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6
Apr

Baeble is what MTV used to be, in the palm of your hand [Review]


Kids growing up today don’t even remember a time when MTV had anything to do with music. Even when I was young, MTV and VH1 had started transitioning from being the purveyors of what was cool into peddlers of terrible reality TV. Fortunately, in 2007 a company was formed that started to bring back what had made those channels cool to begin with, and I’m not talking about YouTube.

Baeble is a service that goes out and films concerts and goes back stage with some of the most popular artists today including Carly Rae Jepson, Ariana Grande, and CHVRCHES. They also go out and find new artists who they think will be the next hot ticket.

After first hearing about Baeble when T-Mobile recently “amped” its Binge On initiative, I thought it would be good to take a look at what it had to offer. Its Android app is incredibly simple. It only has two tabs: featured and categories, for discovery and browsing a catalog of music-related videos. When you open a video page, it’s just the video, an overflow menu with a share button (which unfortunately only sends to Facebook), and a handful of recommended videos.

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It’s very cool how they can have these big stars in very casual situations just having a conversation about their current work. It’s like the days of old. The app features everything from full-length concerts, to music videos and interviews.

The app isn’t perfect, though, and I think that implementing a few of Android’s newer UI elements would do it a lot of good. The ability to swipe between the tabs, using the native share utility, having a share button instead of an overflow menu, and not having the app hide the status bar (because it does for some reason), would go a long way in improving the overall experience within the app. Speaking of improvements, I got a chance to interview Baeble’s CEO, David Moffly, who gave me insights into the app’s creation and where he sees it going in the future.

AndroidGuys interviews Baeble CEO David Moffly

AndroidGuys: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us. Baeble is a very unique concept. How did you come up with the idea?

David: I saw YouTube in 2006 after it had started and I was stunned by how it democratized and changed the fundamental nature of video distribution by using IP. Everyone was focused on cat videos and copyright violations but I saw the opportunity to build a new global platform free of national boundaries and constraints. We started shooting our first concerts in 2007 and built the video platform around this exclusive content as time and technology allowed. Today we have a complete platform that spans web, mobile web, video apps, Smart TV’s and OTT devices that reach a global audience. The Baeble Smart TV Apps are in virtually every brand in the US and most internationally. Our German partner Netrange has even built a Baeble video app for next generation car dashboards. The Android App usage is global with people from more than 100 countries using it.

AndroidGuys: How difficult has it been making your vision come true?

David: We have been a company that is self-financed with the addition of some support from friends and family. So over time we have had to be patient and judicious with our investments in programming, technology and marketing. Because of this, we haven’t had the luxury of the “go big or go home” push Venture Capital can infuse into an organization…which in the long run, is a good thing. We have seen countless companies make flashy entrances only to wind up on the scrap heap. While our approach has been slow and (by necessity) deliberate, I think this has resulted in the development of a brand that is known for high quality and focus of its work.

Baeble is certainly the hardest business project I have ever done. The everyday aspects of our business involve dealing with everything from complicated rights issues for the programming to the deep detail of the web, video streaming, distribution and monetization.

AndroidGuys: How would you say Baeble differentiates itself among its competitors?

David: No other company does what we do. We are a complete platform with amazing programming. VEVO is our closest competitor, but they exist as a vessel for music videos from its rights owners. They are getting into original programming like we do, but they are largely a logo on videos in YouTube that no one really understands. It’s not special or unique. We carefully select the bands we film based on a number of factors: Do we think this artist is interesting? Do, we think this artist has a story that needs to be told? Is this artist pushing their career along with the tools at their disposal? Some of the questions we ask when considering artists.

Also, bands and artists trust us with their only and most valuable asset, which is their music and we do our best every time to amplify it and shine a light on the artist’s talents.

AndroidGuys: What does partnering with T-Mobile on “Binge On” mean for your company?

David: For us it is a validation of the quality of our work and we are super proud to be a part of their program. Our App and our videos are good enough to be included as an option for millions of T-Mobile subscribers. Of the thousands of video apps out there, we are one of only a handful included in the program. This is a very strong validation.

AndroidGuys: How does the Android App differ from the iOS app?

David: The Android App tends to have newer features than the iOS App, though the iOS does catch up.

AndroidGuys: What advantages does Android offer to your company as a platform over iOS (and vice versa)?

David: Because it is Google, Android offers more powerful promotional tools that can put your App in front of a global audience for them to download and play with. iOS does not have the same level of promotion and discovery tools…which as a free, non-gaming app, make it very difficult to break through in the App store alone.

We (I) am very bullish on Android and the power of Google.

AndroidGuys: What, from your perspective, could Android do to make it a more developer-friendly atmosphere?

David: Our development process on Android was very straight forward. We kept the App purposely simple to allow the quality of the video programming to stand out rather than technical features. As tempting as it can be, we didn’t want the cool software to stand in the way of the video.

AndroidGuys: How do you see the Baeble application evolving in the future?

David: Over the next year we are going to be adding engagement features like notifications and play listing and other cool features that will promote watching and sharing videos. We also have a huge photo collection which we would like to feature in a fun way within the App.

AndroidGuys: How do you see your overall product evolving over time?

David: We will continue to evolve the video mix based on tastes and trends. On the software side we’ll see what people like and what they don’t and adjust accordingly.

AndroidGuys: Is there anything else you would like our readers to know about?

David: We are an organization driven by a passion for what we do and we hope that this shines though.

