but also swipe down anywhere to bring down the notification shade — no more reaching! In the launcher settings, you can turn off the notification swipe if you want but also turn off the Android Nougat long-press app shortcuts if you find them annoying.

OnePlus includes an important feature for those who love to tweak their phone: full icon pack support. Just pinch in on your home screen and select Settings. The stock launcher lets you choose between three different icon styles — standard, rounded or square — but also supports any third-party icon pacs you may have installed. That means you can get one of the hundreds of custom icon sets out there, install it, and have the OnePlus 5 switch to it seamlessly. They usually take a bit more work than that, so it's great to see native support for this sort of niche tweak.

To complete the look with your icon pack, you can also choose between different themes at a system level as well. Under Settings and Display, select Theme and choose between the default theme, a light theme, or a dark theme. Yes, a default dark theme.

Notification LED

OnePlus 5 notification LED settings

Knowing its target market, OnePlus still includes a notification LED on the top bezel of the phone — it also gives you great control over it in the settings. Under Settings then Display and LED notifications, you'll find all of the available options.

You get to choose between eight different colors — dark blue, light blue, orange, green, red, yellow, purple, and pink — for the LED for basic functions like charging, battery full, battery low, and any general notification coming in. But you can also choose exactly which apps will light up that "general notification" color. You probably don't care about the LED blinking for Android Pay or Dropbox, but you do want to be notified by Gmail or your banking app. Just scroll through the list and pick which ones you want.

Unfortunately you can't pick different LED colors for different apps or get super granular and start addressing different apps with a different flash pattern, but a vast majority of people will be happy with the included settings.

The coolest part about all of these tweaks is that if you don't want to change anything, you don't have to! None of these settings particularly get in the way or interfere with just using the OnePlus 5 right out of the box. That's great design right there.

OnePlus 5

OnePlus

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2 weeks ago

Feeling depressed? These apps can help, or get you help

7

Life is long and arduous, and some of us have to face it with a health condition in tow. But sometimes, an app can help.

Mental health is not the easiest topic of discussion considering the social stigma surrounding it, but that hasn't stopped the breadth of mobile therapy and mood diary apps available in the Google Play Store. Treatment can be cost-prohibitive if you're not insured or don't have access to the proper resources, however, and while we'd never suggest that a app is adequate treatment for a condition, their mere existence has inspired the idea that you can use a smartphone to help manage your day to day.

I've even found my own routine with some apps. I've used Daylio, for example, to keep a micro-diary so that I could track my moods and day-to-day neurosis to present to my doctor. I've used the Muse brain sensing headband to learn to meditate, which has helped me make better use of apps like Pacifica that offer relaxation and mindfulness tools. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America has also developed a rating system for these particular apps, while Scientific American has come out warning users against phony apps:

According to the FDA, those psychiatric apps that provide coping techniques for people with diagnosed mental health conditions pose low risks to consumers. These apps will be regulated at the fda's discretion, and many will therefore escape the agency's safety and effectiveness assessments. Some experts, however, say that these apps can still be hazardous if they give out shoddy advice or otherwise mislead vulnerable consumers. 'Some of [these apps] are really good, and some of them are awful,' says Michael Van Ameringen, a psychiatry professor at McMaster University in Ontario. 'Clinicians and consumers need help sorting through them.'

So, while we can easily conclude that not all therapy apps are right for you, there are certainly plenty available that can at least help guide you on a path towards treatment that works. If you're suffering from depression, anxiety, or general dread for what tomorrow may bring, a talk therapy app or a micro-diary service could help at least organize those thoughts. Here are five apps we suggest you start with if you're considering it.

Headspace

Meditation is a thing that works for many people — and 8 percent of adults practice it regularly in the United States. It's about training your mind to focus attention, which — and I speak from experience – is much harder than merely thinking it.

Headspace is a great app for starting a practice of daily meditation. I've friends who use the service religiously. The service offers a basic meditation program, or you can upgrade to an annual subscription to unlock other programs and facets of the app. (There just so happens to be a 40 percent sale on annual subscriptions until July 24.)

