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25
Mar

After Math: Business as usual


While most everybody’s eyes were glued on the happenings at GDC 2018 this week, the rest of the business world quietly continued turning. Google offered $40 million for the Lytro camera company, DJI constructed a legion of drones for a construction crew, 2 million Spotify users nixed the ads on their free service and the President decided to start a trade war with China. Numbers, because how else will you figure out how much more your electronics and appliances will cost?

The Spotify App is shown in an Apple iPad mini

2 million users: Spotify’s free tier typically pays for itself through advertising. That’s good for the company but not something many of its users want to sit through. As such, some 2 million people have taken to using hacked versions of the streaming music app which not only does away with the ads but also grants perks found on higher, paid tiers. Too bad that’s not going to last for much longer.

Tesla Inc. Powerpacks that will be used to form the world's largest lithium-ion battery stand on display at the Hornsdale wind farm, operated by Neoen SAS, near Jamestown, South Australia, on Friday, Sept. 29, 2017. Tesla Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk descended on South Australia on Friday to unveil progress on a giant battery seen critical to averting crippling power shortages in the state. Photographer: Carla Gottgens/Bloomberg via Getty Images

30 to 40 percent: The battery array that Tesla installed in Southern Australia might be working a little too well. According to the company, it’s being severely underpaid for the electricity that it’s providing to the Aussie grid because the current regulations were designed with older, slower fossil fuel-derived power sources.

Stack of vinyl records closeup

$1.5 billion: Who says physical media is dead? Certainly not the RIAA. The recording industry reports that while CD and vinyl sales have dropped 4 percent since 2012 to $1.5 billion, digital downloads have fallen even further, slumping 25 percent over the same period to $1.3 billion. So maybe don’t toss that old record player just yet.

Shutterstock

57 billion friendships: Facebook’s week was not a good one, what with all the Cambridge Analytica revelations and whatnot. Surprisingly, not even Zuckerberg’s disingenuous non-apology apology was enough to assuage the public’s outrage. But c’mon people, are we really that surprised that the dude who allegedly stole the idea from his college buddies would also be totally ok pulling shenanigans like this?

1,000 drones: Do you want Skynet? Because this is how we get Skynet. Despite being on the outs with the US military, DJI is still finding plenty of work in the private sector. The company announced this week that it will be selling 1,000 custom Matrice 100 drones to Japanese equipment manufacturer Komatsu in what is being billed as the largest commercial drone sale in history.

The Lytro camera is displayed for a photograph in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Friday, Feb. 17, 2012. Launched by a Mountain View, California, start-up to capitalize on research conducted at Stanford University, the Lytro introduces the concept of a living photo that can be adjusted on the fly by photographer and viewer alike. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

$40 million: Lytro has fallen on hard times since it debuted its revolutionary $400 light field camera back in 2012. As the company has sputtered and employees have moved on to greener pastures, Google has reportedly swooped in to snatch up the company’s technology patents for a cool 40 mil. Can’t wait to see that in my next Pixel phone.

$60 billion: Donald Trump, master dealmaker, signed an executive memorandum this week to enact tariffs on up to $60 billion worth of imports from China. That includes a number of products in the tech sector, which means that your next iPhone will cost you not only an arm and a leg but likely a kidney too.

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25
Mar

Uber is selling its Southeast Asia business to Grab


Uber’s plan to sell off its Southeast Asia business appears to be a done deal. Sources speaking to Bloomberg and Reuters have said that Uber has reached an agreement to sell the division to rival Grab. The arrangement would give Grab all of Uber’s operations in the region (including UberEats) in return for a stake between 25 to 30 percent in the combined business. Neither party has officially confirmed the union, but an announcement is expected as soon as March 26th.

The selloff will come less than two years after Uber folded its Chinese business into Didi Chuxing, and mere months after a similar merger with Yandex in Russia. In all three cases, the pattern is the same: Uber is ceding control to the dominant ride hailing business in the area in return for a share of its competitor’s success, letting it profit from what would have otherwise been a losing battle. Didi recently invested in Grab, leaving Uber with the prospect of competing against its own partner.

As it is, Uber has strong financial incentives to offload its less-than-lucrative ridesharing businesses. The company has been bleeding cash for years, and has leaned heavily on funding rounds to keep running. Sales like this may wound its pride, but they could also be crucial to turning a profit and letting Uber focus on its long-term plans.

