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27
May

Vivo X21 review: Fast and fun, but not without compromises


You’re reading a Vivo X21 review, so you’ve hopefully heard of the Chinese brand before. But mention Vivo to a random person on the street, and you’ll probably only get a blank stare. That’s a shame, because the X21 proved to me that Vivo can some make pretty solid devices.

The Vivo X21 is not just a good phone, it’s innovative, thanks to its under-glass fingerprint sensor. The Snapdragon 660 processor technically makes it a mid-ranger, but don’t let that fool you. This phone feels like a flagship in many ways.

Read: Vivo V9 review: An iPhone X clone with AI selfies

Sure, there are compromises. You don’t have to be a stock Android purist to dislike Funtouch OS’ shameless copying of iOS. The use of a microUSB port feels old school, and not in a good way. There’s also a notch. The X21 is not exactly cheap, either.

Is the X21 worth your money? Find out in our Vivo X21 review.

About this Vivo X21 review

I spent about ten days with a Vivo X21 UD review unit (model number “vivo 1725”) for this review. The phone runs the latest publicly available version of Funtouch OS 4, build PD1728F_EX_A_1.6.18, based on Android 8.1, running the March security patches. I used the phone mostly over my home office Wi-Fi, but also on Orange Romania’s 4G network.

The Vivo X21 UD is the top of the line variant, featuring an under-display fingerprint sensor and 128GB of storage. Vivo also sells cheaper Vivo X21 variants with rear-mounted scanners and either 64GB or 128GB of storage space.

For simplicity, throughout this review we’ll refer to the phone as Vivo X21.

Vivo x21 review back

What’s in the box

Before we begin our Vivo X21 review, let’s take a look at the contents of the retail box. The Vivo X21 comes in a simple blue box featuring the FIFA World Cup logo, of which Vivo is the official smartphone provider. (Don’t confuse the regular Vivo X21 UD with the special World Cup Edition, which comes in blue or red and features a snazzy soccer-inspired pattern on the back.)

In the box, you’ll get a basic clear Vivo X21 case, a 2A charger and USB cable, and a pair of earbuds. The earbuds are tiny and very light, but they actually sound decent.

Vivo x21 retail box

Vivo x21 ud earbuds Vivo x21 ud charger

Vivo X21 build and design

The Vivo X21 doesn’t look particularly striking, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Not everyone wants a flashy color-shifting phone. If you don’t like to stand out or you don’t care about design that much, the understated Vivo X21 will be perfect for you.

Don’t get me wrong, the black X21 review unit I tested is quite sleek. It features an all-black aluminum frame and a glass back with tapered edges, which make it very comfortable to hold. It’s about 7.5 millimeters at its thickest point, but it’s surprisingly easy to handle, especially considering the 6.28-inch screen. The tall 19:9 aspect ratio helps a lot, and it also gives the front of the phone that modern bezel-less look everyone craves these days.

Vivo x21 review front display

The Vivo X21 doesn’t feel as premium as the Galaxy S9 or the Huawei P20 Pro. It doesn’t have the same solidity and the glass back feels a bit cheaper and more like plastic. On the flip side, it’s also less slippery and less fingerprint-prone. I could almost see myself using it without a case. Almost.

With the fingerprint sensor hidden under the screen, the back of the X21 looks very clean.

Fans of minimalism will enjoy the Vivo X21. With the fingerprint sensor hidden under the screen, the back of the phone is very clean. Even the dual cameras are discreet, though Vivo couldn’t resist adding a superfluous “Designed by Vivo” inscription at the bottom.

vivo x21 back vivo x21 ud top

The display

The Vivo X21’s display is beautiful. It’s only Full HD (Plus, to be pedantic), but I wasn’t bothered by the lower pixel density at all. Only when placed side by side with the Galaxy S9 could I see a difference in image quality, especially around text elements. Maybe someone with better eyesight will disagree, but Full HD is good enough for me.

The screen is an OLED panel with the characteristic vibrant color palette and inky blacks. The icons just pop, especially when you use a nice dark background.

vivo x21 ud notch

The Vivo X21 gets very bright. My regular phone is a Google Pixel 2, which really struggles in broad daylight, especially when displaying darker images or UIs. In contrast (pun intended), I could use Reddit Sync’s or Twitter’s dark UIs without straining my eyes on the X21. I don’t have data to back it up, but the Vivo X21 looks even brighter than the Galaxy S9 Plus.

The notch breaks the all-screen illusion, though at least it’s fairly small. Too many pixels have been wasted debating the notch, so I won’t add much other than to say that it was not the eyesore I expected. It often disappeared into the black border around it. But even when it didn’t, I hardly noticed it.

The notch was not the eyesore I expected.

The only issue is that it steals real estate from the status bar, which makes it much less useful (More on that in a bit).

vivo x21 ud review screen

Unfortunately for all of you notch-haters out there, the X21 lacks the option to hide the notch by forcing a black status bar, like the Huawei P20 or OnePlus 6.

The Vivo X21 features an always-on display that looks pretty similar to Samsung’s implementation. It even offers a Side Clock version, though the X21 doesn’t have the curved edges of Samsung’s flagships. You can customize the color and background of the always-on clock, but you can only opt to see notifications for missed calls and messages, not emails, or other types of notifications, which is a shame.

Always on display on vivo x21 ud

Whether you enable the always-on display or not, the Vivo X21 always shows a fingerprint icon when the screen is turned off. This is so you know where the embedded sensor is. The icon also pops up when you need to authenticate in LastPass or other apps that use the fingerprint scanner.

LastPass vs 1Password vs Enpass: Which of these password managers is the best?

I am curious to see how the Vivo X21 fares after a while, because that always-on fingerprint icon could cause burn-in. I haven’t noticed any issues so far, but it’s something to keep an eye on.

The fingerprint scanner

The Vivo X21 is the first commercial smartphone with a fingerprint sensor underneath the screen. It doesn’t sound like a big deal — none of my non-techie friends seemed impressed with it — but it is.

Phone makers and component suppliers have been working on the technology for years. Now Vivo and Synaptics have finally cracked the problem. Even better, Vivo beat the big boys to the punch. Samsung and Apple have yet to release phones with under-display fingerprint scanners, and Huawei only did it on the prohibitively expensive Mate RS, announced shortly after the Vivo X21.

Using the fingerprint sensor on the Vivo X21 UD

Put simply, Vivo glued a thumbnail-sized sensor on the back of the X21’s OLED display. The light from the OLED display reflects on the minute ridges and valleys of your fingerprint and reaches the sensor through the tiny gaps between the display’s pixels.

The Vivo X21’s under-display fingerprint sensor works great — most of the time. Just touch it like a regular fingerprint sensor and the phone unlocks itself in a split second. It’s only marginally slower than a conventional scanner. You don’t even need to press harder than usual, though it helps if you place your whole finger print on the screen, not just the tip.

The Vivo X21’s under-display fingerprint sensor works great — most of the time.

