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7
Feb

Eecoo Flame Atmosphere speaker review


Generally speaking, Bluetooth speakers are known for their wireless Bluetooth-pairing capabilities, and usually, that’s about all. Some Bluetooth speakers are designed for indoor play and can’t weather the elements outdoors. Others are built for all environments and conditions.

A new speaker aims to bring not only the Bluetooth-pairing for mobile device audio and element-resistance but also a little something extra for your home. The Eecoo Flame Atmosphere Speaker gives you great audio, element-resistance, durability, and a flickering flame for an affordable price.

Build Quality

The Eecoo Flame Atmosphere Speaker is made of strong and sturdy plastic, as I found it to be reliable when letting my little cousins, niece, and nephew play with it. The speaker can “take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’” with its sturdy frame. In the case of accidental drops (courtesy of my niece and nephew), I found the flame speaker to be incredibly strong such that I haven’t seen a dent in the Eecoo device. The chrome accents appear to be stainless steel, though I’ll let you be the judge of that.

Apart from the immediate build quality, Eecoo has made the Flame Atmosphere Speaker IP65 water and dust resistant, which means that it’ll stand up to dust and jets of water but you may not want to dunk the speaker in major water environments (think river, lake, or ocean). Though it is called a Flame Atmosphere Speaker, it is also a Bluetooth speaker with a built-in battery. Batteries and water don’t mix.

The bottom of the Eecoo Flame Atmosphere Bluetooth Speaker features a hole where you can mount the device by adding a tripod. Up top, you have all your controls for the device: a flame button in the top center that lets you turn the flame inside the speaker candle on and off, a power button above that, with volume up and volume down buttons to the left and right and a “skip track” control to the opposite side of the flame button.

The portion of the Flame Atmosphere Speaker that houses the candle (from which the 96 LED lights create the flame effect) comes with a criss-cross design. The device looks like a canteen shape, though some may identify it as having an easter egg design. On the side of the device is the micro-USB charging port. The Flame Atmosphere Speaker comes with a micro-USB cable, so no USB Type-C charging compatibility here.

Performance

I’ve found the Eecoo Flame Atmosphere Speaker to be a great device to use when it comes to a number of things. First, the portability is good, and it doesn’t seem to be too heavy in hand (though I think it’s slightly heavier than what I’d want to carry on a daily basis – taller, too).

The controls at the top of the speaker are red when you plug the device into a computer or wall outlet and simply turn off when the device is fully charged. There is no “green light” to let you know the device is charged.

Next, the flame is a huge win for this Bluetooth speaker. The Eecoo Flame Atmosphere Speaker brings a flame that you can use as a lampstand light at night to read a book, watch a movie, or set a relaxed mood. Having used the speaker during an arctic blast weather wave here in my state, it gave me some extra warmth that I needed.

Flame

There’s something you need to know about the flame: it isn’t an actual flame, but is instead an array of 96 circular LED lights that spark when active. I’ve discovered that the flame is an attractive feature not only for adults but also for children: my 4-year-old niece and especially my 2-year-old nephew enjoyed watching the flame light up. Seeing my nephew’s surprise that the flame didn’t burn him was my favorite moment with the Eecoo Flame Atmosphere Speaker.

While my nephew enjoyed playing with it and pressing the flame button on and off, my grandmother thought it was a real flame. I couldn’t convince her otherwise; it’s just that real to the naked eye from a distance. You can see the LED lights up close when the flame is active, but you can’t tell at a distance.

Bluetooth Speaker

The Bluetooth speaker isn’t designed to work alone, so it needs a pairing device. I paired the Eecoo Flame Atmosphere Bluetooth Speaker to my Samsung Chromebook Plus, and the devices were paired in less than 10 seconds. The setup was easy. If you’re wondering, yes – you can play music via the Bluetooth speaker and activate the flame simultaneously.

Sound quality on the Bluetooth speaker is excellent; so excellent that, even with the TV turned up loudly (I have hearing-impaired relatives, so I’d know), I could still hear the audio clearly on its Bluetooth 4.2 driver. You’ll need to long press the volume up and down buttons to adjust the sound. If you tap the volume buttons like you tap the flame button, the sound won’t rise or fall. It works counter-intuitive to the flame button, so you can’t say you haven’t been warned.

Battery is a Beast

The Eecoo Flame Atmosphere Speaker features a 2,000mA lithium battery, and the battery is one of the finest features of the device. Using the speaker on a daily basis, I found that it could go a full two days with constant flame before I had to place it back on the charger. Rest assured that the Eecoo Flame Atmosphere Speaker has enough battery to “go the distance.” Once the battery dies, though, you’ll need about 4.5 hours to go from empty to full, so keep that in mind. You may not like the charging time, but the longevity of the battery is a plus.

Value

The Eecoo Flame Atmosphere Speaker is priced at $59.99 at Amazon, and the price and features make it a sufficient value. Most Bluetooth speakers come with nothing more than a battery and Bluetooth capabilities, but the Eecoo speaker comes with a flame that gives the device a “homely” feel when used indoors and a campfire atmosphere when used outdoors. The device is IP65 water and dust resistant so that you can use it outdoors in the rain (though the speaker does have its water-resistant limits), which makes it weather-proof to some extent.

When discussing the benefits of the Flame Atmosphere Speaker, one cannot forget the durability, as it can withstand falls, bumps, and drops because of its durable plastic and stainless steel construction. What this means is that the Eecoo Flame Atmosphere Speaker can handle the elements without worry.

When you add all this up, alongside of the Flame Atmosphere Speaker’s strong battery life, you have a device that’s worth the money.

