Skip to content

Archive for

17
Mar

YouTube seems to have dropped 10,000 subscriber minimum for live-streaming


Why it matters to you

YouTube has long been the home of home videos — and now you may be also able to take advantage of its live-streaming features.

Want to live-stream on YouTube but don’t have the 10,000 subscribers needed to get started? Good news — that limitation is now no longer in effect.

Live-streaming was added to the Android app in February, and the only catch was that it was only available to channels that had at least 10,000 subscribers. It’s not known exactly how many subscribers you now need to have — or if there’s a requirement at all — but users with far fewer than 10,000 subscribers are noting that they can now live-stream on the YouTube app.

More: YouTuber shows how to play Switch on TV without the dock

Some users are reporting similar changes to the iOS YouTube app, so it’s looking more and more like YouTube wants to expand live-streaming to everyone — much like Facebook and Twitter have done over the past few years.

To see if you have access to live-streaming on YouTube, open up the app and press the floating record button on the home screen. If you have access to it, you’ll then see a “Go Live” button on top of the standard button that allows you to start recording. How live-streaming works doesn’t appear to have changed at all beyond the wider availability of the feature.

The move makes sense for YouTube. Live-streaming has become extremely popular over the last few years, and companies like Facebook are leading the pack. If YouTube wants to remain competitive in the video streaming segment, then it has to keep up with the new trends — and video-streaming is one of those trends.

Google hasn’t updated its website just yet, so it still states that the minimum number of subscribers for live-streaming is 10,000. We’ll likely hear more about the changes to live-streaming in the next few days — and when we do, we’ll update this post.

17
Mar

Windows 10 Cloud is on the way – but what is it, exactly?


We’ve been expecting a Microsoft announcement this year regarding a new version of Windows, called Windows 10 Cloud. So, what is it, and why does it depend on the cloud (spoiler: it doesn’t)? We’ve got the latest information based on leaked versions of the software, rumors, reports and updates. Here’s what we know!

More: Close to the Metal: Windows puts its head in the cloud

Windows 10 Cloud is an “adaptive shell” for competing with Chromebooks

The goals for Windows 10 cloud appear to be twofold.

First, to create what is rumored to be an adaptive shell for the Windows OS that will allow the operating system to be used on far more than desktop PCs and Surface tablets. Microsoft wants to bring the Windows 10 experience to mobile devices, consoles (like the Xbox One), embedded devices, and even VR/AR. Basically, it’s a way to push Windows onto things it cannot currently run on, including devices from other brands. One of the strengths of this shell is that it could be adapted to fit many different screen sizes and other requirements.

Microsoft has pursued this goal for a long time, and made progress towards it. The both the Xbox One and Windows Mobile currently run a version of Windows 10. However, Microsoft wants Windows 10 to be adaptive in such a way that it can push a Windows 10 update to all devices and expect it to run well, with little to no tweaking. That’s not how it works right now, which is why Windows 10, Windows 10 Mobile, and Xbox One get software updates on different schedules.

Second, Microsoft wants to compete more directly with the immensely popular Chromebook market. Chromebooks are doing very well among certain buyers because they are lightweight, highly affordable, and ditch internal storage for a cloud-based approach to data management. There are definite signs that Microsoft wants to enter this sector, and Cloud is its opportunity. Yes, that means we could be seeing a new category of low cost, low storage laptops running a version of Windows 10, similar to Chrome but with Edge and Windows apps instead.

It’s not a “cloud-based” operating system, like Chrome OS

Given the name, you could be forgiven for thinking Windows 10 Cloud will lean on connected applications and features, as does Google’s Chrome OS. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Leaked copies of Windows 10 Cloud show no indication that they’ll be any more reliant on the internet than other versions of Windows. Instead, it appears the “Cloud” designation is being used as marketing short-hand for “the cheapest version.”

This could change, as there’s months to go before Cloud is introduced. But that’s actually not long in the world of OS development. And it seems unwise for Microsoft to invest significantly in changes to a version of Windows 10 it may end up giving away to manufacturers for free, or at a very low price. For those reasons, we think the Cloud designation is fluff.

Cloud will be compatible with mobile ARM processors

It is likely that Windows 10 Cloud will be able to run on mobile ARM processors. We know that this has been a stated goal from Microsoft (after the failure of Windows RT, the company clearly wants a do-over on this front), as a way to spread the OS to devices and platforms where it currently doesn’t exist. Cloud appears to be the best opportunity to create an ARM-compatible OS for this specific purpose.

The only leaked version of Cloud that we have found so far runs on Intel processors. However, noting the “adaptive shell” properties of Cloud, it could simply be a version made with desktops in mind, and mobile ARM versions of the operating system could also exist.

Microsoft also made a joint announcement with Qualcomm at CES 2017, stating it wants to enable “cellular PCs” with a version of Windows running on an ARM chip, and a built-in mobile data modem. This would seem to align with the capabilities and target market of Windows 10 Cloud.

More: Microsoft’s wish to provide one operating system for all devices may come true

Cloud is focused on newer services Microsoft wants to push

Microsoft has several new Windows 10 features that it’s very proud of, such as Edge and Cortana. It sees these services as the future of Windows and wants to encourage as much adoption as possible. Rumors state that Cloud is intended to push these new services more directly. This would also fit in well with the Chromebook-like focus on cloud capabilities and going online to complete tasks. By putting Edge, Cortana, Office360, and other features front and center, Microsoft hopes to make them more popular.

