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27
Jun

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+: Everything you need to know!


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Samsung once again has a fantastic pair of flagships.

Samsung’s new Galaxy S9 and S9+ are definitely iterative updates over last year’s dramatically redesigned Galaxy S8 series, but that’s not a problem. Instead of going back to the drawing board altogether, Samsung focused on fixing a lot of the issues while making drastic improvements to the camera experience and retaining everything that made the last generation so great.

Whether you’re looking to buy or make the most of your new Galaxy S9, we have all of the information you need right here.

June 27, 2018 — The unlocked Galaxy S9 now supports FM radio

Way back in January at the beginning of the year, Samsung announced it was partnering with NextRadio to bring free FM radio to the Galaxy S9 in both the U.S. and Canada.

The unlocked version of the S9/S9+ has still been without this FM functionality, but after a software update began rolling out on June 25 that upgraded the version number to G965U1UES2ARF4/G960U1UES2ARF4, a few Redditors quickly noticed that this finally turned on the FM radio chip.

To use this, download and install the NextRadio app from the Google Play Store, enable the Basic / FM Only Mode to make sure you’re not using any data, and plug in a pair of wired headphones/earbuds as these act as the antenna for the FM signal.

June 22, 2018 — We go hands-on with the Sunrise Gold Galaxy S9!

If you’re interested in getting one of the hot new Galaxy S9 colors, we have you covered with some Sunrise Gold.

What do you think?

What are the big changes over the Galaxy S8 series?

In a word, the camera. Samsung has kept the primary sensor at 12 megapixels, but that’s where the similarities end. The S9 and S9+ have adjustable apertures, switching seamlessly between f/1.5 and f/2.4, sitting in front of an all-new sensor that is great in low light. The Galaxy S9+ also gets a second 12MP sensor with a “telephoto” lens that provides 2X zoom and facilitates Live Focus, Samsung’s version of portrait mode that debuted with the Galaxy Note 8.

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+ specs

In terms of specs, the Galaxy S9+ (but only the S9+) has two more gigabytes of RAM than last year’s models. And let’s not downplay the importance of the fingerprint sensor being relocated to a much more sensible place on the back of the phone — below the now-vertical camera module.

Samsung Galaxy S9 review: A fantastic phone for the masses

Samsung Galaxy S9 India review: As good as it gets

Samsung Galaxy S9 review, 3 months later: Holding the high standard

Should you upgrade to the Galaxy S9?

This is the big question — and as always, it depends. If you’re running a Galaxy S6 or S7, and want to move to something new in the Samsung world, the answer is absolutely. If you’re rocking a still-new Galaxy S8 or Note 8, the answer is no. While there are substantial differences that clearly make the Galaxy S9 a better phone, the S8 is just a year old at this point, and has most of the Galaxy S9’s features thanks to its Android 8.0 Oreo update.

Samsung Galaxy S9 vs. Galaxy S8: Should you upgrade?

Samsung Galaxy S9+ vs. Galaxy Note 8: Which should you buy?

Is the Galaxy S9 better than the competition?

There are so many great phones on the market right now — how do you decide which one to buy? Here are our looks at the new phones compared to some of the best devices on the market.

The Galaxy S9 is the smaller of the flagships, and here’s how it compares to some of the other major phones on the market.

Samsung Galaxy S9 vs. iPhone X: The best of metal and glass

Samsung Galaxy S9 vs. Google Pixel 2: Which should you buy?

Samsung Galaxy S9 vs. Honor View 10

And how about the larger Galaxy S9+?

LG G7 vs. Samsung Galaxy S9+: Which should you buy?

Samsung Galaxy S9+ vs. Google Pixel 2 XL: The true flagships

OnePlus 6 vs. Samsung Galaxy S9+: Which should you buy?

Should you buy the Galaxy S9 or larger S9+?

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OK, so you’ve made up your mind to buy the Galaxy S9 — but wait, should you get the S9 or the larger S9+?

Unlike last year, the Galaxy S9+ feels like more of the “default” choice of the two. It has extra RAM and a secondary rear camera in addition to its overall larger screen and bigger battery — yet the price delta between the two hasn’t changed. If you can handle the size difference and would like the extra battery life, go for the Galaxy S9+.

Here’s why the Galaxy S9+ is worth the extra money over the GS9

What colors are available?

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Like last year, there are multiple colors of the Galaxy S9 series to purchase: Midnight Black, Lilac Purple, Coral Blue and Titanium Gray. U.S. buyers only get access to three of the four — silver is only available internationally — and both blue and purple are slight updates over last year.

A few months after the S9’s release, Samsung introduced two new colors in the form of Sunrise Gold and Burgundy Red.

Burgundy Red and Sunrise Gold are available around the world, and we took a look at the latter and it’s beautiful!

What color Galaxy S9 should I buy: Black, blue, purple, or silver?

Galaxy S9 and S9+ get Sunrise Gold and Burgundy Red color options; ARCore support

You can get as much as 256GB of internal storage

No matter where you decide to buy the Galaxy S9, 64GB is the default storage space that’s available with the phone. 64GB should be more than enough for most people, but if you want, you can always expand it with a microSD card.

However, if you’re someone who has a lot of local files and goes through GB like nothing, you may want to consider upgrading to a 128GB or even a 256GB model.

These larger configurations are sold exclusively on Samsung’s website and you’ll spend an extra $50 per each storage upgrade.

Samsung Galaxy S9: Which storage size should I buy?

Where can I get the best deal on a Galaxy S9?

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The Galaxy S9 is now available worldwide, both from carriers and also unlocked.

In the U.S., the Galaxy S9 costs between $720 and $800, while the Galaxy S9+ goes for between $870 and $915. For all the details, take a look at our roundup of the best Galaxy S9 deals.

Where to buy the Galaxy S9: Best deals for your new phone

See at Verizon

Getting started with the Galaxy S9

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Once you pick up your new phone, there are a few things you should do immediately. Here’s how to make your GS9 experience great!

The first 9 things to do with your Galaxy S9

The first 5 things to turn off in the Galaxy S9’s software

What’s this about bad battery life with the Exynos processor?

Samsung has regularly used both its own processors and Qualcomm’s latest chips in different markets, and it’s regularly been a point of discussion between enthusiasts as to which one is “better” overall.

In the Galaxy S9 and S9+, there’s a clear differentiation in that the Exynos versions of the phone have been getting much shorter battery life. To make things worse, the Qualcomm models are also outperforming Exynos in many synthetic benchmark tests.

So what can you do? Well, not much — Samsung doesn’t sell both versions of the phones in the same markets, so you can’t exactly cross-shop the two processors. The hope is that Samsung could update the firmware on the Exynos models to improve processor efficiency a bit.

