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1 month ago

The Galaxy Note 8 Alcantara case is like a soft blanket for your phone

30

Remember Snuggie? This is not that. This is a case.

I've been meaning to put my thoughts on the Note 8 down for a few weeks now, but they're basically the same as Andrew's: it's a great, huge phone that has many redeeming qualities, including a beautiful screen, admirable performance, and an S Pen that I love and want to use, but don't. Oh, and battery life is fine. Not sure what everyone's on about in that regard.

BUT I do have something nice and effusive to say about the shag carpet Alcantara case, which I picked up alongside my blue Note 8 at launch. Samsung's first-party accessories tend to be hit-or-miss, and while I initially scoffed at the idea of putting a soft, suede-like cover on my phone, I have no regrets: this is one of the best I've ever used.

This is a first-party accessory that's worth the higher cost.

Let's start with the fit and finish. When a company makes its own accessories, they tend to fit better than those of third parties — not universally true, but there's a correlation. (You'd also hope for high quality if it costs $49.) This thing fits like a glove and finds the right balance between protection and bulk. The Note 8 is already an oversized phone, especially vertically, so I was concerned about using any case with it.

The Alcantara case hugs the sides and top while leaving the bottom area exposed, which, while not entirely protected, makes the most amount of sense from a usability perspective, especially when it comes to applying and removing it. Ideally, you want to easily access the S Pen, speaker, headphone jack, and charging port — the bottom is always busy on a Note device — so going with a full-perimeter case would have been too restrictive. And, selfishly, it lets me see just a little bit of that blue metal that, only available in Canada, I love so much. 🇨🇦

The case also does well to add a bit of a lip to the front of the phone, which is ideal when it comes to drop protection. Obviously, this isn't going to be considered a heavy duty case in any way, so if you drop the phone while it's in the Alcantara case expect some damage, but any lip is better than none. On the other side, there's a nice little groove in which the camera(s) module sits, also protecting against scratches against that rear glass.

Holding the Note 8 while in the Alcantara case is a revelation. I noted above that the glass back is fairly grippy and I rarely left nervous about clutching it naked (the phone was naked, not me — probably) but there really is something to this material.

Alcantara is fairly new to the tech industry — we've seen it pop up in a few cases, as well as Microsoft's beautiful Surface Laptop and Surface Pro Type Cover — but it's been used in cars and home furniture since the 1970s. In fact, it's a brand; Alcantara is the name of the company that creates the material.

That material is basically a mixture of polyester and polyurethane — in other words, mostly plastic — which gives it its tensile strength. In the manufacturing process, however, the fibers are woven similarly to other threaded textiles to form the suede-like outer portion that makes it so pleasant to hold. But unlike suede and other leathers, Alcantara doesn't tarnish quite as easily — sure, it can discolor over time, but if treated well, and occasionally washed with soapy water, it should hold up nicely.

Having only pawed the Note 8's Alcantara case for a few days, I can't say whether it will hold up as well as a typical plastic case, but so far, so good.

Interested? You can pick up an Alcantara case for the Note 8 in one of four colors — black, green, pink, and dark gray (shown here) — for $49.

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Samsung Galaxy Note 8

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1 month ago

Sony's next-gen phone will finally feature an 'all-new design language'

24

Sony's next-generation flagship will sport a bezel-less design.

Sony hasn't strayed from its OmniBalance design language for some time now, but it looks like that's finally about to change. On the sidelines of the launch of the Xperia XZ1, Sony India's managing director Kenichiro Hibi said that the company will introduce an "all-new design language" to better compete with 18:9 devices like the Galaxy Note 8 and the LG V30. To that effect, Sony's next-generation flagship will feature a bezel-less design.

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1 month ago

Grab a OnePlus 5 in the UK and get £30 for accessories!

5

If you've been considering picking up a shiny new OnePlus 5 in the UK, we've got a sweet deal for you. For a limited time, Android Central users can grab £30 worth of OnePlus 5 accessories free when purchasing a new device from oneplus.net by using the code ACdiscount2017 at checkout.

The OnePlus 5 is available in four variants, with 64GB models priced at £449 and 128GB models for £499.

Available models include:

  • Slate Gray - 6GB RAM / 64GB Storage
  • Soft Gold - 6GB RAM / 64GB Storage
  • Slate Gray - 8GB RAM / 128GB Storage

Buy at OnePlus

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1 month ago

Nokia 8 with 5.3-inch QHD display and Snapdragon 835 lands in India for ₹36,999

6

Nokia's first Android flagship makes its debut in India.

After its global unveil late last month, the Nokia 8 has made its debut in the Indian subcontinent. The first Android flagship to bear the Nokia name has a lot going for it: you get a 5.3-inch Quad HD display backed by Gorilla Glass 5, Snapdragon 835, 4GB of RAM and 64GB storage, dual 13MP cameras, and a 3090mAh battery with Quick Charge 3.0.

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1 month ago

OxygenOS 4.5.0 brings several OnePlus 5 features to the 3/3T

5

Latest OxygenOS update brings a ton of new features to the OnePlus 3/3T.

The OxygenOS 4.5.0 OTA update is now rolling out to the OnePlus 3 and 3T, introducing features from the OnePlus 5 like lift up display and Gaming Do Not Disturb to last year's devices. Lift up display wakes the screen when you lift the phone, and Gaming DND mutes notifications and locks the navigation buttons when a particular app is running.

