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12
Feb

Check out the technological upgrades that helped Kansas City become one of the smartest cities in the U.S.


Free public WiFi, intelligent streetlights, and real-time traffic/parking monitoring? Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas City anymore!

It sounds crazy, but believe it or not, the above scenario exactly describes Kansas City, Missouri – which just announced its entry into the official smart city category.

Having four years ago given its residents access to blazingly-fast, 1,000 megabits-per-second Google Fiber, Kansas City has now added a range of other smart city features that promise to make it among the United States’ most tech-savvy metropolises. Not bad for a city whose previous claim to fame was being the birthplace of Hallmark cards.

More: Are you on the list? Google Fiber is going to these cities next

“This work began when we built our Streetcar,” Bob Bennett, Chief Innovation Officer in Kansas City, told Digital Trends — referring to the first rail transit line in the region in close to 60 years, which commenced operations in May 2016. “While we were putting in the necessary rail and electricity infrastructure, we took the opportunity to concurrently put in smart city infrastructure. At present, that includes 328 access points to public WiFi, 25 information kiosks connected to WiFi, and adaptive street lights, which are able to increase or decrease their brightness based on the needs they sense in terms of foot traffic beneath them. We’ve got all of these systems working around a 51-square-block area, covering a 2.5 mile stretch in the heart of our downturn area.”

kansas smart city kc streetcar

kansas smart city kc streetcar

It’s impressive tech. For instance, the kiosks mean that visitors and locals no longer have to whip out their iPhones to find out about local entertainment options or transport routes, but can instead do it via large (and free to use) touch-sensitive displays.

In a way, though, this is the icing on the cake. Just as giving an old house a fresh lick of paint doesn’t make it new, Bennett notes that a smart city is about more than just a fancy devices.

“I like to say that a cool city has a lot of the same technology as a smart city, but that the transition is made when you start collecting data strategically and making sense of it,” he continued. “You can use that to make better and smarter decisions — which has the result of directly positively impacting our citizen’s lives.”

“Visitors and locals no longer have to whip out their iPhones to find out about local entertainment options or transport routes”

With that in mind, what makes Kansas City especially smart is the addition of a newly-launched live map which draws on the city’s various smart sensors for a real-time visualization of the collected data. “We make all the dynamic sensors available to our public,” he said. “They can look to see where traffic is bunched up, so they can find an alternate route. Or they can pick a parking spot, based on availability they see on the website.”

More: These smart cities are building infrastructures for the 23rd century

In addition, the site includes pedestrian hotspots and the precise location of KC Streetcars. Over time, the idea is make more and more information available in this way. The other innovative part of it is how the data can be used by not just citizens, but other interested parties, such as city planners.

kc_streetcar-75-1200x9999.jpg

Kansas City is one of the first metropolitan areas in the U.S. to offer free public WiFi access. Routers like this one are positioned throughout the downtown area, granting users upload speeds of about 130 MB/s and download speeds of 150 MB/s

“If I’m able to use data I can do things like better synchronize my trash collection,” Bennett said. “I won’t have garbage trucks picking up half-empty bins. If I have sensors that tell me where large concentrations of people are, I’ll know where to deploy my public safety resources for crowd control purposes. If I see a large traffic backup, that could be an indicator that there has been an accident and that we need to send the appropriate assets to deal with it.”

The other folks who can benefit from it are businesses, both small and large. Kansas City officials will use this as a means to let companies find out where best to place new coffee shops, retail outlets and more — by revealing where there is the greatest amount of foot or vehicular traffic. As Benett told us, “They get to look at the pulse of our city.”

“In thirty years time, this will be commonplace. We won’t be calling it a smart city; it’ll just be a city.”

Finally, the anonymized data can be monetized by companies which partner with Kansas City — as Sprint and Cisco have done by investing in the area. Cisco, for example, contributed $12 million to the project, without which it could never have gone ahead.

“Public-private partnerships allow a city to be an active part in its own ecosystem,” Benett said. “As cities evolve in the twenty-first century, you’re going to see more opportunities where for-profit firms can access a city’s population for the purposes of doing business. When they can do that by providing a public good — and we have to be very strategic about which of these partnerships we jump into — it’s good for everyone.”

So is this how all cities will look one day?