AndroidGuys: Thanks again for taking the time to speak with us and good luck with your product going forward!

Download Baeble on Google Play

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6
Apr

Get fit with the Polar Loop 2 and accessories: review


Getting in shape and increasing your physical fitness seems to be everyone’s goal every first of January, but  if you’re like me, you find those resolutions or stated goals very difficult to keep. Why is it so hard? Well, a lot of it is that we don’t actually create plans on how we’re going to accomplish our goal. Beyond that, we don’t track our goals. The Polar Loop 2 and other products are designed to help with those areas.

Polar Loop 2 and accessories overview

At first glance, the Polar Loop 2 is a glorified pedometer that you wear on your wrist but after further inspection, you’ll find that there are so many other features.

  • Steps and distance

    • Tracks your steps and distance from steps.
  • Inactivity alerts
    • Reminds you with vibration to get up after 55 minutes of sitting and add active breaks to your daily routines.
  • Smart calorie tracker
    • Lets you know exactly how many calories you’ve burned. The individual algorithm is based on your data: weight, height, age, gender and the intensity of physical activity.
  • Activity goal
    • Shows how active you’ve been during the day and gives practical guidance for reaching your daily activity goal. Breaks up your activities into five intensity levels: resting, sitting, low, medium and high.
  • Sleep tracking
    • Automatically tracks your sleep time and quality. See and learn from your sleeping patterns in Polar Flow web service and app.
  • Smart notifications
    • Vibrates and notifies you about incoming calls, messages and calendar reminders.
  • Available in black, white, or pink colors.

Polar Loop 2aThere is also small screen made up of 85 separate red LEDs that are invisible until lit up. The screen allows for scrolling text and simple animations.

Awesome features aside, one of my favorite features is that the Polar Loop 2 is compatible with some pretty amazing accessories as well. There are two accessories in particular that we will include with the review.

The first is the H7 heart rate monitor. It straps around the chest in order to accurately measure your heart rate. It’s waterproof so it can even be used when swimming. However, while the Polar Loop 2 works while swimming, it uses Bluetooth to transmit data and that doesn’t work so well in the water. The H7 supports a 5 kHz technology called GymLink that will transmit in the water but unfortunately, that is not found on the Loop 2. While the sensor itself is only available in black, the strap is available in black, blue, or pink.

The second is the Polar Balance, which is a scale that measures your weight then transmits it via Bluetooth to the Polar Loop 2 or even directly to your Android phone. It’s available in white or black.

Polar Loop 2 and accessories setup

Polar Loop 2cThe Polar Loop 2 has a little more involved setup than the H7 and Polar Balance. First, you need to size the watchband to your wrist and then cut off the excess areas. Then you need to download the Polar FlowSync application onto your computer, connect it via the included USB cable, and register the Loop 2 to your Polar account. If you don’t have an account, then you’ll need to create one. Of course, you’ll also want to download the Polar Flow app on Google Play so that the Loop 2 can sync with your phone.

The H7 is a little simpler setup. First, you size the band to your chest. Then you lightly wet the rubber contact area on the strap and put the strap on. You then move your Polar Loop 2 right next to the H7 and press the button on the Loop 2. Once you see your heart rate on the screen, you are good to go.

The Polar Balance is the easiest of all to connect. All you do is stand on the scale, wait for the beep and your weight to appear on the scale’s display, then press the Polar Loop 2’s button and wait for your weight to appear on the Loop 2’s display. The Polar Balance can also communicate directly with the Polar Flow app to record your weight without the Polar Loop 2.

Polar Loop 2 and accessories usage

One of my first observations on the Polar Loop 2 was how light it is. It really isn’t a bother to wear. I like that it replaces my watch too. If I have to wear an activity tracker over a nice looking watch, then it better tell time too.

I’ve never been a big fan of jewelry or fashion accessories. I normally wear nothing other than my watch and my wedding ring. Having said that, the Polar Loop 2 is very subdued and doesn’t attract a lot of attention. If you’re looking for attention then look instead at the Polar Loop Crystal. It has a little more bling.

The Loop 2 will also show you notifications from your phone and alert you with a small vibration. Unfortunately, the notifications that it will show are very limited. It will say calendar if you have an appointment coming due, email when you receive an email, and message for just about everything else. You can choose which apps you want to receive notifications from. So, if you don’t want the notifications from Candy Crush, then you can turn them off. There is also a do not disturb feature that can turn off the notifications every night between the times you choose.

Polar Loop 2dPolar Loop 2eI think my biggest complaint with the Polar Loop 2 is the charging cable. Instead of using a standard micro USB cable, they use a proprietary connector that uses a magnet to maintain the charging connection. The magnet isn’t very strong and it’s a pain in the neck to put it on the charger sometimes. The other downside is that if you loose it, then your out of luck until you order a new cable.

Another area of improvement would be the clasp. The clasp itself works great and never gave me any problems, but it seemed to scratch a little too easy. If you use a computer a lot like I do, then you’ll scratch it just by resting your wrists on your desk.

Polar Loop 2b

My fitness goals don’t really include running or jogging, which is where the Polar Loop 2 excels. Instead, I like to bike. If you’ve read any of my other reviews, then you already know that I commute to work daily on a bike. While the Polar Loop 2 will record activity while you ride your bike, it is unable to record that data as a bike ride. It instead measures the bumps in the road as steps. This is where the H7 heart rate monitor comes in.

