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19
Aug

The three TVs that made our buyer’s guide


Hot on the heels of updating our buyer’s guide, we have three more additions, and they’re all TVs. Of all the models out there, we’ve edited our selection to just three: two reasonably priced ones, and another for the “money is no object” crowd. So which nabbed the crown? You might want to revisit our Best of CES Award winners for a hint.

Source: Engadget Buyer’s Guide

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19
Aug

Logitech’s PowerPlay delivers no-compromise wireless gaming mice


It’s 2017 and many hardcore PC gamers are still devoted to their wired mice. Ask them why and you’ll likely get two reasons: You don’t have to worry about charging them, and there’s no need to worry about potential latency issues. Either of those issues could be incredibly frustrating during the middle of a heated match.

That’s why Logitech developed its PowerPlay system, which can wirelessly charge mice while they’re sitting on a specialized mousepad. Together with the company’s latest wireless technology, PowerPlay could finally be the first cord-free mouse to completely satisfy PC gamers.

The key to the system is its electromagnetic resonance charging technology, which sends power to the mouse without the need for any cords. The big, obvious benefit: You’ll never have to think about charging your mouse, be it by installing new batteries or plugging in a USB cable. Currently, PowerPlay works with Logitech’s G703 and G903 gaming mice, both of which feature the company’s new Lightspeed technology. Basically, that means they deliver an extremely low latency of 1ms, so you don’t have to worry about any lag. With those specs, they should be just as responsive as wired gaming mice. And in some cases, even more so, according to Logitech.

In my testing, the Powerplay charging mat worked just as advertised. It was truly strange to see my mouse’s battery life go up after several hours of browsing the web and playing games. A small LED light turns on when the mouse is being charged, but otherwise the entire system is pretty discreet. Setting it up is a cinch, too: The mat plugs into your computer over USB, and you just have to plug Logitech’s Powercore Module into the bottom of the mouse to get it ready. While you’d typically need to install a separate USB dongle for the Lightspeed mice, PowerPlay bundles all of that into the mat’s receiver.

After that, put your mouse on the pad and you’re good to go. The PowerPlay system comes with a soft cloth surface and a hard mousepad, both of which sit atop the rubbery charging surface. Since I typically use a metal mousing surface, I leaned toward the Powerplay’s hard cover. But I know plenty of gamers who would prefer the softer alternative, especially when it comes to things like strategy games.

It wasn’t long, though, before I noticed that Powerplay wasn’t a great solution for charging mice quickly. Logitech claims it would take 12 to 14 hours to charge them completely when they’re not in use (and of course, your computer has to be on the whole time). They’ll still get power when you’re using them, but it takes significantly longer to complete a charge cycle. Technically, that’s not a huge problem, since you’ll be using them on a charging surface anyway. But that could be anxiety-inducing if you’re used to taking your mouse on the go.

If that’s the sort of thing that bugs you, my recommendation is to plug a USB cable into your mouse directly just to reach that first full charge. Both the G703 and the G903 should get between 24 and 32 hours of battery life when away from the charging mat, according to Logitech.

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Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

Once I was up and running, the combination of Powerplay and Lightspeed made for a revelatory mousing experience. It felt strange not to worry about battery life while also having the freedom of wireless. Both were also very responsive in games like Overwatch and Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds. I could achieve head shots with ease, and since the mousing surface is so large, I didn’t have to worry about awkwardly lifting up the mouse for any quick movement.

Since I’ve been using Logitech’s wireless mice for gaming over the past few years, I didn’t need much convincing about the virtues of cutting the cord. I’ve never noticed latency issues with wireless mice, and I’m far more bothered by the awkwardness of managing a cord with a traditional mouse.

The PowerPlay system’s biggest issue is its $100 price. Once you add another $100 for the G703, or a cool $150 for the G903, you’re basically dropping a lot of money just for the privilege of charging your mouse wirelessly. Ultimately, PowerPlay is a great first stop for Logitech, since it proves how useful cordless power could be. Most gamers, though, will be better off charging their mice the old-fashioned way.

19
Aug

NASA Shares Ways to Stream the 2017 Solar Eclipse on iOS and Apple TV


On Monday, August 21, all of the continental United States will have the chance to view a solar eclipse, and depending on where you’re located you might even be able to see a total solar eclipse. The eclipse’s “path of totality” — or the shadow of the moon as it moves in front of the sun — will begin in Oregon and end in South Carolina, and anyone sitting outside the path will be witness to a partial solar eclipse.

For this reason, NASA is launching a suite of streaming programs covering the best views of the eclipse and its path of totality, giving anyone a chance to watch on their iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, or Apple TV, particularly those who live far away from the path of totality. NASA Television’s “Eclipse Across America” will include vantage points of the eclipse on the ground, from aircrafts, and even from the International Space Station.

