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11
Sep

Apple’s Greg Joswiak on Siri: We Deliver a Personalized Experience Without Treating You as a Product


Ahead of the launch of iOS 11, Apple VP of marketing Greg Joswiak sat down with several publications to talk about Siri, the personal assistant built into all major Apple devices. His interview with Wired was published last week, and today, Fast Company published its interview, in which Joswiak talks Siri and privacy, among other topics.

It’s been long believed that Apple’s Siri development has been hindered by the company’s deep commitment to privacy, but according to Joswiak, privacy, respect for user data, and an intelligent AI can co-exist.

“I think it’s a false narrative,” he told Fast Company. “We’re able to deliver a very personalized experience… without treating you as a product that keeps your information and sells it to the highest bidder. That’s just not the way we operate.”

Much of Apple’s Siri functionality is done on-device, rather than in the cloud like other services. In Apple’s 2017 software updates, that’s shifting slightly with the company planning to allow Siri to communicate across devices to learn more about users. Still, many things, like Siri’s ability to find photos with a specific photo or date are powered on-device.

“Your device is incredibly powerful, and it’s even more powerful with each generation,” Joswiak said. “And with our focus on privacy, we’re able to really take advantage of exploiting that power with things like machine learning on your device to create an incredible experience without having to compromise your data.”

Apple does use the cloud to answer requests and to train Siri, but it strips all user identifiable data. All Siri requests are stripped of user ID and supplied with a random request ID, with the request then encrypted and sent to the cloud. Apple stores six months of voice recordings to allow its voice recognition engine to get a better understanding of users. A second copy of recordings can be stored for up to two years, also with the aim of improving Siri.

“We leave out identifiers to avoid tying utterances to specific users so we can do a lot of machine learning and a lot of things in the cloud without having to know that it came from [the user],” said Joswiak.

Alongside Joswiak, Apple’s Craig Federighi, senior vice president of software weighed in on Siri’s future in an email to Fast Company. “Siri is no longer just a voice assistant,” he said. “Siri on-device intelligence is streamlining everyday interactions with our devices.”

He went on to say that with iOS 11, macOS High Sierra, tvOS 11, and watchOS 4, users will “experience even more Siri functionality.” He went on to say that in the “years to come,” Siri functionality will be “ever more integral” to the core user experience on all of the company’s platforms, from Mac to iPhone to Apple TV.

Federighi and Joswiak’s full Siri interview, which provides more insight into the inner workings of Siri and Apple’s commitment to privacy, can be read over at Fast Company.

Tag: Siri
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11
Sep

New 4K Apple TV Could Feature Revamped Siri Remote With Haptic Feedback


Apple is planning to introduce a new 4K-compatible Apple TV at tomorrow’s event, and the revamped fifth-generation set-top box could also include a redesigned Siri Remote that features haptic feedback.

Developer Guilherme Rambo dug into leaked golden master software that was released over the weekend and found “actuator calibration” and “force calibration” references, suggesting haptic feedback for the remote.

Looks like the new Apple TV remote will have haptics pic.twitter.com/FY9SYAPRYI

— Guilherme Rambo (@_inside) September 11, 2017

There’s been little mention of design changes to the upcoming Apple TV, so it’s not clear if the new Siri Remote will feature the same look and feel as the remote for the fourth-generation Apple TV or if there will be other design changes included alongside haptic feedback.

Haptic feedback is designed to provide tactile feedback when interacting with a device, letting users know a press or tap has been registered by the user interface. Apple embraced haptic feedback as a main UI element in the iPhone with the introduction of the Taptic Engine in 2015, but haptic feedback has been used in Macs and iOS devices for years.

The Siri Remote could adopt an iPhone-style Taptic Engine to provide touch-based feedback when activating Siri, browsing through menus, accessing the Home screen, and more.

According to earlier leaks, Apple is planning to call its fifth-generation Apple TV the “Apple TV 4K.” The device features a three-core A10X Fusion chip and 3GB RAM. It will render natively at 2160p, support a variety of color formats including HDR10 and Dolby Vision, and it will require a 15Mb/s internet connection for 4K streaming.

Related Roundups: Apple TV, tvOS 10
Buyer’s Guide: Apple TV (Don’t Buy)
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11
Sep

Cut down on your phone bill: How to reduce your data usage on Android or iOS


Remember when smartphone plans were all about the number of call minutes and text messages you got, and the data was unlimited? These days, it’s exactly the opposite. When carriers realized what we really wanted was data, there was a shift to unlimited minutes and texts and data caps — with carriers claiming it was about managing the network.

While the situation is better than it was a few years ago, and carriers do offer unlimited plans now (check out our guide to the best unlimited plans), we’re often saddled with unexpected charges, speed throttling, or hidden limits. Every megabyte must be accounted for, or you might find yourself paying an arm and a leg in overage charges, or having your connection speed throttled at the worst time. We’re here to help you set up limits and alerts to keep an eye on your data usage, and to provide some tips to help you maximize your data plans. Here’s how to reduce your data usage.

How much data do you need?

You’ll likely overestimate the data you need, so use cold hard facts to make the decision on which data allotment is best for you. Log in to your carrier’s website and review your data usage over the past few months. Select a plan that is higher than the amount of data you used during this period — but as close to that number as possible. A tool like Verizon’s Data Calculator is great to get a rough estimate of what your data usage is, but we recommend basing it on your real-world use. Still unsure, or just want to be certain? Check out our in-depth guide on choosing the right data plan for you.

Does your carrier offer some type of rollover data option? If so, you might even have extra data to fall back on in an emergency should you use more data than normal in a particular month.

Set data alerts and limits

You can check your data usage on iOS devices by going to Settings > Cellular > Apps using WLAN & Cellular. These data stats do not reset each billing period automatically, so you’ll have to remember to do it yourself. If you’re looking for a more tailored way of tracking data usage on your iPhone or iPad, we recommend you look at some third-party apps. My Data Manager keeps track of your usage, and even allows you to set custom alarms when you exceed a certain amount of data in a month.

