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15
Mar

Essential Phone with Android 8.1 and mid-range price – Great value? (Review)


The Essential Phone (PH-1) made waves in the Android community at its debut. It sounded like a true contender and boasted a rad, minimal-bezel design to peak interest. But that doesn’t mean it was smooth sailing out the gate. It’s always tough for a startup to strike success in the crowded smartphone market, and even one backed by an Android co-founder proved to be no exception, as the company has only moved around 100K devices over several months.

It wasn’t that the phone came with malfunctions or questionable quality. On the contrary, it’s probably the most solidly built original phone ever. But it launched top-end pricing ($700), and that put it in an arena with stiff competition. There were some crucial aspects where the Essential Phone couldn’t compete, like screen quality and camera performance. It also didn’t help that there’s no water resistance and that the software wasn’t as snappy as other Snapdragon 835 devices.

But the Essential team has been hard at work since then to address some of those “beta” issues. They have pushed some lofty camera updates and the latest Android build: 8.1 (Oreo). In that time, the price of the phone has also been dropping. So today, we’re seeing if these two factors have converged into making the PH-1 one of the most compelling smartphone choices right now. This is our review of the updated Essential Phone.

Design

We won’t dwell too much on the design of the Essential Phone. The phone isn’t “new” and chances are you know the deal here. But it is worth mentioning that the titanium frame and ceramic rear panel do hold up well over time.

Essential Phone PH-1

Essential Phone PH-1

Because the phone is glossy all over, it feels fragile like competitive phones built with aluminum and glass, but our unit has maintained its pristine, like-new appearance. That doesn’t mean it’s impervious to breaking, but something must be said for how well it holds up against the daily grind.

That said, this is probably the most smudge-prone smartphone we’ve ever used. The back panel is so reflective and easily becomes a smudge feast.

Essential Phone PH-1This is what the phone really looks like in real-world use.

We also feel that the glossy perimeter was a mistake – the phone is already slippery as it is (and it becomes a gross, smudgy mess too). Having a matte, grippier material would’ve gone a long way to help the user feel a more secure grip and manageability. Its weighty 185g doesn’t help here either. Basically, it would’ve been fantastic if Essential just expanded that ceramic-like trim on the edges of the frame.

Essential Phone PH-1

The button placements on the right side of the phone worked well for us.

Essential Phone PH-1

The only ports you’ll find on the phone are on the bottom – SIM tray, USB Type-C port, and mono speaker. No headphone jack or microSD slot.

Performance

Coming from popular flagships like the Note 8, LG V30, and Pixel 2 XL, upon receiving the Essential Phone I immediately noticed that its software was noticeably slow to respond. Not that it lagged or took time to execute actions – on the contrary, it was (and continues to be) consistently functional.

But it wasn’t as snappy as other Snapdragon 835 driven devices. For instance, there was consistently a very short but noticeable delay from when you would tap an app icon or hyperlink and when it would act. Also, when scrolling, it was obvious the frame rate was fluctuating, and not silky smooth like on the competition. These things are far from deal breakers, but one has to question why this was happening with a chipset that should devour common processes.

This is something that Essential sought to address in the Android 8.1 update, referring to it as a fix to the “display touch scrolling jitteriness”. So did the update take care of it? Well, it is certainly better but still noticeable, at least to a picky user like myself.

Essential Phone PH-1Example of our battery results on T-Mobile‘s network.

This is in comparison with my daily driver Note 8, which is immediate to respond to a tap, and scrolling in apps like Chrome and Google+ is seamless (and it’s even better on the Pixel 2). On the PH-1, I just don’t feel as enabled to tap, tap, tap as quick as I can on the Note 8. This is surprising, because Samsung’s software sports a heavy UI, whereas the PH-1 is a bare-bones “essential” version of Android. But this could be a personal gripe. I’m quick with my phone navigation and feel like the Essential Phone makes me work slower.

The same goes for scrolling. It’s definitely better than pre-8.1, but I can still see the frame rate drop. But we reiterate – it’s far from unusable and definitely a nit-picky thing, and certainly acceptable at the PH-1’s now lower price.

Speaking of battery life, it’s been a good experience for me. The 3,040 mAh battery seems to punch above its weight, and I think it’s due to Essential’s software optimization. I observed consistent drainage with a multitude of average tasks. It, of course, wasn’t until I ran videos in high brightness or did some gaming where I saw the results significantly drop.

Display

Another downside of the PH-1 is its decision of an LCD panel in an OLED world. Fortunately, it’s a pretty good LCD panel. As a long time user of OLED panels, this aspect of the PH-1 surprisingly wasn’t a contention for me. Sure, I can notice the slightly washed-out quality and brightness shift when tilting the view. But these drawbacks happen to be really slight on this phone. Outdoor visibility leaves some to be desired, though.

That notch for the selfie cam is a bit of an eyesore for me, but I recognize that it’s a personal taste. Many people are able to tune it out – I’m just not one of those people. At least it’s the smallest notch on the market.

Essential Phone PH-1The hard notch life.

But from an objective standpoint, the notch does cause a minor problem. The top status bar is custom tweaked to suit it. It’s wider than usual, so its touch response to toggle the notification shade is therein wider. This can conflict with content underneath it, that doesn’t adjust to the different size. Sometimes when I go to click something that’s close to the boundary, like a link in Chrome, it annoying pulls down the notification bar. It can also overlay incorrectly in some apps. For instance, in Feedly, you see a gray bar atop that spills over its boundary.

Camera

Essential Phone PH-1Essential Phone camera interface.