Download Headspace (free)

BetterHelp

Need to talk to someone, but don't even know where to start? You can hire a counselor through the BetterHelp app, which offers access to 2000 counselors, accredited psychologists, marriage and family therapists, and clinical social workers from around the country.

After you sign up, you'll have to fill out a questionnaire so that the service can match you to an available counselor who might fit your criteria. Like other virtual talk therapy apps, BetterHealth offers a "virtual room" of sorts where you can walk in, take a seat, and wait for your session — just like you would in real life. You're not limited to the number of sessions you can have with your assigned counselor either, as long as both of you are available at the same time. Plans start at $65 a week for counseling.

Download BetterHelp (free)

TalkLife

Remember Secret? TalkLife app is sort of like that, but not at all as malicious, or dangerous to your mental health. If anything, Talk Life is a great place to go if you want to talk about what's going on, but you'd rather do so in a casual, candid manner. All you have to do is log on, tap out your thoughts, and share.

There are no therapists on this app, though. Anything you post can be seen by whoever is hanging around at the time, and they can like and comment on your posts at will. The most recent update even added stickers.

In my experience, most of the people lurking about are kind and generous with their positive affirmations; I didn't see one critical comment pop up in the three days I was using the app. However, I do have to offer a trigger warning, as there is ample talk of suicide and abuse in the main feed. When you start feeling alright, you can then log on to help others as they need, too. The point of Talk Life is that you're not alone.

Download TalkLife (free)

What's Up?

What's Up? is a relatively straightforward app with straightforward functionality, but I like it because getting into the habit of launching it when you start to spiral can help you get out of those unproductive patterns.

What's Up? is a free app that offers a few cognitive behavior tools (CBT) and Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT) methods to help you get through daily stressors. It offers advice on how to deal with the most common negative thinking patterns, as well as metaphors to help you snap out of your funk. There's also a positive and negative habit tracker, which you can password protect if you feel the need, as well as a catastrophe scale, which helps you determine the true weightiness of the situation at hand. There are even forums if you need a reality check from someone anonymous.

Download What's Up? (free)

Talkspace

Perhaps you've seen the commercials on television? Like BetterHelp, TalkSpace offers on-demand therapy and counseling from licensed professionals. The service gives you access to your therapist as you need, including the ability to message for help the minute you're feeling overwhelmed. The service starts at $32 a week.

Download Talkspace (free)

Your choices

Got any suggestions for apps to help with improving mental health? We're all ears!

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2 weeks ago

Do I need more than one Google Home?

25

Having more than one Google Home just adds benefits.

Google Home makes it easy to control your connected home. So what do you do when multiple people in the house all want to use your Google Home at the same time? Well, you pick up a second — or third! Having multiple Google Homes only increases your benefits, and we have the details for you here!

Do I really need more than one Google Home?

The first question that you might have is whether investing in more than one Google Home is actually worth it. Depending on the size of your living space (and how many people inhabit it) one Google Home may be more than sufficient. This is especially true if you don't really have much by way of connected home hardware.

However, if you've got a decent-sized house, then having a different Google Home in your living room, kitchen, and bedroom can seriously pay off. That's because connecting your smart home devices and using an app like IFTTT means that you can pull some added capabilities off of your accessory.

So if you have Hue lights in your bedroom, you want Google Home to read you a recipe while you're making dinner, and your partner wants to jam out to Spotify in the living room, all of those things are possible at the same time. The need for more than one Google Home is definitely personal, but if you want to get the most out of your technology, then having more than one is definitely a solid option.

What are the benefits of having multiple Google Homes?

If having more than one Google Home seems like the answer to your prayers, then you aren't on your own. Being able to play music in one room, while doing something entirely different in another room can make a pretty big difference. Especially if you are one of the people who get used to asking Google about the weather, your commute, and other information before you even leave the house.

Being able to have a different Google Home in each major room of your house means that no matter where you are, you have access to the information you need with just a question. This also means that if one person is listening to Spotify or an audiobook, they don't need to be interrupted if you need to know just how hot it actually is outside.

What if I only want one Google Home?