Suggestions for the Future

While the Eecoo Flame Atmosphere Speaker has much to commend it, I believe that every product can get better. So with that said, I have a few suggestions for Eecoo I’d like to see with the next-generation Flame Atmosphere Speaker:

  • The addition of a battery charging indicator for charging times and battery remaining (flame dies suddenly with no indication of 5% battery left, for example).
  • Add USB Type-C charging compatibility (current speaker only charges via micro-USB).
  • A smartphone/tablet app for the Flame Atmosphere Speaker that lets you adjust LED light colors, add a customizable flame theme (for holidays, special occasions, etc.), or adjust the treble and bass audio features.
  • Different hardware colors (current unit color is black, needs other colors to match home decor) and shapes (easter egg, square, oblong, triangular, cylindrical, box).

Conclusion

First, let me say to conclude that the Eecoo Flame Atmosphere Speaker is what I call “the jack of all trades.” I’ve not ever tested a Bluetooth speaker with a flame before, but I find that I enjoy the flame on this one and hope to see others come out with their own Bluetooth speakers with the flame effect. I can only say it best through the words of my favorite old-school game NBA JAM: this speaker is on fiyah!

I think Eecoo could take its Flame Atmosphere Speaker and create a lineup akin to what Google has done with the Google Home Mini and Google Home Max, providing Bluetooth speakers with fashion that will appeal to more than the usual outdoorsy types. This Bluetooth Speaker is just the start.

Buy Eecoo’s Atmosphere Flame Lamp for $59.99 on Amazon.

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7
Feb

Make your fortune with the best stock-trading apps for iOS and Android


Our time is valuable and the world moves fast, so you want to make sure you can quickly and easily check on your investments at a moment’s notice. That’s why we’ve put together a list of the best stock-trading apps for both iOS and Android. As always with investing, be aware that your own capital is at risk, and you should never invest money you aren’t prepared to lose.

Trading 212 (free)

Named the U.K.’s top stock-trading app in 2016, Trading 212 is a fantastic option even if you’re based in the U.S. It gives you access to trading a wide variety of markets, including the U.S., U.K. and German markets. Ten trades a month are completely free, making this a fantastic option for anyone who trades lightly and tends to hold their properties for dividends rather than making money through constant trading. After the 10 free trades in a month, you’ll pay 1.95 pounds (about $3) plus 0.05 percent per deal. You can also trade cryptocurrency, and there’s access to a live chat for support. A free lifetime practice account that follows the real market can help you learn the ropes if you don’t yet have the necessary funds.

Buy one now from:

Android iOS

Plus500 (free)

Plus500 holds the distinction of attracting more than 100,000 new European investors in 2016, making it one of the most popular apps out there. Plus500’s app is full of tools that help you survive in the cutthroat world of stock trading. It features no commissions, a Guaranteed Stop tool to ensure you don’t lose out, and negative balance protection, which means you can’t lose more than you have invested. You can transfer funds into your account by credit card, PayPal, or bank transfer, and you can trade cryptocurrecy and commodities, as well as the usual stocks.

Buy one now from:

Android iOS Windows Phone

Robinhood (free)

Hailed as the hot new stock-trading app, Robinhood boasts a slick interface and zero commissions. There’s no minimum amount, so you can start with whatever you want, and there’s no waiting period. Trade U.S. stocks, crytocurrency, and commodities, and learn how to trade as you go thanks to Robinhood’s personalized feedback and recommendations. For the moment, you’re stuck trading only through the app, but there is a web app on the way. Refer friends and you’ll both benefit with free stock from some of the world’s largest companies.

Buy one now from:

Android iOS

Fidelity Investments (free)

Founded in 1946, Fidelity Investments is one of the big boys of investments and stock trading, and the apps it offers reflect those years of experience Fidelity. The app allows you to trade stocks, exchange-traded funds, mutual funds, and more, while also offering more general fiscal management, with videos and news articles featuring financial advice that should help you to manage your money even better. It also provides you with market research so you can stay informed, and allows users to open new 401(k) or brokerage accounts. It’s something of an all-in-one app that will serve many investors well.

Buy one now from:

Android iOS

Capital.com (free)

Get a more personal edge with Capital.com’s personalized A.I.-driven app, which provides you with all the news and guidance you need to ensure your investments mature and grow. Capital.com has access to a huge amount of investment areas, including more than 700 markets, cryptocurrencies, and commodities. You’ll also get real-time tracking of your investment, 24-hour withdrawals, and negative balance protection to make sure that you can’t lose more than you’ve put in. It might not have some of the bells and whistles that other apps on this list offer, but it’s a solid stock-trading app that works smoothly and seamlessly.

Buy one now from:

Android iOS

Looking to gather the funds needed to invest? Having some spare cash is always a good idea, and our favorite budgeting apps can help. If you’re interested in Bitcoin, check out our handy guide to get you started.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • For deals or just the latest designs, these are the best shopping apps out there
  • Cultivate a healthy mind, body, and soul with the five best yoga apps
  • Saving for your dream vacation? Here are the best budget apps to help you
  • The best apps to sell clothes will turn your unused wardrobe into cash
  • 15 essential Black Friday apps you need to navigate the maelstrom


7
Feb

Will OnePlus release a new OnePlus X model after the OnePlus 6?


According to a rather suspect leak on tech website TechPP, Android success story OnePlus might be looking to reach back into the budget market, following the release of the OnePlus 6.

We’ll be completely frank with you before we start the rundown — TechPP isn’t a well-known source of leaks, and the details of the story are a bit wonky, too. According to “Tech Auntyji”, a nice man said that OnePlus are looking to reinvigorate its OnePlus X brand, bringing a new lower priced OnePlus model to help cement itself into the Indian market. The phone would essentially be comprised of leftover parts from the OnePlus 5, with a 5.5-inch AMOLED display running a 16:9 aspect ratio resolution, powered by the Snapdragon 835, 4GB of RAM, and having two storage variants of 32GB and 64GB. This will all be powered by a 3,000mAh battery, and will feature a similar camera suite to the OnePlus 5, including an optical zoom.