Windows 10 Cloud has a light footprint, but appears to have a similar interface

When we investigated the leaked version of Cloud, we found that it looked largely the same as the desktop version. If you’ve experienced Windows 10 on desktop, you probably know what to expect—at least with the adaptation that we saw. This should be welcome news for those of use who may want to use Cloud. Microsoft isn’t carving up Windows 10 into some unrecognizable monstrosity.

Windows 10 Cloud will be locked to the Windows Store—or will it?

The big news from the Cloud rumors is the report that Cloud will be “locked” to the Windows Store. In other words, you wouldn’t be able to use any apps except those offered on the Store. This has caused a lot of apprehension, because it sounds both plausible and incredibly annoying. However, there’s no firm evidence yet to back it up.

Even the leaked build we had access to appeared divided on the issue. On one hand, whenever we tried to load and use an app originating from outside the Windows Store, we couldn’t do it. On the other hand, in settings we saw an option that allowed the build to switch back and forth from “Allow apps from the Store only” to “Allow apps from anywhere.” This didn’t appear to have any effect, but the fact that it’s built into the settings is telling. Is this just a feature for a developer build? Will it make it to the final versions of Cloud? It’s a little too early to tell for now.

More: We tried Windows 10 Cloud, and it’s not as restrictive as you think

The Cloud version may be able to run at least some “desktop only” apps

Another common report says that desktop versions per-Cloud won’t be able to run correctly on Cloud because of the APIs used for Windows 10. From what we’ve seen of the leaked version, you may be able to run desktop apps from previous Windows 10 builds, but with a caveat. You have to convert them, and they still may not run correctly. We tried it with EdgeTile and the Desktop App Converter tool, and received the warning, “The app you’re trying to run isn’t designed for this version of Windows.” EdgeTile still worked, but the fact that this warning exists also shows a lot.

Cloud may provide an option to upgrade to full Windows 10

Another rumor suggests that coding details support an upgrade from Windows 10 Cloud to Windows 10 Pro. From one perspective this does make sense — it lets Microsoft make more money with by upselling. But we’re not sure how it would work out. For example, if you bought a Chromebook-like Windows Cloud computer, it likely wouldn’t have the requirements to upgrade to a full version of Windows, even if you wanted to. This is even more true of Cloud on mobile devices. So if an upgrade is in the cards, it will probably be very limited.

17
Mar

Add some smarts to your existing smoke and CO detectors with this $30 gadget from Leeo


Our friends at Thrifter are back with another deal, this time helping you make your home smarter for less!

Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are a must-have, but when you are out of the house you have no idea if they are going off, which can be scary. Leeo changes that by notifying you, regardless of your location, when they are triggered, and right now you can pick one up for only $29.97, which is a $20 savings from its regular price. It monitors the existing detectors you have in the house and alerts you as soon as they make noise.

leeo_smartalertnightlight_2_views.jpg?it

You can get a notification from the app or via an automated phone call, and if you don’t answer Leeo can call someone from your emergency contact list. Installation is as simple as plugging it into an outlet and pairing it with the Android app. You can set it to display different colors as a nightlight, and it works with hundreds of other smart products and services. If you rent or own your own place, you should have one of these on each floor of your house!

See at Amazon

For other great deals on tech, gadgets, home goods and more, be sure to check out our friends at Thrifter now!

17
Mar

HTC U Ultra review: A beautiful group of questionable decisions


htc-u-ultra-back-water-drops.jpg?itok=Iy

In a market filled with great high-end phones and tons of up-and-coming prospects at lower prices, the HTC U Ultra is unable to live up to its bloated price tag.

The quick take

HTC continues to get the basics right with flagships. The U Ultra has a great screen, amazing build quality and stunning design. You get just about every spec inside you’d expect, and the day-to-day performance as a result is fantastic with a super-smooth software experience. Unfortunately, HTC’s camera performance once again lags behind the pack, its secondary display is all but useless and there’s no headphone jack or waterproofing — all in a phone that’s charging a premium price of $749.

The Good

  • Fantastic performance
  • Great screen
  • Stunning hardware
  • Unlocked and bloat-free
  • Absolutely nails the basics

The Bad

  • 2016-level camera performance
  • No headphone jack
  • Second screen lacks utility
  • No water resistance
  • Too big for most hands

See at Amazon
See at HTC

htc-u-ultra-blue-back-full.jpg?itok=rXC-

U Question why

HTC U Ultra Full review

In 2017, the number of people who think of HTC in terms of nostalgia rather than as a leading smartphone company is growing. If you’ve been following the company’s dwindling market share (and mind share) over the past three years, you’ll know why. The company has lost ground particularly heavily in the U.S., where the market is split between Apple and Samsung at the high end, and a trove of low-cost phones at the other. HTC can’t compete in either, and perhaps fittingly is barely emphasizing its brand new $749 U Ultra in the U.S.

It’s a far cry from the substantial marketing pushes we saw with the HTC One M9, HTC 10 and even HTC One A9, but it makes sense considering the company’s position. HTC hasn’t made deals with any U.S. carriers for the U Ultra — choosing instead to sell unlocked directly to consumers — and isn’t even bringing its mid-range sibling, the U Play, to North America as a counterweight.