If you're really happy with your single Google Home, then strictly speaking there isn't any necessary reason to pick up another one. While you can only really do one thing at a time with Google Home, you should be pretty solid. Thanks to multi-user support, you can have several people connected to Google Home, and it will recognize their voices separately.

Google Home can support up to 6 users at a time and is able to tell who is speaking to it. This means it can also access specific accounts linked to a user without needing a separate accessory. While you can't play music and get a recipe for dinner at the same time, Google Home will remember background tasks you asked it for. This means you can set a timer while your partner listens to Spotify, and Google Home will pause the music when your alarm goes off.

For folks who live in smaller residences, live by themselves, or lack Smar thome hardware, then a single Google Home ought to be more than enough to help you keep track of everything going on in your life.

Questions?

Do you still have questions about whether or not more than one Google Home is a solid idea? Have you picked up a second Google Home? Let us know about it in the comments below!

Google Home

Google Store Best Buy Target

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2 weeks ago

Which countries support Google Home?

13

Google Home is slowly rolling out internationally. Is your country next?

Google Home has been helping out Americans with scheduling, playing music, and bringing their connected home together since November of 2016. While this accessory started out in the States, it's been slowly rolling out across the world. The United Kingdom and Canada are the two newest additions, but there are definitely more to come.

We've got the details for you here!

Countries where Google Home is currently available

Google Home released back in November of 2016 as Google's approach to a connected home. It was initially only available in the United States, before rolling out to the United Kingdom in April 2017, and then adding Canada in June. Here are the countries in which it is officially sold:

  • United States
  • United Kingdom
  • Canada

Countries Google Home is expanding to in Summer of 2017

While Google Home isn't available worldwide quite yet, it has begun rolling out to more countries. This summer we ought to see it hit four more countries, before the weather cools back down in Autumn. This means if you're living in Australia, France, Germany, or Japan, you are in luck. We don't have a specific release date for all of them, so keep your eyes peeled for when this awesome accessory becomes available near you!

  • France (August 3)
  • Australia
  • Germany
  • Japan

Questions?

Do you still have questions about whether Google Home will work in your country? Are you bummed your region doesn't have a release date yet? Let us know about it in the comments below!

See at Google

Google Home

Google Store Best Buy Target

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2 weeks ago

What other things do I need to use Google Home?

2

You probably have everything you need to use Google Home.

Google Home aims to make your life easier, but you will need a few things in order to use it. Don't worry though, chances are you already have access to the three integral parts of using Google Home. We've got the details for you here.

Internet, account, and apps

There are three prerequisites you need to possess before using Google Home:

  • Internet service and an in-home Wi-Fi connection
  • A Google account
  • Apps to connect the service to

The odds are that you already have Wi-Fi where you plan to use Google Home, a Google account, and apps that are compatible with Google Home installed on your phone. If this is the case, then you've already done the hard work of making sure that you have everything necessary to use Google Home.

You'll use your Google Account as authentication of who you are when linking apps, making purchases, or accessing your Google Play library. Once you plug Google Home in and set it up, it'll use the internet in order to access goods and services, as well as answer any questions you have. No Wi-Fi means no Google Home services.

Last but certainly not least are the apps you'll want to link with Google Home. These apps include Spotify or Pandora for music, as well as apps for your connected home (like Nest or Hue). By connecting to your existing account, you're able to connect to everything from a single hub. Probably the most important app to use with Google Home, though, is IFTTT which can let you use Google Home and your connected accessories to personalize your experience.

How to connect Google home and IFTTT

Questions?

Do you have questions about what is needed in order to use Google Home? Are you having issues getting set up? Let us know in the comments below!

Google Home

Google Store Best Buy Target

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2 weeks ago

Google Assistant could learn a thing or two from Bixby Voice

50

Bixby's conversational, apologetic nature helps make it one of the more humanized digital assistants out there.

Bixby Voice still isn't live yet, even as Samsung as made plans to launch more products with it in the future. The service has officially missed its originally projected launch window, and it looks like it won't be ready until after the Galaxy Note 8. At present, all we have to pull from is a limited preview, which I've been using for the past few weeks in an attempt to experience what it is Samsung's endeavoring to do here.