Source: Reuters, Bloomberg

25
Mar

Best Buy Debuts New Apple Sale: Get Up to $300 Off MacBook Air & $100 Off iPad mini 4


Best Buy today launched a new Apple sale that will last for the rest of the week, this time focusing on the latest 2017 MacBook Air models and the 2015 iPad mini 4. In the sale, select MacBook Air configurations have been discounted by $150-$250 (with an additional $50 off if you’re a college student or parent of a K–12 or college student), while the Wi-Fi iPad mini 4 is discounted by $100 across the board and cellular options are marked down by up to $200 with a contract on select carriers.

Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with Best Buy. When you click a link and make a purchase, we may receive a small payment, which helps us keep the site running.

The MacBook Air models on saleU&bids=570502.18849&type=3&subid=0 include both of the basic configurations sold on Apple.com, coming in $50-$100 below rival third-party retailers with some of the cheapest prices currently available online for the 2017 notebooks. The third model on sale is a higher-end configuration with boosted processor speeds and hard drive capacity. If you’re a student or parent of a student you can save an extra $50 on all models.

Apple is said to be preparing a new entry-level notebook, but the latest rumors indicate it isn’t ready to debut at this week’s event, so if you’re in the market for a MacBook Air now, this is a good opportunity to buy.

For the iPad mini 4, Best Buy’s prices are now $50-$100 cheaperU&bids=570502.18846&type=3&subid=0 than other retailers. The last update to the iPad mini came in the form of a price drop for the 128GB storage tier in March 2017 — now the only storage capacity available to purchase in new condition. One year later, there are still no signs of a more substantial update for the iPad mini, so if Apple plans to discontinue the 7.9-inch tablet completely at some point, the iPad mini 4 is your best option if you like the size.

Check out all of the products on sale at Best Buy this week in the list below:

13-inch MacBook Air

  • 1.8 GHz, 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD – $849.99, down from $999.99 (additional $50 off for students and parents of students)
  • 1.8 GHz, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD – $999.99, down from $1,199.99 (additional $50 off for students and parents of students)
  • 2.2 GHz, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD – $1,299.99, down from $1,549.99 (additional $50 off for students and parents of students)

128GB iPad mini 4 (Wi-Fi)

  • Silver – $299.99, down from $399.99
  • Space Gray – $299.99, down from $399.99
  • Gold – $299.99, down from $399.99

128GB iPad mini 4 (cellular)

  • Verizon, all colors – $17.91/mo. for 24 months, down from $22.08/mo.; or $329.99 with 2-year contract, down from $529.99
  • Sprint, all colors – $17.92/mo. for 24 months, down from $22.08

Other ongoing Apple deals at Best Buy:

iMac

  • 21.5-inch 2.3 GHz, 8GB RAM, 1TB hard drive – $899.99, down from $1,099.99
  • 21.5-inch Retina 4K 3.0 GHz, 8GB RAM, 1TB hard drive – $1,099.99, down from $1,299.99
  • 21.5-inch Retina 4K 3.4 GHz, 8GB RAM, 1TB Fusion Drive – $1,299.99, down from $1,499.99
  • 27-inch Retina 5K 3.4 GHz, 8GB RAM, 1TB Fusion Drive – $1,599.99, down from $1,799.99
  • 27-inch Retina 5K 3.5 GHz, 8GB RAM, 1TB Fusion Drive – $1,799.99, down from $1,999.99

Mac mini

  • 1.4 GHz, 4GB RAM, 500GB hard drive – $399.99, down from $499.99
  • 2.6 GHz, 8GB RAM, 1TB hard drive – $599.99, down from $699.99

Those interested can head to Best Buy to make their purchases before the MacBook Air and iPad mini sale expires this Saturday, March 31. For more of the latest discounts and sales happening this spring, be sure to visit our full Deals Roundup.

Related Roundup: Apple DealsTag: Best Buy
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25
Mar

FeelReal wants to add haptics and smells to your VR experience


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How cool would it be to feel and smell what you experience inside the headset?

Immersion in the VR headsets of today can only get you so far. The lenses do a great job of filling your eyes, and some controllers offer haptics to help trick your hands, but there’s room for a lot more to make you believe you are actually in a virtual environment. The folks at FeelReal have made an accessory designed to sit under the headset and provide additional information to your face.

Here’s where things get weird. The kind of information FeelReal provides you with a sense of smell and moves on with increased vibration and a few extra tricks.

The prototypes for FeelReal on display at GDC are a little on the clumsy side, designed to help you see what is possible, not what you’d actually purchase when this product becomes available. The face mask includes a pair of vibration motors, air fans, and a cartridge with eight unique scents to pull from. When used correctly, the design is meant to rumble your head to match the vehicle you are in and help you feel the wind against your skin as you move through the air in VR. And when you lean down to smell a virtual flower, you get an actual scent in response.

