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3 months ago

Moto G5 Plus vs. Moto G4 Plus: What's changed and which offers more value?

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The Moto G5 Plus offers a lot of value, but there are tradeoffs.

The Moto G5 Plus is all set to make its debut in the U.S. shortly, featuring several key upgrades over its predecessor. Motorola has announced that the variant with 2GB of RAM and 32GB internal storage will retail for $229, $20 less than what the Moto G4 Plus debuted at last year. The model with 4GB of RAM and 64GB storage will cost $299.

With the G5 Plus, Motorola finally switched to a metal design, and the internal hardware has also been upgraded. The phone is powered by a Snapdragon 625 SoC, which is significantly better than the Snapdragon 617 in the G4 Plus. The base storage also gets a welcome boost to 32GB, and the camera on the G5 Plus has the potential to be one of the best in this segment. Although the megapixel count has reduced from 16MP to 12MP, the f/1.7 aperture and 1.4 micron pixels make the G5 Plus stand out in this category.

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3 months ago

USB-C needs to get smarter before it gets better [Updated]

111

Woke up to a dead phone this morning, because my smartphone did something really dumb.

Update, March 20: This article was updated with quotes offering more detailed explanations.

A few nights ago I was away from home and didn't have my power cord with me, so I had to rely on a battery backup to charge my USB C-based phone for the night. This battery had been stuffed down in the bottom of my backpack for a few days, after having been used to power something else for several hours, so it didn't have a lot of juice left to begin with. If I had to guess, there was just about enough to get my phone to about 70%, which was more than enough to get me to a power outlet the next morning.

I plugged in my phone, confirmed it had charged to 10% before I closed my eyes, and didn't think about it again until the morning. When I woke up late because my alarm didn't go off, I realized it was because my phone was dead. What's worse, my battery backup actually had more power in it than it did before I'd plugged it in to my phone.

My phone and was dead and my battery pack was recharged — the opposite of what I wanted!

What happened here sounds bizarre, but it's actually all of the individual pieces of this charging system working as designed. The battery backup charged my phone until it was drained, and then started pulling power back from the phone because it was drained. USB-C is designed to allow simple power sharing, so anything can charge anything else. In theory it's amazing, and has seriously come in handy when I needed 20 more minutes of juice on my Chromebook for work and only had a phone nearby. In this situation, though, it didn't work out the way I wanted it to.

This isn't a failing on any one particular phone manufacturer, OS, or battery backup designer, either. This is, largely, how USB-C was designed to function when these things were made. Some handle this worse than others; for example, many Anker USB-C batteries have the Type-C port set to draw power by default, with a key press required in order to reverse direction, but in general this is a small problem lacking a standard solution for all devices. And the solution, at least to my specific problem, probably lies in software.

In my opinion, our phones shouldn't be allowed to give power to other things without our express permission. In much the same way that Android offers USB selection modes for file sharing that require a manual selection from me, power management should offer a similar option. That way, if my phone is sharing power with something, it's no accident and doesn't interrupt the ability to use the phone. This is something Google would need to implement at the OS level, but it seems like the best possible solution for this kind of problem.

But it's not as simple as all that, as I learned after publishing this. Google's public-facing USB-C rockstar, Benson Leung, schooled me a little over on Google+.

The battery pack, if it was implemented with USB Power Delivery and is connected to a USB-PD phone like the Pixel, could identify that the other party is a dual-role device with a small battery like a phone and not a fixed power source like a wall charger and hold-off on draining from the phone.

If i were to design the pack, i'd allow the battery pack to just draw enough power to boot itself up until it can recognize the other device is a dual-role device without its own external power source using PD, and then stop charging. That way neither phone or the battery pack charge.

We could make the phone behave in the way you want... such that it only ever acts as a power sink until you explicitly ask to turn on power source and host mode, but that would mean that if you wanted to plug in a USB thumb drive, or a USB accessory like, oh I don't know... USB-C digital headphones, they WOULDN'T work unless you explicitly change some setting first. You'd not even get any notification when you plugged in your USB-C headset because the port is fixed in sink-only mode, and it needs to supply power to the headset before the OS can even identify it as a headset.