Despite the diminished marketing emphasis for the phone in the U.S., HTC has gone decidedly high-end with the U Ultra — and not just in price. It’s a big, beautiful, powerful phone with the latest HTC software tricks on top of just about every other feature we’re looking for in a phone in this price bracket. The worry, as is far too often the case with HTC, is whether or not the execution is there — and in a world where you have a shoestring advertising budget, the phone has to be great. We put it to the test in our complete HTC U Ultra review.

About this review

I (Andrew Martonik) am writing this review after 8 days using the HTC U Ultra on T-Mobile in the greater Seattle, WA area. The phone arrived on software version 1.09.617.12 (Android 7.0) and was not updated during the course of review. The HTC U Ultra was provided to Android Central for review by HTC.

htc-u-ultra-blue-back-reflective.jpg?ito

Simply stunning

HTC U Ultra Hardware

I had the opportunity to see the HTC U Ultra and U Play back at the beginning of January, and since then I still light up every time I come across a photo of that pristine shiny exterior. Holding a fresh blue HTC U Ultra in my hand today, I still get that great feeling. This thing is gorgeous — and not in a generic design sense, but with a very strong HTC vibe. And that’s not just the case in this excellent blue color, but also in the pearlescent white and inky black varieties.

A beautiful piece of technology you just want to stare at.

The back is a finely-sculpted piece of glass, technically, but it doesn’t look like any other glass-backed phone — distinctly different from the LG G6 and Galaxy S7. HTC calls it “optical spectrum hybrid deposition,” and it’s the culmination of two years of development on the process. The end result is a glassy exterior that has the color embedded inside the glass, rather than simply coating the underside of clear glass. It’s beautiful and I can’t take my eyes off of it — and it’s sure to catch some attention when you use it in public.

More: Complete HTC U Ultra specs

The mirror-like finish is gorgeous and minimalistic, perfectly curving off to the edges where it meets a color-matched metal frame that doesn’t have all that much texture to it. The front of the phone is a pristine black panel of glass that is of course perfectly assembled, and it frames a very large 5.7-inch display that also has an extra 2-inch display on top of it. The bezels on all four edges of the display aren’t exactly small, and it leads to a very large overall footprint: 80 mm wide, and 162 mm tall.

I can’t tell you what sized phone to buy, but the U Ultra is going to be too big for most people.

Far be it for me to tell you what sized phone you want, but the U Ultra is too big for my hands. I can manage a Pixel XL, or a OnePlus 3T, but the U Ultra is substantially larger than those phones — in fact, it’s even bigger than the LG V20 and Huawei Mate 9 … which I personally couldn’t manage either. Looking at the U Ultra beside the LG G6, for example, and you just chuckle at how unwieldy it is. Yes some people will want the most screen possible no matter what it does to usability, but I prefer a bit more balance — and the U Ultra doesn’t seem to attempt any sort of balance.

If you’re that person who wants “more screen at all costs” you’ll absolutely enjoy this display. The 5.7-inch QHD Super LCD 5 is clear, bright and accurate — I really can’t find anything bad to say about it. This is a display befitting of a $749 phone, and it’s covered in Gorilla Glass 5 for good measure. That same group will also likely enjoy the capacitive navigation keys below the display that don’t take up any screen real estate — despite the majority of the market going toward on-screen keys.

Despite espousing that it is a top-level phone in every other way, most notably in its price, the U Ultra has two feature omissions that will rub people the wrong way. Just like the Pixel XL — which is nearly the same price and also made by HTC — the U Ultra isn’t waterproof. Now HTC does offer its “UH OH” protection program (for free!) that covers one replacement of the phone, including water damage, but the average buyer would far prefer to just not have to worry about water damage at all. And unlike the Pixel XL, this is one of multiple stumbles rather than a single flaw with the phone.

No, I won’t hear your arguments for removing the headphone jack.

The far more puzzling — and polarizing — exclusion on the U Ultra is the headphone jack. Just as we guessed when HTC rolled out the Bolt late last year, this looks to be the new direction for the company: skip the headphone jack in favor of USB-C audio, despite having very large phones that seem to have the room to accommodate the port. HTC’s USonic headphones are comfortable, sound good and are designed to tune sound that’s appropriate for your ears … but I want to use different headphones sometimes. I want to plug into a speaker or a friend’s car stereo now and then. And that’s not possible with the U Ultra. I know this is A Thing™ now, but it really doesn’t have to be and it goes against what most consumers want.