But if you were worrying it might be the exact same phone as the OnePlus 5, then don’t worry too much. There might be some changes to the outside though, with the possibly named “OnePlus X2” coming in glass and sandstone variants, and it will also likely come with OnePlus’s new Face Unlock feature, thanks to a front-facing 16-megapixel camera. TechPP estimates this device will be in the Rs 15,000-17,000 price range — so roughly $250, or 200 British pounds — putting it firmly into competition with phones like the Honor 7X, or the HTC U11 Life.

There do seem to be some conflicting rumors that TechPP addresses — other reports claim the phone will come with a 5.2-inch display, and will sport an 8MP camera on the front, rather than the 16MP. Obviously it’s hard to comment on the validity of these claims since, well, the original rumors are unfounded as well. And you’d be right to be skeptical — OnePlus big man and co-founder Carl Pei has addressed the rumors on Twitter with a brief and healthy “nope.”

Nope. ????‍♂️ https://t.co/hsFBhDFZ8J

— Carl Pei (@getpeid) February 6, 2018

So while the idea of a OnePlus 5 rehash for the budget market was nice while it lasted, it seems that these rumors are just that. Rumors. Still, we’re on the edge of our seats waiting for the OnePlus 6, so we’re not too worried about the lack of a new budget OnePlus X.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • OnePlus 5T review
  • OnePlus 5 vs. OnePlus 5T: Is it worth making the upgrade?
  • Everything you need to know about the OnePlus 5
  • The 6-inch OnePlus 5T costs $500 and you can unlock it with your face
  • Honor View 10 vs. OnePlus 5T: Which midranger reigns supreme?


7
Feb

Text away: 20 free texting games you can play with your friends


Smartphones are more powerful than ever, and that means gaming on phones has never been better. It wasn’t always possible to play graphically intensive games on a phone, however. In fact, believe it or not, there was a time SMS texting games were all the rage. For me, it was middle school, those puberty-pivotal two years of existence my mind refuses to forget, but for many that time is now. Whether it’s because of finances, availability, or stubbornness, many people have chosen to forgo the commonplace smartphone in favor of more traditional offerings from major retailers. Just because you possess a so-called “dumb phone,” though, doesn’t mean you can’t tap into social gaming on the go. Even primitive devices come equipped with text messaging. But what are the best texting games?

Here are our picks for the best texting games to relive your adolescent youth or simply enjoy the underwhelming simplicity of SMS messages. We can’t guarantee any of them will spur that incredible satisfaction that comes from playing “luminescent” for 102 points, but they’ll likely rack your brain nonetheless. If you decide you want to play something more graphically intensive, check out the best Android games or the best iPhone games for some great suggestions.

Make difficult choices and spill secrets

20 Questions

Twenty questions was a 19th-century, spoken parlor game well before the radio and television show hit American airwaves in the late ’40s. It’s a classic game of deductive reasoning and quick-hit creativity, requiring no more than two people and as little or as much time as the players set. The premise is simple: One person chooses an object or person while the other attempts to guess it in 20 questions or less. Once the subject is chosen, the opposite player sends a series of questions via text, ideally narrowing down the subject through the responding yes-or-no answers.

Example — Say you’ve chosen Morgan Freeman as your subject. The player opposite you may ask, “Are you an animal?” You would respond negatively and they would move on to another question, such as “Are you a human being?” Considering you’re Morgan Freeman, you would reply with “yes.” The game continues in a similar manner until the player guesses the correct answer or surpasses 20 questions, whichever comes first. Morgan Freeman is far too easy. Pick something harder.

Would You Rather

Would You Rather may not be a game built on the moral and ethical quandaries we’re forced to face on a day-to-day basis — at least I hope not — but it will certainly reveal the nature of your character. The basic premise is this: one person asks “would you rather…” followed by two differing hypothetical scenarios. The options can be as interrelated or as distant as you want them to be, but the two scenarios should carry equal weight if possible. Try to be creative in your questioning and avoid clarifying questions. Also, remember the best questions are the ones usually depicting two uncomfortable and equally-terrible scenarios.

Examples: The WYR possibilities are virtually endless, allowing users to make the game a simple or harrowing as they want it to be. We’ve presented a few potential conundrums below, but Redditors have taken the game to an entirely new level. Pssh, and I thought I was creative.

“Would you rather fight a hundred duck sized horses or one horse sized duck?” (Here’s the right answer.)

“Would you rather talk like Jar Jar Binks, or look like Jar Jar Binks?”

“Would you rather change gender every time you sneeze, or not be able to tell the difference between a muffin and a baby?”

Never Have I Ever

Never Have I Ever, sometimes known as 10 Fingers, is that borderline inappropriate game you drunkenly played in the hot tub once with your prospective boyfriend or girlfriend. It usually involves several players and drinking copious amounts of alcohol, but you can just as easily play it sober with two people via text. Begin by setting a specific number of lives, often represented by fingers when played in person, and any other additional rules you’d like to include. Afterward, the players take turns making statements of things they’ve never done before, hence the title of the game. The opposite player loses a point whenever a statement is made that contradicts his or her own experiences.

Though uncommon, some rules specify the person who loses a point must provide a detailed account of why he or she is doing so. According to one American college student quoted on Wikipedia, NHIE and similar games “reveal interesting things about the participants and help build friendships.” The attribution is questionable, but the game does often reveal deep-seated secrets about your friends that you may, or may not, want to know. Somehow I’ve found the game always manages to don an overly-sexual tone, but I’d advise you from taking gender-oriented cheap shots. A guy shouldn’t lose a point just because he’s kissed a girl — just saying.

Example: Assuming it’s your turn, you might say “Never have I ever been skinny dipping.” If the opposite person opposite you has gone skinny dipping, they would lose a point and then proceed in making a statement of his or her own. The game continues in a similar fashion until one player loses all of his or her points.

