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2 days ago

'Bit Rot' explained: Why your phone is slower than when it was new

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Your phone was faster yesterday than it is today, and will be slower tomorrow. Bit Rot is a real thing.

Computers are kind of like people — as they age they tend to get a little slower and flaws are easier to see.

Our phones are computers shrunk down to be pocket-sized and easy to carry around. And that means as time goes by, things aren't happening as quickly as they used to or things can get a little buggy. This is universal; it happens to Galaxy phones and LG phones and Pixel phones and iPhones and every other phone that does more than make calls and send texts. Some people say they don't see it happening, and that's because of why it happens and the way software is written for all the different phones out in the wild. But it is still happening on your phone right now, and always will be.

Let's take a look at what is commonly known as "Bit Rot" and see if we can't understand things a little better.

What is Bit Rot, exactly?

It's a term that gets thrown around a lot by people who are into computers, and it basically means that the software is "old" and has become slower than it used to be. There are three things at play, and they're well documented even if they're not very easy to understand: Software Erosion, Software Entropy, and Software Bloat.

First, some outliers

Sometimes there can be other factors, too. Data Degradation and Feature Creep can cause programs and apps to slow down, but they're easier to explain and are a little different than what we call Bit Rot. Data Degradation is a fancy word that means your memory — either the RAM, the storage or both — is getting old. RAM and Solid State media require an electric charge and over time it can disperse more than it was designed to do. This means some of the stored bits (software bits) can be changed. When a few bits are wrong, many programs can compensate but that takes time and the programs are a little slower. When a lot of bits are wrong things pretty much stop working as intended.

Data degradation and feature creep can make your phone slower, too, but are different from Bit Rot.

Feature Creep is easy to understand. Your phone was built with a specific set of software in mind. When you get an update that adds more features, the hardware has to work harder and things get slower. Online forums are filled with people who hated a recent update on their Galaxy phone and people with older iPhones who hate the latest version of iOS. That's because the software was written with newer and more capable hardware in mind, just like the software your phone originally shipped with was. We all love new features and updates, but the old adage "be careful what you wish for" is right on the money here.

These issues can certainly have an effect, but they're different from Bit Rot and probably aren't contributing much towards any slowness on our phones because we don't keep them long enough to see it in action.

Software Erosion

Software Erosion is the slow but steady deterioration of performance that can happen to any software, whether it's something we use a lot or just a little. Or even never. This happens because we use the software and all applications change when they're used — we add user data to the base so that the software does what we want it to do. Note that this is different than software getting slow or buggy while we're using it a lot but goes back to normal with a restart. That's usually due to small errors accumulating over time or a memory leak. You can't fix Software Erosion by closing and re-opening an app or restarting your phone.

All software has bugs and all software needs regular maintenance it never gets.

There are two different types of Software Erosion, dormant and active. Dormant software erosion happens when a program or parts of a program you don't use stop working well because other things changed, and active erosion happens because of changes while you're using it. Both types happen because of a few different reasons.

  • Unused or leftover code can (and often does) contain bugs that don't get caught.

All software has bugs, no matter what a developer or user says. When a company changes some code there's a very good chance some of the original code is never going to be used but is still built into the final product. Bugs here aren't as likely to get caught and can have an immediate effect or one that takes a while to show up.

  • Changes because the software isn't user-friendly happen a lot.

A developer builds software with a specific idea of how we will use it, but once it gets into our hands we often don't use it that way! Sometimes this isn't our fault and software has a poorly implemented interface so we do things a developer never thought we would. Other times it is our fault and we do things like make multiple accounts or run multiple instances of an app or function that wasn't designed to run that way. This can leave user data or cached data that is more difficult for an app to process.

  • Lack of updates and maintenance are bad.

Any developer will tell you that the job isn't finished once the program is published, and software needs to be maintained. This means fixing bugs users find, but also frequent updates to work well with other software. Lack of regular maintenance across the board is the biggest cause of Software Erosion.

The "Android" that runs on your phone is actually a big group of independently running programs and services that need to communicate with each other constantly. An example: Facebook makes another change on their servers, then updates the app in Google Play. Your Contacts app ties into Facebook, so it might need an update. Or your camera gets an update but the gallery application that's tied to it doesn't. All the parts of the system need to work with all the other parts, and that means regular maintenance.

The good news here is that a lot of Software Erosion problems are fixed with a factory reset where all the user data is wiped. The bad news is that it all comes back eventually.

Software Entropy

All software that we can't change has bugs and unused code (see above). These bugs will probably stay unchanged over time, but can get worse as the complexity of software we can change increases. This is called Software Entropy.

The software you change affects the software you can't change because the system itself gets more complex.

Most of the software on your phone is in a closed system. You might be able to update the keyboard or camera app from the Play Store, but the bulk of the operating system is installed at the factory and only changed with a full system update. This is very different from all the apps, both factory-installed user apps and ones you installed yourself. The software you can change gets more complex over time and the software you can't change has to deal with it.

The people who wrote the software on your phone are pretty darn smart when it comes to all of this. But nobody can know the things we'll do, what new apps will be capable of doing, and how apps designed for one set of APIs (application programming interfaces), for instance, Samsung's APIs from their software development kit, will work with apps designed for another set of APIs, like the ones from Google that are part of Android. The developers have to do their best to guess and make the software in a way that won't break and hope for the best.

There are two ways to fight Software Entropy — regular software maintenance through timely updates, or resetting the user software back to the factory state.

