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18
Jul

Moto Z3 Play review: Buy it on sale


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Specs. I’ve read every Moto Z3 Play review to date and most of them focus on how the phone, at $499, lacks a compelling value proposition against a clearly superior phone like the OnePlus 6.

That’s certainly one way to look at it, but the other, better way to view the Moto Z3 Play is on its own terms. It’s a flexible, extensible, and utterly convincing representation of modular computing in 2018, and one that I continue to turn to, day after day, despite the presence of more powerful, better-looking products — namely the OnePlus 6.

But the Moto Z3 Play isn’t for everyone. Like many other Motorola smartphones today, it’s finding its place on Amazon, not carrier shelves, and for a good reason — Verizon isn’t selling it this time around. If you’re on Sprint or US Cellular, its U.S. carrier partners, you can do better.

But if you’re looking for an unlocked phone under $500, the Moto Z3 Play, despite its flaws, is your best bet right now.

Moto Z3 Play



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Price: $449 (Amazon) / $499 (Motorola)

Bottom line: The Moto Z3 Play is a very good mid-range smartphone that works on every U.S. carrier. But a mediocre camera and early software bugs keep it from getting my unreserved recommendation.

Pros:

  • Impressive build quality
  • Awesome battery life
  • Excellent, fluid software
  • Moto Display makes any phone better
  • Moto Mods support makes up for some hardware limitations

Cons:

  • Mediocre camera quality
  • Some software bugs
  • Power button placement is objectively bad

See at Amazon

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Moto Z3 Play What I like

Operating system Android 8.1Moto Display, Voice, Actions
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 processor Octa-core Kryo 260 @ 1.8GHz GHz 14nm process
Screen 6.01-inch Full HD (2160×1080) AMOLED
RAM 4GB
Storage 32GB / 64GB
Rear camera 12MP, Dual Autofocus Pixel phase-detect, laser autofocus 1.4-micron pixels f/1.7 lens dual-LED flash
Rear camera 2 5MP
Front camera 8MP 1.12-micron pixels f/2.0 wide-angle lens
Battery 3000mAh
Colors Deep Indigo
Dimensions 76.5 x 156.5 x 6.75 mm
Weight 156g

There’s plenty to like about the Moto Z3 Play: its impeccable build quality, framed with Series 6 aluminum and covered with Gorilla Glass 3 on either side. Its bright 18:9 AMOLED display is quite good, and touch response is second-to-none in this price range. It’s like using a Pixel.

The Snapdragon 636 processor is really quite powerful — certainly enough to crank through everything you’re going to throw at this thing. The reality is that Motorola is at the whim of Qualcomm’s confusing marketing — the S636 is an underclocked but otherwise-identical Snapdragon 660, which in its place would have alleviated much of the derision at the phone’s performance. In reality, I’ve yet to notice a major difference in day-to-day workload between the Moto Z3 Play and something like the Pixel 2. Where the disadvantages crop up is in imaging, which I’ll get to in the next section.

My unit shipped with 4GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, but the one you’ll buy on Amazon comes with 4/64, which should be enough for most people. Of course, when comparing this to the OnePlus 6, which comes with 6/64 for just $30 more, along with a much more powerful Snapdragon 845 processor, the Z3 Play will appear lackluster in comparison, but you’re not getting the whole story when you just compare things on paper.

The Moto Z3 Play isn’t a better phone than the OnePlus 6, but there are still reasons to like it more.

For my money, the Moto Z3 Play has a few distinct advantages not just over the OnePlus 6 but over every other phone on the market. For starters, Moto Display is still the best ambient display you’ll find on any phone, and its value is incalculable when used dozens or hundreds of times a day. It works by surfacing your last three notifications as little bubbles on your lock screen.

You can quickly glance at them without turning on the phone, or action them by swiping up or down depending on what you’re doing. The feature debuted on the 2013 Moto X and has been updated pretty regularly since then, but what hasn’t changed is its simple efficiency.