Name Game

The Name Game is rather tedious in the long run, but I’ll be damned if it’s not one of the biggest time-wasters of all time. Played in elementary school classrooms and road-tripping minivans across the United States, it’s a simple spelling game derived from words on a particular topic. Players choose a topic, such as famous actors and actresses, and then select which player will go first. Once chosen, the first player chooses and says a word. Following suit, the second player says a word that begins with the last letter of the opposite player’s previous word. The game can carry on indefinitely depending on player knowledge, so it’s often best to set a few ground rules prior to initiating the game. We suggest setting a specific time limit in which players can respond or narrowing the chosen topic to make the game difficult.

Example: Say your opponent and you have chosen the topic of famous actors who have been featured in superhero movies. You might begin by saying “Chris Pine” — an obvious nod to his role in Wonder Woman — while your opponent might follow with “Ned Beatty,” the character who played Otis in Richard Donner’s 1978 rendition of Superman. The game continues in the same vein until one of the players can no longer name a follow-up person or subject word.

Story Time

They often say two heads are better than one, and though I don’t always agree, collaborative writing can be one of the most intriguing and inventive forms of writing in existence. With Story Time, one person begins by texting the beginning word, phrase or sentence to his or her collaborative partner. Once done, the other player reciprocates with another word, phrase or sentence that directly builds off the narrative begun by the first player. Whether the resulting story is terrific or horrendous, a shotgun of a story or an epic, the back-and-forth prose eventually builds a potentially-cohesive plot line via a series of text messages. The flow and style are never as eloquent or seamless as they would be if crafted by a single writer, but the capacity for unforeseen twists and the shroud of mystery surrounding the next phrase or sentence is often compelling enough to keep it going. Feel free to add restrictions, such as a specified word count per text or other structural elements hindering people from spouting off the first thing that comes to mind. I mean, have you read any self-published ebooks recently? I think you catch my drift.

Example: Let’s take the classic fairy-tale route for example. You might send a text with one of the most cliche lines of literary lore,”Once upon a time.” Building on what you said, the other player might follow with “there lived a lonely typist who never spoke.” I admit it’s probably not the most exhilarating or enticing story introduction you’ve ever heard, but it’s a start. Afterward, you would respond with another phrase, then your partner, then you… and so on and so forth.

Take a trip

Start by writing “I am going to ____, and I am taking ___.” Both players have to say this sentence by filling the blanks with words starting with the letter a, and working their way through the alphabet all the way to the letter z.

Example: One player can say “I am going to Australia, and I am taking Asprin.” Then the next player has to think of words with the letter b and so on. The first player to get stumped loses the game.

I Spy

Start this game by sharing a picture with a group. Just like the classic “I Spy” game, you will give the other players a clue of what you see in the picture and the other players have to guess. You can phrase it any way you want to.

Example: You can say “I spy something that starts/ends with the letter B” or “I spy something made of wool.” If the other players can’t guess, the spy role passes to the next player. You can also choose to give them hints if the other players are stumped.

7
Feb

Honor 9 Lite hands-on review


Research Center:
Honor 9 Lite

Much has been written about how the flashiest smartphones have only become more expensive over the past months, a trend set to continue, unfortunately. The good news is the cheaper end of the spectrum has also changed over the same period of time. Low-cost phones haven’t become less expensive, they’ve simply improved. You get more for your money than ever before. A prime example of this is the new Honor 9 Lite. It costs just 200 British pounds (about $280), and there’s a strong case to be made for buying it over the slightly more expensive Honor 7X and other competitors in this price range.

Ticks all the boxes

For a phone to be desirable, almost regardless of the price, it needs to tick a few boxes. The Honor 9 Lite ticks the following: Design, screen, software, and camera. That’s a lot of ticks for any phone, let alone one at this price.

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Honor, a Huawei sub-brand, said the Honor 9 is a premium phone because it’s made from metal, and the Honor 9 Lite is a mid-range phone because it’s made from glass. Pick the Honor 9 Lite up and you may disagree. It feels great in the hand — solid, lightweight, and cool to the touch. The glass does make it slippery though, and it was hard to grip it confidently in our brief time with the phone; you may want to nab a case.

Performance is where you notice the difference between this and a more expensive smartphone.

The glass rear panel is smooth, flat, and connects to a metal chassis. There’s real depth to the shine, enhanced by a special process used by Honor to create the different colors and a sparkling finish. There’s a fingerprint sensor top center, and a pair of camera lenses in the top left. The fingerprint sensor is fast, instantly waking up the phone from a black screen. There isn’t a face unlock feature, despite the presence of a dual-lens front camera. This separates it from the Honor 7X, which will receive a software update to introduce face unlock in the near future.

The Honor 9 Lite doesn’t look like its price. It looks like a slightly smaller iPhone 8 Plus. The screen is actually larger at 5.65-inches, but the thin bezels around it help make it compact. The bezel-less design makes the phone look modern, and the 2160 x 1080 pixel resolution is attractive and very bright. We did notice the screen didn’t represent photos we took very well, with images appearing dull and lower quality than the final results.

Four cameras

It’s the camera set up that makes the Honor 9 Lite stand out. It has the same dual-lens 13-megapixel and 2-megapixel cameras on the front and the rear, with improved software for HDR shots, wide-aperture pictures, and the beauty mode.

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

We took a handful of photos, and we’re pleased with the results. The Honor 9 Lite handles most situations adequately, but it does struggle when faced with varying lighting conditions, such as overcast skies. Just don’t expect a monochrome mode, or any Leica improvements on the camera — they’re reserved for more expensive Honor and Huawei phones. Selfies are excellent, and you can use a bokeh portrait mode effect, and the beauty mode isn’t overtly aggressive.