“In thirty years time, this will be commonplace,” he concluded. “We won’t be calling it a smart city; it’ll just be a city. Twenty-first century citizens expect their city leadership to interact with them and manage affairs in the community using twenty-first century tools. Much of what we’re doing now is part of that fundamental change in city government. We’re solving problems here: not for today, not for tomorrow, but for the next generation.”

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12
Feb

App Attack: Flipboard’s big update tailors magazines just for you


Why it matters to you

Flipboard is one of the most popular news-reading apps, and Version 4.0 makes it easy to find content tailored to your interests.

Pre-installed apps like Apple News and Google’s multiple news-aggregating apps may enjoy a large base of users, but for a long time Flipboard was the default news reader on most smart devices. Now vying for the spotlight again, the app making a comeback with a revamp that uses machine learning to personalize and improve reader experience.

Version 4.0 focuses on Smart Magazines, which let you create a personalized magazine with more granular preferences. You’ve been able to create magazines before — in fact, Flipboard said more than 28 million magazines were created by users last March — but Smart Magazines go a step further thanks to human curation, machine learning, and more.

More: Google is fighting fake news in France with a new project called CrossCheck

Because of these granular controls and options, it’s unlikely your Flipboard will match someone else’s — even if they’re interested in similar categories. For example, if you click on “Photography,” you get the option to narrow your interest even further down to “Canon” or “Nikon,” and more. These magazines are automatically updated.

You can create up to nine smart magazines that will appear on the home screen, and any others will show up as tiles on another screen.  Furthermore, the more you use and interact with the app — by liking or sharing an article, for example — the better Flipboard gets at offering up content you’ll enjoy reading.

Here’s how you can create a Smart Magazine: Scroll to the right where you’ll see “What’s your passion?” in big, bold text. Here you can either type a category in, or choose one from the list below — like “Travel,” “Technology,” or “Business.” You’ll then see a “Personalize” page come up — choose hashtags that you want to see in your magazine, like #SiliconValley, or #Wearables.

More: Tinder for moms? Peanut app helps get gang together for friendship, playdates

These options help hone in on your passion, so that you’ll get a unique feed that’s tailored to you. You can add or remove hashtags at any time by tapping on the three dots on the top right corner of the magazine, and then hitting “Personalize.” You can also move around magazines on the home screen by tapping “Edit Home,” which sits below.

The version 4.0 update is available for iOS and Android, and you can grab it on the App Store and the Google Play Store.

12
Feb

5 songs you need to stream this week: Run The Jewels, The Veils, and more


songs-to-stream-2-280x75.png

Every week, there are thousands of new songs hitting the airwaves — and it’s just too much for your two ears to handle. With all those options, you can’t be wasting your time on tracks that deserve a thumbs-down click.

But don’t worry, we’re going to save you the hassle. We listen to some of the most-hyped and interesting songs each week, and tell you which are worthy of your precious listening time.

More: Spotify may upgrade its free account to give users more on-demand streaming

Here are our top five songs to stream this week. Also, don’t forget to subscribe to our Spotify page for a playlist of our weekly picks, which can also be found at the bottom of this post.

Run The Jewels — Talk To Me (and more)

Energetic rap duo Run The Jewels invaded NPR’s Tiny Desk recently, performing selections from their latest album, Run The Jewels 3, for an enthusiastic live audience. The trap-influenced music is fantastic as a pick-me-up in the dark days of winter, and so is the vibe of the performers, who were all smiles throughout their 11-minute set.

Download it now on:

Amazon iTunes

The Veils — Swimming with Crocodiles (and more)

Chilling digital drum grooves blend with warm keyboard sounds and pedal steel guitar on Swimming With Crocodiles, the opening track on a recently released live video from the London-based band The Veils. Thoughtful and intimate, the steadily-evolving music of songwriter Finn Andrews remains perfect for the most introspective moments in your day, whether you are gathering your thoughts for a task at hand, or making creative new plans for the future.

Download it now on:

Amazon iTunes

iLL Brown — Friends (featuring Freddie Gibbs, BJ The Chicago Kid, G-Wiz)

Chicago producer iLL Brown recruited a few celebrity guests for his latest track, Friends, with verses from Freddie Gibbs and G-Wiz, and gospel-like choruses from acclaimed singer BJ The Chicago Kid. The song takes a classic “chop-up-the-soul Kanye” West approach, but adds some Dr. Dre-influenced synth tones on the high end, in a mash-up of Midwest and West Coast hip-hop that will have you jamming out to all week.

