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1 week ago

Ring Doorbell Pro is easily worth $200, so you should definitely buy it at $100

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The Ring Doorbell is one of the best smart home products at full price — at half off, it's an amazing deal.

Five years ago, I optimistically spent $170 on a connected doorbell from a hardware startup with dubious credibility and no success stories. That product, DoorBot, eventually shipped, but I never could get it to work. I wrote it off as the cost of doing early adopter business and forgot about it. (It's still in a drawer somewhere.)

Two years later, I heard that the company behind DoorBot, Edison Junior, was rebranding to Ring and it was going to release an updated version of that poorly-received initial project, the Ring Doorbell. I was skeptical.

Then the reviews started rolling in, and they were so positive I threw caution into the wind a second time and bought one. When I moved into my new house in early 2016, I ripped off the old analog bell, installed a Ring, and sort of forgot about it. It worked as a doorbell that would ping my phone whenever someone was there. Cool. Thing is, I was home — I could hear the bell myself and wasn't about to sit on my butt checking the camera in my doorbell when I could walk to the front door and look through the peephole.

A few days later, I was out of the house at a meeting and right before I walked through the door to the building, my phone pinged in my pocket. It was the Ring app telling me someone was at my door. I opened the app and in a couple seconds, I was staring at the FedEx guy, asking whether he could leave the package with a neighbor. It was a short conversation — maybe 10 seconds — but it was life-changing. The Ring hardware, the app, the LTE connection — it all just worked. It just worked. I was hooked.

To say the Ring Doorbell has changed my life would be an understatement. To say it is the most reliable piece of smart home tech I own would not be an exaggeration. I love this product. I regularly answer the door from other countries (I did so today, from New York City) and it feels like magic.

I recently got a Ring Doorbell Pro as an upgrade to my older model. Slimmer and more stylish, it also films at 1080p, and thanks to improvements in power transfer, is much faster to connect. I'll be sharing my thoughts about it in the coming weeks, but suffice it to say, I would spend $200 on this thing.

Thankfully, you can get one for half that amount. Until Friday, November 18, as part of Thrifter's ongoing Black Friday doorbuster deals, you can get a Ring Doorbell Pro for $99.95. Because quantities are limited, you need to apply for the chance to buy it at that price, but it'll just takes a few minutes, and it'll be worth — promise.

Thrifter Black Friday Doorbuster: Ring Doorbell Pro for $100

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1 week ago

Where to buy the Galaxy Note 8

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Where to buy the Samsung Galaxy Note 8

Where can I buy the Galaxy Note 8?

You won't be short of choices when it comes to buying the Galaxy Note 8, no matter what country you're in or the carrier you're on.

The Galaxy Note 8 is expensive, for sure, and that means people are going to be cross-shopping a bit to see what carrier or retailer can give them the best deal. Here are all of the most popular places to buy the Galaxy Note 8 around the world, and how much they're charging.

U.S.

Best Buy

Best Buy is offering the AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and proper U.S. unlocked versions of the Note 8 in Midnight Black and Orchid Grey. The pricing is in line with what the carriers themselves are charging, and the unlocked version will be available for $950. Best Buy will also be the exclusive retailer for the deep sea blue variant when that is launched.

Best Buy has some rotating discounts for each of the different carrier models, which seem to be regularly changing. Verizon is offering big discounts when you trade in your existing phone, up to 50% off the Note 8. AT&T is offering a free Galaxy S8 if you're a DirecTV customer. Sprint is offering a 50% off promo when you lease the phone, and Best Buy is throwing in a $100 gift card on top of that.

See at Best Buy

T-Mobile

Pricing for the T-Mobile Note 8 breaks down like this: $100 down, and an additional $30 per month for 24 months. Quick math will tell you that's a full retail price of $820 if you want to buy it outright. If you're part of T-Mobile's Jump! On Demand program, you'll be able to grab it for $0 down, but also spend $39 per month instead. You can choose between black and orchid grey, just like the other carriers.

T-Mobile is of course participating in Samsung's promotional giveaway for those who order early, offering a free Gear 360 camera (regularly $229) or an SD card and wireless charger ($190) when you pick up your Note 8. You can also get a buy-one-get-one deal for another Note 8 if you start a new line of service and finance both phones.

