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9
Nov

VSCO photo filters just got even better with custom one-click photo Recipes


Editing a photo often creates a specific style — and VSCO is working to make it easier to re-create a certain look. The photo-editing app recently launched VSCO Recipes, a feature that allows users to save and share their favorite editing processes, to Android users on November 7 and iOS on November 8.

Recipes save the specific edits and the amount of those adjustments, allowing photographers to apply those same effects in a single tap to later images. Unlike VSCO’s presets, Recipes are custom-made by the user. Recipes save adjustments such as exposure, color and contrast changes as well as any presets used, but the adjustments that are usually specific to an individual photo, like cropping and straightening, are not saved as part of the Recipe. Users can also share their photo Recipes, so other users can apply the same look to their own shots.

To create a Recipe on VSCO, users go through and edit the image as they normally would. Once the image is finished, tap on the edit list to display the changes. Selecting the + icon will save that set of edits as a Recipe. Free VSCO users can save one Recipe, while VSCO X photographers can save up to 10.

To apply that Recipe to a new photo, after selecting the image, users go back to that edit list, then select the editing Recipe to apply it to the image. Those adjustments can be fine-tuned if needed before saving or sharing the shots. Recipes can be organized or deleted by accessing the Organizer in the app.

VSCO says that users were already sharing how they edited a specific shot by sharing what filter was used and the values for each of the subsequent adjustments. The Recipes feature takes that existing idea and makes it easier to share with other users or to save for future shots.

The VSCO app is popular for their filters, including many film-inspired options, and the Recipes tool makes it easier to customize those looks. Earlier this year, the app also launched the ability to apply those same effects to videos.

To use the new Recipe tool, VSCO users need to download the latest version of the app, now available from the App Store and Google Play.

Editors’ Recommendations

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9
Nov

Tired of the same face filters? Skype now uses A.I. to offer new suggestions


From Snapchat to Facebook Camera, augmented reality photo filters are booming but the latest unexpected player to enter the photo effect arena is making those effects even smarter. On Wednesday, November 8, Microsoft announced new photo effects in the Skype mobile app. While the stickers and face filters are similar to what you might find inside Snapchat, Microsoft says their photo effects are smarter with the ability to suggest a filter based on what is in the photo.

The Skype filters are based on the Sprinkles app that Microsoft launched earlier in 2017. Like Sprinkles, the Skype app uses artificial intelligence to determine what is in the photo and suggests photo effects based on that information. When working with a selfie, the program will use tools to determine factors like age and emotion and suggest what filters to use based on that information. Like the Sprinkles app, Skype can even add your celebrity look-alike to the photo.

Now, tapping on the magic wand icon in the updated app gives Skype users access to those same tools. Location and weather-based stickers are also included, along with suggesting different captions to use with the shot. Microsoft says the filters are always changing with the seasons and holidays — mix that in with the platform’s ability to tell what is in the photo and users will likely see different options often.

Once those photos are jazzed up with the new A.I. filters, users can share them in a chat or share them in Highlights, Skype’s variation of Snapchat Stories.

Skype’s mobile app saw a big overhaul earlier this year, which last month launched on the desktop version as well, bringing updated features to the video chat platform that has been around since 2003.

Skype isn’t the only one finding inspiration from Snapchat. Both the social chat app’s Stories and augmented reality filters are now incorporated in some way into Facebook Camera and Instagram — it seems everyone wants to be Snapchat, despite the company’s current financial struggles and promises for a design overhaul.

The new A.I. photo features are gradually rolling out to users this week and will be available for both iOS and Android users.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • Snapseed gets a new look, new filters, and faster performance
  • Snap and edit pictures like a pro with the best photo apps for Android
  • VSCO photo filters just got even better with custom one-click photo Recipes
  • Facebook zooms in on visual content to help celebrate World Photo Day
  • Enlight Quickshot edits your photos in one tap — or even before you shoot




9
Nov

Got an iPhone X? Apple’s Clips app now has a feature exclusively for you


Apple debuted Clips, a video editing and storytelling app, earlier this year, and eight months later and it’s already time for version 2.0. Clips 2 introduces a slight redesign, several new artistic effects, and animated stickers, but there’s one new feature available exclusively on the latest iPhone X.

The idea behind Clips is to take those photos and videos you shot on vacation, and quickly turn them into a 30-second (or however long) video that’s easily shareable to social media, or with friends and family. The redesign in the latest update focuses on making the tools in the app physically easier to access, by shifting things to the bottom instead of the top of the app, and by explicitly labeling what certain functions do.