It may be a fringe issue in the grand scheme of things, and with any luck this USB-PD feature will become a global standard over time. Unfortunately, that's not going to happen overnight, and in the mean time there are a huge number of these battery packs being sold on a regular basis. Even if you spend the extra cash to grab a battery pack with USB-PD enabled, if you already have a phone with a Type C port and it doesn't support USB-PD you'll need to upgrade before this all works like it should.

Frankly, we're beyond the point of shrugging off Type C related concerns as "early adopter" problems. It'd be nice for Google to take the lead on addressing this issue beyond strongly recommending the use of USB-PD in its documentation, instead of waiting for another big company to implement USB-C and show everyone how it's done.

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3 months ago

How to take a screenshot on the Google Pixel

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How do I take a screenshot on the Google Pixel?

The Google Pixel runs Android 7.1, which is pretty special. There are a whole bunch of new features, and there are rounded icons — for better or worse. If you're using the new phone, you're likely going to want to show off some of its awesome looks in the form of screenshots.

It's easy to take a screen on the google Pixel. Here's how.

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3 months ago

What do the LG G6's 16:9, 16.7:9 and 18:9 app scaling settings do?

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LG G6 app scaling settings

In an ideal world, every Android app would work flawlessly on every phone — unfortunately, we're not there yet.

The 18:9 aspect ratio display on the LG G6 gives you extra screen without making the phone wider, but that also means the display is a different shape than some apps expect it to be. While Android's design guidelines let apps automatically resize to a wide range of aspect ratios, there are some issues that can arise — and LG's "app scaling" settings are where you want to go if you run into issues.

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3 months ago

These Beauty and the Beast themes will bring some magic to your Android phone

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Theme as old as time… true as it can be…

Beauty and the Beast is coming back to theaters with a big, bold, live-action telling of our favorite bookworm princess. As a diehard Disney fan, this means breaking out the Nova Launcher and the KWGT to get my theme on. There's a lot of iconic characters to cover in Beauty and the Beast, and without further ado, here they are!

We invite you to relax, pull up a chair, as Android Central proudly presents… your themes.

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3 months ago

How to use Android Pay on your Android Wear smartwatch

8

Android Pay is here and easier to use than ever.

The biggest perk about having access to parts of your smartphone from your watch is convenience. Whether that means checking the weather while you are getting dressed, or being able to easily glance down for a moment to check your notifications. Android Pay is now available for use right from your wrist, provided that your watch is running Android Wear 2.0 and has NFC.

How to set up Android Pay on your watch

Using Android Pay is thankfully an uncomplicated affair once you've got everything set up. It will take a few minutes to get yourself situated, so it's something you're going to want to do before you roll out of the house to run your errands.

First you'll want to install Android Pay on your phone, and add the card that you want to use. Next make sure that your watch is connected to your phone via Bluetooth. From here you can open up Android Pay on your watch, and tap add card to choose from your previously-added cards. If you want to add a different card all you need to do is tap add card once again and switch back to your phone to verify details. Once it has been verified it will be added to the cards available with the Android Pay app on your watch.

Step by step instructions to set up Android Pay

  1. Install Android Pay on your phone.
  2. Add the card you want to use, verifying with your bank.
  3. Make sure your watch is connected to your phone via Bluetooth.
  4. Open Android Pay on your watch, tap add card to choose from cards on your phone.

And that's it!

How to use Android Pay on your watch

In a fast-paced world, there are times when convenience is definitely key. Sometimes you only have a few minutes to dart into the corner store for that caffeine rush first thing in the morning, or you're already distracted. That's where having access to Android Pay right from your wrist comes in. With just a tap, you'll be able to pay for your purchases and continue about your day. For anyone who has accidentally left their wallet (or even their phone) at home, this is a serious boon.

More watches with Android Pay are coming throughout 2017.

First thing's first, you'll want to launch the Android Pay app on your watch. You can program one of your hardware buttons to launch Android Pay, and even better, it doesn't need to be connected to your phone in order to make a payment. If you're ready to pay with your default card, just place the top edge of your watch to the payment terminal. When the payment is accepted you'll feel a long vibration on your watch, and the payment terminal will likely also beep.