Samsung Galaxy S9 battery problems, explained: Exynos vs. Snapdragon

Help me get started with accessories!

Once you have your Galaxy S9 or S9+, you’ll want to look into accessories like cases and screen protectors that make the phone even better. We’ve rounded up our favorites for you.

The best Galaxy S9 accessories

The best cases for the Galaxy S9

Four Great Quick Chargers for Galaxy S9

Spigen Rigged Armor case for Galaxy S9+ review: Low cost, rugged protection

Maxboost mSnap case for Galaxy S9 review: The only case you need

Having battery life problems?

The Galaxy S9 isn’t perfect —obviously, no phone is — but if you’re experiencing battery life problems, we have a guide on how to fix that.

How to fix Galaxy S9 battery life problems

Updated June 27, 2018: Added links to recent case reviews, accessory roundups, and information on new color options.

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+

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

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27
Jun

BlackBerry KEY2 review: Just my type


Call me maybe?

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How often do you write? You know, with a real pen? Me, not so often anymore, and certainly not longer than a few paragraphs in a birthday card.

I enjoy the process of writing, sure, and even long for the simpler days of grade 2 cursive homework and university exam notebooks, but every time I think about pulling out my old Moleskine to jot down some thoughts, they end up on Google Keep instead. New habits die hard and all that.

I do this despite the knowledge that writing is more deliberate, more thoughtful, and ultimately more creative. There are studies. Typing is just faster, and it allows me to accomplish more in a given time frame. Typing doesn’t preclude creativity, but there’s a dryness to it; it’s perfunctory.

I’ve been thinking about this lately as the industry decides once again whether to embrace a phone with a physical keyboard. Ubiquitous 10 years ago and still common in 2012, BlackBerry’s hardware legacy disappeared so quickly it’s almost like it was erased. And in some ways it was. Erased by bigger, taller, more versatile touchscreens, with better keyboards that made fewer mistakes.

But, like the creative power of the pen, was the keyboard phone’s absence making us worse communicators? Were we falling back on shorthand, on emojis, because virtual keyboards replaced efficiency with adaptability? And is the BlackBerry KEY2 the phone to prove us all wrong?

Not quite, but it makes a sparkling attempt at it.

BlackBerry KEY2



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Price: $649 USD / $829 CAD

Bottom line: BlackBerry does right by its keyboard-loving smartphone fans, but there’s enough here to attract even the staunchest of skeptics. BlackBerry just has to get them to put aside their ambivalence.

Pros:

  • Keyboard is a huge improvement over KEYone
  • Design improvements are transformational
  • Camera can be very good in decent light
  • Lots of small productivity boosters included in the software
  • Exceptional battery life

Cons:

  • Screen is too dark to use outdoors
  • Camera is very bad in low light
  • Single speaker is tinny and underpowered
  • Performance isn’t good enough for the price

See at BlackBerry Mobile

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Less is more

BlackBerry KEY2 The hardware

Operating System Android 8.1 Oreo
Display 4.5-inch, 1620×1080 IPS LCD434ppi
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 6604x Kryo 2.2GHz, 4x Kryo 1.8GHzAdreno 512 GPU
RAM 6GB
Storage 64GB / 128GB
Expandable microSD up to 2TB
Rear Camera 1 12MP (1.3 micron) ƒ/1.8 laser+phase autofocusdual-tone LED flash
Rear Camera 2 12MP (1 micron) ƒ/2.6 2x optical zoom portrait mode
Front Camera 8MP Selfie flash1080p/30 video
Battery 3500 mAhNon-removable
Dimensions 151.4 x 71.8 x 8.5 mm

As far as sequels go, this one is pretty conservative. But given the KEYone’s loyal following, and projected success (though TCL hasn’t released sales figures), changing too much would be construed as a betrayal.

But BlackBerry focused on improving areas of criticism from the first phone, especially performance. To that end, the phone has a beefier Snapdragon 660 — a substantial upgrade from the Snapdragon 625 of the original — along with 6GB of RAM in every model and an ample 64 or 128GB of storage. It has dual rear cameras, a stronger series 7 aluminum frame, and a drastically improved keyboard with keys 20% larger, and far more tactile, than on the KEYone.

Both the robust frame and redesigned keyboard are part of an overall cleanup and modernization of the phone’s exterior. Most importantly, the bulbous front camera and sensor cutouts of the KEYone have been more seamlessly integrated into the bezel atop the 4.5-inch LCD panel, and the earpiece is more sunken, allowing for richer sound.

This is easily the best-looking BlackBerry ever made, and that includes the Bold. Don’t @ me.

In fact, despite the presence of the keyboard, the KEY2 looks far more like a traditional phone than its predecessor in almost every respect. Thankfully, that extends to the placement of the power button, which is wedged between the convenience key and volume rocker on the right side of the phone. Its ridged texture distinguishes itself from the other buttons, which is a nice touch, but the fact that it’s there, on the right side where it should be, is reason enough for me to get excited about this phone. (I’m kidding, but not really.)

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This leaves the left side of the phone to deal with the SIM tray alone, all angles and matte finish. Putting the KEY2 next to the KEYone shows exactly where TCL’s designers focused their energy: on removing the shiny, cartoonish elements of the original. The KEY2 comes in two colors, black or silver, and both feature brushed aluminum finishes that speak more to my understanding of BlackBerry’s professional legacy.

And even if your association with BlackBerry is more BBM than holster, the takeaway for everyone looking at the KEY2 without irony (because many people still view a physical keyboard on a phone as a useless indulgence) is that it’s objectively much better looking than its predecessor.

That brings us to the keyboard. BlackBerry Mobile says the keys are 20% larger than before, and more evenly spaced thanks to redesigned frets. But perhaps the most significant improvement is the key finish, which is also matte.

That’s a big deal, because while the glossy KEYone may have looked good out of the box — all shiny and new — the keys got grimy and slippery after a few month’s use. So far, that hasn’t happened with this one.

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Continuing the KEY2 tour, around back there’s a familiar texture that makes the phone incredibly comfortable to hold and use. But it is top-heavy — more so than the KEYone — which affects how I hold it when I type.

In many respects, the KEY2 is more akin to a slider like the Torch than a traditional BlackBerry like the Bold or Curve. Despite being 12 grams lighter than its predecessor, the phone lilts backwards unless I’m propping it up with a pinky underneath, positioning my right thumb below my left.

This display is one of the phone’s most underwhelming components, and undermines its $649 price.

On large phones with virtual keyboards, this isn’t a problem because the pressure needed to execute a letter tap is negligible, but on the KEY2 I’ve yet to find a typing position that’s both comfortable and conducive to accurate typing. This is 100% my issue, and will likely not affect anyone coming from a KEYone, but it’s something to keep in mind if upgrading from an older BlackBerry or an all-touch device.

