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4 months ago

8 Important Considerations When Switching To An MVNO

Before you make the switch you need to think about a few things.

Having good cellular service has become an important thing for most people. We use our phones for everything from keeping in touch to keeping entertained when we have a few quiet moments. It's pretty great that we have such powerful machines in our pockets and nobody is happy when their service lets them down. That's why it's worth taking your time and checking out a few things before you switch carriers.

This can be especially important when switching to a prepaid alternative carrier, also known as an MVNO. Because they aren't the ones installing new facilities and building out the physical networks they operate on, they sometimes have to do things a little differently. These differences usually mean the service is cheaper every month, but it can also pose a few problems if you haven't done your homework before you made the switch.

What is an alternative carrier?

That's what we're here for! Android phones and the service that powers them is our job and our hobby. We love to get in the mix and try things like switching away from the Big Four as much as we like writing about it. With that in mind, here are some things you need to think about when you're ready to switch to an MVNO as your new carrier.

Picking the carrier that works where you need it to

This needs to be the first thing you look at. MVNOs have the luxury of using the networks the Big Four have rolled out, and we all know that not everyone has equal coverage on every carrier.

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One of the best things you can do is talk to people you know and see what service they are using. If you hear a lot of praise for one particular carrier and complaints about another, you have a good starting point when it comes to picking the right MVNO. You can also check out the carrier coverage maps.

You need to make sure you know what you're looking at here. Nobody is trying to deceive you but they all want their map to look as good as it can. On each of the coverage map sites, you'll find some controls to filter the different types of coverage that are being shown. Make sure to have a look and compare the voice calling maps to the data connection maps, and make sure you are filtering to see the high-speed data coverage. And definitely make sure you're not looking at "partner" or roaming maps, as many MVNO carriers don't support that part of their parent carrier's coverage.

Finally, be cautious if you need to use your phone in areas on the fringe or edge of coverage maps. The maps are never exact, and if the map tells you service will degrade just a few blocks from where you need to be covered, you might not get service at all. These maps should be considered as a good estimate rather than any sort of exact science.

Mint SIM

Match your phone with the right network

One of the best parts about using an MVNO is that you can save even more money by using the phone you already paid for. As long as your phone works on at least one of the Big Four carriers in the U.S. there's an MVNO that offers great service for you.

It's not that difficult to make sure the MVNO you want to use supports the phone you already have. If you're up on all the technical jargon you can check the radio bands on your phone against the radio bands listed on every alternative carrier's website. You'll usually find these on the FAQ portion and if they match you're in business.

If you don't want to get bogged down in frequency numbers and all the different network bands, sites like WillMyPhoneWork can tell you if your phone is compatible with most any network worldwide.

We've built a list of popular MVNO carriers and which networks they operate on that can answer many of your questions right away!

How to make sure your phone works on a prepaid alternative carrier

You might need to get your phone unlocked

Most phones will need to be SIM unlocked before they can be used on another carrier. This has nothing to do with your phone's security (that's a different type of unlocking) and only lets your phone accept programming for a new network. Carriers have their phones SIM locked as a way to cut down on equipment loss — a locked phone only works on the carrier who locked it, and only as long as you're making the payments.

SIM unlocking won't affect your phones security.

In the U.S. carriers are required to unlock a phone once it's paid for. Most will also unlock a phone after you've been a customer for a while as a show of good faith. You can get your phone unlocked by the carrier by making a phone call or going into a store. Customer service will be happy to help you provided you've met any obligations they require. Because of some rules for using the frequency Verizon uses for 4G service, they are required to sell all their phones unlocked.

Getting your phone SIM unlocked is easy

There are also third-party unlocking services that will send you a code to unlock your phone. If you go this route, be sure to do a quick web search on the company to make sure they have decent customer feedback. Getting your phone unlocked by a third party is exactly the same as having a carrier do it; once the code is entered you're good and can use a phone on any compatible network.

Know how much data you need

Most of us don't need unlimited data. The Big Four have brought back unlimited plans for the people who do need them, and we think that's great! But if you're not someone who needs a ton of data every month you're probably overpaying if you sign up for one of them.