See at T-Mobile


Verizon

The big red carrier has the Midnight Black and Orchid Grey available. The phone will be available for $960 total, or $40 per month spread over two years. For a limited time, users will be able to get a bundled 128GB SD card and Fast Wireless Charger (a $190 value) or a bundled Samsung Gear 360 camera (valued at $230). Users will also be able to save $100 on the Gear S3 with purchase. Users can also save $50 on a wireless charger, portable charger and car charger bundle.

Verizon will also have the new Gear VR headset with controller online and in stores beginning September 15 for $130.

See at Verizon


AT&T

AT&T has the Note 8 for $950 total, or as spread out as $31.67 per month for 30 months. AT&T is also offering a buy-one, get-one free deal on the Note 8 when it is purchased on AT&T Next with a DirecTV subscription. Customers with DirecTV will also qualify for $500 off a Samsung TV when they purchase the Note 8. AT&T will also offer the Gear S2 for 99 cents or Gear S3 for $50 on a 2-year agreement when customers buy a Note 8 on AT&T Next. Finally, AT&T is letting customers trade in existing devices for up to $200 in credits.

AT&T also notes the Note 8 will be one of the first devices compatible with its "5G evolution" network.

See at AT&T


Sprint

Customers switching to Sprint will be able to get the Note 8 for 50% off when leasing the phone, only paying $20 per month for 18 months as part of Sprint's "Sprint Flex" program. That totals only $360, which is a pretty great deal on the device. Existing Sprint customers will be able to get the device for $40 per month for 18 months, totaling $720. Users can also participate in Sprint's "Galaxy Forever" program, which will let them upgrade to a new Samsung flagship after 12 months.

If you want to skip the lease and go to a proper purchase, you can finish out payments of $40 per month for 24 months, totaling $960.

See at Sprint


Samsung

Going to Samsung directly is the best way to pick up the proper U.S. unlocked Galaxy Note 8. The unlocked model is initially only offered in black, but that may not be an issue for you particularly when you consider that it will lack any carrier bloatware. The U.S. unlocked model is designed to work on all major U.S. carriers, so you won't have to worry about compatibility issues. Pricing is set at $950.

You can, of course, also buy carrier versions from Samsung as well, if you so desire.

See at Samsung

Amazon

Amazon, too, has the proper U.S. unlocked Galaxy Note 8, coming in at $931. While we'd still recommend buying from Samsung if the price is close or the same, Amazon often offers people a better shopping option since they can use their Amazon credit card, gift cards and the like.

See at Amazon

UK

Carphone Warehouse

Carphone Warehouse has the Note 8 in Midnight Black or Maple Gold for £869 SIM-free for the 64GB model. It also has a variety of plans with different down payments, like £30 up-front and an additional £64 per month for a 5GB plan.

See at Carphone Warehouse

Samsung

Samsung has the Note 8 in both colors for the same RRP — £869 — as Carphone Warehouse. The manufacturer's online storefront is also the only place to get hold of a dual-SIM version of the phone, in either color, for the same price as the single-SIM model.

See at Samsung

O2

O2 has the Note 8 up for order on a wide range of plans, with prices starting at £29.99 upfront and £63 per month, for 24 months. Data allowances come in at between 3GB and 50GB, and you can adjust your upfront fee to cut down on your monthly expenditure.

See at O2

EE

EE's Note 8 plans start at £57.99 per month and £89.99 upfront, which gets you a 5GB allowance and up to 60Mbps speed. Step up to £62.99 monthly and £49.99 upfront for a 12GB allowance at EE's fastest speeds. Or max out at £72.99 per month and £29.99 upfront with a 40GB plan, which comes with BT Sport access.

See at EE

Three

Three has the Galaxy Note 8 available from £44.00 a month, with £99 payable upfront — thought hat only gets you a paltry 500MB data allowance. A more reasonable 12GB data bucket costs £79.00 upfront and £56 per month, though plans are available with up to 100GB, or unlimited "All You Can Eat" data.

See at Three

Vodafone UK

Vodafone has the Note 8 with 64GB storage in black or gold, with a whole host of plans that vary the monthly payments. You can have an up-front cost of as little as £50 with a £60 monthly plan, or as high as £300 down with £43 per month thereafter.

See at Vodafone UK

Canada

Telus

Telus has the Midnight Black and Deep Sea Blue 64GB Note 8's for (finish consuming any liquids) $1299 outright, or $550 or $750 down and the rest of the cost spread over a 2-year contract. Canadian customers are still eligible for the 128GB microSD card and Fast Wireless Charger bundle for those that order in the first month.

