Category Archives: Gear & Gadgets

Amazon’s latest Prime Exclusive Phones range from $79 to $199

Amazon's "Prime Exclusive Phones" program takes mid- to low-end Android phones, loads them with ads and Amazon apps, and cuts around $50 off the price for Prime subscribers. If you can deal with the ads, it's usually a good deal for a budget phone. Today, Amazon is adding five new phones to the Prime Exclusive Phone program, from Nokia, Motorola, and Alcatel.

First up is the freshly announced-for-the-US Nokia 6, which is HMD's first swing at Android-powered Nokia phones. The Prime program gives you $50 off in exchange for ads, bringing the $229.99 price down to $179.99. Besides the fantastic metal body and build quality, the Nokia 6 gives you a 5.5-inch 1080p screen, Android 7.1, a Snapdragon 430, 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, a 16MP rear camera, an 8MP front camera, and a 3000mAh battery. There's also an SD card slot and dual speakers.

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iPhone at 10: How Apple changed gaming for the better and the worse

Enlarge (credit: Mark Walton)

Ten years ago this week—on June 29, 2007—many waited (in line or online) for the first iPhone's formal release. Steve Jobs revealed what he promised would be a game-changing device months earlier, providing plenty of time for the lofty dreams, predictions, and excitement to build. The decade since has largely justified the hype. Apple's now-signature product has made a lasting mark not only on our communications, but on many unexpected walks of life. So this week as the iPhone celebrates its 10th anniversary, we'll be examining its impact and revisiting the device that changed it all.

In the heart of Stockholm, Sweden, mobile games developer King has built its own forest. Alongside Earth-toned carpeting and plywood trees are walls coated in Norwegian lichen. Instead of the harsh glow of a fluorescent strip, there are ambient lights that change hue with the seasons. Instead of chairs there are ceiling-hung wicker baskets and long maple desks with multicoloured stools. Along the floor is an artificial stream that scans the footsteps of employees, allowing them to interact with virtual fish and insects. In the winter, the stream freezes over, lending an audible crunch to each footstep.

Such extravagance is hardly extraordinary for the startups and venture capitalists that have spread across California's so-called Silicon Valley (Airbnb has its own makeshift forest, complete with taxidermied raccoon). But for the companies that build their fortunes on the fickle market of mobile games, success is far from guaranteed. King is one of the lucky ones. It has, in its finer moments, raked in profits of half a billion dollars in a single year. So compelling were its profits that publishing giant Activision Blizzard swallowed it up for $5.9 billion in 2015.

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The Nokia 6 comes to the US for $229

If you remember, all the way back in February, HMD's Nokia Android lineup made its international debut at Mobile World Congress. The highest-end device, the Nokia 6, impressed us with its metal body, great build quality, stock Android, and low €229 price tag. Now the phone is finally coming to America, care of Amazon, which will sell the device in "early July" for $229. HMD Global, the company now in charge of producing Nokia phones, announced the move this morning.

Of course the $229 price tag means this isn't a high-end phone, but with the death of the Nexus line and the Lenovo-ization of Motorola, good phones in the mid- to low-end market are exactly what Android is lacking right now. With the Nokia 6, you get a 5.5-inch 1080p screen, a Snapdragon 430, 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, a 16MP rear camera, an 8MP front camera, and a 3000mAh battery. There's also an SD card slot and dual speakers.

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Back to the iPhone future: Lessons from a decade of Apple influence in medicine

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Thinkstock)

Ten years ago this week—on June 29, 2007—many waited (in line or online) for the first iPhone's formal release. Steve Jobs revealed what he promised would be a game-changing device months earlier, providing plenty of time for the lofty dreams, predictions, and excitement to build. The decade since has largely justified the hype. Apple's now signature product has made a lasting mark not only on our communications, but on many unexpected walks of life. So this week as the iPhone turns 10, we'll be examining its impact and revisiting the device that changed it all.

In early 2008—on the brink of the second generation iPhone’s release—emergency medicine doctor Michael Omori unabashedly gushed over the digital upheaval he saw at the medical community’s fingertips: Swipes on slim devices leafed pages of hefty medical books too cumbersome to tote on rounds. Thumb taps quickly summoned archived data into emergency rooms. And light pecks conjured 3D anatomy guides and pill identification tools at the bedside.