Images via NASA
To tune into the live broadcast, there are a few platforms you can choose from: the main NASA app for iOS [Direct Link], and the NASA app for tvOS, which you can download from the App Store on the fourth-generation Apple TV. Android users can watch on Android smartphones, Amazon Fire tablets, and Fire TV devices.

A preview show will kick off at 12:00 p.m. ET, hosted from Charleston, South Carolina, and live coverage will last for four hours. At 1 p.m. ET the main show will begin and continuously cover the path of totality the eclipse will take as it travels across the United States.


The partial eclipse will begin in Oregon at around 9 a.m. PT and totality will occur just over one hour later. The eclipse will then end in South Carolina with a partial eclipse hitting just after 1 p.m. ET and totality occurring approximately between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. ET. For those in the path of totality, the total solar eclipse will last just a few short minutes (between 2 minutes and 2 minutes and 40 seconds), although the exact duration will vary by location.

The lunar shadow enters the United States near Lincoln City, Oregon, at 9:05 a.m. PDT. Totality begins in the United States in Lincoln City, Oregon, at 10:16 a.m. PDT. The total eclipse will end in Charleston, South Carolina, at 2:48 p.m. EDT. The lunar shadow leaves the United States at 4:09 p.m. EDT. A partial eclipse will be visible throughout the United States.

NASA has created a useful interactive map for finding the times when the eclipse will appear near you, as well as how high the obscuration percentage (percent of totality, with higher being darker) will be in your area.

In regards to eye and camera safety, NASA has a wealth of resources to guide you on viewing and recording the eclipse. The organization suggests that you only purchase solar viewers from its list of reputable retailers and vendors. The safety precautions are particularly aimed at the time of the partial solar eclipse, when sunlight can still be seen in the sky.


There’s also a document [PDF] that NASA has created on the subject of eclipse smartphone photography, briefing those interested in capturing the eclipse with various tips on getting the best shots. Without a professional camera, tripod, or telescope, most smartphone shots of the eclipse will likely still come out as images with a tiny bright disc in the sky.

NASA warns that smartphones with wide apertures, between f/1.7 and f/2.0 (in terms of iPhones only the iPhone 7’s f/1.8 fits in this range), could face potential damage when pointed directly at the sun for long periods. There are steps that can be taken to avoid such a risk, including simply taking quick snaps of the eclipse, covering the iPhone’s lens with solar viewer safety glasses, or investing in telephoto lens attachments.

No matter what, be sure to keep solar glasses on at all times when photographing a partial solar eclipse with either a smartphone or professional camera system.

There are plenty of other apps and platforms that the 2017 solar eclipse will be viewable on, including most major media outlets and their own iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Apple TV applications.

Tag: NASA
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19
Aug

Here’s how to take a screenshot on a Mac – it’s easier than you think


Wondering how to take a screenshot with your Mac? There’s no “Print Screen” button on your keyboard, sure, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the process is complicated. Using various keyboard shortcuts, you can capture a screenshot of your entire display and everything on it, or you can simply drag a box around the designated area you want to capture. There’s a variety of other screenshot methods available in MacOS Sierra — including those for capturing a specific window or growing your selection from the center — all of which produce images you can then use to flaunt your latest high score or clarify a problem with tech support. Here’s a guide on how to take a screenshot on a Mac, whether you prefer capturing images using keyboard shortcuts or Preview.

Taking a screenshot using keyboard commands

To capture the entire screen and save it to the clipboard, hit Command+Shift+Control+3

To capture a selected area and save it to the clipboard, hit Command+Shift+Control+4

Using these same keyboard shortcuts mentioned above without pressing “Control” will save the screenshot as a PNG file to your desktop, instead of your clipboard. Also, when you trigger the area option — i.e., Command+Shift+Control+4 — your mouse cursor will become a crosshair, letting you select the region of the screen you want to select. You can also fine-tune your selection, if desired. To do so, try pressing one the following button combinations after you hit the initial shortcut keys. Note that if you have a MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, you can hit Shift+Command+6 to take a screenshot of the Touch Bar display and save it as a PNG file to your desktop.

Hit the Spacebar to change your pointer into a camera and grab a full window or toselect an open menu

Hit Escape to cancel your screenshot

Taking screenshots with Grab

Don’t feel like memorizing keyboard shortcuts? Grab, a program that comes pre-installed all Macs, lets you create screenshots directly from the menu bar. The program also lets you take time-delayed screenshots, just in case you need to set the stage before capturing an image on your display. You’ll find this program in the Utilities folder, which is housed within the Applications folder.

Once you launch Grab, you’ll see an icon for the program in your dock. If you want, you can also pin this icon for quick access later.

Grab doesn’t usually feature a window when open, and instead, runs almost entirely from the menu bar.

With Grab, you can take a screenshot of a particular section of the screen, an individual window, or the entire screen — the same three options we previously outlined above. What’s new here is the “Timed screen” option, which gives you a 10-second delay before the screenshot is captured.

