2016 Russell’s Favorite Tech
Everyone at Android Central spends just about every waking moment with mobile tech. Our goal is simple: use as much as we can, find out what works the best, and share with you the gear that rises above the rest. This has been a weird year for mobile tech, with no shortage of stand out gadgets for everyone to enjoy.
Whether you’re looking to buy for someone else or just get the best of the best for yourself, these are my personal favorites of 2016. It starts with a phone and a tablet, but continues on to everything I connect to it throughout any given day. Read on and see what I’ve enjoyed in 2016.
Google Pixel XL
I fully expected this spot to be reserved for the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, but when that became impossible I moved on to Google’s Pixel XL. This is without a doubt the best Android phone you can buy today. The camera is exceptional, the battery life is great, and Google’s incredibly smooth and lightning fast interface is wonderful. There’s no trade-offs, no reasons to settle like we’d seen in the past with the less expensive Nexus phones, and as long as Google keeps improving on this experience it’s difficult to imagine moving away from this phone anytime soon.
From $769 Buy Now
Lenovo Yoga Book
When I use an Android tablet, I’m usually either looking up recipes and watching Netflix in the kitchen, or I’m playing a game that is more comfortable on a larger screen. I’ve tried writing on so many Android tablets with attachable keyboards in the past, and for the most part there’s been little reason to use anything but my laptop. Lenovo’s Yoga Book is not only surprisingly comfortable to type on, it’s also crazy light and ridiculously thin. I can take it anywhere, and most of the time that’s exactly what I do. It may not be the best bang for your buck especially for those who would be more comfortable with a Chromebook, but access to all of my Android apps means I’m not reaching for my phone when I’m working and that’s a big deal for me.
From $499 Buy Now
Sennheiser HD 598 Cs
Put a keyboard in front of me and headphones on my head and I’m likely to disappear for hours. Music focuses me, and good headphones make sure I’m not so easily distracted. I’m not usually super picky about headphones, but these Sennheisers let me hear parts of my favorite songs I genuinely had never heard before. The build quality is great, but just about as far from portable as you can get. These aren’t cheap headphones, but they’re going to be my recommendation to anyone that likes music in their ears while they work behind a desk.
From $119 Buy Now
Moto Surround Earbuds
When I’m mowing the lawn, out playing Pokémon Go with my family, or just in the kitchen and don’t want everyone to hear the episode of Archer I’m watching, I reach for Moto Surround earbuds. The sounds is decent for Bluetooth, the battery is fantastic, and they’re comfortable around my neck. These earbuds aren’t particularly expensive, but my set is never far from me.
From $45 Buy Now
Ricoh Theta S
The camera on my Pixel XL is awesome, but I occasionally enjoy capturing more of the work around me. I’m also a big VR nerd, so 360-degree video is something fun to play with. If you’re looking to give this kind of photography a shot, the Ricoh Theta S is the camera to buy. It’s the most straightforward, the app isn’t complicated, and there’s a lot of flexibility when it comes to taking a photo remotely. Setting the Theta up somewhere and using the app to take a shot so you aren’t in it is a lot of fun!
From $335 Buy Now
Anova Immersion Circulator
I’m a fan of playing around in the kitchen, and some of my favorite kinds of cooking usually involve low and slow techniques with fun flavors. I can’t always bust out the smoker or toss things in the crock pot, so I figured I’d give sous vide cooking a shot. Anova makes a great starter kit that is easy to use, and offers an app full of recipes and guidelines for cooking. It also lets me control the temperature and timer remotely, so I can set something to cook for hours and be able to check in on it no matter what I am doing.
From $149 Buy Now
Philips Hue bulbs
Just about every light in my house is a Hue bulb now. It has taken me a while, but I wouldn’t be happier with being able to control my lights from anywhere. It’s fun to play with the colors when the family is watching a movie in the living room, convenient to say something and have my Echo kill the lights as I climb into bed, and the bulbs themselves just plain look nice. If you’re considering smart lights, Hue is likely going to be my recommendation for a long time.