HTC includes those USB-C headphones I mentioned in the box, but charges you an extra $12 for a USB-C to 3.5 mm headphone adapter if you want to plug in something else. (C’mon, even Apple includes an adapter in the box.) Better yet, the headphones that come in the box don’t work with other USB-C devices, so these really are headphones only for your U Ultra. No matter how good they are, that’s annoying.

htc-u-ultra-home-screen.jpg?itok=AdwgUO0

Downright fast

HTC U Ultra Software and performance

HTC’s take on Android hasn’t changed much in the past year in terms of design and interaction. It has a clean, dark look with splashes of white, grey and green — and compared to the bright and overly colorful options from some manufacturers I’m a fan of HTC’s choices. It still paints over the whole interface with a heavy brush, but its changes aren’t so far out of touch with the way modern apps and Google’s guidelines look.

u-ultra-interface-screens-1.jpg?itok=vQQu-ultra-interface-screens-2.jpg?itok=laiu-ultra-interface-screens-3.jpg?itok=Qchu-ultra-interface-screens-4.jpg?itok=O6Hu-ultra-interface-screens-5.jpg?itok=H15u-ultra-interface-screens-8.jpg?itok=BS-

HTC’s built-in apps for phone, messaging, email, clock, etc. all follow a consistent design as well, and thankfully it does a nice job of not doubling up with Google’s own apps — for example, Google Photos is your only gallery app, and Google Calendar is your default calendar. HTC unfortunately still includes some of its most annoying “features” like the spammy, low-quality News Republic app that likes to push crummy “news” at you, and the quite useless Blinkfeed area of the launcher. Thankfully you can disable News Republic, and turn off Blinkfeed or replace the launcher altogether.

I didn’t receive a single Sense Companion notification that was useful.

More in the head scratcher camp is HTC’s oddly named “HTC Sense Companion” app, which was originally billed as a full-on artificial intelligence system but then dramatically scaled back for launch. What it basically comes down to now is providing you with recommendations for places to eat, bad traffic around you, changes in weather and suggestions for other ancillary content. The notifications arrive on your lock screen or second screen, and aren’t actually useful in any way — after over a week with Sense Companion turned on, I didn’t receive a single notification that was interesting to me. I turned it off.

Beside its questionable usefulness, the thing making Sense Companion completely unnecessary is the fact that Google Now and Google Assistant are here. Google Now provides me with better recommendations and notifications throughout the day, and the U Ultra’s excellent microphones and software performance make Google Assistant very useful.

Aside from the Sense Companion, which I don’t think anyone will actually use for more than a week, the second screen provides a pretty basic set of features. Just as you’d expect, it almost perfectly mirrors what the LG V20 can do: show you a generally static read-out of weather, calendar, contacts, a music player, an app launcher or a reminder. I used the weather display most often, and while it’s neat to see at a glance I don’t see a reason to waste battery life or overall device size in order to have it.

It feels tacked-on and distracting, particularly with the odd implementations of certain panels like the music player only working for Google Play Music, and the contacts launcher only working for on-device contacts. Perhaps design time and component costs could have been better utilized elsewhere in the phone.

Performance

The U Ultra continues HTC’s well-deserved reputation for having lightning-fast and responsive software, where everything you do on the phone happens now with no hesitation or slowdown. Scrolling is silky smooth and transitions are quick, not unlike the experience of using a Google Pixel XL. I didn’t have a single crash, slowdown or stutter on the U Ultra in my review period — it’s impressively fast, and I love seeing phones that perform like this.

It isn’t just fast, it’s top-notch impressively fast.

Performance of this level isn’t just because of the Snapdragon 821 and 4GB of RAM inside, but having the latest internals (for the time) definitely help. You can just tell that HTC has done plenty of optimization in this hardware, and it bodes well for the future as well. Further to that point, 64GB of base internal storage — plus an SD card slot — means you aren’t as likely to run into update jeopardy after you’ve used your phone for a year and loaded it up with apps and media.

One more “performance” note that doesn’t really have anywhere else to live: the speakers. HTC is using the same “BoomSound lite” type of setup here with a small speaker at the top of the phone (it’s just the earpiece speaker) and a bigger speaker that plays a majority of the sound at the bottom. And it sounds good — albeit not at the super high volumes you expect from BoomSound of yesteryear with two dedicated full-sized speakers. I’m fine with this compromise, especially if dual front-facing speakers would’ve made the U Ultra even taller.

How about updates?

ultra-software-build-screen.jpg?itok=HhG

Completely skipping the carrier channels and selling unlocked directly to consumers is an overall win for everyone, and one of the benefits is not having any sort of extra restrictions or carrier bloatware in the software. This should theoretically let HTC update the software on the U Ultra more often as well, though at the time of writing this in mid-March my U Ultra has Android 7.0 with the January 1 security patch.

Looking back at HTC’s history of security and platform updates, things haven’t been fantastic. Some phones have done really well with getting one big platform update quickly, only to quickly trail off and get dramatically slower support or no security patches. Let’s hope HTC can do right by its loyal customers, who have stuck around for a long time, and keep updates rolling.

At least we know going forward that any shortcomings in software updates land squarely on HTC and not a carrier.

Battery life

As I’ve already covered, the U Ultra is an unashamedly large phone — and despite being filled with lots of solid specs, it’s small in one area: the battery. With just 3000 mAh inside, it’s one of the smaller capacities out there in a top-end phone, coming in underneath the Pixel XL, LG G6, (expected) Galaxy S8 Plus, Mate 9 and … you get the idea.

Full-day battery … in a huge phone you expect a bit more from.

Longevity is actually pretty good on the U Ultra — I was able to get through a full day without hitting the battery saver (which triggers at 15%) on most days. But spending a little extra time browsing apps and listening to streaming music for a while throughout the day, I was able to kill it off in about 15 hours. That’s good, but not great — and for a phone this big, most people are expecting “all day no matter what” kind of battery life.