This means that, if you need to open a menu or position your mouse in the right position, you’ve got some time to do so. Keep in mind that your mouse cursor will not show up in the screenshot by default, though. If you want to ensure it’s captured in the frame, click Preferences from the main Grab menu and select the mouse icon from the resulting pop-up window.

The cursor will only show up when capturing delayed screenshots, which is just as well since you’ll need your mouse to take screenshots for the other options. We still think the keyboard shortcuts are a better way to capture screenshots, but if you don’t want to memorize anything, Grab is a great alternative.

Using Preview to take a screenshot

Preview, the default tool that allows you to open everything from photos to PDF files on your Mac, has more than a few hidden features. You can edit images with Preview, for instance, simply by clicking the toolbox icon. Preview can also capture screenshots.

To do so, open Preview and head to the menu bar. Then, click File and select Take Screenshot from the resulting drop-down menu.

We prefer the keyboard shortcut method to this method, however, because the former is far quicker. Preview does offer one main advantage, however, in that you can choose where your screenshots end up. The other options on our list automatically save your screenshot to the desktop with a verbose filename. Preview opens the screenshot, lets you make a few edits, and save the file wherever you like. If that matters to you, Preview is a solid choice.

Taking and saving Mac screenshots

What happens once a screenshot is taken? Assuming you didn’t just send it to the clipboard, your Mac will automatically time stamp the screenshot with the day and time it was taken, before saving it as a PNG file to your desktop. This is handy for immediate reference, but if you’re taking many screenshots in a row, then your desktop will quickly become cluttered with files that sport odd names.

The best solution is to simply move screenshots to the Trash whenever you’re finished with them. But if you work with numerous screenshots, this may get a little tiring. The good news is that there are modifications you can make via Terminal commands and third-party MacOS software, the latter of which we’ve touched upon in our picks for the best MacOS apps.

Take, for example, the Tiny for Mac app. The software will automatically rename your screenshot based on the foremost application window. If you’re using Safari or Chrome, it will also incorporate the URL and title of the active tab, if applicable. This can greatly help with organization if you’re juggling several images at the same time.

Update: Further clarified instructions and removed invalid keyboard shortcuts.




19
Aug

The 10 best calendar apps for Android and iOS to help you organize a chaotic day


One of the reasons we buy smartphones is because they help us organize our lives. No other apps help you accomplish this better than your calendar app. Smartphones come with built-in calendar apps, but sometimes these apps just don’t quite cut it. There are some great third-party apps that will enhance the basic capabilities of your built-in calendar app so that you can do much more than you ever thought was possible.

We’ve compiled a list of some of the best calendar apps we could find for both iOS and Android. We hope that one of them will be the perfect fit for you and will make your life easier to manage.

If productivity is important to you, don’t forget to check our list of top 10 productivity apps and the best note taking apps for iOS and Android.

The Best

Fantastical 2

For iOS, the best calendar app can only be Fantastical 2. It works with the iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch, and it takes advantage of some of the new hardware features like 3D Touch and Force Touch. What pushes it above the rest of the apps available on iOS is how it supports multiple languages, lets people use speech to create reminders, and even supports the use of simple text phrases to make reminders and alerts. It’s intuitive, quick, convenient, and feature-rich, which is everything you want from an app you’re hoping will make your life easier to schedule.

The iPad app gets its own unique dashboard view, which provides quick and easy access to all of your events and reminders. If you have an Apple Watch, there’s a dedicated app for that as well, which will have your reminders pushed to it, and allow you to speak directly to the watch to add new events, thanks to the Force Touch capabilities. English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Japanese are all supported.

Many of the app’s features are standard fare and just what you’d expect a calendar app to offer, but Fantastical 2 strives to make every process more convenient in order to save time. For example, you can start a sentence with “reminder,” “to do,” or “task” to create reminders, or use phrases like “remind me tomorrow at 3PM,” or “alarm 3PM” to set new alerts. You can also add a geofence to an alert so that it’ll go off when you leave or arrive at a specific location. For example, if you head out to a grocery store, you’ll be reminded of the fact that you need milk and bread.

Download now for:

iOS

CloudCal

For Android users, we can’t recommend CloudCal enough. CloudCal has a unique way of showing how busy you are on any given day. The Android app uses a system it calls Magic Circles, which turn the days of the month into clock faces, and show different colored circles, or segments of a circle. Each one corresponds to whatever tasks you have scheduled for that day. If it’s someone’s birthday, there would be a complete magic circle on that day. If you have a meeting at work that same day, there would be another colored segment on the outside of the previously mentioned circle labeled “Meeting.” The goal of the magic circle system is to give people a rough understanding of what their day will be like, and how much free time they’ll have in between everything.