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1 month ago

Best Cheap Android Phones of 2017

Best overall

Moto G5 Plus

See at Amazon

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

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

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

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

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

Why the Moto G5 Plus is the best

Last year, we recommended the $199.99 Moto G4 over its $249.99 Plus variant, but this year the only distinction is between memory and storage amounts: the Moto G5 Plus comes in either a $229.99 2GB RAM / 32GB storage version, or a $299.99 4GB RAM / 64GB storage version — they are otherwise identical.

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

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

And if you buy it through Amazon, you can save $45 on the base model, bringing it down to $184.99!

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Best all-metal

Honor 6X

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For the new year the Honor 6X replaces its predecessor the 5X on this list. While you won't be blown away by magnificent design or all of the top-end features, the Honor 6X is an exercise in what you can get for about $210. You get a good enough screen, expandable storage and a fingerprint sensor, wrapped in a metal body that's better than the plastic offerings out there. There's also a neat dual camera setup around back that can take interesting-looking shots.

Sure it's stuck on Micro-USB and the software has yet to make the jump to Huawei's new EMUI 5.0 (and we can't wait for that to come), but you can't get that complete of a package in a phone this inexpensive.

Bottom-line: It doesn't offer everything, but it's a solid package for the money.

One more thing: The Honor 7X is coming soon, but the 6X is still a great deal, especially at a discount.

Best for even less

Moto E4

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

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

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

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

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

Best for battery

Moto E4 Plus

See at Amazon

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

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

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

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

Best in Europe

Wileyfox Swift 2 X

See at Amazon

The Wileyfox Swift 2 X is the British company's latest budget phone, an update to the previous Swift 2. You're getting a 5.2-inch 1080p display in a solid body, filled with surprisingly good specs: a Snapdragon 430, 3GB of RAM, 3010mAh battery with Quick Charge, 16MP camera, fingerprint sensor, NFC and dual SIMs.

At £219 the Swift 2X competes nicely with the other budget offerings from Moto, while offering a bit more hardware style and a different software experience. You get a clean version of Android 7.1.1 here, and Wileyfox has historically been surprisingly good with software updates as well.

Bottom-line: For those in Europe looking something a little nicer than a Moto G4 Play, with a fresh software experience, the Swift 2 X is a good choice.

One more thing: Don't be tempted by the cheaper Wileyfox models. The Swift 2 X is the only one we recommend.

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Conclusion

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

Best overall

Moto G5 Plus

See at Amazon

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

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

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

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

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

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

Updated November 2017: These are still the best cheap phones you can buy.

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1 month ago

Xiaomi Mi A1 review: Best of both worlds

38
Xiaomi Mi A1 review

The Mi A1 is Xiaomi's best budget phone yet.

Of the hundreds of phones sold in the budget segment every year, a mere handful of devices stand out: the Moto G series, for instance, along with the likes of Xiaomi's Redmi Note phones, Lenovo's K series, and Honor's budget devices.

In 2017, that list is dominated by Xiaomi's phones. The Redmi Note 4 continues to be one of the best devices in the sub-₹15,000 segment seven months after its launch, and the Redmi 4 and Redmi 4A offer excellent bang for your buck in the sub-₹10,000 tier. Then there's the Mi Max 2, which for ₹16,999 offers a large 6.44-inch display backed by a gorgeous aluminum unibody design.

Xiaomi's aggressive positioning in the budget segment allowed the brand to catapult up the rankings, with the manufacturer now the second-largest phone vendor in India. The Redmi Note 4 and Redmi 4 are two of the best-selling phones in the country this year, and with its latest phone, Xiaomi is set to consolidate its position in this category.

The Mi A1 is a great phone in its own right, but Xiaomi's decision to partner with Google to deliver stock Android makes it a much more compelling option. A small but vocal minority of Xiaomi fans have been clamoring for a device with clean Android for some time now, and with the Mi A1, the brand has delivered just that.

Read on to find out why the Mi A1 is the best budget phone you can currently buy in India.

Xiaomi Mi A1 review

About this review

I (Harish Jonnalagadda) am writing this review after using the Mi A1 for two weeks in Hyderabad, India on Airtel's 4G network. The phone runs Android 7.1.2 Nougat out of the box along with the August 1, 2017 security patch. The unit was provided to Android Central for review by Xiaomi India.

Xiaomi Mi A1 Specs

Category Spec Operating System Android 7.1.2 Nougat Display 5.5-inch IPS LCD 1920 x 1080 (403ppi)
Gorilla Glass, 2.5D curved glass Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 625
2.0GHz octa-core Cortex A53
14nm FinFET GPU Adreno 506 RAM 4GB Storage 64GB Expandable Yes, up to 128GB Battery 3080mAh Charging USB-C Rear Camera 1 12MP wide-angle (OmniVision OV12A10) f/2.2, 1.25-micron pixels
Dual tone flash, PDAF
4K@30FPS Rear Camera 2 12MP telephoto (OmniVision OV13880) f/2.6, 1.1-micron pixels Front Camera 5MP
1080p video Connectivity Wi-Fi 802.11 ac, Bluetooth 4.2
IR blaster, 3.5mm jack
GPS/AGPS, GLONASS, BeiDou Audio 3.5mm headphone jack
Dedicated amplifier Security One-touch fingerprint sensor at the back SIM Dual SIM slot (hybrid slot) Dimensions 155.4 x 75.8 x 7.3mm
165g Colors Black, Gold, Rose Gold

Xiaomi Mi A1 review

Xiaomi Mi A1 Hardware

The Mi A1 is a rebranded variant of the Mi 5X, which sports an all-metal chassis with antenna lines at the top and bottom. There's a clear difference in the design language between the Redmi series and phones in the Mi lineup, with the latter featuring a more refined aesthetic. As a result, the Mi A1 makes recent devices like the Redmi Note 4 look outdated.