Old version

Redesign

Old version

Redesign

The new interface makes it easier to navigate, and you can find what you’re looking for more quickly thanks to the new labels. Things like the Library and the collection of Posters also utilize a larger screen space, so you can see more options at a time.

While the small redesign may be the biggest visual change, there are two neat features that are sadly restricted to newer iPhone devices due to hardware limitations. The first is Selfie Scenes, and you’ll only see this if you have an iPhone X.

Selfie Scenes

Selfie Scenes uses the iPhone X’s TrueDepth Camera to transport you to varying landscapes, cities, or even a galaxy far, far away. The TrueDepth Camera is actually an array of depth-sensing cameras and sensors in the iPhone X’s “notch.” It’s how the iPhone X can create Animojis, unlock the phone with Face ID, and shoot Portrait Mode selfies. In Clips 2.0, the TrueDepth Camera identifies your face and body, cuts it out, and places it in a scene of your choice. There are 12 scenes (which, we assume, will grow over time), including two from Star Wars thanks to a partnership from Disney. These aren’t just flat 2D landscapes — they’re 360-degree videos that loop. You can point your camera anywhere to see every part of the scene you’re in, and even flip the camera if you don’t want yourself in the shot.

The TrueDepth Camera does a great job of accurately cropping you out of the real world. The app also places a filter on you so you blend in with the scene, rather than looking like some poor Photoshop work. In the Star Wars Selfie Scenes, you’re shown as a hologram.

Turn yourself into a painting

Filters have been in Clips since the beginning, but Apple has added a few new “artistic effects.” These aren’t just any Instagram filters, though. Apple calls it “style-transfer technology,” where it adds effects to a photo or video in real-time using neural nets. It’s the equivalent of what the popular app Prisma does, though Apple’s version is much, much faster.

Choose between Watercolor, Charcoal, Sienna, and Indigo, and your photos or videos will instantly look like a painting. It’s fast, and you can see what the other filters will look like via a live preview, so you never have to wait for anything to load. These specific filters require the A10 Fusion processor or higher because it’s a CPU-intensive process. That means you’ll only see it available on an iPhone 7 or newer.

There are a few more new filters directly taken from Apple’s Camera app, including Dramatic, Vivid, and Noir.

Star Wars stickers, posters, and more

In the Stickers section, there are now more choices from Disney, specifically animated stickers from Star Wars; there are traditional Disney characters and those from Pixar. Tap the colorful star, go to Stickers, press and hold a sticker and place it on the screen. Record your video and it will animate when you play it back.

You’ll also find more Posters, which are essentially still or animated transitions, some Star Wars-themed, and others designed by Apple.

The clips you make are also backed up to your iCloud Photo Library in addition to local storage. That means you could start a clip on an iPhone during your subway commute, for example, and then finish it later on an iPad at home.

Clips version 2.0 is now available on the Apple App Store for download.

Editors’ Recommendations

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9
Nov

After teaming with AMD, Intel poaches its graphics guru to build its own GPUs


Intel is having a very interesting week. First, the company said that it teamed up with AMD to create a module for ultrathin devices consisting of its processor cores, AMD’s Radeon-branded graphics cores, and built-in video memory called HBM2. While it’s a surprising collaboration given that Intel and AMD are rivals on the processor front, they’re not mortal enemies in the discrete graphics market… at least, not yet.

Intel said on Wednesday that it’s created a new Core and Visual Computing Group to create discrete graphics processors. The head of this new division will be none other than Raja Koduri, AMD’s recently departed senior president and chief architect of the Radeon Technology Group. This just happens to be AMD’s division responsible for its graphics processors in desktops, servers, consoles, and more.

Koduri’s experience dates back to S3 Graphics in 1996. In 2001, he began serving as the director of advanced technology development at ATI Technologies, a Canadian company focused on creating discrete graphics chips. By then, the company was producing its first Radeon-branded cards and mainly competed with Nvidia in that space. AMD purchased ATI Technologies in 2006 for around $5.6 billion, and Koduri help expand AMD’s new graphics division into new markets, including all-in-one chips (APUs), workstations, servers, and gaming consoles.

Koduri didn’t spend all his time at AMD after the company acquired ATI Technologies. He departed in 2009 to serve as director of Apple’s graphics architecture division until March 2013. During that time, he helped established the graphics-based platform for the Mac product line that transitioned the machines to Retina displays. After that, he returned to AMD to serve as corporate vice president of visual computing, and then senior vice president and chief architect of the Radeon division.

