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Every year, we review amazing tech from companies striving to outdo one another, and 2016 was no exception. This was a year that saw Samsung reach new highs and desperate lows, Google truly become a hardware company and release one of the best updates to Android ever, and Motorola reinvent its smartphone platform.
Best Android Phone:
Understated, powerful and reliable, the Pixel manages to be the best Android phone and one of the most fun to use. — Daniel Bader
More: Google Pixel review
Runners Up: Samsung Galaxy S7 edge Huawei Mate 9
Best Android Tablet:
Lenovo Yoga Book
Unconventional, impossibly light, and a genuine pleasure to use, Lenovo’s Yoga Book offers something truly unique to the tablet world. — Russell Holly
More: Lenovo Yoga Book review
Runner up: Google Pixel C
Best Phone Design:
Samsung Galaxy S7 edge
The Galaxy S7 edge was this year’s best-looking phone, with subtle curves, impeccable build quality and unparalleled features! — Daniel Bader
More: Galaxy S7 edge review
Runner up: HTC 10
Most Surprisingly Good Android Phone:
The OnePlus 3T offers EVERYTHING the spec nerds will salivate over, but is also one of the simplest and most powerful phones available for any level of user. — Andrew Martonik
More: OnePlus 3T review
Runner Up: Moto Z Play
Best Connected Home Accessory:
Google Assistant is still growing, but the way it ties its knowledge of your life and the world around you into a simple, unassuming gadget makes it a must-have device. — Ara Wagoner
More: Google Home review
Runner Up: Echo Dot
Best VR Headset:
Google Daydream View
The newest VR headset by far, Google’s Daydream simplifies mobile VR in all of the best ways and already has plenty of great apps! — Russell Holly
More: Daydream View review
Runner Up: Samsung Gear VR
Best Android Accessory:
No matter what phone, tablet or entertainment center setup you have, you can take advantage of the fantastic simplicity of the Chromecast Ultra! — Andrew Martonik
More: Chromecast review
Runner Up: Spigen Style Ring
Acer Chromebook R13
The Acer Chromebook R13 is beautiful, powerful and affordable. It’s everything Chrome has to offer, plus Android apps in the perfect 13-inch package. — Jerry Hildenbrand
More: Acer Chromebook R13 review
Runner Up: Dell Chromebook 13
Samsung Galaxy Note 7
The hottest story of 2017 was undoubtedly Samsung’s exploding smartphone, with the flames being fanned by not one but two bungled recalls, and reports of some customers being injured in the process. It was a multi-billion dollar mistake, about which many essays and books will surely be written. RIP. — Alex Dobie
Runner Up: Pokémon Go
Google Photos solves the problem of storing and keeping track of photos across all your devices, using Google’s considerable cloud infrastructure and AI magic. Throw in delightful features like automatic animations, stylized pics and panoramas and you’ve got the best Android app of the year. — Alex Dobie
Runner Up: Pocket Casts
Clash Royale was an early release for 2016, but proved to have real staying power thanks to consistent updates from Supercell and a great balance of action and strategy gameplay elements. — Marc Lagace
Runner Up: Reigns
Best VR App:
VR is for so much more than games! No experience demonstrated the incredible power of creating art in VR quite like Tilt Brush this year. — Russell Holly
Runner Up: Gunjack 2: End of Shift
Best AR Experience:
Love it or hate it, Pokémon Go was a cultural phenomenon in 2016. For many, it was the first glimpse at what smartphone augmented reality could do. It convinced millions of people to go play outside, and in turn became one of the highest-grossing games of the all time. — Marc Lagace
Runner Up: Google Tango
Best of Google
Best Nougat Feature:
Google got serious about notifications in Nougat, giving us bundled, expandable alerts that show a ton of information and also look fantastic. Building on what was already great about Android’s notification system, Android 7.0’s notifications are part of what makes Android great for power users. — Alex Dobie
Runner Up: Night Mode
Best New Google Service:
I have no friends on Allo. It’s just me and my husband for now, but it’s our preferred method of communication. I love the various sticker packs — we use them throughout the day to check in with one another — and the Google Assistant integrated into the chat. And I love the instant replies that are a big help when typing is too much of an endeavor. I hope 2017 is the year Allo finds some traction because it’s got so much potential. — Florence Ion
Runner Up: Duo
Most Improved Google Service:
This year, Google Photos got a lot smarter, with more auto-generating videos, collages and other cool tricks. But it was for Pixel owners that Photos shined brightest, with unlimited full-res backups. — Harish Jonnalagadda
Runner Up: Google Play Music
Customization is my favorite part of Android.