So probably the biggest con of the Essential Phone at launch was its camera performance. Not just in quality, but in speed too. It also didn’t help that it lacked Auto HDR support – something that has become a requirement of top-end smartphones as of late. Essential acknowledged the complaint and improving it through software has been one of the team’s biggest efforts since launch.

And they’ve done a pretty good job. Auto HDR is now in there, and the overall performance is at satisfactory levels. Though, it still can’t really stand with the best out there. At times, the cameras can pull off some impressive shots, but it takes just the right lighting. In dark situations (like indoors) or wide range of lighting, the HDR processing often overdoes it and makes the image look washed out (overexposed). And when HDR isn’t applied, we can sometimes end up with dark spots.

The sharpness is overall good when looking at the big picture, but when you zoom in you see more artifacting then we would like. Here’s an image comparison with the Note 8 in a shot with dynamic range:

Essential Phone shot.

Samsung Note 8 shot.

One last complaint is that the camera is a good step behind the competition in macro shots. We don’t remember when we had such a hard time getting a smartphone camera to focus on something like a flower. This is even when specifically targeting the focus subject on the screen. It struggles so much.

Don’t get me wrong. We’re far from a terrible camera here; it definitely gets the job done and can pull off some terrific and dramatic shots.

Essential Phone PH-1Shot of my collie using Portrait mode.

But it’s certainly a hit or miss situation, where more established manufacturers have well refined past that point in their lives. We commend Essential in doing something about it, and the improvements are significant, but we’re not quite there yet.

Essential Phone Camera Samples:

1 of 10


Essential Phone PH-1

Essential Phone PH-1

Essential Phone PH-1 Android Smartphone Camera

Essential Phone PH-1

Essential Phone PH-1 Android Smartphone Camera

Essential Phone PH-1

Essential Phone PH-1

Essential Phone PH-1 Android Smartphone Camera

Essential Phone PH-1

Essential Phone PH-1

Essential Phone PH-1

Essential Phone PH-1

Essential Phone PH-1 Android Smartphone Camera

Essential Phone PH-1

Essential was kind enough to also lend us the phone’s modular accessory. One might forget that there’s two pin connectors on the back to magnetically clip on mods. This is because, well, there has been only one available – a 360-degree camera. But for what it’s worth, it’s a really nice option.

It’s compact and effortless to use. Just line up the pins and it will magically magnetically fasten. The phone powers the device (no need to charge it separately). It’s comprised of two very wide fisheye, 12MP lenses. You’ll hear a fan inside spool up and a custom 360 camera interface launches on the phone. This is an instant way to capture a 360-degree image, just with a press of a button. And it can do 4K and record video.

Software

After the 8.1 Oreo update, the Essential Phone aesthetically keeps things…essential. It’s a really close experience with the Pixel 2, which is a great thing. Not many phones have a stock-like, no-frills experience.

Essential Phone PH-1

Essential Phone PH-1

Essential Phone PH-1

Essential Phone PH-1

It’s not exactly the same as the Pixel 2. Essential has a couple of its own things, but they’re very minimal. For instance, some colorings are different, like in some icons and the dark quick settings menu. The app drawer is also transparent, and you can move the persistent Google search bar to your liking (what’s up with this, Google!?). But again, minimal differences.

Of course, many of the newer Android 8.1 features are here, like Picture-in-Picture (PnP) mode (lets you overlay a small window to keep playing a video atop everything), Google Lens (Google’s own image subject query tool), better consolidation of notifications, and custom app icon long-press actions/shortcuts. But you won’t get the Now Playing feature (displays track info of music the phone hears when the screen is off) because the Essential Phone doesn’t have an Always-On display.

Final Thoughts

Essential Phone PH-1

So back to the original question: Do the updates and the lower price make the Essential Phone a bargain now? Definitely yes. No, the updates didn’t do something magical and fix all the concerns – they just made them less…concerning. What really helps is that the phone is now at a sub-$500 price. The Essential Phone easily pulls ahead of the mid-range smartphone competition. None are built like this, have an 85% screen-to-body ratio, and an up-to-date, stock Android experience. The gripes we have are now minor in the grand scheme of things.

…and it comes in pretty colors now.

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15
Mar

Samsung Galaxy S9+ vs. OnePlus 5T: Here’s what the extra $300 gets you


The OnePlus 5T has a lot to offer for $500, but you get so much more with the Galaxy S9+.

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With the Galaxy S9 series, Samsung isn’t reinventing the wheel: the core design aesthetic is the same as last year, but there are a few key upgrades, particularly in the camera department. The pricing hasn’t changed all that much either, with the unlocked Galaxy S9+ retailing for $839, a mere $15 more than what the Galaxy S8+ debuted at last year.

If you don’t want to shell out over $800 on a phone, there are plenty of alternatives available, and the OnePlus 5T is at the top of that list. Available for $499, the OnePlus 5T offers top-of-the-line specs with great build quality and a software experience that’s equatable to the Pixels. So is the Galaxy S9+ worth the $300 premium over the 5T? Let’s find out.

What’s the same

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Like last year, Samsung is the first to roll out a phone with Qualcomm’s latest platform, the Snapdragon 845. The chipset is built on the 10nm node but comes with a slew of improvements that include up to a 20% uptick in CPU performance and a huge 30% boost in the GPU department. The SoC also comes with an LTE modem that goes up to 1.2Gbps, and the new Hexagon 685 DSP leverages artificial intelligence.

The U.S. variant of the Galaxy S9+ is powered by the Snapdragon 845, whereas international models receive the Exynos 9810 version. While the Exynos variant offers marginally better battery life, there isn’t any noticeable performance difference between the two models.