Latest software, sluggish performance

The Honor 9 Lite runs Android 8.0 Oreo with Huawei’s EMUI 8.0 user interface, making it more up-to-date out of the box than the Honor 7X, matching the Honor View 10. Performance isn’t as fast or fluid as either of those two phones, despite the same Kirin 659 processor as the Honor 7X. There’s 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, compared to the 4GB and 64GB on the 7X. A MicroSD card slot does allow you to increase the amount of storage. The stuttering and sluggish performance we noticed on our phone may be fixed by a software update ahead of release, and we’ve reached out to Honor to confirm.

Honor 9 Lite Compared To

Alcatel Idol 5

OnePlus 5T

Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact

Lenovo Moto G5S Plus

HTC U11 Life

Google Pixel 2

LG V30

Sony Xperia XZ1

Asus Zenfone AR

Moto Z2 Force

Alcatel Idol 5S

Asus Zenfone 3 Zoom

Moto Z2 Play

Motorola Moto E4

Huawei Nova 2 Plus

Performance is where you notice the difference between the Honor 9 Lite and a more expensive smartphone with a faster processor. A quick game of Reckless Racing 3 confirms this — the game is perfectly playable, but the frame rate suffers. If you’re an occasional gamer, this won’t bother you. It’s certainly not slow, but you do notice the pauses and slight slowdown. But to change all that, you’ll need to spend twice what the Honor 9 Lite costs, so compromises are to be expected.

We’ve only spent a few hours with the Honor 9 Lite, so we can’t judge battery life. But disappointingly, the phone has a MicroUSB charging port, not a USB Type-C.

Price and availability

The Honor 9 Lite will go on sale in the U.K. on February 6 through the HiHonor online store and a selection of other retailers including Amazon. There are no plans to release it in the U.S. yet, according to an Honor representative. We recommend the Honor 7X, which is available in the U.S. and the U.K., but we’re genuinely surprised  — and happy — we have the chance to try a phone that costs even less, but still appears to deliver the goods. We’ll be bringing a full review your way soon.

7
Feb

How to choose the best MicroSD cards for your smartphone or tablet


If you run out of storage space on your phone or tablet, then you’ll want to find a way to get more. One of the simplest options is to insert a MicroSD card. Sadly, not all smartphones and tablets support MicroSD cards. If you have an iPhone or iPad, then you’re out of luck, but many Android devices do support them, as do some Windows Phone and BlackBerry handsets.

Check the full specs for your phone on the manufacturer’s website, or look for a MicroSD card slot in your phone. On newer phones, they’re generally part of the SIM tray.

What to consider when buying a MicroSD card

There are a handful of things to consider when you’re choosing a new MicroSD card for your phone. Obviously, the price and capacity are going to feature, but you also need to make sure that the type of card you buy is supported by your device and that it’s suitable for your needs.

SDHC and SDXC

SDHC stands for Secure Digital High Capacity and SDXC stands for Secure Digital Extended Capacity. The only real difference is the range of data they can store. You’ll find that SDHC MicroSD cards range from 2GB to 32GB in size, while SDXC MicroSD cards can range from 32GB up to 2TB in size, though the biggest MicroSD card we’ve seen so far is 512GB.

Class and UHS ratings

The Class rating of a MicroSD card refers to its minimum transfer speed. UHS stands for Ultra High Speed. Here’s how the minimum speeds for different classes break down.

Class
Minimum Speed

2
2 MB/s

4
4 MB/s

6
6 MB/s

8
8 MB/s

10
10 MB/s

UHS 1
10 MB/s

UHS 3
30 MB/s

Most MicroSD cards are a lot faster than the minimum speed. A Class 10 card may offer 95 MB/s, for example, and UHS cards can go up to 312 MB/s.

Application Performance Class

The SD Association launched a new standard last year, called App Performance Class, which is designed to highlight MicroSD cards that are suitable for use in smartphones and tablets. The A1 rating means that the card can manage random read input-output access per second (IOPS) of 1,500 and write IOPS of 500. This is ideal for quickly opening apps and processing tasks. These new A1 cards are worth looking out for if you intend to format your card as internal storage in an Android device, something Google calls “Adoptable Storage.”

How to choose a MicroSD card

You’re obviously going to want the highest speed, highest capacity MicroSD card you can get, for the lowest price. We would advise you to factor in the brand reputation and the reported performance and reliability. Check out the warranty terms, just in case something should go wrong. You also need to be careful where you buy. If you’re going to use Amazon or eBay then read some customer reviews and watch out for fake MicroSD cards, because they’re disappointingly common.

Best MicroSD cards for your smartphone or tablet

We’ve picked out five of the best MicroSD cards for smartphones here, but the right card for you will depend on your device and your needs. You may want to look beyond this list, but we advise you to stick to well-known brands like Samsung, Lexar, SanDisk, Toshiba, and Kingston. All prices are correct at the time of writing, but the MicroSD card market moves fast, so expect them to change.

SanDisk Extreme 32GB ($19)

Here’s a speedy SDHC card that offers read speeds of up to 90 MB/s and write speeds of up to 60 MB/s. This is a durable card with a lifetime warranty, and the reviews are overwhelmingly positive. It will have no trouble with 1080p video and can even handle 4K, though you may want a larger capacity if that’s what you’re buying it for. It also comes with a handy SD adapter.

Buy one now from:

Amazon

Samsung Evo+ 64GB ($28)

This SDXC card is rated as Class 10 or UHS-1 and offers transfer speeds of up to 80 MB/s. It’s a durable and reliable MicroSD card with a lot of positive reviews. It’s fast and efficient for use in phones and tablets and won’t have any trouble recording 1080p video, but you should opt for another card if you shoot in 4K. Ultimately, it’s a great all-rounder for a reasonable price.