In a breathless letter to his colleagues in the Journal of Emergencies, Trauma and Shock, Omori scrolled through all this potential. The letter ended succinctly: “The future is now! Join the iPhone revolution.”

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Scroogled no more: Gmail won’t scan e-mails for ads personalization

Enlarge / Microsoft's description of Gmail scanning from the "Scroogled" ad campaign. (credit: Microsoft)

Google has announced it will no longer scan e-mail messages for ad personalization. Previously, in the consumer version of Gmail, Google's computers would scan the contents of every e-mail message to determine a relevant ad to show. The scanning "feature" has been turned off for Google Apps for Education and GSuite accounts for some time, but now Google says that "consumer Gmail content will not be used or scanned for any ads personalization after this change."

In its blog post, Google says, "This decision brings Gmail ads in line with how we personalize ads for other Google products. Ads shown are based on users’ settings. Users can change those settings at any time, including disabling ads personalization." Presumably Google means Gmail will now honor the account-wide "Ads personalization" setting, which is available at https://www.google.com/settings/u/0/ads/authenticated.

Gmail's scanning has long drawn ire from the tech community. It was the subject of a lawsuit alleging the the feature violated wiretapping and privacy laws, which eventually resulted in Google turning scanning off for students. Google has also been sued by non-Gmail users over the feature. That lawsuit claims that non-users that e-mail Gmail users should not have their e-mails scanned. The feature has also been the subject of Microsoft's "Scroogled" campaign.

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YouTube’s “VR180” format cuts down on VR video’s prohibitive requirements

Enlarge / Grab a phone, strap in, and start watching VR content.

VidCon, the largest conference for online video creators, took place this week, and YouTube celebrated by announcing a new VR format.

YouTube has supported VR and 360° video for some time, but the format is really hard to do right. The camera rigs are really expensive, and for any kind of clarity, 4K resolution isn't good enough—you need at least an 8K video feed for each eye, which is really hard to record, store, and stream to viewers. 360 video is great for virtually teleporting someone to a location, but it's not an appropriate format for more traditional, structured content with a stage, lighting, and a place you're supposed to be looking at.

To help pull traditional content creators into the VR space, YouTube is launching a new "VR180" format, which is exactly what it sounds like: stereoscopic video, but only in 180 degrees. This cuts the data requirements in half—4K for each eye looks great—and the format should map a lot easier to the existing content most content creators produce, where they can just set up a camera, aim it at a (slightly wider than normal) staged area, and start filming. The new format even supports live streaming.

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The tragedy of FireWire: Collaborative tech torpedoed by corporations

Enlarge / In retrospect, perhaps our favorite port logo. (credit: Flickr user jeremybrooks)

The rise and fall of FireWire—IEEE 1394, an interface standard boasting high-speed communications and isochronous real-time data transfer—is one of the most tragic tales in the history of computer technology. The standard was forged in the fires of collaboration. A joint effort from several competitors including Apple, IBM, and Sony, it was a triumph of design for the greater good. FireWire represented a unified standard across the whole industry, one serial bus to rule them all. Realized to the fullest, FireWire could replace SCSI and the unwieldy mess of ports and cables at the back of a desktop computer.

Yet FireWire's principal creator, Apple, nearly killed it before it could appear in a single device. And eventually the Cupertino company effectively did kill FireWire, just as it seemed poised to dominate the industry.

The story of how FireWire came to market and ultimately fell out of favor serves today as a fine reminder that no technology, however promising, well-engineered, or well-liked, is immune to inter- and intra-company politics or to our reluctance to step outside our comfort zone.

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Google Glass is apparently back from the dead, starts getting software updates

A man wearing Google Glass. (credit: Google)

Remember Google Glass—Google's ultra-dorky, poorly supported, $1,500 face computer? Conventional wisdom said that the product was dead: it's not sold anymore, the website was more or less shut down in 2015, its Twitter and Facebook were deleted, and the OS stopped receiving updates. But someone at Google apparently still cares about this clunky little headset, and this week the device got both a firmware update and a companion app update.

"XE23" is the new firmware version, the first such update in nearly three years. In addition to the usual "bug fixes and performance improvements," Glass can now make use of paired Bluetooth input devices, like keyboards and mice. Android Police actually dusted off a unit and got the new firmware up and running, discovering that you'll actually get a mouse cursor on the unit if you pair a mouse.