Dirty Projectors  — Cool Your Heart (featuring DΔWN)

There’s an enthralling island groove beneath The Dirty Projectors latest single, Cool Your Heart, that grabs your ears and doesn’t let go. Co-written by Solange Knowles and featuring the vocal skills of Dawn Richard on a series of beautiful harmonies and choruses, the song is equally suited to club outings as it is bedroom dance contests.

Download it now on:

Amazon iTunes

Lowly — Mornings

A repeating drumbeat and ’80s-influenced synthesizer tones are the core of Lowly’s new single, Mornings, which feels like it could easily show up in a montage sequence in the next season of Netflix’s Stranger Things. Mornings is one you’ll want to add to your night-driving playlist, a spooky and atmospheric jam that works best when the stars above are in visible motion.

Download it now on:

Amazon iTunes

That’s it for now, but tune in next week for more tunes — and check out our playlist loaded with our recent selections below:

12
Feb

After Math: Baby come back


This was a week of many happy returns. Stanford students brought back 5,000 year old Chinese beer, Prince’s catalog has reappeared on streaming services not owned by Jay Z and a pair of classic Hot Wheels cars are coming out of retirement to make their Rocket League debut. Numbers, because how else will we know how long you’ve been gone?

12
Feb

‘Splatoon 2’ preview arrives on Nintendo Switch in March


The Nintendo Switch doesn’t exactly have a massive catalog of launch titles, but that doesn’t mean that you’ll be waiting months to play all the biggest games. Nintendo is promising a free Splatoon 2 “Global Testfire” preview running from March 24th through the 26th. Each day will have one or more hour-long play windows where you’ll get a peek at how the inky shooter has evolved for the Switch. That isn’t exactly a lot of time to play (why not let us play the whole weekend?), but it beats waiting until full game’s summer launch. Not that your patience won’t be rewarded — Nintendo is also teasing local play modes as part of the full game, both of which are practically tailor-made for eSports.

Splatoon 2 will introduce LAN Play mode that lets eight docked players square off without an internet connection — it’s meant for “serious tournaments” where handheld play won’t necessarily cut it. Appropriately, there’s a Private Battle Spectator View that lets two additional people watch any private game from “multiple angles.” Nintendo doesn’t mention eSports by name, but it’s clear that the company wants the new Splatoon to be as competition- and broadcast-friendly as your favorite MOBA or first-person shooter.

Source: BusinessWire, Nintendo (YouTube)

12
Feb

LeEco Le S3 – a lesser-known company brings the heat (Review)


I have to confess, this is more or less my first experience with a LeEco device – I hadn’t even heard of the company prior to opening the package.

bad-lamma.gifBad Dono.

Imagine my surprise when I cut the tape, lifted the lid, and saw this beast:

Don’t mind the reflection.

In fact, my first words to Matty when I opened the thing up were “Whoa. It’s sexy.”

Screenshot_20170203-114411-1024x309.pngTold you.

But, as usual, I digress – with more pictures than usual. What follows is my genuine and generally-uncensored (sorry, mom), impressions of LeEco’s Le S3.

Unboxing

  • Le S3
  • Type-C Headphones
  • Type-C to 3.5mm adapter
  • USB Brick
  • Type-C USB Cable
  • Screen Protector
  • Transparent TCP Case

The box looks weathered….it’s really just beat up from being in the mail. Thanks UPS.

So. Sexy.

The buttons are crisp and feel great.

That aluminum frame tho.

Close-up of the fingerprint scanner and camera.

The included TPU case.

Check out that tiny bezel!

Note the missing charger brick – Thanks, Matt.

Type-C Headphones

Type-C to 3.5mm Adapter

Build

SpecOut | Graphiq

Appearance-wise, the LeS3 reminds me of the bastard child of a Pixel and an iPhone 7. It inherits the Type-C USB port, softkeys, rear-fingerprint reader, and Android OS from the former, but the massive vertical bezel, stereo speakers on the bottom, absent 3.5mm jack, and UI-styling of the latter. It’s a bit of a conundrum when it comes to built quality. The aluminum frame, prominent buttons, notably-absent horizontal bezel and subtly concealed softkeys (built into the lower bezel) all give the impression of solid, premium build…

Tangent alert: Okay. Look. I love the softkeys. They’re great. They have little subtle vibrations, nice soft lighting, and they’re pretty responsive. But what the hell, LeEco. You switched the Back key and the Recents key. Just look:

Just. Look.

/tangent.

Deep breath.

…But even after a week’s use as my daily driver, I still feel like I’m gonna break the thing. While this may be a purely psychological reaction rooted in the fact that I 1) broke a Nexus 6P recently, and 2) always keep my phone snugly wrapped in a Spigen case, or perhaps because it weighs only 153 grams (for comparison, my Nexus 6P weighs almost an ounce more, at 178g). However, my madness does have some method to back it up, as I’ve noticed that in the short time I’ve had it, random scratches have been showing up on the screen – something that never happens to my Nexus 6P.

“But Donovan!” Some of you may decry, “You’re supposed to use a screen protector, you big dummy!” And while that may be true, I never have on my 6P (perhaps the reason I broke it) and never will. So there. Point is, for a phone that advertises Gorilla Glass 3, it sure does scratch easily.

Tl;dr: Feels great in the hand. Looks sexy. Nice blend of iPhone and Pixel styling. May or may not be fragile af, depending on your level of trust in Donovan’s psyche.

Screen

Despite the aforementioned scratch-happy glass, the Le S3’s IPS LCD display is impressive for a $250 phone. The display isn’t AMOLED, but it’s a crisp 1080p – more than adequate on a 5.5″ screen, despite what display snobs will insist – and the colors are vibrant. Interestingly – and impressively – EUI has a display tweak built into it that allows you to adjust the hue and saturation of the display based in your taste, including a Night Mode that reduces the strain on your eyes.

My only real gripe with the display could also be a build-related one; the lack of a side bezel means that touching the side edges of the screen is inevitable, occasionally resulting in unintentional screen taps.

Tl;dr: Totally adequate screen, especially for the price.

SpecOut | Graphiq

Internals

While the Le S3 will never be confused for a powerhouse, it’s more than adequate for most users and for most games. Its Snapdragon 652 and 3GB RAM ensure that the experience is rarely sluggish – though I did notice that, on rare occasion, there was a slight input delay, most often in the stock keyboard. I suspect this may be a software issue, rather than any problem with the hardware. My only real beef with the specs here is that, while it comes stock with 32gb of internal storage, there’s no MicroSD slot. Sad day.

I tested the Le S3 using Antutu – which while imperfect, as all benchmarks are, establishes a numerical value of the phone’s 3D graphics capabilities. The Le S3’s Antutu Benchmark came out to 83333 – roughly the equivalent of an Huawei Honor 8, which is solid. I also measured the Le S3’s performance using 3DMark, with a result of 879 – a little better than the new Samsung Galaxy A9, and a little worse than the Huawei Honor 8. Not bad at all, given the $250 – $200 on a good day – price tag.

Tl;dr: Damned fine performance for a budget phone. Blows the Moto G4 out of the water.

SpecOut | Graphiq

Internal Features

For a budget phone, the Le S3 has a surprising number of number of modern features. Usually, in an effort to keep the cost of manufacturing low, companies will use lower end or older generation components – not so, in this case. The Le S3 comes stock with a Type-C USB port, back-mounted fingerprint sensor, Dolby Atmos sound, an IR blaster (!), Bluetooth 4.1, WiFi using the modern 802.11ac standard, and dual SIM slots. All of these are amenities you’d expect to find on a flagship phone, not a little budget badass (to wit, the Moto G4 doesn’t have a single one of those features – at least, not in those versions). Most of these components are pretty standard so I won’t waste your time going through them one-by-one, but here are a few thoughts and/or observations on a couple.

  • The IR blaster, while a ridiculously cool (and weirdly rare) feature to have, is simply too limited on this device. It only works with the pre-installed application (which is perfectly adequate), and not with any other third party IR app I tried (AnyMote, Sure, and Mi Remote all failed to detect the blaster itself.)
  • Not only does the Le S3 have a Type-C USB port, it also supports QuickCharge 3 – that’s a game-changer for people using the right charger.
  • The Dolby Atmos sound is good, but not great. The sound quality is creal and crisp as far as cellphone speakers go, but the volume won’t blow anyone’s socks off.

Tl;dr: Premium features in a cheap frame. IR blaster is a unique touch.

Battery Life

After using the Le S3 as my daily driver for a week, I can say I’ve been really impressed with the battery life. Even with the notoriously power-hungry Facebook app sapping battery in the background, the Le S3 routinely lasted a day and matched my Nexus 6P. Granted, this was probably helped by the fact that the Le S3 runs a lower-powered Snapdragon model and runs a smaller, less dense screen, but even still. Any phone I can get a day out of without having to stop and recharge is a mark in the Win column in my book.

Tl;dr: Solid, consistently day-long battery life, even on moderate usage.

Camera

On paper, the Le S3 has a solid camera set up – a 16mp back shooter and an 8mp selfie cam. But I’m gonna be frank here; I was disappointed. This shouldn’t be surprising given the price of the phone, but the rest of the phone’s performance had been such a pleasant surprise up to that point that I dared to hope. Unfortunately, those hopes came crashing back to earth as reality set in – the camera is not great. Here are a couple samples – starring Dexter the Kitten – that showcase the mediocrity of it.

Dexter!

My crummy, handwritten notes.

Fireplace, with flash.

Fireplace, sans flash.

Vase, with flash.

Vase, sans flash.

Storming, for once, in sunny California.

And a painting, for good measure.

In fairness, the camera app included in EUI is relatively robust, with plenty of options, including Slow-Motion, Panoramic, a wide variety of built-in filters, HDR, timer, and even white balance. It should be noted that for the same price as this phone, though, the Honor 6X includes a dual lens setup similar to the iPhone 7, which should be more common in the future – meanwhile the Le S3 is still rocking a boring single lens.

Software

Like the Le S3’s hardware, and like so many Chinese manufacturers, EUI has attempted to take Google’s OS and throw in some Apple flavor. EUI’s default launcher is distinctly iOS-like, with no app drawer to speak of. EUI runs on Android 6.0, which while not bad, is definitely a version behind. It runs like a blend of iOS’s launcher and the Google Now Launcher, with some of LeEco’s own apps thrown in for good measure.

Screenshot_20170210-133821-576x1024.jpgThe recents screen.

The Recents screen is perhaps the most interesting part of the UI, combining the Quick Settings normally located in the Notification Shade of Android with the Recently used apps page. This makes most of the Quick Settings available with a single touch, and better uses the screen real estate when viewing the recent apps. Really clever stuff.

There are a few pieces of bloat on the phone: many of the standard apps, including Email and Messaging, are all EUI instead of Google, for example. In addition, LeEco has taken it upon itself to use a self-branded replacement for Google Now – it’s even one swipe away on the home screen – called LeView, which compiles interesting headlines for your consumption. Among the other bloatware apps are Live (a sort of video curation service that permanently sits in the default launcher’s dock), LeVidi, My LeEco (to manage your LeEco account), LE, Compass, and the IR App – honestly not bad, as far as bloatware goes. At least the Yahoo app it comes pre-installed with can be removed with no trouble.

Tl;dr: iOS meets Android 6.0 with a bit of bloatware and a fancy Recents screen. 

Value

At $250 ($200 on a good day), the LeS3 is a similar value to that of the Honor 6X – though the 6X is definitely a stronger phone, specification-wise. It blows the Moto G4 Plus right out of the water.

Tl;dr: A damned good value. Seriously.

SpecOut | Graphiq

12
Feb

Facebook and Netflix binges sucking up your life? Xooloo to the rescue


Why it matters to you

If your digital device habits are beginning to get out of control, there’s an app for that.

When a significant number of Americans freely admit they’d rather give up sex then their smartphones, and twice as many would rather give up drinking than detatch for a week, you know there’s a problem. A French import is here to help us get our sex lives back and let drinkers get back to the booze.