The clean lines combined with the aluminum chassis gives the Mi A1 a premium look, and the build quality is outstanding. The phone comes with a 3.5mm jack, and unlike the Redmi Note 4, there's a USB-C charging port at the bottom. The power and volume buttons at the back provide a decent amount of tactile feedback, and there's an IR blaster located up top.

The back of the device is where things get interesting, with the Mi A1 sporting a dual camera setup. The configuration is the same as that of the Mi 6 — a primary sensor augmented by a secondary telephoto lens — but Xiaomi is using different imaging sensors.

The positioning of the dual camera to the top left corner coupled with Xiaomi's decision to tuck the antenna bands at the top and bottom of the device means the Mi A1 has more than a passing resemblance to the OnePlus 5. There is a Mi logo and Android One signage at the bottom of the phone to inform the world that it isn't in fact a OnePlus 5, and the rear-mounted fingerprint sensor also makes that abundantly clear.

The Mi A1 is Xiaomi's best-looking phone in the budget segment thus far.

The fingerprint sensor is conveniently located such that your finger automatically rests on it, and it had no issues authenticating my fingerprints.

Switching over to the front, the first thing you notice is the bezels at the top and bottom, and if you're picking up the gold color option, you'll get a white front plate. The side bezels are narrow, which makes it easier to hold the phone, and the back button is in the wrong position for a phone running stock Android.

Xiaomi has a long history of offering decent LCD panels in its phones, and the situation is no different with the Mi A1. The 5.5-inch Full HD screen is one of the best in this segment, with excellent colors and viewing angles. The panel gets sufficiently bright that it isn't an issue to view the contents on the screen under harsh sunlight.

Coming over to the hardware side of things, the Snapdragon 625 paired with stock Android makes the Mi A1 absolutely fly. You're not going to notice any slowdowns or lags in everyday usage. It's astonishing just how fluid the phone is at day-to-day tasks, whether it's switching between apps, quickly launching the camera, or playing visually intensive games.

Xiaomi Mi A1 review

Battery life

Battery life on the Mi A1 is excellent. I was initially worried that the 3080mAh battery wouldn't last a day, but I consistently got a day and a half's worth of usage out of the battery.

Even on days when I was on cellular data throughout, I managed to get up to four hours of screen-on-time and overall battery life exceeding 20 hours. To put that into context, that's nearly double what I averaged on the Pixel XL in similar conditions.

The one downside is the lack of a fast charging option. The Mi A1 tops out at 5V/2A, and it takes nearly two hours to fully charge the phone.

Xiaomi Mi A1 Nougat

Software

The software is what sets the Mi A1 apart from every other Xiaomi phone in the market today. The Chinese manufacturer teamed up with Google to offer the Mi A1 as a part of the Android One initiative, which means that for the first time, we're getting to see a Xiaomi phone with stock Android.

Google's first attempt with Android One failed miserably due to a combination of several factors. The phones were underwhelming and didn't stand out in the entry-level segment where they were positioned, and Google didn't do enough to advertize them to the masses. By partnering with Xiaomi, it is addressing those setbacks: the Mi A1 is one of the best-looking phones in the budget segment, and Xiaomi utterly dominates the mind share in markets like India, which ensures the phone gets plenty of visibility.

The software experience on the Mi A1 is on par with the Pixels and Nexus devices.

As for the software experience itself, it is in line with what you'd get on a Pixel or Nexus device. There's a swipe up gesture to access the app drawer, Google Now occupies the left-most pane, and all interface elements are unchanged from stock Android.

The phone runs Android 7.1.2 Nougat out of the box, and has the August 1, 2017 security patch. You get all the features built into Nougat, including split-screen multitasking, in-line notification replies, app shortcuts, granular controls for Do Not Disturb, and more. Then there's the ability to pull down the notification shade by swiping down on the fingerprint sensor, à la Pixel. There's also a gesture to quickly launch the camera by double pressing the power button.

Overall, it's a refreshing change to use a Xiaomi phone with stock Android. MIUI certainly has a lot to offer, but purists looking for an uncluttered experience finally have a device they can call their own.

Xiaomi Mi A1 review

Software updates

The only unknown when it comes to the software side of things is the update situation. Previous Android One devices have received updates directly from Google, but that will not be the case with the Mi A1. As the phone features a dual camera setup, Xiaomi has bundled its own Mi camera app instead of Google Camera. Xiaomi also pre-installed the Mi Remote app, which lets you use the IR blaster to control your TV, air con, or set-top box.

As a result of these additions, Xiaomi will be in charge of software updates for the Mi A1. The brand is committing to quick updates, and Google has stated that the phone will receive Oreo before the end of the year. Furthermore, the Mi A1 will be one of the first devices to pick up the Android P update next year.