On Android 4.0 or later, you can check your data usage just like iOS, but also set alerts and limits. Go to Settings, and under Wireless & Networks, tap on Data usage (you might need to look around on a different Android skin, but it should still be under your Wi-Fi connection settings). You’ll see a table showing your data usage for a specific period of time. You can toggle Set mobile data limit and then move the black and red lines to set alerts. The black line will trigger a notification that you’re approaching your limit, while the red line represents the threshold where your Android device shuts off cellular data. Again, Android has some apps tailored to tracking your usage, but unlike iOS, Android’s built-in controls are good enough that you shouldn’t need to use anything but the baked-in settings.

Another option is using your carrier’s mobile apps. How your carrier accounts for your data usage might be different than what iOS and Android say, so we’d recommend you keep an eye on your data here for the most accurate information.

You should also consider turning mobile data off whenever you don’t need it.

Use Wi-Fi wherever possible

ymgerman/123rf

There is a cardinal rule for saving cellular data: If there’s Wi-Fi, use it. Chances are at both home and work you’ll have some type of Wi-Fi access to connect to, and even in many public places — including parks, supermarkets, even department stores — public Wi-Fi is there for your use.

While some may require you to accept terms and conditions in order to connect, many do not, and once you connect the first time it will connect automatically when you’re in range. Get in the habit of checking when you’re somewhere new, and this will lead to a substantial drop in cellular data usage.

Some carriers also offer hot spot networks of their own. AT&T offers connectivity through a network of hot spots (see this Wi-Fi hot spot locator map), Verizon also offer a similar service, and T-Mobile offer hot spot usage for a monthly fee.

Even if you don’t have hot spot access from any of the above, you can still take advantage of the hundreds of thousands of free Wi-Fi hot spots around the world. The app WiFi Finder Free (Android, iOS) is one possible app to find these hot spots.

Limit background data

Background data is one of the biggest drains on your data allotment, and you might not even realize it’s happening. Mail working to sync new messages as you receive them, or your phone automatically downloading new app updates. Do you really need this? Can something wait until you’re connected to Wi-Fi?

Review what’s using cellular data and make any necessary changes. In iOS, this is located under Settings > Cellular > Apps using WLAN & Cellular, and in Android, under Settings > Wireless & Networks > Data usage. Use Wi-Fi where you can. Doing so might also have the added benefit of increasing your battery life, since less apps are pulling on resources.

Take your maps offline

Navigation apps can be a surprisingly large hog on your data. If you’re using them all the time — to find specific shops or restaurants — or if you’re in a new city, maybe you should look at downloading the area map ahead of time? If you’re an Android user, this is simple. Just boot up Google Maps, search for the area you want to download, then tap More info, followed by Download.

Sadly, iOS users don’t have that functionality yet, but they can load a route ahead of time, and Apple Maps’ cache will remember the way without a need for a data connection. Simply enter your route in as normal while on Wi-Fi, allow it to load fully, then exit your app and turn off your data connection. If relying on the app’s cache is a bit scary for you, Apple Maps also allows you to export area maps as PDFs, which can then be printed off.

Change your browsing habits

It’s always better to browse the mobile version of the website on a mobile device, so avoid using the desktop versions of a site if you can. Also, despite taking up a fair amount of storage on your phone, the browser cache is actually a good thing here. By preserving your cache, you won’t have to download images from frequently visited websites every time you visit them.

You might also consider using a browser like Opera Mini (Android, iOS), as it’s designed to compress data and dramatically reduce your usage when browsing.

Subscribe to streaming services with offline options

Videos are by far the biggest drain on your data, so if you stream a lot of YouTube content, then consider YouTube Red. That’s the company’s premium service which costs $10 per month. While it might sound like a lot, in addition to the option of saving videos onto your device, you also have their music service built in. With other streaming subscriptions, you’ll want to check where they offer offline content too. Apps like Apple Music (Android, iOS), Google Play Music (Android, iOS), and Spotify (Android, iOS) allow you to create playlists for listening to offline, but you will need some space to store them. Spotify even allows you the option to download all your Saved Songs — so there’s a decent chunk of streaming saved.

If you’re a fan of listening to podcasts on the move, consider getting a podcast app like Pocket Casts (Android, iOS). It might cost a few bucks, but it has a huge library of available podcasts (including some of our favorites), and the ability to wait until you’ve connected to a Wi-Fi network before downloading any new episodes.

Compress your data

Check out the Onavo Extend app (Android, iOS). It is designed to compress your data and potentially extend your data plan by up to five times. It doesn’t work with streaming audio or video apps, and it doesn’t work with VoIP apps, but it will help reduce the impact of images and text. It gives you a breakdown of which apps are using your data, lets you create a universal cache, and helps you choose the balance you want between image quality and data savings. It’s free, so it’s worth giving it a try if you find yourself running out of data all the time.

Looking for something a little stronger to keep your connected on your travels? Have a look at our guide on the best mobile hot spots you can buy. And while you’re here — how’s your internet speed at home? We’ve got some great tips on how to improve your browsing speed quickly and easily.

Update: We added details of the major carriers’ unlimited data plans, and methods of downloading maps, music, and podcasts.




11
Sep

Hands on with the Xiaomi Mi Mix 2!


Xiaomi certainly took everyone by surprise with the launch of its nearly bezel-less smartphone last year, with the Mi Mix proving to be a precursor to the dominant display and design trends in 2017. With its successor facing far more competition than the Mi Mix ever did, can Xiaomi manage to deliver once again in a segment that they jump started? We find out, as we go hands on with the Xiaomi Mi Mix 2!