See at Telus

Rogers

Rogers has both the Midnight Black and Deep Sea Blue Note 8 for $549 on a 2-year Share Everything Premium+ plan, or $749 on a 2-year Share Everything Premium plan. The phone is also available for $1325 outright, which is higher than some of the other carriers in the country.

All orders come with a free 128GB microSD card and Samsung's excellent convertible fast wireless charger.

See at Rogers

Bell

Bell has the same configurations as its competitors — 64GB, Midnight Black and Deep Sea Blue — at identical pricing to Rogers, except for one thing: the outright price is $1349.99, not $1325.

The two-year pricing is $549.99 on a price plan $70 or more, or $749.99 on a price plan of $60 or more.

All orders come with a free 128GB microSD card and Samsung's excellent convertible fast wireless charger.

See at Bell

Update, November 2017: This article was updated with the latest pricing and availability.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8

Verizon AT&T T-Mobile Sprint Best Buy

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1 week ago

Amazon UK slashes the price of Echo ahead of Black Friday

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Save big on the Amazon Echo and Echo Dot.

Both the Echo and Echo Dot are handy connected devices that allow you to run a wide array of commands with nothing but your voice. To provide something to customers to tie them over until Black Friday deals hit the UK, Amazon has discounted both Echo speakers allowing you to save up to 30 percent.

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1 week ago

Flipkart's awkwardly-named Billion Capture+ is now up for sale in India

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Flipkart's first phone offers unlimited cloud storage and dual rear cameras for just ₹10,999.

Indian e-commerce giant Flipkart has made its foray into the smartphone segment with its first self-branded phone, the Billion Capture+. Weird naming issues aside, the phone has a lot going for it: you get a 5.5-inch 1080p panel protected by Dragontrail glass, 3GB/4GB of RAM and 32GB/64GB of storage, microSD slot, dual rear cameras, and a 3500mAh battery with USB-C and Quick Charge. The variant with 3GB of RAM costs just ₹10,999 ($170), with the 4GB version retailing for ₹12,999 ($200).

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1 week ago

Taiwanese variant of the HTC U11 is now receiving the Oreo update

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HTC kicks off the stable Oreo update to the U11.

HTC said it'll roll out Oreo to the U11 before the end of the year, and while it didn't specify a timeline, the update was expected sometime this month. The company is now kicking off the Android 8.0 Oreo update to the device, starting with the Taiwanese variant. The OTA update comes in at 1.3GB, and includes VoWifi service for Chunghwa Telecom customers in Taiwan.

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1 week ago

Essential Phone gets an Oreo treat in beta form

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Essential Phone users can now get Oreo in beta, but expect bugs.

If you've been following the trials and tribulations of the Essential Phone, you'll know that it arrived to market with a few showstopping bugs and a camera that wouldn't quit. Oh, wait — a camera that always Force Quit.

Anyway, months later, the Essential Phone is now $200 less — a cool $499 — and considerably more stable, with improved camera quality and speed. And, as promised during a tell-all AMA, the phone now has access to Android 8.0 Oreo in beta.

The installation process is a bit convoluted and involves using the command line to sideload a new ROM through ADB, so if that the preceding words made no sense to you, it's probably best to wait until the release is public, and available through an over-the-air update.

If those words made you salivate, though, the instructions are fairly straightforward.

Essential Phone

Amazon Best Buy Sprint Telus

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1 week ago

Android Central is giving away a gold Honor 6X!

The Honor 6X is a great phone at an affordable price, and we have one to give away! Keep reading to enter!

Honor's 6X brings high-end features like a dual-sensor rear camera at a highly affordable price point. Sporting a premium metal construction and a price that can be found as low as $250 unlocked, the 6X is an easy phone to consider. The display is a 5.5-inch Full HD 1080p IPS panel, surrounded by 2.5D curved glass and your choice of a gold, silver, or dark gray metal body. Huawei's octa-core Kirin processor, 3GB of RAM, and a 32GB internal storage you can expand via microSD card, along with Android 6.0, make the Honor 6X a compelling buy.

Now on to the giveaway!

THE PRIZE: One Android Central reader will win a Gold Honor 6x, MSRP: $199.99.