Koduri stepped down from his position earlier this week after having launched AMD’s latest high-end Radeon-branded graphics cards based on its new “Vega” architecture. Speculation saw him shifting over to Nvidia or Intel to work on graphics-related products. He will begin his role as chief architect and senior vice president of Intel’s new discrete graphics division starting in December.

Thus, the big elephant in the room is the fact that Intel now has AMD’s former head of its Radeon division to run its own discrete graphics division. Intel already develops integrated graphics for its CPUs, but they can’t match the performance of discrete graphics chips by AMD and Nvidia. But with Koduri under its wing, Intel is set to become a third competitor in the discrete graphics market.

“Koduri will expand Intel’s leading position in integrated graphics for the PC market with high-end discrete graphics solutions for a broad range of computing segments,” Intel said.

There are a lot of questions surrounding Koduri’s new role at Intel. Building a brand since 2001 — and then competing against it — is a curious move. But his new role may be part of Intel’s deal with AMD regarding the new modules for ultrathins revealed earlier this week. A press image of Koduri provided by Intel directly links him to the modules.

Editors’ Recommendations

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  • Intel is cramming custom AMD Radeon graphics into an eighth-generation chip
  • In its Oregon skunkworks, Intel is plotting to turn your laptop into a VR rig
  • Desktops are dead? Lenovo says no as it shoves new gaming PCs into the spotlight




9
Nov

Windows Mixed Reality is about to have a Big Bang moment with SteamVR support


The library of content for Windows Mixed Reality (WMR) headsets is slated to explode when SteamVR support is officially added to the platform. Although there may be some incompatibilities considering the differences in hardware, WMR headset owners should then have access to all of the same games and experiences as HTC Vive users.

With its blend of support for both augmented and virtual reality, the WMR platform has the potential to be one of the most all-encompassing reality-bending systems out there. However, at this stage, its content is somewhat limited — just 61 virtual reality apps by RoadToVR’s count. That is all going to change in less than a week.

On Wednesday, November 15, a public preview of SteamVR integration will be released, making it possible to dive headfirst into virtual reality titles like Thumper, Rec Room, Serious Sam VR and many more of the best HTC Vive games on Steam.

This is all possible because SteamVR is designed to be an open standard that is gradually finding acceptance among hardware other than the headset and tracking system that Valve helped develop with HTC. We’re already seeing the trackers find usage in all sorts of exciting accessories.

For WMR  users, this is a big step though. In one fell swoop, it solves the chicken and egg content problem that has plagued augmented and virtual reality headsets since their inception. Without content, nobody wants the headsets and without headsets, nobody wants to make the content for them. With the entire SteamVR library at its disposal, suddenly the WMR platform looks much more attractive to consumers.

Once it starts making money for developers, it, in turn, will seem well worth porting your game to that hardware, or even crafting custom experiences that leverage mixed reality’s unique characteristics for something different.

This public preview should be pretty seamless too, as it’s been tested by early access developers for a while now. That said, this public preview is still being considered a beta, so users looking to jump on the bandwagon should be aware that it may not be perfect.

While this preview will debut on November 15, the final launch date for the finalized SteamVR support has not been announced yet.

Editors’ Recommendations

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  • Windows Mixed Reality news: Here’s everything you need to know
  • What is Windows Mixed Reality? It’s simpler than you think
  • Screenshots don’t quite do VR justice, but here’s how to do it on the HTC Vive
  • Logitech Bridge lets you use your keyboard inside a VR experience




9
Nov

Snapchat on Android: Everything you need to know


Whether you’re new to the ephemeral social network or an advanced user, you can probably still learn a few tricks.

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Snapchat is one of the largest social networks around, and it’s probably the most polarizing one to boot. There’s a ton of people, young and old, who just can’t wrap their heads around why anyone would want to send pictures and messages that just disappear as soon as you look away (well, aside from a certain purpose that everyone seems to understand).

I’ve been an avid Snapchat user since the day it landed on the Play Store, and admittedly even I have a hard time expressing to skeptics why I and many of my friends find it so addictive. Despite the quip in the last paragraph, I’ve never used the platform to send (or receive) nude photos, and it’s no secret that Snapchat for Android has lower quality images and slower feature rollouts than its iOS counterpart.

But none of that is enough to deter me and millions of others from exchanging countless self-destructing photos, videos, and messages every single day. It’s a great way to keep up with the personal lives of your friends, get a peek at what happens behind the scenes with your idols, and quickly share photos and videos that just don’t have enough mass appeal to be immortalized on Instagram or Twitter.

