The support shared between readers in the comments section is one of the things we love most about the Engadget community. Over the years, we’ve known you to offer sage advice on everything from Chromecasts and cameras to drones and smartphones. In fact, our community’s knowledge and insights are a reason why many of you participate in the comments.
We truly value the time and detail you all spend in responding to questions from your fellow tech-obsessed commenters, which is why we’ve decided to bring back the much-missed “Ask Engadget” column. This week’s question comes to us from our very own executive editor Dana Wollman, who has a question about what technology is best for those who are blind, or have limited vision. Weigh in with your advice in the comments — and feel free to send your own questions along to firstname.lastname@example.org!
Howdy folks, it me: your friendly neighborhood Engadget editor. This week’s question is a personal one. My father suddenly lost much of his vision recently. (He has been a total trooper.) Driving is of course out of the question, but he’s otherwise exploring various apps, settings and tech tools that can help him carry on with his everyday life as a retired man: reading, completing puzzles, sending and receiving messages, making phone calls, and what have you. He’s making progress every day, but the learning curve has been steep for him — and also me (his fully sighted IT support).
So far, I’ve introduced him to Google Assistant on his aging Android phone, and Cortana on his Windows 10 laptop. We’ve taken a trip through the accessibility menus of both operating systems. He has learned to use Uber and Lyft since he can’t drive anymore. Now I turn my attention to the hive mind. I’m wondering what those of you who are blind or have low vision are doing to make your lives easier. What apps, tools, gadgets and settings work for you? And do you find that any one operating system does an especially good job accommodating you?
(A realistic note on operating systems: Though we’ll soon replace my dad’s outdated handset with either an iPhone or newer Android phone, we only just bought him a new Windows laptop two months before his vision loss, which means we won’t be upgrading to a Mac or fancier Windows Hello machine anytime soon.)
Got tips? Leave ’em in the comments!
You’re probably used to sorting your garbage into bins: green for paper, or blue for plastic and glass. But when it comes to electronics, we’re still used to selling those off or tossing them into the trash heap. Unfortunately, our gadget addiction has real consequences for the planet, making it imperative that we dispose of everything responsibly.
Sure, you can try parting with your stuff for cash, but it’s a pain, and it can be tough, if not impossible, to find someone who wants a busted Xbox or 20-year-old CRT. Few places have curbside pickup — in fact, some localities make it illegal to leave electronics for the garbage collectors — so you’re going to have to find a reputable center to take it. We’ve gathered some of the resources to help you dispense of your broken and unwanted computers, televisions and any other gadget flotsam that’s been taking up space in your closet.
There is no national electronics recycling law at this time, so you won’t find any federal programs to assist you with getting rid of old devices — the USPS does run a program for federal agencies and their employees, but it’s not available to the general public. Instead, the rest of us have to rely on nationwide retailers to toss out our old stuff.
Best Buy has over 1,000 locations in the United States, so it’s likely you have one nearby where you can drop stuff off. You just need to take it to the customer service counter. They’ll issue you a receipt too, but keep in mind that you can’t claim the drop-off as a deduction on your taxes since Best Buy isn’t a charity. You can even recycle televisions and monitors, though you’ll be charged a fee of $25 per item to cover the higher costs of transporting and disassembling them. Best Buy limits you to three items per household per day, including up to two televisions.
There are only 300 Staples stores nationwide, but it has some perks over Best Buy — you can bring up to seven items per day and, if you recycle a printer, you get $50 off a new one. Recycling your stuff follows the same process — just bring your products to the customer service counter for a receipt. Staples Rewards members also receive a small credit of $2 for every used ink cartridge they turn in, up to 20 a month. Unfortunately, though, Staples does not recycle televisions.
Office Depot has over 1,300 locations to choose from, but unlike Staples and Best Buy, it won’t recycle your old gadgets for free. If you’re only getting rid of a few phones or batteries, those can still be turned in at no charge, but for everything else you must purchase a Tech Recycling Box, which costs $5, $10 or $15 depending on the size. Once you have the box, you can fill it with as many items as you want, provided they all fit inside, including smaller televisions. So it’s a great deal if you have a lot of stuff you want to dispose of. And if you’re looking to turn in some ink cartridges, Office Depot also offers $2 per cartridge, but only if you make a purchase of $10 or more in the same month.
If you can’t make it to a retail location, especially when you only need to get rid of one or two items, many companies offer recycling programs for their own products. They’ll even pay for shipping. Some run their own programs while others use outside organizations. We’ve outlined policies from a handful of manufacturers below.
While Amazon would love to direct you to its trade-in program, you’re probably reading this post because there’s stuff you can’t sell, and for those items Amazon offers mail-in recycling. You can send in your busted Kindles, Fire TVs and even Dash Buttons, as well as select peripherals like keyboards and mice. You’ll just need to fill out some forms online and generate a shipping label, which you can slap on any box. Drop it off at a UPS location and you’re good to go — Amazon will cover all the costs.
Apple’s ‘Liam’ robot, which disassembles your old phones.
If your iPhone or MacBook is still in good shape, you should consider selling it, but if it’s old or beat up you can still score a gift card by turning it into Apple’s recycling program. For iPhones, iPad and Apple Watches you’ll be asked to fill out a form attesting to the product’s condition and given a trade-in quote, with a working iPhone 5 going for $35 and an iPhone 7 Plus scoring you $315. For Macs you’ll be asked to provide a serial number as well. Though Apple won’t give you any cash for anything deemed old or unacceptable, you can still mail it in or bring it to any Apple Store so it can be responsibly disposed of.
Dell offers drop-off recycling via a partnership with Goodwill. Not every location participates, but there are over 2,000 that do. And, because it’s a charity, you may even be able to deduct it as a donation on your taxes. Dell also has a mail-back program on its site where you can generate a shipping label and drop off the package off at a FedEx location instead.
You can ship old product back to Epson by simply creating a shipping label on its site and dropping it off at a FedEx location.