TO ENTER

  • Click HERE to go to the forums and post in the contest thread. This is mandatory and gains you one entry into the giveaway.
  • Once you have posted in the giveaway thread, you can earn more entries by participating in the Honor forums. Ask and answer questions, join in the conversation, and have fun! Just don't spam the forums with valueless comments because they won't count and could end up getting you disqualified from the giveaway.

Due to sponsor restrictions, this giveaway is only available in the US. We will keep it open until November 30, 2017, and the winner will be announced right here after the closing date. Good luck!

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1 week ago

UC Browser gets temporarily delisted on the Play Store [Updated]

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UC Browser has over 500 million downloads, and is a popular alternative to Chrome in India.

Alibaba-owned UC Browser is no longer available for download from the Play Store. The app is particularly popular in India, where it briefly overtook Chrome to become the most-used mobile web browser in the country earlier this year. The browser has a userbase of 420 million globally — racking up 500 million downloads on the Play Store last month — with over 100 million coming from India.

There's no statement as to why the app was taken down, but the prevailing theory on Reddit is that the malicious redirect ads served up by UC Web's affiliates to inflate installs prompted Google to take action and delist the browser.

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1 week ago

Cricket replaces 8GB and 12GB plans with two unlimited options

30

Two unlimited plans sounds nice, but there's a small catch.

Prepaid service plans are great options for customers that want affordable monthly bills without all the bells and whistles from the likes of AT&T and Verizon, and one of your better options in this field is Cricket Wireless. Cricket made some nice changes to its service plans earlier this month, but a new one that's just been spotted isn't quite as joyful.

According to Droid Life, Cricket removed its 8GB and 12GB data plans on November 8 and effectively replaced them with its Unlimited 2 and Unlimited options. Having two unlimited plans versus two limited ones might sound like an upgrade, but that isn't necessarily the case.

On one hand, you're looking at a potential larger monthly cost. The 8GB and 12GB plans used to cost $50/month and $60/month, whereas Unlimited 2 and Unlimited will set you back $55/month and $60/month, respectively. Unlimited 2 and Unlimited come with mostly the same features, but Unlimited 2 will limit your download speeds to a sluggish 3Mbps. If you upgrade to Unlimited for $5 more per month, you'll increase to Cricket's regular 8Mbps.

Along with the two unlimited plans, you still have access to Cricket's 2GB and 5GB data plans that recently got upgraded from 1GB and 4GB.

See at Cricket

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1 week ago

Action Launcher v31 adds adaptive folders, Essential Phone support, and more

8

New features, bug fixes, and a bigger focus on performance/stability are in store with Action Launcher v31.

The Google Play Store is filled with third-party launchers to tweak and customize the look of your phone, but one that we keep coming back to is Chirs Lacy's Action Launcher. The last v30 update that landed in late October added the Pixel 2's At a Glance widget and further customization options for the Quickbar, and now that v31 of the app is here, there are even more goodies to check out.

One of the biggest additions to Action Launcher with v31 is adaptive folders. Just like how adaptive icons change the shape of all your app icons to create for a more cohesive look, adaptive folders allow your app folders to match the shape of whatever your current adaptive icon style is set to. To celebrate this new feature, Lacy is making adaptive icon support free for all users – something that was previously reserved for Action Launcher Plus.

Also new with v31 is official support for the Essential Phone, the ability to use Google's Product Sans front throughout your entire desktop for an even more Googley look, as well as support for pinned widgets and shortcuts from other apps.

Adaptive folders in Action Launcher v31.

Top this off with more than 20 different bug fixes, a dedicated support site, and a renewed focus on overall stability and performance of the launcher, and there's a lot here to take in.

Action Launcher v31 is live on the Play Store now.

Google Now vs. Quickdrawer: An Action Launcher dilemma

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1 week ago

Best multiplayer games for Gear VR

Games in VR are better when you get to play with friends.

Samsung Gear VR gives you access to tons of awesome games. If you've been hoping for games that you can play with your friends, you're in luck too. There are a few awesome games that you can check out with friends or use to make new friends in VR. We've got all the details so you can jump right in and find the games you enjoy most.

Reas more at VRHeads

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1 week ago

Qualcomm's Snapdragon platform is 10 years old today

7

November 14, 2017, marks Snapdragon's 10th birthday.

If you own an Android phone, there's a good chance it's powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor. Companies like Samsung and MediaTek manufacture their own silicon that's used in certain handsets, but Qualcomm's lead in the mobile space with its Snapdragon platform is undeniable.