Android provides us with so much freedom, allowing us to completely scrap the setup and the launcher that came with our phones and replace it with something that suit us more. Years ago, before I knew what Nova Launcher and icon packs were, I was trying to make my phone look less blockish and boring. Our phones hold our lives — shouldn’t they hold some of our personality and style, too?
Whether you’ve got theming down to an art or you’re just looking for something a little more flexible than your current launcher, these are the best of the best when it comes to theming launchers. They are also two of the best launchers on the market, period.
Here’s why you should have Nova Launcher and Action Launcher in your theming toolkit.
The Best: Nova Launcher
Nova Launcher is one of the few constants in the launcher scene: Nova Launcher just turned five years old, and it has been consistently awesome. Nova Launcher has a small learning curve, but once you learn your way around Nova Settings, the theming world is your oyster, and Nova holds quite a few pearls.
The biggest pearl from a theming standpoint is Subgrid Positioning. This allows users to resize widgets and place icons halfways between traditional grid boxes. So you can resize a widget to be 4×1.5 or even .5x.5 if you want. This increased freedom when placing and sizing widgets is invaluable when it comes to lining up elements in complex themes, or even placing element precisely in relation a detailed wallpaper.
Try doing this in Action Launcher. I dare you.
Another benefit of theming on Nova is the flexibility of backing up and executing themes from Google Drive. The ability to set wallpapers, icons, and restore backups without having to download them locally first is a godsend, especially when you theme on different devices or gather/create your theme elements on desktop computers.
If there’s a downside to Nova Launcher, it’s that while everything is laid out in the settings in a fairly straightforward manner, it still takes time to edit everything individually. Nova Launcher is like a Swiss Army knife: there’s so many attachments you never think you’ll need but if you ever do, all you have to do is pull each one out until you find what you need.
Runner-Up: Action Launcher
Action Launcher, on the other hand, is more like a switchblade: very quick, very sharp, but without the bottle opener or the nail trimmer. Now, don’t get me wrong, Action Launcher has a lot of features, and a lot of customization, but all of it is geared towards productivity. There’s quite a lot of theming potential, but there are a few things missing that puts our overall favorite launcher behind Nova Launcher in this category.
One of Action Launcher’s most well-known features are their Covers, which allow you to replace a folder icon with the first icon in your folder, and allows you to quickly open that first app with a tap, while opening the folder with a swipe. It’s a nice feature, but I’m sorry to say that from a theming perspective, Nova does it better, albeit clunkier. To activate a Cover on Action Launcher, you simply open the folder, tap the three-dot menu, and tap Make Cover. In order to set a custom folder icon, you must make a folder a Cover, then change the icon of the app that becomes the Cover.
Action Launcher’s Covers are easy, but lack the customization in look and function of Nova Launcher’s folders.
When setting up a Cover on Nova, you long-press a folder, Edit it, then activate Swipe to open folder and set the tap action to the first app in your folder… or any other app or Nova shortcut you want. You can also set a custom folder icon regardless of using a Cover, as folder icons can be edited just like any other shortcut. It’s definitely easier on Action Launcher, but you can do it more ways on Nova, especially in relation to theme-building.
Another feature where Action Launcher opts for a simpler but ultimately less useful implementation is Quicktheme. Quicktheme allows you to quickly set colors that are decided by the colors in your wallpaper, and if Quicktheme pulls the right colors for your wallpaper, it’s great.