If you can, HP recommends taking its products to the nearest Best Buy or Staples. But if that’s not feasible, the company participates in a program that will even buy back some items. You’ll be asked to fill out a form with the make, model and condition, and the recycler will email you a prepaid shipping label to mail the package within 30 days. If you’re doing a buyback you’ll receive a paper check in the mail. Because this isn’t an in-house program with HP, you can also send in items from other companies — check the drop down list for firms like Canon and Toshiba as well as more obscure and out-of-business manufacturers.
Many other companies use outside recyclers to dispose of their products, and you’ll often see the same names popping up again and again across different manufacturers. This should simplify things in some cases — you should be able to send in products from multiple sources in one package. You just need to fill in the make and model to generate a prepaid shipping label. However, different states have different rules on what you can return, so the drop-downs for selecting your product may vary by jurisdiction.
Two major recycling companies you’ll notice a lot are RLGA, which covers Acer, Canon, Google, Intel, Lenovo, Microsoft and Motorola, and MRM, which recycles product for Alcatel, BlackBerry, Barnes & Noble (nook), TCL and Toshiba.
Cellphones are the easiest gadget to recycle — if you haven’t already decided to sell yours off on eBay or via sites like DeCluttr, Gazelle and ecoATM. But, if you can’t or won’t make some cold, hard cash off of it, you can send it to:
Call2Recycle, which has drop-off centers all over the country in many chain stores, including Lowes and Home Depot. They’ll also accept rechargeable batteries as well.
Cell Phones for Soldiers, which accepts phones in any condition and sells them to refurbishers or recyclers. The proceeds go toward purchasing phone cards for troops so they can call their friends and family back home. To be clear, the phones are not given directly to the soldiers.
All four of the major carriers, including Verizon and T-Mobile, offer free recycling as well. You can trade in your old device in-store or send it in for a credit toward a new phone, or let them straight up recycle it. AT&T participates in Cell Phones for Soldiers, while Sprint runs the 1Million Project, which works to get disadvantaged kids devices and internet access.
If you do decide to try your luck with Gazelle or ecoATM to see if your old phone is still worth a few bucks and it turns out it’s worth nothing, you can at least rest easy knowing that both companies will recycle your phone responsibly.
There may not be a national law dictating that you must recycle your electronics, but at least 26 states have passed their own rules that vary widely on what they demand of both manufacturers and consumers. Almost all states that do collect products for recycling provide this service for free, with the bill footed by the companies in some way. Most provide some local programs to help you get rid of your stuff, regardless of whether recycling your gadgets is required or optional.
States where you can no longer dispose of electronics in the regular trash and must recycle them include: California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia.
The following states have laws requiring manufacturers to pay for recycling, but you, the consumer, are not actually required to recycle your electronics: Hawaii, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia, and Washington.
The following states have some special circumstances worth noting:
California: Consumers pay a small fee of $5 to $7 when they buy televisions and laptops. This is used to reimburse recyclers for the high cost of recycling these items, so you don’t get it back when you turn in these items for collection.
Connecticut: Does not allow recycling centers to charge you a fee for turning in electronics, so many organizations that would usually charge for recycling televisions and monitors do not accept them. Since you cannot dispose of them curbside, you can take them to a municipal transfer station for free.
Michigan: In addition to hosting numerous drop-off sites, Michigan will also pay for you to recycle your old gadgets by mail.
Pennsylvania: Does not allow retailers to charge you a fee to recycle, so places like Best Buy and Staples will not accept televisions or monitors. Many recycling centers have also closed as a result of underfunding. Some non-profit recyclers may still accept the items, and you should check to see if your local government is hosting any drop-off events. Lancaster and Dauphin Counties also still run civic recycling programs.
With it becoming more difficult to get rid of an old TV in Pennsylvania, with some people even resorting to illegal dumping, state senator Richard Alloway II introduced a bill last June mandating a fee on new purchases to offset the cost to recycling facilities. It’s been sitting in committee for the past year.
Whether you’ve got a top-tier listening setup or you’re a casual analog listener, getting the most out of your vinyl collection requires more than just putting your record player on a table and dropping the needle. Without proper setup, your turntable could be picking up noise, jumping out of grooves, and even damaging your records.
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We got together with professional audio guru Gary Alpern of True Audiophile to learn more about how to properly set up a record player. If your record player has never been properly set up, these small adjustments could make your prized audio system sound much sweeter, as well as keeping your precious records protected. This is a fairly complex process, so it’s not for the timid, and most turntable shops will also adjust the player for you at for a minimal fee. If you’re a proper DIYer, however, this is the guide you’ve been looking for.
We also worked with True Audiophile to show you how to properly clean and maintain your growing collection. If you’re interested in learning more about how to collect and store records in the first place, be sure to also check out our article on how to build and preserve a vinyl collection.
Confused about some terminology below? Check out the glossary at the bottom, and be sure to comment with any questions!
Level Your Table
The first thing you want to do to make sure your records are spinning right is to level your table on both the X and Y axis. To do this, place a level on your turntable platter, face it towards you and adjust the feet of your table — virtually all tables have adjustable feet, believe it or not — until it reads level. Then, keeping the level on the platter, spin it 90 degrees so that it is perpendicular to your first reading. Level the table on this axis, too. Before you move on, be sure to check the original axis again to make sure it is still level. Continue adjusting each axis until the table reads level in both directions.
Adjust your tracking force
Every turntable comes with a manufacturer-suggested tracking force, which is the amount of weight put on the tonearm to keep the needle in a groove and get the best possible sound.
As shown in the video above, the easiest way to adjust your tracking force is to balance your tonearm (make it float just above the turntable by twisting the counterweight), and then zero out the tracking force gauge that typically appears on the front of the counterweight. From there, turn the counterweight and the dial counterclockwise until the dial reads at the lowest end of the manufacturer-supplied tracking force spectrum. Once you’re on the low end of the range, try adding a small amount of pressure and listening until you find the audible sweet spot.
Some counterweights don’t come with tracking force gauges built-in, so you’ll have to use a digital scale to measure the downward force. Digital scales can be found for very cheap online, and can make things easier (and more accurate) than trusting a dial.