Xiaomi Mi A1 review

Camera

The Mi A1 has two 12MP cameras at the back: the first is a wide-angle lens with 1.25-micron pixels and f/2.2, and the latter is a telephoto f/2.6 lens with 1.1-micron pixels that offers 2x optical zoom. The tagline for the Mi A1 is, "Flagship dual camera," with Xiaomi alluding to the fact that the phone has the same camera configuration as the Mi 6.

Although Xiaomi is using different imaging sensors, the image quality you get with the Mi A1 is on par with that of the Mi 6, at least in daylight conditions.

Xiaomi Mi 6 cameraXiaomi Mi A1 camera

Mi 6 on the left, Mi A1 to the right.

Xiaomi Mi 6 cameraXiaomi Mi A1 camera

Xiaomi Mi 6 cameraXiaomi Mi A1 camera

Xiaomi Mi 6 cameraXiaomi Mi A1 camera

The Mi A1 managed to hold its own next to the Mi 6, and the phone outdid its costlier sibling in a few scenarios. That said, the Mi 6 is currently on a beta MIUI build whereas the Mi A1 is running a stable version of Android 7.1.2 Nougat.

The camera app itself should be immediately familiar if you've used a Xiaomi phone in the past. You get toggles for filters and easy access to various shooting modes, which include panorama, tilt shift, a square mode for Instagram, and others. There's also a toggle for enabling the watermark, with resulting images featuring a "Shot on Mi A1" watermark in the bottom left corner.

Other options include the ability to switch between the primary imaging sensor and the telephoto lens via the 2x button, toggles for HDR, flash, portrait mode, switching between photo and video modes and the front and rear cameras. And yes, it still tries to guess your gender and age when you're taking selfies.

Portrait Mode works in a similar fashion to what we've seen on the Mi 6, with the camera blurring out the background to put the subject in focus. The mode needs plenty of lighting to work, and while the camera does a decent job in terms of blurring the background, it has a tough time delineating the edges.

Photos shot in daylight have plenty of detail, but those taken in low-light conditions tend to be very noisy. The 5MP front shooter is similarly decent for taking selfies. The camera on the Mi A1 isn't groundbreaking, but it is plenty capable considering the price point the device is targeting.

Xiaomi Mi A1 review

Xiaomi Mi A1 Bottom line

Xiaomi seems particularly intent on building out market share, and to that effect the brand has priced the Mi A1 very aggressively. The ₹14,999 price is astounding when you consider what's on offer with the device: sleek design, great display, clean software experience, dual cameras, and all-day battery life.

The software experience in particular is the standout feature of the Mi A1. One of the main reasons for Motorola's success in this segment was because of its reliance on an uncluttered user interface, and by teaming up with Google, Xiaomi is able to offer a similar experience to its customers.

Should you buy it? Without a doubt

The Mi A1 is the most uncompromising phone in the budget segment today. We've seen some great devices debuting in the market this year, notably the Redmi Note 4 and the Moto G5 Plus, and as an overall package, the Mi A1 handily beats both devices. For ₹14,999 you'll be hard-pressed to find a phone that offers quite as much for your money.

Xiaomi is once again leveraging its flash sales model for the Mi A1, which means that you won't be able to go to Mi.com and purchase the device whenever you want. The sale kicks off every Tuesday at 12 p.m., but if you don't want to wait, you always have the option of going to a Mi Home store and purchasing the device. Xiaomi is also making the phone available at over 600 partner stores.

It isn't the easiest process to get a hold of the Mi A1, but the device itself is well worth it.

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1 month ago

For Google, HTC deal is about the Pixel's next decade

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Google wants to win the smartphone game, and with the recent HTC deal, there's a realistic roadmap to getting there.

When rumors began swirling about Google buying HTC's smartphone division, anyone with an opinion on the industry had thoughts; here's why it's good for Google; here's why it's a terrible idea. Both sides were probably right, to some extent.

Now that the deal is done, though, we have a more nuanced understanding of exactly what transpired, and why Google chose not to acquire HTC's entire smartphone division, but instead over 2,000 of its employees, most of which have worked in some capacity on the company's Pixel lineup. The deal ensures that the Pixel lineup is here to stay, that Google is not just invested in hardware as a division — this is not some ephemeral project that will dissipate into Google's core business as so many others have over the years — but in the Pixel smartphone as a concept.

Google was a very different company when it bought Motorola in 2012.

I agree with many things about Alex's beautifully-written Editor's Desk from a few weeks ago, but we divert in a couple of key matters — and I have the benefit of hindsight, so forgive me — when it comes to Google's past and future. For starters, I firmly believe that Google didn't buy Motorola primarily for its patents in 2012, nor did it "become a smartphone vendor by accident." That lets Google off too easily, by allowing the company to reframe its enormous mistake in a way that, in retrospect, still makes sense. Yes, we lost a ton of money, but it was all about the patents anyway, so it was still a good deal for us.