Action Launcher’s Quicktheme misses live wallpapers and many wallpaper colors. Nova lets you pick any color, even if you have to go find the hex code first
The problem is, a lot of times, Quicktheme can miss colors we want to use in our theme (especially accent colors), and you can’t manually pick a color if it gets missed: you have to re-apply your wallpaper and hope that Quicktheme gets it that time. If you’re using a Live Wallpaper like Touch Circle, your chances of getting the right colors are slim to none. It’s wonderful to have all your color options on one page, but I need all colors at my disposal, not six that may or may not match my wallpaper.
I ranted and raved about sub-grid positioning, and that’s missing from Action Launcher. Also missing is the “Padding” and margin options that allow Nova to stretch widgets to the edge of the screen. In Action Launcher, widgets will always have a gap between widgets and the screen, or between other widgets, meaning widgets can be slightly bigger and more-than-slightly cleaner on Nova than they will on Action.
Now, all of this is not to say Action Launcher can’t be used for good themes. Action Launcher currently has an excellent take on the Pixel theme, allowing you to better customize Pixel folder icons than Nova, but their pill search bar is separate from Quickbar and unthemeable, unlike Nova. Action Launcher has a leg-up on Nova’s theme because they have a shortcut to activate all their Pixel settings instead of Nova needing you to go through every single settings section.
Nova Launcher does more, and Action Launcher does some of it faster. If you’re not as nitty-gritty with your grids and widget placements, Action Launcher will get your theme up and get you on your way. If you care about the little details, or just need the freedom of being to chose just about everything in your launcher, Nova Launcher is your launcher.
Nova Launcher is my launcher, and judging from the holiday polls I’ve posted on the matter, Nova Launcher is a great many themers’ launcher.
Where are the other launchers?
I wish I could tell you there’s a lot of great theming launchers out there. But there aren’t.
There are certainly theming launchers beyond Nova and Action, but none can play on their level. Apex is abandoned. ADW was abandoned for a long time and still hasn’t seen its new 2.0 version go beyond the beta. GO Launcher is spammy. Buzz Launcher’s controls are awkward and it doesn’t play well with Google Play theme elements. And Lightning Launcher is too complicated for most users (even for me!).
Then there are dozens of decent general-use launchers that can do what we call ‘light-duty’ theming: custom wallpapers, icon packs, and resizable widgets. This includes launchers like Smart Launcher, Arrow Launcher, and Aviate Launcher. They are capable launchers, but they can’t compete with Nova.
The holiday shopping season has been good to Amazon, and particularly Echo.
Now that Christmas 2016 has passed, Amazon has some insightful metrics on its sales from the bulk of the holiday season. Predictably, Amazon Echo sales were dramatically higher than last year: nine times higher than the same period last year, in fact. That is of course fueled by the massive increase in popularity and injection of Echo into popular culture, but also by the launch of the Echo Dot and Echo Tap to diversify the lineup.
Keeping up another tradition, Amazon isn’t releasing any sort of real sales numbers. Other than saying there have been “millions” of Echo devices sold in all of 2016, we don’t know just how popular these connected speakers are. Continuing the trend, Amazon says that its Fire TV Stick and Fire tablet topped its best-sellers list, but of course without the context of what other devices are included in the list and how many were sold.
The Echo is amazingly popular — we just don’t know exactly how many are sold.
No matter exactly how many are out there, we know a ton of Echo devices are in use. Amazon says some of the most popular requests of the Echo this season were for cocktail recipes, chocolate chip cookie recipes, holiday movies like Home Alone and Elf, and millions of holiday songs with Frank Sinatra’s Jingle Bells and Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas Is You topping that list.
Speaking to the holiday shopping season more broadly, Amazon says that it shipped over one billion Prime and self-fulfilled items this holiday season. December 23 was the biggest day ever for same-day Prime Now deliveries, with three times more deliveries than last year. Not surprisingly, 72% of Amazon customers around the world shopped using a mobile device for the holidays.
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Samsung has been eager to drum up attention for the Galaxy S8’s AI assistant, but just how is it going to work, exactly? We still don’t have the clearest picture, but some details might be coming to light. A SamMobile source claims that the Viv-based, voice-guided helper (reportedly named Bixby) will have a presence in all the of the phone’s included Samsung-made apps. You could use it in the Gallery app to show you photos of the beach, for example. This isn’t a radical development when both Google Photos and iOS 10 can accomplish similar feats, but remember that Bixby is likely replacing S Voice, Samsung’s aging in-house software — the point is to offer software smart enough that you don’t need to turn to another assistant.
The Korean tech giant had already hinted that you won’t need to dive into specific apps to perform many tasks, and that it’ll offer support for third-party apps. Again, these aren’t new to Bixby, but they represent a big leap over what S Voice can do.
As SamMobile suggests, the big question is how Google will react to this new AI. After all, Google is making a big push for Assistant. What happens when its largest Android hardware partner builds technology that effectively replaces its pride and joy? The two companies are on friendlier terms than they were a couple of years ago, but something tells us that Google won’t be all that enthusiastic.
One of the most difficult parts about owning a new iPhone is picking out an equally-new wallpaper.
It has to be crisp, beautiful, breath-taking, inspiring, bold, colourful, rich, and preferably all of the above. Thankfully, between Reddit, Flickr, Imgur, as well as other resources, the internet is chock-full of free-to-download wallpapers.
We’ve scoured the web looking for some of the best wallpapers and made sure to only select ones with 750 x 1334, 1080 x 1920, or 1242 x 2208 resolution. So, without further adieu, browse the gallery below to see what we found.
There’s trippy geometric shapes, delicious patterns, silhouetted celebrity portraits, brilliant starry-night shots, etc. We’ve even included flat wallpapers for the minimalists out there. Everyone should be able to find something.
To download a wallpaper, right-click on the image, and then save it to your computer. If you’re using an iPhone and would like to download a wallpaper, press on the image until a menu pops up. From there, select Save Image.
These wallpapers will perfectly fit either 4.7-inch or 5.5-inch screen sizes, meaning they will work for the iPhone 6, iPhone 6S, iPhone 7 and the Plus versions of all three models. Please let us know in the comments below if you’ve seen other gorgeous wallpapers worth including.
In the fast-moving world of modern app development, users can often wait days or a small number of weeks for an update. However, if you’re the team behind Handbrake — one of the world’s most popular video conversion apps — years can pass before you’re ready to show off what you’ve been working on. Well, 13 years to be exact. After more than a decade in development and available as a beta release, the Handbrake team has released version 1.0.0 of its transcoding software, which delivers a much-needed set of new features.
One of the most welcome additions is the availability of new video presets, which now include settings for the latest smartphones, tablets, consoles and streaming devices. If you’re looking to (legally) back up your movie collection, the app also includes new Matroska presets, offering support for Google’s VP9 video codec and Opus audio. Other noteworthy inclusions are the ability to select specific DVD titles and chapters to rip, improved subtitle support and the option to queue up multiple encodes.
Although Handbrake is easy to use, it does take time to find what settings work for you. With this is mind, the team has released new online documentation for its Windows, Mac and Linux app, which takes you through the best ways to convert video, create advanced workflows and troubleshoot any problems you might come up against.
Samsung’s year started well, all things considered. The Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge were bona fide hits. The company’s financials looked great. Its position as the global leader in the smartphone market was assured. And then the Galaxy Note 7 happened. After months of success, Samsung’s year started to unravel — quickly.
In hindsight, it’s a little shocking how quickly the situation unfolded. The phone was officially announced on August 2nd, and it launched on August 19th to critical acclaim and commercial success. Toward the end of that month, the first report of a Note 7 explosion emerged from South Korea, triggering a cascade of similar reports from around the world. Samsung’s new phablet was not only flawed but also actively dangerous. After a week, Samsung halted Note 7 shipments to Korean consumers, and just days after that the company issued its first widespread Note 7 recall. As you probably remember, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission helped facilitate a recall in the US shortly after that, which should’ve been the end of it.
It wasn’t. Some of the supposedly safe replacement devices Samsung delivered to customers kept overheating, and there was even one incident that grounded a Southwest Airlines flight. Enough was finally enough. On October 10th, Samsung officially halted global sales and exchanges of the Note 7. The next day, the production lines were stopped entirely. In less than two months, Samsung’s “finest phone yet,” to quote our own review, had become a black mark on the company’s track record.
Perhaps the worst part: We still don’t know what caused all this. At first, it looked like batteries made by Samsung SDI could be to blame. Then devices with batteries sourced from other suppliers, such as Japan’s TDK, began to overheat too. Now a new report from engineering firm Instrumental suggests the Note 7’s failures were due to the fact that the batteries themselves were too big to be squeezed into a smartphone so “aggressively” designed — that is, Samsung should have made allowances for the natural swelling batteries undergo over time. Beyond the potential for explosions, though, Anna Shedletsky, the author of the report, suggests the phone would have been doomed regardless.
“If the Galaxy Note 7 wasn’t recalled for exploding batteries,” the report reads, “I believe that a few years down the road these phones would be slowly pushed apart by mechanical battery swell. A smaller battery using standard manufacturing parameters would have solved the explosion issue and the swell issue. But, a smaller battery would have reduced the system’s battery life below the level of its predecessor, the Note 5, as well as its biggest competitor, the iPhone 7 Plus. Either way, it’s now clear to us that there was no competitive salvageable design.”
Samsung’s woes didn’t end with smartphones. Between March 2011 and April 2016, Samsung produced 34 top-loading washing machine models that, due to failures in design, could quite literally blow their tops. US regulators took notice of the trend and took action in September — great timing for Samsung. The company once again collaborated with the CPSC to get a recall going, but not before some 730 reports of washing machine explosions had rolled in.
Unlike with the Note 7, Samsung has at least explained what was going on with these washing machines. According to company statements, excessively strong vibrations can occur when bedding or other bulky items are washed at high speeds. Those vibrations can dislodge the lid, leading it to shoot off the washing machine and strike people nearby. All told, some 2.8 million top-loading washing machines had to be recalled, and reports of trouble from around the world are still surfacing. Earlier this month, a family in Sydney fled their home when their Samsung washing machine caught fire. Prior to that, nine injuries related to washing machine malfunctions were reported, including a broken jaw in one case. It’s difficult to say what kind of exploding consumer good is more unnerving: the one that we carry in our pocket everywhere we go or the one that sits quietly in a corner of our home until it violently remind us of its existence.
So, yes, Samsung had a bad year. That doesn’t mean the company is doomed. Despite its recent failures, it would take a lot more than this to kill a corporate octopus flush with so much money and influence. Consider the following: The most recent estimates we could find suggested the Note 7 recall would cost at least $5.3 billion. That might sound like a lot (and it is!), but as far as Samsung is concerned, that’s chump change. As laid out in a long-term plan published in late November, the conglomerate wants to keep no more than 70 trillion Korean won in its cash reserves: That works out to just shy of $60 billion. That’s $60 billion Samsung is keeping handy for rough spells (though some of that treasure trove was probably tapped for that Harman acquisition last month).
That’s not to say Samsung was completely unaffected by the events of the past few months. Samsung’s most recent earnings release, from October, showed its mobile division tanking, with operating profit down 96 percent from the year before. No matter, though: Continued growth in the conglomerate’s chip and display business helped absorb the financial blow from the mobile side. We’re not sure how the numbers will shake out the next time earnings are released (especially in light of a potential structural shakeup), but for now Samsung’s money-making machinery still works fine. The bigger question centers on Samsung’s reputation and the trust it built with its customers. The path forward would benefit from clarity and contrition, but the truth is that rich companies can afford to muddle along until consumers forget about their past failures.