You can check how much data you've used recently pretty easily. Your phone has a setting in the Wireless and networks section that tells you how much you have used in the past 30 days, but it's a good idea to get a bigger sample size here. At your carrier's website you should find a statement for the past few months that will show how much data each phone number on the account used. Get an average for the past couple of months, then add 1GB to it for a "just in case" bumper.

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Take this number and look at the MVNO you're considering. Chances are there is a plan that will cover what you need. The best part? You don't have a contract and can adjust things next month if you need to!

All the ways you can monitor and save data usage

What happens if you use all of your data for the month?

Life isn't static. Even with careful planning you might have a month where you had to use more data than you budgeted. It's important to know what happens and how you can add more data on a temporary basis.

Most every MVNO will sell "extra" data in 1GB increments. It's usually a little more than it would be if it were bundled into a pre-packged plan, but it won't be outrageous. Most companies charge about $10 per GB.

Buying extra data is always easy, but make sure you know how to do it before you need it.

What you need to do is check how you can add it right from your phone, so when you're close to using your allotted amount you can tap a few buttons and fill up your data bucket. You'll find this information on the company's website along with any other services they offer, such as international roaming or auto-refilling.

This is important because MVNOs aren't like the Big Four, and won't keep you connected then charge you overage fees (the good part) and instead usually cut you off completely once you've used all you have paid for (the bad part). Don't get stuck with no data and no way to buy more!

Some things cost extra or are not available

Wireless carriers can be strict about what they allow on their networks, and MVNOs are no different. Their business model — buy wireless service in bulk and resell with no frills — means they will have some restrictions on what you can and can't do, like tethering your phone or using your phone to call and text with someone outside of the U.S.

Chances are none of us are planning to run a server from our phone, but if you want to tether a laptop or tablet through your phone once in a while or call and text relatives in Mexico, you need to know the rules so you know what to expect. Many MVNOs will have simple and cost effective add-ons you can apply if you need more than just the basic service.

Just take the time to read the terms and see what you can and can't do while using the service. If you're unsure of anything you see, call or chat with a sales rep through the website and get squared away.

Advanced features may not work

Many of us have phones that support things like HD voice calls (VoLTE) or Wi-Fi calling. They're nice features if you use them regularly, but most of the time they are very phone and network specific. An MVNO may not have them at all, or you may need phones designed to run on a specific carrier to use them.

Advanced calling features require very specific phones.

This works the same way for the Big Four. If you want Verizon's HD Voice, for example, you'll need to have a phone that says Verizon on the back because it was built to the carrier's specs to use the service. Because most MVNOs don't sell phones under their own brand, you'll have to investigate if any of the features they offer need a specific brand of phone.

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Mint SIM offers Wi-Fi calling, and it works really well — as long as you have a phone that supports T-Mobile's Wi-Fi calling feature. Verizon offers its own Wi-Fi calling but it's not supported on Mint SIM. Most phones that support Wi-Fi calling are built to work on both networks so you're OK with either a Verizon or T-Mobile phone, but not a Sprint or an AT&T phone. It can be a little confusing even to smartphone veterans!

You don't need any of these extras to have good, cheap cellular service. That's the best part. But if you see something you don't understand, you can drop a question in the comments and someone can help give you an answer.

Photo courtesy National Park Service.

Prioritization is a thing

Prioritization means a carrier like T-Mobile identifies which phones using the network are doing it through an MVNO and gives priority to their direct customers. Only a certain number of phones can be connected to a cell tower at a time, and we're always switching on and off to make sure everyone has a turn. We've all probably been somewhere that a lot of people were using their phones and the service got really slow — that's because the lines to get your turn were long and you noticed the wait time.

When things get extreme, MVNO customers can experience even slower service because direct customers are given priority. I use MVNO carriers almost exclusively because I love the value they offer. But I do get to see prioritization in action every year on The Mall in Washington, D.C. during the annual July Fourth celebration. There are three-quarters of a million people jammed into a four block area, and we're all on our phones. Folks who pay AT&T (for example) directly for service have very poor service. People like me using an MVNO have practically no service.

