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30
Nov

ZTE’s dual-screen Axon M is fascinating and flawed


Six years ago, a smartphone maker without much clout in the US designed an Android device with a novel second screen that turned a thick phone into a small tablet. That company was Kyocera, that device was the Echo, and uh, it totally flopped. (David Blaine doing magic tricks under 10,000 gallons of water at the phone’s unveiling was, in hindsight, not a great omen.)

Rather than leave the idea of a dual-screen phone in the dustbin, ZTE ran with it and last month released the Axon M, an AT&T exclusive. It’s hard not to look at the thing as a $725 curiosity, but don’t be fooled: It’s a lot more than that. It’s an argument that smartphones can and should be more than the flat slabs we’ve grown so used to. Too bad that argument isn’t compelling.

Having twice as much screen as usual may seem tantalizing, but chances are you won’t be using both displays all the time. When it comes to using the Axon M as you would a normal phone, the compromises ZTE had to make become especially conspicuous. When closed, the phone is half an inch thick, making it the chunkiest smartphone I’ve tested all year. Now, I’d gladly trade smartphone sleekness for better battery life, but the Axon M uses a 3,180mAh cell that’s enough to get through just a single day and not much more. Bear in mind, that’s when you’re only using one screen at a time; prolonged multitasking all but guarantees you’ll need to keep the charger handy.

And then there are the screens themselves. ZTE went with two 5.2-inch LCD panels: one baked into the phone’s chunky body and another wedged into a sliver of metal that flips arounds on a hinge and locks into place with a satisfying click. Sadly, these displays are wholly unremarkable. They’re middling 1080p panels with lackluster colors and decent viewing angles. Neither of them gets as bright as other devices I’ve tested this year. For a phone as uniquely screen-focused as this one, it’s disappointing that ZTE didn’t go with more-impressive panels. It’s not hard to see why, though: The Axon M would have been even more expensive.

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Chris Velazco/Engadget

While the Axon M’s flip-open design might initially seem clever, in practice it’s flawed. When closed, both of the Axon’s screens face outward, sort of like an inside-out Nintendo DS. Even the earlier Echo device, which was otherwise a resounding failure, kept its second screen protected. The hinge is also wedged into the right side of the phone, forcing ZTE to stick the volume rocker, power button and camera key on the phone’s left edge. This runs counter to just about every other smartphone other there, and even after weeks of use, I still haven’t gotten used to this layout. Since there’s a screen on the other side, you’d think there would be a way to use it as the main display, so the phone’s controls are on the usual side. Nope! You’re stuck with ZTE’s awkward design choices.

In daily use, the glass covering both sides of the phone makes it surprisingly slippery. And since both screens always face outward, there’s twice as much screen to shatter when the phone does take a tumble. Going off the number of busted phones I see in use every day, I’m already concerned for Axon M owners. After all, if you screw up one of the screens, you’ve basically destroyed the only reason to own this phone.

The screens are also flanked on the top and bottom by some thick bezels, though that was probably unavoidable — after all, the engineers had to stick the mediocre 20-megapixel camera somewhere. The camera is always pointed straight at you, and you use the second screen around back, then fire up the camera app. It’s a clever approach, but image quality is middling at best — a far cry from the performance you’d normally expect from a $700+ phone.

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Chris Velazco/Engadget

Honestly, one of the few nice things I can say about the Axon’s design is that the phone feels sturdier when it’s fully open than I had expected; the two screens sit flush with each other, and the hinge feels strong. To actually make use of both screens, you’ll have to tap the “M” (you know, for “multitasking”) key next to the standard navigation keys. This is where things start to get wild.

In addition to using the Axon M as you would a normal phone, there are three ways to make use of that extra screen. You can mirror the contents of one screen onto the other, so you can, say, watch a YouTube video with someone sitting across from you. There are some theoretical business use cases too, such as propping the phone up like a tent and walking someone through a PowerPoint presentation, but this is easily the most forgettable of the Axon’s multiscreen modes. Dual mode, which gives you the power to run two distinct apps on their own screen, is more obviously useful. It’s a year old at this point, but Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 chip plus 4GB of onboard RAM keep pairs of apps moving with respectable fluidity. Occasional instances of lag are to be expected, but giving two apps screens of their own generally works well.