Hopefully this idea spends a little more time in the oven, so we get something cool when it is ready.

In practice, wearing the headset through several experiences, the current product is pretty rough. The vibration in the headset was distracting and didn’t really feel like the right kind of vibration to match what I was seeing. I could hear the fans kick on, and when the airflow changed direction in the demo there was no way for the mask to compensate for the change in direction. When the woman in the demo passed me a beautiful bunch of flowers, my nose was filled with a sharp, almost harsh perfume that didn’t match what I was looking at.

These immersion boosting concepts are not unique, but they are difficult to reproduce in your home. Those Star Wars and Ghostbusters VR experiences created by The Void offer airflow and scent and more to make you feel like you’re really there, but those environments are tightly controlled to give you that effect. FeelReal isn’t trying to miniaturize that experience so you can have it anywhere, and with a little fine tuning and some third-party developer support, there’s a good chance this could eventually be a great accessory to just about any VR headset. Hopefully, this idea spends a little more time in the oven, so we get something cool when it is ready.

25
Mar

Best shooter action games for Android


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Spill some blood with the best Android shooters currently on the market.

We’ve rounded up some of the best shooting games across Android for those who always need a target. We have the full gamut here, ranging from simple, single-tap games to full-blown first-person shooters that nearly bring the console experience to your phone and tablet.

  • PUBG Mobile
  • Critical Ops
  • Modern Strike Online
  • N.O.V.A. 3
  • Bullet Force
  • Hitman: Sniper
  • Combat Squad
  • Modern Combat 5: Blackout
  • Overkill 3
  • Unkilled
  • Dead Trigger 2
  • Dead Plague
  • Major Mayhem
  • Gunman Clive

PUBG Mobile

PUBG (PlayerUnknown’s Battleground) is the latest epic shooter to land in the Google Play Store. There’s been a lot of hype surrounding this game which still seems to be straddling the line between a beta and full release.

This is a battle royale game that drops 100 players onto the map with no supplies or weapons. Each player must fend for themselves and quickly loot nearby buildings for gear. Once you’re ready to fight, you have the freedom to play how you want — go in guns blazing like Rambo, or sneak around like a deadly assassin. The map is massive and scattered with drivable cars, small towns to explore, and secrets to discover. You can play all by yourself in Solo mode or team up with some friends for Duo or Squad mode.

It’s all free to play, and the in-game currency is only used for a cosmetic upgrade — think a cool pair of shades for your character. Check it out!

Download: PUBG Mobile (Free)

Critical Ops

Critical Ops is still in Beta, but it’s still worth checking out. Right now, there are three game modes to choose from: bomb defusing, team deathmatch, and gun game where you cycle through different weapons every time you kill an opponent. Despite still being in, this game is really good.

It’s kind of got that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare vibe to it, mixed with a healthy dose of CounterStrike to create a best-of-both-worlds scenario that offers great graphics and really solid controls. It’s free to play with in-app purchases available but you can only buy skins for your guns and the developers have assured players that this game will never be pay-to-win. If that remains the case, then Critical Ops is absolutely one of the best shooters available for Android!

Download: Critical Ops (Free w/IAPs)

Modern Strike Online

Not interested in anything other than the thrill of online multiplayer? Modern Strike Online offers just that: a pure online FPS experience packed with features and game modes we’ve come to expect from the genre. Once you’ve leveled up some you unlock all six game modes, which include the standard fare you’d expect — free-for-all, team deathmatch, seek and destroy, and a hardcore mode. In-game currency can be bought via in-app purchases or earned via daily rewards, crates and generally kicking ass. Spend your gold and credits on new weapons, armor, and accessories for your character. There’s a decent amount of customization available for kitting, with over 30 types of weapons available to rent or buy.

It’s as complete an FPS as you’ll find on Android. You’ll want to head into the settings first to customize your controls and screen layout and tweak the graphics quality to optimize gameplay on your device. By default, your gun will auto-fire as soon as an enemy enters your crosshairs — you can switch this off in the settings, but it’s actually a pretty handy feature to have when you’re already using your thumbs to move and look around. Yes, there’s the occasional in-game ad and constant pressure to invest real cash, as is the case with most mobile games these days, but it’s not terribly invasive and there’s plenty of fun and loot to be had relying on the free crates and daily rewards.