From $199 Buy Now
Amazon Echo Dot
Google is doing a lot of cool things with Home, but Amazon’s Echo Dot is my favorite right now. They’re cheap enough that I can justify having several throughout the house, and Alexa does more for me right now. Recipe steps are a voice command away, being able to connect a Dot to a more capable speaker to stream music is nice, and these little pucks disappear into the room you set them up in. It’s a more convenient solution for me, and probably will be for the next year.
From $50 Buy Now
Neato Botvac Connected
Robot Vacuums aren’t going to replace my full upright Dyson anytime soon, but having one means I need to do a full cleaning a little less frequently. Neato’s BotVac Connected sputtering around the house every other day is great, and being able to connect my phone to the robot meant when family messaged me and said they’ll be by in an hour I could remotely sent it off to make the house look a little more presentable.
From $499 Buy Now
Yeah, we’re going to talk about virtual reality for a minute. Of all the VR headsets I have used over the last year, which is to say basically all of them, HTC’s Vive keeps calling me back. Being able to walk around in my office and have those steps count in VR is incredible, and there are so many apps and games available I’m unlikely to ever run out of things to do. Also, weirdly, Vive is the only VR platform that gives me notifications from my phone that I can actually do something with. Vive is the most feature complete VR system out there, and it’s ridiculously fun to share with friends.
From $799 Buy Now
Do you like stories about Android devices? Or watching people make funny faces? Or perhaps you just find yourself a little bored constantly launching and exiting out of apps in an effort to find something worthwhile?
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That Gear S3 😍… 📷: @huzzyzx #androidshare #samsunggears3 #samsung #gears3 @samsungmobile
A photo posted by Android Central (@androidcentral) on Dec 9, 2016 at 7:05am PST
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There is one thing you absolutely, positively must have at Walt Disney World.
It’s not a Dole Whip. It’s not a ride. It’s not those trademark Mickey Mouse ears. It’s an app. Walt Disney World has tied everything about your vacation to one lovely app: park tickets, dinner reservations, PhotoPass, hotel reservations and much of the resort’s maps and information. If you’re coming to the Most Magical Place on Earth, My Disney Experience is your lifeline.
And it’s a whole new app in its newest update.
The My Disney Experience app has streamlined its layout, consolidating its many pages and menus into a single map and a single menu that you can drag up from your avatar character. Gone is the hamburger menu, replaced with a single, full-page list. From that menu you can buy or link park and party tickets, make dining reservations, check out your PhotoPass pictures, and even book your hotel if you’ve somehow made your way to the park without a room already ready for you.
The map now covers almost the entire screen as the controls have been condensed to a single white bar at the top of the screen. You simply swipe left or right on that white bar to switch between attractions, dining, restrooms, and other categories on the map. The map still has issues with resolution and overlapping map pins, especially around Cinderella Castle, but at least the map is more responsive and quicker to use, especially for navigating around the park.
The old map, the new map, and the continued bugs
Whether you need wait times to figure out which ride you hit next or directions to the nearest bathroom, the My Disney Experience app app is your guide to Walt Disney World, and you should absolutely, positively, download and acquaint yourself with it before you and your little ones head for the airport.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go wish for a Dole Whip.
By Cat DiStasio
In the race to reduce the world’s reliance on fossil fuels, cost is a huge factor. It’s taken years, but advances in technology and increases in both efficiency and output have helped bring down the expense of renewable energy, which has in turn increased demand. Globally, fossil fuels are still cheaper than these alternative sources, but there are a few places around the world where clean energy is winning, dollar for dollar. Sometimes, too, there’s so much of it that the market price drops to zero. With the cost of renewable energy getting lower by the year, if not the month, environmental advocates are hopeful that energy sources like solar and wind power can eventually edge out fossil fuels entirely. Let’s take a look at some of the locales where renewable energy is proving that a clean world doesn’t have to be more expensive.
Free wind power in Dallas
Everything is bigger in Texas, including the wind energy output. In Dallas, Texas, one utility company had so much wind-generated electricity running through its grid that it decided to give it away at no charge. Last November, customers of TXU Energy began taking advantage of free electricity between the hours of 9pm and 6am, thanks to the excessive production. Although federal tax credits aid in bringing down the cost of wind power and wind makes up just 10 percent of electricity production statewide, TXU Energy’s move helped raise awareness for the awesome potential of this renewable energy source. The free juice helped the utility company too, by reducing energy storage and grid maintenance costs that might have been incurred by the power oversupply.
