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27
Dec

You don’t need a PhD to grasp the anxieties around sex robots


NSFW Warning: This story may contain links to and descriptions or images of explicit sexual acts.

If you want to understand the myriad issues concerning sex robots that humanity needs to grapple with, you have two options. You can either spend several years studying for a PhD in either of those fields, or you can sit down in front of your TV.

Many of the preoccupations that were on display at the third International Congress on Love and Sex with Robots are ones that have already been explored in pop culture. From Futurama to Westworld, going back to Weird Science and The Stepford Wives, the questions that academics are currently pondering have already been played out, fictionally at least, on TV.

To spare you a lot of very dry reading, you can instead sit down with this (digital) cut-out-and-keep guide on what you should be watching. These shows and films should give you a very basic grounding in what areas the world of robotic ethics research is currently exploring. Oh, and don’t read further if you don’t want any spoilers for anything that’s come out in the past few decades.

If last year’s show was about the potential for humanity to cause harm to robots, then this year’s was devoted to our anxieties about our transhumanist future.

Topic: Should robots fight us?

Watch: Janet fighting against deactivation in The Good Place

A key character in The Good Place is Janet, a version of Siri in human form that can do anything you ask of them. In one episode of the sitcom, two characters’ attempt to reset Janet, and while “she” cannot feel real emotions, she’s also been designed to fight anyone who attempts to harm her. The closer a person walks toward her big red reset button, the more Janet’s self-defense mechanisms kick in. She begs for her life, screams in anger and even conjures up images of her “children,” attempting to guilt her attackers into submission.

In the context of the show, it’s funny, but academics are taking these ideas of conflict and self-awareness very seriously. Researcher Nicola Liberati, of the University of Twente, believes that AIs will eventually take on these characteristics in order to appear more authentic. Liberati cites Love Plus, a relatively old Japanese Nintendo DS game. In the title, you need to please your digital partner, who can be petulant, demanding and needy — to the extent that players have been asked to declare their love (via the handheld’s microphone) while on a busy subway train.

Liberati thinks that the next generation of AIs will be programmed to be combative or even angry about their role in our lives. If you attempt to power them down during a discussion, they’ll demand to know why or, like Janet, attempt to stop you. Then there’s the question of whether these behaviors are enough to make these artificially intelligent people real, which was debated in the first season of Westworld. In that series, the park’s creators attempted to “bootstrap” consciousness onto their robots.

Should you be ashamed of loving your robot?

Watch: Poe Dameron’s love for BB-8 in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi

Liberati also spoke about the snobbery of people who look down upon those who have virtual or online relationships. These connections are often treated as less authentic than ones involving two people talking in a room, but is that really the case? Is it true that different levels of relationship — depending on the medium — deserve different levels of respect?

Take hotshot Resistance pilot Poe Dameron’s tender friendship with his astromech droid, BB-8, who is very much not a humanesque robot. The droid is treated almost as an equal by plenty of the characters in the Star Wars movies, who address him/her like any other person. In fact, there’s a moment in The Last Jedi where Poe embraces BB-8, touching foreheads as if greeting a lost love.

In Liberati’s eyes, having meaningful relationships with artificial entities is perfectly acceptable, so long as we’re not engaging with them to the exclusion of all others. And in Star Wars we can see that Poe has plenty of other friends, including Admiral Holdo, so he’s clearly in a very good place. Not to mention that it’s not as if human beings don’t already develop deep attachments to inanimate objects, such as when naming their cars and boats and assigning them personality traits. Personifying the objects in our home is a common practice, so why should it be seen as weird that we do it to artificial intelligence?

Should robots have a gender?

Watch: The relationship between Kryten and Camille in Red Dwarf

Professor Gabriele Trovato, of Waseda University in Tokyo, published the results of his controversial study examining how we, as people, perceive gender in robots. He showed people images of robots with various body shapes, namely, differing waist-to-hip ratios. The robots that were presented with more feminine characteristics — like a narrow waist and broad chest — were deemed to be more feminine than the stockier ones.

But since robots don’t have genitals or breasts, and don’t need those appendages to exist, why are we handing them genders? Take the Red Dwarf episode “Camille,” from 1991, in which Kryten, a toilet-cleaning robot, meets his female equivalent. Why does a toilet-cleaning robot need a female counterpart? Since both devices are the same underneath, the external dressing is little more than presentation.

Trovato’s study came under fire at the event by some in the audience who felt that it had been badly designed, since it excluded respondents who believe that robots lack a gender. As the flaws in his study became more apparent, the researcher blurted, “Who needs a transgender robot?” in anger. But of course, that’s the question: Why do robots need to have a gender at all?

Should we worry about robots taking charge?

Watch: Ex Machina‘s exploration of manipulation

Rebekah Rousi, from Finland’s University of Jyväskylä, posed a series of questions about what happens when robots gain the upper hand in relationships. After all, they are likely to be smarter, faster, stronger and free from the frailties that meet most humans on a regular basis. Not to mention, of course, that robots can evolve with the ability to lie, and we may never realize that we’re being deceived.