To complement the magic circles, CloudCal features gesture support, customizable views, calendar import, and it can work alongside other apps like Uber, Maps, and Waze. However, that requires those apps to be installed, and you’ll need to purchase the Pro version of the app for $2.50 first. Once installed, you can call an Uber from within CloudCal, or use Maps and Waze to attach locations to scheduled events and tasks. The biggest factor behind our recommendation is the app’s unique Magic Circles system, which is stylish and gets information across quickly. There’s also the fact that you can use other apps like Uber, Maps, and Waze to complement CloudCal’s features and functions. We also like that you can attach photos, audio files, and Dropbox files to events.

Download now for:

Android

19
Aug

How your phone can help you walk more (and not hate it)


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Take the stairs. Walk, don’t drive. Every little step adds up when you’re trying to get fit!

In the first Tech for your Health column, we discussed using apps and technology to help establish better nutrition habits. With all that extra energy that comes along with eating right, it’s time to step up your physical activity.

They say you need to learn to walk before you can run. While that idiom relates to mastering basic skills before tackling more complex projects, it’s also fine advice to take literally when you’re easing into a healthier routine. It’s incredibly easy to procrastinate and binge on technology indoors, when fitting in just an extra 30 minutes of walking into your daily routine can make a big difference in your health, physical and mental.

We’ve got some tips if you’re considering tech to help break you free from your couch-potato habits.

A fitness tracker isn’t going to fix your bad habits

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Fitness trackers have been the trendy workout accessory for years now, with the space blowing up with tons of brands trying to jump into the emerging market. If you were to believe the marketing hype, slapping a $200 activity tracker to your wrist is all that’s been stopping you from achieving your fitness goals.

But if you’re the initial goal is to simply get a bit more active and you’re only looking to track your daily step count you can totally get by using the device you already carry with you at all times: your phone.

Google has continued to develop and flesh out its own health app, Google Fit, and if you haven’t checked it out you really should.

There are a number of free step counting apps that use the sensors built into most Android phones to give you a fairly accurate assessment of how much activity you get in a day. Google has continued to develop and flesh out its own health app, Google Fit, and if you haven’t checked it out you really should. Not only does it let you set and track activity goals for yourself — whether that’s a daily step goal, active minutes, or weekly run goals — but it also syncs up nicely and aggregates information from other fitness and nutrition apps you may also be using. It’s a great free app that should help you get started down the path to a more active lifestyle

Alternatively, if you’re using a Samsung phone, you’ve got a pretty decent health tracking app pre-installed. Samsung Health offers a full suite of functions and services for tracking your activities and diet. Samsung has also been including a heart rate sensor in all its flagship devices since the Galaxy S5, allowing you to receive a more advanced breakdown of your health vitals without the need to buy a heart-rate monitoring fitness tracker. It also plays real nice with the Samsung Gear S3, Samsung Gear Fit 2, or any of their other smartwatches and fitness trackers.

Now don’t get me wrong, fitness trackers can be great tools for keeping you honest and tracking your progress (and I’ll be looking at them more in-depth in future columns). Fitbit is the household name and has developed a number of great features within its app that I’ve enjoyed using, especially the daily and weekly Fitbit challenges. You can compete with your friends, family, and co-workers to Fitbit complete challenges — because a little healthy competition is never a bad thing.

But like I touched on in my previous column about nutrition, you’re best off taking your time, doing your research, and work on setting new habits before you start investing in a fancy piece of tech. I’ve known too many people (myself included) who end up with a growing collection of fitness trackers that just end up collecting dust in a drawer after a couple months of use.

So use your phone to start, work on building those healthier habits, and then when you feel you’re fully committed to your goals you can grab

Find apps that inspire you to get outside

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It shouldn’t be too much of a challenge to get outside for an hour or two each day and take a walk around the block, and yet it’s something I still struggle with on a weekly basis. Working from home I’ve spent countless evenings transitioning from work to leisure without leaving the house, spending the entire evening just laying around staring at my phone — it’s the ultimate tool for my procrastinating needs.

Get off your damn butt and walk — and listen to a good podcast or audiobook while you do it.

Ideally, I’d like to get into the habit of waking up early and going for a morning walk, but I’m not quite there yet. So I’ve sought out other ways to use my phone to help me get steps in throughout the week. If I need to do a quick trip to the grocery store, I’ll check out the walking time estimates in Google Maps, find a podcast or playlist that’ll fill that time nicely, and head out on foot rather than taking my car. Small decisions like that have a way of compounding over time, and once you get used to the new habit it’ll just become second nature.

Podcasts and music are a natural accompaniment for any walk or run, but there are other great apps and games available for mobile that can help you get outside and get moving. In spite of its haters, Pokémon Go is still going strong with a number of new features and Pokémon released this summer. But there are many more cool apps worth trying out — check out the rundown we published at the start of summer!

The best apps and games for getting out and enjoying the outdoors

Ready to start running?

In the next column, I’ll be stepping things up and looking at using tech to help you transition from walking to running, but if you’re already feeling ready to hit the pavement, might we suggest a Couch to 5K app to get you started!