You do get Quick Charge 3.0 here, with a compatible charger in the box, and perhaps that’s enough to ease many people’s worries about having just 3000 mAh inside. But being able to get better battery life each and every day out of a smaller phone from a different company makes this a tough sell for HTC.

htc-u-ultra-camera-interface.jpg?itok=IW

Solid for last year

HTC U Ultra Camera

The glory days of HTC having industry-leading, captivating camera experiences are behind us. The HTC 10’s camera was strong in 2016 but didn’t challenge for the “best of the best” designation, and HTC has only slightly tweaked things for the U Ultra. A 12MP “UltraPixel 2” sensor, which has large 1.55-micron pixels, sits behind an f/1.8 lens with optical image stabilization and focuses with phase-detect and laser auto focus. That’s everything you ask for in a smartphone camera in terms of hardware.

HTC’s camera interface is slick and offers quick access to other modes — including a full manual “Pro” mode — but understandably focuses on the main point-and-shoot function. I appreciate the toggle to quickly switch between HDR modes and big buttons to shoot video and switch to the front camera.

u-ultra-camera-interface.jpg?itok=a589zx

Thanks to all of the solid specs listed above, right out of the box you’ll be impressed by the general quality of the U Ultra’s camera. Just like most smartphone cameras today (to say nothing of $749 flagships), the U Ultra’s can put out 12MP shots that are in focus, crisp and consistent from shot to shot.

It’s only once you shoot with the camera for a week or more that you start to notice the few quirks that tell you the U Ultra is going to perform along the line of previous HTC cameras. Just like its predecessors, the U Ultra fights you in two main areas: a general lack of dynamic range, and hit-or-miss low-light performance.

ultra-camera-sample-daylight-1.jpg?itok=ultra-camera-sample-daylight-2.jpg?itok=ultra-camera-sample-daylight-3.jpg?itok=ultra-camera-sample-daylight-5.jpg?itok=ultra-camera-sample-daylight-7.jpg?itok=ultra-camera-sample-daylight-8.jpg?itok=ultra-camera-sample-daylight-9.jpg?itok=ultra-camera-sample-daylight-11.jpg?itokultra-camera-sample-daylight-12.jpg?itokultra-camera-sample-daylight-13.jpg?itokultra-camera-sample-low-light-1.jpg?itokultra-camera-sample-low-light-2.jpg?itokultra-camera-sample-low-light-3.jpg?itokultra-camera-sample-low-light-4.jpg?itokultra-camera-sample-low-light-5.jpg?itokultra-camera-sample-low-light-6.jpg?itokultra-camera-sample-low-light-7.jpg?itokultra-camera-sample-low-light-8.jpg?itok

For daylight shots, the U Ultra does well — where it struggles is in its dynamic range not being high enough to properly capture all parts of a less-than-ideal scene without something being short of your expectations. Even with HDR turned on, the U Ultra’s pictures will leave some portion of a mixed-light scene blown out or too dark. Turning on “touch autoexposure” in the settings is necessary so you can get proper metering for the actual subject of your photo, so at least that will be exposed properly and look good. Colors in general are just fine, but this low dynamic range leaves many photos coming out bland or improperly exposed to the point of being disappointing, particularly when you just point and shoot.

Fighting to be the best camera of March 2016.

At night, the U Ultra again is very capable thanks to its high resolution, OIS and large pixels, but some of the processing seems a bit off at times. The biggest issue I found is the U Ultra’s willingness to go for really slow shutter speeds in dark scenes — as slow as 1/5 second — to try and brighten things. The issue with dropping to 1/5 second is it introduces lots of potential for hand shake and blur, which combined with over-processing of grainy areas leads to very soft and blotchy results. Even when the shutter speeds are a bit quicker, around 1/20 or so, the U Ultra hesitates when taking low-light shots, making it easier to introduce hand shake that requires re-taking a photo.

When I stabilized the U Ultra and took a few shots to pick the best from the bunch, it can take great low light photos — you can only start to quip at little issues when you zoom in and notice soft edges. But the shot-to-shot performance at night can vary considerably, and that’s just a problem that high-end smartphones of the last year don’t struggle with.

The U Ultra would have a very competitive top-end camera if it were launching at this time last year. Its daylight performance is good, and if you know how to use it you can overcome issues with its lower-than-most dynamic range. Even though the low light performance is tougher to manage, it can capture solid shots But when you combine those two main issues that are likely to be present in photos you’ll take on a weekly basis, you get a camera that is very much befitting of a $500 phone rather than a top-tier flagship commanding a 50% higher price.

This camera doesn’t go toe-to-toe with the LG G6 or Pixel XL — it’s basically just a step above the the OnePlus 3T or Honor 8, at double the price.

htc-u-ultra-back-water-drops-2.jpg?itok=

Too many flaws

HTC U Ultra Bottom line

HTC made about 80% of a great flagship smartphone, but is choosing to sell it for 100% of a flagship price. Time after time, HTC continues to absolutely nail the basics: excellent design, perfect hardware execution, a top-notch display, great internals and fast software are all here. But then there are odd stumbles: no headphone jack, puzzlingly weak low-light camera performance, a small battery and distractingly tacked-on “artificial intelligence” software.

HTC made 80% of a great flagship smartphone, but is selling it for 100% of a flagship price.