My one main issue with the hardware is the display. It’s dim — far too dim to comfortably use outside. This is the same panel that was in the KEYone, and it was merely mediocre then. Now it’s outright disappointing. Adding insult to injury, the display’s touch response is worse than most other flagships; it’s not sensitive enough to pick up minor taps, resulting in repeated presses and inconsistent scrolling.

A few other things to note about the hardware:

  • Phone calls sound great out of the earpiece. BlackBerry says it’s one of the few companies that still cares about call quality, and is using an extra microphone to cut out background noise for those on the other side of the line. I made quite a few, and every person told me they couldn’t hear a thing, even while walking down a busy street.
  • The single mono speaker is enormously disappointing. Soft at the top volume in addition to being tinny and shrill. Just a huge letdown.
  • Sound from the headphone jack is great, and that there’s a headphone jack at all is even greater.
  • Even though all of the phone’s buttons are now all on one side, it’s easy to differentiate between them thanks to a raised texture on the power button and the size differences. They’re also wonderfully clicky.
  • The textured back is very prone to oil stains from grubby fingers, so you’ll have to clean it regularly.

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The keyboard

I’ve used every keyboarded BlackBerry since 2004’s 8700 “Blueberry,” and the KEY2’s is definitely closest in style to the Bold 9900, still considered the best hardware keyboard ever made.

The key travel is a touch longer than its predecessor’s, and despite my thumb placement issues, it feels easier to get into a rhythm while typing. Part of that is due to the taller keys, but it’s mainly because of the matte finish, which causes my thumbs to slip far less than they did on the glossy. Identifying each letter is considerably easier, since the letters are more distinct.

I also love using the keyboard’s trackpad feature to scroll through long feeds and longer articles. It takes a bit of calibration to get it right — a light touch is all that’s necessary — but once you get the hang of it, it’s super useful.

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My main issue with the keyboard is that its on-device autocorrect companion isn’t very good. Unless you’re already accustomed to touch typing on a BlackBerry keyboard, and make few errors, you’re likely going to be frustrated by its lack of proactive correction.

There were times when I enjoyed using the keyboard, but I find it hard to believe most people will type faster on it than a good-quality virtual keyboard like Gboard.

Minor errors — a mispressed key, an accidental space — require a degree of manual attention that not only interrupt the typist’s flow but discourage me from attempting to type at a pace that would rival a touchscreen, where more errors are made but more consistently fixed.

Replacing the right Shift button is the new Speed Key, which works as a “function” button of sorts. Holding it and pressing any one of the keyboard’s 26 letters can open any app or activate any shortcut the system can muster, from beginning a text or email to opening the camera or Instagram. There are 52 possible combinations, too, since you can hold on the Speed Key and long-press any letter of the alphabet.

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Such functionality is estimable on the KEYone, but only from the home screen (and only using the BlackBerry Launcher). This bypasses all of those prerequisites, giving avid multitaskers more ways to manically accomplish tasks on the go. It took me a while to integrate the Speed Key into my daily routine, but once I figured out a macro system that worked, it became second nature to combo “Speed Key + S” for Slack or ” SK + I” for Instagram. I found myself rarely going home anymore.

A few other notes about the keyboard:

  • The phone is tall, so I appreciate the ability to reassign the currency key to pull down the notification shade. So, so useful.
  • On the other hand, you can also reassign the currency key to act as a CTRL button, which allows for quick copy-cut-paste. Also super useful.
  • That said, being able to swipe down over the keyboard keys to quickly enter the symbols menu, or double tap to precisely move the cursor, somewhat make up for the awkward marriage of physical and digital inputs. (It also takes quite a while to learn and remember all of these gestures and key combos.)
  • Accessing symbols and emoji requires interacting with the on-screen keyboard, which feels a bit awkward when trying to focus on physical typing.

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Mostly smooth

BlackBerry KEY2 Performance and battery life

The Snapdragon 660 inside the KEY2, along with 6GB of RAM, should be enough to assuage any lingering doubts about this phone’s performance. Right? Right?!

Thankfully, all is well in the world. This is not a phone meant for games — a single look at the form factor makes that clear — but for productivity tasks, multitasking and everything else one would throw at a phone of this lineage, the situation is just fine.

In fact, I’d say the Snapdragon 660, with its eight Kryo cores, is closer in design and features to the Snapdragon 835 than it is to existing 600-series chips, and that allows BlackBerry Mobile to sell the KEY2 for considerably less than a modern flagship without sacrificing performance or battery life.

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The phone feels quick, especially when using the Speed Key to get around between apps. And while many reviewers, including me, only saw severe slowdown manifest on the KEYone months after its release, I have faith that the ample amount of RAM should be able to prevent that from happening a second time. Still, this isn’t Pixel smooth or even Galaxy smooth. There are minor performance blips that, while not show-stopping, still crop up now and then. I haven’t been able to isolate them to a single app or action — it’s more the odd hiccup.

On the battery front, I’m noticing uptime as good, if not better, than on the KEYone. This is a powerhouse, a phone that’s meant to be pounded into submission, day after day. BlackBerry users have always insisted on this unyielding availability, and the KEY2 meets that demand.

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Snap. Chat.

BlackBerry KEY2 Cameras

The BlackBerry KEY2, like Motorola’s recent flagship phones, sidesteps a camera upgrade in favor of adding a second sensor. This is the trend, so BlackBerry must comply.

Unfortunately, the phone is worse off for it.

On paper, the KEY2’s camera should be better than the KEYone’s: a 12MP primary sensor with 1.3-micron pixels, an f/1.8 lens, dual phase-detection autofocus, and an improved ISP through the Snapdragon processor. Couple that with a second 12MP sensor with twice the focal distance and you have yourself a potent combination.

Last year, BlackBerry Mobile made a big deal about the pedigree of the KEYone’s camera sensor, the Sony IMX378, which was also found in the Google Pixel. At 1/2.3-inches in size and 1.55-micron pixels, the sensor itself was perfect for both daylight and low light shots, and while the KEYone struggled in dim conditions, it performed better than anyone expected. Even without significant post-processing optimization, the phone benefited tremendously from good genes, so to speak.

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In 2018, the KEY2 finds a compromise. A smaller Samsung sensor — the S5K2L2 ISOCELL, which was first used in the international Galaxy S8 — the phone takes decent photos but nothing more.