While the H7 is unable to measure your bike ride, it can measure your heart rate and more effectively track your fitness goals. My commute is a little over 8 miles one way. When I commute without the H7 heart rate monitor, then I never make it past 80-90% of my tracking for my goals. However, with the H7 heart rate monitor, I am able to achieve over 100% of my tracking just on the way to work.

Polar H7 4

Polar H7 3

Polar H7 2

Polar H7 1

Using the Polar Flow app, you can adjust your fitness goals to better accommodate your increased levels of fitness over time. Even if you don’t, the app will slowly adjust them for you anyways.

Polar Balance 2Polar Balance 1The Polar Balance is the most accurate bathroom scale that I have ever seen. Usually, the bathroom scale is off by anywhere from five to ten pounds. It’s also very easy to use. You just need to be patient, because it takes a bit for the Polar Loop 2 to record the data.

The other part of this is the Polar Flow app. The app syncs with your Polar Loop 2 and displays all the data in a way that allow you to track and measure your goals. If you wear the Polar Loop 2 while you sleep, it will even track your sleep patterns and show you what percentage of your sleep was restful and which percentage was restless.

Polar Flow Screenshot 4

Polar Flow Screenshot 2

Polar Flow Screenshot 1

Polar Flow Screenshot 3

As I mentioned at the beginning of the review, the reason we don’t keep our goals really comes down to us not looking at them and not measuring our progress along the way. This is where the Polar Flow app really makes a difference. It allows you to look at your progress.

The one feature that I would like to see added to the app is a goal system based around weight loss. As it is now, the goals are all based around activity. I think this would make the eco-system even more appealing.

4 out of 5 stars

Overall the eco-system that Polar has created is pretty great. Everything works well together and they help you to visualize the progress that you’re making towards your fitness related goals.

The downside here is that it can be costly to buy into all the different devices in Polar’s portfolio, but don’t let that scare you. You can mix and match the devices that will help you achieve your goals.

The Polar Loop 2 is on sale right now for $99.98 on Amazon.com, the H7 heart rate monitor is on sale for $49.14 on Amazon.com, and the Polar Balance is on sale for $99.95 on Amazon.com.

In contrast, the Fit Bit Charge retails at $149.95 and doesn’t do the smartphone notifications.

6
Apr

Grab Rachio’s smart sprinkler controller for as little as $129 at Amazon


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If you are looking to make your sprinkler system a bit smarter you may be interested in this deal on Rachio’s first-gen smart sprinkler controller. Right now, you can grab the 8 zone controller for $129, or the 16 zone controller for $149. Normally, these retail for $249 and $299 respectively, so these are big savings.

For those not familiar, the Rachio smart sprinkler controller replaces your current sprinkler controller and lets you take control of the system from your phone. This deal is only good for today, April 6, so don’t wait too long before making your purchase.

See at Amazon

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6
Apr

8 things to know about the Samsung Galaxy S7’s SD card slot


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Samsung brought back the SD card in the Galaxy S7, now it’s time to know what you can do with it.

While a good number of people will be completely fine with the 32-gigabytes of internal storage on their Galaxy S7, having the ability to pop in an SD card and expand that storage by 200GB more is very appealing. Even large SD cards can be found for a great deal, and the best part is being able to choose later on down the road if you want more storage.

But as is the case with adding external storage to most computing devices, there are lots of things to consider: what can you do with the storage? How does it interact with the system? How reliable and fast is it? We answer these questions, and many more, with the first eight things you need to know about SD cards in the Galaxy S7.

No ‘adoptable storage’ option to be found here

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Even though the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge are running Android 6.0 Marshmallow, the phones are missing one of the big features called “adoptable storage” that changes the way SD cards interact with the system. With adoptable storage, the phone can take in an external SD card and make it part of the internal storage from a system standpoint, meaning it perfectly extends the internal storage to create one, larger storage area rather than two separate ones.

But for a number of reasons, Samsung has chosen to keep adoptable storage away from the Galaxy S7. The GS7 uses its SD card just the same as you’d be used to from previous Galaxy phones, in that it’s mounted as a separate drive that can’t span data across it and the internal storage. The downside is pretty clear, but the upsides are that the card can be removed without any real potential for data damage, and it can also be quickly swapped to another machine for data transfers.

Not every app can be moved to the SD card

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One of the big reasons folks want to have an SD card is to move apps over to the card and free up internal storage. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to move over all of your apps in bulk to the external card.

Being able to move an app to the SD card is a decision to be made on a per-app basis, and some apps just don’t allow you to move them even if you want to. Larger apps like games will often let you move them to the SD card, technically, but you’ll notice that only a small portion of the app or some of its assets will move — a large chunk of the storage will still be used up on your internal storage.

How many apps you can eventually move to the SD card will depend on which apps you use — just don’t count on being able to move too many off the phone. Also remember that if you plan on swapping your SD card out and transferring files from it to a computer or another device, any apps that have moved data to the SD card will be inoperable until you return the card to the phone.

Removing your SD card also removes the SIM

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In an effort to simplify things, Samsung uses one slot in the body of the Galaxy S7 to hold a single tray with both the SD card and SIM card in it. Even though you’re more likely to want to remove the SD card for data transfers to/from a computer than you will remove your SIM card, in this instance you don’t have a choice — removing the SD card is also going to pop out your SIM.