Free solar power in Chile
This year, sunny Chile experienced an oversupply of electricity produced from the country’s solar farms. Based on spot pricing, the country experienced net zero electricity prices for 113 consecutive days (through April), and passed the savings on to utility customers. Chile’s government has invested heavily in its solar industry by installing 29 solar power plants, and it’s planning to add 15 more in the future to supply electricity to its two power grids. In 2015, Chile had a grand total of 192 days of “free” electricity due to solar power production. Since the two grids are not connected and many people live in underserved rural areas, the phenomenon isn’t yet benefiting all residents. In fact, some are paying higher-than-normal prices for electricity despite the overage, but the government is working to improve the grid infrastructure to alleviate that problem as well.
World’s cheapest wind power in Denmark
Last month, a Swedish firm announced it will built an offshore wind farm in Denmark that will produce electricity cheaper than coal and natural gas. The 600-megawatt Kriegers Flak is already being heralded as the world’s first offshore electricity “supergrid,” which aims to churn out renewable energy for just $54/MW. Named after the Baltic Sea reef near which it will be located, the wind farm will include a 400MW interconnector with Germany that will enable the two countries to share electricity when needed, further reducing costs and alleviating power shortages. The supergrid is expected to be operational by the end of 2021.
Cost-competitive solar homes in Australia
In Australia, homes equipped with solar power and the Tesla Powerwall 2.0 battery system are proving that Elon Musk’s visions about renewable energy are not only possible, but practical. The serial entrepreneur has long argued that solar power can provide a sustainable, cost-effective electricity solution and help individual consumers fight back against rising utility costs. Energy consultancy CME recently reported that solar homes in Australia can do just that, based on the capacity of solar power generation and the ability to store it for later use compared to the cost of the same energy usage when purchased on-demand through the power grid. Right now, the two scenarios have approximately equal costs, meaning it won’t cost homeowners more money in the long-run to switch to solar power — a fact that just might help the rooftop solar industry in Australia big time.
US renewables take on fossil fuels
It may surprise some of our readers to learn that solar and wind energy have already reached the point of being cheaper than fossil fuels in the United States. In 2014, The New York Times evaluated industry data and reported that, in some instances, renewable sources had already undercut the price of fossil fuels. Citing developments over the five-year period prior to that point, the Times reported that — with the help of subsidies — renewable energy had become cost-competitive with conventional fossil fuels, but some industry analysts argued at the time that wind power and solar (particularly commercial PV arrays) could compete with coal and natural gas even without those subsidies. That point in 2014 simply marked a tipping point, though, and as renewable energy prices continue to fall (and investments increase), the competition will continue to heat up.
The cheapest solar power in the world
The world record for the cheapest solar power is a constant race, with a new title-holder popping up every few months. Earlier this year, in May, Dubai set a new record low with a price of just $29.90 per megawatt hour, which made history as the cost of solar dipped below coal. Just three months later, in August, Chile busted that price with an even lower one. In an energy auction, Spanish developer Solarpack Corp Tecnologica bid $29.10 per megawatt hour on a solar power project, when coal-fueled projects at the same auction fetched nearly twice that price. It surely won’t be long before another auction in another country bests that record, proving that renewable energy can not only compete with fossil fuel costs, but can actually do a lot more for the same amount of money as well.
The Attorney Fighting
The New Yorker
Carrie Goldberg started her practice to “be the lawyer” she needed after being harassed online by an ex. Now she’s a pioneer is dealing with revenge porn cases, defending victims against hacking, leaking and other online attacks when relationships come to an end.
DNA Biohackers Are Giving the FDA A Headache With Glow-In-The-Dark Booze
Creating glow-in-the-dark booze with a DIY DNA kit. What could go wrong?
The Unwilling Model Faces of White Supremacy
White Supremacist social media accounts are using images of models to illustrate their points. The big issue is the models don’t even know it’s happening.
Live, For the Moment
The rise of livestreaming is pushing extreme athletes to take bigger risks to keep their fans interested.