See also:Xiaomi Mi Note 3 with 6 GB of RAM and dual camera announced

Xiaomi Mi Note 3 with 6 GB of RAM and dual camera announced

6 hours ago

The Mi Mix 2 is a fairly predictable update to the highly anticipated and pretty well regarded Mi Mix, and continues the different approach to the display and design of a large smartphone that Xiaomi first introduced last year. For most people, the original Mi Mix was just too big, despite its near bezel-less design. But that has changed for the better with the Mi Mix 2, while still retaining what made the Mi Mix such a fascinating phone.

The original Mi Mix was just too big, but that has changed for the better with the Mi Mix 2.

The updated design brings with it rounded corners and sides, a frame that is made with an aluminium alloy, and a ceramic backing that Xiaomi loves to use with their premium smartphones. All of this makes for a phone that is still really nice to look at, and feels much better in the hand due to its smaller overall footprint when compared to its predecessor. Another change from generation to generation may not be to everyone’s liking though, with the Mi Mix 2 not coming with a headphone jack.

The display quality is excellent, and the absolutely minimal bezels around it let the screen really shine through.

The Xiaomi Mi Mix 2 comes with a 5.99-inch display with a Full HD+ resolution and 18:9 aspect ratio. The display quality is excellent, and the absolutely minimal bezels around it let the screen really shine through.

Just like last year’s Mi Mix, the top portion of the phone is almost as thin as the side bezels, resulting in the front-facing camera being moved to the bottom right corner. The camera placement will definitely take some getting used to, but it doesn’t look out of place or stand out significantly, thanks to a black coating that has been used to make the camera unit blend in with the rest of the front.

When using the 5 MP front-facing shooter, the camera app actually tells you to turn the phone around to let you take a selfie in a more traditional manner.

See also:Essential Phone review: Maximum hardware, minimum softwarerelated image

Essential Phone review: Maximum hardware, minimum software

1 week ago

Another issue with the original Mi Mix was that the replacement for the phone speaker just wasn’t the most effective alternative. With the Mi Mix 2, you now get an actual speaker with a tube unit that points upward and comes with a tiny slit at the top. However, the ultrasonic proximity sensor is still found around the the top area under the screen, so the phone still knows when it is next to your face or inside your pocket.

It’s not all about the design and the display though, with the Mi Mix 2 coming with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 platform under the hood, along with 6 GB of RAM and 64 GB, 128 GB, or 256 GB of built-in storage. Keeping everything running is a non-removable 3,400 mAh battery, and the device comes with Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 support to be able to charge the phone in a short amount of time.

There is also going to be a special edition of the phone (see the second image gallery below) that features a ceramic unibody design without the aluminium alloy frame, and has a 18K PVD gold coating surrounding the camera and fingerprint sensor rim. This special edition Mi Mix 2 will also come with 8 GB of RAM and 128 GB of built-in storage.

Taking a look at the camera, it is unfortunately not a dual camera setup as is available with some of Xiaomi’s other recent releases like the Mi 6. Instead, you get an IMX386 image sensor with 4-axis optical image stabilization and an f/2.0 aperture. As far as the camera app is concerned, things stay mostly the same when compared to what is found with other Xiaomi smartphones. We will certainly be putting this camera through its paces in our in-depth Xiaomi Mi Mix 2 review.

One of the other interesting features of the Mi Mix 2 is that it will come with support for global bands, and will include more bands this time around than the Mi Note 2 did when it was released. What this means is that you will now be able to use this phone in the US as well, even though it may not officially be released in that market. However, the Mi Mix 2 will see a wider release and far more availability than its predecessor, and will make its way over to Xiaomi’s main markets around the world, including India.

Overall, what we really like about the Mi Mix 2 is that it takes a lot of the same cues from its predecessor while making it more accessible. The phone is a lot easier to handle even with a 6-inch screen, which alleviates one of the major concerns from last year.

The rounded sides and corners, curves along the back, and ceramic body not only make for a phone that looks incredible, but feels very comfortable in the hand as well. Xiaomi continues to use ceramic to great effect, but the key here is the fact that it definitely feels like you are holding a device that is all display, all the time.

Interested in reading more about the Mi Mix 2?

  • Xiaomi Mi Mix 2 specs We’ve rounded up all the specifications of the Mi Mix 2 (standard and Special Edition). Spoiler: there are a few features that competitors offer that the Mi Mix 2 does not.
  • Xiaomi Mi Mix 2 price and availability When, where, and for how much? We’re answering the essential questions about the Mi Mix 2 availability.
11
Sep

Worried about your online privacy? We tested the best VPN services


Congress’ decision to repeal internet protections has many Americans worried about their digital privacy. A Virtual Private Network — or VPN for short — allows you to safely send information when using public networks via a group of networked computers and faraway servers. Not all VPNs are the same, however, so we took some time to find the best VPN services.

VPNs have seen hectic growth in the past years as many competitors have entered the market, and VPN services have begun to converge with general privacy and unblocking services. That’s good news for you because it means you get more features at lower prices. That being said, signing up for free VPN services — especially those dedicated to mobile apps — can be risky business. Know that all “free” services are making money off of you somehow, whether it be from advertisements or something less innocuous.

As you’re considering which VPN service is the best choice for you, there are a few characteristics that you’ll want to consider. Here’s a short list of the most important factors that can impact your VPN experience:

  • Cost: VPN services range from free and ad-supported, to very expensive.
  • Client support: VPN services use underlying technologies, such as VPN protocols, that exist on today’s computing platforms. Some VPN services require users to configure their PCs manually, while others provide configuration scripts. Some of the more established VPN services provide clients that not only configure a PC but also allow the VPN connection to be turned on an off. That’s a real convenience.
  • Number of servers: More servers is usually better, since it’s often a sign of a more reliable VPN, and it’s more likely you’ll find one with a fast connection.
  • Server locations: The more distributed a VPN service, the less likely it is to be affected by local issues, ranging from politics to natural catastrophes.
  • Number of simultaneous connections: If you use multiple systems at a time, you’ll want to make sure your VPN service supports enough simultaneous connections to handle them all.
  • Features: Finally, which features are supported varies from service to service, and you’ll want to make sure your most important features are covered.