The good news is that there is something to look forward to. There is relative ease in using Bixby, and once you get into the habit, the button on the side of the Galaxy S8/S8+ also starts to make sense. It's clear what Samsung's gunning for here is a more personalized experience to Google Assistant. It's not as predictive or as useful in its current implementation, but the sheer fact that it's easier to talk to may be what gives it a prominent place on the shelf of Android's available digital assistants.

It's as complicated as talking to a person

Interacting with Bixby is effectively like talking to a human. Whereas Google Assistant can sometimes feel robotic and overly programmed, Bixby seems like an entity with the sole purpose of learning what its user likes. In fact, every time you bark a command, it asks for feedback to ensure it's doing precisely what you asked for.

Bixby asks for feedback to ensure it's doing precisely what you asked for

Granted, no human is that obsessed with pleasing another, but with Bixby having trouble understanding U.S. English (hence its delay) it's nice to be able to provide that instant feedback rather than grunting, pressing the button, and trying again. That's how you'd solve a problem with a friend, after all; you'd forego the attitude and attempt to make amends. That's what Bixby's trying here, too.

With Google's offerings, I have to think of the one command that encompasses every action I want to happen. For instance, if I wanted to play a podcast, I'd ask for it by title, and then remember to include the podcast moniker. Otherwise, the assistant won't know which app to find to pull that media.

In theory, Bixby is supposed to be easier to control because you can talk to it in regular human syntax, without having to remember a particular order of commands. It works like this in some instances — cropping a photo, for example, or turning off the always-on display from the settings — but in some cases, it has no idea where to even begin. With Google Play Music, for example, Bixby had difficult understanding I wanted it to play a podcast. I typically use Pocket Casts for this routine, but seeing as how it's not yet compatible with the Bixby Voice preview, I had to choose the road less traveled. That route got me nowhere, though, and I ended up tapping around to start playback myself.

The Bixby button

The Galaxy S8/S8+'s new Bixby button has been a hot topic lately, partially because there are many people out there who'd rather re-map it to do something else. I can understand why Samsung would want to discourage that, however, because that button is a significant part of the Bixby experience.

I can't tell you how many times Google Assistant has failed to launch when I've uttered the command, even as I was holding it a mere few inches from my face. Because of this, I deactivated the ability to call up Assistant from either my smartphones and left that bidding to the two Google Home units in my house. At present, I only use Assistant to control my home, not to interact with my devices.

Even in its beta state, Bixby is easier to use to call on than Google Assistant.

In its beta state, Bixby is easier to use to call on than Google Assistant, even when I'm muttering. As I'm whispering to myself as I'm typing this up, it's hearing its name and asking what it can do to help. Google would do the same, sure, but when it doesn't hear you, there's no alternative besides unlocking the phone and tapping around. That's exactly where the Bixby button comes in handy.

Remember the Nextel days of yore, when you could push to talk to a friend on the same cellular network? The side button on the Galaxy S8 is effectively Bixby's push-to-talk. You can use it with the screen off, or press it while you're inside a compatible app to control it with just your voice. You don't have to say "Hey, Bixby!" every time you use the phone, and you don't have to specify the app for your command.

There's something weirdly organic about pressing a button to talk to your phone, too — like sitting in Knight Rider's seat, maybe? Honestly, I was too young to watch the series, but I'd imagine that feeling of being physically connected to an electronic device does something to our brains. Whatever it is, it's what makes pressing the button second nature. Samsung should probably allow remapping until it's officially launched, though, because without the aid of Bixby Voice it's just a useless button.

There's plenty of work left to do

The fact that Bixby Voice has been significantly delayed has already done plenty to sour its arrival to the world, and that's a major shame. I see what Samsung is attempting to do here, beyond what it described in its original press release; it's hoping to market its personable, contextual digital assistant as a compliment to Google Assistant's robust search capabilities, rather than a replacement. Ironically, it doesn't yet do that because it's struggling with syntax — how can something understand the context if it can't even verify the order of words?