Now, if you want to switch to one of your alternate cards, that's also easy to do. If you swipe up on your watch screen, it will reveal additional cards that you can choose from. These are the cards that have been entered and verified in the Android Pay app on your phone. If you want to switch to a new default card, tap on the card it view it, swipe up on the card, and then tap the blue bar with a check mark at the bottom. When it's time to delete a card follow the same steps, but instead of tapping the blue bar, swipe up one more time and then tap the trash can to delete that card.

Step by step instructions to use Android Pay

  1. To get ready to pay, launch the Android Pay app on your watch.
  2. Place the top edge of your watch to the payment terminal until you get a long vibration on the watch.
    • The payment terminal will also likely beep to confirm.
  3. If you want to switch cards before paying, swipe up on the screen to reveal additional cards.
    • To change a new card to default, tap on the card to view its details, swipe up on the card and then tap the blue bar with a check mark at the bottom
    • To delete a card, follow the same steps but give the bar an extra swipe up and tap the trash can to remove

You're now ready to pay like a pro with just your smartwatch!

Android Wear

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3 months ago

How to set up the fingerprint sensor on the LG G6

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Set it up so that all you have to do is touch the sensor to unlock your phone.

I've been spoiled by rear-facing fingerprint sensors these past few years. They're easier for my smaller hands to access and the mechanism itself just feels quicker than placing a thumb on the front side of the device. The LG G6 features its own rear-facing fingerprint sensor, too, and once you register a print, you can use it to lock up content in LG's Gallery and QuickMemo+ apps. Here's how to set up the fingerprint sensor.

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3 months ago

How to create and share lists in Google Maps

0

Google Maps lets you easily create and share lists of your favorite places.

The ability to create lists is the newest feature addition to Google Maps, and it continues the platform's evolution from being just a navigation service to an all-in-one travel utility. Maps now shows nearby points of interest, real-time traffic information, and gives you quick access shortcuts to your home and work addresses, making it easier for you to plan your day.

With lists, you can easily create and share lists of your favorite restaurants, or make an easy-to-follow list of places to visit when traveling to a new city. There's also a follow option, through which you can follow lists curated by others on the service.

By default, Maps offers three lists — "Favorites," "Starred Places," and "Want to Go," and you have the option of creating custom lists that are public (viewable by all) or private. You can also create lists and share them via a link.

The feature itself has been available for some time now for Local Guides — contributors and power users on Google Maps — and is now available for all users on the platform. Your lists are also available offline, and if you downloaded the particular area that covers your places, you can browse them entirely offline.

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3 months ago

What is an APN, and how do I change it?

Having the right mobile network settings makes a difference. Here's how to change them if you need to!

Unlocked phones and alternative carriers are more popular now than ever before. Most every company makes an unlocked model or two that you can buy directly from their website or a retailer like Amazon with the necessary parts and software to use it on any GSM network around the world. And when you don't have a phone that's tied to a carrier through financing you're free to try other carriers and see who offers what's best for you.

Shifting things around and trying someone new for phone service is pretty simple and pain-free, but you might need to know how to set the APN on your phone. Let's take a look at what an APN is and how you go about changing or adding one.

What is an APN?

The Access Point Name (APN) is the name for the settings your phone reads to set up a connection to the gateway between your carrier's cellular network and the public Internet.

You carrier reads these settings, then makes sure to determine the correct IP address, connect to the correct secure gateway, and see if you need them to connect you to a private network like a VPN. All the heavy lifting is done on the carrier side, but we need to make sure the right settings are in place to get on the network we need, in the way we need to connect.

An APN has the network settings your phone needs to connect to your provider.

Depending on how your carrier's network is structured, different settings are mandatory. The rest can be slightly altered to change some of the parameters, but for most of us, we will need to use the exact settings provided by our carrier.

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The good news is that most of the time, your phone has several "default" APN settings and one will work for phone calls automatically. Very handy if you need to call for help because unless you're using one of the Big Four networks (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon) nothing else will work correctly and you'll need to add an APN yourself.

The bad news is that carriers can customize the software on any phone they sell, and that includes blocking the ability to change the APN. Even if your phone is unlocked. You might be able to find a workaround posted on the internet, but there is also a good chance that you're just not going to be able to use any other network. We suggest buying your next phone from someone else.