In daylight, photos benefit from a liberal application of HDR, and the f/1.8 aperture manages some impressive depth of field. Colors are vivid but not exaggerated, and there are ample manual tweaks available for those who want to play with shutter speed, exposure, and sensitivity. You can see how well the camera does when compared to the Pixel 2 below. Note how much more the colors pop, and how much warmer the yellows, oranges, and reds are.

BlackBerry KEY2 (left) / Google Pixel 2 (right) | Use your keyboard’s left and right keys to quickly compare photos.

Conversely, the KEY2 really struggles in low light.

The best low-light photos are merely usable, whereas the bad ones are just awful, some of the worst I’ve seen from a phone in this price range. The main issue is focus — it rarely manages to settle on a subject when the lights are low — but even with ISO ratcheted to over 6000 fine details are barely discernible and color is so muted the photo might as well be monochrome. The lack of optical image stabilization hurts the KEY2 a lot here.

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The KEY2’s low light performance is pretty dismal.

The primary sensor isn’t saved by the presence of the secondary telephoto, either. With a 2x focal length, it’s nice to grab the occasional long-distance photo, but any scrutiny belies its digital lineage. There is almost no discernible detail out of this second camera: every photo is splotchy and diffuse, like it’s been run through a de-noising filter (which it likely has).

KEY2 primary sensor (left) / KEY2 secondary sensor + 2x zoom lens (right) | Use your keyboard’s left and right keys to quickly compare photos.

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At the same time, the accompanying 12MP sensor also allows for portrait mode, which is surprisingly good given BlackBerry’s lack of experience in this area, but it still suffers from the same edge detection issues as every other phone.

A few more things about the KEY2’s camera:

  • By default, it takes photos at the screen’s native 3:2 aspect ratio. This is terrible practice, and the first thing you should do is change it to the world-accepted 4:3.
  • This phone’s manual mode is not a feature but a toggle: you either select Auto or Manual and stick with it, which I don’t mind, but I can imagine will be a little frustrating for the average user.
  • Video quality is much better than on the KEYone thanks to better electronic stabilization and support for 1080p@60 — another benefit of the Snapdragon 660.
  • With the power button on the right, you can set a double-press to quickly open the camera app. You can also use the Convenience Key below it to open the camera app with a single press. You can also set the Speed Key to open the camera app. There are so many ways to open the camera app!
  • Playing on BlackBerry’s legacy of privacy, when you snap a photo using the space bar as a shutter key, or take a photo when the phone is locked, the shots are stored in a “locker” and aren’t available to the rest of the OS. That means they won’t be uploaded to Google Photos or Dropbox, and you’ll have to decrypt them before sharing with others.

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Vaulted

BlackBerry KEY2 Software and features

With Android 8.1 on board and the KEY2 certified as part of the Android Enterprise Recommended program, I’d be remiss not to point out that the phone, as popular as it is with a small number of enthusiasts, is really aimed at the enterprise market.

To that end, the KEY2 maintains its predecessor’s focus on privacy and security, promising monthly security updates (bested only by Google itself) and, as part of the AER, “at least one major OS update.” So you know that the KEY2 will get Android P — eventually. For what it’s worth, the KEYone is still on Nougat and is expected to get Oreo shortly after the KEY2’s release.

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Mainstay apps like DTEK have received visual updates to improve usability, and the BlackBerry Locker now has built-in document support so files stored on the phone don’t need to be uploaded to the cloud.

More interesting is a partnership with Mozilla to pre-install Firefox Focus, its new super-fast, privacy-focused browser, within the locker, so nothing is tracked and everything is kept out of advertisers’ prying eyes.

There’s very little not to like about the KEY2’s software. It runs a very light version of Android 8.1 Oreo, and while I continue to ignore the presence of the BlackBerry Hub, which is just a resource management disaster of a productivity app, everything else is good.

Since BlackBerry shipped the Priv in late 2015, the company has shown a skill for building functional, well-designed productivity apps that work alongside the main OS. The issue today is the same one that presents itself on all Android phones today: Google’s versions are just better and more full-featured.

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Google Keep is better than BlackBerry Notes; Google Calendar is easier to use and faster than BlackBerry Calendar; Google Tasks syncs with the cloud and BlackBerry Tasks doesn’t. Apps that have a uniquely BlackBerry angle, like DTEK or the Privacy Shade, make sense to include on a phone like this. But from a consumer perspective, there’s nothing pre-installed that’s better than anything you can get for free on Google Play.

Still, if you choose to use BlackBerry’s apps and avail yourself of the various security features built in, you can also rest easy knowing that your phone will receive monthly security updates and will be next to impossible to hack.

BlackBerrys are still very secure, but they can no longer claim to stand alone in a sea of vulnerable Android devices.

On the other hand, BlackBerry’s long-touted claim that Android is inherently vulnerable to attacks and that you need a secure device like the KEYone to protect yourself has repeatedly been undermined by Google’s own ability to prevent OS-wide attacks through Play Services updates and by the Play Store’s powerful Play Protect engine.

The KEY2 may be ever-so-slightly less vulnerable to physical intrusions, but the days of saying BlackBerry devices are more secure than Galaxys or Pixels are over.

Some additional notes on the software:

  • Even though the KEY2 ships with Android 8.1, I wouldn’t expect an update to Android P very quickly. The KEYone still has Nougat, and it’s been out for nearly 18 months.
  • In addition to the Convenience Key and Speed Key, BlackBerry includes a Productivity Tab that’s always available with a swipe in from the right side of the screen. It’s basically an overlay for emails, calendar entries, and tasks, but you have to use BlackBerry’s apps for it to work. But below that, there’s an area for widgets of your choice, which makes it much more useful. But not useful enough for me not to disable it.

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Yes, but…

BlackBerry KEY2 Should you buy it?

The KEY2 has one direct competitor, and it’s its predecessor. Compared to the KEYone, this is a much better phone — even if the camera isn’t an improvement.

But will the KEY2 sell more than the KEYone and widen the keyboard phone market like BlackBerry Mobile believes it will? Outside of its core audience, does BlackBerry Mobile have the marketing chops to convince iPhone and Galaxy owners that they need to return to the good ol’ days of blinking-red-light productivity?

No, probably not. There are a number of conveniences here that I love, including the myriad keyboard shortcuts and affordances that come with having a phone that resembles a universal remote control. You can certainly do more with it, but so much of the benefit comes from setting things up exactly so, and acclimating to Android in a small-screened 3:2 world.

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Most of it works — even watching video, surprisingly enough — but a year on from the KEYone’s novelty, BlackBerry Mobile is facing the same problem larger companies like LG and HTC are dealing with: is it the best choice? Carving a niche is fine, but parent company TCL has set its sights high for BlackBerry Mobile, its flagship brand, and for the KEY2 in particular.