That means if you’re going to want to use your phone for calls and data while the SD card is out, you’ll have to replace the tray with just the SIM — and then, of course, remove the SIM once again to put the SD card back in the phone. Every time you remove and replace the SIM the phone will take a little bit to re-connect to the network and negotiate things, and in some cases that’ll require a reboot of the phone if it’s been a while.

Nothing to lose any sleep over, but one to be aware of nonetheless — you may run into a couple small pain points (or simply some waiting) by removing the SIM every time you remove the SD card.

Pictures and video save to the card by default

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When you put an SD card in your Galaxy S7 or S7 edge, the phone is set up to utilize that extra storage right away. Since you can’t move every app to the card, it makes sense to start storing pictures and videos there, and that’s just what the GS7 does. The first time you launch the camera app after inserting an SD card you’ll get a warning letting you know the fact, and if you don’t want photos and videos saved to the card it’s a simple switch in the settings.

If you choose to keep with the default and store photos and videos on the SD card, you’ll notice that the Gallery creates a separate folder for those images from any previous captures to the internal storage of the phone. The difference is noted by a small depiction of an SD card in the corner of the album, which can be a tad confusing at first. If you don’t have any photos on the internal storage you won’t notice much difference, but if you put your SD card in after taking a few you’ll notice the extra folder right away.

SD card photos may be odd to handle in third-party apps

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Here’s the one downside of storing images and videos from the camera on the SD card: the only sure-fire way to delete those files is from the app that created them, in this case the Samsung Camera and associated Gallery app. If you like to use another gallery app, you may not be able to properly move around and delete photos that are stored on the SD card. For example in Google Photos, and many other popular gallery apps, you’ll be able to view and apply extra edits to the photos but you can’t delete the original files from within the third-party app.

This becomes particularly bothersome in a cloud-based gallery app like Google Photos where you can delete photos remotely and have those changes sync back to your Galaxy S7 — in this case Google Photos will never be able to delete those local files on your phone, you have to do it manually from within Samsung’s Gallery app. If you use another simple gallery app without any cloud functions (and using an older permission model or a workaround) it may be able to manage those SD card photos just fine — but it’s something to be aware of if you run into odd behavior when deleting.

You probably don’t have to worry about performance

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Even though in some cases there are very real concerns when it comes to the speed of external storage, chances are in the situation of adding an SD card to a Galaxy S7 you won’t have to worry about hits to performance. Even a moderately new SD card has quick enough speeds to outpace the phone’s ability to read/write data, and chances are when you’re loading apps, photos and music from the SD card you aren’t coming anywhere near the speed limits of the external storage.

The only place to potentially be worried here is when it comes to recording UHD or HDR video, which requires some serious speed from your SD card. Samsung unfortunately doesn’t let you choose whether to record to the SD card for just video (it’s an all-or-nothing setting), but if you plan to use your phone for its great UHD video recording and want the best possible quality you should consider a top-end card. Be sure to refer to the manufacturers when it comes to its speed ratings for recording video.

Find good deals on cards

The biggest reason to not buy an absolutely bottom-of-the-barrel SD card is that you can get really good cards for a great deal all around the internet. Sure a super-fast 200GB card is going to set you back a few extra dollars, but if you just need to add another 32 or 64GB of storage you can get a great, name-brand SD card for less than $30 and know you’re getting a good product that’s going to do everything you need.

Use caution when buying the cheapest of the cheap cards out there, and be sure to read the specs and reviews before you buy.

You can encrypt the card for your own safety

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Your Galaxy S7’s internal storage is encrypted by default, but when you pop in an SD card and start putting data on it that card can be read by anyone if they get their hands on it. The way to fix this problem can be found in the “Lock screen and security” settings, where there’s an option to fully encrypt your SD card.

After a brief wait to encrypt what data is already on the card, you’ll know that it’s completely safe from unwanted intruders. Once encrypted, even if the card is physically removed from the phone the contents will never be readable by another device.

This is a huge boost in data security, but of course has usability downsides — you can’t use the card to quickly transfer data between devices, and if your phone dies for whatever reason you have no other way to unlock the card and view the data. Those may be things you want to have access to, but making sure your data is locked up tight may be worth more to you.

Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 edge

  • Galaxy S7 review
  • Galaxy S7 edge review
  • Galaxy S7 edge with Exynos: A Canadian perspective
  • Here are all four Galaxy S7 colors
  • Details on the Galaxy S7’s camera
  • The SD card is back on the GS7
  • Join our Galaxy S7 forums

AT&T Sprint T-Mobile Verizon

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6
Apr

Get anime-ted this Wallpaper Wednesday


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Don’t let your home screen fall into a rut — switch out your wallpaper!

You don’t have to pull out a complex new theme like Deadpool to bring a breath of fresh air to your home screen. A new wallpaper can do wonders, and launchers like Action Launcher can re-theme your entire home screen around a good wallpaper. In our effort to help brighten your device — and maybe your day — we’re compiling some wallpapers for you to try out.

If you’ve got a wallpaper you use everywhere, share it in the comments below! We’re always looking for something new. Now get your wallpaper picker ready and see what’s in store this week.

GATE

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GATE just concluded its first season, and it was a wonderful finish to a show that captivated me from the first episode. Granted, things got a little dicey in the second half of the season, but they left things in a great place. It centers around slacker JSDF reservist Itami, who only works to support his hobbies but is tasked with leading a squad exploring the world beyond the mysterious gate that appears in Japan.