Software Bloat

This isn't what the name suggests, though extra bloatware apps can and do cause things to run slower. Software Bloat when talking about Bit Rot means software that is filled with extra or unused features.

The more features added to any program, the more complex it will be. Complexity makes applications slower.

"Extra" features are impossible to define. Apps, or parts of apps, that I don't use are extraneous to me, but you might use and love them. From a computer's point of view, the only good application is one that does only one thing then closes itself once finished. This is impractical from a user point of view; imagine a keyboard app that closed after each letter was typed. The companies that make the phones we love have to find a happy medium between features and performance by using the right hardware or cutting back on features in apps. That could mean adding more RAM and using a faster processor or trimming features from an app, or both.

Another part of the "extra" features is software that has to be able to handle multiple (and often competing) standards. Your email applications are a great example of this. If you use Gmail and use the Gmail app, things are a lot more streamlined than they would be if you're using the other email app with a Gmail account, or an Exchange account, or something like a Yahoo! POP3 account. The Email app has to be able to do things the Gmail app can't, and has to be able to handle the different types of data we create. This takes time to process and as we add more data it takes more time.

Perhaps the best example of "extra" features and how they affect performance would be comparing Evernote and Google Keep. If you only use the app to take notes, all the extras in Evernote mean it takes a lot more time to add or read them. If you like those extra features, you'll quickly find that Google Keep just can't do most of them. There is no right or wrong here, but this does have a big impact on performance.

Unused "leftover" features can still run and cause problems, and our phones are filled with them.

Unused features are more frustrating because we don't know they are there and we couldn't do anything to change things if we did. When a company like LG (we'll pick on them here, but this applies to every company making phones, even Google) makes a phone with their own apps that are duplicates of "stock" android apps like the phone dialer or the calendar, there is a lot of leftover code that isn't being used. Some of the code still runs when you start your phone, too. We've talked about how this means bugs will be harder to find in that portion of code, but it also can have a big impact on performance. And when Software Entropy is factored in we see how those bugs can get worse and worse over time.

When you see silly arguments in comments about how a phone like the Moto G5 is faster than a Galaxy S8 with half the hardware power, Software Bloat is why.

So what does all this mean and what can I do about it?

That's an easy question — it means that some phones are slower than others and some phones get noticeably slower over time while others are less affected. And there's not really anything we can do about it.

More features mean slower software and more opportunity for Bit Rot to happen. It's a trade many gladly make.

Real talk — a phone like the Note 8 is noticeably slower (and shows it when attached to tools that monitor performance) than a Pixel 2. The Note 8 will get even slower six months or so down the road. But the Pixel 2 will never be able to do some of the things a Note 8 does, no matter how many apps we install or how we hack the crap out of it. I can annotate a screenshot with the S Pen immediately after I capture it on the Note 8, but on the Pixel 2, I have to share the screenshot to another device to annotate it with the same level of features and detail.

Like the Evernote vs. Google Keep argument above, what's better is largely a matter of features that you like. The Note 8 has all the features. This means it has all the bugs and software bloat that makes Bit Rot more noticeable. This could be a problem for you, but for others, it's not because there is no other way to get the feature-set. This is why there are more Android phones than just a Pixel and Pixel Plus and what everyone means when they say Android gives you a choice.

And when Bit Rot ever becomes enough of a problem that you need to do something about it, just factory reset your phone and take a few hours to set everything back up.

Questions?

Sound off in the comments below!

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2 days ago

OnePlus 5T specs: 6-inch display, Snapdragon 835 and new low-light camera

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Everything inside the latest from OnePlus.

Unlike the jump from the OnePlus 3 to the 3T, moving from the OnePlus 5 to the 5T focuses on exterior changes and leaves the internal specs near identical. The same core components of the processor, RAM, storage, battery and charging remain. The only notable changes are the screen size, fingerprint sensor placement and switch to a secondary camera that focuses on low light performance rather than a telephoto lens.

Here's everything you'll find inside the OnePlus 5T.

Category Spec Operating system Android 7.1 Nougat Display 6-inch Optic AMOLED, 2160x1080 (18:9 aspect ratio) Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 octa-core
Adreno 540 GPU Storage 64/128GB UFS 2.1 RAM 6/8GB LPDDR4X Rear camera 1 16MP (IMX 398), 1.12-micron pixels, f/1.7
Dual LED flash, 4K 30 fps, 1080p 60 fps, 720p 120 fps video Rear camera 2 20MP (IMX 376k), 1-micron pixels, f/1.7 Front camera 16MP (IMX 371), 1-micron pixels, f/2.0
1080p 30 fps video Battery 3300mAh
Non-removable Charging USB-C
Dash Charge Water resistance No Security One-touch fingerprint sensor Connectivity 802.11ac Wi-Fi, 2x2 MIMO, Bluetooth 5.0, aptX HD
USB-C (2.0), NFC
GPS, GLONASS, BeiDou, Galileo Network 3xCA, 256QAM, DL Cat 12, UL Cat 13
FDD-LTE Band 1/2/3/4/5/7/8/12/17/18/ 19/20/25/26/28/29/30/66
TDD-LTE Band 34/38/39/40/41
TD-SCDMA Band 34/39
HSPA Band 1/2/4/5/8 Dimensions 156.1 x 75 x 7.3 mm
162 g Colors Midnight Black

OnePlus 5T and OnePlus 5

OnePlus Amazon

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2 days ago

Which Amazon Echo can you buy in Canada?

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Amazon Echo Plus

Which Amazon Echo can you buy in Canada and which is the best for you?