How to change your APN

The first thing you'll need to do is find the right APN settings for the network you want to use. You'll be able to find these at the support pages at the carrier website. The settings will look like this example for Mint SIM:

  • Name - Ultra
  • APN - Wholesale
  • Proxy - (leave blank)
  • Port - 8080
  • Username & Password - (leave blank)
  • Server - (leave blank)
  • MMSC - http://wholesale.mmsmvno.com/mms/wapenc
  • MMS Proxy - (leave blank)
  • MMS Port - (leave blank)
  • MNC - 260
  • Authentication Type - (leave blank)
  • APN Type - default,supl,mms
  • MCC - 310

These are the settings you'll need to enter for a new APN that can use Mint SIM's service for data and MMS. Now we just need to find where to enter it.

This is going to be different depending on who made your phone, but it's always going to be in the Wireless & networks section of the settings. You're looking for a setting for Access Point Names and it might be nested in another setting like Cellular Networks. That's where you'll find it on the Pixel or Moto Z, and it should be similar to your phone. Don't worry, you can't mess anything up by tapping the settings and looking inside. Just try not to make any changes while you're looking.

Once you've found the "Access Point Names" section. Tap to open it.

You should see a list with at least one APN on it. If things aren't working with the current APN, you need to add another. Don't modify or delete the one you see, instead make a new one and we can choose it when we're done. At the top of the page, (or possibly in a menu, if your phone has a menu button) press the plus sign to bring up the "Edit access point" screen.

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This is where you will enter the settings you got from your carrier's website. Two very important things here:

  1. Not every setting in the "Edit access point" screen will need to be filled in. Only fill in the items your carrier provides, and leave the rest as-is.
  2. Be sure to type in everything exactly as provided by your carrier. For example, default,supl,hipri is different than default, supl, hipri because of the white space between items. Your carrier's system is set up to read an expected set of values, and any changes — no matter how minor — can and will break things.

Once you have the settings provided by your carrier entered, you need to save the APN. You do that by pressing the three dots in the upper right (or the menu key if your phone has one) and selecting the "Save" option.

Once your APN information is saved, go back one screen to the list we saw earlier. On this screen, tap the new APN settings you just entered to make them active. Your phone will lose its data connection for a little while as it connects to the new network using the new network settings. If you can't get a connection after a few minutes, you might need to restart your phone.

On rare occasions, your provider may have two APNs that need entering. This is because they use a separate gateway for MMS or other data that's separate from your data plan. If this is the case, you'll find a full explanation of both APN settings on your carrier's support site. Most times, one APN is all you need, though.

And that's it! Now your phone should work for calls, SMS, MMS and data. Now be sure to set up any Data Saver or warning settings your phone might have to monitor how much data you use and if you are getting close to your allotment.

Updated June 2017: We made sure to have up-to-date information and changes for the latest phones.

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3 months ago

How to set up the always-on display on the LG G6

11

Get quick stats on what's going on with your smartphone by enabling this feature.

I love being able to glance over at my smartphone display to check up on the time or any messages I might have without having to actually reach over and turn it on. You can take advantage of this helpful ability on the LG G6 by enabling the always-on display. Here's how to set it up.

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3 months ago

How to book an Uber using Google Maps

8

You can now book an Uber without ever leaving Google Maps.

Previous versions of Google Maps showed tariff estimates and wait times for ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, but an update rolled out earlier this year made it easier to book a ride without ever leaving Google Maps.

With the new ride services feature, you'll see a price breakdown between various tiers, as well as a visual representation of drivers in your area. As long as you're signed into your Uber account on your phone, you should be able to see your payment options from within Google Maps, as well as all available promotions and offers in your locale for the ride-sharing service.

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3 months ago

How to add multiple destinations in Google Maps

5

Easily add multiple stops to your Google Maps route.

One of the best additions to Google Maps is the ability to add multiple stops to your route. If you're running an errand or picking up groceries on your way back home, the feature gives you a quick look at the overall time for the trip and any delays along the way. You can add up to nine stops, and there's also the option to rearrange the stops to figure out the most efficient route.

