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29
Jan

Five for Friday: Wallpaper apps for every Android user


If you follow us closely, you know that we like curate collections of wallpapers for you guys. We’re always putting together themed collections to share and the posts are among some of our most popular. In short, you can’t get enough. So, we’re here to help you get more of them. So much more, really.

Today’s Five for Friday is based around Wallpaper apps for every Android user. In essence, we’ve found five incredible applications for your phone or tablet which will breathe all sorts of new life into it. Forget grabbing one or two at a time; these apps collect hundreds of images and host them in the cloud. All you gotta do is pick out the ones you like and you’re just about done!

Without further ado, here’s five Android apps you should consider right now if you like to download and install new wallpapers. We’ll let you know some of the main details as to what you can expect, but trust in knowing they are all excellent.

wallrox

Wallmax

  • Sort by relevance, random, views, and favorites
  • Search by resolution (1024 x 768) up to Ultra HD (4K)
  • Settings for restricting NSFW content
  • Sync across multiple devices
  • Download and install with one click
  • Set favorites to come back to

com- (3)

Wallrox

  • Extensive collection of original Material Design wallpapers
  • Wallpapers are 3200 x 2560 pixels and higher
  • One-touch application
  • Crop and apply
  • Muzei Live Wallpaper support

backdrops

Backdrops

  • Offers a wallpaper of the day
  • Simple interface
  • Hundreds of original designs
  • Set favorites and easily find them later
  • Unlock bonus collections
  • Use Google account to sync faves with other devices

tapet

Tapet

  • Specializes in creating Material Design wallpapers
  • Wallpapers are custom-built to your liking
  • Numerous effects to create one-of-a-kind background
  • Randomly designed wallpapers look gorgeous
  • Opt-in automatic wallpaper changing

plastexo

Plastexo

  • More than 100 flat and minimal designs
  • High resolution 3200 x 2560 wallpapers
  • Supports Muzei Live Wallpaper
  • Developer creates many icon packs that complement nicely
  • Ad-free

The post Five for Friday: Wallpaper apps for every Android user appeared first on AndroidGuys.

29
Jan

Jolla details tablet troubles; refunds to (maybe) come


Jolla_tablet

Jolla has announced that after another shipment of 540 tablets, no more will be shipped and the rest of the people who backed the tablet project on Indiegogo will receive refunds.

In October, Jolla shipped a batch of 121 tablets and 540 more will be shipped in February. Financial and supplier problems led to Jolla making the decision to pull the plug on the tablet project.

Jolla claims backers of the tablet on Indiegogo will receive refunds starting in the first quarter of 2016. However, whether they receive all or even some of their money back doesn’t seem certain. From Jolla’s blog:

“Jolla aims to refund the total contribution, including shipping and all accessories. Due to the financial constraints this will happen in two parts: half of the refund will be done during Q1/2016, and the other half within a year, our financial situation permitting.”

Also from Jolla’s blog:

The Tablet shipping and refund processes start immediately once all the practicalities are in place. Specific to refunding, we plan to establish and ramp up the refunding process and start refunding during the course of February.”

Note the qualifiers “aims to” and “our financial situation permitting” in the first quote and “we plan to” in the second. Those seem to indicate that refunds are not at all certain, even though Jolla later goes on to say that backers on Indiegogo, as well as those who purchased tablets via Jolla’s online store, will receive emails regarding how to obtain refunds.

Outside of the vague timeframe of “half of the refund will be done during Q1/2016, and the other half within a year,” Jolla gives no indication of when people can expect any refund.

 

Source: Jolla

Come comment on this article: Jolla details tablet troubles; refunds to (maybe) come

29
Jan

Review: Stylish Danny P. Leather Wallet Holds iPhone 6/6s Plus, Cards and Cash


Accessory maker Danny P. seeks to give iPhone 6 Plus and 6s Plus users some dual usability with its new Leather Wallet with iPhone 6 Plus Case, which includes seven credit/debit card slots, a rear folder for cash, and a sleeve for the larger-sized iPhone. The case, which is available through Apple’s own online store, is sized at 6.81 inches tall with a width of about 4.13 inches and is aimed to remain slim and unobtrusive even when stocked with an iPhone and various credit cards.

After a week of use, I’ve found that Danny P.’s Leather Wallet Case adheres to the company’s bullet point list of promises describing the case on its website, most notably in the satisfying quality of materials used to craft the iPhone accessory. Anyone with the pocket or bag real estate to house its vertically spacious design will easily find a lot to love in the case, especially those seeking an all-in-one housing solution for both monetary and iPhone protection needs.

Design

The left portion of the bifold holding the seven credit card slots on the inside of the Leather Wallet Case has an opening on the upper and right sides to hold a few dollars in cash, or any other slim pieces of paper or notes. The slot that actually holds the iPhone is a full sleeve, preventing access to the smartphone’s screen and inputs with the sole exception of the home button and Touch ID (if you slide it in upside down).

Danny P Wallet 3

Like most sleeve cases, the inside of Danny P.’s product has a soft suede finish to make it easier to slide the iPhone in and out of the pocket, and prevent it from getting any scratches while housed there. The company’s logo is also admirably discreet on both the face of the wallet and at the bottom of the iPhone sleeve, although this is somewhat depending on the finish of the Italian leather used on each version of the case. Danny P. sent me the all-black option, and it’s perfect for anyone looking for an inconspicuous accessory.

When fully packed with seven credit, debit, and rewards cards, some cash, and the iPhone, the case’s thickness measured just under an inch for me on a day-to-day basis, which I found to be impressively non-bulky given the amount of content I placed inside. Danny P. also encourages the iPhone to be placed upside down as previously mentioned to access both the headphone jack and Touch ID for quick Apple Pay payments.

Read more »

29
Jan

‘Star Wars’ and the coming holographic cinema revolution


“AR is going to hit us like a big bang,” says ILMxLab creative director John Gaeta when I ask him whether augmented reality, as that holographic technology is known, has been undervalued by the public and press. “We’re just trying to point out right from the beginning that there will be a form of AR that will be as hi-fidelity as the cinema that you see at some point. I can’t say what year that’ll be. But at some point, we’ll have intimate holo-experiences with performance and things like that.”