There's nothing you can do about this, and no secret hack you see on the internet is going to work. It just happens when there are way too many people using just a few towers. The rest of the year I get the same service I would have from one of the Big Four at a much lower price.

Bonus number 9 thing!

You're going to have extra money every month. You'll have the service you are used to in most every way, but it costs a lot less and you only have to pay for the amount you'll need. Some MVNOs only charge you for the exact amount you use!

Saving enough for a nice night on the town because you switched phone companies is a great feeling. You'll love it.

Updated June 2017: We made sure the information was still great and relevant for the latest phones.

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4 months ago

Put some Canadian pride on your home screen with these Canada Day themes!

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"Canada… big, wide, and very, very cold!" "WHAT?!"

That's the beginning of the Canada movie at Epcot, and that's the first thing that pops into my head whenever I think of our northern neighbors. Safe to say, I am not an expert on the country. Until I started to work for Android Central, my Canadian experiences consisted of Epcot and Hetalia. That said, there's a lot to be envious of looking at Canada. You've got good healthcare, you've got Justin Trudeau, you've got all that maple syrup, and the biggest chance of a riot in Canada seems to be a hockey match. If it weren't for those winters and how much more expensive technological gadgetry seems to be up there, I'd be all over it!

No matter where you call your Canadian home, you can display some home screen pride this Canada Day with this pair of themes.

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4 months ago

Honor 6X and EMUI 5.0: Everything you need to know

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EMUI 5.0 is Huawei's biggest update in recent years.

Huawei has been making great hardware for several years now, but the software was always the main drawback. Earlier versions of EMUI were primarily designed for Chinese users, and as such they didn't translate well in Western markets. In particular, the lack of an app drawer was a major feature omission as Huawei looked set to expand its global ambitions. That changed at the end of last year with the introduction of EMUI 5.0.

Along with a visual overhaul, the latest iteration of EMUI brings much-needed features aimed at customers in Western markets, key among which is the introduction of the app drawer. You're still looking at a heavily-skinned version of Android, only this time around it actually feels like Huawei put in some effort toward creating a cohesive design aesthetic.

The EMUI 5.0 update rolled out to the Honor 6X earlier this year, bringing the new additions to Huawei's budget offering. Let's get started with some of the key feature additions.

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4 months ago

Here's what you need to know about Dash Charge on the OnePlus 5

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Dash Charge is one of the fastest charging protocols available today.

OnePlus rolled out Dash Charge in the OnePlus 3 and 3T, and has retained the tech for the OnePlus 5. Dash Charge allows the OnePlus 5 to attain a 60% charge in just 30 minutes, and while there are other fast charging solutions that let you top up your battery quickly, the advantage with OnePlus' tech is that it doesn't overheat your phone.

Dash Charge is licensed from OPPO, the parent company of OnePlus, and is different from the majority of quick charging options available today, most of which are based on Qualcomm's Quick Charge technology.

Here's what you need to know about Dash Charge on the OnePlus 5.

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4 months ago

How to manage users on Google Home

1

Adding or removing an account from Google Home will only take a few minutes.

Google Home makes it easy to control your connected home, and linked accounts all with the power of your voice. While multiple accounts can use Google Home at the same time, the time may come when a roommate moves out and you need to remove their access. Have no fear.

We've got the details on how to add, or remove a linked account from Google Home, and it only takes a few short minutes!

How to add a new user to Google Home

  1. Open Google Home on your phone.
  2. Tap the menu (it looks like three horizontal lines).
  3. Tap devices.

  4. Tap the menu on the Google Home you are linking an account to (it looks like three vertical dots).
  5. Tap Settings.
  6. Tap Link your Account.

  7. Tap continue.
  8. Teach Google Home to recognize your voice by following the prompts on your screen.
  9. Tap continue.

How to remove a linked account from Google Home

  1. Open Google Home on your phone.
  2. Tap the menu on the Google Home you are linking an account to (it looks like three vertical dots).
  3. Tap Devices.

  4. Tap the menu (it looks like three horizontal lines).
  5. Tap Settings.
  6. Tap Linked Accounts.

  7. Tap the X next to the account you want to remove.
  8. Tap Unlink.

Questions?