The good news is that the phone, as concept and execution, succeeds. Its profile is striking, its performance is excellent, and its inherited lineage remains intact, if more diffuse than ever.

In Canada, BlackBerry’s most resilient market, the KEY2 will be available July 6 starting at $99 on contract at Rogers, Bell, TELUS, and SaskTel. That’s a great endorsement.

In the U.S., it’ll be available unlocked and, at first, will only work on AT&T and T-Mobile (and their compatible subsidiaries and MVNOs). That’s unfortunate but not unexpected, and given the KEYone’s numerous iterations throughout its 16-month life, probably temporary.

3.5
out of 5


So should you buy the KEY2? BlackBerry Mobile managed to fix most of the issues, so if you were holding off on a KEYone, you’ll probably love this phone. For everyone else it’s about figuring out whether you can get to the point where tapping away at a physical keyboard, like pen on paper, brings you enough fulfillment that you forget about all the things you’re losing in the process.

See at BlackBerry Mobile

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27
Jun

Sonos Beam review: Raising the sound bar


The only living room speaker you need.

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To know a Sonos speaker is to love it. It’s that simple.

But to know a Sonos speaker is to know two, or five, or a $699 Sub or Playbar. Even though you get what you pay for, you still pay.

To some extent that changed with the now-$149 Play:1, which was succeeded by the $199 Alexa-touting Sonos One. But the speaker company, which has awkwardly stumbled into the smart assistant age, is alien to the average music listener because that industry is so heavily commoditized, and out of reach of its more attainable audience, TV watchers, because its existing products are so narrowly focused.

With the Beam that changes for the better. The way better.

Sonos Beam



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Price: $399

Bottom line: The Sonos Beam is a compact, powerful smart speaker that also happens to be a great TV soundbar.

Pros:

  • Huge sound for the size, especially from the low-end
  • Superb channel separation
  • Puts Sonos features right in front of you
  • Lets you control your TV with Alexa
  • Easy to set up

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Still doesn’t support Google Assistant
  • Alexa hot word is too sensitive

See at Amazon

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Sonos Beam What it is

The Beam is neither Sonos’ best music speaker nor its best sound bar, but it’s the most sensible product the company could have released in 2018. Unlike the massive and input-limited Playbar, the Beam supports HDMI ARC, which means it pulls double duty as a TV speaker and a remote control.

The idea behind the Beam is that it replaces your TV’s crappy built-in speakers, or gets rid of the need for a complicated receiver and separate pair of speakers. The latter was my setup — I have an expensive Yamaha multi-channel AV receiver and a pair of old Technics bookshelves — with my various set-top boxes polluting its HDMI ports and forcing me to use its awful remote. The prospect of simplification was enticing.

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So I unplugged my Chromecast, Apple TV, my Fire TV from the receiver and put them directly into my LG B7 OLED television, reserving HDMI 2, which supports ARC, for the Beam. ARC is intriguing, and this is my first time using the technology; it stands for Audio Return Channel, and it’s a standard that synchronizes the video on the TV with the audio from a connected speaker.

It also does one other really cool thing: it forgoes any setup or pairing, and it facilitates smart assistants like Alexa acting like a remote control. So not only does the Beam, when connected to a compatible TV, act as a rich, powerful speaker, but it lets you ask Alexa to turn on and off the TV, and on Amazon-built hardware, launch individual apps like Prime Video or Netflix.

But the Beam is two more separate products: it’s a Sonos speaker, which connects to nearly 100 streaming music and radio services like Spotify, Google Play Music, Apple Music, Audible, and others, and it’s an Alexa conduit, which means it’s a much better-sounding Echo, able to perform all the same smart home tasks and useful skills that Amazon has been adding to its platform since 2014.

The best streaming music services

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Sonos Beam What I like

At $399, the value proposition is fairly straightforward: the Sonos Beam is an outstanding speaker. Even if it didn’t do all the things I described above, it would almost be worth its asking price by virtue of its sound output. While it doesn’t match the deep bass and ultra-wide soundstage of the Playbar, which is near twice the price and double the size, the Beam’s four woofers, single tweeter, three passive radiators, and five Class-D amplifiers manage to amply reproduce a stereo pair from a single unit that’s just 26 inches wide, 3 inches high, and 4 inches deep.

I appreciate that Sonos doesn’t cloud its equalization with bias, either: the sound emitted from the Beam is, by default, clean and approachable. It doesn’t create bass that isn’t there, and it doesn’t pretend to be a speaker double the size. Sonos recommends the Beam for a small or medium-sized living room; it probably wouldn’t do well paired with a 100-inch projector in a theater.

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According to Sonos’ head of marketing, Michael Papish, only 20% of homes have any sound equipment connected to a TV in the living room. When looked at in such a context, the Beam is an ideal speaker for them because it also gets rid of the need for a separate smart speaker, or Sonos speaker in general, in one’s living area.

The Beam sounds better than most soundbars, and way better than any Alexa-enabled speaker.

At the same time, the Beam benefits from being paired with Sonos’ other products. I was easily able to use a pair of Sonos Play:1 speakers as a stereo pair, and the excellent Sonos app makes it trivial to set up. And while I don’t have one of the company’s excellent $699 subwoofers, when mixed with the Beam Sonos does the work to separate the bass from the mids so frequency crossover is smooth.

Here’s an example of why I love using the Beam, and why pairing it with a smart assistant makes so much sense. I use my voice to turn on my TV — “Alexa, turn on the TV,” and launch right into Netflix. I start watching some Luke Cage and hear a song I love. It’s Faith Evans’ “Mesmerized,” but it only plays for a few seconds so I ask Alexa to play the full thing. This leads me down a Bad Boy rabbit hole, so I open my Spotify app and build a new hip-hop playlist, pushing it to the Beam using Spotify Connect. Once I’m done, I press play on the TV and my episode resumes.

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The genius of Sonos is that it just works, and works everywhere. You can use the new-and-improved Sonos app (seriously, it used to be garbage and now it’s amazing) to consolidate music from any number of music services — the app’s universal search is excellent — or just use it as a Spotify controller. If you have more than one Sonos speaker, you can combine or separate them at any time for whole-home audio. You can choose to use Alexa or ignore the functionality altogether, muting the five far-field microphones with a tap on the Beam’s capacitive console.

Even when my TV is off, I use Beam to listen to podcasts or my local radio station. It stands in for Bluetooth speakers, smart speakers, and TV speakers. It’s just that versatile.

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Sonos Beam What I don’t like

Let’s offer a counterpoint to what I said above: at $399, the Beam’s value proposition is straightforward. It’s also outlandishly high compared to buying an Amazon Echo and a decent soundbar. If you’ve no need for Sonos’ integrated nature, it’s easy enough to recreate a facsimile of the experience with a $99 Echo and a $120 RSR.