As difficult as it is to believe, today, November 14, 2017, marks the 10-year anniversary of when the first Qualcomm Snapdragon processor was unveiled to the world.

The Snapdragon S1 was Qualcomm's first shot at mobile processors, and a year later in 2008, the HTC Dream was not only the first phone to ship with Android but also the first one powered by a Snapdragon CPU. The S1 was a 65nm processor, and while that was quite impressive at the time, it's six times larger than the 10nm design of the latest Snapdragon 835.

The Snapdragon 835 in all of its tiny glory.

Throughout its 10-year history, Qualcomm's Snapdragon platform has gone through a lot of milestones and changes. 2010 saw Qualcomm test its first-ever dual-core system in a Snapdragon processor, the world's first VoLTE call was made in 2012 using a Snapdragon chip, and just this year Qualcomm's Snapdragon tech was used to achieve the world's first 5G data connection.

It's crazy to think about how much mobile processors have changed in the past decade, and it's even harder to imagine where we'll be in another 10 years.

Happy birthday, Snapdragon! 🎉

Qualcomm officially rejects Broadcom's deal to buy the chip-maker

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1 week ago

Enter to win the HTC U11 Life from Android Central!

14

HTC U11 Life gives you the best innovations from HTC U11 and we're giving one away!

It all starts with HTC's latest innovation, Edge Sense. A simple squeeze lets you do things faster! And there's so much more. HTC USonic for audio that's adapted to you, with Active Noise Cancellation so you can truly lose yourself in the moment. A camera that captures stunningly clear photos and videos. A phone with a weather-resistant IP67 rating that can handle and maintain high-level performance in rough weather. All it takes is one squeeze to fall in love with HTC U11 Life.

On to the giveaway!

THE PRIZE: One Android Central reader will be taking home a brand new HTC U11 Life in Sapphire Blue, which will work on T-Mobile and AT&T networks!

THE GIVEAWAY: Head down to the widget at the bottom of this page. There are multiple ways to enter, each with varying point values. Complete all of the tasks for maximum entries and your best shot at winning! Keep in mind that all winning entries are verified and if the task was not completed or cannot be verified, a new winner will be chosen. The prize does not include service, and due to sponsor restrictions is only open to residents of the U.S. and its territories.

The giveaway is open until November 27th, and the winner will be announced right here shortly after the close date. Good luck!

Android Central is giving away an HTC U11 Life!

HTC U11

Amazon Sprint HTC

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1 week ago

Best Android Phones Under $300

Best overall

Moto G5S Plus

See at Motorola

The Moto G5 Plus was already one of our favorite phones in the sub-$300 price range, but the newer Moto G5S Plus (the 'S' stands for "Special Edition") makes some small improvements that lead to an even better phone that still won't break the bank.

With the Moto G5S Plus, you get terrific build quality, an eye-catching new Blush Gold finish, and a new dual camera system — on top of all the other benefits the Moto G5 Plus already included, like a large 1080p display, a fast fingerprint sensor, and the useful Moto Actions gestures. Better yet, if you can't front the cost, Motorola offers financing through Affirm when you order from its online store.

Bottom line: The Moto G5S Plus offers the best value for a phone under $300 and sets a new standard for powerful, inexpensive phones moving forward.

One more thing: Best Buy has the Moto G5S Plus for $40 off, so you can pick up our top recommendation for just $239.99.

Why the Moto G5S Plus is the best

In our review of the G5S Plus, we still recommended the standard Moto G5 Plus over the special edition because the difference in price didn't quite justify the latter option's minor improvements, but with Best Buy's discounted price, it's a different story.

The Moto G5S Plus has just about everything you could ask of a phone at this price. The design is attractive and well-built, the software is clean yet clever with the addition of Moto Actions and Moto Display, and the speaker sounds great. The best part? The Moto G5S Plus works on all U.S. carriers — yes, even Sprint and Verizon.

Best for navel-gazing

Honor 6X

See at Amazon

If your lifestyle is living loudly, wildly, and all over the internet, the Honor 6X should be your first choice for a budget smartphone. It's equipped with all the necessities, including a dual rear-facing 12-megapixel and 2-megapixel camera that's packed with a bevy of camera modes, a substantial 3000mAh batter pack, and a 1080p display for editing all those photos before posting them online.

Bottom line: The Honor 6X is truly a smartphone made for the kids: It has great battery life, camera hardware that's substantial for social media, and a non-partisan design that will blend in with the rest of 'em.