And what better way to usher in that next shift in entertainment consumption than on the back of the Star Wars franchise. Gaeta, along with a handful of others from the immersive entertainment-focused ILMxLab team — which combines talents from Lucasfilm; Industrial Light and Magic, the visual effects studio behind The Martian and Avengers: Age of Ultron; and audio post-production house Skywalker Sound — is at the Sundance Film Festival’s experimental New Frontier exhibit showing off ‘Holo-Cinema.’ It’s an AR installation that places viewers within the sandy world of Episode VII’s Jakku.

'Star Wars' and the Coming Holographic Cinema Revolution

Unlike Microsoft’s HoloLens, an AR headset that combines a Windows 10 computer and projection system to create its mixed-reality world, Holo-Cinema relies on a pair of lightweight, sensor-laden active shutter glasses. These glasses, in combination with a motion-capture system used to track positioning, let viewers watch the inhabitants of Jakku — in this case, the droids BB-8 and C-3PO — pop out from the projections on surrounding screens and move around in 3D space as if they were physically present. It’s an impressive technical feat that, quite literally, has to be seen to be believed.

Holo-Cinema is merely a preview of the kinds of immersive entertainment Disney-owned Lucasfilm, ILMxLab’s parent company, believes will become commonplace in the very near future. In fact, Gaeta and Rob Bredow, the lab’s head of new media, say their team’s already at work on consumer-facing projects that could accompany the studio’s next blockbuster films. So when Episode VIII of Star Wars hits theaters, according to Gaeta, there’s a very good chance it’ll arrive with a Holo-Cinema offshoot.

“What we’re experimenting with and planning around is to actually give you more of what could be happening in the convergence of that story,” says Gaeta of AR storytelling’s promise. “What happened just before. What happens just after. What’s happening around the boundaries. … Without getting too into ‘Choose your own adventure’ and going into crazy multi-branching, what we’re trying to do is show you that, in this moment in time, in this space that you happen to be standing in, there are things still going on around the periphery of the story for you to find. And if you wanna go free, you can do that, too.”

ILMxLab demos its virtual reality production tool, VScout, at Oculus Connect 2 in Los Angeles.

This past summer, at Oculus VR’s Connect 2 developer conference in Los Angeles, ILMxLab took the wraps off another immersive production tool, dubbed VScout, that Bredow says was developed in parallel with Holo-Cinema. It’s the virtual reality companion to what ILMxLab’s doing with AR. And, like Holo-Cinema, it can be used either as a standalone entertainment experience, allowing viewers to explore and follow separate storylines in the world, or as a tool for pre-production.

“We’ve used it for some of the other filmmakers,” says Bredow of the platform’s filmmaking potential. “Gareth Edwards has leveraged it for some of the work that he’s done on Rogue One.”

“It’s basically like being inside of a movie,” says Bredow.

Using both VScout and Holo-Cinema, Bredows says Edwards was able to make certain pre-production decisions for the next Star Wars film simply by being able to visualize “how big doors should be” on set, for example. The key advantage of which was that the crew didn’t actually have to “build the things at full scale,” thus sparing the production’s budget.

To create the scene taking place on Jakku at New Frontier, artists and engineers at ILMxLab used “real elements” from The Force Awakens, blending both photographed and computer-generated assets. That environment was then combined with a mocap performance of C-3PO and BB-8. The result is a pre-recorded scene that viewers can participate in.

Actors perform in a motion-capture studio to create a scene from Star Wars.

“When we do this for production, we’ll have the person acting for C-3PO and the person driving the droid [BB-8] standing just off set, acting in real time. So you’ll get the interaction of being immersed in the environment and the interaction with a real person. So it’s basically like being inside of a movie,” says Bredow.

As for why ILMxLab chose Sundance to show off the tech, Gaeta says it’s really about community outreach and education. He refers to Holo-Cinema as a “portal” that filmmakers can use to transport audiences into the worlds they’re seeing onscreen. It can also be used, Bredow suggests, as a means of repurposing “things that might’ve ended up on the cutting-room floor.”

Using a tablet interface, ILMxLab can control elements of the projected Holo-Cinema scene.

“This is our way of simulating augmented reality to come,” says Gaeta. “So when glasses come online and are enabled to handle the type of fidelity that we’re looking for, we’re trying to imagine how we would bring cinematic emotional moments into your spaces, your world. This is just kind of like … it’s a little bit of a format teaser.”

Image credits: Lucasfilm (mocap studio)

29
Jan

That time Twitch jumped the shark


Twitch made its debut in 2011. Since then, the service has evolved from a gaming-only subset of Justin.tv into a popular, culture-shaping phenomenon pioneering the world of live online broadcasting. Justin.tv was quickly swallowed whole by Twitch’s immense success, and in 2014 Amazon acquired the entire company for nearly $1 billion. The service has launched careers, beaten YouTube to the punch, attracted celebrities, dominated the streaming eSports market and even spawned its own icon-based language. And it’s done all of this in less than five years.

So far, Twitch has handled its growth spurt in stride. It’s navigated the complicated worlds of partnerships, advertising and mainstream marketing largely without losing its niche-community appeal. That is, until the following headline hit the net this week:

“Live Free. Couch Hard.: Totino’s Pizza Rolls™ Unveils First-Ever ‘Bucking Couch’ to Deliver the Ultimate Gaming Experience Before the Big Game.”

For a legitimate event, it works way too well as an SNLgag.

Twitch and Totino’s are partnering for a pre–Super Bowl show featuring a handful of prominent streamers playing games while sitting on a mechanical-bull-style couch. Also, someone will throw pizza rolls at the streamers every now and then. This round of upholstered ridiculousness will be live-streamed on the official Totino’s Twitch channel, and it’s all wrapped up in a flaky, golden-brown title: the Totino’s Bucking Couch Bowl.

This promotion is equal parts hilarious and confounding. It’s the kind of blatantly branded content that makes longtime Twitch fans cringe and pizza-roll lovers gag on their steaming pockets of processed cheese. This isn’t even the first time Twitch and Totino’s have partnered, and it won’t be the last. Totino’s is a regular sponsor of gaming events in general; the partnership itself isn’t weird. It’s the event. The Totino’s. Bucking. Couch. Bowl.

It feels like a discarded Saturday Night Live skit poking fun at greasy, out-of-touch video game fans. Imagine Kenan Thompson sitting on the giant red couch as it bucks around, his expression resigned as Cecily Strong laughs hysterically and chucks mini pizza rolls at his face. The bodies of his fellow streamers lie strewn across the black padding under the couch. A Totino’s sign flashes happily in the background. For a legitimate event, it works way too well as an SNL gag.

The Bucking Couch Bowl seems like a money-grabbing gimmick partially because Twitch and Totino’s are positioning themselves against the Super Bowl, one of the most high-profile broadcast events in existence, with billions of dollars in ad revenue on the line. This gets to the heart of the issue: So far, Twitch has done an amazing job retaining its community-focused charm while operating as a billion-dollar, Amazon-owned property. But with the Totino’s Bucking Couch Bowl, it feels like Twitch isn’t in on the joke. It’s too big, too try-hard, too branded. It feels like good advertising for Totino’s and solid money for Twitch, but crappy content for viewers.

Twitch has laughed with us during stunts like the Bob Ross marathon, the launch of Twitch Creative and Twitch Plays, even when Microsoft live-streamed a handful of people being tortured while standing on a billboard for Rise of the Tomb Raider. Twitchcon, the company’s first major convention and associated tech-style press conference, was a massive success. Deadmau5 was there, and it wasn’t exploitative; it was big and beautiful and right. Twitch truly does care about its audience and its longtime fans. It’s easy to see in the years of quality content they’ve provided and continue to churn out.

The Totino’s Bucking Couch Bowl is distinctly icky. But, I get it. This is what Twitch has to do, and what it will continue to do, to remain relevant in the broader entertainment market. We’re watching Twitch grow from a niche live-streaming service into a new kind of online network, the first of its kind and the founder of entertainment’s next big leap. The company has more resources than ever at its disposal, with bigger partnership opportunities and buckets of cash on the line. Some of its advertisements will simply feel like advertisements. Sometimes it will feel as if Twitch made a deal with a major company and it’s trying to make things fun. Sometimes that won’t work, and it will feel like we’re laughing at Twitch.

But, most of the time, Twitch is still laughing with us.

29
Jan

Tidal’s Rihanna exclusive drove a ton of interest in the app this week


Rihanna released her long-awaited new album ANTI earlier this week, her first release since 2012’s Unapologetic. It was a surprise launch, and it had a twist: Rihanna offered it up for free in partnership with Tidal and Samsung. They offered 1 million free copies, which ran out less than two days after the announcement; to get the album, you had to install the Tidal app and get a download redemption code. The album is now out to buy on iTunes, but Tidal retains the exclusive streaming rights for Rihanna’s latest, at least for now — you can’t stream it on Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play Music or the rest.

The power of free, highly anticipated new music from one of the biggest artists around proved to be a boon to Tidal, even though it was giving the album away for free. According to the company, the Tidal app jumped all the way to number 13 in the iTunes App Store top free app listings, not far behind Pandora and Spotify. That’s up from 147 earlier in the week, a pretty big jump — even if it was driven by a freebie from a popular artist.

It’s the latest example of one of Tidal’s main selling points: exclusive content. It’s been almost a year since the service relaunched under Jay-Z’s stewardship, and in that time the service has featured exclusive music including the video for Beyoncé and Nicki Minajs’s “Feeling Myself,” Prince’s pair of HITnRUN albums, Little Wayne’s Free Weezy Album and Calvin Harris’s “How Deep is Ur Love” video.

Tidal’s hardly the only ones doing this — Apple’s exclusive streaming Taylor Swift concert that was released over the holidays is just one huge example of the kinds of exclusive material you’ll find elsewhere. And this promo for Rihanna’s latest isn’t widly different than what Jay-Z himself did in 2013, when he partnered with Samsung to give away 1 million copies of his latest album.

Of course, this is almost certainly a temporary blip before Tidal returns to its previous status in the App Store rankings. But if the company can convert some of those many people who downloaded its app to get a shot at the new Rihanna album to its full subscription service, it’ll be a win for the company.

29
Jan

Facebook should know by now what’s news and what’s spam


Late last week, The Guardian published an interview with a survivor of Obama’s first drone strike, which occurred in tribal Pakistan on his third day as president. It detailed the impact the attack had and raised concerns over the civilian damage these drone strikes can cause. But as important as this story sounds, you would not have been able to share it on Facebook. If you tried to do so, Facebook would have blocked you.

Spencer Ackerman, the story’s author, learned about it from friends who tried to share the link and couldn’t. He took to Facebook to voice his disappointment. The piece, after all, contained nothing inherently offensive, without any graphic imagery or incendiary language. After his editors informed Facebook about the block, he was then told that it was an error. It turns out that the link was somehow marked as spam by Facebook’s automated anti-spam system. The story has since been cleared of that false positive and can now be shared. Ackerman, for his part, has told us he believes it was an honest mistake.

But this is not the first time an innocuous news story has been flagged unfairly. In December last year, for example, a New York Times article about 1950s nuclear targets was blocked with a message that read: “The content you’re trying to share includes a link that our security systems detected to be unsafe.” In November, Facebook also initially blocked Boing Boing and Tech News Today stories about a Facebook rival called Tsu.co. Those stories were marked as spam. (Tsu is an incentive-based social network that pays its users for sharing and generating content, which Facebook says encourages spammy behavior.)

Facebook

These stories were eventually approved and the ban lifted. But the fact that completely benign links can be marked as false positives at all is concerning. For many people — almost 1.59 billion users, at last count — Facebook is their predominant window to the world. It’s the modern equivalent of a web portal, not unlike MSN, Yahoo or even AOL, Engadget’s parent company. Facebook, for its part, doesn’t seem to shy away from this pronouncement. In May of last year, it partnered with several news sites like the New York Times and Buzzfeed to host editorial content from those sites on Facebook’s own servers. Ostensibly, it’s to improve page load times, but it also keeps you, the user, within Facebook’s walled garden. And walled gardens are no good if they keep you from reading and consuming outside links.

You might point out that these issues were all resolved in the end, but what about the stories we don’t hear about? What about news links from smaller blogs or independent websites that don’t have the same clout or reach as The Guardian or the Times? What if a legitimate news story gets blocked and nobody reports it? We might never know about it.