This wallpaper shows off the three girls from beyond the gate that wind up in Itami’s party and the beauty of the new world otaku-ish Itami finds himself in. The dragons overhead also allude to the fantastical adventures the quartet embark on, including but not limited to fighting off bandit armies, overthrowing dictators, and destroying a fire dragon with tank-like skin.

GATE

Myriad Colors Phantom World

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The way humanity perceives the world is precarious, but what happens when it changes? Myriad Colors Phantom world takes us into a world where a virus outbreak causes fact and fiction to blur and for humanity to be able to see ‘phantoms’ born of human desires and myths. This show has fun taking us through this blurred reality where people’s memories, passions, and fears can quite literally shape the world around them.

One of my favorite episodes from this show is a take on the classic ‘Alice in Wonderland’ trope. Kurumi, the youngest member of the show’s phantom-hunting team, is transported into a beautifully simplistic fantasy world within her mind to help her overcome her fears of not being able to fight alongside her friends. The mixed styles and mediums used to convey different perceptions of reality and phantoms help further convey this fractured, shifting world in which the characters live.

Myriad Colors Phantom World

Snow White with the Red Hair

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Snow White with the Red Hair was a show I was apprehensive of when I got into it last year. But from the moment Shirayuki (Snow White) and Prince Zen see each other, you can’t help but be hooked. This romantic fairytale anime about a hard-working herbalist who runs away from one prince and winds up in the arms of another is just ten kinds of amusingly delightful.

The art style for this show screams of a different time, a purer time, when good really did triumph over evil. It made you want to believe. This show made Mondays not suck as much for a while. I don’t know what I’ll do now that it’s finished…. But at least I have wallpapers like these to fill me with that hope and light when I open my phone.

Snow White with the Red Hair

Axis Powers Hetalia by ROSEL-D

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Hetalia began life as a webcomic but has become so, so much more in the ten years since it began. This show goes through history, politics, and cultural divides through the lens of personified countries. Japan is a soft-spoken recluse with a love of cats. America is a cheeseburger-gobbling maniac always calling himself the hero. Germany is a stern man who wants quiet, good beer, and for Italy to go away. And Italy just wants to bask in the sun with pretty women and eat pasta all day.

This wallpaper hearkens back to the early chapters of the show when it covered World war II and the dynamic between the Axis powers Germany, Japan, and Italy. If you need to brush up on your history or just want to laugh about everyone forgetting about Canada all the time, this is the show for you.

Axis Powers Hetalia by ROSEL-D

Card Captor Sakura Magical Circles by Entereri

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When you think magical girl, you might think Sailor Moon is tops. And you’d be wrong. Because Card Captor Sakura is the best magical girl show of all time. It’s made by CLAMP, one of the best manga teams of all time (which was an all-girl team, by the by). It had a beautifully complex story behind it. The artwork throughout the series was breath-taking (the costumes! The transformations! The cards!!). It deserves your love and admiration. (It also deserves a reboot.)

Speaking of breathtaking artwork, the many types of magical circles and seals used throughout the series are mesmerizing, and this dark background makes them seem to glow and rise off the screen.

Card Captor Sakura Magical Circles by Entereri

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6
Apr

Latest HTC 10 teaser focuses on the camera and how ‘you’ll see it’


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The latest HTC 10 teaser from HTC once again puts the focus on the camera, with the tagline of “you’ll see it.” HTC is set to officially unveil the phone on April 12 during an online-only event. The teaser talks about capturing your favorite memories, and how much time and effort went into perfecting the camera set up so that you will get the pictures that you want.

Luckily we aren’t far from finding out exactly what HTC has packed into the HTC 10, so be sure to stay tuned!

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6
Apr

Opera’s ex-CEO releases his finished web browser for power users


Do you miss the days when it felt like Opera was focused more on avid web surfers than the broader public? So does Opera’s former CEO Jon von Tetzchner. He just released the finished version of Vivaldi, a web browser that caters primarily to power users that thrive on customization and shortcuts. It has Opera mainstays like Speed Dial (quick access to favorite sites from new tabs), but it also has tab stacks, mouse gestures, annotation, browser sessions and even the option to view websites in a sidebar. In short, it’s all about removing clutter and speeding things up. Vivaldi even supports Chrome extensions (it’s based on Chromium), so you shouldn’t have to scrounge for replacement add-ons.

The completed release is available on Linux, OS X and Windows. It’s too soon to say how well 1.0 works in practice, since many of its features only really come into their own when you use Vivaldi on a daily basis. However, it should be a breath of fresh air if you’re tired with the usual choices — it’s fast and is rife with options that you rarely see in browsers nowadays.

Source: Vivaldi (1), (2)

6
Apr

Dell XPS 15 review: A MacBook Pro rival for Windows users


By the time I hit publish on this review, something interesting had happened: Dell revealed that its XPS 15 laptop was outselling the smaller XPS 13. How could that be? Most flagship notebooks these days have 13-inch displays or smaller. And for good reason: Ultraportables are, by definition, thin and light, delivering longer and longer battery life with each passing year. But, as they say, different strokes for different folks. There are indeed people out there who need more — more horsepower and more screen real estate — even if it comes with the slight inconvenience of a heavier design. For those folks (and Dell says there are lots of them), the XPS 15 should mostly fit the bill. Just don’t stray too far from a power outlet.