Set the tangential alignment curve
When the master for your record was cut, it was cut by a lathe that slowly spun inwards toward the middle of the record. To get the best possible sound out of your record, you want your tonearm to mimic the “tangential alignment” curve of the lathe that cut it. Setting up the tangential alignment typically requires moving the cartridge either back or forward in the headshell. If you don’t have a custom alignment tool like the one seen in the video above, the best way to set your curve is to use your ear. Start with your cartridge in the middle of your headshell, and move it slightly toward you or away from you, then listen. Find the place your favorite albums sound best and stick with it.
Set your zenith
You always want the stylus/needle of your cartridge to be perfectly perpendicular to the groove of a record. Because many cartridges are handmade, many do not perfectly line up on center from the factory. You can adjust your cartridge using the screws in the headshell to make sure that it is perfectly on center and perpendicular — the zenith. When you do, be sure to look exclusively at the needle/stylus because that is the only point that matters. Even if the cartridge looks odd, as long as your needle is on center and perpendicular, it’s good.
Clock your speed
You’ll want to make sure your table is running at the proper speed of 33 1/3 RPM (or 45 RPM for 45s) when spinning. Many tables have built-in strobe lights and speed adjustments to make sure that things are perfect, but some do not. If you want to make sure your table is running in tip-top shape, you can buy an aftermarket speed-testing kit to check it. The key is to make sure your table is properly lubricated. Every table has a bearing that spins at a constant speed, and if this bearing is gunked up, the pitch of your records can be affected. If your turntable’s speed isn’t accurate and you don’t have a speed adjustment control, you can try lubricating this bearing. Sometimes a worn belt can also impact the speed — replacement belts can almost always be purchased for belt-driven tables, but you may need to do some Googling.
Set your vertical tracking angle and stylus rake angle
Every tonearm has a different angle of descent when it hits a record. If your turntable allows for you to adjust it, you can change the angle of your tonearm until you find the spot that you think sounds best. Some people say the best angle is the same one as the original cutting lathe, but others differ on that point. As usual, it’s best to use your ears for what you think sounds best.
Set your azimuth
Azimuth is the amount your needle leans left or right in the groove of a record. In a perfect world, you want your record stylus/needle to sit perfectly perpendicular to the surface of the groove so that it picks up both left and right channels of audio separately and equally. If the chamber of your tonearm is leaning left or right, it will pick up more or less of each channel as it leans into one side of the groove or another, providing a muddier stereo image and, in rare cases, no stereo at all. You want to adjust your tonearm so that you have maximum channel separation by making sure it isn’t leaning left or right. You can use a special meter and a record with test tones to set this up, but the best way to check is to use your ears — especially because you’re probably not going to drop the big bucks on a meter and test records.
Set your anti-skate
The grooves of a record are concentric and are constantly tugging your record stylus/needle toward the center. Anti-skate is the adjustment that allows you to change the amount of horizontal force being placed on the stylus/needle, keeping the stylus in the center of the groove. Check your anti-skate in the first third, middle third, and last third of a record, and use your ears to make sure it sounds good. Start on the lower side of the manufacturer-recommended settings, and slowly add anti-skate force until it sounds best to you — with the least amount of distortion being best. Anti-skate adjustment is almost always located in the back of the tonearm, behind the bearing, assuring it uses the least amount of pressure for the maximum amount of benefit.
Glossary of Terms:
Plinth: The base of the turntable.
Platter: The spinning disc that records lay on top of.
Tonearm: The arm of the turntable that floats above a record, and culminates in the stylus/needle, which physically sits in the grooves on the vinyl.
Counterweight: The round adjustable weight that allows you to change the downward pressure of the tonearm.
Tracking force gauge: A circular gauge that spins freely in front of the counterweight that can be turned in tandem with the counterweight to determine downward pressure.
Headshell: The end of the tonearm that holds the cartridge in place, and connects the cartridge and stylus to the tonearm above.
Anti-Skate: An adjustment that allows you to change the amount of horizontal force that’s being applied to the tonearm. Counteracts the force of the tonearm being pulled into the center of the turntable and the sidewall of the groove.
Cartridge: Holds the stylus/needle, and converts its movement into an electrical signal.
Stylus/Needle: The tiny physical object that sits in the groove of a record and reads the analog audio material.
ZTE no longer has a viable smartphone program thanks to U.S. sanctions, but was it a fair decision?
The U.S. government has basically killed ZTE’s smartphone business by blocking access to Google’s services. There are a lot of headlines that talk about the ban in different ways, but when you get right down to the nitty-gritty that is what you are left with.
The short version is this: ZTE was caught (and admitted to) selling mobile equipment to Iran and North Korea, which are two of the very few countries that the U.S. considers the “enemy,” and a company isn’t allowed to do business with either if it wants to do business with U.S. based companies. A punishment was set for this, which ZTE agreed to, and the U.S. says that ZTE did not adhere to it so the Secretary of Commerce issued a denial order against the company that says in part:
[ZTE] may not, directly or indirectly, participate in any way in any transaction involving any commodity, software or technology exported or to be exported from the United States.
The long version of the events is an interesting read and I don’t want to downplay what ZTE did here. Whether you like the U.S. position or not, ZTE admittedly sold goods to the two countries knowing what the outcome could be. Whether or not the company followed the original order that levied a $1.19 billion fine, directed the company to fire four executives and to dole out a reprimand to 35 other employees is in question as ZTE claims it did what was required while the U.S. says it did not, but there’s no doubt that ZTE did what it did knowing what the outcome could be. And that’s what it ended up being — ZTE can’t use software exported from the U.S.
ZTE can use Android but can’t use the software that makes people want Android.
That doesn’t mean the company can’t use Android. but it does mean it can’t use the part of Android that makes people in the west want to buy a phone. Android is just a bunch of source code that anyone can download and build into their operating system. The final product will work almost the same as a phone you can buy anywhere else, but will not have any of Google’s apps or services, including the Play Store. Millions of phones like this are sold every year in China where vendors have developed their own app store(s) so it is a viable alternative, but almost zero phones like this are sold in the U.S. and Western Europe. ZTE will either have to try and compete with established brands in China or try to build their own app store for Europe, neither of which seems very likely. In either case it won’t be able to sell a phone or anything else in the U.S.