We’ve scoured the web for reviews, testimonials, and statistics on which are the best VPN choices. Then, we tried out the services for ourselves, taking notes on ease-of-use and testing network speeds. Keeping all of these factors in mind, these are the services that stood out.

Private Internet Access ($7 a month, or $40 annually)

If the happy family on the homepage isn’t enough to convince you, maybe the fact that it’s one of the most reliable VPN services on the market is. Private Internet Access does everything you could want from a good VPN — hides your IP address, protects your information, and scrambles your browsing activity using a variety of encryption methods.

Moreover, the service makes use of built-in VPN technology on your PC, meaning you don’t have to install any apps to get started. You can quickly set up protection without taking up space on your hard drive, and the service is available on nearly every mobile device and desktop platform in your inventory.

The program creates a tunnel that works at the network interface level of your PC, filtering all of your information and browsing history through an encrypted space. The service is incredibly quick, regardless if you’re connecting to a server overseas or within your region, and the customer support and technical assistance is nigh unparalleled in the field.

We tested Private Internet Services using its Windows installer, which configures the VPN protocols and provides a simple utility in the task bar to turn the VPN connection on and off. While the interface was spartan, performance was excellent. Our test system consistently maintained over 110 Mb/s download and 19 Mb/s upload speeds with the VPN connection turned on, very close to our usual 125 Mb/s download and 20 Mb/s upload speeds.

On the downside, Netflix complained about a proxy and Amazon Prime Video wouldn’t play due to a geographical restriction. These errors occurred whether we used the automatic setting or selected a local U.S.-based server.

  • Cost: $6.95 on a monthly basis, $3.33/month with an annual subscription, $5.99/month with a six-month subscription
  • Number of servers: 3,272
  • Number of server locations: 25 countries
  • Clients supported: Windows, MacOS, Unix/Linux, iOS, Android
  • Number of simultaneous connections: Up to 5

Download now for:

Windows MacOS Linux iOS Android

TorGuard ($10 a month for VPN, varies for other plans)

Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

With a name like TorGuard, the software better offer strong protection. The software’s hallmarks lie in its ability to connect to a melange of services for different activities, with four different packages available based on various needs. The VPN service will run you $10 each month, but there’s a cheaper proxy service if all you need to do is hide your IP address from the world.

Like most VPN services, the program will prevent websites from viewing your personal IP address, thus preventing others from identifying you or your geographic location. From offshore email to unlimited server switching between over 3,000 servers across the globe, TorGuard offers some pretty impressive scaling. Skilled geeks and professionals alike should take a look at the service, along with the discount bundles that come packaged with hardware.

The TorGuard Windows client was easy to install and made quick work of connecting to a VPN server, including the ability to choose a server location prior to connecting. The internet speed on our test system dropped from our usual 125 Mb/s download to 53 Mb/s, and our upload ran at 17 Mb/s compared to our usual 20 Mb/s. That’s not the best performance in our testing, but all internet services that we tested worked without a hitch, including Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

  • Cost: $5.95/month for anonymous proxy; $9.99/month for anonymous VPN; $6.95/month for anonymous email; $11.54/month for privacy bundle
  • Number of servers: 3,000+
  • Number of server locations: 50+ countries
  • Clients supported: Windows, MacOS, Linux, iOS, Android
  • Number of simultaneous connections: Up to 5

Download now for:

Windows MacOS Linux iOS Android

VyprVPN ($7 to $9 a month, or $60 to $80 annually)

VyprVPN offers a full-service solution that’s divided into basic and premier packages. The company’s Chameleon technology utilizes an unmodified, open VPN protocol to scramble your metadata, preventing VPN blocking and unwanted throttling known to slow your streaming speeds when using popular services like Netflix. VyprVPN was created by Golden Frog, which was founded in response to NSA surveillance of AT&T’s network from the “infamous Room 641a” in San Francisco.

Golden Frog even owns and manages its own VPN servers, instead of having a third-party host its servers, ensuring reliable speeds and quick maintenance should a server go down. This also means that your privacy is guaranteed, at least as far as Golden Frog is concerned.

You can have up to five simultaneous connections with VyprVPN, so it’s suitable for both families and small businesses. There are no price hikes based on data usage, and nearly every platform is supported, including routers, Blackberry devices, TVs, and Linux hardware. The service has been expanded in recent years, and now boasts more than 700 servers across 70 locations in six continents. There’s even a 3-day free trial so you can decide if Vypr works for you.

Installing the VyprVPN client is easy and straightforward, as is connecting to a VPN server. We found that our connection speed through the VyprVPN server dropped from our usual 125 Mb/s upload to around 85 Mb/s, and from 20 Mb/s download to 17 Mb/s. In practice, as with the other services, we could tell no difference when VyprVPN was enabled, and both Netflix and Amazon Prime Video played without issue in our testing.

  • Cost: $5.00/month billed annually ($10/month billed monthly) for basic service; $6.67/month billed annually ($12.95/month billed monthly) for premium service
  • Number of servers: 700+
  • Number of server locations: 70+ countries
  • Clients supported: Windows, MacOS, Linux, iOS, Android, Router, QNAP, Blackphone, TV
  • Number of simultaneous connections: Up to 3 in the basic plan, up to 5 in the unlimited plan

Download now for:

Windows MacOS TV Blackphone

QNAP Router  iOS  Android

NordVPN ($6 to $8 a month)

Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

With double, 2048-bit SSL encryption, it’s easy to see that NordVPN values your privacy. But the company has also worked hard to build up its server network to include 1089 server locations in 61 countries around the world. The service also comes with a variety of security tools for encrypted chat and proxy extensions, and you can use up to six devices simultaneously, which is higher than many companies are willing to go.

The theme running throughout this service is personal security. From protected DNS queries to automatic kill switches, NordVPN wants you to know that your information won’t fall into the wrong hands. It makes sense, then, that the company also accepts Bitcoin for payments. The company has recently improved its platform support, adding in iOS and Android and thus overcoming its one weakness.