Even some decisions, like skipping waterproofing and including its little second screen, wouldn’t seem so bad if the rest of the phone was great. But add these small issues to an already-flawed phone and you wonder what the thought process was for the whole device — that once again is commanding a top-dollar price tag of $749 where the competition gets just about everything right.

To have sales figures that actually move the needle, HTC can’t get by on its hardware design and software performance anymore, as great as both aspects may be. There’s plenty here to get HTC fans to buy a U Ultra purely for its great design, strong performance and big display — but those sales will be overshadowed by the overwhelming majority of people who will go for the better overall phones on offer from big-name companies at the same price or less.

See at Amazon
See at HTC

17
Mar

Focus is key to blending virtual objects with the real world


You might remember Avegant for its unusual take on the video headset. The Glyph looked like (and doubled up as) headphone cans but worked pretty well. We called it “a wearable cinema for serious movie fans.” Now, the startup is taking on a bigger challenge with Light Field, its “mixed reality platform” that can visualize objects “at multiple focal planes”. That means that it can offer variably focused virtual objects in the real world. Until now, the inability to change focus has meant virtual objects appear out of place in the real world. Take a look at the image above: The Mars Rover in the hand is in the same position (and focus) as the hand, while Mars and the corridor behind are out of focus until that focus shifts. (Milanese Apple Watch band optional. We hope.)

Avegant wants to make virtual objects appear more realistic at different distances. It also sounds like what investment-flush Magic Leap has been promising in recent years: more realistic virtual viewing and, most likely, the future of augmented reality. The company is planning on transforming this prototype into a consumer product. (Part of technology comes from its Glyph projector which projected an augmented reality screen for the wearer.) The technology this time is much more advanced, and offers more detailed projections. The company says this makes for a “more realistic and interactive experience”.

The technology will apparently work across multiple major hardware and software platforms. It doesn’t specifically mention any VR (or AR) hardware makers, but it gives a nod to Unity, which is used to make an awful lot of current VR content. According to Kurt Guttag, a heads-up display expert that’s had a play, the headset is bulkier than Microsoft’s Hololens, but added that it was an engineering prototype. (He also got a behind-the-scenes play at CES, months ago in January. The hardware has almost certainly moved on since then.)

Guttag said that the ability to see virtual objects in different focuses demonstrated that the tech was “well beyond” Hololens and its standard stereoscopic tech. Interestingly there’s no moving parts to help focus the images — and it doesn’t use eye-tracking either, apparently. While this means it’s a bit of a mystery as to how it all works, Avegant says this helps to ensure it’s “economical to make” — an important point to make when rival Magic Leap is dealing in billions of investment bucks.

Edward Tang, co-founder and CTO at Avegant said: “The biggest stumbling block for mixed reality today is creating crystal clear images that are within one meter. Without this capability, most mixed reality use cases simply can’t materialize.” The team believes the tech can make its way into commercial and industrial uses, as well as offering more realistic entertainment and gaming experiences on the way. “We’ve overcome that obstacle, and can’t wait for people to experience the results,” he added.

Source: Avegant (1), (2)

17
Mar

The best powerline networking kit


By Nathan Edwards & Samara Lynn

This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a buyer’s guide to the best technology. When readers choose to buy The Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, it may earn affiliate commissions that support its work. Read the full article here.

After a total of 36 hours of testing nearly every kit released over the past two years, we’ve determined that the best powerline networking adapter set for most people is the TP-Link AV2000 2-Port Gigabit Passthrough Powerline Starter Kit. The broadly compatible TP-Link kit is twice as fast as last year’s fastest powerline options, so it’s the best way to start or expand your home powerline network.

Who this is for

A powerline networking kit is a great way to extend your home network to the distant reaches of your house using your existing electrical wiring. A powerline kit contains two adapters, each with at least one Ethernet port and an electrical plug. One adapter plugs into an outlet near your router and connects to it with an included Ethernet cable. Plug in the other where you need an Internet connection and hook it up to your device with the other Ethernet cable. You can extend your powerline network by buying more adapters, either individually or in kits—it’s usually cheaper to buy a two-adapter kit, even if you need only one more. To add rooms to your powerline network, you just need adapters in those rooms; you can use the same router-side adapter for your entire network. All of the adapters we tested claim support for up to 16 adapters on the same powerline network.

Although powerline is like Ethernet in that it uses actual wires to deliver its signal, its signal still degrades over distance like Wi-Fi, especially if the adapters are on different electrical circuits. Despite its limitations, powerline is a useful way to extend your network to areas where Wi-Fi doesn’t reach and running an Ethernet cord would be impractical (like a garage, attic, or faraway bedroom).

Wi-Fi extenders are another option for extending the range of your network. These let you bring signal to any device with Wi-Fi, and almost all extenders have at least one Ethernet port. However, they tend to be more expensive than powerline kits and can interfere with your existing Wi-Fi signal (causing slowness or signal drops). If your home has issues with powerline networking and you can’t run a physical Ethernet cable, extenders are a good option.