This becomes doubly true when admitting that the Beam’s Alexa integration is pretty basic unless you’re also using an Amazon Fire TV, and that the far-field microphones are far too sensitive, accidentally activating a half dozen times an evening. Every word that begins with “Al-” elicits the recognizable activation chime, and that’s despite Sonos saying the Beam is less prone to false positives than the notoriously finicky Sonos One.

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Then there’s the question of Google Assistant support. When Sonos announced it was getting into the smart speaker game, it approached the problem as it had with music: it would be as open as possible and support as many APIs as it could. But Google Assistant integration was supposed to launch earlier this year and has been pushed back to an indefinite date citing unspecific compatibility problems. Later this year, the Sonos Beam will be among three speakers in the company’s lineup to support Apple’s AirPlay 2, but that won’t provide Android users much solace.

The final concern is with the HDMI spec itself: ARC is built into most TVs these days, but Sonos can’t control that side of the equation. It can only hope that customers are savvy enough to check their televisions beforehand or upgrade their sets at the same time. The fallback is an HDMI-to-optical adapter in the box, which should even the oldest of modern-day televisions to work, sans intelligence, with the Beam. And in neither configuration does the Beam support DTS, just Dolby Digital 5.1.

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Sonos Beam Should you buy it?

Let me tell you something about Sonos. All of the problems I mentioned above? The investment, the platforms, the cables, the specs — they all disappear once you start using the product. Every Sonos product is solid, and the Beam is no exception. This is my favorite speaker in the company’s lineup to date because it checks so many boxes.

And it will get better. The Beam will eventually support Google Assistant and all its intelligence, along with the smart home integrations and routines you’ve already set up on your phone, and Sonos will add additional services like YouTube Music to its music lineup. And there’s a good chance, once you buy a Beam, you’ll want to spend more money on additional Sonos stuff.

4.5
out of 5


Even if you don’t, and just stick with the Beam as your sole Sonos product, you’ll be happy with its massive feature set and awesome sound.

See at Amazon

27
Jun

The BlackBerry KEY2 is MrMobile’s next phone (for better or worse)


It takes a special combination of keyboard clacker, nostalgia buff and privacy seeker to carry a BlackBerry in 2018. In one respect that makes the reviewer’s job simple, boiling it down to the simple calculus of “do you want a keyboard? If yes, buy this phone.” Last year’s BlackBerry KEYone earned my recommendation based largely on that distinction – and in spite of some software sluggishness that ultimately ousted the device from my daily rotation.

The BlackBerry KEY2 corrects for that shortfall while upgrading the specs and introducing a much more refined fit and finish. Also, the keyboard has been totally re-worked, with larger keys bearing a new matte finish and a button dedicated exclusively to the kind of multitasking that power users demand. Those improvements are welcome, as is the retention of the previous model’s outstanding battery life. But the display is the same dim panel from last year, and the camera, for all its dual-lens trickery, ultimately fails to impress. That wouldn’t be as big a problem if BlackBerry weren’t asking $649 for this device, but it is. That’s the same price as a Google Pixel 2, over a hundred dollars more than the OnePlus 6. The question then becomes: is It worth it anyway?

If you’re still weighing the pros and cons of snapping up the best BlackBerry in years, lend a click to the BlackBerry KEY2 Review above. Then, let me know which way you’re leaning (or how much you’re enjoying your new KEY2) in the comments below!

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27
Jun

Google Pixel 3: News, Rumors, Release Date, Specs, and more!


Everything we know about what’ll likely be one of the year’s best phones.

Google first introduced its Pixel series in 2016, and since then, has been hard at work to establish itself as a serious player in the smartphone market. Google may be one of the most powerful and iconic companies in the world, but when it comes to hardware, is still very much a newcomer.

We saw vast improvements with the Pixel 2 compared to the original Pixel line, and we’re expecting to get that again with the Pixel 3. Google’s quickly learning what it takes to compete with the likes of Samsung and Apple, and seeing as how the Pixel 2 was one of 2017’s best phones, there’s a lot riding on this year’s entry.

Ladies and gentlemen, here’s everything we know so far about the Google Pixel 3.

The latest Pixel 3 news

June 27, 2018 — Pixel 3 and 3 XL renders show the phones from every possible angle

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As if previous leaks of the Pixel 3 and 3 XL haven’t been revealing enough, MySmartPrice teamed up with OnLeaks to share a boatload of both photo and video renders of the two phones.

These renders confirm a lot of what we’ve previously seen, including things like an all-glass back for both phones, single rear cameras, and a notch on the larger Pixel 3 XL.

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However, while earlier rumors suggested that only the 3 XL would have two front-facing cameras, these renders show that the regular Pixel 3 will have them, too.

The Pixel 3’s display is said to measure in at 5.4-inches with an 18:9 aspect ratio, whereas the Pixel 3 XL will have a 6.2-inch screen and 19:9 setup. As for the dimensions, we’re looking at 145.6 x 68.2 x 7.9mm for the Pixel 3 and 158 x 76.6 x 7.9mm for the 3 XL.

June 18, 2018 — Case render confirms Pixel 3 XL design

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Ice Universe on Twitter has built up a reputation for being pretty accurate about leaks/rumors in the mobile space, and on June 18, they shared a case render that further confirms the Pixel 3 XL’s design.

Like we saw with the hands-on photos on June 7 and 8, the Pixel 3 XL will have a notch in its screen, dual front-facing cameras, stereo speakers, rear-mounted fingerprint sensor, and a single rear camera.

It’s rather peculiar that Google’s choosing to use two cameras on the front while keeping just one on the back, but based on how excellent the Pixel 2’s single rear camera is, I don’t expect this will be a downside at all.

When will the Pixel 3 be released?

In 2016 and 2017, Google held its hardware event on October 4. We don’t have a concrete date for this year’s event quite yet, but there’s no reason to believe Google will deter from this pattern.

Another October 4 event isn’t out of the question seeing as how that falls on a Thursday this year, but at the very least, we should be looking at some point in early October.

Pre-orders for the Pixel 3 will likely open shortly after it’s announced that same day with shipments going out at least a couple of weeks later.

How much will the Pixel 3 cost?

Over the past couple years, pricing for Google’s Pixel phones has remained mostly the same. The MSRP for the Pixel and Pixel 2 series is as follows:

  • Pixel w/ 32GB — $649
  • Pixel w/ 128GB — $749
  • Pixel 2 w/ 64GB — $649
  • Pixel 2 w/ 128GB — $749
  • Pixel XL w/ 32GB — $769
  • Pixel XL w/ 128GB — $869
  • Pixel 2 XL w/ 64GB —$849
  • Pixel 2 XL w/ 128GB — $949

I imagine we’ll see similar numbers with the Pixel 3, but don’t be too surprised if we get a Pixel 3 XL variant that crosses the $1000 threshold.