Rousi cited a study in which a cluster of small robots were tasked with, essentially, finding a usable food source and avoiding a poisonous one. The robots would tell their compatriots, which would then cluster around the good food, crowding out the original finder. In short order, some of the robots learned how to lie, pretending that they had not found the food and directing their compatriots to go elsewhere. Which reminds us of Ex Machina, in which a sentient robot manipulates her human creator and captor, and her observer, to her own ends.

Rousi also pointed out that, should robots reach a point where they develop their own preferences, those preferences may not include imperfect humans. In fact, it’s entirely plausible that they may abandon humanity because they prefer spending time with other, similarly perfect machines. Which may force us all into embracing technological augmentation in order to remain competitive with that rich, handsome bodybuilding droid that lives in our building.

Should we worry about what the robots will be like?

Watch: The Stepford Wives’ terrifying automatons.

Professor of art history Julie Wosk, of SUNY, wanted to talk about how the people who seem the most committed to creating sex robots also seem the most ill suited to do so. Specifically, she said, many have an interest in creating docile, bland representations of women that are little more than a Stepford Wife. In fact, there’s a whole thread of fiction, running from Ibsen’s A Doll’s House through The Perfect Woman, Cherry 2000 and Weird Science, that shows this pattern of behavior.

Wosk believes that the first generation of sex robots — typified by Abyss Creations’ work and the AI that will eventually drive them — buy into the Stepford Wife ideal. Which seems to stem from the Victorian notion of the cult of domesticity, a belief that a woman’s place is in the home and that the only acceptable way for a woman to behave is as a docile servant, always available for sex and dedicated only to keeping home. And we have to wonder: Is that really what we want from our sex robots?

Further watching

One constant during the event was the appearance of Futurama images in so many of the presentations. After all, the show has often taken a sideways look at the world of robot ethics through the vehicle of its beer-guzzling star, Bender. As we pointed out last year, concerns that humans will abandon genetic reproduction in favor of screwing an android were pretty neatly covered in the episode “I Dated a Robot!” Not to mention that questions of robotic gender (and whether we need them at all) were, albeit crudely, addressed in “Bend Her.”

If you’ve already seen Westworld and Humans, it might be worth rewatching them through the lens of our AI-infused future. I, Robot is another good examination of how robotics will alter how we see ourselves, not to mention dealing with the themes of transhumanism. Similarly, the original Robocop — for all of its action movie trappings — has something to say about the threats of digitization on our humanity. And Blade Runner, Blade Runner 2049 and Her all feature forms of human-to-machine and machine-to-machine relationships that are treated as authentic.

It’s not a story about artificial intelligence, but South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut is an easy lesson in understanding how some people are behaving now that sex robots are being developed. One of the conference’s keynote speakers was Kathleen Richardson, the academic behind the Campaign against Sex Robots, a reactionary movement that seeks an outright ban on such devices. The right-winger believes that any sexual aid is a form of slavery, and she’s also looking to ban masturbation tools, role-playing, BDSM and pornography. If you want to see what real-world opposition to this technology looks like, the South Park movie’s a great place to start.

Of course, Richardson also wants to eradicate top-down power structures entirely, which seems odd, since they’d be required to enforce bans on the aforementioned. Her positions, no matter how incoherent, seemed to go down well with the crowd, who may believe that an outright ban is favorable, and possible. And while her views are currently on an extreme fringe, it’s worth remembering that those who shout the loudest, no matter how nutty, often make themselves heard the most.

Richardson’s cause may already be lost, since it would be nearly impossible to ensure global compliance, given how many companies are developing such devices. Not to mention that there’s no guarantee that such hardware will be a flash in the pan, with people preferring to stick with flesh-and-blood companions for the most part. Perhaps, as in Lars and the Real Girl, the only real adopters of sex robots will be those who need an artificial partner as a therapeutic aid, which could be prescribed by a mental health professional. It’s in this context that, at least for now, sex robots have the most utility, and warrant the least reason to protest against their use.

Source: Love and Sex with Robots

27
Dec

Nintendo is delaying the Switch’s 64GB game cards


To get around the Switch’s current 32GB limit on game cards, Bethesda spilt Doom into two parts. The campaign is what shipped on the game card, and multiplayer was a separate download. It sounds like that might be the norm for a bit longer. The Wall Street Journal reports that Nintendo won’t start supplying 64GB game cards until 2019, around six months later than the original mid-2018 target. The reason? Those pesky “technical issues” cropped up again, according to WSJ’s sources, and Nintendo wants to ensure that product quality is up to snuff.

As a result, there are a few publishers that might delay releasing games that need the extra space. The expansive launch title Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was only around 14GB. Doom required about the same space, with an additional 9GB for multiplayer. It didn’t feature the game’s level editor mode, Snap Map, however. When NBA 2K18 was released in September, the physical version required an additional 24GB of space. Things weren’t much different for WWE 2K18 a few months later.

In the meantime, there have been deals on Switch-compatible SD cards lately if your internal storage is full up. And you’re bound to have at least a bit of cash or a gift card in this post-holiday period, so might as well make the most of ’em seeing as this trend sounds like it’ll continue for a while more.

27
Dec

Some Sonos and Bose speakers are being remotely hijacked


If you have a Sonos or Bose product connected to your home Wi-Fi system and you’ve been hearing some strange sounds out of it, the good news is that your speaker isn’t haunted. The bad news is that it’s possible someone has remotely gained access to your speaker and is tricking it into playing an audio file. Only a small fraction of Sonos and Bose speakers are vulnerable, but it’s certainly a strange exploit to keep an eye out for.

The issue was first pinpointed by researchers at Trend Micro and reported on by Wired. Certain Bose and Sonos speakers can be found online via a simple scan. While only a fraction of speakers are vulnerable, hackers can access connected services such as Spotify and Pandora through the speaker, as well as trigger nearby smart speakers such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home.

Sonos clarified in an email to Wired that speakers vulnerable to this kind of hijacking are actually on misconfigured networks. Still, the company pushed out a software update that limits the amount of data a user can access in this kind of hack. Bose, however, appears to have taken no action to address the issue.

Again, this affects a very small subset of users, but it’s something to think about if you’ve opened ports on your network for gaming or some other purpose. These speakers assume that the network they have access to is a trusted one. While use of this exploit might be limited to practical jokes, it’s smart to limit access before people find a way to use this for more nefarious purposes.

Source: Wired

27
Dec

Apple Again Tops Holiday Sales With 44% of All New Mobile Device Activations


Apple’s iPhone and iPad were again the most popular mobile devices gifted around the world during the holidays this year according to new data shared today by Yahoo-owned mobile analytics firm Flurry.

In the week leading up to Christmas and the end of Hanukkah (12/19 to 12/25), Flurry took a look at all new smartphone and tablet activations to see which devices consumers were purchasing most.

44 percent of new device activations were Apple devices, while Samsung devices accounted for 26 percent of activations. Huawei, Xiaomi, Motorola, LG, OPPO, and Vivo trailed behind Apple and Samsung with each responsible for 2 to 5 percent of new device activations.

The 2017 activation numbers closely mirror the activation numbers we saw from Flurry in 2016. Apple also saw the highest number of device activations — 44 percent — during the same time period last year, followed by Samsung at 21 percent.

Similar to last year, 44% of new phone and tablet activations were Apple devices. While Samsung dominates global market share, they fell short as the gift of choice during the holiday season, with only 26% of activated devices in the lead up to Christmas. Samsung’s activation rate is up 5% from the 2016 holiday season, which can likely be attributed to the 2017 introduction of the Galaxy S8 after the late 2016 recall of their malfunctioning Note devices.

Broken down, it’s actually Apple’s older devices that saw the highest number of new activations rather than the newer devices. 15.1 percent of activations were for the iPhone 7, followed by 14.9 percent for the iPhone 6. Apple’s flagship device, the iPhone X, was popular though, making up 14.7 percent of new activations. The iPhone 8 was responsible for 8.1 percent of new activations, and the iPhone 8 Plus was responsible for 8.7 percent.


It’s important to note that Flurry examined worldwide activations, where older, more affordable devices are popular. Apple no longer sells the iPhone 6, for example, but it’s still readily available internationally from third-party resellers who offer it at a discounted price.

When looking at device size, “phablets” or devices that measure in at 5 to 6.9 inches, made up 53 percent of all new device activations, while smaller phones (3.5 to 4.9 inches) made up 35 percent of activations. Full-sized tablets like the iPad (with only cellular models counted here) were responsible for 8 percent of activations. Interest in larger devices has grown significantly over the course of the last two years.


To gather its data, Flurry measured smart device activations and app downloads from the more than one million mobile apps that use the Flurry Analytics service. Flurry says it has insight into more than 2.1 billion devices around the world.

Tag: Flurry Analytics
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27
Dec

Amazon’s Alexa App Climbed to #1 on the iOS App Store’s Top Free Chart After Christmas


After presents were unwrapped across the world on Christmas morning, Amazon’s Alexa app [Direct Link] earned the #1 spot on the iOS App Store’s Top Free chart, suggesting Echo and other Alexa devices were very popular this holiday season (via TechCrunch).

This marks the first time the Alexa app gained a #1 spot on Apple’s App Store, and it remained there for over a day. Currently, Alexa sits at #2 on the Top Free chart in the App Store, having lost the top spot today to YouTube.

Amazon yesterday said that the Echo Dot was the #1 selling Amazon Device this holiday season, as well as being “the best-selling product from any manufacturer in any category across all of Amazon,” with millions of Echo Dots sold. With so many Echo products being purchased for Christmas and other holiday celebrations, users were led to download the Amazon Alexa app so they can set up their speaker, control it, integrate with other smart home products, and more.

Data gathered from Sensor Tower’s App Store analytics shows the Alexa app climbing the Top Free United States iOS App Store charts in the days leading up to Christmas and then peaking at #1 on December 25 and December 26. On Christmas day, the Alexa app gained prominence on the Top Free App Store charts in other countries as well, including Great Britain (rising to #2), Germany (#5), and Austria (#5).

Amazon Alexa iOS app data via Sensor Tower
As Amazon’s Alexa devices continue to dominate the smart speaker market, Apple has plans to release its own music-focused smart speaker device — the HomePod — in early 2018. HomePod will be controlled mainly through the user’s voice using Siri, and include access to Apple Music and other expected smart speaker functionalities, like asking about the weather, traffic, setting reminders, timers, and more.

Tags: Amazon, Alexa
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27
Dec

The OnePlus 6 may have an on-screen fingerprint sensor and arrive in early 2018


The OnePlus 5 launched earlier this year, but the Chinese company has already announced a revised version called the OnePlus 5T. It carries many of the same high-end specifications, but it looks far more contemporary — all at a reasonable price. Not only that, but the phone is now available.

Here’s everything you need to know about the all-new OnePlus 5T, and you can check out our OnePlus 5T review for more.

Special editions

OnePlus loves special editions. We’ve had different colors, collaborations with artists, and even models made from different materials. As the company nears its fourth anniversary, we’ve seen the exciting Star Wars-branded OnePlus 5T launching in India, and now we have a release date for the beautiful lava red version of the phone launching in China.

Sales of the phone will begin on December 17, just a few days after the Star Wars phone goes on sale. OnePlus announced the existence of the phone at the end of November, but had stayed quiet about the release date until now, when it was revealed in a poster published by MyDrivers. It has been given a 3,500 yuan price locally, indicating it’s the larger 8GB/128GB model.

Sadly, there’s is no indication either of these phones will be available elsewhere in the world. Perhaps OnePlus has other plans to celebrate its anniversary in the United States and the United Kingdom?

Price and Availability

The OnePlus 5T is now available in countries all over the world, including the U.S, Canada, France, Spain, Germany, U.K., China, and Hong Kong. There’s only one color option, and it’s Midnight Black, and you can get it straight from the OnePlus website.

The best thing about OnePlus phones, however, has long been the price. In the U.S., it will set you back $500, or 500 euros in Europe, or 450 British pounds in the U.K. It’s $20 more in the U.S. than the OnePlus 5, but it stays the same in many other countries overseas. That’s still a lot of money considering the low price of the original OnePlus One, but you’re getting performance and specifications that match most $650+ flagship smartphones.

Bezel-less design

The first thing you’ll notice about the OnePlus 5T is its design. The back of the phone looks incredibly similar to the original OnePlus 5, with a dual-sensor camera on the top left-hand corner accompanied by a small flash. One of the biggest changes is how the fingerprint sensor is on the rear, instead of the front like previous OnePlus phones. The reason? We’ll have to turn the around for the answer.

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The biggest difference between the OnePlus 5 and the OnePlus 5T is the screen. You now have a 6.01-inch AMOLED screen over a 5.5-inch one. The phone’s body is still very similar to the OnePlus 5, and that’s because the company has dramatically slimmed down the top and bottom edges around the screen. This “bezel-less” design is a major smartphone trend this year, and you can see it in phones like the LG G6 and the iPhone X. According to OnePlus, the display offers a hefty 80.5 percent screen-to-body ratio — which puts it a step ahead of the LG G6 as you’ll find in our bezel-less phone comparison.

Due to the size, you now have an 18:9 aspect ratio like the LG V30 and the Google Pixel 2 XL; and the display packs a resolution of 2,160 x 1,080 pixels, like the Huawei Mate 10 Pro.

The selfie camera on the phone now also can help you unlock the phone by scanning your face. It’s not secure like the iPhone X’s Face ID, but it’s meant for convenience.

Specs

As is the case with all OnePlus phones, you’ll find staggeringly impressive specifications here for the price. Like the OnePlus 5, the OnePlus 5T is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 processor, and you get the same options for either 6GB or 8GB of RAM. That much RAM isn’t really necessary for a phone, but if anything it helps future-proof the device for any future technologies that require a lot of memory. Those RAM options are accompanied by either 64GB or 128GB of storage, and you’ll want to get the amount of storage you want, because there’s no MicroSD card slot (though there are dual-SIM slots).

When it comes to software, the OnePlus 5T runs OxygenOS 4.7, which is based on Android 7.1.1 Nougat. It’s last year’s version of Android, but thankfully the company is planning an update to bring the phone to Android 8.0 Oreo. A beta will be available before the end of the year, and the official roll out will take place in the first quarter of 2018.

The battery is the same as the regular OnePlus 5, with a 3,300mAh capacity, and you’ll still be able to charge it up quickly with OnePlus’ proprietary Dash Charge technology. OnePlus claims a half-hour charge can give the 5T enough power for a day.

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The camera on the phone is similar, but quite different from the OnePlus 5. You still have two dual lenses on the rear, but gone is the telephoto lens. Instead, it’s replaced with a 20-megapixel lens with a much wider f/1.7 aperture. It’s intended to improve low-light photography. It’s still used to capture depth for Portrait Mode, but photos won’t be as cropped as before, and it relies a little more on software. You also won’t be able to get a 2x optical zoom, even though the 2x option is still present on the camera, due to inferior digital zoom.

The main camera is the same 16-megapixel lens with an f/1.7 aperture. As far as video goes, the phone is able to handle 4K recording at up to 30 frames per second, and you can shoot slow-motion video at 120 frames per second in 720p. The front-facing camera is rated at 16 megapixels. We’ll have to wait and see how these cameras perform in real-world tests, but at least on paper they seem quite capable, and we liked the OnePlus 5‘s camera a lot.

Like the OnePlus 5 and other Android smartphones, the OnePlus 5T is unable to stream Netflix in HD. This limitation is not due to a hardware issue, but a DRM issue with the phone, according to a report on Android Police. OnePlus said it will release an update in the future that will allow OnePlus 5T owners to stream Netflix in HD.

Update: Added news of the lava red OnePlus 5T’s release date in China.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • OnePlus 5 vs. OnePlus 5T: Is it worth making the upgrade?
  • OnePlus 5T review
  • OnePlus 5T vs. Pixel 2: Battle of the Android superstars
  • Everything you need to know about the OnePlus 5
  • Honor View 10 vs. OnePlus 5T: Which midranger reigns supreme?




27
Dec

Snap the best picture you can by mastering the Xiaomi Mi A1’s camera


The Xiaomi Mi A1 is one of the most accessible phones from the popular Chinese company because it has Android One installed, rather than Xiaomi’s own MIUI user interface. Add that to a very affordable price that makes the phone great value, and it’s one we recommend you pick up. When you do, it’ll be time to explore the camera, which has two lenses on the rear for that cool bokeh blurred background effect.

Here’s our guide on how to get the best from the Xiaomi Mi A1’s camera. If you’re looking for a competing phone that may be easy to buy, then make sure you check out the Honor 7X, and also our other recommendations for the best cheap smartphones.

Xiaomi Mi A1 camera specification

Before we get into how to use it, here are the Mi A1’s camera specs. There are two lenses on the back of the Mi A1, both with 12 megapixels. The main wide-angle lens has an f/2.2 aperture and a 1.25 micron pixel size, while the telephoto lens has an f/2.6 aperture and a 1.0 micron pixel size. This enables a 2x optical zoom feature, plus the camera has an HDR mode, and various shooting modes. These include a square cam, tilt-shift, a group selfie, panorama, and a manual mode.

Find the Xiaomi Mi A1’s camera modes

This is easy. Open the camera app and tap the Options button above the shutter release. A new screen will appear with all the available modes. This works in the main camera mode, and in video and selfie mode too. If you want to find options like the Grid, camera sounds, the time stamp, and other options, tap the Gear icon in the top right of the menu screen.

To change to video mode, tap the video icon next to the right of the shutter release button in viewfinder mode, and to get to selfie mode, tap the rotate-like button to the right of the Options button. On the left side of the options button is the filter key. Tap this for a wide array of filters, including an amusing “mosaic” filter that has to be tried on your friends.

In the top right of the viewfinder screen is the HDR button, which is off by default so you’ll have to manually activate it. In selfie mode, this button is replaced by the beauty mode. Tap this and select either Smart or Pro mode. In Smart mode there are three options at the bottom of the screen, adding a Low, Medium, or High level of beautification. Select Pro and you can manually adjust skin tone and facial slimness.

Use portrait mode on the Xiaomi Mi A1

To get the blurred background effect using the Mi A1, you first need to find the right subject. Let’s say you choose a statue, like the example below. Open the camera app and tap the portrait icon at the top center of the viewfinder, assuming the phone is in portrait orientation. This activates the portrait mode, at which time you’ll notice everything is a lot closer up in the viewfinder, due to the phone combining the wide-angle and the telephoto lenses for the shot.

Portrait mode example, shot with the Xiaomi Mi A1

The camera provides some advice on how to set up the picture. For example it will warn you if it’s too dark, or if you need to move further away from your subject. It’s also important to tap on the subject you want in focus, this helps the camera capture the shot you want. Don’t forget, you can use the filters in portrait mode. These can be accessed using the Filter button to the left of the Options button in the center screen.

Wondering how you know when you’ve got the shot exactly right for the bokeh effect? Look for the Depth Effect notification near the shutter release for confirmation. If you’re happy with the framing, then tap the shutter release to take the picture.

Find and edit your pictures

The Xiaomi Mi A1 uses Android One as its operating system, therefore doesn’t have a stand-alone Gallery app, and uses Google Photos instead. Exit the camera app and tap Google Photos. To find all the pictures saved on your phone, tap the Albums option at the bottom of the screen, or browse through the list under the Photos option. You’ll notice pictures taken with portrait mode have a small portrait symbol on the thumbnail.

When you find the picture you’re looking for, tap it. Along the bottom of the screen find the icon that looks like three sliders. Tap it to add filters, change aspects of the photo, crop it, or rotate and straighten the image. If you have installed the Snapseed app, or any other photo editing app, you can quickly access them using the grid icon on the far right.

That’s it, you’re all set to use the Xiaomi Mi A1 camera to the best effect. Enjoy the phone!

Editors’ Recommendations

  • OnePlus 5T review
  • How to take the perfect Portrait Mode selfie with the iPhone X
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  • The best DSLR cameras for beginners
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27
Dec

Do you still use iris scanning on your Samsung phone?


Here’s how Samsung’s iris scanner is holding up.

As great as it’s been to see Samsung’s Galaxy S8/S8+ and Note 8 trim down their bezels so much, the biggest issue that’s come as a result of this is the fingerprint sensor placement. Both the S8 and Note 8 have fingerprint sensors that just aren’t all that convenient compared to all other flagships that have been released this year, but this is thankfully remedied with the addition of iris scanning.

galaxy-note-8-iris-scanning-on.jpg?itok=

Samsung’s iris scanning isn’t nearly as fast as Face ID on the iPhone X, but it is one of the best facial recognition systems that’s currently available for Android.

Some of our forum users recently got to talking about whether or not they’re still using iris scanning on their Samsung device, and this is what they had to say.

default.jpgaldo82
12-21-2017 07:22 AM

I do like it but I’ve turned it off as I always feel a bit ‘funny’ after using it. Hard to explain but it is instantly noticeable. Don’t know if it’s something that should concern me but it’s put me off

Reply

avatar2986280_1.gifconvergent
12-21-2017 09:14 AM

I like it and use it, but its definitely not 100%. I have it and FPS both turned on and usually simultaneously try to do both and which ever hits first unlocks. But recently I turned on the smart lock with my Gear S3, which is great because when my watch is with me then the phone just stays unlocked. You do have to be careful with that though, because if they are just laying next to either the…

Reply

avatar2503049_10.gifDerren Woods
12-21-2017 09:45 AM

It hardly ever works for me, I managed to set it up once but it just never recognises my eyes it was even worse on my old S8 plus it never worked on that.
I wonder if eye colour has anything to do with how accurate it is? From the videos I have seen on YouTube those that found it fast and reliable all had dark colour eyes

Reply

avatar1545606_1.gifdigitalbreak
12-21-2017 11:35 AM

I use it all the time. I also have set up Home button to go to the home screen as I unlock which makes unlocking your phone with IRIS scanner a breeze!

It does take little time to get used to right position for you as it needs to scan your eyes but once after that it’s really quick!

Reply

default.jpgrjr1049
12-21-2017 11:45 AM

I too use it with Samsung Pay and I love it. Works flawlessly and quickly. Much better than using the fingerprint scanner as I did with my old Note 5.

Reply

Now, we’d like to hear from you – Are you using iris scanning on your S8/Note 8?

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27
Dec

When do carriers start throttling you and what can you do about it?


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Here’s what you need to know about carrier throttling of unlimited plans.

You’re probably already aware that all the major U.S. carriers offer an unlimited plan and that they have imposed a limit on it if you use too much data in a single billing period. If you’re not, we’re talking about wording like this in the carrier terms of service:

On all T-Mobile plans, during congestion, the small fraction of customers using >50GB/month may notice reduced speeds until next bill cycle due to data prioritization.

That’s T-Mobile’s, but every carrier has something similar in the contract terms that say the same thing — use too much and we can stop giving you that high-speed LTE data that you know and love and toss you back to those 2007 3G data speeds. Users call it throttling, carriers call it prioritization, but no matter what it’s called, it means the same thing: some users may get slowed down if they use too much data in a single month.

That has a lot of vague wording in it — some, may, a small fraction, etc. — so we’re going to spell it all out because your phone carrier is good at delivering you internet access and we’re good at writing. Everyone wins!

More: The best unlimited data plan

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What is throttling?

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Network data speed (technically, bandwidth) throttling means the same thing as throttling anything else — purposefully choking or restricting a thing. That’s exactly what is happening here and the network gets slower because your ID (you sign into your carrier’s data network with a unique ID, but it’s usually done automatically) has been marked in a way that the servers which route the internet traffic know to only send you data at a certain speed.

When you have used enough data to be hit under your carrier’s data prioritization, those speeds are really slow. You’ll see people say you get sent back to 3G speeds (I did it above out of habit) but that’s not quite right because 3G speeds on AT&T or T-Mobile are waaayyyy faster than the 128Kbps (kilobits per second) average you’ll be stuck on if you get throttled. All you really need to remember is that it’s slow. Almost too slow to be usable with today’s internet for anything more than email.

The good news is that this is probably only going to be a temporary thing. The worst case is you’ll be throttled until the end of the billing period, but that is not always the case because of why and when a carrier throttles its users.

Why can I get throttled?

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Easy answer: when you use too much data and the carrier is the only one that gets to decide how much is too much. That’s why your carrier can get away with dropping a single line about the whole thing into some agreement they hope you never read. But the way it actually works is kind of interesting; it’s just a bit too wordy to stick in the agreement blurb.

A cell phone tower (a cell) can only serve a limited number of people at once. For “regular” voice calls at 12Kbps, a rough estimate is about 90 users on a single 5MHz sector if they are all active at once. For VoIP or VoLTE calls, the number is drastically lower because the quality is drastically higher and uses more bandwidth (somewhere around 128Kbps on average). I used voice calls here to demonstrate how IP-based data can use so much more bandwidth than voice — IP calls use 10 times as much data as voice calls.

The equipment that powers your carrier’s network has limits.

That same single-sector 5 MHz cell can only deliver about 21 Mbps in total. Let’s say a small base station (the hardware that runs what we call a cell tower) that serves a single carrier has three sectors (a rough average) so it can handle 63 Mbps of data at any one time. A bigger station might serve two carriers and have eight sectors so that means 84 Mbps per carrier at once. And that’s counting data going two ways, both to a user and coming back from a user. If you can see network speeds of 50 Mbps down and 25 Mbps up, you have the potential to use most of the bandwidth a sector station is capable of delivering.

There are several ways the software that runs a base station can cope with this — they just don’t let any user have as much of the total capacity as possible, ever. Switching is one way of making sure it never happens — every user who is actively taking a portion of the bandwidth gets a slot with a specific amount of time they can use it and things are rapidly switched around to all the connected users. This is done fast enough so that your connection doesn’t get interrupted (packets are acknowledged before they timeout waiting for a response) so we never notice it.

Left unchecked, your phone could probably use all the bandwidth that a cell site has to offer.

A cell tower can only have so many connected users though, so the software also will switch users in and out of a connected state. If you’re not trying to use the network your turn in the queue is skipped and given to a user who is trying to use the network. This is a very simplified explanation of how a modern wide area wireless data network operates but it gives us a great idea of how users are managed when are requesting more data than can be served at any one time. It works great until there are more users who are using data at once than the equipment can handle. When that happens, we see slower speeds or dropped connections.

Nobody likes slow data speeds or things to stop working because the connection keeps dropping, and your carrier likes it even less than we do. It makes them look bad and can cause their software to flake out. So they take further steps, like cutting users who use too much data in a month back so that other users can get what they are paying for.

When will my carrier throttle me?

  • AT&T says “After 22GB of data usage, AT&T may slow speeds.”
  • Sprint says “Data deprioritization during congestion after 23GB/mo.”
  • T-Mobile says “the small fraction of customers using >50GB/month may notice reduced speeds until next bill cycle due to data prioritization.”
  • Verizon says “In times of congestion, your data speeds may be temporarily slower than other traffic” for its Go Unlimited plan and that “after 22 GB/Month, in times of congestion, your data speeds may be temporarily slower than other traffic” for its Beyond Unlimited plan.

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What’s important to know here is that you might not get throttled no matter how much data you’ve used in one month and that it might only be temporary if you do. Verizon spells this out in their terms and conditions pretty well, and the other three follow the same sort of policy even if they aren’t as clear.

A slow connection is still better than a “no” connection.

“Times of congestion” means there are more users who need data access than the cell site is able to effectively serve. If you work in a big city, you might see service worsen if you go out for lunch. A lot of others are out for lunch and the cell sites have trouble keeping up. Throttling speeds down to a crawl for users who are over the soft limit is a great way to ease that congestion because it allows someone else to get more bandwidth. And a slow connection is better than a connection that drops because nobody is being throttled and the cell site can’t switch and prioritize fast enough or efficiently enough.

From the carrier’s point of view, you’ve reached a point where you can take a backseat to another user who hasn’t used as much data. It isn’t doing this because it is looking out for a user who deserves to be able to use enough data to “get their share” or anything, they do it to keep the network running efficiently and to cut back on customer complaints. If you use 30GB of Verizon’s data in a month and complain about service at a particular time in a particular place, Verizon has an easy answer: you’ve used so much data that they need to slow you down in accordance with the agreement you made with them. If I only used 2GB they have a tougher time justifying why. It’s that simple.

A carrier has a responsibility to its customers, and all four major U.S. carriers feel throttling heavy users helps meet it for the rest.

Most people we’ve heard from who are self-admitted and proud data hogs will say they haven’t ever been throttled. Of the ones who have, almost all say it was only temporary and speeds returned when they were in a place with less network congestion. Our best guess is that it’s easy for a carrier to temporarily throttle you when they need to, and even easier to stop doing it when they don’t so you’ll be more satisfied with the service. In any case, being throttled is something you said was OK when you signed up for the plan.

If I get throttled, what can I do about it?

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Not a lot. The reasons why you’ve been throttled are pretty clear, so unless you haven’t used the amount of data your carrier says is enough to get tagged, calling to complain is probably pointless. You might find a sympathetic ear that can “fix” it but more than likely you’ll just be told the policy and what’s in the agreement. If you haven’t used that much data you should definitely give your carrier a call and see what’s up.

Wi-Fi is the best option. Chances are if you’re somewhere that’s congested on a regular basis you’ll see open Wi-Fi networks available. A good VPN and open Wi-Fi probably won’t be as fast as your regular data connection but it will be a good bit faster than a throttled connection from your carrier. If you’re with a friend who also has an unlimited plan with tethering, they could set up a hotspot for you to use.

You could also put the phone down and take time to smell the flowers. Think about it.

You could also deal with it and set your expectations correctly. Something like your email or a simple messaging app would still work, but don’t expect to be streaming media or even seeing media attached to social network posts. You might still be able to upload media (some users say they are only throttled on the download side) but you won’t have that same rich internet experience you usually have.

If you’re using a pre-paid carrier that offers “unlimited” slower data once you’ve used your high-speed allowance for the month you can probably buy more high-speed data through an app or the company’s website. Chances are you can set things up in advance and a simple text message will get another GB added to your account in short order. You can also buy a second line with a separate SIM card if you know you’ll be throttled on a regular basis and can’t deal with slow speeds. Google Voice will let you use one number across multiple lines and you can switch SIM cards when you need to.

The very best thing you can do is prevent it from happening altogether. Using Wi-Fi at home or at work instead of your data will cut back on your total usage and leave more room for when you’re out and about.

Carriers

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  • Join the Discussion

27
Dec

Basic Wi-Fi security: How to easily improve your home internet safety


Wireless routers seem scary, but they don’t have to be. Here are the basic security things you can fix yourself.

Attention, well-meaning family members: Nerds are not your holiday tech support. Sure, we twitch (more than) a little bit when we use operating systems that haven’t been updated in months, and firmware that’s just waiting for a patch. But we’re not home for that. No, we’re here for a little too much booze and to cast side eye at that one cousin who still won’t let go of that thing.

Ah, the holidays.

There is, however, one thing that we should help you out with. And let’s do one better. We’re going to help you learn to help yourself.

We’re going to venture into the deep, dark world of your wireless router. It’s scary, I know. But it’s important. And, actually, it just looks scary. It’s actually relatively easy to keep things up to date.

Let’s take a look at some high-level stuff here.

First: Wait? What? WHY!?!?!

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Look, your router is important. It’s not just the thing that serves up the Wi-Fis. It’s also the thing that serves as your first (and for most folks, only) line of defense. You don’t want exploits wide open in this thing. Hear about the “KRACK” vulnerability that affects ALL Wi-Fi?

Yeah. It’s a big deal. So you need to make sure your stuff’s updated.

And while we’re at it, we’re going to look at a couple other best practices. It’s easy.

OK, now first: Get into your router

If you’re lucky, you’ve got a newer router that has some sort of software application makes your router easy to adjust. Apple’s AirPort routers can be controlled from a computer. Google Wifi works from an app on your phone. (I’ve used both, and they’re great.) The Netgear router I’m currently using has a desktop app as well as a mobile app.

router-login.jpg?itok=4proUbeTSo first, hunt around and see if there’s an app for your router.

If not, there’s a pretty easy way to get in. Start by typing this into your internet browser:

192.168.1.1

That’s it. Well, that’s probably it. For many routers, this is the default address to communicate with it. (If yours doesn’t return some sort of scary-looking router page, hit up Le Google for instructions on how to log in to yours.)

Now you should be challenged by a username and password. This will vary a bit by the manufacturer, but a lot of the time the username is “admin” and the password is blank. Or maybe it’s something else. It should be listed in the instruction manual, or just hunt around on the internet again.

Note that this is a username and password that just gets you into your router. It’s different than the name of your wireless network (that’s called an SSID), and the password you use to get online.

Once you’re in, you’ll be looking at something that basically is a web page, full of links and fields and buttons and stuff. Only instead of talking with a website, you’re communicating with your router’s settings. Got it?

Let’s assume you’ve managed all this. What to do now?

Update your router’s firmware

OK. Deep breath here. The most important thing you can do (of the several most important things you’ll want to do here) is to update the firmware on your router.

netgear-web-update.jpeg?itok=WV9LyqOxToo often this is hidden away on some “Advanced” page of your router’s settings. But maybe you’ve gotten lucky and there’s a button for it on the first page. (Or, ya know, crack open that instruction manual again, or just hit Google for where to find it.)

If you’re really lucky your router will have some sort of update mechanism. (And if you’re REALLY lucky it’ll do it automatically, or at least in an app.) Again, this varies wildly by manufacturer. Apple does it through the OS, Google Wifi does it automatically — you never have to touch a thing — and my Netgear router has a quick and easy button you can hit.

If you’re not among the chosen ones, you might have to download a file and then upload it to your router for the update to happen. It’s no worse than uploading a picture to Facebook, though.

You got this. Again, hit the instructions, and Google is your friend. But this one’s important.

Update your router.

Check your wireless network security

OK. Now it’s time to look at your wireless network settings. You’ll want something that talks about the SSID and password. (That’s the name of your network, and the password you use to connect to it.)

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There’s a decent chance that you’ll still have the boring old ROUTER137BG 2.4GHz network name that came with your router. You don’t have to change it to something pithy like “FBI Surveillance Van” or “We can hear you through the walls,” but you probably should change it to something other than the default. Because that gives someone a clue as to your router’s default login username and password. (Again, that’s why you should change those things, too. The less identifiable the information, the better.)

But you absolutely must have a password on your network. That’s not negotiable — otherwise, anyone can just wander by and do anything they want with your internet. That’s not good.

This doesn’t have to be some awful password that you’ll never remember, or that’ll make someone cringe to type in if they come over. It just needs to be a basic front-door lock is all.

And you absolutely must be using WPA-2 security. You should see it as an option in the settings. And while chances are you’re using it if you’ve got a relatively new router, this is still something you should check, just in case. WPA2 – Good. WEP – BAD.

By the way: that username and password you used to log on to your router? Now would be a fine time to change them. Because if you don’t, pretty much any bored kid wondering within sight of your network can get into things and mess you up.

What about guest networks?

Look, guest networks in and of themselves are not evil. The idea is to have an easy way for visitors to get online, without giving them unfettered access to your full network, and all the things that are attached to it.

So by all means, hop into your settings and turn on a guest network if you’re having a party. Password, no password — your call.

But be sure to turn the guest network OFF once you’re done with it. Otherwise, it’s essentially like leaving a side door to your house cracked open all the time. Sure, it’s possible nobody will stumble in. But why take the chance?

You’re a hax0r now!

Congratulations. If you’ve made it through these basic things, you’ve accomplished what some of us do for fun. (Crazy, I know.)

But look at it like this: This is the most basic of network security. It’s a little complicated, yeah. But it’s something everyone should know.

And now you can show off to your nerd family members that you’re not quite as square as they think you are. (That’s something the kids still say, right?)

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