Google definitely bought Motorola to become a smartphone vendor. It wanted to build Motorola into a tier one smartphone vendor to take on Samsung and Apple by reshaping the company in its own image. Under Google, Motorola went through a metamorphosis of simplicity and focus that, even under Lenovo today, it is still benefiting from. Similarly, Google learned a tremendous amount about the smartphone industry, about making deals with wireless carriers, and about manufacturing smartphones, that likely led it to understand that it didn't want the overhead. If, under Google, Motorola had risen to sell tens of millions of phones a year and turn a handsome profit, Google would be boasting today of its success in delicately balancing the needs of Android the platform and its in-house smartphone division.

This is an oversimplification, but when Google sold Motorola to Lenovo in 2014 for less than a fifth of what it paid it also shed itself of the tremendous ongoing financial burden of actually owning the equipment, and maintaining the logistics and distribution deals, that go along with being a smartphone maker. It's tough, capital-intensive work — work that Apple, which makes the most money in the industry by an enormous margin, outsources to partners all over China. Apple may design an increasing number of components inside its phones, but it doesn't actually build, or employ people that build, any of them.

Google, by "aqui-hiring" a couple thousand HTC employees, and gaining non-exclusive access to the Taiwanese company's patent portfolio, is moving in that direction. It is setting itself up for the next ten years of the Pixel, building on the foundation of its relatively successful foray into smartphone collaboration with the Nexus line.

The first-generation Pixels have a lot more HTC DNA than Google is willing to admit.

When the Pixels were announced last October, it was no secret that HTC was heavily involved not only in the manufacturing of the phones but the designs as well. When the inevitable teardowns came in the days following their October 20 release, it became immediately apparent that these were HTC phones in nearly all but name; the internal designs, from the placement of the batteries to the choice of vibration motors, were all HTC. To be clear, Google enforced a set of rules for HTC to follow, and held its hand to finalize the design, ensuring that these would be the most "Google" phones released to date, but they still shared plenty of HTC DNA.

Google could work with the likes of Foxconn, Pegatron and other specialized manufacturing firms to build in-house-designed flagships, but that's a ways off. Spending $1.1 billion for more than 2,000 HTC employees, though, ensures that future is accessible when the time comes.

The Google that spent $12.5 billion for Motorola in 2012 is not the same one that spent less than a tenth of that amount last week. Back then, Google was run by Larry Page and Android overseen by Andy Rubin. Android, despite having been around for nearly half a decade at that point, was nowhere near the polished, mature, and capable operating system it is today. In late 2011, when Google announced it was purchasing Motorola, it was HTC, not Samsung, that dominated the ecosystem's conversation — and its sales. It wouldn't be until the following year, with the Galaxy S3, that Samsung would rightfully overtake HTC — and everyone else — in dominating the Android space. In the intervening time, Google worked with Motorola to build what is still today one of the most ambitious flagships of the last decade, the Moto X.

Flawed as it was, if Motorola had sold ten million Moto Xs instead of the same number of Moto Gs, the Android ecosystem today may look very different. But what happened happened, and Google has since hired Rick Osterloh, the man responsible for steering that unwieldy Motorola ship, to run its nascent hardware division. And under him, not only have we been given Pixels, but Google Home, Google Wifi, Daydream, and an emerging optimism for a Google that understands the types of hardware experiences people want.

The first generation Pixels are also flawed. They also didn't sell in the tens of millions. But Google just spent $1.1 billion to make sure that it can, and will, sell in that number sometime in the future. Because neither Apple nor Samsung, nor BlackBerry or Nokia before them, sold in those numbers in their first years. The phone business is a long-term investment, one that involves making hundreds of precarious right moves before finding true success. What this HTC deal tells me is that Google wants the Pixel line to be around in 10 years, and that it wants to compete with Samsung and Apple in every market, from hardware to machine learning and computational photography to smart assistants and media acquisition.

There's a reason I haven't talked much about the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL in this column, the phones that Google wants us all to focus on right now. That's because this HTC deal won't bear fruit in 2017 but in 2023. The HTC of 2017 helped Google build a smartphone; by 2023, Google hopes those same people will help it build an empire.

Here's what else is going through my mind this week.

That's it for me this week! Enjoy the rest of your Sunday, and I'll see you all here again tomorrow.

-Daniel

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1 month ago

Best BlackBerry Phone

Best overall

BlackBerry KEYone

See at Amazon

BlackBerry is legendary when it comes to mobile device management and security, and follows that trend when using Android to power its phones. With the KEYone, you also get the keyboard experience that only BlackBerry can offer. The KEYone is a great way to enjoy Android for people who still want a physical keyboard on their phone, and peace of mind that knowing a company is concerned about security.

Bottom line: BlackBerry continues its reputation of excellent mobile security and having a great keyboard with the KEYone.

One more thing: The BlackBerry is usually the first phone to get the monthly Android Security update — often hours before Google releases the bulletin itself!

Why the BlackBerry KEYone is the best

The keyboard form factor you love.

BlackBerry's iconic candy bar keyboard design has been merged with Android, bringing you the best of both worlds with the KEYone.

The KEYone has everything a BlackBerry fan would want or need. A big bright screen, all-day battery life, a great camera and the legendary BlackBerry keyboard. With Android and BlackBerry's comprehensive suite of productivity and security applications, you'll get more done and be able to stay in touch with business and personal contacts across social media as well as through email. And when the work day is done, you're able to enjoy over a million apps from Google Play.

The KEYone is the best BlackBerry you can buy.