The fingerprint sensor icon on Vivo X21 ud

That said, this is clearly first-gen technology. It doesn’t always work the first try and occasionally it requires multiple presses to register and unlock. A couple of times, the phone even asked me to enter my PIN, after multiple failed attempts to use the registered fingerprint. It’s also inconsistent. Sometimes the X21 unlocks super fast. Other times you need to press and hold for more than a second.

Vivo will no doubt solve these teething pains within a couple of years. But right now, embedded fingerprint technology is not as reliable as conventional sensors. If you buy the Vivo X21, have a little patience. You can also sidestep the issues by enabling the infrared-based facial recognition, which is fast and accurate.

Bonus fact: In direct sunlight, you can actually see the fingerprint sensor beneath the screen. It’s not distracting, but it’s there and it looks a bit like light-bleed. This only happens in very bright conditions, as I never noticed it indoors.

Visibile fingerprint sensor beneath display on Vivo X21 UD

Vivo X21 hardware and performance

The Vivo X21 is powered by the Snapdragon 660, Qualcomm’s 2017 chip for upper mid-range phones. Despite the mid-range chip, I didn’t notice any performance issues on the X21. The phone felt just as fast as my daily driver, the Pixel 2, which is powered by the Snapdragon 835.

One possible explanation for this smooth performance is the Vivo X21’s 6GB of RAM. That’s 2GB more than the Pixel 2, Galaxy S9, and other recent flagships. Thanks to the generous RAM, I was able to multi-task between a couple of games, Slack, Google Chrome, and the camera app without a snag.

Despite the mid-range chip, I didn’t notice any performance issues on the X21. It felt just as fast as my daily driver, the Pixel 2.

Another pleasant surprise was the 128GB of storage space (expandable). Leaving well over 100GB free for user media, it’s another area where the nominally mid-range Vivo X21 trumps many flagships out there.

The 3,200mAh battery on the Vivo X21 easily lasted me more than a day with my regular medium-to-light usage. I can’t give you screen-on time stats, because Vivo doesn’t provide them in the settings. Judging from the battery capacity and my experience with phones with larger batteries like Huawei’s Mate series, the Vivo X21 won’t get you through two days of medium usage. If you’re happy to charge your phone every night, the X21 will do just fine.

Read: Here are the handsets with the best smartphone speakers

Vivo’s tagline is “Camera & Music,” so audio should be a big deal on the X21. There’s a “Hi-Fi” DAC on board. To my non-audiophile ears, headphone sound quality was just about the same as the Pixel 2. The single bottom-firing speaker gets pretty loud, but it’s not as clear and detailed as on other phones. Plus, it’s pretty easy to muffle it with the palm of your hand.

Vivo X21 ud back

You get an audio jack, up top. Vivo would have been crazy not to include one, as the X21 features a microUSB port, instead of USB Type-C. There’s nothing inherently wrong with microUSB, but it feels out of place on a 2018 high-end-ish phone.

The infrared facial recognition function was a pleasant surprise. I was expecting a laggy camera-based Face ID knockoff, but it’s actually very fast and seamless – just wake up the phone and it unlocks. It’s usually faster than using the fingerprint sensor and it works in various lighting conditions, from broad daylight to a dark cinema. It’s not completely reliable though: sometimes you need to move the phone around to get it to unlock, and sunglasses tend to throw it off.

Vivo X21 review – Full specs

Display 6-28-inch AMOLED 1080 x 2280, 402 ppi, 19:9
SoC Qualcomm Snapdragon 660, octa-core
GPU Adreno 512
RAM 6GB
Storage 128GB
64/128GB for non-UD version
expandable via microSD
Cameras Rear: 12 MP f/1.8, 1.4µm, Phase Detection Autofocus + 5 MP f/2.4
Front: 12MP, f/2.0
Audio 32-bit/192kHz audio, 3.5mm audio jack
Battery 3,200 mAh, fast charging
IP rating None
Sensors Fingerprint (under display), accelerometer, proximity, compass
Network GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900
CDMA 800 & TD-SCDMA
HSDPA 850 / 900 / 1900 / 2100
LTE band 1(2100), 2(1900), 3(1800), 5(850), 8(900), 34(2000), 38(2600), 39(1900), 40(2300), 41(2500)
Connectivity Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band, WiFi Direct, hotspot
Bluetooth 5.0
A-GPS
FM radio
microUSB 2.0
SIM Dual SIM/hybrid slot
Software Android 8.1
Funtouch OS 4
Dimensions and weight 154.5 x 74.8 x 7.4 mm
156.2 g
Colors Black, Ruby Red
Aurora White (non UD model only)

The camera

The Vivo X21 comes with a 12MP f/1.8 main camera with phase detection autofocus, assisted by a 5MP f/2.4 secondary camera. The front camera is also 12MP, but with an f/2.0 lens.

If you’ve played with a recent iPhone (or an Android-powered clone), the camera app on the Vivo X21 will look very familiar. The general interface is the same and the iPhone inspiration is visible throughout. However, Vivo’s camera app isn’t as polished as it could be. For example, the AR stickers are displayed around the shutter button, which makes it hard to tell what’s going on.

vivo x21 ud camera app in professional mode

The obligatory beauty mode is present and accounted for. Take a selfie or a portrait and you can pick from six degrees of skin-smoothing and wrinkle-removing. Other noteworthy features are the Live Photos (with sound) and the AR stickers. Because who doesn’t like virtual bunny ears?

vivo x21 ud beauty mode comparison

The Vivo X21’s dual camera setup can take some decent portrait shots. The bokeh effect isn’t very realistic, but it’s pleasant enough, and separation between the subject and the background is usually on point. Portrait mode is made for…portraits, but I was able get some nice shots of other things as well. It’s nice you can select the amount of bokeh you want to add to your pics, though I found the swipe-based interface hard to use.



vivo x21 ud portrait mode

General image quality is solid in good lighting, though pictures taken with the Vivo X21 are rarely great. (I may be spoiled by the excellent camera of the Pixel 2.) When lighting diminishes, pictures become too dark and grainy for my taste. Despite the phase detection autofocus, a moving subject (or slight camera shakes) often resulted in unusable shots. Even outside, many shots turned out worse than I had anticipated.

Vivo X21 review – samples gallery

I don’t take a lot of selfies, but the 12MP front camera got the job done most of the times. It also supports portrait mode, though it’s entirely software-based. That means you can’t select the bokeh level like you can on the rear cameras and the bokeh effect is less impressive. A couple of times, the camera turned out weirdly over-sharpened selfies.

General image quality is solid in good lighting, though pictures taken with the Vivo X21 are rarely great.

To wrap up, the Vivo X21’s cameras will give you all the basics and a couple of fun extras, but you shouldn’t expect anything spectacular.

The software

I really like the Vivo X21’s hardware. But the software is a bit of a letdown.