Have you had to unlink an account from Google Home? Do you have more questions about linking accounts? Drop us a comment and let us know about it!

Google Home

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4 months ago

How to get the most from Amazon Alexa in Canada

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"Alexa, play O, Canada!"

Amazon hasn't officially brought its Echo speakers to Canada yet, but that hasn't stopped 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.

Setting up Alexa for the first time

There are a couple ways to initially set up Alexa — either by using the Alexa website or through the Alexa app. Since the Alexa app is not yet officially available in Canada, the website will be the preferred method for most.

Before you go through the setup process, you need to change some settings in your Amazon.com account. The main goal is to trick Alexa into thinking you're in the US, which will unlock most of the functionality and features.

For me, this was a two-step process which required changing my default shipping address to a US address (I went with the address of a border shipping service I've previously used), and then going into your Amazon.com account settings (not Amazon.ca) to change your country setting for your Amazon content and devices.

  1. Click on Accounts & Lists.
  2. Click Your Content and Devices.
  3. Click the Settings tab.
  4. Under Country Settings, click the Change button and select the United States.

Once you've tweaked your Amazon account settings, the actual process for setting up your Echo speaker is pretty intuitive — simply plug the speaker in and follow the onscreen instructions to finish setup.

If you don't do the tweaks to your Amazon.com account you'll find that nearly all the settings are grayed out which means you won't be able to customize your music and media accounts.

Alternatively, you can set things up using the Alexa app. Since Alexa is not currently available in the Google Play Store to go down this route requires downloading the Alexa app APK from a third-party source and manually installing it on your phone. There are always risks associated with installing an APK you've downloaded from the internet, so make sure you're downloading it from a trusted source. Better yet, ask an Amerifriend to use something like ML Manager to extract and share their Alexa APK.

Tweaking Alexa for Canada

Once you've gone through the initial setup process, it's time to tweak your Alexa settings. All the basic functionality like setting timers and alarms, creating lists, and controlling your smart home products will work out of the box as you would expect, but there are some settings, skills, and tricks to keep in mind to try for a more Canadian experience.

Changing measurements to metric

By default, Alexa uses imperial units for distance and temperature measurements, but you're able to switch over to metric units in the device settings.

  1. From the Alexa menu, tap Settings
  2. Tap your device.

  3. Swipe up to scroll down to Measurement Units.
  4. Flip the switches next to Temperature Units and Distance Units.

It's just that easy! Now Alexa will give temperatures in Celsius, and distance in kilometers.

Canadian skills

There are already thousands of skills available for Alexa, and most will work. Now, the actual quality of the skills varies, so you'll want to spend some time browsing through the Skills section on Amazon.com or from within the app.

For skills specific to Canada, you may be interested in checking out the following:

  • CBC News hourly updates: Gives you the latest news from our national broadcaster as you would hear on Radio-Canada. Once the skill is added, you can get the latest news by asking for your flash briefing. There are plenty of (unofficial) skills for other Canadian news outlets, but CBC's is the most polished by far.
  • Hey, Toronto: For those who live in T.O., the Hey, Toronto skill lets you use Alexa as a voice interface to access Toronto Open Data. Alexa will send the results to the Hey, Toronto website on your phone. You will need to create an account and link it to Alexa, but once you've done this you'll be able to ask about city services and directions around Toronto.

Expect more Canadian-specific skills to become available once Amazon officially launches the Echo in Canada.

Six Awesome Amazon Alexa Skills You Might Not Know

Tips and tricks for using Alexa in Canada

  • You'll need to mention your city when asking for weather. Since you need to set your country to the U.S. to get things set up, you'll need to remember to include your city when asking for a weather update.
  • Spotify Premium is your best bet for streaming music. Alexa has a somewhat limited support for music streaming, which is even more limited for Canadians. Amazon Music and Pandora are not available in Canada, which leaves you with Spotify, iHeartRadio, or TuneIn as your only remaining options. Of those three, Spotify is the superior option although you'll need to be subscribed to Spotify Premium to link your account to Alexa.
  • Features that rely on location services won't work. For instance, if you ask Alexa for movie showing times in your city, it won't work because Canada is not yet supported.