Best for less

BlackBerry DTEK60

See at Amazon

The DTEK60 features a mostly stock Android experience that's accentuated with BlackBerry's added layers of security along with the BlackBerry Intelligent Keyboard which is jam-packed with useful gesture controls. You'll also get the full suite of BlackBerry productivity tools.

The DTEK60 is packed with some really handy features including the classic BlackBerry notification LED on the front, a programmable convenience key, and a fingerprint scanner on the back. Powered by a Snapdragon 820 processor and a 3,000mAh battery, it's a quality phone all around.

Bottom line: The DTEK60's price a welcome addition for many users and IT managers.

One more thing: Scott Wenger, VP of design and devices for BlackBerry says DTEK stands for "Detection."

Best Slider

BlackBerry Priv

See at Amazon

BlackBerry's first phone running on Android was a bold attempt to buck the latest smartphone trends. In a world dominated by slabs of aluminum and glass, BlackBerry went with a slider design to incorporate a physical keyboard and a soft-touch back that's great for maintaining your grip.

While it may have lost a bit of luster when the KEYone launched, it's a great option for folks who were interested a full-screen sliding keyboard experience.

Bottom line: With its physical keyboard and top-notch Blackberry security features, the Priv is a unique and powerful option in the Android marketplace.

One more thing: The Priv may be all about the physical keyboard, but BlackBerry's virtual keyboard is actually one of the best in the business, too.

Best overall

BlackBerry KEYone

See at Amazon

BlackBerry is legendary when it comes to mobile device management and security, and follows that trend when using Android to power its phones. With the KEYone, you also get the keyboard experience that only BlackBerry can offer. The KEYone is a great way to enjoy Android for people who still want a physical keyboard on their phone, and peace of mind that knowing a company is concerned about security.

Bottom line: BlackBerry continues its reputation of excellent mobile security and having a great keyboard with the KEYone.

One more thing: The BlackBerry is usually the first phone to get the monthly Android Security update — often hours before Google releases the bulletin itself!

Update August 2017: Added DTEK60 as the best for less option.

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1 month ago

Android One in the U.S. gives it a new lease on life, and that's a big deal

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Android One phones in the U.S. are an opportunity for everyone to have a Good Phone™.

Step into the Wayback Machine with me for a minute, as we head back to the Autumn of 2013. Amidst all the hype and furious pace of Android phone releases, one phone was unexpectedly great: the original Moto G.

The 2013 Moto G only had to do one thing: not suck. It succeeded.

The first generation Moto G was, at around $150, fairly inexpensive. It didn't have the fastest and bestest processor or ungodly amounts of memory (it actually had 1GB of RAM, if you can believe it). It even had a mediocre 4.5-inch LCD display. If you placed it beside a phone like the Galaxy S4 it was clearly outclassed in almost every way. The thing that made the OG Moto G special is that it did not suck. Prior to 2013, you weren't going to find a cheap phone that didn't suck. The 2013 Moto G became the bar all cheap phones are measured against, even today.

And you know what? There are a lot of people who want a cheap phone that doesn't suck. That's where Android One and the Moto X4 come into play.

The Moto X4 will be the first Android One phone you can buy in the U.S. without importing it and wondering whether it will work on your network. We (that means you if you're reading this on a Saturday) might buy phones that ship from other countries, might not work, and have no warranty, but most people don't. Those (smart) people go to Verizon or Best Buy and pick something that they can see and touch. Even if they're "only" spending $200 on a phone, they want things like warranties and compatibility. That's smart.

At $400, the Project Fi-powered Moto X4 isn't cheap. It's also filled with high-end parts that a good cheap Android One phone doesn't require. And selling it through Project Fi guarantees that hardly anyone will buy it, even compared to the meager sales the standard unlocked Moto X4 will gather. Fortunately, it's the first Android One phone for the U.S. and not the only Android One phone for the U.S.

The Moto X4 isn't cheap, but there are more Android One phones coming that might be.

Let's hope Samsung and LG and all the other big names in the Android space get interested. Imagine something like the Galaxy J, a phone that sells in India for 5,000 Rs ($78 U.S.) and isn't equipped with the guts to run the TouchWIZ software it ships with, instead running Android One. You would have barebones software that runs well on the device, updates for two years (three years for security patches) and fast updates to hotfix all the messy ways people find to hack into it. Sure, there would be things Samsung does that would be missed, but Google Play can help you with most of it and come on, it sells for 80 bucks!

Now throw away that dream because it will never happen. Samsung (and LG and HTC) aren't likely to be interested in Android One anytime soon. They sell a brand, Android. But you know which companies just might be? Huawei, Xiaomi, Meizu and (wait for it) OnePlus. All companies that know how to build decent phones that don't happen to cost $900. Chinese phone manufacturers sell a brand much like the bigger U.S. names do, but they also are interested in selling a lot of phones in the United States. Selling phones under the Android One umbrella isn't ideal for any company, but if priced right it just might be a nice cash injection as well as a way to get American consumers familiar with the names.

Who here wouldn't want a OnePlus Android One?

I have no idea how popular Android One phones will be here in the States, nor do I have inside information about which companies might be building them. Hell, we might not ever see one besides the Moto X4 — Google says a lot of things that sort of never happen. But there's a chance it happens and we can start buying good cheap phones that are well-supported again. A man can dream.