Vivo copied tons of details from iOS, from the general appearance of the icons, to the way the launcher lacks an app drawer, and the quick settings menu at the bottom of the screen. I don’t care much that Vivo copied Apple. It doesn’t matter who came up with an idea or design, as long as it works well. But here’s the thing – some of the iOS-inspired features in Funtouch OS are objectively worse than what you get in stock Android, Samsung TouchWiz, or HTC Sense.

vivo x21 ud control center quick settings

My biggest gripe with Funtouch OS on the Vivo X21 is the quick settings interface. On every Android phone I’ve ever used, the quick settings were part of the notification drawer, accessible with a swipe from the top. On the X21, you need to swipe up from the bottom of the screen to get to the quick settings. If you’re coming from an iPhone, it might make sense. I struggled to get used to it. The swipe-up gesture didn’t work very consistently either — I often had to swipe up twice or more to open the settings. And I doubt I was swiping it wrong!

I really like the Vivo X21’s hardware. Sadly, the software is a bit of a letdown.

The X21 gives you the option to switch to an all-gestures interface, instead of the familiar Android navigation buttons. In this gesture mode, the bottom of the screen is divided into three areas: swipe up on the right side to open the control center; swipe up on the center to go back to the home screen; swipe up on the left side to go back one screen. Side swiping the central area of the screen lets you scroll through the active apps. While I could probably get used to this feature, the classic buttons just work better.

vivo x21 ud gestures interface

The status bar is a bit of a mess — the notch takes up a lot of it, and the remaining space is not used very well. On the left, the clock and the network signal indicator take up most of the real estate, meaning you usually only see one notification icon. Inexplicably, Vivo replaced the default icons with its own, though it’s possible to revert to the normal ones if you dig deep into the settings.

vivo x21 ud screen with notch

The notification drawer feels half-baked as well. The UI is overly simplistic, some elements are misaligned, and the functionality is a little inconsistent. Some ongoing notifications — like the weather notification from the Google app — are not expanded by default, requiring you to tap on them to see them. Other notifications do nothing, they just take up space without offering any information. It’s not a good experience.

vivo x21 ud notification shade

The launcher is rather basic, and it lacks an app drawer, which forces you to use folders if you want to keep your stuff in order. There are no app shortcuts or many other creature comforts. At least you can install Nova to fix it if you don’t like it. I did enjoy the ability to search on device and on the web with a quick swipe down on the screen — it was fast and convenient.

Besides the major stuff I mentioned, I spotted other small usability issues on my Vivo X21 review unit. You can’t change screen brightness by tapping on the scroll bar, like you can on most other phones; instead, you need to tap and drag the knob. The styling of section names makes some settings menus confusing. Even if you set another keyboard as default, the phone sometimes switches to the pre-loaded one, usually when you type in passwords.

These are all minor issues, but they add up.

I will give credit to Vivo for packing Funtouch with features and customization options, but it still needs a lot of refining. The devil is always in the details, and that’s where Funtouch falls short.

vivo x21 ud folders interface

On the bright side, the Vivo X21 is part of a select group of devices that have access to the recently launched Android P beta. Vivo isn’t known for its updates focus, so it was definitely a surprise to see the X21 on the list. Let’s hope the closer collaboration with Google will result in a stronger focus on software in the future. We will update this Vivo X21 review once we take Android P for a spin in the coming days.

The devil is always in the details, and that’s where Funtouch falls short.

The competition

The Vivo X21 is a solid device with great hardware and a few cool tricks up its sleeve. But the smartphone market is jam-packed, so what are some Vivo X21 alternatives you should know about?

We don’t know the international price of the Vivo X21 yet, but in China, the 64GB of storage of the phone costs 2,898 yuan (~ $455), the 128GB version costs 3,198 yuan (~ $500), and the Vivo X21 UD version with 128GB of storage and an under-display fingerprint reader costs 3,598 yuan (~$565).

International prices of the Vivo X21 will probably be higher than in China, so here are a few other devices you could check out:

  • OnePlus 6 (8GB RAM and 128GB storage) for $580. The OnePlus 6 offers more RAM and a stronger, more future-proof processor. The software is more refined and you get fast and frequent updates.
  • Honor 10 (6GB RAM and 128GB storage) for $470. Similar memory and storage, but the processor is stronger. The Honor 10 features more powerful cameras, front and back. On the downside, the display is smaller and just an LCD.
  • Nokia 7 Plus (4GB RAM and 64GB storage) for $470. Similar processor, but less memory and an LCD screen. Fast updates and a clean UI go a long way.
  • Vivo V9 (4GB RAM/64GB storage) for $350. Vivo’s own V9 looks almost identical to the Vivo X21, but comes with generally lower specs and an LCD screen. No snazzy fingerprint scanner either, but much cheaper.

We’ll update our Vivo X21 review once the phone’s price is announced in more markets.

Final thoughts

The Vivo X21 is a fun device that gets a lot of things right. The display is a joy to look at, performance is solid, and the fingerprint sensor and facial recognition work well. It looks great, and most of the times it works just as well. It’s let down by the software, which lacks polish and attention to detail, and comes with several UI elements that just don’t make sense.

The Vivo X21 is a fun device that gets a lot of things right.

We don’t know yet the international prices of the Vivo X21, but the phone is likely to be on the expensive side. If that’s the case, “fun” might not be enough to justify paying $100 or even $200 more compared to some of the phones we mentioned above. And cool as it may be, the under-glass fingerprint sensor isn’t worth paying a big premium for.

Further reading

Done with our Vivo X21 review? Here are some of our other great content you should check out:

  • Check out our pics for best affordable Android phones and best high-end Android phones
  • OnePlus 6 vs Honor 10 vs competition
  • Flagship? Mid-range? Budget? Find the best phone for you
  • Vivo APEX hands-on: The next step in the evolution of fingerprint sensors

There you have it for our Vivo X21 review. Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

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27
May

Watch Boston Dynamics’ Atlas robot evolve from a stagger to a sprint


Atlas Shrugged may be the name of Ayn Rand’s veritable doorstop of a novel, but no-one is shrugging indifferently when it comes to Boston Dynamic’s amazing Atlas robot. For the past five years, Atlas has lived up to A.I. expert Gary Bradski’s 2013 statement that “a new species, Robo sapiens, [is] emerging.”

Designed to carry out missions like search and rescue — and far, far more — the bipedal robot has remained on the front line of cutting edge robotics since its unveiling. Here are 7 of its most notable milestones:

Atlas debuted

July 2013

Standing 6-foot-2-inches and tipping the scale at 330 pounds, the first-gen Atlas makes its public debut in mid-2013.

Although Boston Dynamics is the name most associated with Atlas, it’s not the only group which is part of its creation. It’s a collaboration between DARPA and multiple tech companies, which also includes Sandia National Laboratories and iRobot, the maker of the infamous Roomba vacuum line. Boston’s work on Atlas is modeled on its previous PETMAN humanoid robot, along with its BigDog research.

Its first goal is to compete in the 2013 DARPA Robotics Challenge. Although undoubtedly impressive, DARPA program manager Gill Pratt compares the prototype of Atlas to a young kid, saying that a “one-year-old child can barely walk, a one-year-old child falls down a lot… This is where we are right now.”

Atlas balanced

October 2013

In an early showcase of Atlas’ impressive agility, Boston Dynamics uploads a video showing the robot balancing on one leg, jogging over rocks, and being hit with projectiles. If it had a beer in its hand, we’d write this one off as fraternity hazing!