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27
Jun

BlackBerry KEYone on Rogers finally getting Android 8.0 Oreo on June 28


Other models should follow shortly.

With the BlackBerry KEY2 out in the wild, KEYone owners might feel the urge to upgrade to BlackBerry’s latest and greatest. However, if you hold on to your KEYone for just a little longer, it’ll soon get a new lease on life.

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Starting Thursday, June 28, Canadian carrier Rogers will begin rolling out Android 8.0 Oreo to the BlackBerry KEYone.

This is the first and only Oreo announcement we’ve heard for the phone so far, but if Rogers is ready to start pushing the new software out, there’s reason to believe that other models of the KEYone will receive Oreo updates soon, too.

In addition to 8.0 Oreo, Rogers’ upgrade schedule notes that this June 28 update will also bring Wi-Fi calling to the KEYone.

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27
Jun

DirecTV Now and Android TV — where the hell is it?


directvnow-androidtv.jpg?itok=8q2KPsut Womp, womp. No DirecTV Now on Android TV. Because reasons.

One of the best streaming services still isn’t officially on one of the best platforms.

We are nearly halfway to 2019. More people are cutting the cord than ever and turning to devices like Android TV and the NVIDIA Shield TV for all of their video needs. Streaming services like Sling and PlayStation Vue are better than ever. Same goes for AT&T’s DirecTV Now service.

Which … still isn’t officially available on Android TV.

Why in the world is that still a thing? We’re asking at CordCutters.com — and we’re not liking the answers we’re getting.

Read: Where is the DirecTV Now app for Android TV at CordCutters.com

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27
Jun

Common Galaxy S7 problems and how to fix them


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The Galaxy S7 is an awesome phone, but it’s not without its problems. Here are some of the most common issues and how to fix them.

Way back in March 2016, the Galaxy S7 and larger S7 edge launched — followed a bit down the road by the rugged Galaxy S7 Active. They’re great phones, and have sold in amazing numbers. But given that the phones are now over two years old, it’s not surprising that some issues — both hardware and software — have arisen in that time.

Samsung has been generally good about correcting the major problems through software updates, but there are some big issues that users can address on their own rather than waiting for an update.

Samsung Galaxy S7 Oreo review: What to expect from your final software update

Battery life problems

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The Galaxy S7 suffers from battery issues more so than the larger Galaxy S7 edge — the former has a 3000mAh battery to the edge’s 3600mAh cell — but they’re both prone to getting beaten by the daily grind.

  • The first thing you’re going to want to do is eliminate any errant battery-sucking apps that you’ve downloaded from the play store. Facebook and Facebook Messenger continue to be two that are repeatedly brought up by members of the AC community as being the worst battery offenders. Facebook can be accessed from the mobile web, and Facebook Messenger, well — consider using another app like WhatsApp instead and call it a day.
  • To check whether an app is using an unreasonable amount of battery, dive into Settings, Device maintenance, Battery to isolate the misbehaving apps.
  • These potentially problematic apps extend to bloatware installed by your carrier. If you use a Verizon, T-Mobile or AT&T model, in particular, you’ll benefit from deleting or disabling some or all of the pre-installed carrier apps on the phone.
  • You can also disable the always-on display by going to Settings, Lock screen and security, Always-on display and turning it off. You can also choose to compromise by setting it to only run on a schedule, perhaps through the middle of the day.
  • In both Nougat and Oreo, Samsung sets the screen resolution to just FHD+ to save battery. If you’ve turned that back up to QHD+, or enabled “High performance mode,” you can save battery by returning the screen to its default. Do this in Settings, Display, Screen resolution.

How to fix Galaxy S7 battery life problems

Finally, realize that at this point in its life, the Galaxy S7 series have batteries that simply don’t hold the same amount of charge as they did a year (or two) ago. Batteries degrade over time, and after they’ve been charged and discharged hundreds of times they lose their ability to get back up to their theoretical 100% capacity. Know that no matter what you do in software, your Galaxy S7 is likely to get less battery life than it did in the past.

Wi-Fi & Bluetooth issues

Among the most common problems on a smartphone today, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth problems can be caused by a number of factors, many of which are outside of your control.

When troubleshooting these wireless connections, it’s important to establish whether the issue is indeed your phone or the object(s) you’re connecting to, and the fastest way to determine that is to use another phone or tablet to connect. If that other product has no connectivity issues, then it’s worth pursuing a fix on the Galaxy S7 or S7 edge itself.

Make sure you turn off Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, wait a few seconds and turn it back on. If that doesn’t fix the problem, head to the next step.
Restart your phone. Sometimes all that’s needed a quick kick to the reset button and you’re good to go.
If Wi-Fi problems persist, try forgetting the network by holding down on the SSID (name) and tapping Forget network. Then re-enter the password.
If Bluetooth problems persist, try unpairing the object from your phone and re-pairing. To do that, tap on the little cog icon next to the product’s name and hit Unpair. Put the speaker or whatever you’re connecting to in pairing mode and connect again.
To delete and reset all of your network settings to start fresh, go into General management, Reset and then Reset network settings. Remember, this will remove all of your saved networks and Bluetooth devices — but it may also fix your problems.

How to fix Wi-Fi problems on the Galaxy S7

Slow performance

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This is a big category, and pretty hard to pin down, but we’ll go through some of the most common solutions. Obviously, slow performance can be indicative of an errant app that may also be sucking up battery life, so dealing with this may help the other. Phones are known to slow down over time as people add more and do more with them.

Free up internal storage

The Galaxy S7 has 32GB of internal storage, and once you fill that up, the phone may begin to chug. The system will alert you when you get really close to the edge, but even before then, deleting some of those larger apps and games may do the trick.

In the Apps area of your settings, you can sort them by size to see the largest files and decide whether you should keep them around. If your Galaxy S7 has Nougat or Oreo, you can also use Samsung’s built-in Device maintenance settings to “clean” your storage by deleting old unused files and app caches.

It may also be a good idea to upload your photos to Google Photos so you can delete them locally. Google Photos offers unlimited free high-quality backups, along with at least 15GB of full-quality backups, on any phone, including the Galaxy S7. It’s also likely pre-installed on your device — just look for it in the Google folder on your home screen, or in the app drawer.

Reset settings

If you still feel like something’s just not quite right with your phone, you can try to reset its settings. This isn’t a full factory data reset, but merely an option to change all of the phone’s settings (think sound, display, network, etc.) back to their default state. You’ll lose a lot of your personalization, but perhaps this could fix whatever problems you’re seeing as well.