You definitely shouldn’t run two games side by side, but everything else is fair game. I’ve taken to leaving YouTube running on one screen while I dash off emails in another. And trying to get through The New York Times Saturday crossword puzzle isn’t so difficult when I have Google search results for tricky clues beneath it. For all the quirks and strange design choices, multitasking on the Axon M can be useful. Here’s the rub, though: The primary way people multitask on their smartphones is by jumping in and out of different app windows, and despite everything, we’ve gotten good at it. As a result, I quickly ran out of reasons to run different apps on these screens. After a while, I was doing it just to do it, not because using both screens made me any more efficient.

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Chris Velazco/Engadget

The coolest — and most problematic — option is what ZTE calls Extend mode. Through some clever software trickery, the Axon M treats the two displays as one big one, and the effect is generally impressive. When the phone’s screens are side by side, you’ll get a perfectly square 6.2-inch screen that handily blurs the line between phone and tablet. The only downside: a noticeable gap separates the screens. It’s a constant reminder that major tech companies still haven’t mastered the kind of foldable smartphones we’re excited about. ZTE worked with software developers to optimize some apps for this larger canvas, but to get the most use out of it, you’ll need to toggle a setting that forces all apps to stretch across those screens. To ZTE’s credit, I haven’t run into any showstopping issues, but you should expect a few hiccups. The most glaring occurs when scrolling through content that spreads across both screens. The secondary display sometimes lags behind the main one, so it’s not uncommon to see one half of, say, a news article moving faster than the other.

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Chris Velazco/Engadget

The irony here is that even though the Axon M has two screens, videos that stretch across them don’t appear much bigger than they would on a single phablet screen. Let’s say you’re watching an episode of Stranger Things. With the Axon M set to extended mode, the size of the video spread across both panels is roughly equivalent to watching the same episode on an iPhone 8 Plus. “Roughly equivalent” is pretty generous too: The sizes of the video windows are close to equal, but you’ll never unsee the gap that separates the Axon’s two screens. In fairness, neither ZTE nor AT&T have claimed this mode is a particularly great way to watch video, though it’s a little odd that the phone has a “TV mode” that launches a predefined video app with a long-press of the camera key.

The awkward way the Axon M handles video is proof that two screens aren’t necessarily better than one. Still, that’s not to say the Extended mode is useless. I stopped carrying my Kindle around because I could just flip open the Axon M, fire up the app and thumb through a novel on the subway. The combined size of the two screens eclipsed my Kindle Voyage, and thanks to apps like InPen’s Reading Mode, the Axon M doubles as an e-reader without much hassle. In fact, this is probably what I used the Axon M for the most.

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Chris Velazco/Engadget

That said, the idea of shelling out more than $700 to make reading slightly more pleasant is a silly one. I’m wading into iffy legal territory here, but the most fun I had with the Axon M came when I used it to play backed-up Nintendo DS games. (A note to our lawyers and Nintendo’s: I own physical copies of all the games whose ROMs I loaded onto the Axon M.) In those moments, when I could lose myself in a game I’d beaten countless times before, the Axon felt like something special. Then I’d exit the game and find myself left with this ambitious but flawed machine.

By now, it should be clear that you don’t need this phone. There is, however, something to be said for chutzpah. In building the Axon M, ZTE has displayed a kind of disregard for the smartphone status quo that is both interesting and genuinely refreshing. This might be a concept we’ve seen before, but there can be no progress without experimentation. If nothing else, this attempt at a dual-screen phone is much more well-rounded than the first. Ultimately, though, the Axon M feels like just that: an experiment, albeit one that’s as promising as it is frustrating. I’m glad it exists, just not enough to go out and buy one myself.

30
Nov

Microsoft Edge for iPhone and Android is out of beta


Last month, Microsoft released its Edge browser to iOS and Android users, but only in beta. It was available exclusively to Windows Insiders and required a PC running Windows 10 in order to sign up. But starting today, any iOS and Android users can download Microsoft Edge for their mobile device.