On December 5, Amazon is finally bringing its Amazon Echo smart speakers to Canadians via Amazon.ca. It's been over two years since the first Echo was released in the U.S., and Google Home came to Canada way back in May, so if you haven't given Amazon's line of Echo devices much of a thought, here are the models you can buy in Canada and which one may be best for you.

Here's the best part: Pricing is pretty much the same. The Echo Dot is only $49.99, same as the U.S., the Echo is only $99.99, again, the same as the U.S., and the Echo Plus is $169.99, $20 more than the U.S., but considering the way the Canadian dollar's been, that's pretty damn good.

Note: Amazon is only brining the second-generation Echo, Echo Dot, and Echo Plus to the Canadian market. Looks like we'll have to wait and see if we get the Show, Look, or Tap.

Echo Dot: The best starter Amazon Echo

Start off simple and small. The Dot doesn't have an amazing-sounding speaker, but it can control all your smart home devices, stream your music, tell you the weather, and much, much more. Plus, at an entry price of only $50, you're not going all-in so soon. And if you have a great Bluetooth speaker kicking around, then you can pump tunes from your Dot to the speaker (you can also use the 3.5mm AUX input).

Point is, if you want to give the whole Alexa thing a try but aren't totally sold, this is the perfect way to get a taste without breaking the bank. You can get yours in black or white.

See at Amazon


The second-genAmazon Echo: A great mid-range option

The second-generation Echo has been redesigned with less of an obelisk-like look, in favor of a fabric wrap and a shorter, slightly more portly physique. It features updated internals and three color options: "Charcoal", "Heather Grey", and "Sandstone" (black, dark gray, and lighter gray). It has a significantly better speaker than the Dot, so you'll be able to jam out to tunes with a decent low end and overall better sound.

If you want something better than the Dot but still don't want to blow past the $100 mark, then this is the Echo for you. It's perfect for the kitchen counter or a living room shelf, where it'll make a bit more of a statement than the Dot.

See at Amazon

Amazon Echo Plus: The best-sounding Echo yet

Amazon kept the first-gen Echo design around, but updated its internals, giving it better sound than the second-gen Echo

Also new for the Echo Plus is the ability to serve as a smart home hub — if the devices you're looking to support use Zigbee to connect. (You're forgiven if you don't know what Zigbee is — it's not something an end user should ever have to worry about.) It likely won't solve all your smart home problems, but it's a nice little addition nonetheless.

See at Amazon

Amazon Echo

See at Amazon

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2 days ago

Oreo is coming to the OnePlus 5 and 5T in beta by the end of 2017

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OnePlus 5T Oreo release

OnePlus has been pretty good about rolling out consistent software updates to its 2016 and 2017 devices, and that's set to continue.

The OnePlus 5T is launching on November 21, and when it does it will ship with Android 7.1.1 Nougat, not 8.0 Oreo as many expected.

That's all part of the plan, according to OnePlus; the company is treating the 5T as an extension — essentially the same phone — as the OnePlus 5. From a software perspective, despite minor differences and a few additional features in the newer model, they are identical.

Stable Oreo builds won't arrive until 2018.

With the OnePlus 3 and 3T currently testing Oreo as part of an open beta program, OnePlus plans to add the 5 and 5T to the same program before the end of the year. The OnePlus 5 will get it in "late November," while the OnePlus 5T will be added to the beta in "late December" since, according to OnePlus, the software is more complicated.

Then, a few weeks later, the OnePlus 3 and 3T will receive final versions of Oreo, since they're a fair bit ahead in terms of development. Finally, the OnePlus 5 and 5T will get upgraded to stable versions of Oreo in "early 2018."

All told, OnePlus is confident that its 2016 and 2017 lineups will receive Android Oreo far before most other flagships, and that's good news for current and prospective owners. Even if it's a bit disappointing to wait until the new year for the stable Oreo build on the latest phones.

OnePlus 5T and OnePlus 5

OnePlus Amazon

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2 days ago

The OnePlus 5T is official, on sale Nov 21 for $499

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OnePlus 5T

It's time for another T.

For the observant phone geeks, the OnePlus 5T hype cycle and leaks have revealed much of what there is to know about the phone. But of course, we needed confirmation from OnePlus itself: yup, the OnePlus 5T is here, and it's up for sale earlier than many would've thought. Unveiled at its first in-person launch event in New York City, the OnePlus 5T focuses on improving a shortcoming of its predecessor, the camera, while modernizing the design a bit with a move to a larger, taller display.

Unlike the jump from the OnePlus 3 to the OnePlus 3T where the focus was purely on internal spec bumps, the OnePlus 5T marks changes in the exterior hardware and leaves the internals nearly identical. The most striking change is the move to a 6-inch 18:9 AMOLED display that's quickly becoming an industry standard form factor. It removes a lot of excess bezel in the process, and moves the fingerprint sensor to the phone's back. It's arguably a more ergonomic placement, and it lets OnePlus give you more screen in a body that's only marginally taller than the OnePlus 5.

OnePlus 5T specs

The 5T adds a few new features, and doesn't lose anything in the process.

Beyond that larger display, things are identical — you'll find buttons, switches and ports in all of the exact same places, and even the hardware materials and build feel the same. The internal specs carry over, but that's not a bad thing. A Snapdragon 835 with 6 or 8GB of RAM and 64 or 128GB of storage is still great for a 2017 flagship, as is the 3300mAh battery with Dash Charge quick charging. The body still doesn't have an IP67 water-resistance rating, but that's simply one of those corners that has to be cut to keep the price down.

