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19
Dec

Xiaomi Mi Box: Switch to 1080p for dramatically better performance


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Being on the leading edge of a new technology is sometimes difficult.

In the case of video today, supporting 4K resolution — particularly when streaming — isn’t always a “sure thing” kind of situation. There are restrictions in hardware, power, internet speed and so on. So while the Xiaomi Mi Box technically supports 4K video, that isn’t the same thing as it offering great 4K video.

If you’ve used the new Mi Box, you’ll know that it defaults to 4K resolution when it plugs into a 4K TV. You’ll also know that the performance takes a pretty significant hit, sometimes leading to a laggy interface or unnecessarily soft images when Casting content from another app.

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Considering its small size and lackluster hardware, it shouldn’t be surprising that the Mi Box struggles to play 4K video at the same speed as the NVIDIA Shield Android TV or even the purpose-built Chromecast Ultra streamer. Though it’s unfortunate to buy an Android TV box that says “4K” on the package and realize it doesn’t do the best job of it, the core of the issue is simply the resolution — meaning there’s an easy fix.

Just set the box to 1080p

You won’t want to hear this, but the “solution” to the Mi Box’s performance struggles is simply setting it to just 1080p resolution. You can do so by going into the Settings of the Mi Box, selecting Display resolution and then setting the resolution to 1080p-60hz. Of course this means that you cut down the resolution to Full HD from 4K, but you’ll immediately notice a performance jump when navigating the interface and playing video.

For many people who bought the Mi Box as an inexpensive way to get 4K video, this is a huge bummer. But for a majority of people out there, you wouldn’t have been actually watching any 4K content to start with — meaning you had the box set to 4K, and were dealing with the slower performance but weren’t going to take advantage of the resolution anyway. That’s in no way an apology for Xiaomi coming up short in terms of the processing power in the Mi Box, but it’s the reality we live in.

But if you must have 4K …

If you actually have the internet connection (25+ mbps), TV set and apps (Netflix, etc.) to watch 4K content, then my recommendation is to not let the Mi Box automatically set resolution. Instead, set the box to 4k2k-30hz for the best combination of 4K resolution and daily performance.

It’ll still be noticeably slower than when it’s set to 1080p, but you’ll have a better chance at watching smooth video in 4K when streaming from apps that support the higher resolution.

More: Where to buy the Xiaomi Mi Box in the U.S.

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19
Dec

Top 5 reasons to bring home a Google Home


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The easiest way to high-tech your home.

I have a new roommate, but it doesn’t pay rent. Its name is Google Home and it puts Google Assistant in my home so that I can have access to it even when my phone isn’t nearby.

I’ve had Google Home for about a month now and every time I use it, I’m reminded why it was worth adopting in the first place. It’s easy to set up, convenient, and some of the tricks it does are worthy party fodder. And since it’s available during a holiday season, you might be wondering if it’s even worth gifting to a friend or family member. Here’s what I’m using it for, which are all great examples of why you’d want something like this at home.

It can keep you informed

I don’t commute much anymore, so I don’t have as much time to devote to Twitter and reading through RSS feeds and news apps. Instead, I listen to a briefing of the day’s news as I clean the kitchen and prep the downstairs for bedtime. I simply say, “OK Google, what’s the news today?” and it starts playing through a playlist of the latest news podcasts, rather the ones that were recorded in the morning. It’s so much easier than curating my own.

‘Okay, Google, what’s the news today?’

The best part of the feature is that you can edit where the news comes from, too. For instance, I don’t typically have an interest in the sports scores, so I eliminated any sports-centric outlets from being queued up in the playlist. That’s all doable from the Settings panel in the Home app on your phone!

It’s easier than using your phone

This is the generation of convenience, isn’t it? Google Home is perfect for that. You can command it to do things you’d normally do with your phone, like send a text message, add an item to an ongoing shopping list, or call an Uber.

You can use it watch TV, as it accepts commands for Chromecast (or Android TV) and its compatible apps, including Netflix and HBO Go. If you’re having a bad morning, you can even ask Home what the traffic is like on the way to work, especially if it’s one of those mornings where turning your phone on and unlocking it is too much of an endeavor. We all have those days.