Buy one now from:

Amazon

Lexar Professional 128GB ($100)

If you want a fast MicroSD card with a decent capacity, then consider this option from Lexar. It’s an SDXC card with a UHS-II rating, offering read speeds up to 150 MB/s. The write speeds are a little disappointing at around 45 MB/s, but it can handle 4K video recording.  This is another card with a lot of good reviews and it comes with a handy USB card reader to plug into your PC or laptop.

Buy one now from:

Amazon

SanDisk Ultra 200GB ($74)

You may prefer to opt for SanDisk’s new 256GB A1-rated MicroSD card, but be warned – it will cost you closer to $200. The card we’re recommending here has been out for a while and so the price has dropped significantly. It’s a Class 10 card that offers a whopping 200GB and it’s fast enough for 1080p video recording. Read speeds go up to 90 MB/s, but write speeds are a lot lower, so it’s not a card for recording 4K video. It comes with an SD adapter.

Buy one now from:

Amazon

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  • Give the gift of nostalgia with these awesome retro gaming consoles


7
Feb

Asus Zenfone 4 review


Research Center:
Asus ZenFone 4

Asus may not be the best-known name in smartphones, but it has an extensive range of devices available in the U.S. and the U.K., at fairly reasonable prices. The brand name has a good following, largely due to its computers, but Asus has a quirky history with mobile products — releasing niche devices that often seem more experimental than anything else. Last year it unveiled the ZenFone AR smartphone utilizing Google’s soon-to-be-dead Tango augmented reality program; and even older devices like the Asus PadFone toyed with the idea of a smartphone combined with a tablet. As rumors about the ZenFone 5 heat up, we’re looking at the ZenFone 4, a phone that couples an unusual wide-angle camera with a slick design, and an affordable $400 price tag.

Starburst design

The ZenFone 4 packs relatively ordinary looks, but there’s one neat trick on the back. The Gorilla Glass 5 rear panel reflects light in a very precise way, causing a starburst-like pattern to erupt from the Asus logo. It’s no accident — it’s the same look seen on Asus laptops — and it looks really cool. Aside from the Asus logo and some small print at the bottom, the rear of the ZenFone 4 is uncluttered. Even the dual camera lenses are flush with the case. This is a by-product of the phone being thicker than many current big-name phones at 7.70mm.

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The phone is very flat. There are no curves, outside of the rounded edges. It’s surprisingly not that slippery, but a transparent case inside the box is a welcome addition, offering peace of mind against drops that could crack the glass on the front or back. Putting it in the case does dull the starburst look a little, but it’s still visible with fewer fingerprints too.

It’s not ugly, but it’s not breaking any boundaries either.

An aluminum frame sits sandwiched between the two Gorilla Glass 5 panels, and there are two buttons on the right-hand side: A sleep/wake key, and a volume rocker. On the bottom is a 3.5mm headphone jack as well as a single speaker, alongside the USB Type-C charging port.

No-one is going to stop you in the street and ask what phone you’re holding. The ZenFone 4 is not ugly at all, but it’s not breaking any boundaries either.

Chunky bezels

The ZenFone 4 has bezels, or thick edges surrounding the screen. Compared to phones like the OnePlus 5T, the iPhone X, and the Samsung Galaxy S8, these bezels are enormous and make the phone look dated. It’s purely an aesthetic complaint — if anything, the fingerprint sensor below the screen is easier-to-grasp than the one on the Honor View 10, which squeezes its sensor into a slimmer bezel. The screen measures 5.5-inches, and it has a 1,920 x 1,080-pixel resolution.

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The screen doesn’t get very bright, despite Asus’ claim of 600 nits of brightness. Still, we didn’t struggle to see it in every day lighting situations. We did note the screen changes the way pictures look through the camera viewfinder. What we saw on the screen looks much worse than the final image, which may be software-related, rather than screen-related.

Average camera

There are two lenses on the back of the ZenFone 4, but Asus has opted to replicate what LG does with its dual cameras on the LG G6 and LG V30, with a 12-megapixel lens with an f/1.8 aperture alongside a secondary 120-degree wide-angle, 8-megapixel lens. There’s 4-axis optical image stabilization (OIS), a 1.4 micron pixel size, dual-pixel PDAF, 4K video recording, RAW file support, and a pro manual mode. That’s a monster spec list, but how does the camera fare?

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

It performs well in the right situations. While the specs suggest great hardware, there are some compromises. For example, OIS is only present on the main camera, not the wide-angle lens, which has a lower aperture and doesn’t perform as well in low light. The main camera also doesn’t capture the good pictures in challenging light either, leaving us feeling a little let down.

On more than one occasion the ZenFone 4’s camera surprised us

But the camera does occasionally surprise us. Walking around town and shooting a few test pictures resulted in a great shot over rooftops into a gradually setting sun. The HDR mode balanced shadows and light effectively, and the picture was considerably evocative. That said, the wide-angle shots we took struggled with overcast skies, and didn’t pop as much as we hoped.

Asus includes a comprehensive editing suite in its Gallery app, which can be used to alter images to your preference; but the interface is confusing and not as intuitive as Snapseed or other third-party editing apps. This is a point we’ll return to later, as it’s indicative of the ZenFone 4’s main issue. It’s the same problem with the ZenFone 4’s selfie camera. There are many beautification effects for the 8-megapixel camera, but the controls don’t encourage you to explore, due to small icons and imprecise sliders for adjustments. The selfies enhanced by the beauty mode usually end up washed out and unpleasant.

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

There is a portrait mode that detects faces and blurs out the background. but we found this worked with the front camera, not the rear.

Asus also includes a separate selfie app which has a live video mode linked with Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter. It merely jumps you into the app, rather than seamlessly starting a live-stream in the app.

There are much better camera phones out there at this price range. While we do like the wide-angle camera, we can’t quite stand the spotty performance and less-than-intuitive software.