All of this sounds very draconian when you consider the U.S. position. And it’s easy to compare this to the recent ban on Huawei phones, though they two instances are very different. Huawei is accused of being a shell company of the Chinese government and U.S. intelligence services say using their products — including smartphones — is a danger to consumers and to government interests. Huawei vehemently denies these claims. ZTE was actually charged with, and pleaded guilty to, what amounts to aiding and abetting an enemy of the state then failed to follow through with the punishment it was given. The fact that both companies are from China and also big players when it comes to network infrastructure equipment and 5G technology adoption shouldn’t be ignored, but “officially” has nothing to do with either companies treatment by the U.S.
ZTE claims it followed the original U.S. order but the Dept. of Commerce says it did not.
What the Secretary of Commerce did to ZTE is harsh. I don’t think anyone can argue that it’s not, because it will likely end the company’s smartphone business. But was is fair? Originally, ZTE was fined, ordered to fire four executives and reprimand 35 additional employees. The U.S. claims that ZTE did not sufficiently reprimand those 35 employees though it did pay the $1.19 billion fine and fire the company executives. ZTE disagrees, but even if the U.S. is correct with the assertion that ZTE did not follow through, not allowing the company to engage in commerce with U.S. software companies is not something to be taken lightly. Nor is ZTE’s original sin of doing business with Iran and North Korea.
We all have our own opinion here, both on U.S. policy towards Iran and North Korea as well as the ruling against ZTE. I think ZTE got exactly what it deserved.
I have no position on whether Iran and North Korea are enemy states. I hope that the U.S. wouldn’t withhold any humanitarian aid should the need arise, but I can’t have any opinion on relations with either country because I don’t have access to any of the reasons why, outside of speculation. None of us regular folks do. I do know enough to say that anyone arguing differently is either blowing smoke or subject to court martial so there is no way to discuss whether the U.S. is taking the correct position against Iran and North Korea without blowing my own smoke.
Phones are simple products but network infrastructure equipment can be used as a machine of war.
I do think that selling simple technology products like a smartphone (yes, a smartphone is simple technology that anyone can build) isn’t something that the U.S. should worry about but network infrastructure equipment is a different story. It’s more like selling equipment to manufacture goods that could be used to commit acts of war because cyber-terrorism and crime is a real thing. Given that Iran and North Korea are considered hostile, the position that they shouldn’t be supplied with tools to further any hostile actions makes sense.
ZTE dodged a bullet in 2017 when the company was originally given its penalties for its transgressions. By not following through with enough publicity to erase any doubt about reprimanding its employees, ZTE is now being used as an example of what happens when you cross the current administration. You can argue that this is Trump doing ridiculous Trump things again all you like, but this is what being tough looks like. ZTE knew that it would be subject to this if it didn’t satisfy the original U.S. demands. And sometimes being tough isn’t such a bad thing. I’m actually in agreement this time, considering all the things I don’t know and taking them at face value.
But none of that matters. ZTE may or may not deserve the treatment it received, but it knew what can happen when it sold to Iran and North Korea. And it did it anyway.
There are as many home screens as there are people, and what you keep on yours speaks volume about you.
Some home screens are completely covered by apps, and some home screens are completely empty. Some home screens are all business, and some are devoted to pleasure and distraction. We at Android Central use our phones quite heavily, and so our home screens are a testament to our workflows, habits, and styles. They’ve evolved over our years on the platform, from phone to phone, launcher to launcher. And so, we’re going to share that evolution with you.
I like to keep my home screen focused on the apps and information that I need most often. It took me a few years, but the core group of apps revolves around what matters to me on a typical day: news, work-related and otherwise (Newsblur, Twitter); my work (Slack and Newton); my friends and family (Hangouts, Instagram); my audio (Spotify, Pocket Casts), and my camera (Google Photos). The more time I spend on a phone, the fewer apps I want to mess with.
The wallpaper, on the other hand, I’m quite proud of. I was in Hawaii this past December for Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Summit and got to witness a week’s worth of incredible sunsets. But one evening, in particular, as my wife and I sat watching the west horizon on a beach, surf crashing against the massive rocks, I was able to take this beautiful photo. It’s edited slightly using Google Photos, but is otherwise untouched. What an amazing place.
Hawaii Wallpaper on Google Photos
This is my setup on the Huawei P20 Pro right now. I like to keep it relatively simple on phones that I use as a daily driver: just a couple rows of my most-used apps for a mix of social, personal and work stuff. That’s topped off by the classic weather clock/Google widget up top. On the second screen, I’ve always used a music player widget of some sort, along with another row of major apps (stuff I use frequently, but don’t need immediate access to): YouTube Studio for running the AC channel, Google Fit for activity tracking, and Google Translate is essential given the amount of traveling I do. Hangouts is a kind of a temporary thing: It’s mainly what Mobile Nations uses for on-the-ground communication on trips. And yep, Google Play Music is still my streaming service of choice. Then up above, five big folders to keep other apps categorized, so I can mostly avoid scrolling through an app drawer.
The third screen is a mix of upcoming events Google Calendar, and Google Keep, which I use for general note-taking and shot lists when shooting AC videos in the field. Note: a fullscreen month view from Google Calendar on the fourth panel, which is too full of secret stuff to show.
“The Calm” on Backdrops
I keep thing simple, sticking with a single home screen. The focus is on keeping my frequently used apps in the first two rows, plus a few folders and a large Google Calendar widget that makes sure I don’t miss an upcoming appointment. I’ve messed around with the folders quite a bit, but right now “tools” includes mostly banking and transportation apps while “fun” and “soccer” are pretty self-explanatory. I haven’t had a reason to mix it up much from this approach in the last six months.
Google Wallpapers’ daily wallpapers
“Pixelize” on Samsung Themes
For my wallpaper, I typically like to use something I took myself with the phone. I prefer to keep my home screen unmodded for the most part, but the Razer phone I’m using has really great theming options built right in with Nova Launcher and Razer’s own theme store. I applied a flat purple theme from the theme store that tweaked the stock apps along the top of the screen. I’ve always appreciate the fact that Android lets you organize your app icons however you want, so while I don’t use widgets I do love being able to position app folders strategically against my wallpaper, keeping likeminded apps together for a tidy look. I then used Nova Launcher to tweak the folders for a cool and functional effect.