So maybe it’s time to stop questioning why Snapchat is so popular, and instead start to figure out … how the hell do you use it?

How to use Snapchat

Cella already extensively covered the basics of Snapchat last year, from its formative history to navigating its convoluted UI and, of course, the lenses and filters. It’s still a great read with loads of information, so let’s not dwell too much on the basics here — just know that the three-panel layout is largely unchanged, lenses are still one of the most fun parts of Snapchat, and disappearing messages are still as finicky and frustrating as ever.

slack-michael-fisher-hayato-huseman-snap Not now, Snapchat, the grownups are talking … on Slack.

But here’s the thing: even though Cella’s article is still relevant, Snapchat has added a lot of new features over the last year, and it’s become significantly more complicated as a result. A few gestures have been remapped to make room for new functions, so even if you’ve used Snapchat before, you might have to relearn a few shortcuts if you haven’t been active in a while.

Download: Snapchat (free)

Getting familiar with Snapchat

  • Snap score
  • Snapcodes
  • Search
  • Bitmoji
  • Shazam integration
  • Snap Map
  • Augmented reality
  • Multi-Snaps
  • Snapcash
  • Links in snaps
  • Memories
  • Spectacles

What does my score mean?

You used to be able to swipe down from anywhere in the viewfinder to access your Snapchat profile, but that’s been reallocated to a button in the top left corner (represented by your avatar) to make room for Snapchat’s jumbled search feed.

Once you’ve made your way to your profile view, you’ll notice a seemingly arbitrary number next to your username. This number is your Snapchat “score,” but what does that mean exactly? The answer’s actually pretty simple — it’s just the number of snaps you’ve sent and received through your account’s history.

For extra credit, tap the trophy icon underneath your username to jump into your Trophy Case. This works a lot like achievements on Xbox Live; Snapchat gives you small awards for the various ways you send snaps and otherwise use the app (i.e. zooming during a video snap, snapping in certain weather conditions, saving stories to your Memories, and so on). These trophies offer little more than bragging rights amongst your friends, but they’re a fun way to gamify Snapchat and keep fans of collectibles coming back.

How do I use Snapcodes?

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While you’re in your profile view, it’s impossible not to notice the giant speckled yellow block above all of your info. This block, called your Snapcode, works a lot like a QR code; position one in your Snapchat viewfinder, then long-press on the screen to instantly add the Snapcode’s owner as a friend. Everybody’s Snapcode looks a little different, with the black dots arranged in various patterns, and you can further personalize your own code by creating a Bitmoji, then choosing a Bitmoji Selfie — essentially emoticons based on your face.

Read more: Creating a Snapcode

This search panel is a mess.

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Yes, it is. But let’s make some sense of it. You can use the search bar to find anything from friends to related stories and search tags. Just below that are some of the current most relevant tags, and a long scrollable list of the top stories that people have contributed to. If you’re on the hunt for a particular type of content, you can flip through different categories beneath the top stories, ranging from nightclubs and bars around you to concerts, animals, and travel.

At the very bottom of the search panel is a three-column section that lists your most recently added friends, suggests new people to add, and connects with your phone’s address book to find contacts who are on Snapchat.

Read more: Snapchat’s Universal Search

What are Bitmoji?

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Bitmoji are those little animated characters you’ve probably seen your friends using in their stories. You can download the Bitmoji app from the Play Store, then create a cartoon caricature of yourself that integrates with your Snapchat account for a handful of personalized effects to use in your snaps. From there, you can put your Bitmoji into your Snapcode, use it with stickers, or choose from a handful of 3D animations in the lens selector to add to your snaps.

Read more: Setting Bitmoji shortcuts to your Snapchat contacts

Shazam integration

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Music recognition seems like a bit of an oddball feature for a photo-sharing platform, but it’s convenient nonetheless. Snap Inc. and Shazam partnered up back in December of last year, and since then you’ve been able to press and hold on the camera screen (the same way you access lenses) and have Shazam start listening and tell you what song is playing in the background.

Once you’ve identified a song, you can send it to your friends, post it to your story, or just dismiss it and come back to it later — every song you identify is saved under the Shazam tab in the settings, where you can find links to play the song on Google Play Music or Spotify, pull up lyrics and music videos, or delete any guilty pleasures you might’ve identified.

Read more: Shazam in Snapchat

Snap Map?