19
Aug

ASUS ZenFone AR review: A ‘better’ Tango phone doesn’t mean much


Google’s Tango augmented reality technology isn’t new, and its debut last year on Lenovo’s Phab2 Pro left a lot to be desired. I mean, honestly, as neat as AR apps can be, an enormous phone with a mid-range chipset wasn’t the best vehicle for them. Meanwhile, ASUS was fine with waiting, and that has made all the difference. The new ZenFone AR ($599+) is better than Lenovo’s earlier Tango phone by almost every measure that matters, and it supports Google’s Daydream VR platform, to boot. The idea of a phone that’s as good at augmented reality as it is at virtual reality is tantalizing, but I’m not convinced the ZenFone AR is going to make a believer out of anyone.

Hardware and design

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Chris Velazco/Engadget

If you looked at the ZenFone AR straight on, I doubt you’d remember anything about it. It’s a slab of a phone with a 5.7-inch AMOLED screen, an 8-megapixel camera and a sluggish fingerprint sensor built into the home button. Pretty drab, though the glass face and brushed metal edges feel sturdy enough. Meanwhile, you’ll find a now-standard USB-C port on the phone’s bottom edge for charging and data transfer, along with a tray for two nano-SIMs and a microSD card on the phone’s left side. Be careful, though: While the rest of the phone is well built, the tray is so flimsy that I had trouble popping in a SIM card.

As with Lenovo’s Tango phone, though, things get much more interesting when you flip the device over. For Tango’s space-sensing powers to work, it needs three cameras, all of which are clustered together under a dark metal plate. It’s a neat flourish that breaks up all the faux leather covering the phone’s back, a design choice that made me instantly nostalgic for the days of the LG G4 and Samsung’s Note Edge. To be clear, the ZenFone isn’t as luxurious as those earlier phones, but it sure is distinct: For better and worse, no other flagship that’s come out this year feels quite like the ZenFone AR.

Other factors make the ZenFone a distinctive option, for better or worse. ASUS managed to squeeze a standard headphone jack in here, which is always nice to see when this handy connector is teetering on the edge of extinction. Less nice is the lack of any water resistance. This won’t be a deal-breaker for everyone, but it would’ve been nice to see on such a pricey phone. Thankfully, what’s inside counts for a lot: The ZenFone AR packs a Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 chipset and an Adreno 530 GPU. Yes, we know, those specs are a little last year. There’s still plenty of life in this silicon, though, and this time it’s paired with either 6GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, or 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage — we’ve been testing the latter.

Display and sound

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Chris Velazco/Engadget

The ZenFone’s exterior design feels pretty ho-hum, but its 5.7-inch AMOLED screen is pleasantly surprising. It runs at the standard Quad HD (2,560 x 1,440 resolution), so everything’s nice and crisp, and viewing angles are excellent as well. You’d expect an AMOLED screen to feature some bold colors, and this panel definitely does. More impressive are the thorough screen calibration options ASUS offers. By default, the screen runs in an über-vibrant “Super Color” mode, but you can quickly switch into a more conservative color temperature if that’s your speed. And if that’s not right either, you can fiddle with the hue and saturation until you’ve got it just right — even if that means turning the screen black and white.

The ZenFone’s single speaker is better than expected too. While most phone speakers sound pretty wimpy, this one gets very loud and delivers thick, substantial audio with minimal distortion. There’s also an “Outdoors” mode that flattens the sound and effectively kills the bass — all in the name of improving audio quality when you’re traipsing around outside. That might not sound great — and it doesn’t, really — but it still helped keep my podcasts loud and listenable during my walks to and from the subway. Things get better when you plug in some headphones, thanks to a handful of optimization tools — one tunes audio depending on what kind of cans you’ve just plugged in, and DTS’ Headphone X simulates more spacious environments, to make music and movies sound more immersive. The latter makes more of a difference, to the point that I made sure to have it on every time I fired up a Spotify playlist.

Software

Wow. While companies like Samsung and HTC have tried to pursue cleanliness, ASUS seems to value flexibility over subtlety. The result is a version of Android 7.0 Nougat that’s loaded — maybe even overloaded — with flourishes and features. Some things are more obvious than others. Swiping up from the home screen invokes a grid of settings for managing ASUS’ ZenUI, including options for swapping out icon packs, installing new themes and changing how your home screen panels animate as you swipe through them. Not enough for you? There’s a Moto-like always-on screen mode that keeps the time and date visible on the ZenFone’s display, and it seems to have a negligible effect on battery life.