How has Alexa been treating you?

Are you rocking an Amazon Echo in Canada? How did your setup go? Any Skill recommendations for your fellow Canadians? Let us know in the comments!

Amazon Echo

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4 months ago

How to take better photos with the Huawei Mate 9

5

Are you Mate 9 photos not looking so good? Try these tips.

The Huawei Mate 9's dual rear-facing cameras are a ton of fun to shoot with, made even better by their bundled in camera modes and extra features. But maybe you're feeling a little overwhelmed by it all and you're not sure where to start — that's okay. Here's are some quick tips for putting the Mate 9's cameras to proper use.

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4 months ago

Should you wall mount your PlayStation 4?

13

Wall mounting your PlayStation 4 is a great option for those who want their console out of the way.

Keeping your PlayStation 4 clean and safe from having things stacked on it can be a real hassle, especially if you live in a house with children, pets, or unruly roommates. There is a solution, though. By wall mounting your console you can keep it safe from tiny fingers, and ensure that cleaning it won't require removing fur from the vents.

We've got the details about it for you here!

Wall mounting is a personal preference

When it comes to deciding between just placing your console on the entertainment center, or mounting it up on the wall, it really is just a personal preference. It's certainly not a requirement, but there are plenty of ways to do it and save yourself some space in the long run.

Mounting your system on the wall can save room, especially for those who are set in up in a bedroom or gaming nook. Getting your PlayStation 4 out of the way can also help with keeping it clean and cool for longer between cleanings. Since earlier models of the console can be turned on — or off — by an errant paw or tail, this also eliminates accidentally power loss.

However you will need to remember to have your system close enough to connect your television, and wall mounting a console that hooks up to PlayStation VR might be more cords than you want draped across the wall. It can also cause problems if you charge your controllers using the USB ports as you'll need to get longer cords or stop playing while you charge up.

If you do decide that wall mounting is the way you want to go, there are plenty of accessories to make this process a breeze!

How do I wall mount my console?

To wall mount your PlayStation 4, you'll want to pick up a wall mount from Amazon, and then follow the instructions to get it hung on the wall. For those who have never put up a shelf before you'll want to be sure that you don't mount directly onto drywall, so a level, a Phillips head screwdriver, and a stud finder are all handy to have on hand.

You can peruse through several different wall mounts, several of which have specifically been built to avoid damaging your console. Just be sure that the mount you decide to order is compatible with the model of PlayStation 4 that you have at home.

See Forza wall mount at Amazon

Questions?

Is your Playstation 4 mounted? Do you prefer it on the entertainment center? Do you still have questions about wall mounting? Let us know about your set up in the comments below!

PlayStation 4

Amazon

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4 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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4 months ago

Best tips for getting started with the OnePlus 5

2
OnePlus 5

So you just got your OnePlus 5. Let us help you get the most out of it right away.

When you unbox your brand new phone, it can be enticing to jump right into setting it up how you've been using your previous phone without any consideration of the new features you now have. So after you get through setup and start downloading your apps, we encourage you to take a few minutes and check out some of what the OnePlus 5 has to offer that makes it unique.

These are the first things you need to do with your OnePlus 5.

Choose capacitive or on-screen buttons

OnePlus 5

The debate on capacitive versus on-screen navigation buttons will rage on, but this isn't the place for that argument — because the OnePlus 5 lets you choose whichever you prefer. You'll find the toggle for it in Settings and then Buttons — switch between the two at any time.

If you decide to go with capacitive keys, take the extra few minutes to configure long-press and double-tap actions for the buttons as well. For each of the three buttons, you can have something else happen when you long-press or double-tap them, including actions like opening menus, opening the camera, turning off the screen, pulling down the notification shade and more. It's a huge point of customization if you want to spend the time on it.

Decide if you want that screen protector

Like many phones, the OnePlus 5 comes out of the box with a pre-installed screen protector. It's actually a decent protector, but it really detracts from the experience of touching the Gorilla Glass 5 on the front directly.

Just take off that screen protector and touch the glass.