Marc’s Wallpaper on Google Photos
I keep my home screen pretty simple on my phones; just one page with a weather widget, the Google search bar, and a few icons. I used to have a folder full of social apps, but these days I’m mostly just on Instagram and Twitter. I also like keeping my financial apps at close reach, along with essentials like Spotify and Chrome.
I used to go all out with icon packs, third-party wallpapers, etc., but for the past couple years I’ve stuck with this same general setup to keep things as simple as can be. I’m using the Pixel Launcher on my Pixel 2 (surprise, surprise) with the Marvelous Marble wallpaper that’s part of Google Wallpapers’ Living Universe Collection. My dock contains my most-used apps (Newton, Android Messages, Fitbit, Slack, and TickTick) while my main home screen consists of nothing more than Twitter and a folder for my favorite Google apps. My second and only other home screen has a Google Calendar widget of the current month, and below that are Starbucks, Walmart, Spotify, Philips Hue Lights, and a folder for my banking/budgeting/coupon apps.
Google Wallpapers’ Living Universe Collection is Google Pixel-exclusive.
My specific layout tends to change with every wallpaper and theme I utilize, but beneath them there are always two constants on my home screen: a music widget and my home screen folders. My most-used apps are organized into five folders: communication apps, Google apps, work apps, entertainment apps and utility apps. With this particular layout, I’ve hidden the communication folder within the star in the bottom-left corner of the screen, a small holdover of my invisible theme.
For music widgets, I’ve written about many of the ones I use, but at the moment my favorites have been from the Melodi for Kustom pack for KWGT. These presets are easy to set, easy to adapt, and there’s at least one for every widget size I could need. My wallpapers are ever-changing, but the geometric wallpapers from the Galaxy S9 have grown on me of late. My current wallpaper, however, is from DeviantArt, a romantic scene that makes we want to write a love story every time I open my phone.
The Moon and a Star by ArtCrawl
My launcher of choice is either Nova Launcher Prime or SquareHome, depending on how contrarian I’m feeling that month. I’ve used Nova Launcher for years, so even if a device has a great default launcher, it still gets replaced with Nova. I don’t drastically change my icons, but I still use Polycon to make icons more consistent. If I’m using SquareHome, I use Whicons to continue the Windows 10 Mobile theme. Most of my applications are actually hidden, and everything else is neatly organized. If I have an app in a folder on my home screen, it gets hidden from the app drawer to reduce clutter.
1Weather weather widget
“Smooth Blue” from Backdrops
Sometimes I ditch all of the fun on my phones and go Strictly Business™. This is what that looks like. I don’t bother with the phone icon in my launcher, and I don’t like having a ton of icons on my single homepage. As long as I have a quick button for Google Assistant and the apps I know I am going to use at least once a day at my fingertips, I’m happy.
The wallpaper is something of a happy accident. Samsung sets this geometric shape wallpaper as the default to match whatever color of Galaxy S9 you buy, so since I went with the purple S9 I got the purple wallpaper. I’ve considered changing it a few times, but it’s animated on the lock screen and I really dig the animation as I wake the phone so this is what I’ve stuck with for the past month.
I know it’s pretty boring, but sometimes I just gotta have minimalist for a while.
Samsung Galaxy S9 Wallpapers
I never much was into the whole widget thing, and always liked to keep just a few shortcuts to my most used apps on a single-page home screen setup. What can I say, I’m just simple like that.
Now I can be even more simple. Simpler, if you will. My KEYone and its keyboard shortcuts let me keep my home screen blank and I just long press a keyboard key to open the app I want to open: “A” for the AC app, “C” for Chrome, “G” for Gmail, “K” for Slack, “L” for Allo, “P” for the phone dialer, and “S” for Signal. This keeps me from tapping things with my bumbling fingers or worrying about things happening in my pocket. If I need to use any other app I do the same as everyone else does and dive into the app drawer. The wallpaper I’m using is one of the defaults that comes with the KEYone, you can find them here.
Setting up keyboard shortcuts is easy and you can have 52 of them ready to do stuff no matter what’s on your screen.
I don’t like cluttering up my home screen, so I just keep the apps I use everyday. There’s Slack for work-related communication, Twitter, Box for storing documents, and my streaming service of choice is Spotify. I made the switch from Evernote to Simplenote back when the former introduced paid plans, and haven’t looked back. Simplenote is about as minimal as note-taking apps get, and it works seamlessly cross-platform. There’s even a Markdown preview that lets me quickly check the formatting of a post. And I also use Mi Home to control the twenty million Xiaomi products I bought over the course of the last year.
My dock contains the dialer, Duo, the camera, Chrome, and Microsoft’s excellent SMS Organizer texting app. The India-only app automatically sorts texts into categories, lets you back up and restore texts from Google Drive, and it even has a dark mode.
As for the background, I just use Google Wallpapers most of the time as well as the default launcher, but if I’m using a Xiaomi phone, I’ll switch to Nova Launcher and use Backdrops for picking out a wallpaper.
“The Flatlands” on Backdrops
So, what’s on your home screen? Are you a minimalist, or do you prefer to keep all your favorite apps front and center? Share your home screen setups with us!
Without a good fit on your head, your PlayStation VR experience won’t be too enjoyable.
Despite its somewhat odd shape, the PlayStation VR headset is extremely comfortable. It’s fairly lightweight and designed so that the weight it does have is spread evenly between the back and front of the head. It’s unlike other headsets like HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, which strap on in more of a ‘ski mask’ fashion.
But that doesn’t mean you can just jump in and everything is hunky dory. Central to your overall enjoyment is being comfortable in the headset and that it’s focused properly. The moving parts on PlayStation VR link comfort and focus together, so here’s what you need to know to get the best of both.
How to adjust the PlayStation VR
There are two buttons relating to the adjustment of the headset. One on the rear of the headband and the focus adjust button on the bottom right-hand corner of the visor. The headband has some elasticity to it, but when putting the headset on the best thing to do is to push the focus to adjust and slide the visor all the way out. This way you’ve no obstructions as you place it over your head.