ASUS’ customizations extend beyond cosmetics too. If thumbing through a list of apps has gotten old, you can draw letters on the screen to launch apps instead. There’s also a one-handed mode that shrinks the screen to a more manageable size with a double tap of the home button. This is helpful for folks who would prefer a smaller screen, except the shrunken display window sticks to the left side of the screen, with no clear way to move it. (After some Googling, it turns out you have to long-press the top of the window, then drag it around.) Meanwhile, the included Optiflex app purports to make apps launch more quickly … somehow. As mentioned earlier, the version of the phone we’re testing has 8GB of RAM, so it seems like launch data is just being kept in RAM to keep everything running smoothly. The thing is, while ASUS says apps can launch nearly twice as fast as normal with Optiflex running, I never noticed a significant difference.

So yeah, there’s a lot of stuff going on here, but thankfully, most of it is easy to ignore. Some people will surely appreciate all of the options ASUS offers here, but fans of stock Android will want to run, not walk, away from this thing.

Camera

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Chris Velazco/Engadget

At the heart of ASUS’ camera cluster is a 23-megapixel sensor that, in addition to helping augment reality, also happens to take pretty good pictures. If I sound surprised, I am. Remember, this is the company that once built a smartphone-camera hybrid but then forgot to make that camera particularly good. Thankfully, most of the test shots I captured with the ZenFone AR were filled with detail and bright, generally accurate colors. Thanks to the inclusion of three autofocus methods (laser, phase detection and the bog-standard contrast), locking on to subjects is a quick affair. Even low-light performance isn’t too bad; you’ll get a decent amount of grain, but the blurriness and soft edges are mitigated somewhat by 4-axis optical image stabilization.

You won’t have to look hard to find smartphones with better cameras — say, the S8s or the HTC U11 — but the ZenFone is capable of producing perfectly respectable photos. Ditto for the front-facing 8-megapixel camera, which dutifully churned out crisp, handsome selfies … until I went overboard with Beauty mode. Suffice it to say it doesn’t take much fiddling to turn an innocent self-portrait into some sort of alien caricature. And that’s just one of the photo modes ASUS included here — there are 19 more, only a handful of which are actually useful. HDR Pro and Super Resolution, which combines multiple images into one highly detailed one, are handy, even if the former occasionally makes for blown-out shots. Others, like the janky depth-of-field mode, never worked as well as they should have. And don’t get me started on Children mode, which allows you to play audio clips of lousy trumpets, among other things, to coax kids into smiling. I found few of these options worth using regularly, but I guess there’s something to be said about the camera’s flexibility.

Living with Tango

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Chris Velazco/Engadget

Google’s vision of a future with devices that sense the world around them is a potentially game-changing one, and now one of its biggest rivals is embracing it too. Needless to say, there’s a real chance that your next phone (or maybe your next-next phone) will support augmented reality. For Tango, though, the progress has been slow. It’s been a little less than a year since the first Tango phone launched, and the number of available apps hasn’t grown much; there are around 50 now, as compared with 40 or so in 2016. Some of Tango’s functional issues haven’t been solved, either: a decent chunk of available apps still have trouble detecting surfaces and remembering where objects or markers are.

Generally speaking, apps fall into three buckets: games, utilities and miscellaneous stuff. Tango games like Phantogeist, a first-person AR shooter, remain a lot of fun — I spent about an hour wandering through the office, disrupting meetings in search of foes to blast with my lightning gun. It’s perhaps the most action-packed Tango game you’ll find, but it also highlights some of the biggest challenges for developing Tango content: Enemy orbs still float through walls the phone should be able to detect, and there’s nothing to keep you coming back once that initial wave of novelty wears off. Hot Wheels Track Builder plops you into an ersatz workshop where you can tinker with elaborate racetracks and launch cars on them. Unfortunately, the bits you plop down are prone to wandering, forcing you to reset your view once in a while. That’s the thing about Tango games right now: Even the stuff that’s been out since Tango launched can feel a little unfinished.

The utilitarian apps haven’t changed much, which is fine, since they worked fairly well the first time around. You can still measure things with Google’s Measure app with some degree of accuracy, or plop virtual Wayfair furniture into the space around you to see how it all fits. Maybe the most impressive new addition comes from BMW, which lets you virtually poke around a mostly life-size i3 or i8; you can even fire up the windshield wipers. Occasional tracking issues aside (Measure sometimes offers incorrect figures because it’s harder than expected to place the first marker), these apps were generally free of major issues. That’s more important than you’d think: While the games offer a brief respite from reality, Tango’s potential to help people get things done is what will drive more people to embrace AR.

Then there’s the other stuff. The best current example in the Play Store is an app from the Wall Street Journal that shows you a three-dimensional table visualizing the rises and falls of the US stock market. It works, but using it isn’t particularly intuitive, and the app offers little extra functionality; once you home in on a company, you can check its stock price and glance at a few relevant headlines. If anything, it demonstrates one of the most crucial challenges facing augmented reality developers: How do you present information in a way that makes valuable use of the “space” AR provides? With augmented reality being such a nascent technology, good answers are hard to come by.