Hardware

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You don’t put out the best Windows laptop of 2015 and follow up soon after with a radically different design. The XPS 15 keeps all of the physical attributes that made the XPS 13 great, including a sturdy aluminum frame, soft carbon fiber palm rest, comfortable keyboard and a nearly bezel-less display that allows for a smaller footprint than you’d get otherwise. For the XPS 13, that meant a 13-inch display in the body of 12-inch laptop. Likewise, the XPS 15 crams a 15.6-inch screen into the sort of chassis you’d normally find on, say, a 14-inch system. Indeed, I found that using the XPS 15 in my lap was a more comfortable experience than balancing HP’s big-screen Spectre x360 on my legs.

Like the x360 — and, more crucially, the MacBook Pro it competes with — the XPS 15 is relatively thin and light. The machine starts at 3.9 pounds, going up to 4.4 with a touchscreen, and has a tapered profile that slims to 0.45 inches thick from from 0.66. I’m not going to pretend it’s as light or compact in my bag as all the 13-inch ultraportables I’ve been testing recently, but it still feels portable for what it is.

Housed inside that slender frame is a large enough selection of ports to satisfy most power users. Over on the left, we have full-size USB and HDMI sockets, a small Thunderbolt 3 port and a headphone jack, with an SD card reader and a second full-size USB connection on the right. There’s also a Kensington lock slot tucked on the right edge, up near the hinge.

Keyboard and trackpad

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Like I said, Dell didn’t mess with a good thing. The company might have trouble making a reliable touchpad (still does), but make no mistake, it knows how to build a comfortable keyboard. The backlit buttons here are amply sized and well-spaced. I typed not just this review on it, but also some other stories I happened to be working on. The only thing I would caution you on is the keys: Although they are springy enough for easy typing, they’re perhaps not as bouncy as they look, given how much travel they have. I found at times that I had to strike the buttons a little harder than I would have otherwise, lest the keyboard fail to register my presses. If you can get over the learning curve, as I did, you’ll be just fine.

Now, about that touchpad. It’s large, which is good, because it means you’ll have plenty of room for your fingers as you scroll and pinch to zoom. But, while it’s not a nightmare to use (faint praise), it has some of the problems issues plaguing many other Windows touchpads I’ve tested. In particular, single-finger tracking can be flaky, with the cursor not always going where I wanted it to, or taking on a life of its own, accidentally rearranging my pinned browser tabs.

Display and sound

Aside from the thin design and the powerful internals at work under the hood, the big draw here is that 15-inch display. And yes, it has more to offer than just extra screen real estate for spreadsheets and Photoshop workflows. Though the machine comes standard with a plain 1080p, non-touch panel, it’s offered with a 4K, color-accurate touchscreen — the one I’m looking at as I type this. Between the 350-nit brightness rating and the 100-percent Adobe colorspace coverage, it’s simply a lovely display.

There’s also software on board that remaps colors outside the RGB color range but really, I don’t think you need to work in a creative field to justify the upgrade. To the extent that we all spend too much time these days staring at our screens, we can all appreciate a display this color-rich. I know I’m not looking forward to going back to my 3-year-old MacBook Air after this.

The sound coming from the stereo speakers on the machine’s bottom side is also pleasing, though not as spectacular as the visuals. The volume is so loud that when listening to Spotify alone in my apartment, I tended to keep the levels at 20-something out of 100. The quality was also good enough for my non-audiophile ears and indeed, I spent hours one weekend streaming music while getting work done. (What’s a weekend?)

That said, I could hear a little tinniness creep in on various tracks running the gamut from oldies and show tunes to classical and jazz. It’s not a dealbreaker — at least not for me — but you’d be mistaken if you thought a big, powerful machine meant you’d also be getting big, powerful sound.

Performance and battery life

Dell XPS 15 (2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ, 2GB NVIDIA GeForce 960M) 5,530 4,263 E8,616 / P5,438 / X1,796 11,797 1.88 GB/s / 598 MB/s
HP Spectre x360 15t (2.4GHz Core i5-6200U, Intel HD 520) 5,040 3,458 E2,672 / P1,526 / X420 3,542 561 MB/s / 284 MB/s
Razer Blade Stealth (2.5GHz Intel Core i7-6500U, Intel HD 520) 5,131 3,445 E2,788 / P1,599 / X426 3,442 1.5 GB/s / 307 MB/s
Toshiba Radius 12 (2.5GHz Intel Core i7-6500U, Intel HD 520) 5,458 3,684 E2,865 / P1,622 3,605 552 MB/s / 489 MB/s
Microsoft Surface Pro 4 (2.4GHz Core i5-6300U, Intel HD 520) 5,403 3,602

E2,697/ P1,556/ X422

3,614 1.6 GB/s / 529 MB/s
Lenovo Yoga 900 (2.5GHz Core i7-6500U, Intel HD 520) 5,368 3,448

E2,707 / P1,581

3,161 556 MB/s / 511 MB/s
Microsoft Surface Book (2.4GHz Core i5-6300U, Intel HD 520) 5,412 3,610

E2,758 / P1,578 / X429

3,623 1.6 GB/s / 571 MB/s
Microsoft Surface Book (2.6GHz Core i7-6600U, 1GB NVIDIA GeForce graphics) 5,740 3,850

E4,122 / P2,696

6,191 1.55 GB/s / 608 MB/s

It’s rare that we get to test a laptop with specs like this: a quad-core, 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ processor, 16GB of RAM and a dual-graphics solution that combines Intel’s integrated HD Graphics 530 with a discrete 2GB NVIDIA GeForce 960M GPU. As you can imagine, then, when it comes to synthetic benchmarks the XPS 15 smokes every other notebook we’ve tested recently, especially in graphics tests. Would it perform on par with a similarly specced notebook? I honestly can’t say, but that’s also beside the point. And the point is that it’s uncommon for a notebook this thin and light to also have a quad-core processor and discrete graphics. (Sixteen gigs of RAM is easier to find, though still fairly rare.)