Go to your Settings.
Scroll down to General management.
Tap on Reset.
Tap on Reset settings.
Read the warning and then tap the Reset settings button.

  • If you have a lock screen pattern or PIN, you’ll have to confirm it

Your phone will restart, and when it comes back all of its settings will be changed to their defaults.

Change launchers

On the surface, changing launchers may not seem like it will do anything, but it does: Samsung’s default launcher is notoriously slow, especially with all the features enabled (like Flipboard Briefing, which you should probably turn off).

To fix that, you may want to change launchers to something a bit more lightweight and performant. May we suggest one of the following?

The best Android launchers

Problems after updating to Android 8.0 Oreo

If any of your issues have come on in particular after receiving the Android 8.0 Oreo update, things get a bit tougher to diagnose.

  • To start, give your phone time to settle into the new update. For the first few hours, or even a whole day, your phone can be sluggish after taking on such a big update. Many apps are updating or rearranging themselves after the new software is put in place.
  • Now is also a great time to reevaluate what apps you do and don’t need. If you haven’t used an app in a while, delete it. Taking on a big software update and keeping around a bunch of old apps (and their data) can slow your phone down further.
  • If an individual app is misbehaving, clear its data (aka uninstall and reinstall) and restart your phone.
  • If battery life is a concern, look at some of the tips above to see if you can clear it up. Switching to FHD+ display resolution, in particular, is useful.

And last, but certainly not least, you may just have to perform a factory reset on your phone after updating to Oreo. If you haven’t reset your phone since you bought it, and have since received both major updates to Nougat and Oreo, there’s a lot of cruft stick in that phone. A factory reset may be just what the doctor ordered to restore your GS7 to its former glory. We detail the steps on a factory reset below.

Random restarts and boot loops

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A common occurrence, especially in more recent months, has been Galaxy S7 units randomly freezing while in use, restarting, or what’s known as boot looping, which finds the phone stuck in a cycle where it attempts to boot into Android but somehow gets stuck and performs the process all over again.

Like with all the above issues, there are a number of potential issues causing this, from errant apps causing overheating to problems with an Android update to a corroded or damaged mainboard.

To troubleshoot, work from easiest solution to most difficult.

If your phone boots into Android but is randomly restarting, it may be overheating or have a problematic app. Follow the instructions above to isolate the malefactor.
If deleting all potentially problematic apps doesn’t work, reboot into the recovery and clear the cache partition.
If that doesn’t work, it may be time to factory reset the phone completely. If you can’t get into the phone, follow the instructions to factory reset the phone from the recovery menu.

How to factory reset your phone

There are myriad reasons your phone may be bogged down, and merely deleting apps, changing launchers or disabling some features may not do enough.

If you’re running into a virtual brick wall, back up everything in Google Drive, Google Photos, Dropbox, or wherever else you tend to store your virtual goods, and start over.

How do you do that on your Galaxy S7 or S7 edge?

Go to your Settings.
Scroll down to General management.
Tap on Reset.
Tap on Factory data reset.
Read the warning, scroll down and tap Reset device.

  • If you have a lock screen pattern or PIN, you’ll have to confirm it

Once the phone restarts, it will be as though you’ve never used it — sign back into your Google account, and let it restore your apps and data from the cloud.

Other issues?

What are your main issues with the Galaxy S7 or S7 edge? We’ll keep this article updated as new information becomes available!

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Update June 2018: Improved our help and tips for those who have been using their Galaxy S7 for over two years, and finding bugs after updating to Oreo.

27
Jun

Google Duplex will begin testing in the real world this summer


Early demos of the tech have been quite promising.

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Among all the announcements that came out of Google I/O this past May, the most exciting was definitely Google Duplex — Google’s new artificial intelligence system that can make phone calls to book reservations and appointments on your behalf. The demos that we saw at I/O almost seemed too good to be true, but according to The Verge, Duplex works just as well as it did in May and will officially begin testing in the real-world this summer.

Google recently let a few people demo Duplex before it’s widely released to the public, and based on the impressions coming out of the demos, Duplex is every bit as futuristic as we remember:

The demos we saw had many of the same elements that made the original demonstration at Google IO so impressive: the voice sounded much more human than normal, complete with ums and ahhs. It also featured something we didn’t hear last May: each call started with an explicit statement that the call was being recorded.

As noted above, the public version of Duplex does alert people on the other end of the call of what it is. In the announcement video Google published, the first thing Duplex says is “Hi! I’m the Google Assistant calling to make a reservation for a client. This automated call will be recorded.”

If someone interrupts the Assistant and says they don’t want to be recorded, Duplex will acknowledge the response, say “Ok, I’ll call back on an unrecorded line”, and then have a human operator call back. Speaking of humans, Google has an entire fallback system in place just in case something goes wrong with Duplex. If Duplex gets confused, a human can take over the call at any point to finish things up.

Initially, Duplex will only be available for a small group of testers Google’s chosen.

All of this is immensely exciting, but when will you actually be able to use Duplex?

In the next few weeks, Google will initially roll out Duplex to “a set of trusted tester users” that can use Duplex to call businesses Google’s explicitly partnered with. Duplex will only be able to call about holiday hours at first, but at some point this summer, it’ll be able to make full restaurant reservations. The ability to book haircut appointments is still coming, but that’ll be the last thing we see added.

Google Duplex will first be available in the United States with support for English, but as we saw during the demo in May, it’ll understand a variety of accents and dialects.

It’ll likely still be quite a few months before you can use Duplex like any old Google Assistant feature, but even so, it’s beyond exciting that this technology works as well as it does and will soon begin testing in real-world situations.

Are you excited to start using Duplex?

I’m ecstatic to live in a Google Duplex world

27
Jun

Cover a large home in strong Wi-Fi with the $250 Netgear Orbi 3-pack system


Wi-Fi Blanket.

The Netgear Orbi home mesh networking system 3-pack is down to $249.98 on Amazon. This same kit sells for around $294 usually, and this price is a match for the lowest we’ve seen.

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If you’re in the market for a cable modem to go along with this system, you can still save a few bucks with this bundle we shared a week or so ago. It features the same Orbi system and a CM700 cable modem for $314 total, which is still about $30 in savings even with this new deal price on the Orbi.

The Orbi mesh networking system covers up to 6,000 square feet in high-performance Wi-Fi. It can produce speeds up to 2.2Gbps, and these satellites are designed to be compact so they can be placed conveniently throughout your home. All the satellites share a single name so you won’t have any network interruption when you go from room to room. Use the free Orbi app to set it all up in minutes.

See on Amazon

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