Once you’ve got it on your head slide the back of the headband down until it feels comfortable. Push the focus button again and pull the visor up then towards your face. Most important is that the screen inside the headset is in focus, but you won’t feel discomfort. And there’s plenty of room for glasses, too, Sony did a nice job here.
Round back you’ll find a dial and a button. Once you’ve strapped the headset on and adjusted the focus, you’ll be mostly there. To get the best fit rotate the dial on the headband and you’ll feel it tighten. Don’t go crazy, but rotate it until you feel a happy balance of a secure and comfortable fit.
With the weight balanced between the back and the front of your head and no straps along the side, PlayStation VR is one of the most comfortable virtual reality headsets around. Adding to this is the fairly light rubber skin around your eyes and nose. Without any thick foam padding, it’s a little more important to get a good fit. Pay close attention to the nosepieces, too. You might have to slide these around your nose yourself, they have a habit of folding in on themselves.
And if they do you’ll see nothing but steamy lenses within seconds!
There’s no fine tuning movement on the PlayStation VR, but you should definitely wiggle it around a little. Make sure you’re not seeing light leaking in from the sides and that everything feels good and the display is in focus. Only you can tell when it’s right but take your time and it’ll make the experience a lot better.
If you are using the PlayStation VR with a ponytail remember you will need to pull the hairband high on your head so it doesn’t interfere with the strap across the back of your head.
And when you want to take it off, a best practice is to first press the headband release button on the back and then pop the focus adjust all the way out.
There’s only one cable coming out from PlayStation VR at the headset, which is terrific, but it’s also important to make sure you’re comfortable with it before you embark on your virtual adventure. As outlined in our full setup guide, as the cable is on the left of the headset if at all possible have the processor unit on the left of your body.
This way the cable will fall straight down and off to the console. If you have it on the right-hand side you’ll have to loop it around you which is neither comfortable nor recommended. Keep those cables away from potential tangles and trips. PlayStation VR isn’t room scale, so at least you shouldn’t be going so far that you’re going to start tripping over, but it’s still something to be aware of.
PlayStation VR is extremely consumer friendly in that it’s minimal on cables and very comfortable to wear. It’s pretty straightforward to adjust and doesn’t take long to get a feel for.
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Fujifilm has an impressively loyal fan base for good reason. Its X-Series mirrorless APS-C cameras are compact, feature-packed, easy to use, produce excellent images, come with top-flight lenses and look great — all at a reasonable price. So, when Fujifilm unveiled the flagship X-H1, there was excitement, but also consternation among Fujifilm fans.
The X-Series lineup is rich and deep, with a mirrorless rangefinder (the $1,700 X-Pro), the high-end $1,600 X-T2, $900 mid-range XT20, compact $900 mirrorless X-E3, $600 selfie-friendly X-A5 and the compact, fixed-lens X-100F. Then there is the $1,900 X-H1, which opens up a new category for video specialists and serious amateur or pro photographers.
It’s the company’s most advanced mirrorless camera yet, packing in 5-axis stabilization, DCI 4K video, a new shutter and improved autofocus. But the X-H1 is also quite un-Fujifilm-like. It’s much heavier than Fujifilm’s previous top model, the X-T2, and while it has gained some advanced video functions, can’t stand up to video-centric models like the Panasonic GH5s.
As I learned while testing it for a week, the X-H1 is a powerful, relatively easy-to-use camera that takes great shots. But it suffers from an identity crisis: It may not lure users away from other brands, and at the same time, the high price and heavy weight may turn off Fujifilm fans. Luckily, it performs where it counts by producing great images.
Body and handling
The Fujifilm X-H1 is pretty large for an APS-C sensor camera. It weighs a good 30 percent more than the X-T2, and is even heavier than Sony’s full-frame A7R III. It’s nearly as heavy as some small DSLR’s. The problem is that many shooters use Fujifilm cameras specifically because they’re not clunky DSLRs.
To be fair, part of the reason for that is the thicker, scratch-resistant magnesium body that makes it more weather- and dust-resistant. The new, five-axis in-body stabilization also adds weight, and it’s got a much larger grip, another nod to working photographers that wield large, heavy lenses. That does help with handling, as unlike the X-T2, you can haul the X-H1 around by the grip with little fear of dropping it.
The electronic viewfinder (EVF) on the X-H1 is the best you can get on any APS-C sensor camera. It’s incredibly responsive, activating in a third of the time as the one on the X-T2 when you raise it to your eye. It’s also bulkier than on other Fujifilm models, though.
Fujifilm has cloned the top dual-dials from the X-T2, and they’re a pleasure to use on the X-H1 and feel incredibly solid. On the left, the upper dial controls ISO, and the lower one lets you change shooting settings (continuous, single, etc.). On the right, you can set shutter speed on the upper dial and autofocus settings (zone, single-point, tracking, etc.) on the lower one.
There’s no longer a top dial for exposure compensation like on the X-T2. That has been replaced by an LCD display, like the one on Fujifilm’s medium-format GFX-50S, so exposure compensation is now controlled via a button and dial combo. The LCD is handy to see key settings at a glance, but you can see that info on the rear display and I’d rather have the exposure compensation dial back, to be honest.
The X-H1 has a new, hair-trigger shutter that I still hadn’t quite figured out when I gave the loaner back to Fujifilm. It was easy to set it off by accident, especially when half-pressing for focus, so I have a lot of pictures of the ground (protip: use the back focus button). I’m sure I’d get used to it with time. Otherwise, handling is by and large the same as other Fujifilm models, apart from a few oddities. The “Q” button to change common settings is located in a slightly different, more awkward-to-reach spot, for instance.
The larger body and odd handling might not please all Fujifilm fans. Although the in-body stabilization does add bulk to the camera, it really does work well, however. To best sample the new feature, I requested a test lens (the 35mm f/1.4) without any built-in stabilization.
For still photography, I was able to get sharp shots with shutter speeds as low as 1/8th to 1/15th of a second or so. Without a stabilized body, I wouldn’t usually shoot below 1/30th, so this really helps out in low light situations. It worked just as well for video, smoothing out small movements like handshakes better than other models, including Sony’s A7R III. Unfortunately, unlike most other cameras with built-in 5-axis in-body stabilization (IBS), you can’t assign the setting to a button but have to scroll through menus to turn it on and off.