This will come as welcome news to users of Microsoft Edge’s browser. The mobile browser will sync with the desktop version, allowing a seamless handoff via the “Continue on PC” feature. The browser will also sync bookmarks, passwords and reading lists, but not current tabs (though that functionality is forthcoming, according to The Verge.) The current iOS version of the Edge browser supports iPhones only, not iPads.

If you aren’t enmeshed in the Microsoft ecosystem, this announcement probably won’t mean much to you. But if you’re a Windows 10 user and Microsoft Edge is your browser of choice, then your life just got a little bit easier.

Via: The Verge

Source: Google Play Store, iTunes Store, Microsoft

30
Nov

Google lets developers find 3D assets without leaving VR


Google recently unveiled Poly to give VR and AR developers an easy way to find 3D assets for their virtual worlds. Now, it has introduced Poly API to help developers work with and discover those assets directly in virtual reality. “It’s just so much more natural to work in VR in something like [VR painting tool] Tilt Brush and then use it in a VR project,” said CEO Max Weisel from VR developer Normal.

Poly, as a reminder, is a big collection of royalty-free 3D objects and “scenes” that developers can incorporate into virtual or augmented reality apps, games, and other programs. The idea is to help creators populate their worlds with objects (either as-is or modified) to boost development speed and quality.

With its Daydream platform, Google has a vested interest in getting as many AR and VR apps out there as possible. Nevertheless, the objects will work on other platforms, too, including Apple’s ARKit. They include simple characters and objects like trees, plants, fountains, or bricks, along with more elaborate things like a full 3D version of Wonder Woman.

Poly API lets developers pore through its large collection of assets, while interacting directly with them via Poly in VR. You can search by keyword, category, format, popularity or date uploaded, and even by model complexity and other factors. “Think of Poly like Google for assets,” said Mindshow CCO Jonnie Ross.

For developers using Unity or Unreal Engine, Google has also created the Poly Toolkit, letting you import 3D objects and scenes directly into a project. “Finding and creating 3D assets are both time-consuming processes,” said Mindshow CEO Gil Baron. “Poly API not only speeds up the exploration of production, but the production itself.” For consumers, that should in turn lead to more and better VR apps.

30
Nov

Congressman receives death threat over net neutrality


The FCC is set to vote on its plan to remove net neutrality protections on December 14th and as that day gets closer, things are getting heated. A 28-year-old Syracuse man is now facing federal charges for a call he allegedly made to Representative John Katko wherein he threatened the congressman and his family’s lives. A voicemail was left on Katko’s office phone that said, “Listen Mr. Katko, if you support net neutrality, I will support you. But if you don’t support net neutrality, I will find you and your family and I will kill… you … all. Do you understand? I will literally find all… of … you and your progeny and just wipe you from the face of the earth.” The caller also went on to say that net neutrality was more important that US defense, free speech and healthcare and that it is “literally the basis of the new society.”

The man accused of leaving the message faces federal charges that carry a penalty of up to ten years in prison and a $250,000 fine. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai released a statement today in response to the threat. “I condemn in the strongest possible terms any attempts to intimidate government officials with violent threats, and in particular, efforts to target their families,” he said. “I would also like to express my sympathy to Congressman Katko and his family and thank law enforcement officials for taking this matter seriously.”

Source: FCC, WSYR

30
Nov

Toyota’s FT-AC concept is an Instagram-ready offroader


If you’ve ever thought, “I’d really like to be able to record all my drives both on-road and off,” the Toyota FT-AC (Future Toyota Adventure Concept)crossover is the vehicle for you. With detachable infrared cameras on the side mirrors that record your jaunts, it’s the Instagram-ready car of your active-lifestyle dreams.

While the current Toyota C-HR crossover is clearly more of an urban vehicle, the concept FT-AC is directed towards folks that spend their weekends in the great outdoors. For those adventures, the footage shot via those detachable cameras is uploaded to Toyota’s cloud via the car’s Wi-Fi hotspot. There it can be edited and shared with a companion app. The footage can also be live streamed directly from the road for those moments when you really need the world to know exactly what you’re doing at that moment.