The NordVPN client provided one of the most attractive interfaces, and connecting to a VPN server was straightforward and very quick. We found performance to be somewhat spotty, however, with our fastest connection running at 53 Mb/s down and 26 Mb/s up, compared to 125 Mb/s down and 20 Mb/s with the VPN connection turned off. We did have an issue connecting to Netflix, but Amazon Prime Video ran without issue. Our other internet tests went without a hitch.

  • Cost: $3.29/month with a 2-year agreement; $11.95/month when billed monthly; $7/month when billed every six months; $5.57/month when billed annually
  • Number of servers: 1,089
  • Number of server locations: 61
  • Clients supported: Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android
  • Number of simultaneous connections: Up to 6

Download now for:

Windows MacOS iOS  Android

ExpressVPN ($13 a month, or $100 annually)

Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

ExpressVPN’s “#1 Trusted Leader in VPN” claim may be a bit difficult to prove, but the service offers a compelling list of features nonetheless. It also constantly tries to make consistent improvements in speed and simultaneous streaming capabilities, and with support for all major platforms (Windows, Mac OS X, Android, etc.), you won’t need to worry about compatibility. ExpressVPN shows up on a number of “best VPN” lists, and so its relatively high prices are justified.

With a presence in 145 locations across 94 countries, you also won’t need to worry about international travel. Furthermore, the more than 1,000 servers are all well placed throughout common travel destinations and urban centers. Any package will land you unlimited bandwidth and speed, a guaranteed 99.9-percent uptime, and 24-hour customer service. With so many guaranteed features, it’s no wonder this vendor is considered among the best — although make note that ExpressVPN only support up to three simultaneous connections, which is the least of the services on our list.

Setting up ExpressVPN and connecting to a VPN server was easy enough. Performance, when connected to the VPN server, was average at 49 Mb/s down and 16 Mb/s up, compared to our usual speeds of 125 Mb/s down and 20 Mb/s up. Netflix complained about a proxy being in use when we used the automatic configuration option, but it worked fine when we manually selected a local U.S. server. Amazon Prime Video played just fine, and our other internet tests completed without issue.

  • Cost: $8.32/month when billed annually; $9.99/month when billed every six months; $12.95/month when billed monthly
  • Number of servers: 1,000
  • Number of server locations: 145 locations across 94 countries
  • Clients supported: Windows, MacOS, Linux, iOS, Android, Blackberry, router
  • Number of simultaneous connections: Up to 3

Download now for:

Windows MacOS Linux Blackberry

Router iOS  Android

ProtonVPN (Limited free client, from $48 to $288 a year)

Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

ProtonVPN is one of the newest VPN services, and it boasts some star-studded founding members. The company was founded at CERN, the birthplace of the internet, and grew out of the ProtonMAIL service that’s been protecting the email of activists and journalists for years. The service acts as a Swiss company and is thus free from the laws of the U.S. and the European Union and isn’t a member of the “fourteen eyes surveillance network,” and user traffic isn’t logged and passes through privacy-friendly countries and thus you needn’t worry about your true IP address being revealed.

At the same time, the service is still growing, and currently only boasts 112 servers in 14 countries and a 155 Gbps capacity. Therfore, ProtonVPN might not offer the same level of performance as some of the other VPN services on our list. The ProtonVPN team has constructed a very secure network with 2048-bit encryption and support for Perfect Forward Secrecy, which means that encrypted information will remain secure even if later sessions are compromised.

ProtonVPN is a bit pricey, but only the most expensive OpenVPN protocol is used, not the less costly to operate PPTP and L2TP/IPSec protocols. On the other hand, ProtonVPN has only managed to create a Windows client to this point. If you’re using a MacOS or Linux machine, or want to access ProtonVPN’s service on your iOS or Android device, then you’ll have to set things up manually. One benefit is that there’s a free plan that you can use to try out the service, which is limited to three countries, one device, and low speeds, and prices go up from there.

Installing and configuring ProtonVPN’s Windows client was simple enough and it provided some of the best in-use statistics. Performance was at the lower end of our comparison group at 39 Mb/s down and 18 Mb/s up, compared to our usual 125 Mb/s down and 18 Mb/s up. Netflix was blocked, but Amazon Prime Video and our other test services connected without a hitch.

  • Cost: $5/month when billed annually for the Basic plan (two devices and high speeds); $8/month when billed annually for the Plus plan (five devices and the highest speeds and access to Secure Core and Tor Servers); $25/month when billed annually for the Visionary plan (10 devices , the highest speeds, access to Secure Core and Tor Servers, and ProtonMail)
  • Number of servers: 112
  • Number of server locations: 14 countries
  • Clients supported: Windows
  • Number of simultaneous connections: Depends on plan

Download now for:

Windows




11
Sep

Shopping app ‘Out of Milk’ is now available through Google Home and Amazon Echo


Why it matters to you

With the launch of Out of Milk’s voice assistant skill available through Google Home and Amazon Echo, will make trips to the grocery store a bit easier.

Shopping list app Out Of Milk has officially launched its own voice assistant skill. Now available through Amazon Echo and Google Home (powered by Google Assistant), the latest feature allows you to build and manage shopping lists by simply speaking.

Acquired by Retale, a company dedicated to developing mobile-first shopping experiences, Out of Milk was added to its arsenal of technology specifically designed to help meet shoppers’ needs. Retale also has its own self-titled shopping app for discovering discounts and savings based on your location.

Out of Milk aims to make the reduce the hassle when creating shopping lists. You can add or delete items as well as note important factors like price, coupons, and the quantity needed. If you want to add to your list, you can type it in or scan the barcodes. There’s also the option to use mobile speech recognition.

For those who want to share the lists with family and friends, you can send it along through your mobile device, on a desktop, or through email. Since any changes to the list automatically sync up, there’s no need to send out updated ones.