Android Oreo

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1 month ago

Video: LG V30 vs. Samsung Galaxy Note 8

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The LG V30 and Samsung Galaxy Note 8 are two of the biggest new Android flagships right now. Both offer beautiful designs, high-end specs and unique dual camera technologies. They're not exactly direct competitors though — if nothing else, there's a big price and size gap between them. The V30 is expected to retail a couple hundred U.S. dollars below the Note 8's lofty price point.

Still, they're both significant launches in the Android calendar from two companies with a well-established rivalry. And that means it's time for them to go head-to-head! Before we begin, note that the V30 we've been using so far isn't final hardware just yet, so we're going broad strokes in this first comparison — remember that things can change between a pre-production phone like I've been using, and the final, retail boxed version.

With that out of the way, hit the video above to find out how I've been getting to grips with the LG V30 and Samsung Galaxy Note 8 over the past couple weeks!

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1 month ago

Nest Thermostat E review: The perfect downgrade

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The Nest Thermostat E is one of the best entry-level thermostats you can buy, and it can save you real money.

The biggest compliment I can give to the $169 Nest Thermostat E is that no one noticed it.

I've had a third-gen Nest Learning Thermostat in my entrance way for years, conspicuously placed so that everyone who walks into my living room inadvertently wakes up its bright LCD screen as they saunter past. The round stainless steel bezel is shiny — garish, even — inviting speculation and questions. "That's the touchscreen thermostat, right?" they ask. In fact, it's not touchscreen, but it looks like it.

After nearly two years with a Nest, I've learned a few things about it. For starters, it's very good at what it does; I've probably saved close to $1000 in electricity by intelligently rationing out central heat and air conditioning, and by allowing the system to learn my habits and create a schedule that accommodates my work-from-home lifestyle and my wife's desire for the house to be a tiny bit warmer than I'd prefer.

The second thing I've learned is that the Nest hardware itself is complete overkill, and totally unnecessary to enjoy the unit. It's a vestigial remnant of a time that you needed to physically walk up to a thermostat to make changes. And while I occasionally do make adjustments using the satisfying clicker ring used to navigate the basic user interface, I spend far more time in Nest's excellent Android and iOS apps. To that end, the $249 Nest Learning Thermostat is a nice-looking widget that tells people I have a smart home.

The Nest Thermostat E is not that. It's cheaper — $169, a full $80 cheaper — and wonderfully understated. Gone is the shiny stainless steel and black bezel, replaced by a smaller, plastic housing and a lower-resolution screen. The screen is also covered by a frosted white glazing, meant to slightly obscure the screen and allow it to blend it better with its surroundings. And you know, it totally works.

Installation and compatibility

If you've used a Nest before, you know exactly how this one works.

The Nest E, as I'll refer to it, requires basically the same setup as its larger predecessor; it assumes that your house already has the necessary wires protruding from some wall in your house, likely in a basement or main floor. Compared to the Nest proper, there are fewer connections — six instead of 10 — which makes it less likely to be compatible with some higher-output dual fan systems, but it had no problem interfacing with my fairly generic single-blower forced air system.

Installing the Nest E was as simple as removing the older Nest, disconnecting the wires and removing the backplate, and installing the newer, smaller equivalents. My system was wire-for-wire identical, though that may not be the case for yours. If you're coming from an older system, or just don't really trust yourself to install it correctly, the company offers very detailed installation videos and, at a cost, professional installers, to ensure that it will work right.

Unlike the regular Nest, which claims to work with "95% of 24V heating and cooling systems, including gas, electric, forced air, heat pump, radiant, oil, hot water, solar and geothermal," the Nest E works with "most" heating and cooling systems, according to the company. In other words, the Nest E will probably work for you unless you have a bespoke or high-powered commercial system that probably needs a professional to maintain, anyway.

The experience

The Nest E offers what amounts to the identical experience as the regular Nest, with a few minor differences. The interface, due to the lower-resolution glazed screen, is a bit simpler, but it still allows you to turn the sphere to maneuver around, and push in to select, just as before. (If you're new to Nest, the controls are extremely intuitive, and you definitely won't mistake this one for a touchscreen.)

The Nest E is easy to set up and a joy to use.

Once set up and connected to Wi-Fi, the Nest E can be controlled either through the unit itself or the accompanying iOS or Android app (which we'll get to shortly). Like any thermostat, the Nest E sits on your wall and monitors the ambient conditions using built-in sensors; these include temperature, humidity, proximity/occupancy, and ambient light. When it detects the temperature is above or below a given threshold, it activates cooling or heating, respectively. When it detects humidity is too high, it can be programmed to run the fans for a few hours. When it detects people aren't home, it can be made to automatically activate Eco mode, which sets the conditions a bit higher or lower than is comfortable to save energy.

What the Nest E doesn't have are the near-field and far-field sensors built into the original Nest, which means it has a hard time determining whether people are home by the ambient movement or sound around it. To make up for it, a proximity/occupancy sensor ensures that if someone walks past, it jumps to attention and figures out whether it should start working, but it's a little less precise. In real-world testing, however, I've noticed no difference at all.

The upside

In fact, that's what I'm taking away from my experience with the Nest E. If it works with your furnace, it's exactly the same experience as its more expensive counterpart.