You can program it

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Here’s a neat party trick: rather than set up your smartphone as the mixtape supplying the tunes, you can ask Google Home to “start a party.”

What that does is entirely programmable with the aid of apps like IFTTT and Home’s integration with smart devices like the Philips Hue smart bulbs. Home also works in tandem with the Chromecast. If it’s hooked up to the living room TV, for example, you ask it to fire up Netflix with the show or movie of your choice.

If you’re looking for more inspiration, we’ve compiled a complete list of all the gadgets and services that work with Google Home. With a little work, you can have Home running the whole show.

It can keep you company

“It’s a new day!”

Sometimes, when the house is too quiet, I ask Google Home a question, just to hear a reply. It’s a nice break from the monotony of the work-from-home day, and if it’s just me and the cat at home, it’s a good way to take a break and invite some sound back into the room.

My favorite way of interacting with it is to start off by asking it, “Hey Google, tell me about my day” to get a readout of what’s coming up. A simple “It’s a new day!” also sets off an IFTTT formula I made that dictates my daily mantras to me. I’ve actually programmed quite a few so that others in my house can ask it for positive reinforcement, too.

There’s more coming

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Google Home might seem like it’s still figuring itself out through its nascent stage — and that’s true! The device has only been out for a month and a half, so it’s still got time to catch on. But the news of Android Things and Conversation Actions coming on the horizon should help convince you of its eventual usefulness.

It’s kind of like the Chromecast, if you think about — what started out as a relatively inexpensive entertainment dongle is now a sort of plug-in for uniting all the “not-so-smart” devices in your home. In that manner, Google Home is just a convenient way to get into the habit of using Assistant, and as its capabilities grow it’ll turn into a bigger part of your daily life.

19
Dec

Facebook Messenger now offers video chat, says it was the “most requested Messenger feature ever”


More ways to stay in touch with family and friends.

Just in time for the holidays, Facebook Messenger is rolling out a new update that introduces group video calling for up to 50 people at once. This expands on the group calling feature which was added back in April, and is the latest feature added to the popular messaging platform since games were added last month.

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You’ll be able to see six people in the group video call at one time, but other folks on the call will be able to listen or chime in with their voice. Once more than six people are connected via video, the dominant speaker will be shown to all participants. A feature not unlike Snapchat’s live filters — called 3D Masks — will be immediately available for iOS users and eventually rolled out for the Android app. As you would expect, calls are free over Wi-Fi, and can also be made using your carrier data.

We’re still waiting to see a new app update pushed through the Google Play Store, but you can check out the new feature on the desktop version of Messenger.

19
Dec

Samsung reportedly plans to use LG batteries in future phones


Samsung is determined to avoid another Galaxy Note 7-style disaster, and that may lead it to make strange bedfellows. Chosunilbo sources claim that Samsung is in serious talks with LG Chem about using its Korean arch-rival’s batteries in smartphones. There’s a “strong chance” that you could see LG batteries in Samsung phones by the second half of 2017, one tipster says. You likely wouldn’t have an LG power pack in your Galaxy S8 if this is true, but you might see one in the Note 7’s successor.

Neither Samsung nor LG has commented, Reuters warns, so it’s important to take the report with a grain of salt. However, the supplier shift reportedly reflects a fundamental change in attitude at Samsung, which has suffered both a bruised ego and financial damage as a result of the Note 7 mess. The electronics giant can no longer afford to let “emotions get in the way,” an unnamed executive tells Chosunilbo — it’s not worth jeopardizing products simply to spite LG. Between this and a recent switch to LG for LCDs (prompted by Sharp’s exit), Samsung may no longer be so proud that it risks hurting itself to hurt its competitors.

Via: Reuters

Source: Chosunilbo

19
Dec

5 reasons why you should buy your phone SIM-free


When it comes to buying a smartphone, you have two main options: either sign up to a lengthy contract or splash out on an unlocked SIM-free phone and have the freedom to choose a SIM-only tariff to better suit your needs.

Signing up to a traditional network contract with a mobile operator may initially seem ideal when you compare the upfront fees to stumping up £500+ outright on a new handset.