How we picked and tested

This year’s powerline kits are faster than last year’s, but much bulkier. Left to right: the TP-Link TL-PA9020 kit, Zyxel PLA5456KIT, D-Link DHP-701AV, and Zyxel PLA5405KIT. Photo: Nathan Edwards

Powerline networking adapters provide a network connection in places where it’s impractical to use Ethernet or Wi-Fi, so speed is the most important factor in deciding between them. The AV2 2000 kits we tested this year were twice as fast as last year’s fastest models. If you’re starting from scratch, we recommend getting the latest-generation kits because your network is only as fast as its slowest component.

Every kit we’ve tested in the last two years except for one has a claimed data rate above 1 Gbps and complies with the latest HomePlug AV2 standard. AV2 compliance is important because it guarantees better speed, security, and reliability compared with older versions. The standard requires that every adapter have a Gigabit Ethernet port to avoid bottlenecking the connection, plus push-button AES 128-bit encryption to secure your network traffic from neighbors who might share your electrical wiring. AV2 also allows each adapter to act as a repeater. If the device you need to connect to your router is so far away (either in physical distance or in the number of electrical circuits the signal needs to traverse) that even your powerline signal is weak, you can put another powerline adapter midway between the two to extend the signal. For more on how we picked, see our full guide.

We tested two new AV2 2000 kits, the Zyxel PLA5456KIT and TP-Link TL-PA9020KIT, against two of the fastest adapters from last year, the Zyxel PLA5405KIT and the D-Link DHP-701AV.

We connected one adapter from each kit to an Asus RT-AC66U AC1750 dual-band wireless Gigabit router, and the other adapter to a Lenovo ThinkPad T460 laptop. A desktop PC with an Intel 82579V Gigabit NIC connected to the router was our iPerf server.

We benchmarked all four powerline kits, plus 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Wi-Fi, using iPerf 3.1.3 at three different points in a two-story, 2,400-square-foot house built in 1979. To learn more about the house’s layout and our test setup, see our full guide.

Many factors influence the speeds of powerline network adapters. Your mileage will vary for a number of reasons, covered in the Who this is for section of our full guide.

Our pick

The TP-Link TL-PA9020P was the fastest kit we tested, and it has dual Ethernet ports and a handy management utility. Photo: Nathan Edwards

The TP-Link TL-PA9020P kit is the best powerline adapter kit for most people because it was the fastest in our tests and had the best software, too. Along with the runner-up Zyxel PLA5456KIT, it’s the fastest kit we’ve ever tested. It has a passthrough AC power outlet, two Gigabit Ethernet ports, and a two-year warranty, and it comes with two 78-inch Ethernet cables. It’s bulky enough to partially block the outlet above it, but all the smaller adapters we tested were much slower.

The TP-Link offered the fastest performance in all the most important locations. In the two test locations farthest from the router, the TP-Link kit had average speeds between 80 and 90 Mbps. That’s not as fast as the Ethernet or the Wi-Fi—again, you should use those options if you can—but it was enough to beat the Zyxel PLA5456KIT, and more than twice as fast as the two fastest kits from last year (Zyxel’s PLA5405KIT and D-Link’s DHP-701AV). It’s more than fast enough to run several 4K video streams at the same time, and faster than the Internet connections most people in the US have.

Runner-up: Zyxel PLA5456KIT

Zyxel’s PLA5456KIT is almost identical to the TP-Link kit in size, speed, and price, though its included Ethernet cables are shorter and its optional management utility is clunkier. Photo: Nathan Edwards

If the TP-Link is sold out or too expensive, get the Zyxel PLA5456KIT. It’s nearly identical to the TP-Link in size, speed, specs, and price. It’s a little bit slower in some tests, but it’s still twice as fast as any powerline kit we tested last year. It’s AV2 2000-rated, has a passthrough AC power outlet, and two Gigabit Ethernet ports, and it’s bulky enough to partially block the outlet above it in a duplex socket.

The only real differences between the Zyxel and TP-Link kits are that the Zyxel’s bundled Ethernet cables are a foot and a half shorter, its status lights are on the front rather than the side, and its management utility is clunkier, slower, and uglier, and has fewer features than the TP-Link’s.

This guide may have been updated by The Wirecutter. To see the current recommendation, please go here.

Note from The Wirecutter: When readers choose to buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn affiliate commissions that support our work.

17
Mar

The week that was at SXSW 2017


As much as Team Engadget loves Austin, it’s time for us to say goodbye to SXSW. This week, we saw some of the latest things happening in tech, art, film and music — oh, and we also ate a ridiculous amount of BBQ, because that’s what you do in Texas. From smart jackets to AR and VR experiences, to chats with Buzz Aldrin, Frank Oz and La La Land’s music composer, we checked out a bit of everything at the event. Join Senior Editor Devindra Hardwar and Managing Editor James Trew as they discuss the week that was, and click here to catch up on all the news you may have missed from SXSW 2017.

17
Mar

Germany to use voice recognition to identify refugee origins


Germany will soon use voice recognition tech to help figure out exactly where refugees came from, according to Die Welt. Though the number of asylum seekers coming to the nation in 2016 dropped significantly to 280,000 from 890,000 in 2015, there was still a backlog of 430,000 applications at the beginning of 2017. Authorities from the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) are therefore hoping the technology can help dialect experts to clear that number down.

The software, based on voice authentication tech used by banks and insurance, is designed to analyze the dialects of refugees based on speech samples. That indicator can then be used to help authorities figure out if the person comes form a particularly war-torn area and is thus truly in need of asylum.