Of course, it’s not really Facebook’s fault either. A social network of its size attracts a slew of spammers and folks who wish to flood the network with bad links. Sometimes spammers embed their links behind URL shorteners or attach them to an image to hide detection. In an explainer on its spam prevention system posted in 2010 (which a Facebook spokesperson claims is still relevant today), Facebook said that it devotes a tremendous amount of time and resources to build systems that “detect suspicious activity and automatically warn people about inappropriate behavior or links.” It uses a combination of anti-spam tools, engineer intervention (they can write rules in real-time to identify malicious content) and community reporting to filter the bad stuff out.

But sometimes legitimate stuff still gets hit with the ban hammer. In that same post from 2010, then-company spokesperson Matt Hicks, wrote:

“Every once in a while, though, people misunderstand one of these systems. They incorrectly believe that Facebook is restricting speech because we’ve blocked them from posting a specific link or from sending a message to someone who is not a friend. Over the years, these misunderstandings have caused us to be wrongly accused of issues ranging from stifling criticism of director Roman Polanski over his sexual abuse charges to curbing support for ending U.S. travel restrictions on Cuba to blocking opponents of same-sex marriage.”

It’s unfortunate, then, that Facebook isn’t more forthcoming about why and how it blocks certain links. Facebook said in the above post that it won’t share details regarding how its anti-spam algorithm works because otherwise spammers might learn to game the system. Indeed, we asked Facebook to comment on what happened with Ackerman’s Guardian story, and the company simply pointed us to a comment left on his post where a Facebook spokesperson said it was a false positive. But it’s still a disconcerting feeling to know that a link might be blocked for no obvious reason beyond that it was marked as spam. That would be a good enough excuse if Facebook were just for communications between friends and family. But when it’s also a daily news source for a billion-plus people, it’s not an excuse at all.

Some of these so-called false positives could be averted if Facebook took its role as news disseminator more seriously. Perhaps it could be more like Apple News, which combines the usual algorithmic news feeds along with links curated by actual human beings. This would be right in line with its status as modern day web portal — MSN, AOL and Yahoo all have full-time editors who curate their homepages. In fact, Facebook did at one point hire editors to curate news: It was for its Paper news feed app, before that transitioned into what eventually became Instant Articles.

To be fair, Facebook’s News Feed is different to that of Apple News or even Twitter Moments in that it’s based almost entirely on who your friends and family are. Your news feed is based on an algorithm that combines stories you tend to “Like” and the kinds of posts Facebook thinks will get the most engagement. In a way, your news feed is already curated, but by a machine, not by a person. For Facebook to hire editors to curate personalized news feeds for all its 1.59 billion users might be asking too much.

And yet, why can’t it have both? A combination of human news curation along with Facebook’s powerful news feed algorithm could send a strong message to its users that Facebook really is their one-stop-shop for all that’s happening in the world. And, more importantly, perhaps having real people monitoring the news would prevent legitimate stories — like the ones Ackerman wrote — from going unseen.

[Image credit: Lead/middle: Getty Images; Bottom: Facebook]

29
Jan

Google Pixel C tablet review: Out with the Nexus, in with the Pixel


Google’s event last Fall left little surprise in the way of Nexus news after a barrage of leaks that preceded it. But we fortunately didn’t know the whole story of that day. Instead of releasing another iteration of the Nexus tablet, Google had taken matters into its own hands and launched a home-brewed solution – the Pixel C.

Pixel_C_7

This announcement threw the mobile industry for a loop for a few reasons: 1) The Nexus program was for the first time challenged, 2) The Pixel branding had historically been reserved for Google’s own pompous Chromebook (running Chrome OS), and 3) This Pixel device ran Android instead of Chrome OS.

The head scratching was put to the side when Google showed off its neat approach to an Android tablet. The body screamed quality with a sturdy, all-metal build. The complementing keyboard accessory was given the same level of refinement, and neatly integrates with the tablet through a clever use of magnets. Let’s review if the Pixel C is all that it’s cracked up to be.

Design

Pixel_C_17

The build is where the Pixel line shines, as quality is one of Google’s biggest ideas behind it. The Pixel C continues the trend that the Chromebook Pixel started. It is the little brother, if you will. Smaller in size and lesser in capability (and in price). Nonetheless, the superb design and construction from the Chromebook Pixel is ever-so present. As far as I’m concerned, this thing is the definition of a premium device.

Pixel_C_16

Except for the front glass, metal surrounds the tablet from every corner. Its soft and smooth finish makes for a fantastic feel in hand. The chassis has been machined impeccably, from the curvature that flows onto the sides to the speaker grills.

From the front, you can see the lip of the metal casing. It surrounds the glass and has a subtle chamfer to smooth the transition.

Pixel_C_19

The power and volume rocker buttons are made of the same sturdy metal (located by the top, left corner). There’s a simplicity and cohesion to them, as they just appear to protrude from the chassis. They are firm and tactile to the press. The brand-spanking new USB Type-C port lives on the bottom, left side, and the 3.5mm headphone jack is on the opposite top, right side.

Pixel_C_30
Pixel_C_22

The primary camera has a small cutout on the back, right corner. It was thoughtful of Google to recess the camera module so that it doesn’t get scratched. The front facing camera is dead center on the bezel above the display. And speaking of the bezel (black space around the screen), it won’t win any awards for being the thinnest. It’s not exorbitant but is definitely significant.

Pixel_C_21

If you recall last years Nexus 9, HTC had incorporated dual front stereo speakers. Although Google had been seemingly sold on the idea (Nexus phones have had stereo speakers too), the Pixel C settled with side-firing speakers instead. But at least there’s still two of them.

Pixel_C_18

Lastly, there are a couple subtle features towards the top of the device. Four microphones along the very top ensure that the Pixel C listens for your “Ok Google” voice commands, even if you’re across the room (noise-cancellation in tow).

Pixel_C_9

You may have already noticed the slit on the back. It’s a split of four LED windows. When the Pixel C is in use, it shines Chrome’s signature colors (blue, red, yellow, and green). But it isn’t just for looks. When the display is off, it can show you the battery status (by fourths – 25%, 50%, etc.) when you knock on the back. It also shines red when there’s little battery remaining.