Out of Milk‘s voice assistant feature can be used to manage lists as well via the Echo or Google Home. But you’ll have to first create an Out of Milk account and link it to your voice assistant. Once the accounts are linked, your changes will automatically sync to your devices.

To add or remove items you can say “Add rice to my list,” or specify quantity by saying “Add two gallons of milk to my list.” If you ever have multiple running lists, the voice assistant skill is capable of switching between them or letting you know which list you’re currently editing. Any lists created or edited through the voice assistant will also sync to the app or website.

Out of Milk is available for download on both iOS and Android. With the addition of its latest feature, using the app to shop for groceries is now far more user-friendly. Its capability to not only sync across all devices but also update in real-time, will help to make sure you never actually run “out of milk” — or anything for that matter.




11
Sep

Samsung Galaxy S8 Active review: Come for the ruggedness, stay for the battery


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Samsung’s ‘Active’ line continues to carve out its own little niche for fans of high-end rugged phones.

The quick take

Don’t think of the Galaxy S8 Active as a legitimate improvement over the standard GS8 — because it isn’t. Think of this as the best rugged phone choice for those who want something really tough but don’t want to compromise on performance, display, camera or other features. Yes, it has a massive improvement in battery life, but in the name of sturdiness, it also loses all of the design that makes the Galaxy S8 so desirable in the first place.

The Good

  • Complete Galaxy S8 experience
  • Great battery life
  • Can take a beating
  • ‘Shatter-resistant’ screen
  • Flat screen can be preferable

The Bad

  • Too big and heavy for most people
  • No particular differentiation outside of casing
  • More expensive than standard GS8
  • Screen more susceptible to scratches
  • Exclusive to AT&T (for now)

See at AT&T

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The internals

Tech Specs

Operating system Android 7.0 Nougat
Display 5.8-inch Super AMOLED, 2560 x 1440 (506 ppi)Gorilla Glass 5Shatter-resistant
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
Storage 64GB (UFS 2.1)
Expandable microSD card
RAM 4GB
Rear camera 12MP Dual Pixel, 1.4-micron pixels, f/1.7, OIS
Front camera 8MP, f/1.7, auto focus
Battery 4000mAh
Charging USB-CFast chargingFast wireless charging
Connectivity Wi-Fi 802.11ac MIMOBluetooth 5.1NFC, GPS, Glonass, GalileoWi-Fi Calling, HD Voice, Video calling
LTE Bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 20, 28, 29, 30, 38, 39, 40, 41, 66
Water resistance IP68
Security Fingerprint sensorIris scanning
Dimensions 151.89 x 74.93 x 9.91 mm208.09 g
Colors Meteor Grey, Titanium Gold

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Every bit a GS8

Galaxy S8 Active Things you’ll love

The thing you’ll love most about the Galaxy S8 Active is that it’s simply a Galaxy S8 at its core. Every spec, every feature and every component is the same. That means you’re getting great performance, a whole boatload of software features and a camera that’s still in the conversation with the best in the industry. It’s water- and dust-resistant, of course, but that doesn’t come at the cost of any fewer ports — you still get a headphone jack and flap-less USB-C connector. You also get to look at a beautiful Super AMOLED display with great brightness, even outdoors, which I’d expect you’d want for a phone that’s this rugged.

The GS8 Active even keeps components like wireless charging, which you sometimes expect to lose with such a thick outer casing. That package of specs and features is a far shout from what you expect to get in most “rugged” style phones.

There is one spec change, though: the battery is now 4000mAh, a full 1000 larger than the Galaxy S8 and even 500 larger than the Galaxy S8+. As you’d expect, this offers excellent battery life. I ended most days with roughly 20-30% battery remaining, despite taking no measures throughout the day to limit usage or save precious capacity. That’s awesome when you compare it to the standard Galaxy S8, which offers acceptable battery life but not a whole lot of runway for heavier days.

Samsung is also touting one other differentiator, which ties right into the “Active” name, and that’s a “shatter-resistant” screen. You can, apparently, drop the phone from five feet onto a hard surface and have a guarantee that it won’t shatter. That’s pretty neat.

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Not for everyone

Galaxy S8 Active Things you’ll hate

In terms of actually using the Galaxy S8 Active every day, there isn’t a whole lot to dislike. The one real downside of the GS8 Active is its overall size. It’s wider, taller, thicker and heavier than the standard version — and not subtly, but dramatically. It’s over 10 grams heavier than the Galaxy Note 8, and its size kind of slots in between the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ — that’s big, considering its screen size is the same as the GS8.

That size bump just makes the Galaxy S8 Active tougher to hold and use, even compared to the slippery Galaxy S8. It also isn’t all that good looking when you set it alongside the sleek and smooth standard version.

But there’s also one thing you can’t see that you may find spoils your experience. That “shatter-resistant” screen rating is accomplished by putting a special film on top of the standard Gorilla Glass 5 screen covering. Similarly to what we saw on the Moto Z2 Force, this covering is extra susceptible to scratches in daily use — it’s not scratching the glass, but instead the plastic on top. This is one of the trade-offs necessary when you have a screen that won’t shatter when it’s impacted.

The other big downside of the Galaxy S8 Active is its initial exclusivity to AT&T. Not only does that limit its availability to one of four major carriers — to say nothing of international availability — but it also means you get the typical AT&T treatment on the phone. That means roughly 10 pre-installed bloatware apps that you don’t want or need (thankfully you can disable or uninstall most of it), and some superfluous changes to the software for no apparent reason. Thankfully the GS8 Active isn’t supposed to be exclusive to the carrier forever — but we don’t know when that period will end.

Whether by AT&T’s doing or not, the Galaxy S8 Active is also quite expensive. At $849, it’s $100 more than a standard GS8 and the same price as the Galaxy S8+. If you choose to buy the GS8 or GS8+ unlocked, you’ll save roughly $175 with the former and $50 with the latter. That’s a big premium to pay for a phone that is very much the same in terms of overall experience and features.