Download: Modern Strike Online (Free)

N.O.V.A. 3: Freedom Edition

N.O.V.A. 3 picks up the story of former N.O.V.A. commander Kal Wardin as he crashlands in San Francisco amid an ongoing battle. Gameplay is mixed with cutscenes that tell the fairly in-depth story — it might, in fact, be the reason you keep coming back to N.O.V.A. 3.

Play against enemy A.I. units or play multiplayer over local Wi-Fi or the internet. Gameloft implements some measures against cheaters and boosters, namely encouraging players to record or document the actions of said cheaters.

Controls are responsive and targeting is aided by tapping a button to aim down sights, a nice feature for those with big fingers. There are some ads displayed on the menu screens and a popup once in awhile when you die, but nothing the experienced mobile gamer can’t handle.

Download: N.O.V.A. 3 (Free)

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Bullet Force

Looking for nothing more than solid online FPS action? Look no further than Bullet Force!

This game supports 20-player battles and includes popular game modes including Team Deathmatch, Conquest, Free-For-All, and Gun Game. The graphics are pretty great for mobile and the on-screen controls can be tweaked as needed. There are over 20 weapons to unlock and customize and if you’re out of service range, don’t fret! You can play offline matches against bots and keep your skills sharp.

Download: Bullet Force (Free w/IAPs)

Hitman: Sniper

Hitman: Sniper finds you, Agent 47, stationed with a sniper rifle outside an estate filled with rich people, bodyguards, and a certain high-priority target. Your job is to take your time, plan a course of action, and begin removing enemies any way you see fit (as long as it’s through a scope). Each mission has different objectives you can complete for extra money, which you can then spend on weapon upgrades and new sniper rifles. If you’re especially proud of a mission, use the Share Replay function to share gameplay footage with your friends.

This game has nice graphics and great mechanics: you must lead enemies who are on the move and must account for their sometimes unforeseen actions. They will not shoot back but will take cover and move around the map attempting to help your prime target escape. Controls are easy and responsive, meaning you won’t have too much trouble lining up the shot. The music is great, especially when you miss a couple of shots and set off some alarms, and the voice acting is also above par for mobile games. Get your heart beating with this great shooter, and enjoy no ads or in-app purchases.

Download: Hitman: Sniper ($0.99)

Combat Squad

Tired of mobile first-person shooters that feel too familiar — almost cookie-cutter? Combat Squad brings an extra layer of tactical strategy to the table by having you control your own squad in one-on-one battles against online opponents. It works by letting you “dive” in and out of controlling your squad members, while the remaining teammates follow your lead via A.I. control.

You’ll need to build up a diverse squad and strategically control each member of your team to achieve victory. The gameplay and controls here are great, so if you’re looking for a fresh take on the genre for mobile, give Combat Squad a try!

Download: Combat Squad (Free w/IAPs)

Modern Combat 5: Blackout

Did someone replace my phone with a console? Modern Combat 5: Blackout is a first-person military shooter that gives you a real video game experience from the palm of your hand. Beginning with an escape mission in Venice, the campaign follows Caydan Phoenix as he travels the world battling Raiders and the World Liberation Army. Customize your soldier’s loadout and special abilities to best suit your playstyle — more options are unlocked as you rank up.

Gameplay is smooth and the controls are easier to manage than most shooters, likely due to the fact you can modify all settings, including audio, control, and HUD. Modern Combat 5 has beautiful graphics for a mobile game and runs without hiccups on an LG G4.

New to Modern Combat 5 is a PvP multiplayer mode that has five game modes: Free for all, VIP, Squad battle, Capture the flag, Zone control, and Team battle. Test your skills against players around the world and work your way up the global leaderboard. This game has minimal ads, though it does have some micro-transactions.

Download: Modern Combat 5: Blackout (Free)

Overkill 3

Overkill 3 is a third-person shooter that guides you through the level, also known as being on rails. Your job is to aim and shoot bad guys. Sounds easy? Overkill lets you choose a difficulty before each boss fight, meaning your recent disposal of entry-position bad guys has no bearing on what is to come.

Choose a loadout from the armory before each mission and unlock new weapons and gear as you progress through the game. You must collect stars by completing specific objectives during each mission — the stars are used to unlock more missions. A tally at the end of each level keeps track of your progress, so you’ll never be unsure of where you stand.

Graphics are not as great as other shooters, but Overkill 3 features a co-op mode that lets you team up with a friend or random player to crush the enemy. Ads are few and far between, but there are many in-app purchases.

Download: Overkill 3 (Free)

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Unkilled

Unkilled takes you on a wild, zombie-killing ride with a variety of enemies for you to slay using a variety of weapons. Some missions require different weapons and gadgets, meaning you must enter your armory to upgrade current weapons and purchase new ones. There are plenty of upgrades and weapons rewarded to you for free as you move through the ranks, and you will feel like you’re achieving something each step of the way.