Pixel_C_29

Display

The Pixel C packs a 10.2″ sized display (in a 1:√2 aspect ratio). It is an LTPS (Low Temperature Poly-Silicon) LCD panel and I must say, Google nailed it with this one. The picture quality (backed by a sharp 2560×1800 pixel resolution) shines stupendously, with a full sRGB color gamut. And at even extreme viewing angles, I didn’t get any hint of washed out or degraded colors.

At 500 nits, it can get plenty bright (50% brightness was typically sufficient in my use). This also mean that outdoor visibility is fantastic.

Pixel_C_2

The display is just a winner all-around, and it totally backs the quality that the Pixel C promotes in presentation.

Performance

Another thing that backs the Pixel C’s top-notch hardware is the lightning fast performance. Android Marshmallow just flies on the Pixel C, the fastest I’ve ever seen it.

The speedy performance is thanks to the choice in SoC – Nvidia’s latest Tegra X1 beast of a chipset. It has an octa-core processor and a 256-core GPU (graphics processing unit), coupled with 3GB of RAM. This horsepower gives Marshmallow a super satisfying fluidity, making it a real joy to navigate around the Material Design UI and play games.

Nvidia-Tegra-X1

The Pixel C comes in two storage quantities – 32GB or 64GB (with the latter priced at $100 more. Tsk tsk, Google). And there’s no microSD slot for expansion, so you better get comfortable with cloud services if you need more storage. There’s also no SD card reader. It’s sounding more and more like Google didn’t aim the Pixel C to serve as a primary computer (more on this point later).

Pixel_C_25

Although the dual speakers don’t fire sound directly towards you, I did find that they get surprisingly loud. Also, the quality remains composed even at the highest volume. Audio from the headphone jack sounded great as well.

Tablet Usability

You’ll probably be in familiar territory if you’ve used a 10″ tablet before. I’m not personally a fan of large tablets, navigation can be a bit cumbersome while handling.

Fortunately, although the tablet is mostly comprised of metal, it isn’t slippery. The finish has some friction to it and I’ve had no problem keeping my grip. The robust feel of the chassis has made it a joy to handle and well representative of its price. But money isn’t the only cost of a premium build. The tablet is hefty, at 1.14 lbs.

His brother from another mother, the Dell XPS 13

The Pixel C and Dell XPS 13 – brothers from another mother.

The large size makes for a couple ergonomic concerns. My hands borderline grip the sides where the speaker grills are located. I often use my thumbs for support when I’m watching a video (it’s just comfortable for me), and they naturally land right over the speakers. The other concern is with the power button. It’s on the top of the device (left corner), which is a reach to get to. What frustrates me more is that there’s no tap-to-wake to help the inconvenience. Last year’s Nexus 9 had tap-to-wake. What gives?

Keyboard

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It first must be said that while Google included the neat keyboard attachment with our review unit, it’s not included in the retail purchase of the Pixel C. It’s a separate purchase, and not a cheap one, at $150. However, I’ll argue that having the keyboard with this tablet is less crucial than let’s say the Microsoft Surface. Windows is a productivity-focused OS, while Android is not.

Pixel_C_8

I love that although the keyboard is an accessory, it’s not an afterthought, whatsoever. It’s as well built as the Pixel C is, with the same metallic foundation. The keys, which are chiclet style, are also made from Aluminum. Their sturdiness and soft finish makes it a pleasure to type.

Pixel_C_4
Pixel_C_3

I’ve had no problems using the keyboard for lengthy writing sessions (I used it for this review). The keys are decently spaced and have great key-press travel. However, Google had to smush some keys (particularly, the “Enter” key is too small) and omit lesser used symbols to fit it in the Pixel C’s form-factor. Nonetheless, if the Pixel C wanted to be a productivity machine, this keyboard could do it with flying colors.

Google included a Hotkey button for a shortcut to the symbol keys on the virtual keyboard.

The Hotkey button “…” toggles extra symbol keys from the virtual keyboard. It can also be used for key combination shortcuts.

Before you commit to the Pixel C + keyboard combo, make sure that you’re okay with the fact that there’s no touchpad. Navigation through the UI is still done via the touchscreen despite the laptop form that the Pixel C can take. This is kind of awkward, especially if you’re an avid laptop user, but it works.

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The magnet/kickstand system is pretty fantastic, in my opinion. There’s no special dock to line up when connecting the tablet to the keyboard; just effortlessly plop it on the kickstand and you get a most satisfying merger. The two pieces won’t separate until you want them to. Also, Google made sure to make the magnets attract in the correct orientation, so you can’t accidentally connect the tablet upside-down. This also goes when you close the device (tablet screen face down on the keyboard). There’s only one orientation where the magnets will clasp.

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The kickstand is very stiff, which allows the user to freely set the tablet’s angle. The tilt range goes from all the way flat to almost 90° vertical. Be careful to stop when you get to either limit, or the tablet will fly off. That brings me to a point about the magnetic connection. It’s so strong that detaching the pieces is slightly jolting. Users need to be mindful and keep a good grip to avoid gravity taking control. Also, I’ve had a few times that the two pieces inadvertently rubbed against each other when I pulled them apart, which can lead to scratches.

The keyboard communicates through Bluetooth and has its own battery. But you never have to worry about charging it. The tablet charges the keyboard wirelessly when they’re mated. Also, the system is smart enough to only pair the keyboard when the tablet is on the kickstand.

Camera

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I’ll cut to the chase and say that the cameras on the Pixel C aren’t anything to write home about. We have a 8MP sensor on the back and 2MP on the front. They work fine for if you’re not mindful on quality. You’ll get an alright shot in good lighting situations, but as the light goes away, quality goes south pretty quickly (grainy-ness will show up).

Check out the gallery below and be the judge:

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It’s not as critical to have a great camera on a tablet as it is a smartphone, but I feel like Google should’ve done a bit better, at least with the front camera. I see more likeliness in video chatting than using the rear camera while you’re out and about.

Battery

I was satisfied with the life of the Pixel C’s 34.2 WHr capacity battery. My tablet usage is very on and off. Therefore, the battery life test is determined by usage as much as it is Doze’s efficiency.

Straight up usage shows a really constant battery drain for typical use cases (web browsing, chatting, video watching). I observed about 10% battery drain an hour (with 50% brightness).

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With a more on/off behavior, Doze really shows its power when the tablet is not in use. The following battery drain was over a few days.