The electronic front curtain shutter — which starts the photo electronically and ends it with the mechanical shutter (after the exposure is complete) — is another cool new feature. There’s no EVF blackout while shooting with it at up to 1/8000th of a second, and a built-in shock absorber prevents image-blurring vibrations. That makes it a lot quieter than the X-T2, but purists still get a light clicking sound. If you’d rather do things the traditional way, the X-H1 also has a mechanical shutter (1/8000th max), and a silent electronic shutter (1/32,000th).
The hybrid autofocus system, with both phase- and contrast-detection, is nearly identical to the one on the X-T2. However, Fujifilm did tweak its algorithms to increase the speed and improve low-light performance. There are five AF-C presets accessible by the lower-left dial, depending on whether you want to track faces and static subjects or action scenes. You can also fine-tune each of those settings depending on the situation.
For moving subjects, like our bull terrier dog who loves to randomly tear around the yard, I found that focus-tracking worked best when I kept him within the phase-detect pixel area. Outside of that, it tended to lose focus.
On most subjects, though, the AF system was rock solid: At the end of the day I had very few out-of-focus shots, even when I shot quickly. While the X-H1 has Fujifilm’s best autofocus to date, it’s not quite as good as the systems on comparably priced Sony and Nikon cameras. The TTL 256-zone metering is also excellent, but in low light, white balance tends to be on the blue side.
As for shooting speeds, the X-H1 can only handle short bursts of 31 RAW frames when shooting at its maximum 8 fps speed with the mechanical shutter. In electronic shutter mode, it can handle 14 fps for 27 RAW frames before the buffer fills (it has dual high-speed UHS-II card slots, so that helps). That’s not too bad for its intended market, but Sony’s A7R III, which has double the resolution, can handle 78 RAW frames at 10 fps.
The X-H1 offers NFC, WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity, letting you share photos easily on social media. You can also remotely control the camera for video or photos using a smartphone, but as with other camera makers, Fujifilm’s Camera Remote app is pretty clunky.
The 3.69 million dot OLED EVF gave me a beautiful-looking, bright and rock-solid image even though I wear eyeglasses. As mentioned, it activates nearly instantly when you raise it to your eye, which is ideal for quick street shooting, for instance. The X-H1 has a touchscreen like the X-T2, but it can do more with it. It works as a focus touchpad, and you can use it to control the Q menu and change movie settings while shooting to avoid the dials, which can bump the camera and make noise.
The X-H1 uses the same battery as the X-T2, but that big EVF and image stabilizer eat more into its life, limiting shots to 310 compared to 340 for the X-T2. That reduces weight, but it’s not great compared to DSLRs, and the battery drains particularly quickly when filming. If you need more endurance, consider buying the VPB-XH1 battery grip or investing in a some spare batteries, which are actually pretty cheap. On top of that, you can charge the battery directly via the USB-C port or with the included external charger, giving you plenty of options on the road.
Image quality is a big selling point of X-series cameras and the X-H1 doesn’t disappoint. Color accuracy is beyond reproach, detail is excellent, and the X-trans sensor significantly reduces aliasing artifacts common to CMOS sensors. If you shoot JPEGs, Fujifilm has one of the best engines out there, with fine detail and rich colors. Fujifilm also provides artistic JPEG color modes inspired by its analog film types like Provia, Velvia and Sepia that are non-cheesy and fun to shoot with.
The X-H1 does not have the crazy low-light capability as full-frame cameras from Sony and Nikon. However, it handles noise better than most APS-C cameras, cannily sharpening detail and killing noise when appropriate. Images at up to 3,200 ISO are virtually free of grain, and only at ISOs around 6,400 or even 12,800 did I notice any noise or desaturated colors. Dynamic range is also superb, as I was able to find invisible detail in highlights and shadows when shooting RAW, again without seeing excessive noise.
With the X-H1, Fujifilm reached has greatly elevated its video capability. The camera is much more capable than ever with DCI 4K resolution (4,096 x 2,160), a 200 Mbps bit rate that’s twice that of the X-T2, and a nearly full sensor readout with super-sampling. It also offers several modes for video autofocus, which I found worked well, but weren’t as smooth as Sony’s A7R III, for instance. Continuous shooting is limited to 15 minutes in DCI 4K or Ultra HD modes, but you can double that with the optional power booster grip.
Fujifilm also launched a two new lightweight and compact Fujinon Cine lenses for videographers, the MKX 18-55mm T.29 and MKX 50-135 T2.9 models. While they’ll work just fine with any X-series camera, Fujifilm said they’ll “fit like a glove” with the X-H1. Most importantly, they show that Fujifilm is committed to video, and likely to release more interesting cinema products down the road.
To maximize dynamic range, Fujifilm’s F-Log setting now works with internal recording, and new Eterna video profiles produce lovely results straight out of the camera. Internal recording is done with a limited 4:2:0 color gamut, but you can record externally from the HDMI port at 4:2:2 8-bit. It has a 3.5mm microphone input, but there’s no headphone jack unless you buy the battery grip.
The X-H1 produces sharp, rich video with little aliasing and artifacts. But the GH5 and the slightly more expensive GH5s also offer DCI video (the de facto standard of the film and video production industry), but at higher bit rates with 10-bit, 4:2:2 quality. That provides more dynamic range and color information for later tweaking. The A7 III, meanwhile, lacks DCI and tops out at 100Mbps, but offers a full-frame, 4K sensor readout and has a superior autofocus system.
The X-H1 is Fujifilm’s most technically advanced mirrorless camera yet and makes it easier than ever to produce stellar images. The new 5-axis stabilization works very well to reduce blurry shots, and the EVF is simply the best you can find on an APS-C camera. The DCI 4K and improved video quality make the X-H1 feasible to use as a video production tool, as well.
Those features have made the camera bigger and a bit more awkward, though. As such, the X-H1 loses some of the Fujifilm charm. A lot of X-Series cameras have been sold because of their compact size, mechanical dials and good looks. The $1,900 price tag isn’t a lot more than the $1,700 X-Pro 2 or $1,600 X-T2, but it’s still a lot for an APS-C camera and pushes the X-H1 into professional territory.