If your a cyclist, the FT-AC features a retractable bike rack and detachable fog lights you can attach to your bike. Considering how much brighter vehicles lamps are than bike lamps, this will alleviate any issues you’ve had on night rides of not being able to see the terrain. The lights can also be used as a camping lamp.

This joins the company’s FT-AX concept crossover as the automaker’s way of making sure it keeps up with the growing SUV market. Toyota might have the best selling car in the United States (Camry), but it knows that larger cars are what most customers want. “We have to admit that the exterior is aggressive. But you like it right?” Said Toyota Jack Hollis group vice president.

In addition to an all-wheel-drive pure gas engine, Toyota expects the FT-AC to also have a hybrid version. So you can be greener while you head outside.

Like all concept cars, if this does come to market some of the more outlandish features will probably never make it to the showroom. But considering how much our lives revolve around documenting our events, it’s not too much of a stretch to think that at least some elements of the video capturing system will end up in our garages.

30
Nov

The best TVs and media streamers to give as gifts


Unless the person on your list already owns a smart TV, media streamers are almost fool-proof as far as gift ideas go, and they’re reasonably affordable too. We put several in our holiday gift guide, including the Apple TV 4K at the high end and the Roku Ultra, which is nearly half the price. Rounding out the list, we recommend this universal remote from Logitech (though the company’s cheaper models are solid, too). And, if you have the means to gift a TV (whether to yourself or someone else), we included two models in different price ranges.

Source: Engadget Holiday Gift Guide 2017

30
Nov

Qualcomm hopes to ban Apple’s iPhone X sales with new lawsuit


The legal battle between Apple and Qualcomm is even hotter than you might have thought — so hot they were suing each other on the same day. While Apple was busy suing Qualcomm over Snapdragon chips on November 29th, Qualcomm was filing its own lawsuit claiming that phones ranging from the iPhone 7 to the iPhone X violate 16 patents, including power-saving methods, interfaces and even camera autofocus. There’s a matching complaint with the US International Trade Commission that would ban imports (and thus sales) of the iPhone X and other models over five of the patents.

As with Qualcomm’s previous ITC tussle, the new ITC case is conspicuously focused only on those iPhones that use Intel’s wireless chipsets.

Apple has declined to comment. With these back-to-back lawsuits, though, it’s clearer than ever that the companies are trying to force each other’s hand. Qualcomm in particular rejects Apple’s claim that its royalty demands are excessive, and it could use the threat of bans on cutting-edge iPhones as a strong bargaining chip. Even if the lawsuit and ITC complaint take a while (ITC cases are usually faster), there’s a good chance that bans on the iPhone 8 and X could do tangible damage to Apple’s bottom line and push it to the negotiating table. Not that Apple is likely to buckle — in addition to its own lawsuits, it has the support of the FTC’s investigation into Qualcomm’s alleged antitrust practices.

Source: RPX Insight

30
Nov

Apple Watch Market Share Declined Over Summer as Rumors Swirled About Series 3 Models With LTE


Apple Watch was the world’s most popular smartwatch by a significant margin last quarter, but its market share declined over the summer, according to data shared with MacRumors by research firm IDC.

Whereas the Apple Watch represented just under half of all smartwatches shipped in the second quarter with 49.6 percent market share, the device had an estimated 41 percent market share in the third quarter. In other words, four out of every 10 smartwatches shipped last quarter were Apple Watches.

Apple Watch shipments totaled an estimated 2.7 million units in the July-September period, down from 3.4 million units in the prior quarter.

Worldwide smartwatch shipments in Q3 2017 via IDC. Units reflected in millions.
Apple Watch shipments were likely affected by seasonality, as the summer is traditionally a slower sales period for Apple. Also, some customers may have delayed their purchase given consistent rumors about Apple Watch Series 3 models with cellular capabilities launching in September, as did happen.

Samsung finished runner-up to the Apple Watch with an estimated 700,000 shipments, also down slightly from the prior quarter.

Garmin took third place with 600,000 shipments, unchanged from the prior quarter. Fossil and Continental Wireless, which makes kids smartwatches in China, tied for fourth place with shipments of 500,000 smartwatches respectively. All other smartwatch makers shipped 1.7 million units combined in the quarter.

IDC’s data shared with MacRumors is based exclusively on smartwatches, which it defines as watches that can run third-party apps on the device itself.

In the broader wearables market, which includes many low-priced fitness trackers, IDC estimates the Apple Watch captured 10.3 percent market share last quarter. Fitbit and Chinese vendor Xiaomi tied for the lead in that category last quarter with an estimated 13.7 percent market share each.

Apple doesn’t break out Apple Watch sales like it does with iPhones, iPads, and Macs. Instead, it groups the wearable under its “Other Products” category, alongside Apple TV, AirPods, Beats, iPods, and other accessories.

On a conference call early this month, Apple CEO Tim Cook did reveal that Apple Watch sales were up 50 percent in the quarter year over year. Apple reported revenue of $3.2 billion from its “Other Products” category, up 36 percent year over year.

Moving on now to Apple Watch, with unit growth of over 50 percent for the third consecutive quarter, it continues to be the best selling and most loved smartwatch in the world. We began shipping Apple Watch Series 3 just six weeks ago, and customers love the new freedom of cellular. The ability to go for a run with just your Apple Watch, or go for a quick errand without your phone, while staying connected, is a game changer. Now more than ever, Apple Watch is the ultimate device for healthy life, and is already making a big difference in our customers’ lives.

Apple today announced that Apple Watch users in the United States can participate in a heart study aimed at identifying irregular heart rhythms.

Related Roundups: Apple Watch, watchOS 4Tag: IDCBuyer’s Guide: Apple Watch (Buy Now)
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30
Nov

Construction firm DIRTT lets clients view design spaces in VR on their phones


We’ve written before about the futuristic construction company DIRTT — the acronym stands for “Doing It Right This Time,” a credo the company uses to praise its innovative approach to modular construction. DIRTT is the company with the moveable walls and creative approaches to home design. Now the company is adding a new level of interactivity by launching an app that allows users to walk through their future space in virtual reality (VR) before it’s even built — and with no headsets required.

The app, available now on the Apple App Store, is called ICEreality. It’s a VR app that is built on top of DIRTT’s ICE software, a Building Information Modeling (BIM) tool that combines material data, pricing, engineering, manufacturing and, installation data for every aspect of an interior design project. When linked with an ICE design file, an iPhone running ICEreality instantly becomes a VR viewer for the pliable space design. Even cooler, multiple users can check out the space at the same time, as any user is transformed by the software into an avatar who can navigate the design in real time.

“ICEreality is the first time ICE VR has been a shared experience available to people in the palm of their own hand,” said DIRTT’s co-founder and chief technology officer, Barrie Loberg. “This app embodies an essential human element that’s oftentimes missing in traditional virtual reality — the shared social experience of exploring a space. ICEreality turns the design phase of a construction project into an incredibly powerful, useful, and now portable, social experience.”

The company intends for the ICEreality app to spur collaboration by allowing people to easily see, modify, and evaluate their environments. Changes to the design can be made instantaneously as the use explores the VR version of their future space. At the same time, those changes alter the VR model to match visually and to sync with all backend data, including pricing.

“It’s portable virtual reality in your pocket,” said one of DIRTT’s beta testers for the ICEreality app. “You can take it anywhere and put someone right into their space.”

It’s just one more example of how DIRTT is trying to break the mold when it comes to modular construction. The company, which has manufacturing facilities in Alberta, British Columbia, Arizona, and Georgia, has been using its proprietary 3D software to design, manufacture, and install fully customized, prefabricated interiors since it was founded in 2003.

“DIRTT has allowed people to understand that you can have all the things you want in terms of self-expression and adaptation without any constraints on the idea of modularity,” said the firm’s co-founder and vice president of development, Geoff Gosling, to Digital Trends earlier this year. “A lot of that has to do with our willingness to let our clients completely express themselves. If something doesn’t exist in the world that our clients would like, we have a product development team that does nothing but project-related unique design. That expression can be an aesthetic expression, a technological need, unique environmental constraints, etc. The other thing that is unique about our framework is that our designs can carry just about any material on the planet. If a client has a unique material that they want to employ, the DIRTT solution can just grab it and assimilate it.”