The controls are easy to use and sensitivities are adjustable. Your weapons will shoot automatically when you are aiming at a zombie except when you’re in a static mission; here you will aim and shoot using both thumbs.

There are two play modes available now — campaign and skirmish ops — with multiplayer apparently coming soon. Skirmish Ops pits you and your base against other players and zombies. Defend yourself or go on the offensive; either way, you will find yourself moving up the leaderboard as you expend bullets and bash brains.

Ads are infrequent but in-app purchases are everywhere.

Download: Unkilled (Free)

Dead Trigger 2

Dead Trigger 2 continues to be the quintessential zombie-shooting experience on mobile. The graphics are amazing, though the game hardly takes itself seriously — there are lots of tongue-in-cheek references and over-the-top baddies to mow down. This version is a little different in that players now have their own hideout and a crew that can build stuff for them. The controls have also been streamlined for touch; all you have to do is move the crosshairs over a zombie, and if you’re in range, you’ll automatically start shooting.

There are tons of missions to enjoy, and the in-app purchases have been scaled back with the removal of the premium currency — now you can buy and build everything yourself without spending a cent.

Download: Dead Trigger 2 (Free)

Dead Plague

Dead Plague is an outstanding top-down shooter that absolutely deserves a place on this list for its brilliant graphics, frantic gameplay, and support for online co-op play. You play as a member of a strike team that’s been dropped on an island where a zombie plague has broken out. You must fight your way through the swarms of zombies to find the DNA samples that are humanity’s only hope of finding a cure.

There’s a nice variety of enemies to battle, including some epic boss battles, along with a full arsenal of weapons to choose from. With tight dual-stick digital controls and an engaging campaign that you can play alone or online with friends, Dead Plague stands out as one of the best shooters for Android.

Download: Dead Plague (Free w/IAPs)

Major Mayhem

Major Mayhem is a fast, simple run-and-gun side-scroller. Players simply tap on ninjas, secret agents, or whoever else the president has commanded you to wipe out. There’s some kind of storyline in there about a girlfriend or something, but really, you just tap your targets as the pop out from behind cover.

It sounds simplistic, but the great cartoon feel, over-the-top storyline, and wide range of unlockables provide excellent bite-sized gameplay.

Download: Major Mayhem (Free)

Gunman Clive

Gunman Clive is a throwback to early 2D platformers — we’re talking NES difficulty and mechanics. Run, jump, and shoot as Clive makes his way through traps, puzzles, and enemy gunmen. The control design reminded me a lot of NES with its directional pad and two button interface — responsive and easy to control.

In an arena of mostly flashy, cutting-edge graphics, the monochromatic visual art design might be enough to cause you to overlook this dusty gem. This game isn’t about great graphics — it’s about challenging gameplay and a soothing soundtrack. Be prepared to lose track of time as you try just one more time to reach the end of the stage.

Adding to the retro feel and offering a nice change to the norm, Gunman Clive does not require any device permissions, does not have any in-app purchases, and does not display any ads.

Download: Gunman Clive ($1.99)

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Did we miss any?

Let us know in the comments below your favorite shooter available for Android. If none of these games put the ammo in your clip, check out our roundup of the best Android games.

Updated March 2018: Added PUBG Mobile and Critical Ops to our list!

25
Mar

From the Editor’s Desk: From best to boring


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The Samsung Galaxy S9+ is a perfectly fine device that does little to excite me. So is it me, or the phone?

I’ve been using a Galaxy S9+ for a couple of weeks or so now, and it’s a real challenge to concisely sum up my overall thoughts on this thing. It’s a great phone, probably one of the best Android handsets of the year. And yet its dogged similarity to last year’s model leaves me feeling unexcited. And I’m not the only one.

Perhaps, then, the Galaxy S9 will go down in smartphone history as an example of just how fickle the industry can be, and how Samsung, however good its phones now are, still can’t quite get away with fully emulating Apple’s tick-tock release cycles. A year ago the Galaxy S8 was the new hotness. Now, the same phone with many improvements, which also keeps much of what earned its forerunner such high praise, is considered a tepid upgrade.

I’ve already voiced my disappointment around Samsung’s decision to cut back a few key features from the smaller S9, which is even less of an upgrade than the Plus.

The Galaxy S9 is a great device largely devoid of any meaningful upgrades.