You can see how little battery life Doze uses with a couple days of no use.

Notice how little battery life Doze uses with a couple days of no use.

Software

Tons of reviewers bash the Pixel C for not having productivity features to justify the keyboard’s existence. But I think that they’re looking at it wrongly. The keyboard is meant to compliment Android (if you type more than the average bear). Adding on a keyboard doesn’t mean that it’s now a productivity beast, that’s just an implication that the industry is making based on similar devices on the market. My belief is that Google did not target a productivity-focused audience with the Pixel C, or try to make Android something that it’s not.

So from that perspective, let’s dive into the software experience. Android 6.0 (Marshmallow) is as fabulous as ever on the Pixel C. In combination with the powerhouse Tegra X1 chipset, all of the Material Design animations and transitions just fly. Material Design is so beautiful when you see it with this level of fluidity. Sometimes I just want to use it with no purpose; only to play around the UI and adore the response.

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You’ll be in familiar territory if you’ve used Material Design. But because this is a tablet, you get native landscape support. The notification shade drops down from the location where you drag it down. The bottom navigation bar splits the three-button layout, with Back and Home on the left corner and Recent Apps on the right. Other than these things, you pretty much have the same UI as on Android phones.

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I must mention that everything has not been picture perfect. There are a couple repercussions from Android 6.0 not thoroughly being tuned into a tablet interface. My biggest gripe was that content often merely gets stretched to fill the display’s extra space (unless it’s one of the few apps that is coded to take advantage of the larger screen real estate, such as Gmail and YouTube). It seems like a wasted opportunity to make the user feel like the tablet’s large screen was a vauable investment.

Content generally stays small, while the space is stretched

Content generally stays small, while the space is stretched

A Dual Window mode in Android 6.0 would have helped tremendously in this case (Google has said it’s in the works). Also, apps sometimes aren’t coded with landscape support. This is especially awkward when you’re using the Pixel C like a laptop; it disrupts the experience.

I also dealt with a bug in my use. At some point, the performance stopped being speedy, and rather, was jittery and not completely responsive to my taps. So much so that I stopped using it (powering off/on didn’t fix it). When I picked it up again a couple days later (with the intent of factory resetting), I noticed the issue was gone. Weird.

Final Thoughts

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Some may look at Google’s Pixel C as a lost cause. From certain angles, I can get on board with that. There are plenty of more capable 2-in-1’s out there at this price-point. But then I feel like we’re missing the point. The Pixel C is made for the premium Android lover. It’s not about practicality.

The fact that it’s a Pixel or that it has a keyboard attachment shouldn’t confuse that this thing is first and foremost an Android tablet. The Pixel branding is a progression and the keyboard is an enhancement. And it makes senses when you look at the retail price of last year’s Nexus 9 – $399 (16GB model). When you take into account the Pixel C’s souped up build and larger screen, the $100 extra is justified (the 32GB Pixel C starts at $499).

However, there’s certainly more work to do. Usability can be improved on a few fronts, such as adding back in tap-to-wake and shedding off a little weight. The cameras don’t represent the quality that the rest of the device does. And maybe most importantly, we need more support in Android to take advantage of the larger screens on tablets.

I look forward to seeing where the Pixel C heads in the future, and hope Google gives the same treatment to its phone this year. But for now, if you’re an Android fan in need of a tablet, and value a premium device, then look no further.

Pixel C product page

The post Google Pixel C tablet review: Out with the Nexus, in with the Pixel appeared first on AndroidGuys.

29
Jan

Google’s Vulnerability Reward Program paid Android researchers over $200,000 last year


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Google started their Vulnerability Reward Program all the way back in 2010 as an incentive to encourage researchers to take on the hard work of finding possible exploits. 2015 saw two new major features added to this program. First, Google added Android to the program. Second, the company began offering Vulnerability Research Grants, which are lump sums paid to researchers before investigations even begin, thus ensuring that researchers are paid for their work even if no vulnerabilities are found.

These changes resulted in Google paying out over $200,000 to Android researchers over the course of the year, with the largest single payment being $37,500 to an Android security researcher. The award for most prolific researcher, however, goes to one Tomasz Bojarski, who found 70 bugs on Google in 2015… including one on their vulnerability submission form! All told, the Vulnerability Reward Program as a whole paid out over $2 million last year.


lg g3 aa (13 of 22)See also: LG just fixed a bug that left 10 million G3 smartphones vulnerable11

One name you may remember is also included in this figure. Sanmay Ved, the man who bought google.com on Google Domains, reaped an award of $6,006.13 for stumbling across this vulnerability. The figure roughly reads as “Google” if you squint at it. Ved, who saw this discovery as happenstance rather than investigative work, donated the prize to charity.

All in all, the Vulnerability Reward Program has been a success for both Google and researchers alike. Those doing the hard work of tracking down obscure bugs are being amply rewarded, and Google is more than happy to pay for more security across all of their platforms, including Android. The search giant is planning on expanding the program through 2016, so we can expect even more money to go to bug hunts this year.

What are your thoughts of the Vulnerability Reward Program? Make you interested in getting into the vulnerability research business? Concerns about data security are only going to increase in the future, so this line of work is expected to get more lucrative as time goes on. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Next: 15 best antivirus Android apps and anti-malware Android apps

29
Jan

Blu Vivo XL review


Blu Products is an American-based (Miami, FL.) smartphone maker who has been around since 2009. With a primary focus on Android and Windows handsets, the company’s bread and butter is unlocked and less expensive alternatives to other, more familiar manufacturers.

As of today, Blu — Bold Like Us –splits its smart phones into three distinct series. The Dash is the most affordable of its models while the Studio is the mid and upper tier stuff. The Vivo line is where you’ll find the high-end and more polished designs.

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The Vivo XL Excel, first introduced at CES in early January features a 5.5-inch display, a 13-megapixel rear camera, and a 5-megapixel front-facing camera. Powered by an octa-core Mediatek processor, the phone packs 16 gigabytes of storage (ROM) with two gigabytes of memory (RAM). It is not a groundbreaking device by any stretch, however it is a package which most typical smartphone users might consider looking into.

We recently spent a few days with the Vivo XL and have put together the following review for you. Please read on for our impressions and takeaways.