Atlas shrunk

January 2015

Before we have time to even get used to the O.G. Atlas, it is replaced by Atlas 2.0. This slimmed-down model carries over only the lower legs and feet of the robot’s original design. It now boasts lighter materials, improved articulation, extra sensors and perception computers, and much quieter operation.

The most important improvement of all, though? It’s now wireless, untethered, and entirely battery powered. At the 2015 DARPA robotics finals, Atlas successfully completes the course; coming in close second place behind the Korean team Kaist’s DRC-Hubo robot.

Atlas shrunk… again

February 2016

Boston Dynamics debuts a new, smaller version of Atlas. Now standing at just 5-foot-9-inches, a head shorter than the original models, it is designed to be able to operate both indoors and outdoors, across a range of terrain — including snow.

Atlas now boasts new sensors, Lidar technology to avoid obstacles, and more.

Atlas fell

August 2017

Anyone who has ever done a live tech demo knows how, regardless of how well things work in the lab, problems can and will happen. That’s exactly what goes down during a Boston Dynamics presentation at the Congress of Future Science and Technology Leaders. At the end of its time on stage, Atlas heads to the back — only to trip over a stage light and take a Buster Keaton-like pratfall.

“I wish I could pretend it was supposed to do that,” Boston Dynamics CEO Marc Raibert tells the audience. Suddenly a Terminator-style robot takeover doesn’t seem so scary!

Atlas flipped

November 2017

How do you recover from accusations that you’re a little bit clumsy? Simple: You pull off a flawless gymnastics routine that ends with you performing a picture-perfect backflip. At least, that’s the approach that Boston Dynamics takes with Atlas after its embarrassing stage-tripping demo.

Seeing a 5-foot-9-inch robot perform this feat underlines just how far it has come, while showcasing its amazing agility, balance, and control. Faith in Atlas: restored.

Atlas jogged

May 2018

Giant aerial somersaults are pretty stonking impressive, but unless your Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman very few people use backflipping as their primary form of locomotion. That’s why the recent video of Atlas jogging is so impressive.

While slightly less Olympics-worthy, it’s a demonstration of a complex ability that would be far more important for a real world bipedal robot to master.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • Scared yet? Boston Dynamics’ humanoid robot can now jog freely
  • From BigDog to SpotMini: Tracing the evolution of Boston Dynamics robo-dogs
  • Boston Dynamics’ SpotMini robot is slated to go on sale in 2019
  • Counting down the 10 most important robots in history
  • Watch Disney’s Stickman robot show off its amazing acrobatic skills


27
May

The 5 worst Android phone names of the last decade


lg-g7-hands-on-1.jpg?itok=Cf8tlhLg

Android and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad names.

Phone manufacturers have more or less gotten the hang of naming schemes in recent years. They find a name or two that sticks, and just tack a new number onto the end with each new iteration; Galaxy S9, Pixel 2, LG V30, etc. Sometimes it doesn’t even have to be sequential, like when Samsung jumped from the Galaxy Note 5 straight to the Galaxy Note 7, skipping over the Note 6.

Naming schemes weren’t always this formulaic, though. Particularly in the early days of smartphones, before we had well-established series like the Galaxy S line, phone manufacturers regularly experimented with wild branding, and the results weren’t always great. Here are some of the worst, most embarrassing names manufacturers have chosen for their phones over the last decade.

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#1: Sprint Samsung Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch

It’s impossible to make a list like this without including the atrocity that was the Samsung Galaxy SII Epic 4G Touch on Sprint. In all fairness, this was a fine phone — it was one of Sprint’s first 4G-capable phones, and the Galaxy S II regardless of carrier variations was shockingly thin, fast, and powerful for its time. It had a huge 4.52-inch display (at least, it seemed huge back then) and a healthy rooting community, which was about all I could’ve asked for.

acer-liquid-zest-plus-3.jpg?itok=0m7m5Sy

#2: Acer Liquid Zest Plus

I’d like to shake the hand of whoever approved the name for this product. Announced just over two years ago, the Liquid Zest Plus was a $250 mid-range option that sounded more like a L’oreal shampoo than a phone. You could remove the plastic backing and replace it with a window cover, but the most notable part of the Liquid Zest Plus was its 5000mAh battery, which Acer said could last for three days at a time.

lg-g7-hands-on-10.jpg?itok=Cuf8_G-B

#3: LG G7 ThinQ

This is the most recent phone on the list — in fact, it isn’t even available for purchase yet. But while the LG G7 is already shaping up to be a great phone, the ThinQ tag added onto the end has been wildly unpopular. It sounds ridiculous — almost as if the phone is trying to say “thank you” — and it’s about to get even more ridiculous. ThingQ is actually the name of LG’s AI ecosystem, and the company already has a wide range of SmartThinQ-branded home appliances. This probably won’t be the last ThinQ-branded phone.

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#4: HTC ChaCha

Remember the HTC ChaCha? Probably not, since it was discontinued just months after its initial release. It was also released under different names in various parts of the world — those of us in the U.S. knew it as the HTC Status, while others called it the HTC ChaChaCha, my personal favorite. In any case, this phone preceded the HTC First as a Facebook-centric phone with a physical keyboard and a dedicated Facebook button in the bottom-right corner.

casio-gzone-commando-1.jpg?itok=hyHbvWDf

#5: Casio G’zOne Commando

How do you even say this? “Jee-zone?” “Guh-zone? “Jeez-won?” It’s actually the last option, tragic as that may be, but horrible naming aside, the G’zOne Commando was actually a pretty interesting phone. Built for durability first and foremost, the G’zOne was one of the first water-resistant phones, with an industrial rubberized casing and a locking battery door.

Casio didn’t want you to be able to escape its inexplicable branding, adding hardware shortcuts to the phone called the G’zGear buttons, which launched outdoor tools like a compass, thermometer, or stargazer.

Honorable mentions

Though we wanted to keep the list limited to Android devices, I have to give an honorable mention to a few feature phones that always stuck with me thanks to their atrocious names.

The Samsung 🙂, verbalized as the Smiley, was a phone I troubleshot time and time again during my tenure as a T-Mobile sales rep. While there was nothing inherently wrong with the phone (nothing really right either), calling a phone the 🙂 was an absolute SEO nightmare — I’m thankful this is the first time I’ve had to write about it!

Here’s one for you — Samsung also released a phone back in late 2008 called the Messager. No, that’s not a typo, it was legitimately called the Messager, not the Messenger. In fact, the company thought it was such a good idea that it released another one, the Messager Touch, in the same year it put out the :). I can’t make this stuff up.

Maybe I’m just being childish (I am), but I’ve never been able to get over the Virgin Lobster. Well, technically it’s called the Virgin Mobile Lobster 700TV. Made by HTC in 2011, this candy bar phone had a bold lobster logo on its forehead and a lump to its side for a dedicated TV button. If HTC ever decides to make a second-gen model, I’ll be the first in line.

What’s your (least) favorite name?