OnePlus has interestingly given up on the telephoto secondary camera after less than a year, with the OnePlus 5T's secondary instead being a "low light" specialized sensor with the same focal length as the main camera, which remains unchanged. That second sensor is 20MP with 1-micron pixels, and lacks OIS — which on the face of it is a puzzling decision for a camera meant to enable better low-light photos. The camera app automatically switches to the second sensor in really dark situations, so expect to use the main sensor most of the time — and therefore get effectively the same photos as you would on a OnePlus 5.

Is $499 pushing the envelope of what OnePlus fans will pay?

One other interesting change is a new "face unlock" feature that's much better than promises to be better any other we've seen on an Android phone but nowhere near on the same level as the iPhone X's Face ID. It's designed to be super-fast, but because it identifies just 100 features of your face using the front-facing camera it isn't nearly as secure as Apple's solution. A neat selling feature for sure, but not one meant to replace the fingerprint sensor.

The OnePlus 5T is launching on Android 7.1.2 Nougat, rather than Oreo as we originally expected. OnePlus is claiming it will have a beta version of the Oreo update ready for both 5T and 5 owners by the end of 2017, but we'll have to wait until "early 2018" for a stable build on the phones.

We've finally shrugged off the whole "invite" nonsense for good, as OnePlus is once again opening up sales almost immediately. On November 21, dozens of countries get a chance to buy. Pricing has bumped modestly, slotting up to $499 (€499, £449) for the 6GB/64GB model and $559 for 8GB/128GB. That's still a relative bargain as flagship phone prices have ballooned over $800 as of late, and even though OnePlus hasn't changed much from the OnePlus 5 it's easy to see this as a great upgrade for fans with a OnePlus 3 or 3T or for someone who wants to keep cost down but still get a "flagship" phone.

Press release:

Presenting the OnePlus 5T – A New View

6" Full Optic AMOLED Display with 18:9 aspect ratio, and dual camera deliver immersive viewing experience and enhanced low-light performance in sleek flagship smartphone

NEW YORK – November 16, 2017 – OnePlus today announced the OnePlus 5T its latest premium flagship device. The OnePlus 5T is the company's most competitive product to date, offering key hardware and software updates inspired by the active OnePlus community, including a higher resolution, 18:9 display, enhanced low-light camera performance, and numerous new software features. "We love nothing more than offering our community the latest and greatest technology and a user experience to beat expectations," said OnePlus Founder and CEO Pete Lau. "Once again, we've worked hard to refine every last detail."

Immersive Display

The OnePlus 5T marks the introduction of a 6-inch Full Optic AMOLED Display with an 18:9 aspect ratio to deliver a more immersive viewing experience, all while keeping a form factor similar to that of the OnePlus 5. Thanks to the built-in software algorithm, the OnePlus 5T's Full Optic AMOLED display features a new Sunlight Display that adapts automatically to harsh light to facilitate a great viewing experience. In addition to enhancing the visual appearance of the device, the larger display helps to improve the overall user experience. Users can calibrate their screens based on their viewing preferences across four different modes, including default, sRGB, DCI-P3 and adaptive. To ensure the OnePlus 5T's seamless front design, OnePlus moved its famously fast ceramic fingerprint sensor, which unlocks the phone in under 0.2 seconds, to the back of the device. The seamless aluminum unibody of the OnePlus 5T is both functionally and visually slim, creating a phone that is not only comfortable to hold but extremely durable. Designed with painstaking attention to detail, the OnePlus 5T continues OnePlus design's proud tradition of refinement and total cohesion.

Dual Camera with Enhanced Low-light Performance

The OnePlus 5T comes with key improvements that enhance camera performance in low-light. The OnePlus 5T features the same main camera as that of the OnePlus 5, but boasts an improved secondary camera equipped with a large f/1.7 aperture for superior low light photography. With Intelligent Pixel Technology, the OnePlus 5T's secondary camera merges four pixels into one, reducing noise in low-light environments and enhancing clarity.

Additional software improvements have also been added to Portrait Mode to improve noise reduction. This is accomplished through new multi-frame algorithms that compare different frames of the same scene to filter out inconsistencies and improve the overall clarity of portraits.

Android Refined – OxygenOS

OnePlus' operating system, OxygenOS, offers a refined Android experience that is faster, cleaner and more customizable than other Android experiences. OxygenOS' new platform enables a more streamlined software development process, resulting in faster, more consistent updates guided largely by user feedback. Newly added to OxygenOS is Face Unlock, which allows OnePlus users to unlock their phone just by looking at their device. One of the fastest on the Android market, Face Unlock uses over 100 identifiers to unlock the OnePlus 5T. Similar to its approach to hardware, OnePlus' approach to software is centered around an experience that is refined, efficient and minimalistic. New features are vetted by OnePlus users through channels like the OxygenOS Beta Program and only added once OnePlus is confident the features can improve the way users use their phone.

A Day's Power in Half an Hour

First introduced with the OnePlus 3, Dash Charge is one of the fastest charging solutions on the global market and a favorite feature amongst OnePlus users. A quick half-hour charge gives the OnePlus 5T enough power for the day. By carrying more current and shifting the power management from the handset to the adapter to keep the phone cooler during charging, Dash Charge can continue to fast charge the OnePlus 5T even while using GPS or playing graphically intensive games.