The OnePlus 5T is no slouch either, with the phone powered by the Snapdragon 835. It may not be the latest chipset anymore, but it is still one of the fastest available today, and OnePlus’ optimizations give it an added boost.

Operating system Android 8.0 OreoSamsung Experience 9.0 Android 8.0 OreoOxygenOS 5.0.4
Display 6.2-inch Super AMOLED, 2960×1440 (18.5:9) 6-inch Optic AMOLED, 2160×1080 (18:9)
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 845or 10nm 64-bit Samsung Exynos 9810 Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 octa-coreAdreno 540 GPU
Storage 64GB/256GBmicroSD up to 400GB 64/128GB (UFS 2.1)
RAM 6GB/6GB 6/8GB LPDDR4X
Rear camera 1 12MP Dual Pixel, OIS, f/1.5 or f/2.4 16MP, 1.12μm, f/1.7Dual LED flash
Rear camera 2 12MP, f/2.4 20MP, 1μm, f/1.7
Front camera 8MP, f/1.7, auto focus 16MP, 1μm, f/2.0
Battery 3500mAh 3300mAh
Charging USB-CFast Wireless Charging USB-CDash Charge
Water resistance Yes (IP68 certified) No
Security Fingerprint sensorIris scanningFace unlock One-touch fingerprint sensor Face Unlock
Connectivity Wi-Fi 802.11ac MIMO, 1.2 Gbps (Cat-18) LTE, Bluetooth 5.0 LEANT+, NFC, GPS, Glonass 802.11ac Wi-Fi, 2×2 MIMO, Bluetooth 5.0, aptX HDUSB-C (2.0), NFCGPS, GLONASS, BeiDou, Galileo
Network LTE Band 1/2/3/4/5/7/8/12/17/18/19/20/25/26/28/29/30/66 3xCA, 256QAM, DL Cat 12, UL Cat 13
Dimensions 158.1 x 73.8 x 8.5 mm189 g 156.1 x 75 x 7.3 mm162 g
Colors Midnight Black, Lilac Purple, Coral Blue Midnight Black, Lava Red, Sandstone White
Price $839 $499

The OnePlus 5T launched with Nougat out of the box, but the phone picked up the Oreo update at the start of the year. Thankfully, the Galaxy S9+ comes with Android 8.0 Oreo out of the box. Rounding out the basics, both phones come with 3.5mm jacks.

The Galaxy S9+ has a marginally larger 3500mAh battery — 200mAh more than what you get on the OnePlus 5T — but the battery life is roughly the same on both phones. You shouldn’t have any issues getting a day’s worth of usage with each phone.

Both the OnePlus 5T and the Galaxy S9+ also come with a variety of storage and color options. The Galaxy S9+ is available in three colors options at launch — Midnight Black, Coral Blue, and Lilac Purple — and OnePlus has introduced several limited edition models of the OnePlus 5T that include Sandstone White and Lava Red.

What the Galaxy S9+ does better

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The OnePlus 5T has top-notch build quality, but the design itself isn’t all that exciting. That’s not the case with the Galaxy S9+ — Samsung’s Infinity Display design aesthetic is evocative, and the way the light reflects off the glass back is striking. The Coral Blue color option, in particular, looks stunning, and the phone has thinner bezels when compared to the OnePlus 5T.

The dual curved panel also adds to that immersive experience, and for its part, Samsung has done a much better job eliminating accidental touches when using the phone one-handed. The Galaxy S9+ is a full 16g heavier over its predecessor while offering the same 3500mAh battery, and the added weight works in the device’s favor. The OnePlus 5T comes in at 162g, and the weight distribution makes it top-heavy, but the Galaxy S9+ feels reassuringly solid.

Then there’s the 6.2-inch Super AMOLED display itself, which is the one of the best panels on a phone today. Samsung has been leading the display industry for a few years now, and its best panels rightfully end up on its own flagships. The panel on the Galaxy S9+ is wonderful, offering saturated colors, excellent contrast levels, and great viewing angles. The panel is brighter than the Galaxy S8+, so you’ll have no issues with sunlight readability. I’ve been testing the phone in India’s harsh sunlight, and Samsung’s claims hold up.

The Galaxy S9+ offers a class-leading display paired with an outstanding camera.

Samsung also did a much better job when it comes to the audio experience, with the Galaxy S9+ featuring stereo speakers tuned by AKG. The secondary speaker is tucked into the earpiece, and the overall sound that comes out of the dual speakers is noticeably louder and clearer than last year.

The camera is the marquee feature on the Galaxy S9+, with Samsung offering a module with adjustable aperture — allowing it to switch from f/1.5 to f/2.4. There’s a new 960fps super slow-motion feature as well, which just looks cool. The Galaxy S9+ also gets a secondary 12MP camera that acts as a telephoto lens, enabling 2x lossless zoom.

galaxy-s9-plus-camera-6.jpg?itok=C9om7i0oneplus-5t-sample-6.jpg?itok=rIyeW7vX

Galaxy S9+ on the left, OnePlus 5T on the right.

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galaxy-s9-plus-camera-4.jpg?itok=gOAl8-Uoneplus-5t-sample-4.jpg?itok=pjSIA7uE

galaxy-s9-plus-camera-1.jpg?itok=rUx7iNOoneplus-5t-sample-1.jpg?itok=PCa-Mpe3

galaxy-s9-plus-camera-3.jpg?itok=dsXkpWGoneplus-5t-sample-3.jpg?itok=P9lGaFy1

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The OnePlus 5T holds its own in daylight scenarios, but it lags behind the Galaxy S9+ in low-light or artificial lighting. The S9+ just pulls ahead in terms of overall detail and dynamic range.