The ICEreality app is available now on the App Store and is compatible with iPhone 6s or newer models, running the latest version of IOS11. Although users will be required to run an ICE software program and have an ICE license, the virtual reality app requires no special equipment.  Graciously, DIRTT has provided users who don’t have a connection to the company’s ICE software with a pre-loaded timber frame demo file so they can try out the app’s interface before they invest in the back end.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • Windows Mixed Reality news: Here’s everything you need to know
  • VR simulation lets you visit the Berlin Wall – before it fell
  • Here’s how Dutch engineers plan to build one of the world’s tallest ice towers
  • Windows Mixed Reality hands-on review
  • The best VR headset you can buy




30
Nov

Construction firm DIRTT lets clients view design spaces in VR on their phones


We’ve written before about the futuristic construction company DIRTT — the acronym stands for “Doing It Right This Time,” a credo the company uses to praise its innovative approach to modular construction. DIRTT is the company with the moveable walls and creative approaches to home design. Now the company is adding a new level of interactivity by launching an app that allows users to walk through their future space in virtual reality (VR) before it’s even built — and with no headsets required.

The app, available now on the Apple App Store, is called ICEreality. It’s a VR app that is built on top of DIRTT’s ICE software, a Building Information Modeling (BIM) tool that combines material data, pricing, engineering, manufacturing and, installation data for every aspect of an interior design project. When linked with an ICE design file, an iPhone running ICEreality instantly becomes a VR viewer for the pliable space design. Even cooler, multiple users can check out the space at the same time, as any user is transformed by the software into an avatar who can navigate the design in real time.

“ICEreality is the first time ICE VR has been a shared experience available to people in the palm of their own hand,” said DIRTT’s co-founder and chief technology officer, Barrie Loberg. “This app embodies an essential human element that’s oftentimes missing in traditional virtual reality — the shared social experience of exploring a space. ICEreality turns the design phase of a construction project into an incredibly powerful, useful, and now portable, social experience.”

The company intends for the ICEreality app to spur collaboration by allowing people to easily see, modify, and evaluate their environments. Changes to the design can be made instantaneously as the use explores the VR version of their future space. At the same time, those changes alter the VR model to match visually and to sync with all backend data, including pricing.

“It’s portable virtual reality in your pocket,” said one of DIRTT’s beta testers for the ICEreality app. “You can take it anywhere and put someone right into their space.”

It’s just one more example of how DIRTT is trying to break the mold when it comes to modular construction. The company, which has manufacturing facilities in Alberta, British Columbia, Arizona, and Georgia, has been using its proprietary 3D software to design, manufacture, and install fully customized, prefabricated interiors since it was founded in 2003.

“DIRTT has allowed people to understand that you can have all the things you want in terms of self-expression and adaptation without any constraints on the idea of modularity,” said the firm’s co-founder and vice president of development, Geoff Gosling, to Digital Trends earlier this year. “A lot of that has to do with our willingness to let our clients completely express themselves. If something doesn’t exist in the world that our clients would like, we have a product development team that does nothing but project-related unique design. That expression can be an aesthetic expression, a technological need, unique environmental constraints, etc. The other thing that is unique about our framework is that our designs can carry just about any material on the planet. If a client has a unique material that they want to employ, the DIRTT solution can just grab it and assimilate it.”

The ICEreality app is available now on the App Store and is compatible with iPhone 6s or newer models, running the latest version of IOS11. Although users will be required to run an ICE software program and have an ICE license, the virtual reality app requires no special equipment.  Graciously, DIRTT has provided users who don’t have a connection to the company’s ICE software with a pre-loaded timber frame demo file so they can try out the app’s interface before they invest in the back end.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • Windows Mixed Reality news: Here’s everything you need to know
  • VR simulation lets you visit the Berlin Wall – before it fell
  • Here’s how Dutch engineers plan to build one of the world’s tallest ice towers
  • Windows Mixed Reality hands-on review
  • The best VR headset you can buy




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