Smooth Performance

The OnePlus 5T offers a smooth experience through a combination of powerful hardware and intelligent software that works seamlessly together. With up to 8 GB of LPDDR4X RAM, the OnePlus 5T can run a large number of apps in the background without a single second of lag, allowing users to switch between apps with ease. The OnePlus 5T's dual-lane storage, based on UFS 2.1, ensures faster app loading and read/write speeds.

The OnePlus 5T takes advantage of one of the most powerful and energy efficient platforms on the market, the Qualcomm® SnapdragonTM 835. The Adreno 540 GPU boosts graphical performance, so users can play demanding games smoother than ever before.

Price and Availability

The OnePlus 5T in both the 64 GB and 128 GB (Midnight Black version) storage options will be available on OnePlus.net in the United States and in Europe on November 21st starting from USD 499 / EUR 499 / GBP 449.

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2 days ago

Revitalize Any Outdoor Area With Colorful Solar Lights Controlled By Your Phone

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Brighten up your backyard garden with brilliant lights you can control with your phone!

Smart lights are one of the easiest ways to start upgrading your home to be a "smart home," and there are so many options for inside the home — but what about something a bit more portable that you can use to light your balcony, patio, or garden?

LuminAID has a rather elegant solution with its new line of Smart Solar Garden Lanterns. Available in two unique styles — Gem and Star — these origami-inspired solar lanterns simply look magical while offering ambient lighting in your backyard, letting you set the mood for any occasion using a Bluetooth connection and the LuminAID app (iOS or Android).

Check out the campaign trailer to see these lanterns in action:


For every Kickstarter pledge, LuminAID will donate one if its original inflatable solar lanterns to a family still living without power in the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.

Just like other smart lights you may have seen, these lanterns are packed with smart features, with eight high-powered RGBW LEDs that let you choose from pure white or hundreds of colors. Since they're solar powered, you never have to worry about running wires or replacing batteries, and you can even use the app to check in to see how well your lanterns are charging in the sun, or schedule the lights to come on at a specific time each day. They're built tough to be both waterproof and weatherproof so you don't have to worry if a storm rolls in. Want to take them along on a camping trip or to the cabin? Both the Gem and Star lanterns fold down to be flat and compact. Each style is best suited for different use cases — the Gem is best suited as a path marker along a walkway or as a table lantern on a patio, while the Star is perfect for hanging up around your backyard or as an accent piece for a social evening under the stars.

LuminAID has already surpassed its initial Kickstarter goal, but there's still plenty of time to back this project and get your own smart lanterns at a discounted price. The Gem will retail for $70 and the Star for $80, but you can save some money by backing with a pledge today. With a pledge of $59, you'll get one Gem lantern, or pledge $69 to get a Star Lantern. But that's just the start — you're probably going to want more than one of these beautiful and LuminAID's pledge rewards to scale up nicely. The best reward is probably around the $179 mark, which gets you four lanterns of your choice — maybe get three Gems to line your front path and a Star to hang by the door. The choice is yours! LuminAID plans to start shipping these lanterns by June 2018 — just in time for summer!

But this campaign is about more than just launching a new product. Since it was founded in 2010, part of LuminAID's company mission is to also assist in humanitarian relief efforts. For every Kickstarter pledge, LuminAID will donate one if its original inflatable solar lantern to a family still living without power in the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. In fact, if LuminAID reaches their next stretch goal of $100,000, they'll donate an extra 1,000 inflatable lanterns to families in need.

This is LuminAID's second Kickstarter campaign, and they're building off of the success of the LuminAID Solar Inflatable Lantern, which is the lantern style they will be donating for each pledge received. You can back with confidence knowing that the team at LuminAID has been through this process before and are also a socially conscious company that aims to give back.

See LuminAID Solar Garden Lanterns on Kickstarter

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2 days ago

Amazon Echo vs. Dot vs. Tap vs. Show: Which should you buy?

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Which Amazon Echo is best for you? I have no idea. But here's how I'd approach each one.

I own too many Amazon Echo speakers. From the original Echo to the Echo Dot and the newfangled Echo Show with its screen and camera. Plus the Amazon Tap, and Echo Look, which you can't even buy without an invitation. (And you probably shouldn't but it, for reasons I'll get into in a second.)

This isn't a cookie-cutter list of all the Echo speakers and why you should buy them. Hell, a couple I think you probably should stay away from. This is a list of how I see things after having used them all for months and months. Hit the links below to jump on down to the Echo that tickles your fancy.

Echo Dot: The best Amazon Echo for starting out

Start simple. If you're just not sure about this whole Alexa thing and really don't know how much you'll get out of an Amazon Echo, it's best to not spend a lot of money. Start with an Echo Dot.

The Echo Dot costs $49 retail, but it's not uncommon to see it on sale for as low as $30. And at that price it's kind of a no-brainer. Buy one and give it a go.

Another pro tip here is to buy more than one at a time. Amazon typically has deals if you buy multiple Echoes Dot at one time — $20 is the usual savings. So if you're like me and you know you'll want to stash a few of these around the house, save yourself a few bucks and take advantage.

See at Amazon


The redesigned Amazon Echo: A great mid-range option

Amazon has completely redesigned the basic Echo for 2017. It's shorter than the original and more squat in stature. And you can get one clad in fabric for $99. That's not a bad buy, and it's what I'd recommend for someone who wants to get something better than the Dot, but still not spend more than a hundred bucks. The sound quality is decent for that price. Can you get something better? Yeah. But not for less money.