Far from zen

The ZenFone 4 runs Android 7.1.1 with the September 2017 security patch, complete with Asus’ ZenUI over the top theme. While Huawei, LG, and Samsung are all moving towards a more stock Android appearance, Asus is not, and it’s all the worse for it. ZenUI is very different from Android on the Google Pixel 2, or almost any other Android phone we’ve used recently. Asus will say this makes it unique. We say it makes it annoying, and not very zen at all.

Asus ZenFone 4 Compared To

BlackBerry Motion

Moto E4 Plus

OnePlus 5

Moto Z2 Force

Asus Zenfone 3 Zoom

Moto Z2 Play

Huawei Nova 2 Plus

LeEco Le S3

LeEco Le Pro3

HTC Bolt

Lenovo Moto Z

Alcatel Idol 4S

Meizu M3 Note

Oppo F1 Plus

LG G4

Examples? To dismiss notifications under the notification shade, the Clear button isn’t at the bottom of the list like one would logically assume, it’s right at the top of the screen and it’s easily missable. The included keyboard is one of Asus’ own construction, and its autocorrect feature has a frustrating tendency to pick the least likely word in the line-up. It’s slow to react, some buttons have terrible placement, and are often too small.

There is evidence of sluggishness throughout the standard software, from the camera app to the various pre-instated apps for selfies, call management, and a themes app. The software is not our favorite aspect of the ZenFone 4, although third-party apps — once open — zipped through the menus quickly. That suggests the phone itself doesn’t have performance issues, but ZenUI is just sluggish.

Solid performance

The phone is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 660 processor with 4GB of RAM, but there are some versions out there with a Snapdragon 630, depending on the region you purchase the device. We ran some benchmark tests to see how it performed:

  • Geekbench 4: Multi Core: 4,128; Single Core: 870
  • AnTuTu 3D: 69,052
  • 3DMark Sling Shot Extreme: 835

These scores are very similar to the HTC U11 Life and the Moto X4, two phones that cost around the same as the ZenFone 4. We’ve mentioned the sluggish performance of ZenUI already, but this doesn’t extend to gaming, or movie watching. Playing simple games like Happy Hop and more graphically-intensive games like Reckless Racing 3, was pleasant and problem-free on the ZenFone 4.

One distinct advantage of the large bezels is having somewhere to hold the phone when playing games. Asus has its own game-monitoring app, which can be used to directly stream to YouTube or Twitch, plus silence notifications when you’re playing. Streaming YouTube and Netflix at 1080p was also faultless, whether on Wi-Fi or cellular.

Good battery life, great audio

The Asus ZenFone 4 is an awesome music device. Seriously. Purists will welcome the 3.5mm headphone jack, but it’s the presence of DTS Headphone:X technology that really sets it apart, along with Hi-Res audio file playback. We paired it with Tidal, and a pair of ordinary but decent AKG Y50 headphones. Asus’ own Audio Wizard app and the DTS Headphone:X personalization transformed the sound we heard.

The Asus ZenFone 4 is an awesome music device.

The app has a selection of profiles designed to match the headphones, and a series of soundstage and presets for different listening environments. The AKG Y50s were on the list, and the DTS profile pushed the bass to the max; when combined with the Wide soundstage setting, it sounded fantastic. When we didn’t want such pounding bass, it was simple to play with the settings and tailor it to the track. There are stereo speakers too, but no AptX HD for wireless playback.

Battery life has been good, with nearly two days average use from the 3,300mAh cell. The included fast charger took the battery from 10 percent to full in less than 90 minutes. Asus says a 36 minute charge will provide 50 percent capacity, which should see the phone last a day.

Price, availability, and warranty

In the U.S., Asus sells the ZenFone 4 through its own online store for $400, or $380 in a promotion running at the time of writing. In the U.K. it’s 450 British pounds through Amazon, or retailers including Carphone Warehouse. Asus puts a one-year warranty on its phones.

A word of warning for buyers in the U.S. There are international versions of the ZenFone 4 available through Amazon, and these may not have the required cellular bands to connect to 4G LTE networks. Make sure the device you’re purchasing is a U.S. device before paying out.

Our Take

Frustrating software made us lose our calm with the ZenFone 4, which is a shame when other aspects like the battery and audio performance are great for a phone at this price.

Are there any better alternatives?

Yes, there are. It’s a competitive field for Asus, with strong showings from HTC with the HTC U11 Life for $350, the $280 LG Q6, the $350 Moto X4, and the $200 Honor 7X for even less. The wide-angle camera definitely separates it from others though, and the audio is better than most phones. Spend a little more and it’s possible to get a considerably better phone. Most notably, the OnePlus 5T has a faster processor, more RAM, a better design, and a good camera for just $100 more.

In the U.K., the ZenFone 4 is expensive. It’s overshadowed by the Honor 9, the Honor View 10, and the OnePlus 5T, which are all available at around the same price, or even less. Crucially, the software experience on all these phones is superior to Asus’s ZenUI.

How long will it last?

The ZenFone 4 has a glass body and isn’t water resistant, so you’ll have to put it in a case and be wary of water, if you’re the clumsy type. The aging design looks old in early 2018, and will look even older in several months.

It runs an old version of Android now, and doesn’t have the latest security patch installed; but Asus promises an Android Oreo update is on its way to the phone right now. That’s good news, and ahead of some much larger phone manufacturers. Still, we have yet to see an update on our unit at the beginning of February 2018.

Should you buy it?

No. There are better phones available for the price, without the software pain points we experienced on the ZenFone 4. It’s a shame, because there are elements of the phone we like.