If you pinch in from the camera viewfinder, you’ll be taken into Snap Map, where you’ll see your Bitmoji standing in your exact location on a map powered by the open-source Mapbox platform. As you scroll around the map, you’ll start to find your friends’ Bitmoji as well, along with some location-based stories. You can tap a friend’s Bitmoji to see when their location was last updated — which is basically just the last time they opened Snapchat.

This is a cool feature to enable when you’re out in a social setting and want your friends to find you, but it can feel way too invasive and even dangerous to broadcast your location when you’re home. Luckily, you can choose who’s able to see your location in the settings, or opt out of the feature entirely by enabling Ghost Mode.

Read more: Snap Map does exactly what you’d think

About the dancing hotdog man…

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You’ve undoubtedly seen the anthropomorphic dancing hotdog somewhere on the internet, either in your friends’ snaps or as the subject of a meme on Twitter. That fun-loving frank has inadvertently become Snapchat’s unofficial second mascot (the first being Ghostface Chillah, the white ghost in the company’s logo), and the most prominent of its augmented reality lenses.

To make use of Snapchat’s AR features, press and hold anywhere in the camera screen until a scrolling list of circular icons populates the bottom of the screen, near the shutter button. As always, you’ll find various face filters, but thrown into the mix are a rotation of 3D characters (including your Bitmoji, the hotdog man, and others) that attach to surfaces in the room around you. If you’re unhappy with their placement, you can move these characters around, resize them, and even move around them to see different angles.

To be honest, this is the feature that finally sold me on Bitmoji. It’s silly, sure, but so is the rest of Snapchat, and it’s fun to see a rendition of yourself animated in different ways all the time.

Read more: Update brings AR effects to your everyday life

When 10-second snaps aren’t enough

Snapchat recently added support for its Multi-Snap feature on Android, which lets users bypass the built-in 10-second recording limit. Just keep holding the camera button after the red ring fills up to record up to six consecutive snaps that can all be shared to your story or sent to a friend simultaneously.

Each clip is displayed as a card that can be individually deleted, though you can’t edit each card separately; any filters, text, or stickers added are applied to the collective Multi-Snap.

Read more: Snapchat lets you record 60-second Snaps … sort of

Sending money in Snapchat

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One of the features I find myself using most often in Snapchat is Snapcash, which lets you send money to your friends (and vice versa) just by typing the amount in the chat window. Both the sender and recipient will need to enable Snapcash, which is as easy as linking your debit card information in the settings.

There’s an argument to be made that almost every banking app these days already has direct transfer options available, but Snapcash comes in handy when the two parties don’t go through the same bank. Receipts are available in the settings, and all exchanges are processed by Square, rather than by Snapchat directly.

Read more: Snapcash

Adding URLs to your snaps

One of the best marketing features on Instagram Stories, Snapchat’s biggest competition, is the ability to add links in posts, but it’s unfortunately only available for business accounts with at least 10,000 followers. Snapchat took notice and brought the same feature to its own platform, without the annoying business account limitation.

To add a link to a snap, just hit the paperclip icon in the editor and type or paste the desired URL. Snapchat will open the link using an in-app browser, load the mobile version if possible, and confirm that you’ve input the correct link. Once added, you can make whatever other adjustments you want, then send the snap as usual. Recipients will be able to swipe up to visit the linked page, and you can share the snap to your story for maximum exposure.

Read more: Instagram Stories lets you share your day’s best moments

Memories is like Snapchat’s own Google Photos

Snapchat is ephemeral by nature, but sometimes you take a snap that you just don’t want to forget. Luckily, swiping up from the camera feed reveals Memories, which backs up any snaps you’ve chosen to save to the cloud using Snapchat’s servers. Much like Google Photos, this is a completely free service with unlimited storage for your photos and videos captured with Snapchat, and you can set any stories you post to automatically save to your Memories in the settings.

Read more: How to access and use Snapchat Memories

While perusing your Memories, you can tap an old snap to view the full-size image, and long press the preview to export it to your phone’s gallery, delete the snap from Memories, or even edit and send the snap all over again. Snapchat used to place a large white border around older images, but it now simply denotes the post’s age in the upper lefthand corner.

Read more: How to manage Snapchat Memories

Okay, I’ve got the hang of Snapchat. Now what about Spectacles?

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Perhaps the most ambitious move Snapchat has made since its inception is the release of its Spectacles sunglasses. With an unmistakably quirky design, a constantly moving vending machine pop-up store, and a built-in camera that raised numerous privacy concerns, Spectacles have garnered a lot of attention over the last year or so.