But even the larger, more expensive model seems lacking in meaningful upgrades. The telephoto camera appears identical to the Note 8’s, with the same hit-or-miss “live focus” portrait mode. Even the one big new camera feature, the variable aperture, has been a mixed bag for me. Sure, the S9+ excels in low light, but I’m far from sold in the value of the f/2.4 option, and I’ve even run into a few situations where the narrower aperture can cause problems. On occasion, the S9+ likes to take grainy photos at f/2.4 with an ISO setting of, say, 800, where the f/1.5 option would’ve almost certainly produced a better pic. Some of that’s software tuning, but it still speaks to the questionable value of an adjustable aperture in a phone camera.

Everything else can be had for a lower price (at the cost of a reduced software support lifespan, I guess) in any of last year’s Galaxy flagships. (Especially now that Oreo is rolling out for the S8, S8+ and Note 8 in many countries.) That’s a great thing for consumers, but puts Samsung in a precarious position, and sets up the Galaxy S10 for an almighty fall if there aren’t some revolutionary upgrades in the 2019 model.

Usually, I’d counter by saying the opinion of spoiled tech bloggers counts for nothing when it comes to the real measure of success: sales. Yet the Galaxy S9 seems to have been met with similar ennui at retail, with slower than expected sales reported in the Korean market. I’m not the only one who thinks this generation of Galaxy S phones is just… well, a bit meh. Calling it a failure would be premature and hyperbolic, as well as doing a disservice to what is still a great piece of technology. But it’s looking more and more like Samsung may have played it a little too safe this time around.

That’s going to make the next Note — and whatever foldable thingamy is coming in the next year or so — all the more important.

Anyway, some other notes on a working Sunday:

  • I’ll be in Paris this coming week for the Huawei P20 launch event. If you’ve been following the leaks, you’ll know we’re expecting the opposite of Samsung’s approach with the S9: The P20 Pro looks like it’ll have a pretty radical new design, with an iPhone-style notch, a giant screen, giant battery and a wild new dual-camera setup. As always with the Chinese firm, the question remains: Will the dozens (perhaps hundreds) of tiny software gripes remain? That’s the one area of this product that really needs attention.

  • On a more sober note, I think this is it for Huawei’s U.S. business. Best Buy has stopped stocking Huawei products (including watches and laptops, not just phones), in a move that certainly has a whiff of whatever high-level intervention sank the Mate 10 on AT&T and Verizon. RIP.

  • OnePlus all but confirms we’ll get the OnePlus 6 before the end of April, with the apparent discontinuation of the OnePlus 5T in North America. If so, it’d be the shortest-lived OnePlus phone yet, with just over five months having passed between the 5T’s mid-November arrival and the likely late April window for the OnePlus 6.

  • I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the stability and performance of the first Android P developer preview. It’s not ready to run on your main device, of course. Google doesn’t normally recommend that until the final APIs drop, which we’re expecting to happen around a month after Google I/O. But consider how much of a mess the first Lollipop preview was when it landed — much later in the year — back in 2014. Android P is infinitely more stable. We’ve come a long way.

  • This week we passed 350,000 subscribers on the Android Central YouTube channel. Thanks to everyone for watching. We’ve got some great stuff coming in the very near future!

That’s it for now. I’ll be back with some pre-I/O thoughts in a few weeks!

-Alex

25
Mar

Best replacement SSD for your PlayStation 4


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Gotta have an SSD for your PS4? Here are some great options

So you have decided that you have got to throw an SSD in your PlayStation 4. You read our article about whether or not it’s worth it, and you have your heart set on a solid state drive to replace the stock PS4 drive. Here are some of the best options available to you.

500 GB SSD’s

Solid state drives are cheaper than they used to be but they still land on the pricey side when compared to their mechanical drive brethren. If you want SSD speeds but you aren’t horribly concerned about having a ton of space, you might want to consider a 500 GB drive.

Crucial MX500

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This crucial drive will get you into SSD speeds while not breaking the bank. In addition, if anything goes wrong with it, you are supported by a 5 year manufacturer warranty. You can pick up yours for $129.

See at Amazon

Samsung 860 EVO

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The Samsung Evo drive is about twenty dollars more than the Crucial drive but also offers slightly faster advertised write speeds. Just like the Crucial, you will have a 5 year manufacturer warranty. You can pick one up for $149

See at Amazon

1 TB SSD’s

If you need an SSD and you want to have a good amount of storage space, then a 1TB drive may be the place to start. 1TB drives are of course going to be more expensive than their 500GB counterparts but the increase in price is going to give you space for a lot more games.