The problem with that is that pro or serious amateurs who shoot video might be more tempted by the $2,000 Panasonic GH5, with its 10-bit video quality and richer feature set. Meanwhile, shooters who do both video and stills will look longingly at the $2,000 Sony A7 III’s full-frame sensor, superior autofocus and excellent video. Finally, still photographers might be more inclined to pick Nikon’s D500, which has a superior 153-point hybrid AF, 10 fps shooting speed, much larger 200-shot buffer and 1,240-shot battery life.
For the X-H2 or whatever the next model is, Fujifilm ought to see if it can get the body size down while keeping the existing features and improving performance. It should try to match Panasonic by offering 10-bit, internally-recorded 4:2:2 video, as it doesn’t have a professional camcorder lineup to cannibalize.
Despite those issues, the Fujifilm X-H1 does excel where it counts with solid performance and consistently great images and video, and you won’t be disappointed if you buy one — as long as you know what to expect.
Hey, good morning! You look fabulous.
Welcome to the weekend. We have some news about Flickr’s future plus a bundle of 4/20 stories from Friday.
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This headline would’ve been shocking in 2008.SmugMug bought Flickr
Yahoo bought Flickr and developed it into a leading photosharing site throughout the mid-to-late 2000s. But then Instagram happened and Flickr never really turned things around. Now a former competitor has bought Flickr from (Engadget parent company and Yahoo’s now-owner) Verizon. SmugMug CEO Don MacAskill didn’t reveal how much his company spent on the site or what its plans are exactly, but he did say that its free and paid plans will stick around.
Hopefully, you celebrated like a responsible adult.4/20
Whether you prefer to smoke, vape or dab your cannabis — at home or on the go — these days you’ve got plenty of options. Our recommendations here aren’t the only ways for you to get lifted legally, just some of the best.
We know a patch that could take care of.Scientists accidentally produce an enzyme that devours plastic
Researchers studying a newly discovered bacterium found that, with a few tweaks, the bug can be turned into a mutant enzyme that starts eating plastic in a matter of days, compared to the centuries it takes for plastic to break down in the ocean.
Adjust your expectations.Audi’s e-tron SUV drives a modest 248 miles per charge
Audi has revealed that the production version of the e-tron prototype has an estimated range of 248.5 miles on the WLTP driving cycle thanks to its 95kWh battery. That’s still very usable for around-the-city driving, but it’s only slightly more than the 238 miles of a Chevy Bolt (although that was tested on an EPA cycle). But there’s good news — this SUV will be one of the first cars to support 150kW charging, which is enough to get you rolling again in about 30 minutes.
A Verizon spokesperson called it “a difference of opinion.”AT&T, Verizon and GSMA are being investigated over eSIM
On Friday, news leaked that the Department of Justice is investigating wireless carriers (namely AT&T and Verizon) and the GSM Association for possible collusion. At issue is the carriers’ attempt to make sure they can lock new embedded SIM (eSIM) devices for use only on their network. Despite years of development, carriers dragging their heels has resulted in a limited rollout for eSIM tech, seen in wearables like the Apple Watch and Samsung Gear, as well as new iPads, the Pixel 2 and Microsoft’s Surface.
A live window into immune cell function.Advanced microscope shows cells at work in incredible 3D detail
Using a special microscope and new lighting techniques, a team from Harvard and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute captured zebrafish immune cell interactions with unheard-of 3D detail and resolution.
Do you want a phone but not the ability to access the internet?Samsung’s newest phone can’t connect to the internet
For the person who wants a smartphone without most of the benefits.
Someone’s been too busy playing with flamethrowers.Bad Password – Tesla: Workplace safety, unions and the color yellow
Tesla’s war on journalism is at odds with the media’s love affair with the company’s boyish billionaire founder and CEO Elon Musk.
But wait, there’s more…
- AT&T switches on its pseudo-5G in over 100 locations
- Pornhub hasn’t been actively enforcing its deepfake ban
- AT&T CEO reveals a $15 streaming TV package is coming soon
- Google will plug ‘Chat’ into Android to compete with iMessage
- Ohio’s Ashland University offers the first ‘Fortnite’ eSports scholarship
- Ray tracing explained: The future of hyper-realistic graphics
- ‘Mass Effect’ forced BioWare to reevaluate how it makes games (and what that means for ‘Anthem’)
- Our democracy is broken. Why can’t technology fix it?
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A deal worth streaming about.
Amazon’s Gold Box deals of the day include a variety of refurbished Roku streamers with prices starting at just $31.99. You can grab the 2017 Roku Streaming Stick at the lowest price, or spend a little more and grab the 4K version to help you prepare a bit for the future.
Finally, the Roku Ultra 4K box is down to $71.99, which is nearly $30 less than it sells for brand new. These are all tested and certified to look and work like new. Each one comes with a 90-day warranty, so there is little to no risk in buying one of these today.
Keep in mind that these prices are only good for today, April 21, so don’t miss out.
See at Amazon
It’s easy to forget that real people create games. For them, the eventual launch is as much terrifying as it is exciting — they’ve poured years of their life into a project whose success is far from guaranteed. And if you need an illustration of that point, you just have to ask God of War director Cory Barlog. He posted a video of his reaction to early reviews of the PS4 action blockbuster, and it adds a sorely-needed human element to an industry where developers are often reduced to a list of faceless names in the credits.
If you’ve seen the reviews (which are almost all extremely positive), you have an idea as to what to expect. Barlog was “nervous” going in, and in tears when he saw the outstanding Metacritic score. The SIE Santa Monica studio put five years into God of War, he noted, and he felt “so lucky” to work with the team he had. He added that he wasn’t sure about whether or not he should upload the clip in the first place, but did so to show his son that it’s acceptable to cry in front of others.
Yes, it’s easier to post a video like this when the reviews are stellar; it’s safe to say that Barlog wasn’t expecting a critical flop. However, the clip would arguably work even if God of War had bombed. It sheds light on the culture of game development and the stakes involved. It’s not just about meeting quarterly profit targets — there’s a massive amount of self-worth riding on each release.
Source: Cory Barlog (YouTube)