If you want to spend a little more, though, $119 will get you a new Echo with a wood veneer, or in matte plastic. I've found the fabric to be plenty good, though.

See at Amazon

Amazon Echo Plus: The best-sounding Echo yet

Amazon decided to keep the tried and true Echo design, but give it better internals. That gives us the $149 Echo Plus. It sounds a little better than the previous-generation Echo, and definitely better than the current 2017 model. It comes in the same matte plastic, but now you can get silver in addition to black and white.

Also new for the Echo Plus is the ability to serve as a smart home hub — if the devices you're looking to support use Zigbee to connect. (You're forgiven if you don't know what Zigbee is — it's not something an end user should ever have to worry about.) It likely won't solve all your smart home problems, but it's a nice little addition nonetheless.

See at Amazon

Amazon Tap: Smaller, portable, expensive

For whatever reason, this isn't an "Echo" device. It's "Alexa-enabled." OK. (Maybe it's because the "Alexa" hotword isn't enabled by default, and instead you're supposed to push the microphone button.) But no matter. For all intents and purposes it's an Echo, and it's meant to be portable.

The Tap has a charging base that allows you to just pick up the speaker and take it wherever you want. And it sounds decent. Not great, but good. Good enough for $129 retail, though? Eh, now Amazon is starting to ask a lot — particularly when you can get a portable battery base for the original Echo for just $50 and get a much better speaker for your troubles. Or you could stick an Echo Dot in this little cordless speaker and get a decent experience — again, for just $50.

Personally, I don't really see the necessity of a portable Alexa speaker — especially since the speaker itself is going to need to be connected to the Internet at all times for the Alexa stuff to work. And hotspotting to your phone just isn't something I want to bother with.

Your money probably is better off with any other Echo — or just a traditional Bluetooth speaker.

See at Amazon

Echo Show: Will it ever get better?

I was an early fan of the Echo Show — the potential for an Alexa-enabled device with a large touchscreen is enormous. Unfortunately, it's yet to pan out in the first few months. The headlines you get are pure fluff, with very little actual news, if ever — and Amazon says it's done this on purpose.

Then Google decided to not let YouTube videos play on the Echo Show — likely because Amazon's implementation was doing so without advertising. That killed one of the few reasons I'd actually recommend the Echo Show.

And then there's the fact that very few Alexa Skills actually take advantage of the display in the first place. It's a novelty at this point, not a necessity — even though making video calls on the Echo Show is still a great experience.

See at Amazon

Echo Look: How much do you care about what you wear?

There's a pretty good chance you shouldn't buy the Echo Look. Unless you really care about fashion — to the point that you want to take a picture of what you're wearing and send it to Amazon for cataloging and analysis — then you'll just want to ignore this. For that's what Echo Look is good at. It's got a camera and its own app for taking your picture from head to toe, and it does a nice job of highlighting you while downplaying everything else.

From there it lets you flip back through what you've worn day after day, and you can have it compare two outfits and decide which it thinks looks better on you. (To varying degrees of success, I found.)

You very much will get out of Echo Look what you put into it. I don't care so much about what I'm wearing, so this wasn't really $200 well spent for me. Your wardrobe mileage may vary.

And to be fair, you can't just go out and buy an Echo Look. You'll have to tell Amazon you're interested in it, and then wait for an invitation.

See at Amazon

Updated November 2017: We've added the newest offerings from Amazon — the redesigned Echo, and new Echo Plus. Also, we've downgraded the Echo Show.

Amazon Echo

See at Amazon

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2 days ago

Join us for the OnePlus 5T launch event: Live at 11:00 a.m. ET!

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Come see the latest from OnePlus.

OnePlus has fallen into a groove with its phone releases, and for the second time in a row it's releasing a mid-cycle refresh of its flagship phone. It's the OnePlus 5T this time, but unlike the OnePlus 3T this refresh is shaping up to bring external changes rather than just an internal component jump.

In a change of pace for OnePlus, it's actually holding a full-on launch event as well, rather than rolling things out with an online-only announcement followed by a handful of pop-up shops. That means that the Android Central team will be there on the ground to see everything that OnePlus has to show.

To see it all happen in real time, be sure to join us right here for the event — it all kicks off on Thursday November 16 at 11:00 a.m. ET!

OnePlus 5T and OnePlus 5

OnePlus Amazon

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2 days ago

Bose Black Friday drops prices on its gear, including the SoundTrue Ultra in-ear headphones for $79

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Some of these prices are all new lows. Great time for Bose gear.

These are all the deals you can expect to see from Bose this Black Friday. Some of these prices are all new lows. Most of them are available at multiple retailers and in multiple colors. Pick and choose your favorites or buy one of each just because you're saving so much.

Headphones:

Speakers:

Everything Else:

Be sure to check out the Thrifter Black Friday hub for tons of other great Black Friday sales.

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2 days ago

Vudu for NVIDIA Shield Android TV picks up HDR and Google Assistant

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Google Assistant available for all, but HDR is exclusive to the Shield TV.

The NVIDIA Shield TV remains as the best way to experience Android TV and all of the 4K and HDR content it has to offer, and Vudu recently announced an update to its app that reinforces this point even more.

With the latest update to the Vudu app on Android TV, you can now stream HDR content to watch your movies and TV shows with brighter colors and higher contrast for an overall better picture. HDR content is currently limited to the Shield TV, and you'll need to ensure that you also have a television that supports HDR10.