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3 months ago

How to turn off the LG G6's 'squircle' icon frames

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How to turn off the LG G6's squircle icon frames

There's a fix for that rounded square issue.

When it comes to squircle-shaped icons, there are two distinct groups: those who don't care at all and those who feel like they're nails on a chalkboard. If you land in the latter group, you'll be scrambling to turn off the LG G6's "rounded square" icon frames, which are turned on by default in order to normalize the size and shape of all icons on the phone.

It only takes a few taps to turn everything back to normal, though, and here's a quick step-by-step process to get it done.

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3 months ago

Cutting the cord: How Modern Dad ditched cable TV

175

How my family took the plunge and unplugged cable TV for good.

It's sort of a rite of passage for folks of a certain age — especially those of us who grew up in a time before cable TV. Our kids? They don't know the differences between networks and cable news. It all looks the same — who cares how it comes in, right? But for me, the time came when the $150 a month I was paying for cable TV just wasn't worth it.

It was time to unplug.

I'm hardly the first to cut the cord. And while it hasn't necessarily been painless, it's definitely been a bit easier than I expected. And the best part is that there's no single way to do it.

What works for me may work for you, or maybe it won't. But at the very least I think it'll get you moving in the right direction. Here's a breakdown of everything I'm using.

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Phil's living room

The hardware

Android TV

Le Eco sent me a Super4 X65 TV to check out. It's not the most high-end display out there, and there a number of nagging little software bugs. But it's pretty darn good for the price and looks great in my living room. (I'd wait for those bugs to be worked out before buying, though.)

Android TV built into the TV is glorious.

But the big difference for me is that it's got Android TV built in. I've been using Android TV since its inception, of course. (Hell, since before it was Android TV, really.) And while it's great in a box, it's even better when it's built in. You don't have to worry about switching inputs on a remote — you just scroll down through the UI to pick what you want. That's made things a good bit easier on the wife and kids.

A downside, though, is that if you want to use a separate Android TV box, you'll essentially be running Android TV on top of Android TV, which was a little crazy when I plugged in an NVIDIA Shield TV. (But that's also something most folks are unlikely to do.)

Why'd I even attempt that little bit of inception? The Shield TV is the only Android TV instance that has access to Amazon videos. (Damn exclusives strike again.) That's another thing to consider. If you just have to have Amazon Video, you'll need a separate piece of hardware to get it.

See at Amazon

Phil's bedroom

In the bedroom: Apple TV

In the bedroom I've got an aging dumb TV that I'm using with a latest-gen Apple TV. It's definitely got more of an app-launcher feel than an embedded OS. And that's not necessarily a bad thing, just different. And there are a ton of apps, and all the content you'd expect to find from Apple.

There's not a whole lot of fault to be found in Apple TV.

The screen savers are beautiful. Ridiculously so. I'm seriously considering upgrading the TV back there just so they look better. I could spend all day watching the aerials. For as good as the Chromecast backdrops are, these are even better. (And not clunked up by the optional on-screen chrome that Google goes for.) And Airplay is as easy as Chromecast when it comes to shooting things over from an iPhone, iPad or Mac. Maybe even easier. (And it's seamless when it comes to using one of those devices to input text.)

Apple TV has the added bonus of a proper ethernet port for better connectivity — again, that's a concern when it comes to streaming. (But even then you're still at the mercy of the stream itself.)

See at Apple

The only real down side to Apple TV is that the remote is awful. I'm not even talking about the weird touchpad — just the lack of ergonomics and ridiculous button scheme. Which leads me to ...

Logitech Harmony remotes

Investing in a couple good universal remotes has made a world of difference. This is especially true if you've got multiple boxes connected to a single TV. (I can't stand having to deal with more than one remote.)

Logitech HarmonyIn the living room I've been using a Logitech Harmony Pro system. The gist is that the remote doesn't actually control the TV — it fires commands to a little Wifi-connected hub, and that shoots commands to the TV. The advantage here is that the remote doesn't actually have to have line-of-sight access to what it's controlling. (And there's a little IR extender you can use on the Harmony hub, so you can tuck these things in fun, out-of-the-way locations.