Then there are the extra features: the Galaxy S9+ offers wireless charging, Samsung Pay, and IP68 dust and water resistance. Wireless charging is a niche feature, but water resistance is a must-have in this segment. There are two features I miss whenever I switch to a non-Samsung phone — that gorgeous AMOLED panel and Samsung Pay. The mobile payments service has near-ubiquitous acceptance thanks to NFC as well as MST, and it’s easier and more secure to use.

The Galaxy S9+ also comes with a new “intelligent scan” feature that uses a combination of facial recognition and iris scanning to authenticate, and while the OnePlus 5T also has a face unlock feature, it isn’t as secure as what Samsung is offering. I wasn’t a fan of the Galaxy Note 8’s iris scanning, but Intelligent Scan is significantly faster.

What the OnePlus 5T does better

galaxy-s9-vs-oneplus-5t-16.jpg?itok=oIqf

The OnePlus 5T is one of the fastest phones in the market today, and the OxygenOS optimizations carried out by OnePlus make it fly. It is just as fast and fluid to use as a Pixel 2, and OnePlus tailored the software experience to perfection. The clutter-free user interface is one of the best available on Android, and OnePlus has added enough differentiation in the form of gestures and subtle tweaks to make it stand out.

OxygenOS offers one of the best software experiences available on Android today.

OnePlus also got much better at updates over the course of the last 12 months, with the company consistently rolling out security updates and adding new features to the device every few weeks. The OnePlus 5T received the Android 8.0 Oreo update at the start of the year, earlier than the Galaxy S8.

With the Galaxy S9+ still using the same Adaptive Fast Charge as two years ago (which is limited to Quick Charge 2.0 speeds), the OnePlus 5T has the distinct edge when it comes to charging thanks to Dash Charge. The fast charging standard offloads the circuitry to the wall charger, which means the device itself doesn’t heat up while charging. Then there’s the fact that you can charge up to 60% in just 30 minutes.

If you’re looking to top up your phone’s battery in the middle of the day, Dash Charge is one of the best options around.

Finally, the OnePlus 5T has better placement for the fingerprint scanner. Samsung moved the scanner underneath the camera module — making it easier to access — but it’s still not at the natural resting position of your finger. You’ll end up smudging the camera module more often than not when trying to unlock the device. That isn’t an issue on the OnePlus 5T, as the sensor is located in the top-third

Which should you buy? Galaxy S9+

As good as the OnePlus 5T is — particularly in the software department — it misses out on a few key features, like water resistance. That should be a table stakes feature if you’re spending $500 on a phone in 2018, and while the situation may change with the OnePlus 6, the feature is a sore omission on the OnePlus 5T.

Overall, the Galaxy S9+ is a much more enticing option. For $330 more, you’re getting a phone with a much better camera, gorgeous design, iris scanning, IP68 dust and water resistance, wireless charging, and Samsung Pay. Samsung clearly understands what its fans want from a flagship, and the Galaxy S9+ absolutely nails the basics while delivering premium features that make it stand out.

See at Best Buy

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+

  • Galaxy S9 review: A great phone for the masses
  • Galaxy S9 and S9+: Everything you need to know!
  • Complete Galaxy S9 and S9+ specs
  • Galaxy S9 vs. Google Pixel 2: Which should you buy?
  • Galaxy S9 vs. Galaxy S8: Should you upgrade?
  • Join our Galaxy S9 forums

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15
Mar

Wear OS by Google officially replaces Android Wear


In addition to the name change, Google says new features are also coming soon.

Just a few days after new branding for Android Wear was discovered with Play Services, Google’s announced that it’s officially axing the Android Wear name in favor of Wear OS.

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Officially called “Wear OS by Google”, this replaces Android Wear both in name and logo. Gone is the Material Design-esque watch and in its place are two lines and circles in the iconic Google colors – very closely resembling the Assistant logo.

Commenting on the new branding, Fossil’s Chief Strategy and Digital Officer, Greg McKelvey, said:

Many of our smartwatch customers are iOS users, so we are confident in and eager to see the added benefits that both Android and iOS phone users globally will experience as Wear OS by Google rolls out in 2018.

Google officially started supporting iOS back in 2015, and while improvements were made with Android Wear 2.0, the experience still isn’t perfect. Along with the new Wear OS name meant to be more open to Android and iOS users alike, Google also says that it’ll be launching a companion app for iOS “in the next few weeks” that’ll allow iPhone owners to track and view their Google Fit data.

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LG Watch Sport

This dedication to iPhone owners may seem like an odd move when something like the Apple Watch exists, but Google also notes that 1 out of 3 people with an Android Wear watch also have an iPhone.

The feature set for Android Wear/Wear OS is remaining as is for now, but we should see improvements to notifications, health tracking, and more over coming months. Google will likely shed more light on this at I/O this coming May, so we’ll be sure to keep an eye out for what’s in the pipeline.

Android Wear

  • Everything you need to know about Android Wear 2.0
  • LG Watch Sport review
  • LG Watch Style review
  • These watches will get Android Wear 2.0
  • Discuss Android Wear in the forums!

15
Mar

Daydream apps you can use laying down


All the fun of VR without all the work of sitting upright.