Like the last time I tested Tango, the experience felt like a slice of the future when everything worked the way it’s supposed to. Unfortunately, the novelty of most Tango apps wears off quickly. That’s partially a sales problem — if there were more Tango phones out in the world, developers would have more of an incentive to build great experiences for it. For now, though, the Tango remains a promising platform held back by its limited appeal.

Performance and battery

As mentioned, the ZenFone AR packs a Qualcomm Snapdragon 821, a chipset from last year that still packs a punch. Despite ASUS’s heavy touch with its software, the ZenFone ran smoothly whether I was launching apps or furiously multitasking in an effort to stymie the phone. In day-to-day use, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between this thing and a Snapdragon 835-powered device … unless you’re a fan of visually intense games and VR content. I noticed occasional moments of lag and some visual tearing while playing high-end titles like Afterpulse, as well as when I had the ZenFone plugged into Google’s Daydream VR headset. These instances are the exception, not the rule, though, and it’s nice to finally see a Tango phone that doesn’t skimp on the horsepower.

AndEBench Pro 13,711 16,064 10,322 17,456 16,455
3DMark IS Unlimited 30,634 35,626 30,346 40,081 28,964
GFXBench 1080p Manhattan Offscreen (fps) 46 55 42 60 49
CF-Bench 30,409 64,441 29,748 78,935 45,803

I only wish I could say the same about the ZenFone’s battery. There’s a 3,300mAh cell tucked inside, which just barely got me through most workdays; I’d pull the phone off the charger between 7 AM and 8 AM, and it would be right on the edge of death by 6 PM. Things got worse when I spent time playing Daydream VR games or using Tango apps for more than a few minutes. Unless you’re very judicious, you’ll have to charge the phone promptly every night. Meanwhile, in Engadget’s battery rundown test, the ZenFone AR looped an HD video with screen brightness set to 50 percent for just over 10 hours before finally dying. That’s well short of the Galaxy S8 and OnePlus 5, and even the HTC U11, a device with a smaller battery.

The competition

I’m obliged to mention Lenovo’s Phab2 Pro, since it’s literally the only other choice for would-be Tango users, but there’s little reason to take the plunge. Sure, its software is a little tidier, and it has a bigger battery, but otherwise, we’re working with a bigger, slower phone that will never get a Nougat update. At $499, it’s markedly cheaper than the ZenFone AR, but anyone considering splurging on a Tango phone should definitely shell out the extra money.

If you’re not strictly looking for a Tango device, you have plenty of powerful alternatives. As fragile as it can be, I’m a big fan of the HTC U11 — it sports one of the nicest smartphone cameras around, and the company’s Android skin is much, much cleaner. There are plenty of gimmicks on board, but don’t let them distract you: At its core, the U11 is an undeniably great smartphone. Ditto for either of the Galaxy S8s, which often go on sale and pair top-tier performance with some of the most beautiful mobile hardware available today.

Wrap-up

Lenovo’s Phab2 Pro might have been first, but the ZenFone AR’s superior hardware makes it the best Tango device yet. That’s not really saying much, though: The Tango experience isn’t much better than it was a year ago, and there still isn’t much there to win over people who haven’t already bought into Google’s AR vision. If you’re already tantalized by the potential of augmented reality to change how we see the world, the ZenFone AR is worth looking into. For literally everyone else who just wants a damn good all-around smartphone, there’s little here for you.

19
Aug

The Morning After: Weekend Edition


Hey, good morning!

The weekend has arrived, and we’re talking Twitter’s problems dealing with Trump, a casual drone landing on a battleship, and the battle against hate online.

Crowdfunding platforms are taking a tough stance against hate speech.
GoFundMe shuts down campaigns for Charlottesville suspect

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Crowdfunding platforms are taking a no-tolerance approach to campaigns raising money in support of James Fields, the man accused of driving a car into protesters at a white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday. GoFundMe has already removed “multiple” campaigns for Fields. Speaking to Reuters, strategic communications director Bobby Whithorne said: “Those campaigns did not raise any money and they were immediately removed.” He added that GoFundMe will delete similar campaigns if more are created. This was only the start of a week of similar moves made by tech companies attempting to combat hate.

The subscription doesn’t include 3D or IMAX screenings, though.
The MoviePass $9.95 ‘unlimited’ deal is one movie a day

Going to the movies isn’t cheap and MoviePass wants to fix that. The company has just announced a $9.95 no contract subscription plan that’ll grant subscribers access to one movie a day in a theater without blackouts. Previously, users were limited to two movies a month for $15, and in Los Angeles and New York that price bumped to $21. AMC, however, wasn’t happy.

Stop trying to make #Bothie happen, Nokia.
With the Nokia 8, its first Android flagship, the company got a lot right

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Eight months since it started making Android phones in the Nokia name, it’s revealing a big-screened flagship to go up against the Galaxy S8s and iPhones that dominate the smartphone world. As soon as you see the copper-finished Nokia 8, you’ll probably agree it’s a gorgeous device, as ever. It also offers plenty of camera tricks, again, and it’s aimed at young creative types, yet again. But if the plan is to succeed, what is Nokia to do differently this time?