Bixby Voice is not at its best in its beta state, but I still enjoyed interacting with it more than I typically do with Google Assistant precisely because it's conversational. Hopefully, this preview period will help it get its grip on the English language. Bixby Voice is the sort of digital assistant that Android needs, and if it doesn't take off, it can at least set an example. I imagine the pressure is on to get this product out before Google figures it all out.

Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+

Verizon AT&T T-Mobile Sprint Unlocked

img { width: 100%; height: auto; } .devicebox ul { display: table; margin: 0 0 10px; width: 100%; } .devicebox ul li { background: #f7f7f7; margin: 2px 0; padding: 4px 15px; } .devicebox ul li:hover { background: #fff; } .devicebox ul li:before { display: none; } .devicebox p ~ p { line-height: 1.25; } .devicebox p:first-of-type + p { padding: 15px; } .devicebox a.buy-link { border-radius: 5px; display: inline-block; font: 14px/31px "Proxima Nova Extrabld",Helvetica,Arial,sans-serif; text-align: center; } .devicebox a.buy-link, .devicebox a.buy-link:link, .devicebox a.buy-link:active, .devicebox a.buy-link:visited { background: #37B5D7; color: #FFF; } .devicebox a.buy-link:hover { background: #2694B2; text-decoration: none; } .devicebox a.buy-link:before { content: "\e61e"; font: 40px/0 "ac_iconset" !important; margin: 0 3px 0 -8px; vertical-align: middle; } @media all and (min-width: 1025px), all and (max-width: 800px) and (min-width: 660px) { /* div:not(.columns-3) excludes help menu content */ .article-body-wrap > div:not(.columns-3) > *:first-child:not(.sticky-wrapper) .devicebox { padding: 20px 0 25px; } .article-body-wrap > div:not(.columns-3) > *:first-child:not(.sticky-wrapper) .devicebox .video { float: left; margin: 0 30px 0 0; width: calc(100% - 375px); } .article-body-wrap > div:not(.columns-3) > *:first-child:not(.sticky-wrapper) .devicebox h3 + p { bottom: 37px; display: block; overflow: hidden; position: absolute; top: 60px; width: calc(100% - 375px); } .article-body-wrap > div:not(.columns-3) > *:first-child:not(.sticky-wrapper) .devicebox p img, .article-body-wrap > div:not(.columns-3) > *:first-child:not(.sticky-wrapper) .devicebox p > img { position: absolute; top: 50%; transform: translateY(-50%); } .article-body-wrap > div:not(.columns-3) > *:first-child:not(.sticky-wrapper) .devicebox p:nth-child(n+3), .article-body-wrap > div:not(.columns-3) > *:first-child:not(.sticky-wrapper) .devicebox ul { box-sizing: border-box; margin-left: calc(100% - 345px); width: 340px; } .article-body-wrap > div:not(.columns-3) > *:first-child:not(.sticky-wrapper) .devicebox p.list-head { margin-top: -5px; } } @media all and (max-width: 1024px) and (min-width: 801px), all and (max-width: 660px) { .devicebox h3 { text-align: center; } .devicebox ul, .devicebox p { display: block; } } @media all and (max-width: 800px) and (min-width: 660px) { .devicebox { padding: 20px 0 25px; } .devicebox .video { float: left; margin: 0 30px 0 0; width: calc(100% - 375px); } .devicebox h3 + p { bottom: 37px; display: block; overflow: hidden; position: absolute; top: 60px; width: calc(100% - 375px); } .devicebox p img, .devicebox p > img { position: absolute; top: 50%; transform: translateY(-50%); } .devicebox p:nth-child(n+3), .devicebox ul { box-sizing: border-box; margin-left: calc(100% - 345px); width: 340px; } .devicebox p.list-head { margin-top: -5px; } } @media all and (min-width: 1025px), all and (max-width: 800px) and (min-width: 661px), all and (max-width: 500px) { /* 2x buy buttons */ .devicebox a.buy-link { width: calc(50% - 2.5px); margin: 0 5px 5px 0; } .devicebox a.buy-link:nth-of-type(even) { margin: 0 0 5px 0; } .devicebox a.buy-link:last-of-type:nth-of-type(odd) { width: 100%; } } @media all and (max-width: 1024px) and (min-width: 801px), all and (max-width: 659px) and (min-width: 501px) { /* 3x buy buttons */ .devicebox a.buy-link { width: calc(100%/3 - 10px/3); margin: 0 5px 5px 0; } .devicebox a.buy-link:nth-of-type(3n):not(:nth-last-of-type(2)) { margin: 0 0 5px 0; } .devicebox a.buy-link:only-child { width: 100%; margin: 0 0 5px 0; } .devicebox a.buy-link:nth-last-of-type(2):nth-of-type(3n+1), .devicebox a.buy-link:nth-last-of-type(2):nth-of-type(3n+1) ~ a.buy-link, .devicebox a.buy-link:nth-last-of-type(4):nth-of-type(3n+1), .devicebox a.buy-link:nth-last-of-type(4):nth-of-type(3n+1) ~ a.buy-link { width: calc(50% - 2.5px); } .devicebox a.buy-link:nth-last-of-type(2):nth-of-type(3n+1) ~ a.buy-link, .devicebox a.buy-link:nth-last-of-type(4):nth-of-type(3n+1) ~ a.buy-link:nth-last-of-type(odd) { margin: 0 0 5px 0; } } @media all and (max-width: 800px) { .devicebox { margin: 0 0 30px; max-width: none; width: auto; } } @media all and (max-width: 500px) { .devicebox { margin: 0 0 30px; max-width: none; width: auto; } .devicebox a.buy-link:before { display: none; } } .page-admin .devicebox {max-width: 350px;} .page-admin .devicebox .video_iframe {position: relative; height: 0; padding-bottom: 56.9%;} .page-admin .devicebox .video_iframe iframe {width: 100%; height: 100%; position: absolute;} /*-->*/ /*-->*/ /*-->*/