No matter what streaming box or smart TV you have, Vudu has also added support for the Google Assistant. You'll be able to say "Play [movie/TV show title] on Vudu" from your home screen to start watching right away, and once you're in the app and streaming your favorite show, you can use your voice to pause/play what you're watching, rewind, skip to the next episode, etc.

New NVIDIA Shield Android TV: Everything you need to know

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2 days ago

T-Mobile offering BOGO deals on Galaxy S8, LG V30, Note 8, and more

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New and existing customers can get buy one phone and get another free – as long as you add a new line of service.

If there's one thing that's certain, it's that there are some seriously great tech deals to be found this time of year. With Black Friday quickly creeping up on us, it seems like more and more deals are being announced every day in preparation for the holiday shopping event.

T-Mobile recently unveiled its own slew of deals, and if you're looking to score two phones for the price of one, the Un-Carrier has something for you. Starting on Friday, November 17, you'll be able to buy a variety of flagship phones and get another one of equal or lesser value for free.

You'll get that free phone via a rebate that's paid through a Mastercard prepaid gift card, and the promotion is available for the following phones:

Both new and existing customers will be able to take advantage of this deal, but like a lot of T-Mobile's BOGO offerings, you'll need to add a new line of service and buy the phones on an Equipment Installment Plan in order to participate.

To go along with your shiny new phones, T-Mobile is also discounting a few of its Magenta accessories, including:

  • Twilight Magenta Ultimate Ears MEGABOOM for $179.99 ($70 off)
  • Twilight Magenta Ultimate Ears BOOM 2 for $99.99 ($80 off)
  • Speckled Magenta Mophie Powerstation Mini for $18 ($11.99 off)

See at T-Mobile

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2 days ago

There's never been a better day to buy rechargeable batteries

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It's never been more affordable to switch to rechargeable batteries!

Today appears to be the day to buy rechargeable batteries at Amazon. What started as a single discount on a 12-pack of Eneloop AA batteries (which are now sold out) has resulted in a variety of other discounts surfacing.

These deals have been selling out quickly, but the ones that we have found to still be available include:

AA Batteries

AAA Batteries

AA & AAA Packs

Pair the batteries with this awesome charger and say goodbye to the days of constantly buying and throwing away AA and AAA batteries.

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2 days ago

PSA: Google Pixel 2 and 2 XL are back in stock on the Google Store

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Most models of Google's flagships are back in stock with fast shipping dates.

Last year, trying to buy a Pixel or Pixel XL was something of a nightmare. Even months after the phones' release, it wasn't uncommon to see an "out of stock" message on the Google Store when trying to place an order for Android's latest and greatest. Certain models of the Pixel 2/2XL have still proven to be difficult to get this year as well, but Google recently refreshed stock so you can finally get your hands on the coveted Panda version of the 2 XL.

We aren't sure how long stock will last this time around before you're prompted to join a waitlist, but at least at the time of publication, this is what the current stock for the Pixel 2 and 2 XL looks like:

Pixel 2 (Unlocked)

  • Just Black, 64GB – Ships immediately
  • Just Black, 128GB – Ships immediately
  • Clearly White, 64GB – Ships by November 27
  • Clearly White, 128GB – Ships by November 20

Pixel 2 (Verizon)

  • Just Black, 64GB – Ships immediately
  • Just Black, 128GB – Ships immediately
  • Clearly White, 128GB – Ships immediately

Pixel 2 XL (Unlocked)

  • Just Black, 64GB – Ships immediately
  • Just Black, 128GB – Ships immediately
  • Black & White, 64GB – Ships in 3 - 4 weeks
  • Black & White, 128GB – Ships in 3 - 4 weeks

Pixel 2 XL (Verizon)

  • Just Black, 128GB – Ships by November 27
  • Black & White, 64GB – Ships in 2 - 3 weeks

Your best chance of getting a Panda Pixel 2 XL ASAP is with a Verizon unit, but remember that the only thing that differentiates this model is the fact that there's a Verizon SIM included. In other words, you'll be able to use it on any other carrier of your choosing.

Also, the striking Kinda Blue option is still nowhere to be seen. It might not be as bright or vibrant as last year's Really Blue, but it sure is proving to be just as difficult to get.

See at Google Store

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2 days ago

The EcoFlow Tech River: Portable power wherever you need it

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The EcoFlow Tech River will change the way you look at portable power.

Keeping all your tech charged can be a neverending struggle, which is why portable charging accessories come in all shapes and sizes. A battery pack that's compact enough to throw in your backpack is a great personal accessory, but sometimes you need something a little more substantial.

The EcoFlow Tech River is a stylish looking mobile power station that houses an impressive 412Wh battery (equivalent to 114,000mAh) with 11 output sources that should basically let you charge any electronic device you own. What's more, it's got a DC/AC inverter that gives you two outlets for plugging in other electronics or smaller appliances like lamps or fans. There's even an optional solar panel to keep the River charged while camping.

I've spent a good amount of time using the EcoFlow Tech River as a mobile source of power around the home as well as testing it out in the "real world". I'm impressed by its versatility, build quality, and ease of use, but it'll also set you back about as much as that smartphone you'll likely be using the River to charge.

What sets the EcoFlow Tech River apart from the rest?

Beefy power stations like this are nothing new. In fact, EcoFlow Tech kind of has an uphill battle to win over consumers as an upstart company in a competitive space, with the Anker Powerhouse and Goal Zero Yeti offering similar off-the-grid power solutions at a lower price.