It may be worth keeping the screen protector on there for a day or two if you're on the fence about the phone and may return it or sell it on to someone else. But if you plan to keep your OnePlus 5, you should bite the bullet and remove that screen protector to really enjoy the phone fully.

If you're tough on phones and must have a screen protector, we recommend going with one of the purpose-built tempered glass protectors from OnePlus directly.

Actually unbox the charger

OnePlus 5 Dash Charge chargers

If you're a typical smartphone nerd like us, you have more phone chargers than you know what to do with. But when you get your OnePlus 5, there's a good reason to actually take the in-box charger out and have it handy. The OnePlus 5 has a proprietary fast charging system called "Dash Charge" that requires both an approved charger and cable to work, and that means you'll need to use the one in the box or another sold by OnePlus.

Dash Charge is darn useful — unbox the charger.

Dash Charge is a really smart piece of technology because it lets the charger do more of the work than the phone, letting your phone charge up faster without getting warm. It has the benefit of charging super fast, but also letting you retain near-max charging speeds even while playing a game or using hardware-intensive apps like navigating in car mode.

That doesn't mean your OnePlus 5 won't charge quickly off of another charging brick you have, but it won't be anywhere near the charging speed that a proper Dash Charge charger can offer.

More: Essential accessories for the OnePlus 5

Customize your status bar

One of the OnePlus 5's biggest features is its bevy of unique software customization options that are available without rooting or modifying the phone's firmware. A perfect example is the option to choose which icons show up in your status bar: go to Settings then Status bar and you'll see tons of choices.

You can change the battery bar style and add a battery percentage indicator, choose how you want time displayed and even show your active network speed up there. The best part is the "icon manager" that lets you turn off icons you have no interest in showing — like the auto-rotate, Bluetooth, VoLTE or NFC icons that will always be turned on.

Check out Reading Mode

OnePlus 5 reading mode

The OnePlus 5 has a new hardware sensor that can better identify ambient lighting, and it leverages that for a new "Reading Mode" to help reduce eye strain when reading on the phone. With Reading Mode on, the screen shifts to a near-greyscale color palette that's much easier on your eyes. You'll find it in Settings then Display and Reading Mode.

Reading Mode can help save your eyes during long reading sessions.

The best way to seamlessly use Reading Mode is to select specific apps that will toggle on the mode when you open them. For example it would be a good idea to turn on Reading Mode when you open the Kindle app, the Android Central app, or your favorite news aggregation service.

If you want to use Reading Mode more sparingly in apps, you can also add a toggle for it in your notification quick settings.

Configure gestures

OnePlus has iterated on its idea of screen-off gestures to let you configure exactly what you want to happen when you perform one. The phone supports swiping an O, V, S, M or W on the "off" display to perform actions — for each one, you can choose to do things like open the camera, open the flashlight or launch a specific app you have installed.

In addition to the active on-screen gestures, OnePlus also uses this area to include toggles for flipping the phone to mute incoming calls, swiping with three fingers to screenshot and double tapping the screen to wake it.

Get acquainted with the Alert Slider

OnePlus 5

Every company handles notifications and Do Not Disturb in different ways. OnePlus has stuck with a three-stage hardware switch to handle the duty — it's called the "Alert Slider" and it's found up above the volume rocker on the left edge of the phone.

This may be the biggest change in daily use for most people.

The specific actions can be customized, but the Alert Slider has three basic locations (from bottom to top): "ring," "do not disturb" and "silent" that are pretty self-explanatory. In the settings, you can slightly tweak how each acts: "ring" can include vibration or not, "do not disturb" can handle various alerts in different ways, and "silent" can completely mute media and vibration if you so choose.

Because all sound is handled by the Alert Slider, that means that you can't set automatic rules for Do Not Disturb — it's likely a change from what you're used to, but it also feels like a better way to handle things for most people.

OnePlus 5T and OnePlus 5

OnePlus Amazon

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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4 months ago

Your unlimited plan is probably ripping you off: How much data Americans actually use

The numbers are in and you probably don't need an expensive unlimited data plan.

Unlimited data plans are back. Here's some insight into why that happened as well as a look at how much data we really use every month.