Much of that is due to the fact that Nest's app, which has grown in usefulness while remaining remarkably simple, is the primary control center for your thermostat, and any other Nest products (of which there will be a lot more in a few months) you may have, from cameras to smoke detectors. I have all three, so I spend a lot of time in the Nest app, and I've absolutely come to depend on it.

Anything you can do on the Nest itself can be replicated in the app; Nest's best features are the ones you set once and forget about, from Airwave, which uses the fan to continue blowing cold air through the system once the air conditioner itself has been shut off, to Early-On, which suggests a time for reaching a certain temperature in the house and adjusts the cooling or heating accordingly.

That Nest has been available since 2013, which may suppress a bit of its magic to long-time owners, but anyone coming from a clunky offline thermostat will marvel at the ability to remotely set temperature a few hours before returning home from vacation, or even from work, to compromise between comfort and cost.

And now that the asking price is a considerably lower-than-before $169, Nest is accessible to even more people.

The downsides

Nest isn't the only game in town. Others, like ecobee, have shown considerable innovation in areas that, for some reason, Nest refuses to touch. ecobee, in particular, uses in-room sensors to detect temperature in multiple rooms throughout the house, allowing the thermostat to make intelligent decisions about heating or cooling with additional data points. My bedroom is a good five degrees warmer in the summer, and five degrees cooler in the winter, than my living room — such is the agony of a tall house.

Nest is really good at a lot of things, but it still falls short when it comes to multi-room sensing.

When it's really hot or cold outside, I often have to manually adjust the temperature to accommodate for such discrepancies, something that I'm sure ecobee, and a couple of extra sensors, would take into account. ecobee's latest version, the ecobee 4, also integrates Alexa in the U.S.; Nest, owned by Google parent Alphabet, has no such plans to integrate Assistant into its thermostats anytime soon.

And Nest is a standalone product, owned by Alphabet; big names like Honeywell, Emerson, and Carrier, which either build their own or partner with many furnace providers across the United States and Canada, are manufacturing their own (admittedly dumber) smart thermostats, and providing heavy incentives for customers to upgrade. Nest isn't able to compete with such an entrenched market that is typically moved less by Silicon Valley than the Yellow Pages. Most of these companies throw in a so-called smart thermostat for free with a furnace or air conditioner upgrade, which puts Nest out of the conversation completely.

Should you buy it? Definitely

Even though I have the more expensive Nest Learning Thermostat, I have no intention of ditching the Nest E anytime soon. Not only do I think its white plastic housing looks better and disappears more easily than the chrome metal of the regular Nest, its simpler interface is a joy to use — I simply see no reason to go back.

For me, Nest built the perfect downgrade, a product that promises less and delivers more because of it. If you already have a Nest, you can completely ignore this review — there's no reason to switch. But if you've been on the fence about moving up in the thermostat world, the Nest E is probably your best place to start.

See at Amazon

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1 month ago

Apple wins two patent rulings against Qualcomm

41

Apple and Qualcomm's ongoing patent wars have netted two victories for Apple.

Qualcomm's processors — at the very least, its modems — are key for any LTE-connected device in today's world. Beyond the high quality of the radios, Qualcomm is also the only company that licenses the CDMA technology that Sprint and Verizon use for their 2G and 3G networks. Earlier this year, Apple and Qualcomm began a legal battle over Fair, Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory (FRAND) patents that stated Qualcomm was charging unreasonable sums for patents essential to cellular technology. Qualcomm followed that up with a claim to the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) stating Apple infringed on six of Qualcomm's patents.

Apple Insider reports that Judge Curiel of the United States District Court for the Southern District of California (where the legal arguments for the FRAND case are being heard) has ruled Qualcomm cannot collect intellectual property (IP) royalty payments on Apple's manufacturing partners until the total royalties amount is determined, if that happens at all. Qualcomm will now have to calculate and argue just how much royalty money will need to be recouped from Apple and its partners.

Next, Judge Curiel denied Qualcomm's motion to drop Apple's related lawsuits in other jurisdictions. Qualcomm will now be tasked with proving infringement in each location it is suing Apple, including the UK, China, Japan and Taiwan. There hasn't been any indication on the status of Qualcomm's patent claims against Apple. Additionally, the larger battle of FRAND patents is still ongoing, and it's still important to Apple and the cellular market as a whole. Licensing costs are a large part of the costs of a cell phone, so an increase in licensing fees would quickly have a ripple effect on the prices of smartphones, cellular tablets, cellular smartwatches, and cellular laptops.

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1 month ago

This could be the first glimpse of the BlackBerry 'Krypton'

41

Krypton is coming.

By now, it's no secret TCL has more BlackBerry smartphones in the works. The device known as 'Krypton' has passed through the Bluetooth SIG, Wi-Fi Alliance and FCC already and according to François Mahieu, head of global sales for TCL, the full-touch device is expected to arrive at some point in October. Still, despite all of that information, the 'Krypton' has eluded being caught on camera, mostly. A recently posted image offers up what could be the first glimpse of the next BlackBerry.

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1 month ago

The Nokia 8 is coming to India on September 26

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Nokia's first Android flagship will be coming to India next week.

Nokia kicked off its comeback tale by focusing on the budget segment with the Nokia 3, Nokia 5, and the Nokia 6, and now the company's first flagship running Android will be making its way to India next week. HMD Global has sent out media invites for the Nokia 8 launch in India, which will take place on September 26.

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