In practice, my unit’s 512GB NVMe solid-state drive notched impressive read speeds of 1.88 gigabytes per second, with writes maxing out an average of 598 megabytes per second. To put that figure in context, a non-PCIe SSD might top out at half the speeds for both reads and writes. The startup sequence consistently took 16 seconds from button-press to the desktop, which isn’t bad, though we’ve seen other high-end laptops that boot just as fast or faster.

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I also had no trouble doing my usual multitasking (Slack, Skype, Spotify, Microsoft Word, lots of pinned Chrome tabs), but really, whoever pays the money for this kinds of horsepower will probably be doing something more graphics-intensive. I also found that although the machine got warm, I could still comfortably use it for hours in my lap, even with shorts leaving my legs uncovered.

To be clear, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this to gamers, since the graphics card isn’t that new, and this machine wasn’t specifically built for gaming, anyway. But people running apps like Photoshop and Premiere should get the processing they need. Anyone who needs more muscle can consider a mobile workstation, but it will be more expensive and not as thin or lightweight. As with anything, it depends on your particular needs.

By the time I finished my testing, I had installed one major BIOS update. (I’m currently on version 1.01.19.) In addition to extending the battery life under lighter loads (more on that in a moment), the update corrected an issue that made the XPS 15 difficult to wake from sleep. This indeed was quite vexing for me when I first unboxed the unit, but the problem has gone away post-update. I say this because I realize some readers out there may have already purchased and set up an XPS 15 of their own. If you have, head to Dell’s support site to make sure you have the latest drivers.

Battery life

Dell XPS 15 (2016)
5:25 (7:40 with the mobile charger)
Surface Book (Core i5, integrated graphics)
13:54 / 3:20 (tablet only)
MacBook Air (13-inch, 2013)
12:51
HP Spectre x360 (13-inch, 2015)
11:34
Surface Book (Core i7, discrete graphics)
11:31 / 3:02 (tablet only)
Apple MacBook Pro with Retina display (13-inch, 2015)
11:23
iPad Pro
10:47
HP Spectre x360 (15-inch, early 2016)
10:17
Chromebook Pixel (2015)
10:01
Lenovo Yoga 900
9:36
Microsoft Surface 3
9:11
Apple MacBook (2015)
7:47
Dell XPS 13 (2015)
7:36
Microsoft Surface Pro 4
7:15
Microsoft Surface Pro 3
7:08
HP Spectre x2
6:43
Razer Blade Stealth
5:48
Toshiba Radius 12
5:12

Dell says on its site that the XPS 15 can last up to 17 hours on a charge. That’s with the lower-res 1080p screen, though, and a workload that mostly includes wireless web browsing. Make that continuous video playback, and the expected runtime drops to nine hours and 14 minutes. As you’d expect, too, the battery life expectations get lower when you step up to a 4K display. On 4K, which is what I had, Dell claims around 10.5 hours of wireless web browsing and seven hours and 18 minutes of video playback.

I never came close to any of those estimates. With video looping on the 4K machine, I got five hours and 25 minutes of playback. That’s hardly good for a modern laptop, but it’s about on par with other 4K machines specifically, including the 12-inch Toshiba Radius 12 (5:12) and the 12.5-inch Razer Blade Stealth (5:48). I’m sure one day it will be possible to find a 4K laptop with decent battery life, but that day is not now.

Fortunately, Dell sells an 18,000mAh mobile charger for $120 that, in my tests, extended the runtime to seven hours and 40 minutes. It could be a worthwhile investment, then, especially since the charger’s two USB ports allow you to rejuice other gadgets as well. Just be aware that the accessory weighs nearly a pound, which means some added heft in your bag.

Configuration options

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My test unit happens to sell for $2,130, but the cost of an XPS 15 can run anywhere from $1,000 to $2,850, depending on the configuration. For that entry-level price, you get some pretty modest specs, including a Core i3 processor, 8GB of RAM, a 500GB hybrid drive (7,200RPM + 32GB SSD) and a non-touch 1080p display. Discrete graphics and Core i5 both kick in the next model up, which costs $1,200. Core i7 skus start at $1,450 (that also happens to be the cheapest one with a solid-state drive). If you want 4K, those models start at $1,900.

All told, the most expensive configuration on Dell’s site as of this writing is a $2,850 edition with the same quad-core processor, 4K screen and NVIDIA graphics as my unit, but with 32GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD. Have that kind of money lying around? Congrats. It must be nice to be you.

The competition

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A thin-and-light 15-inch machine with a pixel-dense display that can be configured with discrete graphics? That’s the XPS 15, of course, but it also describes the MacBook Pro to a tee. The 15-inch model, which starts at $1,999, weighs 4.49 pounds and measures 0.71 inches thick. At that entry price you get a 2.2GHz quad-core processor, 16GB of RAM, a 256GB PCIe SSD and Intel Iris Pro graphics, but you’ll need to pay extra for a discrete AMD Radeon R9 M370X GPU and a 512GB drive. That up-sell model costs $2,499 and has a slightly faster 2.5GHz processor. If you really wanted to trick out either machine, you could step up to a 2.8GHz Core i7 CPU and a full terabyte of solid-state storage.