But what do Spectacles do, exactly? Once you pair them to your phone through Bluetooth, all you have to do is press the button on the top of the left frame (right above the camera) and the Spectacles will begin capturing an eight-second video. There’s a ring of LEDs by the right lens that lights up to alert those around you that you’re recording, and once the video is finished it’ll sync to your phone the next time you open Snapchat with the Spectacles on.

Point-of-view videos are neat, but the unique part of Spectacles is that they record circular video, which work natively with Snapchat for a much more immersive experience. The video punches in to fill your phone’s entire screen, giving the illusion of a standard rectangular capture, but works with the accelerometer to follow your phone’s orientation, changing the displayed content as you rotate your phone around. It works extremely smoothly, and once you start playing with videos from the Spectacles it becomes flat-out addictive.

Still have more questions about Spectacles? You’re in luck — there’s a Mr. Mobile video for that.

Having trouble?

Snapchat isn’t perfect, and every once in a while you might run into some trouble with logging in, sending snaps, or otherwise malfunctioning features. Luckily, there’s usually an easy fix.

How to fix Snapchat login errors

Got any other tips or tricks?

Let us know your favorite ways to use Snapchat in the comments below, and we’ll update the article as new features for Snapchat on Android roll out.

9
Nov

OnePlus will let 10 people test drive the OnePlus 5T


You could be among the first ten people to get their hands on the OnePlus 5T.

After more than enough leaks and rumors, OnePlus will finally be taking the stage in New York City on November 16 to officially unveil the OnePlus 5T. We’ve seen plenty of promotion from the company in an attempt to hype up the device as much as possible, and in this latest move, OnePlus is now looking for ten people to review the 5T ahead of its official launch.

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OnePlus is running this promotion through its “The Lab” program, and eager participants can fill out a forum to tell OnePlus why they should be considered as one of the lucky ten.

Submissions can be sent in starting now, and OnePlus says it’ll select its ten reviewers on November 15 by 10:00 PM EST – just a day before the 5T is announced.

Those that are selected will be among the first ten people in the world to own a OnePlus 5T, and once they get their hands on the phone, they’ll be tasked with putting it through its paces to let other users know just what they think about it.

If you’re interested and think you’re up for the task, you can fill out the submission form here.

OnePlus 5

  • Complete OnePlus 5 review
  • OnePlus 5 specs
  • Which OnePlus 5 model should you buy?
  • Camera comparison: OnePlus 5 vs. Galaxy S8
  • The latest OnePlus 5 news
  • Join the discussion in the forums

OnePlus
Amazon

9
Nov

Amazon Echo and Echo Plus review (2017)


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Amazon now has a full family of Echo speakers — the only hard part is choosing which one to get.

Think about Amazon and where it started. First, shipping books to your home. Later, shipping everything to your home. Maybe Amazon Echo — and Alexa along with it — won’t be the most important legacy of the Seattle-based company, but you certainly could make the argument.

Because think about another product that lasted as long as the first-generation Echo. The tube-speaker was introduced in late 2014 and became widely available the following summer. Now, toward the end of 2017, we get not one but two new takes on the original.

The OG Amazon Echo has a new look. And the upscale — and pricier — Echo Plus crams more sound into the old design.

Which one’s right for you? And where do these fit in the family that’s quickly become one of the quickest invites into any home?

Let’s do this thing. This is the Amazon Echo and Echo Plus review.

See all the Echoes at Amazon

Watch this

Amazon Echo Video Review

Just the same, only different

Amazon Echo and Echo Plus Full Review

Connected speakers are a dime a dozen these days — and that includes speakers with Alexa — Amazon’s digital assistant — baked in. But so far no third party has done an Alexa speaker as good as Amazon. (Sonos is the lone exception there, but it’s pretty early days and they’ve still got some bugs to work out.)

That brings us to the new generation of Amazon Echo, which builds on the past without totally rebooting it.

Just the specs …

Amazon Echo Specs

Light_Gray_Echo_0.jpg Echo%20Plus%20Silver%20IMAGE%20%281%29_0
Price $99/$119 $149
Speaker 2.5-in. woofer/0.6 tweeter 2.5-in. woofer/.8 tweeter
Line out Yes Yes
Smart home hub No Yes
Size 5.9 x 3.5 inches 9.3 x 3.3 inches
See at Amazon See at Amazon

Which Amazon Echo is right for you?