We've recently seen all four major U.S. carriers introduce or revamp their unlimited LTE data plans. Multiple times. For some of us, this is great news: The folks who use upwards of 10GB of data on a line they pay for themselves found plenty of creative ways to hold on to older unlimited data plans, and sometimes that could be a hassle. Now they are available with a click of the mouse.

Unlimited plans coming back to AT&T and Verizon are a direct result of tough competition in the industry.

This wasn't unexpected, really. Companies like T-Mobile and StraightTalk made people notice the cost vs. value proposition of a cell phone data plan. AT&T and Verizon enjoyed a consumer mindset that they offered something superior when for many, alternatives could be just as good. When people started to take notice of that, it was time for a small shake-up.

People who will utilize an unlimited data plan and get their money's worth are outliers. Everyone can have a month where they are traveling or otherwise away from Wi-Fi and use a good chunk of data, but when you look at the numbers telling how much data is used per person on average, you see that most people would be better served with a cheaper plan that offers a capped data allotment.

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The numbers back this up. According to NPD Connected Intelligence, one of the groups that your carrier and the people who made your phone use for insight into growth and planning, in 2015 the average amount of data used per person per month was about 3.5GB. During the same time period, customers on T-Mobile used an average of 5GB per month and Sprint customers used about 4GB per month; and both carriers offered unlimited data plans to any post-paid customer.

T-Mobile and Sprint factor into these numbers in an important way: people with unlimited data plans still used just a moderate amount of data.

Why this is important

These are average numbers. That means that some people will be wildly outside the average on both ends: You might use 100GB of data per month but someone who uses 0.1GB per month offsets your input towards the average. An average can't predict the highest amounts of data being used (or the lowest) but it is a great way to determine how much data the average person uses each month. There's a lot of ways this data can be used and of course multiple ways it can be interpreted. For example, the average data a customer with access to an unlimited data plan uses isn't dramatically different from the amount someone without access to unlimited data is using.

People talking about new unlimited data plans means that they are doing what they were meant to do: Hype.

This means that the average person, regardless of network, doesn't need to pay for an expensive unlimited data plan. Unlimited plans are hypefests that get everyone talking about something as mundane and boring as a cellular provider. The hope is that you'll decide you need to sign up for one even though you don't need one. Sure, you might use a little more each month knowing that you have an unlimited plan, but generally, people who weren't using a large amount of data before aren't going to be using a lot of data after they switch. Old habits and all that.

None of this matters to the phone company. It has one goal: to make money. That's how business work. Every decision, every promotion, every marketing campaign and everything else is a way to try and make more money. A company won't be around for long if they aren't trying to bank a profit. And sometimes, how that profit can be shown on a quarterly earnings report matters as much as the amount that goes into the bank.

The ARPU

ARPU (Average Revenue Per Unit or User) is the total revenue coming in from the service divided by the number of subscribers. It's also a pretty big deal in shareholder's reports and earning's calls.

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ARPU is a number that translates into the amount of money a single line of service brings in over a set time. There can be a monthly ARPU or quarterly or yearly. This number includes all the money you pay to your carrier minus tax and regulatory fees. That means things like extras you may be paying for (international calling or live TV for mobile devices) are included as well as your normal contract or monthly price. The ARPU is an easy way for a company to track its income and growth over time, and each customer who pays for an expensive unlimited data plan brings this average up in a way that's statistically significant.

There is more than one way to count money.

Your carrier wants you to be excited about, and ultimately sign up for, an unlimited data plan because of how it affects the bottom line as well as how much.

Another way your phone company looks at their finances is with an eye towards profit instead of just income. The profit from a customer can be more important than the overall income generated from one. A company can be healthy and profitable even with a low customer count, or vice versa. We see this in action when companies give earnings results.

Income and profit are always two different numbers.

Consider a hypothetical that's not too far removed from actuality. T-Mobile keeps pulling more and more customers away from Verizon. But Verizon is making more money and has a higher value. That means Verizon is making more profit per customer than T-Mobile.

Calculating profit is pretty simple. The service an account uses is tallied then compared to the amount of income that account generates each month. If you sign up for an unlimited data plan and still only use 3-5GB of data per month, you help improve profit margins. All accounts are profitable, but some will be more profitable than others.