There's also an update to the "MyGlass" app, Google Glass's Android companion app. After three years of rot and a target version of Android 4.2, the app was pretty broken in Android. It's been updated to target Android 5.1, and it now finally has a Notification Listener Service. This allows the app to sync notifications from the phone to the device, just like Android Wear. It's also been updated to prompt the user to disable the battery-saving Doze mode for the app so it can work when the phone is asleep.

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More Android apps from dangerous Ztorg family sneak into Google Play

Enlarge (credit: Kaspersky Lab)

For the second time this month, Google has removed Android apps from its Google Play marketplace. Google did so after a security researcher found the apps contained code that laid the groundwork for attackers to take administrative "root" control of infected devices.

"Magic Browser," as one app was called, was uploaded to Google's official Android App bazaar on May 15 and gained more than 50,000 downloads by the time it was removed, Kaspersky Lab Senior Research Analyst Roman Unuchek said in a blog post published Tuesday. Magic Browser was disguised as a knock-off to the Chrome browser. The other app, "Noise Detector," purported to measure the decibel level of sounds, and it had been downloaded more than 10,000 times. Both apps belong to a family of Android malware known as Ztorg, which has managed to sneak past Google's automated malware checks almost 100 times since last September.

Most Ztorg apps are notable for their ability to use well-known exploits to root infected phones. This status allows the apps to have finer-grain control and makes them harder to be removed. Ztorg apps are also concerning for their large number of downloads. A Ztorg app known as Privacy Lock, for instance, received one million installations before Google removed it last month, while an infected Pokémon Go guide racked up 500,000 downloads before its removal in September.

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OnePlus 5 review—The best sub-$500 phone you can buy

Smartphone companies don't seem to care about cultivating a true "lineup" of phones. If you aren't spending at least $650, most companies will offer you anonymous, second-rate devices that seem like they've had no thought put into them. With the death of the Nexus line and with Lenovo's continued bungling of Motorola, the "good but not $650" market is slimmer than ever. Enter the OnePlus 5, which continues the company's tradition of offering an all-business, high-end smartphone for a great price.

SPECS AT A GLANCE: OnePlus 5
SCREEN 1920×1080 5.5" (401ppi) AMOLED
OS Android 7.1.1 (Oxygen OS)
CPU Eight-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 (Four 2.35GHz Kyro 280 Performance cores and four 1.90GHz Kyro 280 Efficiency cores)
RAM 6GB or 8GB
GPU Adreno 540
STORAGE 64GB or 128GB
NETWORKING 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 5.0, GPS, NFC
BANDS GSM: 850/900/1800/1900 MHz
WCDMA: Bands 1/2/4/5/8
FDD-LTE: Bands  1/2/3/4/5/7/8/12/17/18/19/ 20/25/26/28/29/30/66TDD-LTE: Bands 38/39/40/41TD-SCDMA: Bands 34/39
CDMA EVDO: BC0
PORTS USB 2.0 Type-C, 3.5mm headphone jack
CAMERA Rear: 16MP main camera, 20MP telephoto camera,

Front: 16MP

SIZE 154.2 x 74.1 x 7.25mm ( x  x in)
WEIGHT 153 g (5.4 oz)
BATTERY 3300 mAh
STARTING PRICE $479 / £449
OTHER PERKS "Dash" charging, three-position physical notification mode switch, fingerprint sensor, notification LED, Dual SIM slots

Today OnePlus is both announcing the OnePlus 5 and lifting the review embargo on the device, which we've had for about two weeks now. $479 (£449) gets you an aluminum-clad pocket computer with a 2.45GHz Snapdragon 835 SoC, 6GB of RAM, 64GB of storage, and a 3,300mAh battery. You still get OnePlus' physical 3-way alert switch, a USB-C port, capacitive buttons with a front-mounted fingerprint reader, and a headphone jack. The phone has two cameras on the back: one 16MP main camera and one 20MP telephoto camera, arranged in the most iPhone-y way possible. Besides the $479 version, there's a more expensive $539 (£499) version, which ups the RAM from 6GB to a whopping 8GB, adds another 64GB of storage for a total of 128GB, and changes the color from "Slate Grey" to "Midnight Black." This more expensive version is the one we tested.

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