If there’s any phone whose name has always gotten under your skin, I’d love to hear about it. In fact, why keep it limited to just phones? Share the worst names you’ve ever heard for any product in the comments below — let’s have some fun.

27
May

Google’s Grasshopper app is a fantastic way for beginners to start coding


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There’s no shortage of coding tutorials or programs that aim to teach coding to beginners — but Grasshopper is something special.

Google’s workshop for experimental projects, Area 120, released a really interesting new app for Android and iOS.

Grasshopper: Learn to Code for Free is an app that offers basic lessons in coding with Javascript in a gamified format along with coding puzzles built around a realistic code editor. Marc Lagace and Russell Holly spend some time chatting about their experiences using Grasshopper and what makes it so great.

Download Grasshopper (free)

Marc Lagace: Today, we’re talking about Grasshopper, an app that Google released this year that aims to teach coding concepts to beginners who maybe have never looked at coding languages before. I’ve spent some time playing around with it as have you, Russell, so why don’t you walk us through it a bit?

Russell Holly: Sure. The first thing we need to do is take a look at what specifically this app does because the idea of a piece of software that teaches you how to code is not new. The thing that we have here is not something that’s web-based. It’s entirely app-based — there is no web format for using Grasshopper.

It’s just the app that you have on your phone that’s a Javascript tutorial system. The objective is creating things, which is different from a lot of the other “how to code” programs which are often like solving problems in a system that’s almost like a game where you’re building “if this… then that” kind of structures to solve problems, and the idea is to teach you how to think about coding, not necessarily how to create things with code. From the very first module, Grasshopper is walking you through creating simple constructs using Javascript.

The objective is creating things, which is different from a lot of the other “how to code” programs

M.L.: Yea, and the way it does it, too, is very intuitive. I’m an adult, but I’ve never done much coding beyond HTML, and certainly nothing with Javascript. I came into this at the ground level as a beginner who’s interested in that side of things, but I don’t understand the core concepts of it yet. After those first couple modules, you get that breakthrough moment where your is like “Oh, this is new and I understand it.”

It’s different than other web-based programs where you’re following along with the projects because the way Grasshopper has been put together is really interesting. They show you what the code needs to do and then gives you an incomplete section of code and has you complete the code to make it work. It kind of feels like an “edutainment” puzzle game, but making edutainment the way it should be where you see the process unfold and learn as you go as opposed to trying to make it more of a game than it needs to be.

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R.H.: There are a couple of important elements here that tie it all together. The first that even though you’re using this on your phone, from the very beginning all of the code is structured and placed in something that looks like an editor — like an editor that a programmer would use. And that’s an important thing because you don’t get that with a lot of the “how to code” things.

There are these blocks that you drag around for “if” statements and variables that you click and drag, and when you get sat down in front of an actual editor or a developer studio, it’s very easy for someone who doesn’t have a lot of developer or programming experience to then feel overwhelmed because this is no longer the environment you’re used to.

From the very beginning all of the code is structured and placed in something that looks like an editor — like an editor that a programmer would use.

Whereas, Grasshopper starts you off right from the very beginning in a proper code editor with the appropriate color breakdowns for different variables so that you are looking at an actual editing suite from beginning to end. It becomes more complex as you move along but from the very beginning, as you said, you’re looking at actual snippets of functional code that are doing things, and it’s explaining to you how those different things work. I think the first couple challenges are building flags — like actual country flags — where you’re just assembling the different color pieces in javascript, and all you’re really seeing at the end is a web element for that flag. It’s a simple thing, but it’s a very easy way to feel a sense of accomplishment, and the cool thing is how it’s all broken up into little pieces where it’s the little risk/reward things that make you want to just dive right into the next module.

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M.L.: The other thing that’s novel about this app is because it’s an app that’s on your phone, and because everything is broken up into such bite-sized chunks, you can do a lesson or two anytime. I’ve been standing in line at the grocery store and notice the little notification pop up asking me “Hey, do you have some time to do some Grasshopper?” And I’m like “Hey, I actually do. I do have the time.”

R.H.: Yeah, the notifications are cool. It caught me off guard at first, that I got a notification telling me “hey, come back and do this thing” because you have a minute. That surprised me because you don’t get that with a lot of things — and it worked well.

Like you said, it’s a good thing to have that little reminder where instead of playing MiniGuns or Pokemon Go or something like that, there’s that little reminder that you can go and do this thing instead.

I’ve been standing in line at the grocery store and notice the little notification pop up asking me “Hey, do you have some time to do some Grasshopper?” And I’m like “Hey, I do. I do have the time”

M.L.: Yea, totally! You can be as proactive or passive if you want. You could burn through the whole app in a day if you just don’t want to put it down. Or, you can kind of have it remind you to revisit the app over time so you don’t burn yourself out. I found using the app in random sessions helped me retain more information because I come back and jump right into a new lesson and have to rediscover these new concepts, but once you start some puzzles, everything starts to come back. It’s such a good feeling when you realize these concepts are sinking in over time — especially if you’ve come into it completely new to coding, those first moments when you find yourself thinking “oh, I remember how to change that variable here or there”. It’s rewarding.

R.H.: It is, and at the same time that it’s rewarding it’s not overly negative in its reinforcement when you get something wrong. It’s not just a flat out “you messed this thing up” — it didn’t work, which is common. The puzzle failed so you just go back to the start and take a look. Because you’re looking at a proper editor, it can break out the segments of code that failed and be very specific about it. And that’s very important because you can set up a programming environment to work exactly like that. It’s very close to how small sections of things could fail in the real world, while also being that kind of entertaining, almost game-like experience.

Grasshopper has no age guidelines — if you can read and follow instructions you can learn the fundamentals of coding in Javascript.

M.L.: Yea, it’s sort of like an edutainment game, like those games you remember from elementary school. Except instead of teaching how to multiply numbers, it could be teaching a kid in elementary school how to code their first website or dip their toes into Javascript at a younger age than ever before. Nothing like this was around for my generation growing up but now the content is super accessible and right in your hands. Like you said, it gets you used to the code editing platforms and concepts that can be really overwhelming when you don’t know what anything does.

R.H.: And it’s also important that there’s no real age guideline for Grasshopper. My kids are not strangers to code tutorial programs and actually building things in Scratch and other applications. So one of the first things I did was to see what my kids thought, and when I tossed at them and it was really the same kind of experience for them. It’s not catered towards any particular age group or knowledge level, I don’t think. It’s really is something where anybody who doesn’t have a background can easily pick this stuff up and go quite a ways with very little background knowledge.

M.L.: And the way the app is designed, it could unlock something new for you. Maybe it turns into a new hobby or a new career path depending on your situation and what you want to do with it. In my experience, it opened a door in my mind where I realized that even though I’m turning 30, I can still learn new things. It gets me excited about the stuff I use every day — technology and apps — I can still learn how those things work rather than just being a consumer. Sure, there’s still a long way to go if I want to make my own app or whatever, but it’s such an encouraging and rare thing to find these days — an app that actually makes you feel good about yourself at the end of the day.