Mushkin Reactor

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When it comes to bang for your buck in the world of 1TB solid state drives, you can’t do much better than this Mushkin Reactor drive. For less than $100 more than the previously mentioned SSD’s you will have a lot more room to spread out. You can pick this one up for $224 on Amazon.

See at Amazon

SanDisk Ultra II

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SanDisk has been in the solid state storage game for some time and from my experience they make pretty darn reliable products. This drive comes with a three year warranty and it can be had on Amazon for $249.

See on Amazon

The compromise

If you’re looking at all these SSD prices and getting overwhelmed, I don’t blame you. Solid state storage is still pretty expesive. If you still want to see an increase in speed on your PS4 but you want to save some bucks, there is another option.

Seagate 2TB FireCuda SSHD

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SSHD stand for Solid State Hybrid Drive. The elevator pitch for drives like this is that you will see SSD speeds with traditional drive prices. This claim is somewhat dubious and I probably wouldn’t put one in my PC and expect the same performance as an SSD. That being said I would totally put one in my PlayStation. Upgrading from the stock PS4 drive to a Hybrid drive like this one should show a marked increase in speed and you will only have to pay $95 to do it.

See at Amazon

No matter how you get the job done, expanding the storage in your PlayStation is a really nice quality of life upgrade. I know that once I expanded my storage space and got to stop worrying about what to delete next, my PS4 experience got just a little more enjoyable.

Have you put an SSD in your PS4?

Did you upgrade the internal drive on your PS4? What drive did you use and what was your experience?

Why are we talking PlayStation 4 on Android Central? Let us explain.

PlayStation 4

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  • PS4 vs. PS4 Slim vs. PS4 Pro: Which should you buy?
  • PlayStation VR Review
  • Playing PS4 games through your phone is awesome

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25
Mar

The best tax software


By Mark Smirniotis and Kevin Purdy

This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, it may earn affiliate commissions that support its work. Read the full article here.

We tried five online tax-preparation services and prepared returns for three fictional filers with a variety of incomes, living situations, states, and deductions. With over 80 hours of research and testing over the past five years, we continue to recommend TurboTax as the best tax software for anyone who needs guidance and a confidence boost to file their 2017 taxes on their own.

Who this is for

“‘Tis impossible to be sure of any thing but Death and Taxes.” If you earned income last year, you probably need to file a tax return. A majority of people in all age groups have concerns about filing their taxes, and the US tax code runs for more pages than War and Peace, so tax software has a big job to do for most people.

The simpler your finances, the simpler the forms will be (PDF), and the cheaper the software will be, too. In fact, if your taxes are simple enough to use the shortened 1040EZ return, you can file with either of our picks for free. If you have a slightly more robust financial life, you can still use tax software without much trouble, but expect to pay between $50 and $100. If you run your own business or own considerable income-generating assets, you may want to consider hiring a CPA instead.

How we picked and tested

We used five of the top online tax software platforms to prepare multiple returns for a handful of fake people, each with varying complexities that covered a variety of financial situations. Under the hood, every company is using the same IRS forms, tables, and rules to calculate your refund. But we identified a handful of key areas that would help us differentiate one service from another:

  • Accurate and effective guidance that identifies common and uncommon circumstances in your financial life
  • Clear, accessible language
  • Variety of supported forms, deductions, and situations
  • User-friendly interface and design
  • Customer service and support
  • Extra features such as smartphone-friendly websites, the ability to read a picture of a form like a W2, or integration with banks and investment houses
  • Free from obnoxious upcharges for basic features and deceptive sales tactics of unnecessary features

Along the way, we compared how long our fake returns took to prepare, the refund or tax due for each return, the number of upsell pop-ups we were forced to ignore, and the final price to file each return. Most of these stats don’t vary considerably—no tax suite knows something the others don’t. But when refunds or tax bills vary, it points to a problem. We also looked at helper tools and the software interface, and took notes on the experience as a whole.

Our pick: TurboTax

TurboTax makes the process of entering your tax data easier than anything else we tested. Simple returns have fewer unnecessary screens to click through, and complex returns are broken down into more manageable chunks. For the fifth year running, we found TurboTax to be better than its competitors when it came to asking the right questions in clear language, accurately covering complicated situations, importing your forms and data, and offering a clean and user-friendly design. Its support is responsive and helpful, even for users of the free tier. Its mobile app, though not necessary, is useful for uploading forms and capturing deductions year-round. All told, we think the benefits of TurboTax are well worth the slightly higher price, though we loathe parent-company Intuit’s tendency to nickel-and-dime customer’s with upsell features—most of which are unnecessary.