For us, we’d always choose the SIM-free option, and here’s 5 reasons why.

1. You save money over the same period

Sure, paying £500 to own the phone outright is a lot of money, but you can also spread that cost out into monthly instalments if you prefer, leaving you completely free to choose a SIM-only plan from any provider you want. That way, you can get a decent tariff with the amount of data that suits you, not whatever is currently the most affordable tariff being offered. By splitting out the phone and SIM like this and tailoring the plan to what you actually need, you can save yourself literally hundreds of pounds over a 24-month period compared to a traditional network contract.

2. You can change your tariff whenever you want

Because you’re not shackled into a 24-month contract with a mobile operator, you can change your SIM-only plan whenever you like. Most plans are offered on either a 1 month rolling or a 12 month fixed basis. And because your phone is SIM-free and completely unlocked, you don’t have to stick with the same mobile operator, you can switch your network operator the same way your switch your energy provider – whenever a better deal comes along.

UNSHACKLED.com offers SIM-only deals from 16 different mobile operators in the UK, including the major companies such as Three, Vodafone, EE or O2. This is the widest selection available in one place and because they’re independent from these networks, you know they’re not pushing any ‘deal of the week’ to suit the network provider, you’ve got complete free choice over what’s going to suit you best.

3. You can upgrade your phone whenever you want

New phone models tend to get released on a yearly cycle. Each new Apple iPhone is launched in September, for example. But if you’re signed into a 24 month contract, you can’t get the latest and greatest phone unless you pay off the entire remainder of the contract, and most companies charge you hefty exit fees.

When you get your phone with UNSHACKLED.com, you own it – you’re not leasing it. So when the latest phone is released, you can simply sell or recycle your one and buy whichever new one you’re after. So you can escape that whole concept of waiting to upgrade because there’s no one you have to ask permission from if you want to buy a newer phone.

4. You can choose whatever phone you want

Some mobile operators will save their best deals for the most expensive, or latest handsets. UNSHACKLED.com doesn’t want you to be tied down to such a limited choice

and as a result, offers every phone available in the UK, all completely unlocked. If you don’t want the most powerful phone with more features than you can handle, and would rather have a more basic device that just makes calls and can send messages, you can

5. You keep control

It’s important to remember that none of these benefits listed above are things you can easily do within a traditional network contract. If you want to upgrade, you have to wait until they let you or pay for the privilege. If you want to switch mobile operators you end up paying massive exit fees because when you sign up to a phone contract, you basically agree to pay the full value of it whether you stay the full 24 months or not.

If you’ve never gotten halfway through a phone contract and found yourself really hating your phone, either because there’s a much better one available or yours has started playing up, then stay with phone contracts. If you’ve never taken out a phone contract in the summer and then regretted not waiting until all of the winter deals for Black Friday and the like, then stay with phone contracts. And if you’ve never had a bad experience with your mobile operator and wanted to leave them for someone else, either because of their poor customer service or lack of signal in your area, then stick with phone contracts.

My guess is you can relate to all of these examples, because these are the situations we’ve all experienced as consumers and smartphone users. Well, we don’t have to put up with it anymore. From now on, there is a better way to buy your mobile.

19
Dec

Huge leak reveals Nokia P Android phone design


Nokia has confirmed that it will be launching Android smartphones in 2017 and it’s expected to do so as soon as February. 

There may be a little more meat on the bones of Nokia’s plans thanks to a leak coming out of China, claiming to be the flagship handset, the Nokia P.

Before we progress, just remember to take this with a pinch of salt: although we’ve seen the vast majority of phone leaks surface from origins in China recently, it’s also difficult to decipher the authenticity of such leaks.

  • Nokia P Android phone: What’s the story so far?

The phone in question appears to sport a metal body with an anodised finish, which has previously been rumoured for Nokia’s new phone. There’s typical branding on the rear, but the handset otherwise looks like something you might get from HTC.

There’s little else to judge from it, although it doesn’t appear to have any buttons on the front, so it’s difficult to tell if it has a fingerprint scanner. A volume rocker and power button look like they’re sitting on the side. 