Back in the world of Windows laptops, the HP Spectre x360 15t ($1,150-plus) also has a 15-inch, 4K-optional touchscreen, not to mention a thin and light design that comes in at 4.05 pounds and 0.63 inches thick. The thing to keep in mind there is that although it’s a similar size as the XPS 15, its specs aren’t any more powerful than what you’d get on a typical 13-inch ultraportable. That means dual-core Core i5 and i7 processors, no more than 256GB of storage and Intel Iris as your top graphics option.

So if you need some extra horsepower to match those extra pixels, you’re still better off with a souped-up XPS 15 or MacBook Pro. That said, the Spectre x360 offers long battery life with the 1080p screen, and it’s also thinner and less expensive than the competition, so it’s not without merit. Just skip it if you want a discrete graphics option.

Wrap-up

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If you’ve been looking for a Windows alternative to the 15-inch MacBook Pro, Dell’s XPS 15 is your best bet — and I’d argue your only suitable one. It’s powerful and thin and light for what it is, with a comfortable keyboard and a lovely 4K, color-accurate screen option. My only real disappointment is that the battery life is rather short — not a surprise with a 4K display, but still a shame. If you think you’ll usually be within range of a power outlet — or are willing to spend $120 on the optional mobile charger — you should be quite happy indeed.

6
Apr

Huawei Introduces Dual Camera Smartphone with Refocusing and Improved Low Light Performance


Amid rumors that Apple plans to release a dual camera feature in the iPhone 7 Plus, Chinese smartphone manufacturer Huawei today unveiled the Huawei P9 and P9 Plus, a set of smartphones that are equipped with impressive dual camera setups with some interesting capabilities.

The 5.2 and 5.5-inch P9 and P9 Plus both come with dual 12-megapixel rear cameras equipped with Leica-certified lenses. Hardware wise, the lenses include 1.25-micron pixel sizes for superior low light performance and an f/1.1 aperture, which will also improve performance in poor lighting conditions. There’s also built-in optical image stabilization, a dual-tone LED flash, and a laser focusing module that works in tandem with the two cameras for faster focusing at short ranges.

Each camera in the P9 has a different sensor, one that’s monochrome to capture 300 percent more light (according to Huawei) and better contrast for crisper images, and one that supports full RGB color. Combined, the two cameras are able to produce a final photograph that has more detail than would be possible with a single camera, especially in conditions where poor lighting would otherwise ruin an image.


Along with the laser focusing module, the two cameras in the P9 are able to detect the depth of objects in an image, allowing for post-capture refocusing. With this feature, P9 users can change the area of an image that’s in focus through built-in editing tools. Huawei says its focusing tools allow for “Leica-quality” bokeh, or blurring of certain areas of the photo, and combined with an f/1.1 aperture, the two cameras should be able to create shallow depth-of-field images that are normally not possible with a smartphone camera.

The wide-aperture photography feature on the P9 allows users to experiment with innovative visual effects to create unique images and content. The P9 makes it easy to adjust the camera aperture to create bokeh and other depth-of-field effects, while keeping the main object in sharp focus.

We don’t yet know what features Apple will include in the dual camera setup of the iPhone 7 Plus, but the capabilities included in the P9 give us a look at the some of the possibilities. Apple is said to be using technology it acquired from LinX Imaging last year, which would perhaps result in functions like improved optical zoom for more detail in images, better low light functionality, less noise, improved color, and more advanced features like depth mapping for 3D scanning or image refocusing, as in the P9.

Based on past release information, Apple is expected to debut its new iPhone 7 (with a single camera) and iPhone 7 Plus in September of 2016.

Tag: Huawei
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6
Apr

Huawei TalkBand B3 added to company’s wearables line-up


As well as its new P9 and P9 Plus smartphones, Huawei used its London launch event to unveil a new version of its smartwatch/fitness tracker hybrid, the Huawei TalkBand B3.

Like former models, it has a more bracelet-like design to the company’s watches, with a “3D” curved display covered in Corning Gorilla Glass. The display is PMOLED, with a resolution of 128 x 80 which displays data, notifications, the time and messages in monochrome.

Liks other fitness wearables, it can be used to track calories, steps, sleep patterns and the like, but where Huawei’s TalkBand range differs is that it can also be used to take phone calls through the device itself. There’s a built-in microphone.

A 91mAh battery is on board, which Huawei claims will last three to fours days on a single charge – or up to six hours of call time.

READ: Huawei P9 and P9 Plus: Release date, specs and everything you need to know

Improvements over the previous model include a more ergonomic fit, better chipset (although it is yet to reveal the exact specifications) and better audio. Sound volume is up by 25 per cent, while ambient noise algorithms reduce “wind noise” by up to 80 per cent.

The band is IP57 rated so is fine to resist sweat for workouts, etc, and it will be available in three styles: Active, Classic and Elite – each with a different style of wristband.

The Active models will be available in white and black for 169 euros. The Classic models will be biege or brown for 199 euros. And the Elite model will be available in titanium grey for 249 euros.

Availability and release date are yet to be revealed.

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