Don't hate the players

We're not trying to say your carrier is bad or unethical here. This is just how business works when it comes to a service provider.

Your phone company is supposed to make money if everyone is doing their job.

They need to offer you something that you feel is worth the monthly cost. If that means an unlimited data plan sounds like a good idea to you, one is available for you. With the U.S. telco market becoming more and more competitive it was a given that all companies would offer a fixed service that included unlimited data for a fixed cost. Users who needed such a plan would sign on and help improve that income per customer metric and users who didn't need an unlimited plan but signed up for other reasons helped improve the profit per user metric. This is how smart business works and the people in charge at your carrier are smart business persons. It's great that carriers now offer unlimited data plans for people who need them. It's also great if you can save money and not sign up for one if you don't.

The one thing to take away here is to ask yourself how much data you need every month. No one answer fits everyone, but there is an answer that fits you. Compare how much you need to how much you're paying for, and then check out what's available. A final metric that's harder to measure is how happy a customer is because happy customers are loyal customers. Make sure you're using a service that works best for you and makes you be that happy customer.

Updated June 2017: Edited some confusing language and made sure the information is as current as it can be.

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4 months ago

How to stop Alexa from buying things

8

These tips will make sure Alexa isn't purchasing something when you don't want it to.

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.

You can do it all right from the settings on your phone, and we've got the details for you!

How to turn off voice purchasing

  1. Open the Alexa app on your phone.
  2. Tap the menu button that looks like three horizontal lines in the upper left corner of the screen.
  3. Tap Settings.

  4. Tap voice purchasing.
  5. Tap the button next to purchase by voice to turn off voice purchasing.

If you still want to be able to purchase stuff, but want to prevent others from doing it on your behalf, add a purchase pin code.

How to add a purchase pin code

  1. Open the Alexa app on your phone.
  2. Tap the menu button that looks like three horizontal lines in the upper left corner of the screen.
  3. Tap Settings.

  4. Tap voice purchasing.
  5. Tap the text bar under require confirmation code and type in your 4-digit pin.
  6. Tap save changes.

Have you turned off voice purchasing?

Has Alexa tried to buy things you didn't want it to? Have you started using a confirmation code, or turned off voice purchasing altogether? Let us know about it in the comments below!

Amazon Echo

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5 months ago

How to pair a PS4 or Xbox One controller to NVIDIA Shield TV

7

If you're not happy with NVIDIA's own controllers, why not use a PS4 or Xbox One controller instead with your Shield TV?

The NVIDIA Shield TV is a great little box for playing games on. Whether it's native Android games or those streamed from your PC or Geforce Now, the Shield TV has some serious gaming chops.

It also has a pretty darn good controller in the box to play them with. But if you have a preference for either Sony's PS4 Dualshock 4 controller or Microsoft's Xbox One controller, you're in luck. You can use both with the NVIDIA Shield TV without needing to use a cable.

Here's how you do it.

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5 months ago

What is Project Fi, how does it work and why do I want it?

310

Google's own carrier offering definitely has some appeal.

If you're an Android enthusiast, you've likely already heard of Project Fi. But that doesn't mean you necessarily know everything about it, so we're here to give you the high-level look at the carrier option that comes directly from Google. Namely, just what the heck it is, how it works compared to other carriers and maybe a few reasons why you'd want to try it.

If you're interested in checking out phone service from Google, be sure to follow along with some of the high points below and get acquainted with Project Fi.

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5 months ago

Beginner's guide to Plex

66
Plex

Plex is an amazing tool to access your media content on all your devices. Here's a quick beginners guide to getting up and running.

Plex is one of those services that has been around for some time but many of us might have passed over for some reason, be it a lack of understanding of what it actually does, thinking it couldn't possibly be useful to you, or something else entirely. The truth is, Plex could be just what you're looking for to help you manage your media collection.

Setting up a media server sounds daunting, but Plex makes it super simple — and dare we say, enjoyable. You just need to know where to begin, which is where we come in.

This is our beginner's guide to Plex.

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