The accompanying details don’t say much, expect namedropping the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chipset and suggesting 6GB of RAM. We expect to see a number of devices rocking the SD835 is 2017, so that could easily be guesswork. 

The other point of interest is the 23-megapixel rear camera, said to offer a Carl Zeiss lens. We’ve heard rumour of a high-resolution camera before and Nokia had a long-term working relationship with Zeiss back when it was producing phones previously, so neither suggestion is too far fetched. 

As we said, there’s little to verify this information at the moment, but with MWC 2017 the likely Launchpad for Nokia’s new Android phones, we expect to see a lot more speculation in the coming weeks.

  • Best smartphones to look forward to in 2017
19
Dec

The first trailer for ‘Blade Runner 2049’ is here


Finally, we get our first look at that Blade Runner sequel. Thirty years after the events of the first film, Ryan Gosling plays a new blade runner that’s discovered a secret that could cause a whole lot of trouble. Entertainment Weekly reports that his job will involve tracking down Rick Deckard, who’s apparently gone missing between the original and this movie. (Harrison Ford returns to play an older Deckard.) Blade Runner 2049 is being directed by Denis Villeneuve (who was behind Arrival) with the original’s director, Ridley Scott, on board as executive producer. Rest assured, it looks like there’s plenty of intrigue, broken society vignettes, and gun-pointing. It’s a start. The film is still set to premier October 6, 2017.

Via: Entertainment Weekly

Source: Blade Runner (Twitter)

19
Dec

Pinterest lowers its goal for female engineer hires


Pinterest aimed to make itself a role model for diversity in tech in 2016, but the year didn’t quite work out that way… and the company is setting its sights lower as a result. The social site reports that it increased the number of women in its workforce to 26 percent in 2016, but it only increased the ratio of engineers to 22 percent — far short of the 30 percent it wanted. It’s now aiming for 25 percent in 2017. While the team still wants to get to 30 percent, it says it’s “likely going to take more than 12 months” to reach that goal.

The company partly blames the shortfall on its own hiring strategy. Its focus was on hiring women as senior engineers, which takes longer than standard-level workers. Pinterest is addressing this in part through expanding its use of a “Rooney Rule” (where it interviews at least one woman and one person from an underrepresented group) for recruitment beyond executive positions.

This isn’t to say that Pinterest fell short across the board. It easily hit its goals for adding people from underrepresented groups, including both engineers (now at 9 percent) and everyone else (12 percent). However, the figures make clear that diversity in tech is difficult, and isn’t simply a matter of setting targets and waiting for a broader demographic to walk through the door. Candidates have to get an opportunity to prove themselves, as Pinterest notes. Also, there’s the matter of fostering greater interest in the first place. Tech giants are taking steps to encourage women to code after decades of discouragement, but these efforts might not bear fruit for years.

Via: Mashable

Source: Pinterest Blog

19
Dec

‘Two Dots’ now has a competitive mode where you can bet real money


Two Dots is a unique, beautiful and meditative puzzle game that exudes a level of polish rarely found in mobile games. So it was a bit of a surprise to see its developer, Dots, announce that it was partnering with the recently launched Sparcade to release a competitive version of Two Dots — one in which players can wager real money. Would the fairly chill gameplay of Two Dots make any sense in a competitive environment?

It’s something that the Dots team carefully considered before moving on with the project. “We had a really good hunch that this was going to work, because we had a competition mode in the first Dots game,” says Dots CEO Paul Murphy. While later games added more intricate puzzles and levels to the experience, the original Dots simply asked you to clear as many dots in a minute as you could. Comparing scores with your friends for bragging rights was a big part of the game as well. “People get really competitive with the game; in Dots people would compete for high scores and it would get really intense,” Murphy says.

For those who haven’t tried Sparcade before, it’s a competitive gaming app for iOS that launched earlier this fall with a handful of high-profile games, including Pac-Man, Tetris and Scrabble. Players can participate in a number of different challenges and put either tokens or real money on the line. While that might sound like gambling, Sparcade VP Greg Canessa says that the service falls under “skill-based gaming” laws, which let you put money on the line in competitions where luck doesn’t come into play. It’s the same law that lets you put money down in a bowling league or a golf tournament, for example.