Pixar’s ‘Coco’ Is a ‘Love Letter to Mexico’ in the Age of Trump
The upcoming film that focuses on the Día de Muertos holiday and a 12 year-old boy’s journey to discover his heritage is coming at an interesting time.
The Good The inexpensive HP Stream 14 is an attractive, lightweight 14-inch Windows laptop with a long battery life and performance good enough for basic productivity and streaming media. Plenty of expansion ports. Includes 1TB of OneDrive cloud storage and Office 365 Personal for one year.
The Bad Paltry on-board storage capacity. The screen quality isn’t good and the keyboard and touchpad are merely passable.
The Bottom Line With the Stream 14, HP once again shows that a Windows laptop for email and online apps can be attractive and inexpensive.
A low price on a laptop can make up for a lot of shortcomings. That is, as long as those shortcomings don’t interfere with you getting stuff done.
The 14-inch HP Stream, for example, is only $220 in the US and £200 in the UK and as long as your needs don’t leap too far beyond watching YouTube clips, sending email and using web apps, you’re golden. (HP doesn’t offer the Stream in a 14-inch size in Australia, but there is the HP 14-am034tu for AU$500, which is similarly configured, but with a 500GB hard drive instead of a 32GB eMMC.)
HP Stream 14 (14-ax010nr)
|14-inch 1,366 x 768 display|
|1.6GHz Intel Celeron N3060|
|4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz|
|Inte HD Graphics 400 (128MB)|
|32GB eMMC storage|
|802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Window 10 Home (64-bit)|
|One USB 2.0, Two USB 3.0/3.1, SD card slot, mic/headphone jack, HDMI out|
The 14-inch body is thin and it’s light at about 3 pounds (1.4 kg), but if you were hoping for something smaller, HP makes an 11.6-inch Stream for $20 less. It has the same internal components as the 14, but has one less USB 3.1 port and a microSD card slot instead of the 14’s full-size slot.
The Stream is a nice-looking laptop, too, assuming you’re cool with the bright blue color. It’s all plastic with ridges on the lid that give it texture and added grip. The blue continues inside except for the bright white keyboard.
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Plenty of ports for peripherals.
With its meager 32GB of storage — only about half of which is available to use — it’s nice HP didn’t skimp on expansion options. An SD card fits almost entirely in the slot, too, so you could easily leave a card in there for files and applications.
You can, of course, use those ports for a keyboard and mouse to avoid the laptop’s touchpad and keyboard. The latter isn’t altogether unpleasant, but there’s very little travel and the keys feel thin and flimsy like they might pop off or stop working if you type too hard. The touchpad is generally OK, but I recommend shutting off most of the multitouch options like pinch-to-zoom and turning up the palm rejection setting.
The Good A simple, portable device powered by 4 AA batteries, the Fizzics Waytap makes bottled beer taste more like it came from the tap. It’s slimmer, more attractive, and less expensive than the original Fizzics.
The Bad Like the original, the Waytap doesn’t produce an exact replica of draft beer. It mutes bitter flavors and smoothes the texture of your beer — which can hide its unique characteristics. Unlike the original Fizzics, the Waytap can’t fit growlers.
The Bottom Line A fun product if you like tinkering with beer and value an attractive pour, the Fizzics Waytap is reasonably priced and easy-to-use — just don’t expect perfect draft beer.
Six of us gathered around the Fizzics Waytap. We each held two glasses of Avery’s White Rascal — a Belgian-Style White Ale with notes of coriander and orange peel. One glass came straight from the bottle, the other glass was poured through Fizzics.
The $130 (£100, AU$175) Fizzics Waytap uses sound waves to shake up the bubbles of your beer. The goal — make bottled beer taste more like it came from the tap at your favorite bar. It’s the same tech as the original $170 (£135, AU$230) Fizzics we tested last year, but the Waytap sports a slimmed down, classier design.
We sipped from both glasses, and the results confirmed my suspicions — for better and for worse, the Waytap works as well as the original Fizzics, smoothing out the flavor of your beer with the power of science. This process accents sweeter flavors, and mutes the bitter end of the taste spectrum. It makes the beer bubblier and adds a nice head to make it appear like it was poured from the tap, but it’s not quite the same thing. Our group was split on the results — three preferred the White Rascal straight from the bottle (including me), three liked the Fizzics version better.