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Whilst the Daydream View is an excellent way to experience VR for the first time, it is really designed for standing up and spinning around in 3 dimensions, after all, 360 degree video and images are the bread and butter of virtual reality. A lot of people though, myself included, want to be able to use it more as a portable big screen, allowing us to watch movies and play games from any position we choose. It turns out that this functionality isn’t baked into Daydream but needs to be added by the developers to allow us to see their app on the Z axis.

I have been searching for as many apps that will allow you to use them laying down as I can but my search has turned up very little. So far I have managed to find only a few apps that have the functionality baked in and one of those is an experimental app. Hopefully, we will be able to fill this article out with more apps from you guys in the comments section.

See at Amazon

Youtube VR

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With YouTube being the most used video player in VR it was important that it had all the different ways to watch that it could, and so Google spent a lot of time making it a really good app to use in VR. YouTube on Daydream works very well, with an intuitive interface and targeted searches for 3D, and 360-degree videos, as well as plenty of resizing and repositioning options.

To watch YouTube laying down simply start from a sitting position, choose the video you want to watch then while it is playing lay down. You will see a message saying “Click to Recenter” and that’s all you need to do, tap the touchpad of the
Daydream Remote and it will automatically recenter your view. You can also move the view manually if the angle isn’t quite to your liking by clicking and holding the touchpad and moving the video around inside, this is especially helpful for laying down as the controls are at the bottom of the video. You will need to move the video to access the controls if you want to stay on your back.

See in Google Play Store

Netflix VR

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Netflix VR is a little fancier in its execution of laying down. Once you have logged in, itself a bit of battle with Netflix VR, if you lay down you can see a chandelier above you that you can click on to move the UI up to the ceiling for you. From there you need to select what looks like a steering wheel of a car to move the screen to where you want it, then use the scale tool in the middle to adjust the screen size to fit your head.

Netflix VR makes this procedure something of a chore. It really should be a simple case of laying down and dragging the interface to follow you, but at least they have made the effort to include it. Laying down and watching Netflix kind of go hand in hand so having a way to do that is important. Oh, and of course you will need a Netflix subscription to watch videos, but you knew that.

See in Google Play Store

Chrome Canary

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Chrome Canary is the very experimental version of Chrome for Android with all the crazy cutting edge stuff Google tries to cram in. The browser itself has a lot of WebVR extensions that you can find out about in this article, browsing the web in Daydream View and while the functionality is still limited the ability to use it laying down is there.

To use it on your back simply load Canary up on your Daydream view while sitting up, then use the small directional button in the bottom right-hand corner to click and drag the window to the correct position. From here you can browse the web in Chrome Canary’s limited way. Hopefully, when this makes it’s way to the stable Chrome app the functionality will be more in keeping with other browsers and won’t feel so janky. One can hope.

See in Google Play Store

Play Movies & TV

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Play Movies & TV from Google has a different execution to all the others, which is strange given that it is made by Google just as Canary and YouTube are, but it may be the simplest of the four to use. You will, like all the others have to start from a sitting position to choose your movie but once you have one playing you can click and drag it up so it’s in the right position for laying down. It will also let you rescale the video so it fits in your field of vision more comfortably.

Play Movies & TV has a lot of options nowadays with the inclusion of Movies Anywhere and access to entire series of HD content, it is well worth looking into. The visual quality even in Daydream View and the ability to watch it laying down makes it a great choice for your video VR needs.

See in Google Play Store

Skybox

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It seems that almost all the apps so far that you can use laying down are for watching videos. I suppose that makes sense, you don’t want to have to play Gunjack laying on your back, do you? The chances are you want to just hang out and watch movies anyway, and that’s what Skybox does. Skybox is a little more in-depth than the others you have seen so far, it actually lets you play the movies you have on your device as well as streaming from your PC or wifi network, giving you a chance to play home movies as well as blockbusters all the while doing it in as realistic a theater as I have seen in VR.

To use the laying down feature of Skybox you need to load the video you want to play, again from a sitting position, then when it’s loaded click the settings cog and choose Unlock Screen. This will make the screen float any where you point your head, including the ceiling when you lay down. It isn’t quite as precise as some of the other apps but it gets the job done just fine.

See in Google Play Store

How are you using Daydream?

Eager to see more? If you have found other apps that let you lay down and use them please let me know in the comments or head over to this forum post to add your suggestions.

15
Mar

Google Pay in Canada: Everything you need to know


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Learn the new way to pay in store, online, and in apps!

Last year, Google started rolling out Android Pay in Canada, and earlier this year it rebranded Android Pay and Google Wallet into one brand: Google Pay.

#AndroidPay is now available in #Canada 🇨🇦. An easier way to pay is already in your hand: https://t.co/Y85ULkyHsN pic.twitter.com/kNmasq7bge

— Android (@Android) May 31, 2017

Google Pay might just change the way Canadian Android users pay — both in-store and online. It’s also the place where you can digitally store all your loyalty cards and gift cards, so your wallet isn’t bursting at the seams. Who doesn’t love that?

Here’s everything you need to know about Google Pay in Canada.

How does it work?

Google Pay is a new way to manage your primary credit and debit cards digitally, allowing you to pay for things securely online or use your phone to make in-store purchases using NFC technology. Once set up, you can use your phone to pay at any store where you see the Google Pay (or outdated Android Pay) logo (basically wherever tap is available).

Using Google Pay is as simple as using the tap technology built into most Interac terminals you already use with your debit or credit card. Simply unlock your phone and tap it where you’d typically tap your credit or debit card and wait a few seconds — Google Pay will pop up with your preferred card and confirm your purchase. You’ll then receive confirmation via notification.