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Get it for rugged, not for battery

Galaxy S8 Active Should you buy it?

Power users who are always hunting for the biggest possible battery will undoubtedly be drawn to the idea of a high-end phone like the Galaxy S8 with an extra-large 4000mAh battery. And yes, the Galaxy S8 Active provides that — it is, in terms of features, software and performance, every bit the same as a standard Galaxy S8. But in order to get that 4000mAh battery, you have to give up quite a bit of what makes the standard Galaxy S8 so appealing — primarily, its entire hardware design.

The battery improvement is a big plus; but the design is an even bigger minus.

The Galaxy S8 Active is massively heavier and larger in every dimension than the Galaxy S8, and even loses its hallmark curved glass screen. That last part may also seem like a bonus — but the added width and thickness makes up for it in terms of poor ergonomics. With its super-thick and tough exterior, the Galaxy S8 Active doesn’t look, or more importantly feel, like a Galaxy S8 anymore — and that is, after all, a big chunk of what you’re paying for when you buy one.

No, I wouldn’t recommend someone who wants a Galaxy S8 consider a Galaxy S8 Active just for the battery. The downsides of its size, shape, design and price just aren’t worth it. But I would absolutely recommend this phone to someone who must have a “rugged” phone to survive the daily demands of their life or job, and doesn’t want to compromise in terms of the software, features, camera or experience of the phone in the process.

See at AT&T

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11
Sep

Xiaomi Mi Mix 2 preview: Ready for primetime


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Xiaomi’s bezel-less phone is ready to take on the LG V30 and the Galaxy Note 8.

Xiaomi’s Mi Mix was one of the most innovative products of 2016, but the main drawback with the phone was its availability. With the Mi Mix 2, Xiaomi is looking to change all that. The overall design of the phone is based on its predecessor, but Xiaomi made a few key changes that make the Mi Mix 2 a much better product.

Xiaomi retained the ultrasonic proximity sensor and the camera sensor at the bottom, but it made a few tweaks in other areas — the piezoelectric acoustic driver has been switched out for a standard earpiece, which sits in a narrow slit at the top of the phone. Xiaomi implemented the change after getting feedback from Mi Mix users that the piezoelectric driver wasn’t suitable for calls.

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When it comes to the design, the ceramic back of the Mi Mix 2 curves gently to the sides to meet the frame, making it a lot easier to hold the device. Xiaomi also went with a four-sided curved design with rounded corners — much like what we’ve seen on the Mi 6.

The phone itself now features a 5.99-inch display, down from the 6.4-inch panel that was used in the first-gen Mi Mix. The decrease in display size makes a huge difference when using the phone one-handed, with the Mi Mix 2 slightly smaller than standard 5.5-inch phone.

The way Xiaomi is able to do that is by cutting down on the bezels — there is a still a chin at the bottom to accommodate the front camera, but the top portion is devoid of any sensors. The effect is quite striking, and makes the Mi Mix 2 stand out when compared to other bezel-less phones.

Xiaomi has also switched to an 18:9 display ratio, making it easier for content to scale on the Mi Mix 2. With the likes of the LG G6 and the Galaxy S8 boasting a similar ratio, it is looking more and more likely that square displays will be the standard going forward.

Xiaomi says it designed the Mi Mix 2 to be all about the content — the device itself falls away into the background, putting just the content on the screen into focus. In this regard, the Mi Mix 2 is unlike any other phone in the market today.

The panel also offers features sunlight mode, which selectively boosts contrast when outdoors, allowing you to view the screen under harsh sunlight. There’s a reading mode, which reduces brightness all the way down to 1nit, and a blue light filter as well.

The back is still made out of ceramic — and Xiaomi has retained that glossy look that it says is designed to look like jade — and there’s an aluminum mid-frame with antenna cut-outs at the top and bottom. The front camera sensor is harder to spot with the display off, and that’s because Xiaomi blacked out the area around the lens. Like last year, there’s an 18K goal-plated ring around the camera sensor at the back.

The ceramic chassis gives the Mi Mix 2 a decent amount of heft, without making the device feel too heavy. The fingerprint sensor is located at the bottom of the camera unit, and the reduced screen size means the sensor is always in easy reach of your finger.

As for the camera itself, the Mi Mix 2 is using the same sensor that’s featured in the primary camera on the Mi 6. I didn’t get much time to spend testing out the camera, but if it can offer the same kind of quality as the Mi 6, it’ll be one of the best shooters in the $500 segment. As for other things the phone has in common with the Mi 6, there’s no 3.5mm jack on the Mi Mix 2.

On the software side of things, the Mi Mix 2 comes with MIUI 9 atop Android 7.1.1 Nougat. The marquee features introduced with MIUI 9 are limited to the Chinese version of the ROM (for now), but Xiaomi made significant under-the-hood changes — for one thing, the interface is definitely snappier.

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If there’s one word to define the Mi Mix 2, it’d be refinement. Xiaomi took the same basic idea of the Mi Mix but made minor changes that made a huge difference when it comes to day-to-day use.

One of the main highlights is that the Mi Mix 2 will come with global LTE bands. Xiaomi stirred up a lot of interest in the Mi Note 2 last year, which was sold in a variant with 37 LTE bands, and the brand is taking a similar route with the Mi Mix 2. The Mi Mix 2 has 43 bands in total, giving you the ability to use the device on most carriers around the globe.

Xiaomi is also going to launch a special edition model that has a unibody ceramic chassis, the first of its kind in the world. Ceramic is an extremely difficult material to work with (initial yields of the Mi Mix were as low as 5%), and Xiaomi says a single phone takes up to seven days to manufacture.

The ceramic is initially baked, allowed to shrink at the optimal temperature to solidify, and then machined, milled, and polished to add that glossy finish. The ceramic variant feels nicer to hold as it’s just one seamless chassis from the back to the sides, and you get 8GB of RAM along with 128GB storage with the edition. The ceramic variant will retail for ¥3,999 ($590), and will be sold in limited quantities.