First Impressions

The first thing you notice about the phone is actually the box that it comes in. It’s gold and made of a bit thicker construction than most cardboard boxes.  Coupled with a striking black print, the box sets the tone for a more premium smartphone experience.

Upon taking the handset out we notice that it was thinner and lighter than expected. In terms of overall footprint, the phone is pretty close to what you’ll get with the Nexus 6P. At 5.5-inches it’s just a smidge shorter than the Google handset.

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After inserting the battery and putting the back case on, the phone feels not unlike the Samsung Galaxy S3.  Although people are often quick to call this material a plastic design, it is actually more of a polycarbonate or synthetic material. Indeed, the battery cover has some give and bending in it, but the honeycomb print on the inside helps keep it from cracking.

Handing the phone off to a couple of people for a quick reaction, the first things typically said were that it was a “nice feeling phone”, that it “looked more expensive than it is”, and it was “comfy”.  Before going further, I should point out here that the retail price of this phone is only $150. Yep, that is without a contract. And, as if that weren’t enough, the phone supports two SIM cards so you can bounce around from carrier to carrier or mix business and personal lines.

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The gold finish on the front somewhat reminds us of the matte gold on the Nexus 6P and it almost borders on the rose gold that you’ll find with the iPhone. The model we reviewed was the Liquid Gold so we imagine the Rose Gold version is even more in line with the Apple counterpart. Other colors offered include Chrome Silver and Midnight Blue.

The battery cover has a pattern printed on it however it is not physically textured. While it certainly looks as if it would have a grip, it is smooth to the touch. Another quick impression before turning on the phone was that this battery cover was quick to pick up fingerprints and smudges. The front however was more forgiving.

But, whereas the rear of the Vivo XL easily picks up finger traces, it is also very easy to wipe down. A simple swipe against a shirt or pant leg and we’re back in business. Were you to put this into a protective case there might be nothing to discuss here — this is somewhat of a non-starter of an issue.

General Details

Powering on the phone we found that it offered up bright and sharp display that was easy on the eyes. Although enthusiasts and early adopters might scoff at the bezel around the display, we’ve seen worse and we are quick to remember the value proposition. Remember, we are not dealing with a phone that runs $500 to $700. It would be unfair to compare the traits and hardware materials to something in that realm.

As mentioned before, the Vivo XL supports two SIM cards. It is worth noting, however, that you will have to remove the battery if you want to swap in or out a SIM card in the first position. The second position is more on the side and is accessible simply by removing the battery cover.

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The phone supports a micro SD card for expansion. Should the 16GB of storage not be enough, simply add your memory card to increase it.

The power button is on the right hand side just about half way up with the volume buttons slightly higher up the phone but still on the right. The headphone jack is on the top of the phone and is set off to the left about 25% of the way. On the bottom we find the USB Type C port.

Display

With a resolution of 720 by 1,280 pixels, the image looks better than it sounds on paper. Once you get into that 5 inch and five and a half inch space, anything below this is going to look very pixelated. And, while this doesn’t look nearly as sharp as a 1080p or 2k screen, we had no problems reading text and images we’re still very clear.

The display is very bright with a decent amount of contrast. Also, it is possible to adjust the LCD effect from neutral to cool or warm. What this does is slightly tweak the picture by adding or removing a small degree of color. It is a minimal change, going from one to another and is not something that adversely impacts anything you might do on a daily basis.

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As expected, there are options to adjust the brightness level manually. Additionally you can set adaptive brightness to dim and lower light settings or brighten itself when outside or in a place where it is called for. In a related note, there’s also an option to adjust economical backlight which automatically adjusts — wait for it — backlight to save power. Toggling on and off you can see what it does for you in different environments. Do know that messing with these sort of settings can have an impact on your battery life, good or bad.

Performance

The Vivo XL draws power from the MediaTek octa-core processor and 2GB RAM. While not a top-tier device by 2016’s standard, we found that this model still punches above its weight. As devices are treading deeper into the 3GB and 4GB realm of memory, we are sometimes quick to want that from our phones. Maybe it comes from trying to future-proof ourselves with desktop computers or laptops, however we should remember that the average user does not necessarily need that much performance.

To test general usage, we installed a handful of applications and games that a typical smartphone user might enjoy. Examples include various social media apps and casual games. We did not find that the phone was necessarily laggy or unresponsive even when we opened up multiple apps at a time. Moreover, hopping from one app to another went as smoothly as we would expect, and the overall performance was actually better than we had hoped for out of a phone at this price point. In other words, don’t let the 2GB RAM deter you.

We had erroneously anticipated becoming frustrated with the experience. It was thought that at some point during testing we would find a flaw or something specific in its performance to point out that says, “see, this is why the phone only cost this much.” Alas, we did not. There were some quibbles, of course, but nothing that pushes the phone out of its price range.

When it comes to the topic of speakers and sound, the phone could be a touch better.  There are no stereo speakers to be found here. Should you play music or a video, your sound will come from the back of the phone.

The speaker grille is just below the battery and, while it puts out a reasonably loud sound, it did have a little bit of tin to it. Again, we have to give the benefit of the doubt because of the price. We are not paying for dual front facing speakers;  we have heard worse on phones in the past and have been content.

Battery lasted us well into a second day of usage, which is what we’d hope for in a 3,150mAh unit. Once the 6.0 Marshmallow update is pushed out and the Doze feature is added we would expect to squeeze out even more. The USB Type C charger replenished the battery at an average rate – adding roughly 25 percent juice in an hour’s charging.

Camera

One area where the phone comes up a little short is in the aspect of the camera. Although there are plenty of software features and customizations to be found, the overall quality leaves a bit to be desired.

In testing the camera, we notice that it doesn’t handle range as well as other models. But, this is where we remind you to consider the cost of the phone. Bearing that in mind, it still performs as expected. Truth be told, we know people who have smartphones with much better cameras that ultimately take bad photos. For whatever reason, they are content with poorly shot images with blurry subjects and terrible lighting. This wouldn’t fare any worse than what they’re currently putting on Facebook.

Click here to see an entire gallery of photos taken with the Blu Vivo XL (Google Photos)


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As you can see from the gallery of images the camera blows out the white. Even in using the HDR and/or playing with the flash, we found that white edges in lighting and on the edge of items don’t look as clear or sharp as we want. This is not to suggest you can’t clean them up or run them through a photo program for sharing on social media or messages. Let’s be honest here, we are not printing out our photos or hanging them on a wall. If that is the type of using you plan to be, then you certainly do not want to look at this phone.