The intention behind Google Pay is to avoid the ‘friction’ of having to pull out your wallet at the checkout. Google Pay can also handle any gift cards and loyalty cards, so you can sign up for unlimited loyalty programs without carrying a pound of plastic in your pocket.

Google Pay will also allow you to conveniently and securely pay for things online and from within a growing number of Google Play apps.

How to set up Google Pay

Which banking cards are supported?

Currently, all the major Canadian banks offer products that support Google Pay. Most, but not all, debit and credit cards issued by the major Canadian banks are supported:

  • Bank of Montreal (BMO)
  • Desjardins
  • Banque Nationale du Canada (NBC)
  • President’s Choice Financial
  • Alberta Treasury Branch (ATB)
  • Canadian Tire Financial Services (CTFS)
  • Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC)
  • Scotiabank
  • American Express

Canadians who bank with a credit union are out of luck as credit union debit and credit cards are not compatible with Google Pay at this time.

  • Learn more

Where is Google Pay accepted?

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Google Pay can be used in shops that offer tap-to-pay terminals and display the Google Pay or tap pay symbols in store. You can expect more merchants to adopt Google Pay, but for now, you’ll be able to test out Google Pay at Loblaws grocery stores, Petro-Canada gas stations, and at fast food chains such as McDonald’s and Tim Hortons.

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You should also start seeing more “Buy with G Pay” buttons popping up when browsing around online using Chrome or in Android apps such as Skip the Dishes and others.

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15
Mar

Original Prime Video shows got Amazon 5 million new Prime subscribers in 2017


26 million people watched original and third-party programming, too.

Similar to Netflix and Hulu, Amazon creates a number of original programming for its Prime Video streaming service – one of the many perks that come with an Amazon Prime subscription. Amazon spends billions of dollars on this video content each year, and thanks to a new report, we now have a better idea as to how these original shows make Amazon money.

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According to internal documents that were discovered by Reuters, 26 million people watched some sort of programming on Prime Video in 2017. However, of that 26 million, original content for the service helped draw in 5 million new subscribers for Amazon Prime.

To determine how its original programming is making the company money, Amazon reportedly uses a system it calls “cost per first stream.” Amazon takes the total production/marketing cost of one of its shows, divides that by the number of people that viewed it as their first ever stream on Prime Video, and uses that number to figure out how much it cost to get a new Prime subscriber.

The Grand Tour secured Amazon 1.5 million new Prime subscribers for $49 each.

For example, a highly-popular show like The Grand Tour attracted 1.5 million of these “first streams.” When the cost of producing and marketing The Grand Tour is divided by the first streams, Amazon determines that the show helped it get 1.5 million new Prime subscribers for just $49 each. Considering that a yearly Prime membership costs $99 in the U.S., that’s a big win.

Another successful show for Amazon, The Man in the High Castle, cost $72 million to create while attracting 1.15 million first streams, resulting in a new Prime subscriber cost of $63 each.

Unfortunately, these big bets on original programming can also take a turn for the worse. Amazon released season one of Good Girls Revolt in 2015, and while it attracted a total of 1.6 million viewers, only 52,000 of those were first streams. In other words, that show cost Amazon $1560 for each new Prime subscriber it attracted.

Amazon’s currently spending around $5 billion each year for both original and licensed content, and this makes it one of the company’s largest expenditures. Going into 2018 and beyond with a Lord of the Rings prequel expected to cost the company more than $500 million on its own for two seasons, these costs don’t appear to be decreasing any time soon.

If you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber, have you watched any of Prime Video’s original movies or TV shows?

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15
Mar

The first nine things to do on your new Galaxy S9


From setting up Intelligent Scan to configuring Bixby and Samsung Pay, here’s what you need to know about getting started with the Galaxy S9.

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The Galaxy S9 and S9+ are now making their way to eager customers, and there’s plenty to like with either device. Both phones come with a slew of new features, and Samsung’s user interface offers a ton of customization options.

If you’ve just got your hands on your Galaxy S9 or S9+ and are looking for tips to personalize your device, read on.

Set up iris scanning/Intelligent Scan

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Samsung has a new biometric authentication feature that leverages facial recognition and iris scanning. Dubbed Intelligent Scan, the feature is faster than the standard face unlock or iris scanning, and it does a better job authenticating your facial features in low-light conditions.

That said, Samsung notes that Intelligent Scan isn’t as secure as iris scanning, and you won’t be able to use the feature with Samsung Pay. The feature is essentially designed to complement the fingerprint scanner at the back, and offer a quick way to unlock your phone.

To get started, go to Settings > Lock screen and security > Intelligent Scan and follow the prompts to set up the biometric authentication service.

Switch the screen resolution to WQHD+

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The Galaxy S9 comes with a WQHD+ Super AMOLED panel that’s easily one of the best displays available on a phone today. However, the default resolution out of the box is FHD+ (2220×1080) and not QHD+ (2960×1440).

Samsung introduced the change a few years ago on the Galaxy S7, likely to improve battery life and eke out more performance, and the feature has stayed intact on the Galaxy S8 and now the Galaxy S9. While the difference between 1080p and 1440p isn’t that noticeable on a 5.8- or 6.2-inch panel, you’ll want to switch the resolution to WQHD+ to take full advantage of that gorgeous screen.

To do so, head to Settings > Display > Screen resolution and toggle the slider to WQHD+.

Configure Edge panels

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Samsung went all-in on curved panels last year, so if you’re picking up the Galaxy S9, you’ll get a screen that curves outwards on both sides. The manufacturer baked in features to take advantage of the dual curved panel in the form of Edge screen.