R.H.: It’s good and it really can be a stepping stone to some of the basic programs that are actually adult-oriented tutorials like Udacity, which are education suites for different forms of programming. This could be a legitimate stepping stone for that, for the beginning of maybe programming for Android or something like that. Any of those programs that don’t usually have a very strict beginning component, but it can still be kind of overwhelming to feel like taking a tutorial course for introduction to programming, Grasshopper I feel does that job for getting that sort of beginner experience set up.

M.L.: Best of all, it’s free so you don’t have to put any money down and you’re not feeling like you’ve wasted your money or time. It’s free. Just try it out — don’t like it, that’s fine.

R.H.: Yeah, it’s free and it’s not platform-dependant. You don’t need an Android phone to pick this up. It works just as well on an iPhone, too.

Download Grasshopper and learn to code at your own pace

You can download Grasshopper for Android or iOS for free and start solving puzzles and making your way through the available courses. Have you tried Grasshopper? Let us know your thoughts on the app in the comments below!

27
May

From the Editor’s Desk: HTC U12+ quick takes


48 hours with HTC’s new flagship phone.

Happy Memorial Day to everyone in the states observing today.

I’ve spent the past couple of days getting to know HTC’s next big thing, the U12+, and this is a good enough place as any to offer some initial takes of varying temperature.

I’m planning on using the U12+ as my daily driver for at least the next few weeks, through the Computex show in Taipei, Taiwan, and other travel thereafter. After a generally positive few months with the U11+, I’m hopeful the U12 can build on what was great about one of last year’s more under-appreciated devices.

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  • So here goes — get ready for some bullet points! This is not a review, just a loose collection of thoughts from my first couple days with this phone.

  • On the outside, this is fundamentally the same phone as the U11+ — a little chunky, especially compared to the Galaxy S9+ and OnePlus 6. Anyone coming from a U11 or HTC 10 though, will notice a significantly more modern design, and the near right-angle curve of the glass around the edges is a nice touch. The display’s also noticeably brighter than the U11+, which was a pain point for some. I have the boring black version right now; I’m eager to sample the eye-catching iridescent red and translucent blue once I get to Taiwan.

  • HTC’s audio is great as ever, and I’ve been appreciating the company’s USonic noise-canceling earphones once again. BoomSound Hi-Fi also sounds phenomenal, especially coming from the tinny tweeter of the OnePlus 6.

  • OK. The new button system. It’s weird, and I’m not sure it needs to exist. The U12+ replaces the volume and power keys with pressure-sensitive ridges — fake buttons, if you will — that respond similarly to an iPhone’s home key or the trackpad on newer MacBooks. Technically, it’s a continuation of the Edge Sense feature from the U11.

  • My unit’s still in the “settling in” phase, though HTC says I am running retail-ready firmware here, so my experience should represent what you get if you buy a U12+ next month. That said, my first impression is that these new non-buttons are more awkward to use than the clicky side keys we know from other phones — and less reliable at the basic task of being a button. It’s different for the sake of being different. Clicks in rapid succession are tricky to pull off, sensitivity is inconsistent, and there’s more effort involved in making things happen using either of these three keys. Often, they’re just uncomfortable to use, because they’re small, metal, and don’t depress like a real button. They are a literal pain point.

  • It’s possible this stuff may be addressable in a software update. But again, HTC says I’m on retail-ready firmware here.

  • One positive change around Edge Sense: I’m loving the new double-tap gesture on the side bezel for activating one-handed mode — a necessary feature in a phone this tall that was absent on the U11+. I’ve had to turn up the sensitivity quite high to get it to activate reliably, though.

  • I haven’t used the cameras a whole lot, but my first impressions are that it’s worthy of the hype, and the lofty DxOMark (ugh) score. HDR Boost 2 rivals Google’s HDR+ in backlit and other challenging scenes. Instant bokeh seems to work well, with above-average edge detection. Interestingly, the editor for these bokeh shots, where you can raise or lower the level of background blur, is none other than Google Photos. (In case there was any doubt that the next Pixel phones will include some sort of dual-camera bokeh mode.)

  • Low light performance is also solid, following the trend of previous HTC phones producing sharper shots than Google’s Pixels in the dark, but with a little more grain. To early to say anything about telephoto, but obviously the physics of a 16-megapixel, 1-micron, f/2.6 setup means you’re going to switch down to a digital crop of the main sensor in a lot of scenes with middling light.

  • Battery: Again, way too early to make a firm call. From what I’ve seen so far, I feel confident in saying it won’t be a regression from the U11, but it also won’t come anywhere near to the longevity of the Huawei P20 Pro. I’m hedging here for obvious reasons.

  • Performance is stupidly fast, of course — this is an HTC phone. It has all the fluidity of the OnePlus 6 or the Pixel 2, only with, in my opinion, superior touch response.

  • HTC Sense is basically unchanged from Oreo on the U11/U11+, and that makes me sad. HTC needs to free up some designers to at least look at the Weather, Dialer, Messages, Contacts, Clock and other apps, some of which are more than four years old at this point. What’s there works fine, with the exception of Sense Companion, which is still a waste of space. But if HTC is serious about continuing its phone business, let’s just switch to Android One and be done with it, or go all-in with a more differentiated experience that isn’t peppered with the dregs of older versions of Sense.

I’ll have more to say on the HTC U12+ in our full review in the next week or so, but my first impressions are mostly positive, with the exception of some usability concerns around the side buttons. Let’s be honest: the things that HTC is good at are kinda obvious at this point. Let’s hope the gimmickry of the new non-button button setup doesn’t tarnish an otherwise good product.

And hey, let’s hope this company is still around and selling phones in 12 months time.

That’s it for another few weeks. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram for Computex musings from Taipei next week.

-Alex

27
May

VTOL drone can evacuate wounded soldiers and disaster victims, deliver cargo


Evacuation by drone could soon appear on the readiness checklists of rescue and first responder groups worldwide. Tactical Robotics’ Cormorant ratchets up the potential for drone deployment for a wide range of military, industrial, and civilian applications.

The unmanned Cormorant is a compact, single-engine Vertical Take Off and Landing (VTOL) aircraft. Internal lift rotors give the drone the ability to land and take off almost anywhere it can find a large SUV-sized horizontal surface.

Unlike helicopters and many smaller drones with exposed rotors, the Cormorant’s six-foot rotors turn inside circular housings underneath the aircraft within the superstructure’s front and rear — hence the term “internal lift rotors.”

The lift rotors don’t swivel for horizontal travel. Instead, two smaller encased rotors are mounted vertically on either side of the drone’s tail. A single turbocharged engine powers all four rotors.

The Cormorant’s rotor arrangement minimizes the craft’s footprint. The smaller size and encased rotors allow it access to obstructed areas with wires, buildings, forests, jungles, and even mountainsides, where helicopters could never attempt to touch down.

In addition to its unique rotor placement, the Cormorant also stands out for payload capacity. Two main cabin compartments can each hold a bit more than 27 cubic feet of cargo (think medium-sized refrigerator), and an optional belly-mounted cargo hold accommodates an additional 35 cubic feet (a large refrigerator). Maximum combined cargo weight is approximately 970 pounds.