It touched down and lifted off with nobody batting an eyelash.
A drone landed on Britain’s biggest warship and nobody cared

The Pentagon has already approved a policy giving military bases the right to shoot down drones that get too close. A lot of other countries’ governments and militaries, however, are still figuring out how to deal with them as they become more common. A photographer operating under the name Black Isle Images, for instance, landed a drone aboard Britain’s biggest warship, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, and nobody seemed to care.

The automaker dropped two new concept cars at Pebble Beach.
BMW’s redesigned 8 Series is cleaner, more aggressive

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At the Monterey Car Week, BMW unveiled two new concept vehicles. Both are previews of planned production models of the Series 8 and Z4 Roadster. If the versions on the forecourt are even close to these concepts, there are going to be a lot of very happy movie producers and hedge-fund managers (thanks to the probable high price and outstanding-but-aggressive looks).

But wait, there’s more…

  • Twitter’s dilemma: What to do with Trump?
  • Newton is the rare email app that works great on both Windows and Mac
  • Finally, we get a look at the Essential phone
  • Google countdown teases Android O reveal during solar eclipse
19
Aug

Want to live longer? Forever Labs wants to help, using your stem cells


Why it matters to you

Forever Labs hopes that by storing your stem cells, you can fight disease and slow aging.

We may have found the Fountain of Youth. Or at the very least, we’ve found Forever Labs. It’s a new Y Combinator startup that seeks to help you live longer and healthier by preserving adult stem cells. Because as it turns out, drinking from a mythical source of water is not, in fact, the key to eternity.

While some of us may be familiar with the concept of freezing our eggs, few until now have considered applying the same concept to our stem cells. But this, Forever Labs believes, is a mistake. This is because stem cells can be transformed into any kind of cell the body needs (which is why so much research already exists surrounding these supremely adaptable cells). However, as Forever Labs points out on its website, “The number and therapeutic quality of our stem cells diminishes with age.” But if you store them, you may be able to preserve them for future use, thereby combating disease and, just maybe, aging.

How does it work? Using a patented device, Forever Labs collects stem cells from your blood marrow, which the team calls “a wellspring for stem cells that replenish your blood, bone, immune system, and other vital tissues.” The whole process is said to take around 15 minutes, with “most clients” reporting a “five to 10 second pressure-like sensation.” And don’t worry — no scars will result from the process.

Once your cells have been extracted, the company offers to “grow and bank your cells for $2,500,” as TechCrunch explains. You’ll need to pay an extra $250 every year for storing your cells, or if you’d rather, just pay a flat fee of $7,000 for life.

If you’re looking to get into the storage game earlier rather than later (Forever Labs will start collecting cells as long as you’re 18 or over, and suggests that younger is better), then it seems that this $7,000 option might be a bit better. “As the loss and decline of bone marrow stem cells continues throughout one’s life,” Forever Labs notes, “and as this decline accelerates with age, storing at any age may provide benefits to your future self,”

So if you’re looking for a way to live forever (or just a bit longer), this may be a good way to hedge your bets.




19
Aug

What devices can play Amazon Music?


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You can listen to Amazon Music on nearly any device that’s out there. String up two tin cans on a flag pole, and that might work, too. (Or not.) Here’s a more definitive list, though.

Amazon Music is as ubiquitous as just about any other music service out there. Tens of millions of songs. Available on nearly any device you can think of. In your car. On your phone. On a TV. On your computer.

Here’s the breakdown of all the devices you can use with Amazon Music, and where to find their respective applications:

  • iPhone and iPad: Hit up this link in iTunes.
  • Android: You’ll find it on Google Play, and on the Amazon Appstore.
  • Mac and PC desktop app: Download it here. Works with Mac OS 10.9 and up, and Windows 7 and up.
  • Amazon Echo: If you’ve got an Amazon Echo and are an Amazon Prime subscriber, you’re good to go. Just tell Alexa to play some music!
  • On the web: Get to your nearest internet browser and head here.
  • In your car: If you’ve got Android Auto or Apple’s CarPlay, you’re covered. Amazon Music works on both. And a number of car manufacturers let Amazon Music work directly with their stock infotainment systems.
  • Amazon Fire TV: Amazon’s TV operating system also has access to Amazon Music. Have at it!
  • Amazon Fire Tablets: You’ll find Amazon Prime Music preloaded on Amazon’s Fire tablets.
  • Elsewhere: A few other places you can play Amazon Music include Roku, Sonos, Polk Omni, Bose, HEOS, Definitive Technology, and PlayFi.

Amazon Music

  • Get started with Amazon Music
  • Which Amazon Echo should you buy?
  • All about Alexa Skills
  • Top Echo Tips & Tricks
  • Amazon Echo vs. Google Home

See at Amazon

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