The Xooloo apps were originally and primarily intended to help parents train their children how to manage their digital time. There are three apps: Xooloo Kids for children 8 and under, Xooloo Digital Coach for people 10 and above, and Xooloo Parents. If you’re considering using the Digital Coach app software to manage your own usage, the idea of parental oversight may set your jaw on edge, even though you truly want to cut back. A good plan would be to think of it as an accountability buddy app. Digital Coach lets people self-regulate their usage of apps, social media, and the internet; there’s no app blockage or site screening, although all usage is tracked by both Digital Coach and Parent apps.

More: Sex or your smartphone? Americans’ answers may surprise you

You can monitor real-time tracking with Digital Coach as usage piles up. Set limits for overall use and for specific apps, sites, or programs. When the time’s up the Digital Coach shuts off access unless more time is allotted from the corresponding Parents app. Even if you act as your own accountability buddy — there’s probably an indelicate term for that — at least you’ll have to start up a different app to adjust the limits if you can’t stick to your original plan.

If you’re actually using Digital Coach with kids, there are reference metrics so both kids and parents can see how usage compares to other kids and teens. For example, you can see how much time 14-year olds in your area spend on Instagram. That sounds a little creepy if you’re using Digital Coach for yourself or as an accountability buddy for another adult, but kids — and parents — can get a realistic view of age, app, and region-based metrics.

The Xooloo Kids app is definitely kids-only. It’s for children who don’t have their own devices but get to use a parent’s device: it builds a safe and personalized space with approved apps, games, contacts, and secure, controlled browsing.

The Xooloo Parents (accountability buddy) app is available for both iOS and Android. Xooloo Kids and Digital Coach are Android-only for now. In any case there’s a free 30-day trial followed by $3 a month or $30 a year for 1 device running either the Kids or Digital Coach app, $5 a month or $50 annually for 3 devices, and $7 a month or $60 a year for an unlimited number of Digital Coach or Xooloo Kids apps running on devices. The Parents App is free in all cases.

12
Feb

When iTunes isn’t enough: Here’s our favorite free media players for PC and Mac


Despite the sheer amount of available formats currently littering the web and your computer, finding a quality media player to launch that digital copy of Deadpool you just picked up is not always easy. An all-in-one media hub, whether it provides merely the bare essentials or all the bells and whistles, is a necessary staple in today’s digital world of files and folders.

More: Want Hollywood results on a budget? Here’s the best free video editing apps

Fortunately, there are several free media players that stand out, whether you need to play a variety of formats, tag and sort your libraries, or simply listen to your favorite audio files. Here are our top picks for the best free media players for PC and Mac!

Players for either Windows or Mac

VLC Media Player — Windows, MacOS, Linux

VLC has held the media player crown for years, even before graduating from its beta phase in 2009. The free, open-source software is capable of playing just about any media format you can imagine, including Internet radio and a large number of both video and audio streaming protocols. Although the default interface is plain and sleek, stuffed with various playback icons wrapped in a gun-gray design, the software also features an assortment of customization options for quickly swapping viewing modes and tweaking the toolbar with additional controls.

The playback quality is top-notch regardless of viewing mode — as are the intuitive video effects for interactive zooming, video capturing, blurring, and mirroring images, among others. There’s not much VLC can’t handle for casual audio and video playback or conversion.

VLC Media Player is the way to go when looking for a program offering robust file compatibility, versatile playback, and frequent stability updates. The robust community of active users and programmers, known collectively as the VideoLAN Organization, is an added plus, along with the diverse network for extensions and available skins for Windows.

DivX — Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS

This player offers quick options for selecting a viewing size and burning media to discs, with additional options on hand for streaming videos, music, and photos to DLNA-compatible home devices. Video filters and audio adjustments are limited, but the software does boast three processing modes and multiple sound enhancements for adjusting fidelity, ambient volume, and several other common audio facets found in most media players. And if you’d rather not mess with that, the free download also includes a link to a simple web player.

The Pro version of DivX, available for $20, comes without ads and with a variety of advanced features, especially for video and server-based media management. If all you want is a good music (and sometimes video) player, you can confidently choose the free version instead.

Plex — Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS

Plex aims to streamline consumption, bringing together all of your services and devices under a single, unified platform. Users can add all the folders and files they want to their Plex library, after which they can stream them to any device capable of running Plex. For example, a movie saved on a hard drive can be watched through Plex’s browser app, or streamed to the Plex app on a tablet.