One more thing: The Honor 6X is not compatible with the major CDMA networks in the U.S.

Best for really tight budgets

Nokia 6

See at Amazon

At just $229, the Nokia 6 falls well below our $300 guideline, and it has a lot to offer for that low cost. The aluminum unibody design feels premium, its 5.5" 1080p LCD display looks great, and it has one of the better cameras in its segment. On top of that, the Nokia 6 runs a close-to-stock build of Android 7.1.2, and Nokia releases monthly security updates — a rarity for low-cost phones.

Bottom line: You'd be hard-pressed to find a better-made phone at this price point, and the regular software updates are icing on the cake.

One more thing: If you can live with the occasional ad on your lock screen and in your notifications, the Prime-exclusive Nokia 6 is even cheaper, at just $179.99. There's simply no better option at that price.

Best overall

Moto G5S Plus

See at Motorola

The Moto G5 Plus was already one of our favorite phones in the sub-$300 price range, but the newer Moto G5S Plus (the 'S' stands for "Special Edition") makes some small improvements that lead to an even better phone that still won't break the bank.

With the Moto G5S Plus, you get terrific build quality, an eye-catching new Blush Gold finish, and a new dual camera system — on top of all the other benefits the Moto G5 Plus already included, like a large 1080p display, a fast fingerprint sensor, and the useful Moto Actions gestures. Better yet, if you can't front the cost upfront, Motorola offers financing through Affirm when you order from its online store.

Bottom line: The Moto G5S Plus offers the best value for a phone under $300, and sets a new standard for powerful, inexpensive phones moving forward.

One more thing: Best Buy has the Moto G5S Plus for $40, so you can pick up our top recommendation for just $239.99.

Update November 2017: Replaced the ZTE Axon 7 Mini with the Moto G5S Plus as the best overall option, and swapped the Moto G5 Plus out with the Nokia 6 for tight budgets.

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1 week ago

OnePlus root 'backdoor': What it is, what it isn't, and what you need to know [update]

11

OnePlus needs to fix this (and quickly) but you don't have much to worry about until they do.

You might have heard that OnePlus left a "backdoor" in the OnePlus 3, the OnePlus 3T, and OnePlus 5 that could be used to root a phone without unlocking the bootloader. If you're the type of person who thinks this is great news, you already know where to look for instructions and downloads to play with it yourself. But if you're not into all this sort of thing you probably have some questions, especially if you have a OnePlus phone yourself. As well you should, since there's a good chance you have a lot of your personal information stored on your phone and would like to keep much of it private.

So let's talk about what it is we're seeing and everything you need to know about it.

Update: OnePlus has responded to the claims in its official forums:

Yesterday, we received a lot of questions regarding an apk found in several devices, including our own, named EngineerMode, and we would like to explain what it is. EngineerMode is a diagnostic tool mainly used for factory production line functionality testing and after sales support.

We've seen several statements by community developers that are worried because this apk grants root privileges. While, it can enable adb root which provides privileges for adb commands, it will not let 3rd-party apps access full root privileges. Additionally, adb root is only accessible if USB debugging, which is off by default, is turned on, and any sort of root access would still require physical access to your device.

While we don't see this as a major security issue, we understand that users may still have concerns and therefore we will remove the adb root function from EngineerMode in an upcoming OTA.

The 'backdoor'

Backdoor is a great description of what's going on because that really is what's happening. There is a piece of software on the affected OnePlus phones that can be used to gain control of the system. But it was never meant to be there once the phone went up for sale.

Yes, there is an app on some OnePlus phones that has an admin function. And it shouldn't be there.

The app in question initially comes from Qualcomm, which makes the SoC for all OnePlus phones. It's a special app (yes, it's basically just an app) provided by Qualcomm that a company that makes phones using Qualcomm hardware can use to test features and functions of that Qualcomm hardware during development.

Qualcomm provides this type of app to every company that buys its hardware, though it's tailored to the chipset version a good bit so it can be different from phone to phone. Normally, it is removed when the final shipping software is built and flashed on to retail phones, but sometimes it gets forgotten and left behind. That's what happened here, and a fellow by the name of Elliot Alderson found it in a OnePlus device.

As an aside, it's also been found in one of the ASUS Zenfones, inside an MIUI ROM, in the Redmi 3S and the OnePlus 5T that doesn't officially exist, but everyone already knows has been shown to at least a few people. So seeing it on a retail phone isn't exactly unheard of.