The Waytap doesn’t fix my issues with the original Fizzics, but it’s still a good product, and now it looks better and costs less. So if you like experimenting with your beer and especially if you value sweeter flavors — I’m happy to recommend the reasonably priced $130 Fizzics Waytap. If you’re looking for an exact replica of beer on tap, or if you want to stick with the beer as the brewer intended, this isn’t the product for you.
Fizzics Waytap brings the bubbles to your…
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The science of Fizzics
Any skepticism around this product is of course justified. Using sound — not carbon dioxide or any other gases or flavorings — to improve the taste of bottled beer sounds like a complete load of crap. Check out my review of the original — after my first Fizzics beer, I was pleasantly surprised to say the least. Fizzics isn’t pseudo-science or a simple placebo effect, it really does make a difference.
As it turns out, the science of Fizzics — the same as in the Waytap — is fundamentally sound. Brewing laboratories use machines called sonicator baths create a similar effect. Those labs do it to flatten the beer for tests, but the beer’s fizz rises dramatically when sonication first starts. I suspect the Waytap does something similar, just in much smaller doses.
Since it doesn’t use any gas canisters or kegs, part of the appeal of the Waytap — like the Fizzics — is how simple it is to set up and use. You need four AA batteries, your bottle or can of beer, and a glass. That’s it.
Pop off the Waytap’s lid by pressing the button on the front, put your open can or bottle on the base, then replace the lid — making sure the metal hose in the center runs into your beer. Grab your glass and pull the handle.
Put your beer on the base and replace the lid. Make sure the hose goes into your bottle or can.
The Waytap gently pours your beer while agitating the carbonation with sound. Fizzics digitally controls the flow while it pours and keeps most of the carbonation intact by keeping the bottle under pressure. When your glass is just about full, push the handle away from you and the Waytap will up the sound intensity and add a frothy head to the top of your glass.
You can clean the Waytap just by running a glass of warm water through the system. The mat and base also separate so you can hand wash them. On average, it took me two to three minutes after I poured one beer before I was ready to pour the next — and that’s when I was using two different beers. If you’re pouring multiple bottles of a single beer for guests, there’s no need to clean between bottles.
You can buy the attractive, easy-to-use Fizzics Waytap for $130 from Brookstone, Amazon, and in certain Target and Best Buy stores. Right now, the Waytap is only available at US retailers, but Fizzics.com will ship it anywhere in the world.
Almost everything I described above is the same on both the Waytap and the original Fizzics. The only significant differences between the two are the price and the look. Again, the original Fizzics is $170. The Waytap is $130. The Waytap is slimmer and lighter (3 pounds/1.4kg vs 3.5 pounds/1.6kg). It’s also much more attractive. It has the look of a sleek bar tool that would blend in with a number of decors.
This is one of the more confusing error messages afflicting some Galaxy phone owners. The fix is relatively simple — but a little investigation may be required.
Here’s a perplexing issue that’s been affecting Samsung Galaxy S7 owners — in addition to folks on a handful of other Android devices. It goes a bit like this: You start up an app for the first time and accept the usual permission dialogs. Then you’re hit by a message like this:
Screen overlay detected To change this permission setting, you first have to turn off the screen overlay in Settings > Apps.
A screen overlay is a part of an app that can display over the top of other apps. The most well-known example is chat heads in Facebook Messenger. But apps need your permission to use screen overlays, and sometimes this can cause problems. For example, if an app were able to display something over the top of a permission dialog, it could try and trick you into granting it permission to do stuff you might not want.
The simplest fix is to basically do what the dialog box tells you to do. The language is a little confusing, but what it’s asking you to do is:
Launch the Settings app from your home screen or app drawer.
Scroll down and tap Applications.
Tap Application Manager.
Tap More to open the menu in the top right corner.
Tap Apps that can appear on top.
From here, you’ll need to track down the app that needs permission to use a screen overlay — usually the app you were just using. When you’ve found it, tap the toggle next to it to turn it off, and you should be good to go.