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3 weeks ago

How to stop Facebook and Instagram notifications from driving you crazy

20

Before you delete Facebook for being annoying, take a dive into the notification settings.

Quick story time: A few weeks back I went camping out in the remote wilderness for the weekend. We were well out of my carrier's range and so I was unable to check on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter for three whole days. When I got back into range of a cell tower, my phone exploded with notifications as expected.

I don't care that "so and so posted something for the first time in a while"!

But among the texts and emails, my Facebook and Instagram notifications stuck out to me. In my absence, no one had actually commented or liked anything on my profile — and yet I still received several notifications about "so and so posted something for the first time in a while" or "that old friend from high school who you barely ever talk to added new photos recently".

Social media notifications are supposed to be about letting you know when someone has commented on or reacted to something you've posted, but then there are all these other types of notifications that seem to serve another purpose — get you looking at your phone, opening up that timeline, and getting distracted in the never-ending stream of content.

The biggest culprits seem to be Facebook and Instagram (which Facebook owns). Naturally, I took to Facebook to vent about this issue, then dove into the app settings to see what could be tweaked. If you're getting fed up with these attention-stealing notifications but don't want to go the nuclear route and delete the apps from your phone, here's how to reel in social media notifications on the biggest culprits — Facebook and Instagram.

How to tweak your Facebook notifications

You're only able to tweak how mobile notifications are delivered via the Facebook app on Android, so tweak the notifications themselves, you need to log into Facebook on a web browser.

  1. Tap the down arrow in the top-right corner.
  2. Tap Settings
  3. Tap Notifications.
  4. Tap On Facebook.

This is where you can tweak the majority of things Facebook will send notifications for. By default, Facebook will notify you of all activity that involves you, whether that's someone tagging you in a photo or commenting on of your posts. If that's all you're after in terms of notifications, you can turn pretty much everything else off.

It seemed like the "Close Friends" notification was the biggest culprit for those random notifications about my friend's Facebook activity. Once you've gone through the Facebook notification settings on your computer, you can fine tune your mobile notifications in the Facebook app.

How to tweak your Instagram notifications

With Instagram, I only want to be sent a push notification if I'm tagged in the post of someone I follow, someone likes or comments on my stuff, someone follows me, or someone is trying to direct message me. That's it.