An Android app is like a Zip file

You might already know this, but an Android .apk file is a compressed folder and can be opened with a program like 7 Zip, or even by changing the file extension to .zip and using a regular file browser. Alderson did just that to the engineering app he found, and that gave access to the components of the app including some compiled bytecode — the kind that's pretty easy to decompile. And that's what he did.

A few tools and the right pair of eyes is all it takes to see exactly how most Android apps work.

He found a couple functions of the app that were interesting from a security point of view. One specifically that would give a user admin privileges (root) through the Android Debug Bridge. You'll find the decompiled source of the app here, but the method that's causing all the fuss is labeled as "escalatedup" and you use it by calling it true or false, then providing a password.

If you can provide the right string for the password when you call the method, it sets the system properties "persist.sys.adbroot" and "oem.selinux.reload_policy" to true, which means you have a persistent root access through adb and can change the file system to physically root the device.

And the internet quickly ran with this, because it's awesome and terrifying all at once. Awesome for people who want to root their OnePlus phone without unlocking the bootloader, and terrifying for people who see the word "backdoor" tied to their phone.

The password

Finding an encrypted password isn't easy. But without that password, this app and the method that would grant root access doesn't really do anything. After a bit of work over the weekend, Alderson and some other researchers found it. It's "angela."

With the password in hand, it was as easy as sending the right command and Alderson was then able to do anything he wanted, including adding the files necessary to permanently root the phone. Alderson says he will be releasing a tool so you can do this easily with your own OnePlus phone soon.

What does this mean for people who don't want a rooted phone?

Luckily, not much. It uses ADB so it's very unlikely someone can hack your phone without you knowing. But there is always a chance that someone will be able to exploit this remotely or through another app without you knowing. The fix is easy — OnePlus sends out an update right away that removes the factory engineering app. As in, do it right now.

Another question is why the app was left in the software and if there was any malicious intent behind it. OnePlus has come under fire recently for some unethical data collection. Could they also have placed a backdoor so the can spy on users? Anything's possible, but as mentioned, this isn't the only time we've seen this app get left behind. Still, if this was unintentional it's very sloppy work from the company — and if intentional, calls for tar and feathers sound reasonable.

OnePlus CEO Carl Pei has responded, though it's as non-committal as you'd imagine.

Blaming Qualcomm here is misguided. It simply provides a software test suite that a manufacturer needs to build a phone using their stuff. Hate on Qualcomm for the way its SEPs are priced if you need a reason to hate, not for this.

For its part, a Qualcomm spokesperson issued AC the following statement, saying that the EngineeringMode app was not from the company:

After an in-depth investigation, we have determined that the EngineerMode app in question was not authored by Qualcomm. Although remnants of some Qualcomm source code is evident, we believe that others built upon a past, similarly named Qualcomm testing app that was limited to displaying device information. EngineerMode no longer resembles the original code we provided.

What to do if you find this app on your phone

Look in the app list on your phone by opening the Settings, tapping Apps then tapping Show system apps and see if EngineerMode is on the list. If so, you have this app on your phone and you have two options.

  1. Get in touch with Alderson through Twitter if you want to help see if your phone can be rooted with the engineering app.
  2. Contact the company you bought your phone from so they know that need to do something about it if you'd rather not have a possible exploit in your app list.

There is no guarantee either of these choices will be effective. Encrypted passwords are tough to crack and companies who make and sell Android phones hate to update them. Advanced users could (in theory) use any root exploit to gain elevated privileges then remove the offending app, but all sorts of chaos could happen if not done just the right way. And probably even if you did do it the right way. Unfortunately, this is the only advice we can give.

This isn't something anyone wants to see, especially Google. Expect a fix ... eventually.

The final bit of good news is that Google is surely more unhappy about this than anyone else involved. This is exactly the type of exploit that gets patched every month, and allowing root without unlocking the bootloader defeats several layers of security that Google demands stay intact. Google will certainly pressure OnePlus and others to address this (and likely assist any way they can, because the security team is cool like that). And Google might even make some changes so these kinds of loopholes will stop working in future versions.

For now, though, enjoy this if you want to root your phone. If you don't, be careful what you install and don't panic. At least not yet.

OnePlus 5T and OnePlus 5

OnePlus Amazon

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