As for how Sparcade keeps things fair, you play a game board, and then you’re matched with someone who plays the exact same board, with no random chance involved. In a game like Tetris, that means the falling blocks come down in the same order for both players. Similarly, in Two Dots, the falling dot patterns will be identical for each player; it’s up to the players to maximize their score by making the best moves they can.

“Every participant gets exactly the same setup, exactly the same boards, exactly the same power-ups,” Canessa says. “It’s what you do with the circumstances versus what I do that makes this a game of skill.” And all of Sparcade’s games measure your skill level after just a few matches so you end up getting matched against players with similar chops. Of course, you can play against friends, but if you’re matching up against random opponents, you should expect a fair fight.

The gameplay itself will be totally familiar to anyone who has tried Two Dots. For starters, Sparcade will offer a few different challenges of varying difficulties. The games are timed, so you’re basically shooting for a high score — but in true Two Dots fashion, you’ll need to clear specific colors or get rid of certain obstacles in the level to progress.

For the most part, Sparcade’s designers worked on the actual levels in consultation with the Dots team. “The two teams collaborated on a best design, then we manage the actual development of the skill version of the game with their regular feedback, input, assets, art and sound effects,” Canessa says. In the quick demo of Two Dots I played on Sparcade, it felt exactly like the original game, just with a new, time-based challenge. The standard version of Two Dots has no time constraints, so you can spend as long as you want figuring out your next move — but on Sparcade, you need to balance making the best move with not burning up the clock.

So while it’s safe to say Two Dots has successfully been ported to Sparcade, that doesn’t really get into the why. Couldn’t Dots build its own competitive version of its game? Well, as a relatively small studio, making this partnership with Sparcade was a much easier way to go. “We don’t have the resources to create another team to build [a competitive game], even though this is a great business,” says Murphy. “We’re focused on our fourth game — that’s the amount of expansion that we can have at our stage. This is an opportunity to do it right now with someone that knows the space really well.” And while you may not know Sparcade, its parent company, GSN, has years of experience in the “skill gaming” business.

And while Dots is looking forward to the extra revenue it’ll get, that wasn’t a primary motivator for this expansion. “We love the incremental revenue, but our real driver was exposing Dots to a new audience,” Murphy says. “This is an opportunity to tap into people that are more competitive but still attracted to our game style.”

That said, it’s also a very good test case to see if there’s real money to be made here. “Free-to-play has worked well for us,” says Murphy. “I’m not slamming it — but I do feel like it’s not the last business model we’ll see in mobile gaming.” Whether Sparcade’s competitive gaming plan will be the next big thing remains to be seen. But even if you’re not into betting money on a game, Two Dots in Sparcade is worth checking out. It turns out a timed version of Two Dots is a good thing, whether you’re putting money on the line or not.

Source: Sparcade

19
Dec

Facebook Messenger adds group video chatting on iOS and Android


In case you haven’t noticed, Facebook has spent a lot of time making video a priority this year, and its latest initiative involves the Messenger app. Today, Facebook is launching group video chat in Messenger for both iOS and Android. The app has had video calling for a good year and a half now, but it was only one-on-one — but now the app can compete directly with services like Facetime and Skype, both of which offer video calls with multiple participants.

Facebook says its group video chat supports up to six participants — but you can include up to 50 more participants who can listen in, speak up via voice chat and send a variety of stickers, emoji, GIFs and other foolishness into the conversation. To kick things off, just start a group text chat as you would normally; you’ll now see a button in the top corner that lets you ring the participants for a video chat.

Given how Messenger is quickly becoming one of the most dominant communication platforms out there, it makes perfect sense for Facebook to add this feature in — it’s a little surprising it took this long, to be honest. But keeping all these features in one app rather than splitting them up seems to be a smart move. Google split feature apart with its new Allo and Duo text and video chat apps, and both haven’t exactly found a ton of traction yet. If you want to try out Facebook’s vision for group video chat, the app update is rolling out for iOS and Android today.

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