Let’s look at the family, shall we?

There’s still the $49 Echo Dot, of course, which is the gateway drug. Plastic, inexpensive and meant to sell. If you don’t know where to start, start here.

Two new choices: One that sounds decent, and one that sounds better and is a smart home hub.

The redesigned Echo comes in at $99 and is less of an impulse buy. But it looks much better than the original Echo. The top face is just like the Echo Dot, plastic with physical buttons for volume up and down, microphone mute, and an action button, with an LED light ring all around. The sides of the cylinder come in a fabric, or a wood or plastic veneer for $20 more. And the whole thing is shorter and wider than the OG Echo. It’s more along the lines of Google Home, actually, though it hits $30 cheaper.

And then there’s the $149 Echo Plus. It shares the design of the original Echo nearly identically. (If there’s a visual difference, I haven’t noticed it yet.) Just two buttons up top — mic and action — with the top centimeter or so rotatable to control volume. Echo Plus also can serve as a smart home hub, if you wish.

The new Echo speakers share a power plug on the back, along with what may actually be the most important new feature — a 3.5mm external audio jack. So if you’re unhappy with the way these things sound and want to plug them into something else — a full stereo system, even — have at it. That’s a feature that’s been left for the Echo Dot (and the don’t-call-it-an-Echo portable Amazon Tap) until now.

And, well, that’s it. Save for the smart home hub thing on the Echo Plus, these all do exactly the same things. You can ask them questions. Make lists. Set reminders. Control things. Play music. Make calls — to other Echo devices as well as to actual phone numbers.

The differences between them are physical design, of course, audio quality, and then price.

Amazon Echo

amazon-echo-review-2017-8.jpg?itok=9kjtz The 2017 version of the Amazon Echo. ($99 at Amazon)

The redesigned Amazon Echo, however, is a looker — and in more ways than one. Start with the price; $99 is a pretty sweet spot for a decent connected speaker. Not so much as to cause regret down the road, and nearly low enough to be an impulse buy.

amazon-echo-review-2017-10.jpg?itok=M1-B The Echo (and Echo Plus) now sports an audio-out port!

Plus, it just looks the best of the three. Even the base-model fabric looks better than the matte plastic of the larger Echo and Echo Plus, with its long body and scores of holes in the grille. If you do love that design, though, there’s a matte silver option for an addition $20, including speaker grille. And you have options for an oak or walnut finish for that same $20 more. In any event, the more squat stance and external options make this a speaker I don’t mind someone seeing. It’s less industrial-looking. (Or, maybe to me it’s just new.)

How’s it sound? Pretty darn good, actually. Leaps and bounds over the Echo Dot, of course. And I think it sounds better than the original Echo despite having a smaller tweeter inside. You get a decent amount of bass. Nothing earth- (or ear-) shattering, but it’s not bad at all. The highs come through as they should, too.

See at Amazon

Amazon Echo Plus

amazon-echo-review-2017-15.jpg?itok=h0u6Amazon Echo Plus ($149 on Amazon), left, and the original Amazon Echo.

Everything old is new again. For $149 you can enjoy the look of the original Amazon Echo with the best sound quality of any of them. You get richer bass notes out of the Echo Plus, crisper highs, and the whole thing just sounds better than the Echo.

I still think the Echo and its redesign look better than the Echo Plus, but that’s certainly subjective.

I don’t think any of that is a reason to pay the $50 premium over the Echo. Sure, it sounds better. But not that much better.

amazon-echo-plus-review-2017-13.jpg?itok Echo Plus still has the old two-button design.

However. … I do think it might be worth it if you’re starting to get into the smart home game, because the Plus will serve as a hub.

This is where we venture into some dangerous territory. All of this connected stuff can be a little wonky. Some things work great out of the box and talk to the internet on their own. Take the Ring doorbell as an example of this. You set it up, and it just works. But things like Philips Hue lights have required a separate hub to be physically connected to your router before anything will work. Amazon Echo Plus takes care of this, and that’s a big deal because it’s a single place for all the things — erm, most of the things — to connect. (Much like Samsung’s Smart Things Hub, for example.)

Back to that caveat. You won’t be able to actually control all the things, though. There are a couple competing standards when it comes to smart home tech — Zigbee and Z-Wave. Those are two things you should never have to know about as an end user, and the Echo Plus only does one of them. (Fine, I’ll tell you. It’s Zigbee.)

And that’s a big deal because as you collect more and more things, you can end up with more and more hubs. Will Echo Plus solve them all? That’s doubtful, because there are too many things out there, and not everyone’s on the same page.