These days, most people do not simply use their own stock of movies and music, either. Streaming services have become one of the dominant ways of consuming media, and Plex recognizes this, incorporating apps for services like Netflix and Spotify into its framework. With the browser app, videos generally take a couple seconds to load, however, buffering allows them to play uninterrupted and the video quality is excellent.

Audio files also open quickly, with no noticeable problems. Derived from the same XBMC software as Kodi, Plex can play all of the common formats that the aforementioned programs can. A sparse, easily navigated interface makes Plex perfect for those who want all their media in one convenient place.

GOM Media Player — Windows, iOS, Chrome

GOM Media Player, developed by Korea’s Gretech Corporation, features an attractive UI and laundry list of industrious utilities, handling everything from AAC to FLV, and offering a codec finder service that will locate and supply additional information on those not automatically supported by default.

The software comes equipped with all the standard features, from high-quality video playback and hot keys to AV capturing tools and advance codec functionality, in addition to other tools for adding EQ effects, and controlling playback via iOS and Android devices over Wi-Fi. It even features options for adjusting the audio mode, subtitle size, and loaded playback presets.

The media player has three viewing modes (Normal, High-Quality, and TV Output), all of which cater to your machine’s capabilities and your desired viewing mode. Although the slick interface cannot be customized as much as other programs on our roundup, you can still toggle various settings and choose from a good deal of custom skins to suit your style. The software is even adept at playing damaged, incomplete, locked, or partially downloaded files, giving it an astounding edge over some of its open-source competitors.

GOM is also notable for its updates, which have recently given the system the ability to play 360-degree VR video, and will hopefully continue adding more support into the future.

5KPlayer — Windows, MacOS

5KPlayer

Do you prefer more streaming options for your media player? Are you less concerned about organizing libraries and more interested in building a collection of various media from your favorite streaming sites? Then 5KPlayer may be more in line with what you need. The software allows you to directly important music and videos from online sites such as YouTube and Facebook, as well as Vimeo, MTV, Instagram, and a host of other popular platforms. It’s also compatible with MP4, MOV, M4V, MP3, AAC, and other common formats.

The interface is very basic, lined with a bar for your favorite sites and any playlists you’ve recently put together. Familiar features such as the radio and your own personal library are easy to access, though, you shouldn’t expect any stunning visuals here. As a special bonus for Apple fans, the app also works with AirPlay. If most of your media lives online, and want something beyond iTunes or Spotify to help you better organize your music, 5KPlayer makes a compelling argument.

12
Feb

Didn’t mean to delete that? Here’s how to recover deleted text messages on your iPhone


Did you know that text messages don’t really get deleted when you delete them? We’ve already talked about how to delete your text messages, so now we’re going to look at how to recover deleted text messages on your iPhone. Unless you reset your iPhone to its factory settings — an action designed to erase everything on your device — there is a way to retrieve those texts.

More: How to save text messages in Android and iOS

If you’re passing your iPhone on to someone else, or selling it, then performing a factory reset is the safest way to rid your device of its precious data. If you’ve deleted some texts by mistake and want to recover them, however, there are ways you can do this. Let’s take a look at a few examples.

Restoring texts from an iCloud Backup

Restoring an iCloud backup is probably the easiest way to recover deleted text messages on your iPhone. Provided that you have iCloud Backup turned on, and your iPhone has been doing its scheduled backups, then your deleted texts should be backed up to iCloud. The service backs up messages sent via iMessage, SMS, and MMS, though it does require the SIM card that was in use when you made the backup.

Go to Settings > iCloud > Backup.
Make sure iCloud Backup is turned on.
After that, you will have to erase your iPhone by going into Settings > General > Reset.
Choose Erase All Content and Settings.
Once done, you’ll be asked if you want to restore your iPhone from an iCloud Backup.
Choose Restore from iCloud Backup.

Once your backup is restored, you should be able to access any texts that were on your phone when you first made the backup.

12
Feb

Can’t be with your sweetie on Valentine’s Day? These apps can help you make long-distance whoopie! 🍆


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The next best thing to being in there.

Nothing is better than spending Valentine’s Day with the one you love. It’s a day like any other day, but it’s also been traditionally set aside for couples to do those things couples like to do with each other. But life being what it is, sometimes it’s impossible to be with each other and make some private fireworks.