Samsung won’t forget about its troubled turn this year, but with luck the company will use it as a sobering reminder to do better in the future. After all, another pivotal moment in Samsung’s history was also forged in fire. It, too, involved phones, coincidentally enough, but none nearly as complex as the Note 7.
In early 1995, Samsung chairman Lee Kun-hee gave out cell phones as gifts to celebrate the new year, and for one reason or another they didn’t work. Lee was incensed. The phones’ failure to function properly not only reflected poorly on him personally but also highlighted the slow progress of Lee’s plan to make Samsung synonymous with quality around the world. Two years prior, Lee — fed up with Samsung’s cheap, often slipshod work — bellowed at his senior managers to “change everything except your wife and children.” If Samsung was to achieve its potential, it had to change, and it wasn’t happening fast enough.
In March 1995, Lee had those phones gathered in the courtyard of Samsung’s Gumi factory, in the heart of one of Korea’s many industrial centers. Thousands of devices lay there, surrounded by some 2,000 Samsung workers with headbands that said “quality first” lashed to their foreheads. As Lee and his board of directors looked on, the phones, along with monitors and fax machines, were battered with hammers and heaved into a fire. The message was clear: Poor quality would no longer be tolerated.
Samsung has transcended its humble origins, but the message delivered that day over 20 years ago bears repeating. Company mythology points to the fire in Gumi as an act of cleansing, signaling a new era for a revitalized Samsung. Every company has bad years. What’s more important is how the company carries itself in the weeks, months and years that follow. Samsung turned things around for itself in 1995, and it can rebound now too.
Check out all of Engadget’s year-in-review coverage right here.
Fake news reports of an explosion in Bangkok, Thailand, triggered Facebook’s Safety Check program in the region, The Independent reports. For an hour beginning at 9PM local time on December 27th, anyone in Thailand’s capital city saw reports of an explosion and a prompt to mark themselves as safe. However, there was no actual bomb scare in Bangkok tonight.
Facebook’s Safety Check system is powered, in part, by an algorithm that pulls from user posts and news sources to determine whether a catastrophic event has occurred. This time around, it appears the algorithm used unreliable and fake news sources to “confirm” the nonexistent explosion.
Channel NewsAsia correspondent Saksith Saiyasombut shared a photo of the news stories Facebook displayed with the Safety Check; the top hit was a news-scraping site, not a source of trusted original reporting, he said.
The “source” of the @Facebook Safety Check for Bangkok: A fake news site that scrapped stuff from elsewhere…! pic.twitter.com/i6Q2k8XBxP
— Saksith Saiyasombut (@SaksithCNA) December 27, 2016
Facebook disabled the safety check at roughly 10PM local time. We’ve reached out to the social networking site for more information on tonight’s false positive in Bangkok and will update this story as we hear back.
Fake news has been a thorn in Facebook’s side for months now. CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently rolled out an updated system to fight the propagation of untrue and misleading news articles on the site, working with third-party fact-checkers like Snopes, ABC News and Politifact to flag suspicious stories.
Via: The Independent, The Verge
For a lot of cord-cutters, Hulu is one of the best ways to stay on top of new TV episodes from major networks right after they air. But the service also has a fair share of movies, and that side of the business will keep growing thanks to a just-announced partnership. Hulu now has the rights to some films from Disney, including The Nightmare Before Christmas, Mulan, Pocahontas, Hercules and Sister Act, all of which are available to stream now.
All told, about 50 movies will make their way to Hulu; others coming soon include Con Air, Step Up, Gone in 60 Seconds, Pearl Harbor, Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion and The Mighty Ducks. The partnership appears to be pretty focused on family movies for the most part, though there’s a smattering of drama and thrillers thrown in there as well. Hopefully, this initial partnership will also lead to more of Disney’s newer, high-profile films hitting Hulu as well — but you have to start somewhere. Sure, Hulu and its big competitors may be focused on original content right now, but having a good back catalog of movies certainly doesn’t hurt.