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Generally speaking, the camera captured the subjects quickly and without too much time to focus. We were particularly impressed with the speed in which the phone captured and saved photos and HDR mode.

As far as overall options are concerned, the Blu Vivo XL offers more than you’d expect out of a budget-friendly phone. There’s plenty here to play around with (see below) when it comes to filters and settings for unique images.

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We could spend paragraph talking about images, however it ultimately comes down to use your preference. If you look at the gallery and think to yourself hey this is sufficient for me, then there you go. But, if your first reaction is to point out picture flaws and where it comes up short, then this is not for you.

Software

Powered by Android 5.1 Lollipop out of the box, Blu promises this will be upgraded to at least 6.0. We don’t know when that will happen so keep that in mind if you are expecting the latest version of Android. Yes, there are handsets coming out with the newer version of Android, but we venture to guess the target demographic doesn’t really know or care that much about the different versions of Android.

As someone who has spent time with all versions of Android, we have become reliant on some of the features that come with marshmallow, but that is just a personal preference and experience. If you need the latest and greatest, then we lost you a while back.

What we like about this phone is that it is essentially a stock Android experience with no major UI customization.  The first time you use the phone you will find a home screen configured with some shortcuts, folders and widgets. Noticeably, the phone does come with Opera installed as a browser option. The app is prominently displayed on the home page right next to the phone, camera, and messaging icons.

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Interestingly enough, there is no button to open up any sort of app tray. Instead, your apps and games are accessible by swiping the home screen. For those of you who have spent time with other brands or versions of Android this may feel a little awkward at first — and maybe a nuisance.

We like to install a custom launcher on our devices so our experience is uniform and tailored to suit our specific needs. It helps us when jumping from one model or device to another on a regular basis.

If you prefer a minimal or clean desktop, you may find yourself a little put off by the Blu way of doing things. Download a lot of apps and you potentially have pages or screens full of icons.

The phone does come with Google Mobile Services which means you get all of the standard applications including Gmail, Maps, YouTube, Drive, Hangouts, and the Play Store. This is an important distinction that not all lower price manufacturers offer.

Look around a bit and you’ll discover there are knock off brands and very inexpensive models on the market. On the surface they may appear to be the phone you want, but play with the software and you see where corners are often cut. Rest easy knowing that with the Blu Vivo XL you can get into the Play Store and download all the titles you expect.

In addition to the Google suite of applications, we found the phone was preinstalled with a couple of Amazon titles including the standard Amazon app, Kindle app and one designed to install other apps and games.

Other preinstalled applications worth noting include an FM radio which works when you plug in headphones, a compass, “Torch” (flashlight), and Yahoo weather. McAfee security comes pre-installed on the phone as well and is designed to keep a watchful eye on your mobile experience. If you don’t like it, you can remove it.

In terms of keyboard the phone is set up to use TouchPal 2016 as the default. This means that you can theme your keyboard or customize it with a wide variety of settings. Some of the options here include toggling word gesture, a dedicated number row, auto-correction, and auto-capitalization. You can also switch the keyboard to learn from your messages and import contact names. This is helpful if you have friends or family or the occasional email with a contact that has a unique name. We’re more of a Google keyboard lover, however this was not that difficult to get used to.

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The Chameleon application is pretty cool if you are looking to create a custom or handpicked theme. Simply point the camera at an object or room and you’ll be able to select color droplets based on what’s seen. These colors, once applied, will change your wallpaper as well as the various menus and setting screens.

Along the same lines there is a Theme Park application which lets you choose from a variety of wallpapers including static images and live wallpapers. There are also a half-dozen themes to choose from which are essentially bundles based around a common design.

Digging around a little deeper in some of the settings, you will find options to adjust gestures notifications and other personal preferences. It is also possible to set separate ringtones and message tones for the different SIM cards.

Although the Android OS is pretty much untouched, there’s a little bit here that adds to the overall experience. Nothing that should slow down an Android update from rolling out, mind you, but enough to help it stand out from a pure stock build.

Conclusion

We were impressed with the total package of the Vivo XL.  It was not all that long ago that we paid double for lesser phone and felt okay about it.

As more users become acclimated to the concept of buying a phone and then selecting the carrier, devices such as these will stand out. As much as we like a flagship experience like a Samsung Galaxy S6 or LG G4, it is sometimes hard to justify paying that much money every few years. This goes double if you are on a prepaid carrier and do not have the luxury of equipment installation pricing. If you are looking to pay for your phone up front, then you want to get as much bang for your buck as possible. A phone like the Vivo XL truly is bang for the buck.

Unlocked is the way to go. You need to get used to that concept as soon as you can. Blu, one of the emerging brands to watch in this space, only concerns itself with GSM-ready devices free of any carrier influence.

There is peace of mind knowing that you can leave your carrier behind and still use the same phone when you go across the street to a different provider. Tossing the secondary SIM card here and there’s added flexibility for international travel or multiple phone lines.

Also in its favor is the fact that it’s pretty much untouched Android. That’s a big win for people who don’t like custom UI’s or excessive skinning and preloaded applications. Blu hasn’t necessarily proven to be incredibly adept at pushing out software updates, but that could be a non-issue for Average Joe types. As long as it’s supported with security updates and patches any vulnerabilities, we’re okay recommending the 5.1 Lollipop release.

There is peace of mind knowing that you can leave your carrier behind and still use the same phone when you go across the street to a different provider. Tossing the secondary SIM slot and you have flexibility for international travel or multiple phone lines on the same device.

The Vivo XL is thin, sharp looking, and offers a big display at a small price. For a lot of people, that’s all that matters. The camera could be better and the sound could be more robust, but we could also be looking at a $200 phone instead.

In thinking about the target demographic, we  feel that this is more than sufficient enough to get the job done. Heck, there’s even a little bit left over, too.

Where to Buy

Launching today (January 29), the Vivo XL can be had at Best Buy for a downright incredible price of $99. While that’s a $50 savings off its normal cost of $150, it’s only a short time promotional rate. Look for a wider retail and online seller availability in the coming weeks.

The post Blu Vivo XL review appeared first on AndroidGuys.

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