The feature lets you access favorite apps and contacts by a simple swipe gesture from the edge of the screen, and you can also configure shortcuts, get score updates and even the latest news headlines.

To configure the Edge screen, go to Settings > Display > Edge screen and toggle Edge panels. There’s also an Edge lighting feature that lights up the sides of the phone for incoming notifications and calls. You can also enable it from the same menu, and there are several customization options that let you choose the color and effect for notifications.

As for Edge screen, you’ll see a short pull-out tab on the right edge of the screen, through which you’ll be able to access oft-used apps, contacts, and more. Once you get to the Edge panel, you can edit the options by selecting the Gear icon at the bottom left of the screen. If you’re not a fan of Edge panels, you can disable it entirely.

Change the position of the nav keys

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Samsung got rid of the hardware navigation buttons last year on the Galaxy S8, paving the way for on-screen keys. One advantage to having software navigation keys is the configurability — you can finally change the layout of the back and recents button, and hide the nav bar entirely.

If you’re used to having the back button to the left of the home key, you can change the layout of the keys from the settings. Navigate to Settings > Display > Navigation bar > Button layout and select your preferred configuration. You can also set the nav bar to auto-hide by toggling the Show and hide button option in the same menu.

Set up the blue light filter

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The Galaxy S9 comes with a blue light filter that reduces strain on your eyes when viewing the screen at night. Switching on the filter eliminates blue hues and gravitates the screen to warmer colors, resulting in a yellowish tint. You can adjust the intensity of the filter, and create a schedule so it turns on automatically at a specified time.

To configure the blue light filter, head to Settings > Display > Blue light filter. You can either set a custom schedule, or have it enabled from sunset to sunrise — you’ll need to enable location access for this.

Configure Bixby — or get rid of it entirely

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Samsung introduced Bixby last year, with the virtual assistant designed to surface relevant information — like your calendar entries. The virtual assistant has a lot going for it: Bixby Vision lets you translate text from images in real-time; Bixby Home is a centralized hub for Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sources, and Bixby Voice lets you open apps with voice commands.

To get started with Bixby, you can hit the dedicated hardware button located underneath the volume rocker, and set up the virtual assistant. You can also swipe to your leftmost home screen — which by default is taken up by Bixby Home — and set up integrations with other services.

If you feel Bixby is superfluous considering Google Assistant performs most of the same tasks, there is an option to disable it entirely. With the virtual assistant getting a dedicated hardware button, disabling the service also nullifies the button as it can’t be configured for other actions.

How to completely disable Bixby

Set up Always On Display

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Always On Display has been a mainstay on Samsung’s phones for some time now, and the feature makes it easy to view incoming notifications without turning on the display. You’ll also be able to view the clock, quickly check your schedule, and access music playback controls right from the lock screen.

Head to Settings > Lock screen and security > Always On Display to enable the feature and select what information to surface on the lock screen. Once AOD is enabled, you’ll be able to pick the clock styles, widgets, and add contact information on the lock screen by navigating to Settings > Lock screen and security > Clock and FaceWidgets.

Get started with Samsung Pay

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Samsung Pay is one of the best mobile payment services available today, if not the best overall. The feature is notable as it allows you to use your phone to pay for purchases at retail stores that don’t have NFC card readers. That’s because of Magnetic Secure Transmission, which essentially mimics a credit or debit card’s magnetic stripe.

MST requires dedicated hardware, which is why the feature is limited to Samsung phones. To set up Samsung Pay, you’ll first have to download the app by heading to the Galaxy Apps store. Once it’s installed, you’ll be able to add your credit and debit card information and start using the service to pay for in-store and online purchases.

Turn off app icon borders

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Samsung automatically turns all icons into squircles, creating a white border around those that don’t scale. The end result doesn’t look all that great, particularly on apps that feature a rounded icon, like Spotify.

If you’re looking to get rid of the icon borders, there’s an easy fix. Go to Settings > Display > Icon, select Icons only and hit the Done button to revert the icons to their original format.

Your turn

That’s a quick look at initial customization options for the Galaxy S9 and S9+. Let me know your personalization tweaks when setting up a new device in the comments below.

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  • Galaxy S9 and S9+: Everything you need to know!
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15
Mar

Best Samsung Galaxy S9 Accessories


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Keep your Samsung Galaxy S9 protected and functional with these great accessories!

The Samsung Galaxy S9 is the latest hotness from the biggest Android brand in the game, and it’s sure to be a smash hit in 2018.

If you’re considering an upgrade to the S9, you should be thinking about investing in some quality accessories to keep your phone in mint condition and improve the storage capabilities and battery life. Here are the best accessories for the Galaxy S9… so far!

  • Samsung Alcantara Cover
  • Spigen Rugged Armor Case
  • Whitestone Dome Glass Tempered Glass Screen Protector
  • Samsung Gear VR
  • Samsung Fast Charge Wireless Charging Convertible Stand
  • Anker PowerCore+ 26,800 mAh battery pack
  • Samsung microSD EVO+ 256GB

Samsung Alcantara Cover

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Samsung is one of the few phone makers that really does a great job of supporting their own devices with a solid line of cases. We’ve featured a number of Samsung’s cases in our round up of the best cases for the Galaxy S9, but we’ve highlighted the Alcantara Cover here because it was a fantastic option for the Note 8 and should be equally stellar with the S9.

Alcantara is a lightweight material that’s as rugged as the plastic and rubber cases, but offers a very unique look and feel that compliments Samsung’s tall devices. This case deftly covers the edges of the screen but leaves the bottom open for the charging port, headphone jack, and speaker. You can pre-order yours from Samsung for $50.