By default, Instagram will also send notifications if a Facebook friend has recently joined Instagram, the first time an account posts or adds to their Instagram story, any new feature integrations, and even reminders simply to check in on the app. Here's how to turn those ones off.

  1. From your Instagram profile, tap the menu button in the top-right corner.
  2. Swipe up to scroll down until you see Push Notifications
  3. Tap Push Notifications.

  4. Swipe up to scroll through the available notifications.
  5. Tap Off to turn off any notification you don't want to see

Instagram also gives you the option of only allowing push notifications from people you follow, which is good if you find yourself being harassed by spam bots. I'm still finding that Instagram is holding back notifying me on some likes for the sole purpose of getting me to check into the app. I'll check the app and see that three friends have liked a photo, then a half hour later I'll get a notification for one of those three friends. Hard to say if it's a bug or a sneaky way for Instagram to look at your phone but it's the one annoying notification quirk I haven't solved yet.

What notifications drive you crazy?

Is there an app that you use all the time that just spams you with notifications? Let us know and we'll look into helping you calm it down!

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3 weeks ago

How to keep your Android contacts current and duplicate-free

35

Any time is the perfect time to do a little phone book shuffling.

Although smartphones have progressed exponentially through the last decade, I'm still finding myself bumping up against remnants of the past.

Take my contacts list, for instance, or my "electronic Rolodex," if you will. I've had these contacts since I held my first smartphone in 2010. But there were some strange happenings back then, including friends who were still tending separate numbers because of their former T-Mobile Sidekicks, and weirdly those memories linger on thanks to a snafu in my phone book.

I was reminded of Andy Rubin's first major claim to fame.

I was reminded of Andy Rubin's first major claim to fame just the other day, as I texted a multi-paragraph diatribe to my friend who I figured was avoiding me for whatever reason (it was probably my fault). It turns out that I'd simply been sending messages to the wrong number for the last three months! Somehow, I resurrected my friend's phone number for his Sidekick from back in the day, and it turns out that I never deleted it from my Google account.

I eventually remedied the situation, but it got me thinking about contacts maintenance, and how summer is the right time to take some time to eliminate those extra numbers taking up space and maybe merging any duplicates you've collected over the past few months. After all, your digital phonebook can very easily become jumbled in the process, especially if you're always switching phones.

It's also surprisingly difficult to find a decent contacts manager in the Google Play store — at least at first search. Simpler Merge Duplicates and Merge+ seem to be the more popular titles available, but I didn't like that the former requires you to log in with an external account. There are also apps like Contacts+ and Sync.Me, both of which offer caller ID and dialer functionality as well as a bevy of other features. However, I like to use something that's a little less intrusive.

Contacts Optimizer is one of the best contacts management app I've used thus far, though there are plenty more to choose from.

I've always been partial to Contacts Optimizer because it works locally to find duplicates. It's also very thorough at detecting blank entries, fixing country codes, and digitizing vanity numbers, not to mention it can locate contacts that you can't even call because the number is altogether incorrect. There's an easy-to-use wizard you can toggle on to fill in empty contacts, and you can check on which of your apps have inherited weird metadata as a result of jumping around platforms. There's also a data backup ability, and MOBILedit offers a PC-compatible suite if you're aching to take your contacts management to the extreme.

Of course, you don't have to use a fancy third-party contacts app if you don't want to. Instead, you can manage your contacts manually from the Google Contacts web app, which gives you access to all those years of data you didn't even know you had. Google Contacts also has a duplicates locator, or you can use it to import and export your entire address book. Don't expect turnkey automation here, though; if you want that, you'll have to try one of the apps I mentioned above.

How do you manage?

With the massive number of contact apps available in the Play Store, and duplicates plaguing so many smartphones, we're curious to hear what your phone book maintenance methodologies are. Do you practice a ritualistic cleanse session each season? Or have you simply given up keeping tabs on whether your cloud data is doing what it's supposed to do?

Leave us a comment, especially if there's a contacts management app you particularly like.

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