In battlefield evacuation and accident or disaster rescue, the VTOL drone has space for two casualties inside the cabin with ample room below in the belly cargo hold — if equipped — for additional supplies or materials.

According to the manufacturer, the Cormorant can transport prodigious quantities of food, water, and other needed supplies to remote or otherwise unreachable locations. With continuous round trips in a 50-mile radius, the drone could deliver more than six and a half tons of supplies (13,000-plus pounds) — enough for 3,000 people — in 24 hours.

Tactical Robotics lists unmanned inspection and monitoring flights for electrical grids, bridges, agricultural areas, and offshore oil platforms among diverse civilian applications. With optional remote-controlled mechanical arms, the Cormorant also could be used for spraying, retrieval, and other tasks.

The drone may be unique in its ability to provide “eye in the sky” photographic surveillance, and can transport cargo and equipment and perform evacuation duties.

Tactical Robotics has demonstrated the Cormorant operating via a preprogrammed course and with a human operator from a remote site.

Another useful item on the options list is a rocket-deployed parachute substantial enough to lower the drone and a full payload to safety if the engine or VTOL lift rotors fail.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • 2018 Nissan Maxima first drive review
  • This super-sized drone has several tricks up its sleeve
  • 7 ambitious DARPA projects that will help out the military of the future
  • University of Michigan hopes new drone facility pushes students to great heights
  • Yuneec Breeze review


27
May

Pelican coolers, SanDisk flash drives, and Amazon’s Echo are all on sale today


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

Today you can get big discounts on Pelican coolers, SanDisk flash drives, Amazon’s Echo, and more!

View the rest of the deals

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

27
May

The best HTC U12 Plus cases to keep your phone safe and beautiful


Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

So you’re a fan of the HTC U12 Plus — and why shouldn’t you be? HTC has outdone itself once again with a device that is packed to the brim with the latest powerful hardware, an impressive camera suite, and some utterly gorgeous good looks. But even with all that backing it up, the U12 Plus isn’t invincible, and that’s why, if you want your phone to keep looking pretty and stay crack and scratch-free, you better look at getting some protection for it.

But where to start? There is nowhere better than right here — we found the best HTC U12 Plus cases that will keep your phone safe.

Skinomi Brushed Steel Skin ($16)

If you want a modicum of protection, but don’t like the feeling of cases, or don’t like adding extra bulk to your phone, then a skin is probably the way forward. This skin from Skinomi isn’t exactly the same thing as a case, in that it’s essentially a textured sticker that you can lay across your phone in order to give it a new look — but it will protect your phone from some surface-level scratches, even if it won’t give it any extra protection against things like drops and bumps. It comes in a variety of looks, not just the brushed steel we’ve highlighted, and each one comes with a free screen protector for extra protection against scratches.

Buy it now from:

Skinomi

Olixar Flexishield Gel Case ($7)

If you’re looking for something with a decent amount of all-around protection and don’t want to break the bank or slap on a bulky case, then a simple gel case is for you. The Olixar Flexishield is made from TPU, a shock-absorbent and resistant soft material that also provides a good amount of additional grip. The soft TPU material won’t protect as well as a larger, bulkier case, but it will protect against bumps, smaller drops, and other threats by simply absorbing some of the shock. It has a raised bezel around the outer edges to stop your phone from touching down on surfaces, and it has cutouts for all the ports and functions.

Buy it now from:

Mobile Fun

BasicStock Hard PC Protective Case ($7)

If you want something a little harder than TPU, then check out this polycarbonate (PC) case from BasicStock. PC is a hard, lightweight material that’s great at resisting scratches and damage and it won’t add extra bulk to your phone, because it’s extremely thin and light. It won’t be able to resist drops as well as a TPU case, due to the material being less flexible, but it’s better than nothing. It has a nice, smooth texture laid over the PC material, lending extra grip to your phone, and the subtle black design adds a quiet style to your HTC U12 Plus.

Buy it now from:

Amazon

Yuqoka PU Leather Wallet Case ($8)

What is better for imparting an air of casual, executive style to a phone than a wallet case? This wallet case from Yuqoka is made from PU leather, which is a durable, easy-to-maintain alternative to real leather that is pretty tough to tell apart from real leather while being a fraction of the price. The flip cover rests over your screen when not in use, working with the inner TPU shell to keep your phone protected and can be folded back around the phone when in use to form a handy horizontal kickstand. It lives up to the “wallet” in its name with a card slot for credit cards or spare cash, and the soft feeling of the outside of the case and subtle elegance impacts a luxury feel to your phone at a bargain price.

Buy it now from:

Amazon

Moonmini Hard PU Leather Case ($8)

If wallet cases aren’t your thing, but you love the aesthetic of leather, then this stylish case from Moonmini might be your case of choice. It’s made from PU leather layered over hard PC, so it imparts all of PC’s hard protection, while also showcasing the elegant style of PU leather. The leather is formed into two sections, a two-tone pattern of black leather at the top and brown below, with fake stitching between the two. It’s soft in the hand, giving extra grip thanks to the leather texture, and the design really gives a new style to your already beautiful HTC U12 Plus.

Buy it now from:

Amazon

Poetic Karbon Shield ($10)

Good-looking protection can be hard to find, but this protective case from Poetic is a great example of how it’s done correctly. With a rugged, carbon fiber design and texture, the Karbon Shield provides all the soft, shock-absorbing protection of TPU, while also sporting futuristic good looks. It’s thin, adding only 0.1-inch onto the thickness of your HTC U12 Plus, and the carbon fiber texture provides extra grip for your device. There are even molded button covers for your phone’s buttons, keeping those otherwise vulnerable areas safe. All in all, it’s a great protective TPU case that doesn’t add bulk to your phone.

Buy it now from:

Poetic

Editors’ Recommendations

  • The best Nokia 7 Plus cases to keep your noteworthy Nokia untarnished
  • The best Moto E5 Plus cases to keep your budget phone beautiful
  • The best Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus cases to keep your titanic phone safe
  • These are the best iPhone X cases to protect your new Apple investment
  • Keep your shiny bezel-less phone safe with the best LG G6 cases and covers


27
May

Apple’s Phil Schiller Explains Why Valve’s Steam Link App Was Rejected


Apple recently made the decision to reject Valve’s Steam Link app after initially approving it, leading to many unhappy Steam customers who had been looking forward to the feature.

Apple has been silent on the issue despite several requests for comment, but today, Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller explained the reason behind the rejection to a MacStories reader and other Apple customers on Reddit who emailed to ask Apple to reconsider. In the email, Schiller says the Valve app violates a number of guidelines and that Apple is working with the Valve team to rectify the issue.

We care deeply about bringing great games to all of our users on the App Store. We would love for Valve’s games and services to be on iOS and AppleTV. Unfortunately, the review team found that Valve’s Steam iOS app, as currently submitted, violates a number of guidelines around user generated content, in-app purchases, content codes, etc.