But it’ll help, and that alone might be worth the $149 asking price.

See at Amazon

Don’t forget the Echo Dot

As you’d expect, the $49 Echo Dot has the least quality of the trio. It’s tinny. It’s not all that loud. It won’t get anywhere close to filling a room. I wouldn’t give it to someone and expect them to enjoy listening to it at length. (For that price, I’d recommend a Google Home Mini.)

The Dot also is now my least favorite-looking Echo. But if you’re dead set on trying out the Amazon assistant universe and don’t want to spend a lot of money doing it, try an Echo Dot.

See at Amazon

The bottom line

Should you buy one? Yes

A couple years past the launch of the original Amazon Echo and the novelty certainly has worn off. Smart speakers with their own digital assistants aren’t anything new anymore, and they’re no longer expensive. Google and Amazon each have a $49 offering. You can get Alexa-compatible fare for even cheaper.

You can’t go wrong with either the new Echo or the Echo Plus. Both are capable smart speakers that perform within their price range. But you still have to make a choice here, right?

If you don’t need a smart home hub — and for all the stuff I have rigged up in my house, I don’t have it all going through a single hub — I’d just go for the $99 Amazon Echo. It’s a decent speaker that sounds better than the original Echo and does so at a good price.

If you do want to get into the smart home thing, spend the extra $50 for the Echo Plus. It’ll likely make things easier for you down the road when it comes to connected accessories.

amazon-echo-review-2017-16.jpg?itok=aapH

Amazon Echo

  • Tap, Echo or Dot: The ultimate Alexa question
  • All about Alexa Skills
  • Amazon Echo review
  • Echo Dot review
  • Top Echo Tips & Tricks
  • Amazon Echo vs. Google Home
  • Get the latest Alexa news

See at Amazon

9
Nov

T-Mobile’s LTE Advanced network now live in over 920 markets


Gigabit Class LTE also available in 430 markets.

Although the technology for a 5G future isn’t quite ready for primetime, carriers all across the country are working on building up their networks to offer as fast of speeds as possible using LTE. At an event in San Jose, T-Mobile recently announced that its lightning-fast LTE Advanced network is now available in more than 920 different markets.

t-mobile-logo-darkened-tradeshow.jpg?ito

T-Mobile’s LTE Advanced network is being built in partnership with Qualcomm’s Gigabit LTE modems that are slowly making their way into more and more smartphones. LTE Advanced also uses 4X4 MIMO and 256 QAM technology, and this allows for data speeds that are twice as fast as what’s capable with traditional 4G LTE.

Phones that can take advantage of LTE Advanced include the Samsung Galaxy S8, Note 8, Moto Z2 Force Edition, and LG V30. Of those 920 markets where these devices can use T-Mobile’s LTE Advanced, 430 of them currently have access to Gigabit Class LTE speeds.

Gigabit Class LTE is important because although it may not be as fast as speeds we’ll see a few years down the road, it’s the foundation T-Mobile is using for its future 5G network.

Per Mike Finley, the Senior VP and President of Qualcomm North America and Australia:

Global momentum for Gigabit Class LTE is continuing to pick up around the world, and we’re delighted that T-Mobile is planning to deliver gigabit connectivity to millions of consumers in the United States. In addition to providing blazing fast mobile connectivity, Gigabit Class LTE enables operators to expand network capacity to accommodate increasing demands by unlimited data plans, and increases overall spectral efficiency, enabling faster speeds for all users in the network.

This latest announcement places T-Mobile well ahead of other U.S. carriers when it comes to LTE Advanced, and seeing as how the Un-Carrier hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down since it first started testing this network in 2014, we don’t expect that to change anytime soon.

Unpacking the doomed T-Mobile / Sprint merger

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9
Nov

Preview ‘LA Noire’ Switch gameplay before next week’s launch


Excited to try LA Noire on your Switch November 14th? Good, because Rockstar Games has something to help make the wait a little easier: A gameplay trailer of the detective simulator running on Nintendo’s hybrid portable/home console. From the looks of it, using touchscreen controls for things like adjusting a cypher or making interrogation choices looks pretty natural, but we’ll have to wait until we can actually play it to gauge how they work in the real world. Same goes for motion controls with the Joy-cons. If you were holding out for the HTC Vive version, you’ll have to wait just a bit longer. Rockstar recently announced that one is delayed until sometime in December.

Source: Rockstar Games (YouTube)

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