But the EcoFlow Tech River does a lot of things better than the competition and it starts with the design. Whereas most portable power stations look utilitarian — like a car battery with some outlets on the front — the EcoFlow Tech River stands out with a design that flows from front to back. The majority of ports are located on the front, below the LCD display that's bright enough to read in direct sunlight. The AC outlets and 12V port are located on the back along with the recharging port. It weighs in at just over 11 lbs. but doesn't feel cumbersome to lug around thanks to the curved, built-in carrying handle.

No matter which phone or cables you have on you, you should be able to find an orientation that'll charge your phone.

Beyond the look and feel of the EcoFlow Tech River, you're simply not going to find a more adaptable power station when it comes to charging smartphones. Among the six USB ports on the front, you get two standard 5V/2A ports, two Quick Charge compatible ports, and two USB-C ports. No matter which phone or cables you have on you, you should be able to find an orientation that'll charge your phone. Got five friends who all want to charge their phones at the same time? The River can handle that with ease — I was able to fully charge five devices simultaneously. There are also two 12V DC outputs up front which I didn't test but presumably would be used for connecting other devices, and EcoFlow Tech included a handful of adapters for powering different devices.

With its output maxed out at 500W, you won't be able to use the River to power anything that uses a heating coil, like an electric kettle, hairdryer, or heat dish. Nor can it be used to jumpstart a car or anything like that. However, it's still significantly more powerful than it's top competitors and in turn will allow you to power more of your devices simultaneously if you please. It also has a "smart" system that automatically adjusts power output to each specific device's wattage, regulates temperature so devices don't shut down, and connects individually to each output port to avoid a surge affecting your connected devices.

When it comes time to charge the EcoFlow Tech River itself you've got options. You can use the included wall charger get a full charge in about six hours, use the included car charger and top up in roughly nine hours if you're on a road trip, or opt to buy the solar panel add-on and charge wherever you are in 10 to 15 hours — weather permitting, of course.

Real-world testing

With a portable power station as versatile as this at my disposal, I knew there was no better way to test it than to take it out into the wilderness on a short camping trip and do my best to drain the River — especially after watching some of the promotional media for the River.

So that's what I did. I booked an unserviced campsite and invited some friends out with the goal of using the EcoFlow Tech River to power all the fun. Beyond using the EcoFlow Tech River to ensure that everyone kept their phones charged, we used it wherever possible — the 12V port was used with an electric air mattress pump for its designed purpose, but also later in the night when rain was threatening to douse our campfire, it came through as a surprisingly effective makeshift bellows for keeping the fire stoked. We also used one of the AC outlets to power a string of LED Christmas lights that provided much needed ambient lighting throughout the night that put barely a dent in the River's battery except for the power drawn for the AC inverter.

For all the fun you can have with this power station, it may also serve as a crucial piece of tech for your and your family in an emergency situation.

Easily my favorite test for the EcoFlow Tech River was plugging in and rocking out on an electric guitar in the middle of a forest. I think I fell in love with the EcoFlow Tech River the moment I struck that first chord and heard the echo carrying over the treetops. It was cool to watch the power usage spike on the display the louder and faster I played. Eventually, out of respect for our camping neighbors, we retired the electric in favor of an acoustic guitar, but EcoFlow Tech claims we could have jammed out for up to 20 hours and that's music to my ears.

Now it was all fun and games for my time testing the EcoFlow Tech River, but the whole while I was having fun I also tried to keep in mind how practical this device would be as part of an emergency preparation kit. EcoFlow Tech says that the River will keep a positive charge stored for up to a full year, which means it will be ready in cases where the power goes out, or it's something you could throw into the trunk of your car long road trip. For all the fun you can have with this power station, it may also serve as a crucial piece of tech for your and your family in an emergency situation. That can be a huge selling featured if you live in a part of the world that occasionally gets slammed by tropical storms or other natural disasters.

Is it worth buying?

The EcoFlow Tech River looks slick and is incredibly useful for both practical and impractical purposes, but how much is this thing going to cost? If you were fortunate enough to back EcoFlow Tech during their Kickstarter campaign, you could have snagged a unit for under $500. At that price, it would be an easy recommendation to make

The crowdfunding window has passed, however, leaving the rest of us to pay the full retail price of $650 for the EcoFlow Tech River — and that's before considering the optional 50W or 21W solar chargers, or the IP63 certified carrying case that's water resistant, dustproof, and shockproof. It's a steep price to pay, but in return, you get a very intelligently designed power station with more ports than you'll know what to do with.

Whether you're looking to boost your next camping trip with portable power or want it for your emergency preparation kit, the EcoFlow Tech River will serve you well.

See at Amazon

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2 days ago

Google Assistant now supports apps for Canadian users

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Apps for the Assistant are available in both English and French.

There are many different levels and layers to the Google Assistant, and while it's great for checking the weather, adding events to your calendar, and staying up to date on the latest world news, applications made using Actions on Google Assistant help to drastically expand the functionality of the AI. Recently, Google announced that these apps are finally coming to users in Canada.

With these apps now available, you can begin to use Assistant on your phone or Google Home for a variety of new things. You can find apps by accessing Assistant on your phone, and if you find one that you'd like to use, simply say the voice command to connect to it. Unlike apps on your phone or tablet, there's no need to download ones for Assistant.

By using apps for the Assistant, you'll be able to use your voice to shop for holiday gifts on Best Buy Canada, break an early morning sweat with Fitbit Coach, learn how to make a prime cocktail with Tender, etc.

Canadians can start using apps for Google Assistant in French and English now.

Google Assistant gains a load of new features and supports more languages

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