Note: It’s not always clear precisely which app is trying to use screen overlays. Clean Master has been reported as one app likely to cause issues, as has alert center app Drupe, and Lux, which lets you adjust the color of your screen. If in doubt, think about any app that might change the way things appear on your screen.
Once you’re done, try starting the app you were originally using once again. With any luck, you’ll be able to grant it permissions and start using it as normal.
As this issue is a particularly tricky one, if you know of any apps likely to cause problems with display overlays, be sure to help out and let us know down in the comments!
Today on In Case You Missed It: Astronaut and Senator John Glenn died this week at the age of 95 and we couldn’t let the first man to orbit the Earth go without a look back at some of his greatest achievements. Meanwhile, MIT researchers were able to show that light therapy broke up Alzheimer’s causing plaque in the brains of elderly mice; such promising work.
Dinosaur fans will need to see this amber-encased dinosaur tail covered in feathers (not scales!). The tumor video is here. If you want to read up on the NSA phone call listening issue, that story is here. As always, please share any interesting tech or science videos you find by using the #ICYMI hashtag on Twitter for @mskerryd.
Letter from the Editor
One of the pioneers of the modern smartwatch, Pebble, is no more as of this week. The company’s IP and some of its employees are now in Fitbit’s corporate hands, and the prospects of future hardware are officially (mercifully?) gone. This made many people on staff feel many things. Especially Nicole Lee, who’s having a particularly hard time accepting the death of Pebble’s gear.
Chris Velazco took a break from reviewing all the phones to check out Mozilla’s pop-up art exhibit in NYC and mourn our loss of privacy living in a connected world. The installations illustrate how data’s the currency of the digital realm, and the technology of our modern surveillance state mints the stuff. And, while the convenience that tech provides is attractive, it’s important to understand the risks — as companies continue to prove, they can’t keep information thieves from picking their pockets.
And if you’re looking to the US government to help improve our nation’s digital defenses, maybe you shouldn’t. At least not according to Violet Blue’s latest column, which examines Obama’s proposed cybersecurity plan. The plan has good points and bad points, but because it’s up to President-elect Trump to actually implement the recommendations, there could be no point to it at all.
Xbox One mode activated“Super Mario Run” won’t work offline
Nintendo’s new mobile game won’t be released until the 15th, but when it is, it will work only while players are connected to the internet. Assuming you plan on staying online, however, “Super Mario Run” should be a fun experience. Need a second opinion? Check out Nintendo’s “Tonight Show” appearance with Reggie, Mario, Miyamoto and our first live look at the Switch console.
Bluetooth: It will be better next yearBluetooth 5 has enough range for the IoT
The Bluetooth SIG announced a new spec, with four times as much range, twice the speed and eight times larger “broadcast message size.” That probably won’t make your wireless headphones sound much better, but it’s all-important for linking up Internet of Things devices around your house. Expect to see hardware based on it in six months or so.
TheranopeMagic Leap CEO says we will play that “jaw-dropping” demo game
Thursday’s takedown doesn’t mean Magic Leap is going away. CEO Rony Abovitz fired back at the haters, promising that the “best part” is coming. He didn’t dispute any of the charges leveled at its still-vapory augmented reality product and technology, simply saying the company is getting ready for an “exciting year.”
Are you experienced?All the news from PlayStation Experience 2016
Last weekend, Sony showed off some PlayStation heavy hitters. Relive the best of what we saw: From “The Last of Us Part II” to “Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite,” it’s all right here.
Our long national nightmare is overThe NFL will allow teams to post non-highlight GIFs and videos
A few weeks after rolling out some stiff social media policies, the NFL is slowly walking them back. Now, teams’ Twitter and Facebook accounts can post clips during the game, as long as they don’t actually show the action on the field. They can also use Snapchat and Facebook Live streaming, and are testing out a partnership with Giphy.
But wait, there’s more…
- Review: Oculus Touch
- Mini review: NES Classic Edition
- Technology is coming for your retail jobs
- Apple’s AirPods won’t be ready for the holidays
- Washington Post, New York Times: CIA concluded Russia intervened to help Trump
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