TurboTax has the cleanest, easiest to use workflow, which first identifies which situations apply to you, then provides a list of the records and forms it expects you’ll need. This makes it easy to review your progress and keep going if you need to take a break. TurboTax also makes data entry easier thanks to a long list of payroll processors, nonprofits and charities, and banks from which it can automatically import your employer information, charitable donations, and interest or dividend information.

Its biggest drawback isn’t the software itself, but Intuit’s presentation of upgrade opportunities—and, more broadly, in some of the business practices the company has engaged in since it started selling accounting software in 1983. TurboTax’s brand-name domination of the tax-return category has led Intuit to make some not-so-customer-friendly moves, including lobbying against the simplification of tax laws. The company never misses an opportunity to upsell, and even after five years of reviewing tax software, its sales style irks us.

For simple taxes or experienced filers: TaxAct

We’re reluctant to make a second pick for tax software at all, because all the alternatives we considered had some glaring flaws. But if you’ve filed your own taxes before, know the tax forms well, or are trying to dodge some of the fees Intuit charges for TurboTax, you should use TaxAct. If you know from experience exactly what you’re looking to turn in to the government, TaxAct’s straightforward presentation may be faster than TurboTax’s interview-style interface, but it’s not as easy for novices to follow.

TaxAct’s strengths are nearly the opposite of TurboTax’s. Instead of high fees and upsells to added services, TaxAct includes more features at a lower cost. Whereas TurboTax has friendly interview questions, TaxAct shines by providing detailed, meaty explanations of almost every topic you click on. If TurboTax is a friendly paperback novel, TaxAct is a technical manual. The process is straightforward, but it never feels as customized to your life as TurboTax. Plan on going through TaxAct’s list of forms and questions and choosing what to complete, not having the list tailored to you.

This guide may have been updated by Wirecutter. To see the current recommendation, please go here.

Note from Wirecutter: When readers choose to buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn affiliate commissions that support our work.

25
Mar

Sony’s 2018 OLED TV starts at $2,800


To call Sony’s original OLED TV expensive would be an understatement — when they started at $5,000 brand new, you had to be a huge fan of the design and image processing to ignore the affordable alternatives from brands like LG. That won’t be quite such a problem in 2018. Sony has outlined the pricing for this year’s A8F sets, which start at $2,800 for a 55-inch model and climb to $3,800 for the 65-inch variant. That’s still more expensive than the competition (the LG C8 starts at $2,500), but it’s considerably easier to justify if you crave the A8F’s screen-as-speaker technology.

There is a catch: Dolby Vision won’t be ready. The A8F and Sony’s other 4K TVs won’t support the higher-end HDR standard until an update arrives later in 2018, so you’ll have to ‘settle’ for HDR10 or Hybrid Log-Gamma in the interim.

As usual, you can save gobs of cash if you’re willing to go with LED-based 4K TVs. The X900F starts at $1,100 for a 49-inch model and scales all the way to $5,300 for an 85-inch behemoth. If you don’t need its X1 Extreme image processing but do want a larger TV, the X850F starts at $1,800 for a 65-inch screen and tops out at $4,500 for an 85-inch set. At least some X900F and X850F lineups are available now through Amazon and Best Buy, and you can pre-order the A8F through both channels.

Source: Sony

25
Mar

Mondaine’s second smartwatch finally adds notifications


When Mondaine released its first smartwatch (the Helvetica 1) in 2015, the features were… limited. It could track your activity, but it quickly fell behind other hybrid smartwatches, let alone high-end smartwatches from the likes of Apple or Samsung. However, the company has clearly learned some lessons in a few years. It’s releasing the Helvetica Regular Smartwatch, which finally adds notifications. If you receive a message (including from Facebook, Instagram or WhatsApp) or telephone call, the hour hand will point to “M” or “T.” That’s not as helpful as seeing what the message says, but you at least won’t have to wonder whether or not someone got back to you.

You can also press the crown briefly to see your activity, and hold it down for 3 seconds to cover sleep tracking. The Regular still preserves the 2-year battery life of its predecessor, although the considerably smaller 40mm case (versus 44mm for the Helvetica 1) makes it considerably subtler.

Mondaine had teased the watch a year ago, but it’s finally ready to ship and should arrive before the end of March for $660 (£450 in the UK). That’s very expensive if you’re just looking for a hybrid smartwatch, as brands like Fossil have a slew of options that cost much, much less. However, that’s not really the point here — the Helvetica Regular is ultimately about catching up to modern hybrids while maintaining Mondaine’s usual super-clean aesthetic.

Source: Wareable

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