7
Feb

This 10-course bundle may be your ticket to a six-figure career in Project Management


You’ve been thinking about getting a new certification to move you ahead at work; in fact, it’s been on your to-do list for a long time. Being a Project Manager is the ultimate goal, and you know you’d be perfect for the job with the right certification. With tuition costs that seem to climb with every passing year and limited free time on your hands, how are you supposed to attend classes and afford any kind of certification? Project Management Professionals are sought after in nearly every field, and even if you’re convinced that you can’t afford the time or money to get your certificate, can you afford not to? Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Becoming a certified Project Management Professional, or PMP, is absolutely within your reach. Online certification is just as recognized as classroom learning today, and it’s far more convenient, too. The professionals at iCollege want you to start your journey to becoming a PMP as soon as possible!

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Take this 10-course bundle which features over 100 hours of content. If you’ve seen other Project Management courses advertised before but couldn’t decide which one to get, this is the one because it includes courses on:

  • Project Management Professional (PMP)
  • Certified Associate In Project Management (PMI-CAPM)
  • Risk Management Professional (PMI-RMP)
  • CompTIA Project+ PK0-003
  • Six Sigma Green Belt
  • Sig Sigma Black Belt
  • PRINCE2 Foundation
  • PRINCE2 Practitioner
  • Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) Foundation
  • Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) Service Operation

If you were to buy these courses individually it would cost you close to $3000, but for a limited time you can get this entire bundle for just $49. Yep, you read that right. You’ll save 98% off the regular price on these courses that may help you jumpstart a new career!

See at Android Central Digital Offers

7
Feb

Google Play Services 12.2.09 fixes Android’s ‘Check for Update’ feature


You can force the update now, but tread carefully if you choose to do so.

The ‘Check for Update’ feature in Android has been a real piece of work for some time now. It was announced in September that this was being reworked to actually pull in new updates rather than just seeing if one was available in your area, but the rollout was delayed due to a bug with Google Play Services.

Android-Oreo-update-check_0.jpg?itok=9-5

Thankfully, it would appear that things are now working as they were intended.

A few Redditors recently shared that the Check for Update button wasn’t doing anything with Play Services v11, but updating to v12.2.09 actually started to pull in the latest February security patch that Google just released.

Play Services v12 is currently limited to those enrolled in the Google Play Services beta, and if you’re not currently enrolled in this, you can do so here and get access to the latest beta version when the next update drops.

Alternatively, you can skip the line and go straight to downloading the APK file for it. Some users have reported that they’ve gone through this process successfully, but if you’re not careful, you could end up breaking Play Services and needing to factory reset your phone.

There’s no exact timeframe as to when v12 of Play Services will be made available for everyone, but seeing as how it’s already in a beta form, I’d expect it to roll out to the general public within a matter of days.

Google Pixelbook, 3 months later: Still the best, still frustrating

7
Feb

Top 5 tips for getting the most from your Spotify subscription


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Spotify is easy to grasp and difficult to master.

Spotify is a music service that is built on simplicity and convenience. You can start up a radio station and it will play for as long as you need it to, be that minutes or hours. You can find massive playlists that will keep you jamming out all day, and you follow playlists that will evolve and change as newer, better music comes out.

Spotify may be easy to pick up, but once you have it, getting the most out of your Spotify subscription can take a little know-how. Here’s how to make sure that you can make the most of Spotify on your Android phone.

1. Set your audio quality wisely

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Spotify offers a range of audio qualities to users who may be looking for the clearest audio possible or audio that sips data rather than gulps it. Unfortunately, you can’t separately set the audio quality while streaming on mobile data — it uses the same audio quality setting as streaming on Wi-Fi. So before you crank your streaming audio quality up to “Extreme”, consider how much you intend to use Spotify with a data connection, such as in the car or while working out.

To set your quality, go to My Library and tap the gear icon in the top right corner; the audio settings are about halfway down the menu.

If you’re looking for good audio quality without kissing your data caps goodbye, there’s still some good news, if you can plan ahead. You can set the audio quality for downloaded music separately from streaming audio quality. Unless your phone is already lacking storage space, I recommend setting downloaded audio quality to Extreme and loading up for listening while on the go.

2. Load up for offline

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Spotify doesn’t allow you to cache songs for offline playback, so everything you want to listen to offline you have to download manually. It’s therefore worth getting at least a few favorite albums and playlists downloaded should you lose your connection.

You can download albums and playlists, but not radio stations or individual songs. If you like a particular radio station, you could add the songs from the station to a playlist for offline playback, but you’ll have to do it one song at a time.

Whatever you download, just get something saved for offline. You do not want to get caught without your music out there in the big, bad noisy world.

3. Be picky with what you save to Library

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Spotify has tens of millions of songs to listen to, and through radio stations, curated playlists, and Discover, you’ll listen to more and more new music, but make sure you really like a song before you save it to your library. Spotify only allows you to add 10,000 songs to your library, and once you hit that limit, you’ll have to start cleaning albums and songs you don’t like as much as the new songs you want to add.

The easiest rule of thumb here is to add individual songs to your library rather than adding whole albums if you don’t like each and every song in there. I’m already over 5,000 songs, and I’m going to have to start weeding through it before long.

4. Turn up the radio

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The best way to refine your selections on Spotify is to listen to radio stations frequently and rate what it serves up. Even if you’re someone who prefers to listen to personal playlists most of the time, dip into radio stations like your Daily Mixes from time to time and get to rating your suggested music.

Spotify will make better mixes for you and suggest playlists that (hopefully) better align with your interests, which means that when you dip into a radio station, you’ll be less likely to dive for the ‘Skip’ button.

5. Play with playlists

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Spotify’s strengths might be in its radio stations, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t build your own playlists. By making your own playlists, you can then have Spotify give you more customized radio stations through Playlist Radio. Adding music from various radio stations to playlists also makes it easier to listen to them again and download them for offline playback.

Your turn

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What tricks do you have for taking Spotify to the limit? Share them in the comments, and share what you’ve been listening to on Spotify!

How to get started with Spotify

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