It's a little overkill. The remotes can control a lot of things. Sonos. Nest. Philips Hue lights. Plus everything in your entertainment system. The Elite has a touchscreen to help out, but I haven't ever really wanted to change the thermostat on this thing. It's easier to just yell at Alexa or Google Home to do that.

In the bedroom I've got a Harmony Companion. It's basically the same thing, with a scaled down remote. No touchscreen, but damned if this isn't the most beautifully designed device I own. The curves on the back of the remote are to die for. (I desperately want this thing to be made into a phone.) It's also a lot less expensive, but it still lets me control the Hue lights in the bedroom. This is probably the remote I'd recommend for most folks.

Harmony Companion
Harmony Elite

Yeah, but what about ...

I know, I know. There are a million different ways to cut the cord. And I've tried a lot of hardware in the past few months. Some other serious contenders include:

  • OTA HD antenna: Not every service covers everything yet. I'm using a couple indoor over-the-air antennas for networks. These things are directional, though, so check first to see what'll work best for you.
  • Roku 4 Ultra: This is the best solution for most people, I think. It has access to more services than either Google or Apple alone. (And it includes Amazon video.) It's also a relatively inexpensive $99.
  • NVIDIA Shield TV: This is the only standalone Android TV box you should consider. It's way powerful, and needs to be because it's also a pretty good gaming console. Plus it's got access to Amazon video.
  • Xbox One S: It's a gaming console first, and a streaming box second. But also having a Blu-Ray player built-in makes it pretty compelling. Problem is it doesn't have access to two of the streaming services I use.
  • Streaming sticks: They're small. They're cheap. And I don't use them. They're just not very powerful, and streaming is prone to lag and freezes even on good hardware. Spend a little extra and get good hardware.

The streaming services

This is where you have to do a little homework if you want to save some money. First I looked at what we were spending on cable TV every month. Then I started comparing streaming plans. If we broke $150, then none of this would be worth it.

The really nice part here is that there aren't any contracts, and generally speaking there are free trials. So you can try things out, and come and go as you please.

Also, yes: You get live TV. And a good bit more.

We started out with Sling. It's not bad at all, and certainly worth a look. But ultimately we've ended up on PlayStation Vue. We're on the most expensive plan at $65 a month, which is what we had to do to get all the channels we wanted. (Some things — like bundles — may never change, I guess.) We probably have about as many channels as we did with cable (I never actually counted), including some we didn't have before.

The bottom line

So let's do some math.

Our previous cable TV bills were $152 a month, including taxes and fees and box rentals and lord knows what else.

We're now paying $65 a month for PSVue. I haven't even been counting the $10 a month for Netflix, and $7.99 for Hulu, for which we already were paying. (And if you break Amazon Prime costs down monthly, that's another $8.35 a month.)

You need to do a little homework (and math) if you want to save money. But I'm now saving hundreds of dollars a year.

So that all totals out to $91 a month for more channels and content than any of us at home can (or should) watch. For the math-impaired, we're saving about $732 a year, and not watching any less.

Is it as easy as cable TV? Nope. Menus are a little slower and not as simple. Picture quality isn't always 100 percent as good — but generally it's good enough.

And this one's going to be a thing going forward — my ISP gives us 1 terabyte of data before it starts charging us extra. That'll be something we have to watch as we consume more 4K content. (And is maybe a reason to deal with Blu-Ray disks.)

Again, your mileage will vary. There's no one way to do this. You need to do your homework to see if the available services will actually save your any money in the first place, and then whether it'll save enough to make the switch worth it.

For my family, though? We haven't looked back.

Modern Dad

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3 months ago

How to personalize your Android phone with themes, launchers, and more!

54

Every Android user has a theme on their phone. They just don't know it yet.

Updated March 2017: Links were added to newer content and images were refreshed.

Even if you don't know what icon packs or launchers are, if your phone has a home screen on it, it's got a theme. Android users don't have to live in their app drawers; they can choose how their phone looks and functions. They can use widgets to interact with apps without opening them. They can use custom icons to theme or obscure the apps on their phone from prying eyes. They can even use gestures and contextual data to help their phone adapt to where they are and what they're doing.

So, what are Android themes and how can you get started with one?

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