We’ve discussed these issues with Valve and will continue to work with them to help bring the Steam experience to iOS and AppleTV in a way that complies with the store’s guidelines. omplies with the store’s guidelines. We put great effort into creating an App Store that provides the very best experience for everyone.

We have clear guidelines that all developers must follow in order to ensure the App Store is a safe place for all users and a fair opportunity for all developers.

The Steam Link app is designed to allow Steam users to play their Steam games on an iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV using either a 5GHz WiFi network or a wired Ethernet connection to a host PC or Mac. As our sister site TouchArcade said in a review of the app, it allows for “real” PC-like game experiences on Apple devices.

“I could see a very real situation where many people just straight up stop buying things from the App Store and exclusively purchase Steam games through Valve instead,” wrote TouchArcade editor-in-chief Eli Hodapp.

As MacStories points out, we don’t know the specifics of the guidelines the Steam Link app violates, but Apple has strict rules for features like filters for objectionable content, in-app purchases, loot boxes, and more. Steam Link, as a remote access app, does allow customers to purchase Steam games without standard in-app purchase methods, which is likely to be one of Apple’s main qualms.

Valve first announced the Steam Link app on May 9 after initial approval from Apple, but Apple later said the preliminary approval had been a mistake and told Valve the app was not eligible for release due to “business conflicts.” Valve’s statement:

On Monday, May 7th, Apple approved the Steam Link app for release. On Weds, May 9th, Valve released news of the app. The following morning, Apple revoked its approval citing business conflicts with app guidelines that had allegedly not been realized by the original review team.

Valve appealed, explaining the Steam Link app simply functions as a LAN-based remote desktop similar to numerous remote desktop applications already available on the App Store. Ultimately, that appeal was denied leaving the Steam Link app for iOS blocked from release. The team here spent many hours on this project and the approval process, so we’re clearly disappointed. But we hope Apple will reconsider in the future.

Valve has not commented on what features might need to be tweaked or removed to earn Apple’s approval, and it is not clear when we might see a modified version of the Steam Link app available for sale if Valve is able or willing to make the necessary changes to the Steam Link experience.

Tags: App Store, Phil Schiller, Valve, Steam
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27
May

The Dreem headset promised to improve our sleep, but it was a nightmare


Rythm

If you’re one of the 60 million Americans who have a sleep disorder, you’re probably willing to try anything to get a bit of shut eye. And while you may have already tried dozens of different sleep remedies with little success, a new sleep wearables manufacturer called Dreem believes it may have the solution.

What is the Dreem? Think of it like a minimalist cycling helmet designed by Yves Béhar you wear in bed, and you’re on the right track for the look. The headband contains five electroencephalography (EEG) sensors that monitor your brainwaves, along with an accelerometer, a heart-rate sensor, and a bone conducting speaker system. It’s light, coming in at a little over four ounces, and is wrapped in a plush fabric to make the device as comfortable as possible. Unfortunately for us, no amount of plush fabric could make it comfortable enough to make it through the night wearing the headset.

Dreem’s main benefits include falling asleep faster, which it promotes by playing white noise or simple audio tracks through the speakers, as well as improving the overall quality of your sleep by stimulating your brain during deep sleep stages with pink noise. Based on scientific research, this may help you wake up feeling more refreshed and better prepared for the day. Who doesn’t want that?

It could take up to a week to adjust and before you feel the benefits.

In addition to helping you fall asleep and get a better night’s sleep, Dreem offers an additional benefit: It helps you track your sleep patterns. Using the app, you’ll find data on your length of sleep, sleep cycles, position changes, as well as a sleep score.

Set up and pairing is relatively simple, though we wish Dreem provided more in-depth instructions in the companion app. Because the headset doesn’t directly connect to the app on your phone during the night, there’s no active Wi-Fi or Bluetooth signals zapping through your head while you sleep.

The battery is only good for one session though, and we had to recharge it every day. The bone-conducting speakers work by using your skull as a sound conductor so there’s no need for earbuds or headphones.

The target demographic

The first night I tried Dreem, I fell asleep quickly, and slept soundly for a few hours. I’d soon wake up feeling the front of the headset “stuck” to my forehead. It wasn’t actually stuck, but the EEG sensors were definitely more attached than I expected. Like little limpets. It was uncomfortable enough that it woke me, which seemed a bit troubling since I didn’t have any trouble sleeping in the first place.

Rythm

In my drowsy, keen to get back to sleep state, I always took the Dreem off and fell instantly back to sleep. It helped me fall asleep, and it felt good during those early deep sleep stages — making me think there’s something to it — and I wanted to experience a full night. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.

After this repeatedly happened, we spoke to Dreem, keen to find out whether this was a problem with us, or the headset. It turns out that while the company’s website is rather general about the benefits — it says it uses the technology to “improve your sleep every night” — it’s not really for people who sleep pretty well already, and is for people who don’t sleep well at all.

My first night with Dreem was, frankly, sort of a nightmare.

“We designed this for people with serious sleep issues, either falling asleep or waking up in the night,” Chief Marketing Officer Damien du Chéné told Digital Trends. “It’s best for people that have tried other methods to improve sleep, but without success, including sleeping pills.”

Du Chéné went on to explain that he believed people who actually have sleep problems would be able to acclimate to the device.

“We know it requires some effort, and that the first nights it’s normal to feel the headband. It’s an issue if it’s painful, but not if it’s uncomfortable. Those who are really motivated to change their sleep issues work past this.”

Since I am clearly not the intended audience for Dreem, we agreed to send the device to Steven Winkelman, a Digital Trends staff writer who has been diagnosed with a sleep disorder to see if he would have better luck.

Steven’s take

Since being diagnosed with a sleep disorder in my early twenties, I’ve tried dozens of remedies to get a better night’s sleep. I have no problem falling asleep mind you; I just wake up after a few hours, and am unable to fall back asleep. At that point, I either embrace the sleeplessness and pick up a book or, if I’m really tired, I’ll down a few Trazodone and pass out until the morning.

Before I even began to use the Dreem, I set up a call with executives from the company to learn more about the headset. I ended up not learning much else about it, but was strongly encouraged to try the headset for an entire week to get acclimated to it.

My first night with Dreem was, frankly, sort of a nightmare. When I initially put it on, I couldn’t really hear anything, so I fiddled with the volume slider at the top to turn up the speakers, only to find my partner complaining about the noise. Like usual, I fell asleep, only to wake up about two hours later. But this time, instead of being wide awake, I was wide awake with a headache.

Thankfully, Dreem does offer a 30-day money back guarantee if you want to give it a go yourself.

Since I expected the first night to be rough, I soldiered on thinking the experience would get better. It didn’t. I had the same headache on the the third night, and then the fourth night. By the fifth night, I pulled the Dreem off for the last time. I’d rather deal with insomnia over insomnia and a headache.

Conclusion

While the science behind Dreem is exciting and holds promise for people who suffer from sleep disorders, we’re not sold on the actual headset. In its current form, we found it too bulky and uncomfortable to wear for any reasonable amount of time. And at $500, the price of entry is just too high for a device that may or may not work. Thankfully, Dreem does offer a 30-day money back guarantee if you want to give it a go yourself.


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