We’re not saying even the best app can be a substitute, but using your phone as a tool for a little long-distance fooling around with your special someone has to be one of the best things you can do with it.

Get chatty but keep it private

We imagine the first message ever sent from one phone to another was some sort of test. And the second was probably a little naughty.

Chatting with your boo is fun. Something about typing the words or reading them can seem a little more risqué than whispering them into each other’s ear, and there is no shortage of apps designed to do nothing more than chat with someone else, complete with pictures and video and everything short of actually dialing a number and talking.

But you need to play it safe. Make sure the private conversations you have with the people special to you stay private! There are plenty of choices here, too. Apps like Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp offer extra security with encryption, as does Google’s Allo Messenger and BlackBerry Messenger. That means the only person who will be able to see anything you send is the person holding the phone you’re sending it too. Unless they want to share it. #NotJudging 🍆

  • Install Facebook Messenger
  • Install WhatsApp
  • Install Allo Messenger
  • Install BlackBerry Messenger

If you want to go the extra mile, we recommend Signal as the best app that offers encrypted messaging. Check out what we have to say about Signal and other secure ways to stay in touch at the link below.

More: Privacy matters more now than ever — these apps will help

Keep your eyes on the prize

We’re visual creatures. 🍆

We’re visual creatures. We can learn better when we see an example, we learn to recognize faces long before we understand any of the sounds around us and the things we see can stimulate us in all sorts of ways. So there is a lot of fun to be had if you both have a space where you can turn on the cameras and make a little eye contact. Luckily, there are all kinds of ways your phone can connect and share video in real time. You might already have one installed that you use and like. But if not, we’ve got you covered.

We have to start with Google Duo. Not because we’re an Android blog and all about everything Google, but because it has outstanding video quality. It’s a simple app with none of the extra features you might find in other video calling software. You can call anyone in your address book with Duo installed (you can invite someone right through the Duo app) with a simple tap. The app does the rest and the whole conversation, both audio and video, are end-to-end encrypted to keep everything between the two of you.

Install Google Duo

Things change a bit if you have a tablet or a computer at hand. You’re now in big screen territory and an app like Skype or Hangouts is the way to make video calls unless you’re a full-on Apple couple. And in that case, you FaceTime each other until you need to come up for air.

Both Skype and Hangouts offer full-screen video with audio on a Windows or Apple computer. But if only one you has one, Hangouts is your friend. There’s a dedicated Android app that’s feature rich and will work for messaging, texting and video calling and anyone with a Google account can use Hangouts on the web. Skype is available for your Android, too and can also be a great messaging app and can make calls over the internet.

You need to know that neither Skype nor Hangouts offer encrypted conversations in case that’s a problem. And both can get a little invite-spammy so take a good look at who wants to chat before you start clicking things. Unless you’re into bots. Again, #NotJudging 🍆

  • Download Skype for your Android
  • Download Skype for your PC
  • Download Hangouts for your Android
  • Visit Hangouts on the web

Oh, Snap!

Snapchat videos or messages don’t offer end-to-end encryption and there is an entire cottage industry built around finding ways to save everything right through the phone. Got it? Great.

That’s kind of a shame because Snapchat can be a pretty good all-in-one way to communicate. You can message anyone with the app and you can make live video calls to anyone with the app. Snapchat also offers what they call a Story, where someone can post a series of pictures or short videos to a timeline for someone else to watch. If you fancy putting on a show, it’s a pretty cool way to do it and that can give you plenty to talk about when the show is over. More than one person can check out a story, so keep that in mind when you’re posting anything in public.

Download Snapchat for your Android

The next level

If things are serious enough that you’re ready to share a calendar, Between is something you should take a look at.

It’s a messaging app designed for you and one other person. You are their only contact, and they are yours. The chat background is customizable to the nth degree and there are plenty of stickers, you share a calendar as well as a photo album and you can create a slideshow using the photos.

Between is secure, with all the data shared between phones encrypted from end to end, and anything the app stores on your phone is also encrypted and can’t be found by any other app. It’s also very well laid out and isn’t terrible to use — a tough feat in an app that can do so many very different things.

Download Between for your Android

Your 🍆 of choice

What do you use to keep in touch with your ❤️? Let us know in the comments!

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