Experts are concerned about the accuracy of the software and that potential immigrants could be coached to game it. “I don’t see how automated software can distinguish whether a person uses a certain word or pronounces it in a particular way because this is part of their own repertoire or because they were primed to do so by the interviewer or interpreter,” University of Essex linguistics Professor Monika Schmid told Deutsch Welle.

Instead, she believes the job is best left to BAMF’s 45 linguistics experts, who cover 80 languages and have done such work since 1998. “Identifying the region of origin for anyone based on their speech is an extremely complex task,” she said. “Both humans and machines can easily be wrong, but humans are probably better at realizing this.”

Germany will start trials of the software in about two weeks, and if everything goes to plan, will deploy it widely in 2018. As it stands, less than half of refugees are granted asylum, though nearly 60 percent get other types of protection to avoid deportation. The largest numbers have come from Syria, followed by Afghanistan and Iraq. Because of the scope of the humanitarian crisis, staff at BAMF has quadrupled over the previous year.

Source: Die Welt

17
Mar

Amazon nabs ‘Moonlight’ streaming exclusive


Competition between Amazon Prime Video and Netflix remains fierce. At the moment, both streaming platforms are doing whatever they can to gain an edge. Netflix is scooping up premium content like Dave Chappelle stand-up specials and an unfinished Orson Welles film. Meanwhile, Amazon made a move today to bring the Academy Award-winning film Moonlight to Prime Video starting May 21st.

Moonlight is just one a number of noteworthy movies coming to Prime Video thanks to an extended partnership between Amazon and film distributor A24. Since 2013, A24 movies like Spring Breakers and Ex Machina have been available to purchase on Amazon Video the same day they were released on DVD and Blu-ray, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The new deal lets Amazon Prime Video subscribers watch A24 films as part of their subscription at no extra cost.

Prime viewers have some significant A24 movies to look forward to as well: Movies like the Casey Affleck-led A Ghost Story, American Honey (starring Shia LaBeouf) and the Oscar-nominated 20th Century Women are slated to hit Prime later this year. In a streaming race that’s as neck-and-neck as ever, picking up Moonlight and these other A24 films should keep Amazon competitive with its main rival.

Source: Business Wire

17
Mar

OK Google: Don’t put ads in the Google Assistant


Given how genuinely useful so many of Google’s products are, I sometimes forget that the company is, above all else, an advertising company. The vast majority of Google’s money comes from ads, and it has made a business out of finding ways to integrate them into its services. Search, Maps and Gmail are just a few Google services that integrate ads without compromising their utility.

However, Google outdid itself yesterday when it dropped an advertisement for the new Beauty and the Beast film into Google Home and the Google Assisant. The device has a feature where you can ask it to tell you about your day, and it responds with weather, traffic, your agenda and news. In the middle of that, Google Home informed users that Beauty and the Beast arrived in theaters and made a cutesy joke about the film. The whole thing lasted about 15 seconds, but it was nonetheless an unexpected intrusion that made users remember how often they are the product that Google is selling.

Even worse was Google’s first attempt at responding to press inquiries. The company had the audacity to say: “This isn’t an ad; the beauty in the Assistant is that it invites our partners to be our guest and share their tales.” To me, this means that any partner that wants to work with Google can show up in my living room. Being hassled by advertisers while using Home isn’t a “feature” that Google has ever talked about before.

The backlash was swift; Google responded quickly. Within a few hours Google had removed the ad from Home and issues a mild apology. Even then, though, it refused to call the message an ad. And lots of Home users are likely going to be suspicious that their device will start shilling products at any time, without warning.

The problem comes down to breaking user expectations. Google advertised a set of features and services for Home in exchange for your $130; integrated ads was not among them. It’s different with a product like Amazon’s Kindle readers, which display ads on the screen when the device is locked. Though Amazon uses the tricky phase “with special offers” to describe Kindles with ads, the product description is clear enough. And you can always pay a little more to get rid of those ads entirely.

Google Home is different. The company has an email address for every single Home users — if it wanted, it could have contacted them about a new “partner messages” program coming to the device. Even if you couldn’t opt out, getting a heads up ahead of time is the bare minimum I’d expect; that email wouldn’t keep me from getting ticked off about the change, but at least I’d be aware of what was happening.

To some extent, I believe that Google wants to find ways to extend the the “my day” feature by including some timely info. Home has already given some info about the Oscars ahead of the show, and it also had a special Black History Month story in February. But those experiences are a lot different than a message that simply sounded like an ad, as much as Google claims that wasn’t the intent.

Even if we accept Google’s line that it’s just trying to find ways to enhance the “my day” feature, it should be a strictly opt-in feature. The Google Home app lets you customize exactly what you’ll hear when you ask the device to tell you about your day. The lack of a checkbox or any other information for these “partner messages” makes Google’s explanation ring hollow.

Google’s apology and quick action around the Beauty and the Beast ad at least kept me from giving up on Home entirely. But given how Google makes money, we should be prepared for something like this to happen again. Hopefully Google has learned its lesson and won’t invade Home users’… homes without express permission. Personally, the only ads I’ll tolerate on Google Home are from ad-supported services I might use with it — not from the Google Assistant itself.

%d bloggers like this: