There’s nothing like a good keyboard to turn the average user into a prolific communicator.
Keyboards may be one of the most important choices you make on your phone. They will shape the speed and accuracy with which you use your phone to communicate, and because keyboards can see everything you type from passwords to social security numbers, it’s important to have a keyboard you trust and like. To that end, here now are the four keyboards we trust and like the most to help us tweet, text, and type up our articles in a crowded bar.
Gboard: King of the keyboards
Gboard has summited the top of the Android keyboard market in recent months, and the reasons are clear: great predictions courtesy of machine learning, easy access to gifs and sticker packs such as the Disney Stickers collections, and a dictionary tied to your Google account, so it follows you everywhere.
They just keep adding all the smart features that Android users have enjoyed from other keyboards and wrap it all in a quick and responsive (and free!) package. Themes on Gboard still aren’t as diverse or dashing as other keyboards, but the ones here look good and there’s a Material Black option, which is all you really need at the end of the day.
Best of all, Gboard hides no features or options behind paywalls or ads. The best keyboard on Android is completely free.
Download Gboard (free)
SwiftKey: Still great, but not the greatest
Swiftkey is always right there alongside Gboard, but for now, isn’t able to outdo it. SwiftKey has been a major player in Android keyboards for years, and it used to be the pinnacle of predictions and swipe, but both have fallen just a little behind Gboard. There is still a devoted following to SwiftKey, and after years of building a personal dictionary on SwiftKey, it can be hard to switch to anything else.
No worries, SwiftKey may not be number one, but it’s still a damn good keyboard. And while SwiftKey used to be a paid keyboard, since its purchase by Microsoft it has long since gone free.
Download SwiftKey (free)
Chrooma: Color, choice, and clarity
With most keyboards, you pick a theme and that’s that, but Chrooma thinks that’s a little boring. Instead, the colors of the Chrooma keyboard adapt to each app you’re using: it turns blue for Twitter, green for Spotify, yellow for Google Keep, and so on. There’s even a night mode that will darken the keyboards color selections at night — or all the time, if you leave night mode on like me. Chrooma’s color options are on point with most apps, and it’s easy to switch colors for the apps where it misses without losing the color adaptation when typing in other apps.
The swiping on Chrooma is top-notch, and the swipe further and further left to delete whole words or sentences is fabulous for removing short chunks of text. If you want to get really fancy with the keyboard style, size, font, and have your settings sync between devices, you’ll have to shell out for Premium, which is a one time purchase of $7.99. It’s a little steep, but if you’re someone who moves devices frequently, that’s easily worth the convenience of having your predictions and settings follow you from device to device.
Download Chrooma (free w/ IAPs)
Fleksy: Peckers can be choosers
Fleksy has been making a comeback, but unless you’re exclusively a hunt and pecking typist, you’ll probably want to keep moving. Swiping words on Fleksy doesn’t happen, and the corrections on this keyboard can go a little overboard when you’re using a bunch of acronyms or non-standard jargon. There are some neat add-ons for this keyboard, including emoji suggestion, and a fireworks add-on that brings little explosions to your keyboard taps and sounds.
Fleksy has a low learning curve, but unfortunately, it seems when you switch phones or factory reset your personal dictionary doesn’t always follow you. We hope to see this keyboard continue to improve as it continues to grow, but for the everyday hunt-and-peck typer, Fleksy should be just fine.
Download Fleksy (free, in-app purchases)
What are you using??
What keyboard gets your typing skills? Does anything ease the ease and prediction prowess of Gboard? Are you a SwiftKey savant? Tell us in the comments what you’re using and why it has the honor of being the default keyboard on your phone.
Updated January 2018: This article has been rewritten to offer a more concise analysis of our favorite keyboards and offer more images of the keyboards in use.
This might sound good on the surface, but don’t get too excited just yet.
It’s been over a month since the FCC voted to repeal net neutrality, and since then, we’ve seen some interesting developments. One GOP representative proposed a bill to restore some (but not all) net neutrality principles in late December, and now in January, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson has introduced a new “Internet Bill of Rights.”
Stephenson starts out his proposal by talking about how often the stance on net neutrality has changed under different political leaders and that it can be “a bit concerning when you hear the rules have recently changed, yet again.” Following this, Stephenson calls out Congress and states that it’s time to “govern the internet and protect consumers.”
Until an Internet Bill of Rights is established, Stephenson claims that AT&T will not block websites, censor any online content, or throttle network speeds. However, just like the bill that was introduced last month, Stephenson doesn’t say anything about AT&T not creating fast lanes for customers that can spend more – one of the biggest things that net neutrality prevented.
Furthermore, while Stephenson is trying to position himself and AT&T as champions of a free and open internet, that has never been the case. AT&T spent over $16 million in 2017 to lobby against net neutrality laws, and the carrier didn’t show any interest in fighting the Pai’s decision to repeal net neutrality last December.
AT&T wants to create an open internet, so long as it gets to define what “open” really means.
GOP representative intros bill to restore some net neutrality principles
Smart Replies, one of Google Allo’s most notable features, is now finding a new home in Android Messages.
Although Google Allo may not have a user base as large as Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp, it has some of my favorite features of any messaging platform – one of which is Smart Replies. Smart Replies are those little bubbles under your Allo conversations that let you send off automated responses with just the tap of a button, and they’re now coming to Android Messages.
This is something that was first spotted in Android Messages back in September of last year, but the official Project Fi account just announced that it was now officially available for folks to use.
If you’ve never used Allo, Smart Replies are actually pretty neat. For example, if you get a text from a friend saying there’s a new coffee shop they want to check out, you’ll see little bubbles underneath that message with responses such as “Where’s it at?”, “Cool!”, and “👍.” The Smart Replies you see are generated based on the conversation at hand, and this contextual layer to them actually makes it a pretty useful feature that I loved messing with on Allo.
The Project Fi Twitter account says that Smart Replies are coming to its subscribers starting today, January 24, but if you’re on another carrier, you might not be able to take advantage of this quite yet. It’s unclear at the moment if Smart Replies will work on other carriers with an app update to Android Messages or if it’s reliant on the RCS standard, but we’ve reached out to Google for further clarification and will update this article when we hear back.
Huawei joins RCS movement by using Android Messages as default texting app
If you’ve ever shot video handheld with a mirrorless or DSLR, camera shake may have ruined your day. To deal with it, you need a heavy-duty gimbal, but that can cost more than the camera. Another way is to fix it in post-production, but the results can be less than optimal. That’s where the $250 SteadXP stabilizer comes in. It mounts on your hot shoe and measures all the motion with an accelerometer, then uses an included app to cancel it out. The results, I found, are quite good — provided you keep its limitations in mind and have the time and patience for the process.
Stabilizing rigs like DJI’s Ronin can cost thousands of dollars and be complex and cumbersome. Adobe Premiere Pro CC and Final Cut Pro X can do the job, but the software might guess camera movement wrong, making stabilization distorted or just bad.
The big selling points of the SteadXP, then, are that it’s relatively inexpensive at $250 ($190 for the GoPro version) and all you have to do is attach it to your DSLR’s hot shoe or the GoPro Hero port. With a built-in motion detector, it records all your camera jitters and movements, rather than guesstimating them afterwards. And using that info, it can, in theory, make everything perfectly smooth.
I tried the SteadXP with both the Sony A7S and the A7S II, using the 28-70mm Sony FE kit and Sony’s Zeiss 16-35 f/4 lenses. (As with any kind of handheld footage, wider-angle lenses are always better.) On the GoPro side, I used a Hero 4 (it’s not compatible with the Hero 5 and 6 at all, unfortunately). As you need a supported lens and camera body and a microphone-input jack, the only supported cameras for now are select Canon, Sony and Panasonic models, including the 5D Mark III, A6300, A7S, A7S II, GH4 and GH5.
In my SteadXP test, I replicated its most typical use — running and walking up and down the street — which is also the trickiest situation for stabilizers to handle. I also tried both 4K and 1080p video.
To use the SteadXP, you mount it on your camera’s hot shoe or cold shoe. Once you’re ready to shoot, plug it into the microphone input using the included cable (the SteadXP sends an audible data signal recorded by your camera). So you can record sound, the company also threw in a splitter.
You then set the zoom (if applicable) to a predetermined, fixed point: 16mm, 28mm or 34 mm, on the lenses I was using. You’ll need to double-check each shot to make sure the zoom doesn’t move, or the software will get confused later.
Engadget / Steve Dent
While the SteadXP is simpler to use, overall, than mechanical or electrical gimbals, there are a few things to keep in mind before shooting. First, it will crop your footage, so you’re going to lose some resolution. That means, more than usual, you must keep your subjects towards the center of the frame, and, if possible, shoot at a higher resolution than the finished video — in 4K if you want to finish in full HD, for instance.
There are a few settings you must watch, as well. For instance, stabilization on both your lens and DSLR/mirrorless body must be turned off, or the SteadXP will fight it. You also need to consider which shutter speed to use. Low shutter speeds of around 24-60 fps, often used to create a soft cinematic look, will cause blurred frames that can mess with the SteadXP.
If you’re walking or running, for example, and the shutter speed is too low, each footstep will create blur. SteadXP will smooth out the motion, sure, but you’ll have a frame that’s jarringly blurred for what looks like no reason. Using faster shutter speeds solves that, but could also give your footage a strobing look, like the D-Day beach scenes from Saving Private Ryan.
With settings fixed and when the SteadXP has a flashing green signal, you’re ready to shoot. The company recommends starting with a rapid pan, so the software has a clear reference to sync your footage.
After I shot a bunch of scenes in both full HD and 4K, I was ready to stabilize the footage using the companion app. To do that, you first upload your footage, then locate the accompanying SteadXP data file recorded on to a microSD card.
Once the footage and motion data files are synced, you pick the stabilization and crop levels for how smooth and cropped you want your footage. Those settings go hand-in-hand — if you want just a touch of stabilization to eliminate micro-jitters, you don’t have to crop as much. If you want to eliminate all your bobs and weaves, you’ll need to cut more from the edges.
The final results, as shown in the before and after videos (above), can be excellent, if you do everything right. It did require a fairly painful trial-and-error period, but I’m now confident I could get good smooth footage from the SteadXP in future. On top of that, Sony’s A7S II and A7S full-frame mirrorless cameras are known for their hideous levels of rolling shutter (aka, the jello effect), and the SteadXP software fixed that problem admirably, leaving no trace of the problem that I can see.
The best part of using SteadXP was that it let me shoot without changing too much of what I was already doing. As long as I remembered to plug it into the camera before filming and double check a few settings, I could shoot normally and deal with the stabilization afterwards. If things don’t go to plan, at least you still have the footage and can try to fix it in post-production.
The not-so-good part: To get sharp 1080p results, you have to shoot 4K video because of cropping. But you can’t have full 4K video without upscaling because it’s currently impossible using the SteadXP. The best you can do is keep cropping to a minimum, so you can save your stabilized video at as high a resolution as possible, like 2.7K, for instance. That way, when you upscale to 4K, the video will be as sharp as possible. You also have to closely watch settings like shutter speed and zoom position, and be more careful than usual with shot framing.
It’s definitely good to practice with the SteadXP for a few days before using it in the field. Also keep in mind that it is a Kickstarter product, so the usual risks apply. If neither of those are dealbreakers, the SteadXP is a relatively economical way to stabilize your shots from time to time. If you really do a lot of it, then you probably already own a Ronin or Steadicam, and if not, you should get one.
If you’re still holding on to your Pebble smartwatch for dear life, we have good news: you won’t have to let go for a while longer. Fitbit has extended its support for Pebble services from the original end-of-2017 cutoff to June 30th, 2018. You now have half a year longer to say your goodbyes and decide what (if anything) you’ll wear next. There’s an added incentive to part ways, too.
Fitbit is sweetening the pot by offering a $50 discount on the Ionic if you own a Pebble watch. You’ll get an email offering the discount if you bought before December 7th, 2016 and opted to receive Fitbit marketing messages, while everyone else can register for updates to get their discount.
According to Fitbit, this is about a more graceful transition that gives developers more time to port Pebble content to the Ionic’s Fitbit OS, and “passionate” fans more time to see what awaits if they make the switch. Of course, that’s the rose-tinted version — ultimately, this is an attempt to win back Pebble owners who felt burned by Fitbit’s acquisition and convince them to buy the Ionic before they’re lost forever. While it’s not clear exactly how well the Ionic is faring in the market, Fitbit probably wouldn’t mind the extra customers.
Source: Fitbit Developer
Apple today released a new update for Safari Technology Preview, the experimental browser Apple first introduced almost two years ago in March of 2016. Apple designed the Safari Technology Preview to test features that may be introduced into future release versions of Safari.
The Safari Technology Preview update is available through the Software Update mechanism in the Mac App Store to anyone who has downloaded the browser. Full release notes for the update are available on the Safari Technology Preview website.
Apple’s aim with Safari Technology Preview is to gather feedback from developers and users on its browser development process. Safari Technology Preview can run side-by-side with the existing Safari browser and while designed for developers, it does not require a developer account to download.
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Android is getting priority treatment again from Chrome as the stable version of Chrome 64 rolls out here ahead of Mac, Windows and Linux for the second release in a row. The version includes the usual bug fixes, plus a host of features designed to make browsing safer and easier. Malicious auto-redirects are out, with the browser blocking third-party iframes unless you’ve directly interacted with them, and an improved pop-up blocker will stop shady sites from opening new tabs or windows from accidentally-clicked play buttons and transparent overlays.
The release also brings site-wide audio muting, which should help put an end to frantic searching among tabs to quieten noisy pages. The addition is part of Google’s drive for more streamlined media autoplay behavior, and can be activated from a new sound menu, accessed via Settings > Site settings. Android users can get Chrome 64 from the Play Store over the coming weeks.
Addison Lee is trying to shake off its image as a London-focused taxi service and re-establish itself as a ride-hailing app that works around the world. Today, the company announced a “digital global service” that anyone can use to book minicabs in over 100 cities worldwide. In some locations, that will mean Addison-owned vehicles, but in others your trip will be handled by one of its 5,000 affiliate partners. Addison Lee, in short, wants to be the app that lives on your home screen — a reliable and convenient alternative to Uber, Lyft and similar taxi hire services.
It’s a long-awaited expansion. Addison Lee bought executive car service Tristar in June 2016, boosting its affiliate network in the US and abroad. Seven months later, it acquired Flyte Tyme, a US car service business that offers airport transfers, event transportation, shuttle services and black car operations. It then snapped up Tandem, a booking and fleet management specialist, and revealed plans to launch a branded car service in New York. (Vehicles started rolling out in Manhattan late last year.) Addison’s focus, clearly, is in North America and the UK — but with an affiliate network, it can scale up (or down) its business and dabble with a global user base.
As part of today’s announcement, Addison Lee has committed £65 million ($90 million) to boosting its minicab fleet in London and the Big Apple. In the English capital, the company will introduce 1,300 Ford Galaxy people carriers, over 500 Mercedes vehicles, 30 Vauxhal Vivaro vans and 15 500cc Honda motorcycles. In New York, the expansion will include 350 Chrysler 300s, 150 Lincoln Continentals, 10 Cadillac Escalades, 10 Chevrolet Suburbans and 6 Grech Ford F-550 minibuses. It’s a sizeable investment, but one that could prove meaningless if the app doesn’t take off.
Source: Addison Lee
Nothing brought net neutrality to the fore of people’s minds more than the FCC’s plan to take it away. From the very beginning, when FCC Chair Ajit Pai announced his intentions to repeal 2015 net neutrality protections, to December 14th when the FCC voted three to two to approve the repeal, public outcry was manifested in the form of widespread protests, letters of appeal and even death threats. But what may be the clearest sign of net neutrality’s move to the mainstream — as well as the egregiousness of the FCC’s vote — is Burger King’s new ad, a demonstration of net neutrality using Whoppers as an allegory.
In the ad, which you can watch below, customers are told they’ll pay different prices depending on how quickly they want their Whopper — paying $5 will get them their meal at a delay while $26 will result in fast turnaround. Naturally, the customers are angry — Burger King claims those in the ad were real guests, though we’re skeptical as to what that really means. At the end of its message, Burger King says, “The internet should be like the Whopper: the same for everyone,” and then points viewers to the net neutrality petition at change.org/savethenet. However, we feel we should point out that Burger King’s tagline for decades was the decidedly anti-uniformity message “Have it your way.”
The ad doesn’t really do a great job at explaining net neutrality — we had fast and slow internet service speeds well before net neutrality’s repeal (the part about making Whoppers worse to buy in order to promote the company’s chicken sales is a slightly more accurate piece of the metaphor). But the fact that a fast food chain felt that it needed to or even could make an ad about net neutrality speaks to how important of a topic it has become to the public as a whole. If you want a better breakdown of net neutrality though, check out our explainer here.
Of course, this isn’t just a PSA, it is an ad after all and rooted in marketing for the brand, but we’ll forgive that and its inaccuracy since it also includes a not-so-subtle jab at Ajit Pai and his ridiculous, giant Reese’s mug.
Source: Burger King
No one really makes decent small phones anymore. Apple hasn’t updated the iPhone SE in almost two years, and the “mini” flagship phase fizzled out long before that. Tracking down a sub-5-inch Android phone you’d actually consider buying could be the plot of the next Indiana Jones movie. I guess it’d be a short flick, though, because you only have to look as far as Sony and its “Compact” smartphones, which the company keeps making despite the wider industry’s having moved on. Perhaps I’m a champion of choice or just feel nostalgia for a time when phones were smaller and life was simpler, but I wanted to like the Xperia XZ1 Compact, released last fall. I really did.
I mean, what’s not to like about a cute little phone with an octa-core Snapdragon 835 roaring away inside? OK, so maybe 720p is a resolution you frown at these days, even if the thing does only have a 4.6-inch LCD display. But otherwise, 4GB of RAM, 32 gigs of expandable storage, Gorilla Glass 5, Android 8.0 Oreo, IP65/68 waterproof rating — these are all things you’re quite happy to see on a spec sheet. The 2,700mAh battery keeps the thing powered up for significantly longer than the typical daily cycle, too, though you would kind of expect that, given that it’s powering so few pixels.
Sony also equipped the XZ1 Compact with some of the best imaging tech it has to offer. There’s an 8-megapixel front-facing camera with wide-angle lens for the selfie generation, but more important is the 19MP “Motion Eye” camera round back. It boasts phase detection and laser autofocus, not to mention super-slow-mo video recording at 960 fps, just one of Sony’s exhausting list of camera features and tools, such as 3D scanning. The shutter speed isn’t always able to keep up with the energetic thrashing of the guy from Crazy Town in a dingy pub, but low-light performance, in general, is solid.
In better lighting conditions, the thing shoots detailed, well-saturated pictures — something that doesn’t come as a shock, considering the hardware at play. But wow, does the XZ1 Compact rub me the wrong way on a daily basis. The fingerprint sensor that doubles as a power button can be temperamental, probably because it’s so small. This won’t be a problem on US models, of course, since they don’t possess fingerprint readers. Sony only recently committed to adding these to all future Xperias launched stateside.
Any minor jolt in the headphone jack area pauses music as if you’ve decoupled your cans entirely, which couldn’t be more frustrating. Max headphone volume leaves plenty to be desired too, and getting a Bluetooth speaker connected is a draining exercise in trial and error.
When I use Google Maps, the compass is often drunk, pointing in roughly the right direction but dancing left and right at random. WiFi range is pretty poor on the whole, and there’s a bunch of bloatware preinstalled on the device that I can do without. This includes Amazon’s app suite, AVG, Kobo and a plethora of Xperia tools that ping you every five minutes about the highlight video it’s created for you, etc.
The phone isn’t at all lacking performance-wise, thanks to the Snapdragon 835 at its heart, but the user experience has plenty of gremlins. Apps randomly crash without warning, and that’s if the whole phone hasn’t just frozen up entirely. General stability has improved vastly over the course of a few software updates, though.
The same is true of the auto-brightness setting, which used to behave like a club strobe light. I had to turn it off almost immediately when I first received the device, meaning frequent manual brightness adjustments became the norm. Updates appear to have addressed this, though only for the most part. And it’s permanently overcast in the UK currently, so I haven’t had the chance to revet it in direct sunlight.
A high price tag doesn’t make the phone any easier a sell, either. The XZ1 Compact launched at $600, though it’s now available for $500 on Amazon. In the UK, it was originally £499, but you can find it online for around £315 these days. Not that I could recommend it, even at that price. Did I mention that the phone is built mostly from plastic? A glass-fiber-reinforced plastic, available in a few unique colors, but plastic all the same. Even budget phones at a fraction of the price have moved on to metal. The XZ1 Compact, under my (loving) care, has picked up a few scrapes, and yet I haven’t used it as my primary device for more than a month in total.
None of what I’ve said so far has anything to do with the size, you might have noticed. Well, it’s small — too small… for me, at least. Even with SwiftKey at my side, rarely can I construct a sentence without a comedy of errors. It just feels cramped and frustrating; my thumbs keep hitting the wrong keys and icons. Perhaps, like the industry, I have moved on to bigger screens that demand a less delicate touch. Or maybe I’m a hypocrite? My iPhone 8 (cue comment wars) has a 4.7-inch display, only a fraction bigger than the one on the XZ1 Compact, and I can use that with surgical precision.
It could be that the screen isn’t the issue, then, but the design. Not only does it feel cramped, but it’s uncomfortable. The Xperia is quite chunky, at 9.3mm (0.37 inch) thick, and the bottom edge is rather sharp. It digs into your palm and scratches away at the place where a neat, rounded corner should sit. Like a hedgehog, it’s cute but prickly. You can even feel how angular it is when you sit down, phone in jeans pocket.
Still, none of this can be directly attributed to why the small phone is a dying breed. I imagine that the big manufacturers have market research, focus groups and all the rest that say there isn’t much opportunity in sub-5-inch phones anymore. And Sony probably has number crunchers of its own concluding that there’s still enough demand that one company can capitalize on that niche.
There’s no sign of any other bijou devices in the works over at Sony at the moment, though the XZ1 Compact isn’t even close to being a year old yet. The two new mid-range Xperias announced at CES earlier this month have more standard 5.2- and 5.5-inch displays. And at this point, the only rumors floating around Sony for the mobile-focused MWC show in February are the talk of “Premium” and “Pro” handsets with big screens. The XZ1 Compact was first announced at the end of last August, though, so maybe Sony will continue its flirtation with smaller smartphones when the time is right. And I’ll really want to like that one, too.