The ceramic variant will be available in two color options — black and white — with the black version offering gold-plated accents around the camera and fingerprint sensors at the back and the white edition featuring rose gold accents.

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As for the standard variant of the Mi Mix 2, Xiaomi says that the phone will be sold in global markets. The manufacturer now has a presence in over 40 countries, and the phone should be up for sale in a majority of these markets (it’s launching in India ‘very soon’). The Mi Mix was intended to showcase Xiaomi’s technological prowess, and the Mi Mix 2 is a continuation of that idea.

We’ll have much more to talk about the Mi Mix 2 shortly, so stay tuned. In the meantime, let us know what you think of the device in the comments below.

11
Sep

Peak Design Everyday Sling is a great daily carry bag for more than just photographers


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I rarely leave the house without a bag on my shoulder.

Like many, I enjoy the security of knowing I have necessary gear with me (think laptop, battery, cables, camera) everywhere I go, and I understand that that means I also have to deal with that gear — typically in a bag. Size, comfort, flexibility (physically and conceptually) and style are all factors when choosing one. I’ve tried a lot of different bags for this sort of “daily essentials” set of stuff I carry on most days, and my current favorite is the Peak Design Everyday Sling.

You may recall that I previously used a different messenger-style bag from Timbuk2, and I actually still do! That’s a great general-purpose messenger bag that can hold a whole lot of stuff and do a whole bunch of different things. But what I love about the Everyday Sling is that it isn’t as multi-purpose oriented — it’s small, structured and doesn’t have a ton of expandability. It’s just the right size for the things I need to carry every day, and that’s it.

See at Amazon

Peak Design, as a company, is primarily focused on photographers — but the features and quality of the products in produces are often applicable to more than just that small set of people in that specific use case.

The compact size and structure of the Everyday Sling has many benefits. First and foremost is comfort. With a bag this small, I’m never tempted to load it up with more than I should carry. That’s because the bag just simply won’t hold that much stuff, and that keeps the weight down and my shoulder happy. The frame of it is relatively structured with little stretch or play, meaning you can’t even force more into it if you wanted to. At the same time, that structure makes sure your things are safe inside if you get bumped when standing on the train or walking down the street.

The tight size and structure of this bag is exactly what I need to keep from killing my shoulder.

Peak Design markets the Everyday Sling as being 10 liters in size — but thinking about a bag in terms of liters doesn’t always equate. Here’s what I typically carry in my Everyday Sling: a 13-inch MacBook Pro (just barely), a micro four-thirds camera with an extra lens, a bundle of a couple cables and a small backup battery, and a few knick-knacks like keys, business cards, a pen and a pair of earbuds. That’s basically all this thing can hold, and that’s exactly why I love it.

The main compartment has a slot for a laptop or tablet, and then two of Peak Design’s amazing padded separators. If you haven’t seen them in action, basically they’re stiff foam dividers (positionable with velcro) that are split down the middle that can be folded down in various configurations to properly secure and separate items in the bag so they don’t slide around. They keep things accessible and also properly managed, which is key to a bag this small.

It’s amazingly easy to swing the bag around, get what you want and be on your way.

The focus on accessibility carries over to the way the bag compartment opens: it zips around the back and hinges on the front, so the inside is wide-open accessible when you’re still wearing it and simply sling it around to your side. Most messenger-style bags open toward you, and the flap of the bag gets in the way of seeing or reaching into the compartment. With the Everyday Sling, it’s super simple to swing the bag around to your side, open it up, grab what you want, zip it closed and be on your way.

On the outside of the bag you get a small compartment with dividers where you can toss all of the aforementioned smaller items. From the outside, there’s another shallow pocket that’s perfect for an extra phone or couple of cables that you want to separate from the larger items inside and have easily accessible without opening the full bag compartment.

A great daily carry bag at any price.

Many people will scoff at the Everyday Sling’s $149 price tag, but for a bag that I’m going to carry just about every day and just exudes quality craftsmanship it’s worth it. Every seam is perfect, zippers are tight and lock into place (and are water resistant), the materials are hearty, and most importantly it’s clear just how much engineering and thought went into every aspect of the bag. Like the way there are dedicated spots on both sides for Peak Design’s own Capture Camera Clip, how the dividers work, or how the excess bag strap stows away in the back of the bag so it doesn’t flap around at the ends.

I wouldn’t take a weekend trip with the Everyday Sling, nor would I expect to carry around my full rig of trade show gear. But those situations aren’t what the bag is designed for — and it shows restraint in having a specific vision and usefulness. Right now it’s the perfect bag for me to keep all of the necessities handy on a daily basis without being overbearing or goading me into carrying more than I should realistically be putting on my shoulder. To fulfill this need, it’s a damn good bag at any price.

See at Amazon

11
Sep

Follow iMore for all the iPhone 8 announcements on Tuesday, Sept. 12


If you’re looking to follow the news about one of the biggest phone launches of the year, stick with iMore.

There is no question that the new iPhones will be among the biggest tech stories of the year. Doesn’t matter if you’re wielding a Galaxy S8 or a Lumia 950, if you’re attuned to the comings and goings of the mobile industry, what Apple does matters.

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Our sibling site, iMore, will be covering all of the excitement (and, inevitably, a bit of the crow eating) as it goes down on Tuesday, September 12 starting at 10am PT / 1pm ET.

Here are the important details you need to know:

  • iMore’s iPhone 8 event live blog
  • iMore on Twitter
  • iMore on Instagram

Plus, our favorite Apple pundits will be on the ground in Cupertino showcasing the new Apple campus and all the other minutiae, so be sure to follow them.

  • Rene Ritchie on Twitter
  • Serenity Caldwell on Twitter

Are you excited about the Apple event? Couldn’t care less? Let us know in the comments below!

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