See at Samsung

Spigen Rugged Armor Case

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There’s going to be a ton of third-party case options for the Galaxy S9, but for our money you won’t find a better value than the slim Rugged Armor case from Spigen.

Made of flexible TPU, this case offers a precisely designed shell to keep your S9 protected without adding unnecessary bulk. It’s thin enough to allow wireless charging while still protecting the camera and fingerprint sensor on the back and prevents the display from sitting flush on a table. Get this minimalist case for around $13 on Amazon.

See at Amazon

Whitestone Dome Glass Tempered Glass Screen Protector

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Not all screen protectors are created equal. If you’re afraid of damaging the Galaxy S9’s curved screen, you should consider the Whitestone Dome Glass screen protector.

This brand burst onto the scene with the Galaxy S8, offering the best coverage with a tempered glass screen protector we’ve seen. Using a unique liquid adhesion technique that involves uses a UV curing light to ensure a perfect installation.

Now, the downside is the price. At $45, it’s by far the most expensive screen protector you can buy, but it’s a well-reviewed screen protector that’s backed by a limited lifetime warranty. If you’re concerned about protecting your phone around those curved edges, this is the screen protector you want.

See at Amazon

Samsung Gear VR

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While mobile-powered VR is not as flashy as the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, you’d be remiss to ignore just how awesome the Samsung Gear VR is with the latest Samsung phones. Last year’s updated version of the Samsung Gear VR will work excellently with the Galaxy S9 and is available for just $111 on Amazon.

Powered by Oculus technology, the Gear VR (2017) comes with a fantastic touch controller that will let you interact and play with a ton of great games via the Oculus app. If you’re debating between upgrading your phone or investing in virtual reality this year, get the Gear VR along with your Galaxy S9 and settle that debate the right way.

See at Amazon

Samsung Fast Charge Wireless Charging Convertible Stand

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If you’ve got the option to wirelessly charge your phone, you may as well take full advantage, right? Any true Samsung fan will love the design of this convertible wireless charging pad. Made by Samsung, this pad supports Fast Charge technology (of course) and ships with its won Samsung Fast Charge wall adapter — and you can never have enough of those.

Regularly sold for up to $90, you can snag one of these bad boys for just under $50 on Amazon.

See at Amazon

Anker PowerCore+ 26,800mAh Battery Pack

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It’s always a smart idea to back up your new phone with an extra boost of juice, and there are few better battery packs than Anker’s PowerCore+.

Anker has packed in 26,000mAh into a sleek package that’s small enough to easy stash in a backpack or even slip in your pants pocket. it features three USB ports so you can charge multiple devices at one time. Featuring

Get yours for roughly $70.

See at Amazon

Samsung microSD EVO+ 256GB

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The Galaxy S9 has carried on Samsung’s tradition of allowing expandable storage via microSD, so why not take advantage? You can get Samsung’s 128GB card for just $45 or go all out with the 256GB card for $135. Both cards feature read speeds up to 95MB/s and write speeds up to 90MB/s, meaning they will be able to handle whatever you throw at it.

Whichever you go with, you can be sure that it’ll give you all the storage space you desire so you never have to delete photos and videos.

See at Amazon

What accessories will you be getting?

What must-have accessories are at the top of your list when you’re buying a new phone such as the Galaxy S9? Let us know in the comments!

Update March 15, 2018: Added the Samsung Gear VR to our list!

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15
Mar

HTC will skip the U12 and instead only release the U12+ in 2018


Things aren’t looking good for HTC.

Following up on the U11 and U11+ from 2017, we’ve been expecting HTC to release successors to those two phones in the forms of the U12 and U12+. However, according to a new report from Venture Beat’s Evan Blass, that’s no longer the case.

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Rather than releasing two flagships over the course of the year like we’ve seen from Samsung and LG, HTC will instead focus all of its efforts on one single device – the HTC U12+. The U12+ will succeed both the U11 and U11+ (a phone that never came to the United States), and it’s got all the makings of a 2018 flagship.

The HTC U12+ will reportedly come equipped with a 6-inch LCD display with a WQHD+ resolution and slim bezels. Two 8MP cameras will live on the front, and the back will be home to a 16MP and 12MP combo. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845 with 6GB of RAM will power the U12+, and this will be paired with 64GB or 128GB of storage and a 3,420 mAh battery.

The U12+ has the makings of a 2018 flagship, but is that enough?

HTC’s Edge Sense feature is expected to remain intact, and the current release window is slated for either late April or early May.

A lot of this lines up with what we were already expecting for the regular U12, and while it may be disappointing to HTC fans to hear that they’ll only get one flagship this year, it’s really not all that surprising.

Shortly after the company finalized the sale of thousands of employees of its smartphone division to Google, HTC’s smartphone president up and left. Add that together with 10 quarters of consecutive losses (and counting) for its mobile business, and things really aren’t looking good for the company.

I’m still excited to see what the U12+ has to offer, but considering it’ll be going up against phones like the Galaxy S9 and Pixel 3, I don’t envision it making any sort of dent in Samsung and Google’s sales this year.

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15
Mar

Today’s best deals you won’t want to miss


Whether you’re looking for new tech gear or household items, we’ve got you covered.

We’ve got great discounts on G-Sync computer monitors, Bose earbuds, portable speakers, and more! Don’t pass these up.

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If you want to know about the deals as soon as they are happening, you’ll want to follow Thrifter on Twitter, and sign up for the newsletter, because missing out on a great deal stinks!

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