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Couple that with Moto Mods support and you have yourself a well-rounded Android phone. Most Mods, like the battery in the box, are “stick and forget” options. Given that the Z3 Play is a hair under 7mm thick, adding a battery Mod doesn’t add a lot of bulk, and it’s not difficult to use the phone with one attached for most of the day — especially when you get the battery life that such a combination provides. In my testing, the phone’s default 3,000mAh battery and the included 2220mAh battery Mod combined for a whopping nine hours of Screen On Time, and roughly 36 hours of mixed use without recharging the phone at all.

Most of the time, though, I had the wireless charging Mod attached to the back. It’s a single-purpose product, about 1.5mm thick with a textured back. With it attached, the phone feels neither bulky nor slippery; without a Mod, the phone feels a bit vulnerable to scratches and unfortunate drops.

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Motorola also managed to increase the size of its screen without compromising Mods support, which is an impressive feat for a nascent ecosystem.

Previous Moto Z phones had 5.5-inch displays with that now-outdated 16:9 aspect ratio, along with fingerprint sensors below the screen. It’s odd how quickly tastes change, but that first-generation Moto Z looks practically ancient to my eyes. But elongating the screen without doing the same with the body meant figuring out what the heck to do with that fingerprint sensor, so Motorola punted it to the right side, below the volume buttons and across from the power button (more on that quizzical decision in a moment).

The fingerprint sensor is best-in-class.

I love this fingerprint sensor: it’s extremely fast to pick up even the edge of my thumb, and its placement feels natural. Like my friend Kellen at Droid-life, I agree that more companies, if they want to continue with capacitive sensors, should move them to the side of the phone. The Z3 Play also employs a version of face unlock that’s surprisingly fast and extremely insecure, negating the need for the fingerprint sensor entirely if you find it cumbersome.

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Let’s also talk about the phone’s software experience in general. The Z3 Play ships with Android 8.1, and aside from the single Moto app there’s nothing you wouldn’t find on a Pixel device. It’s that clean.

On the other hand, the Amazon Prime Exclusive version, which I suggest buying for its $50 discount, is full of Amazon apps, none of which can be deleted, though all can be disabled. If that bothers you, spend $50 more and get it directly from Motorola — nice and simple.

The good news is that, like all of Motorola’s phones, the device sounds incredible while making calls, and the single front-facing speaker does an awesome job projecting sound towards the ears. As all phones should.

One of my favorite features about Motorola phones is also its most subtle: it just feels like a complete package.

And better yet, the Z3 Play, even if you can’t buy it at Verizon, works on Verizon — and Sprint, and T-Mobile, and AT&T. It’s one of Motorola’s ever-present virtues, that its phones are certified for nearly every carrier in the world. Better yet, the Z3 Play just works — not just on networks, but in general. Aside from the software bugs (mentioned in the next section), the phone adds up to far more than the sum of its parts.

I really like using Motorola phones because, like Google’s Pixel line, they are holistically well-rounded. They don’t do anything best but do everything well, and when you’re old like me (I’m 33) and no longer chasing the speeds and feeds of furious spec sheets, a phone like the Moto Z3 Play, with support for a vast line of Mods that are helpful but not essential.

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Moto Z3 Play What I don’t like

The Moto Z3 Play’s camera isn’t great. Like last year’s Z2 Play it’s not bad, but it’s not a device I’d want to bring with me to a wedding — or even a fancy party. That’s mainly because it uses the same 12 megapixel main sensor as its predecessor, benefiting only slightly by improvements to the image processing through the Snapdragon 636. That results in images slightly more color-accurate and less prone to motion blur, but similarly deficient in low light.

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I did get some great shots from the Z3 Play, and the twist-to-capture gesture (another holdover from the original Moto X) is incredibly useful, but the OnePlus 6 takes far better photos. If camera quality is your main priority, and you don’t want to invest in the $200 Hasselblad True Zoom Camera Mod, avoid the Z3 Play. And the less I say about the secondary camera, the better. Motorola’s software is just bad at building portrait photos, and I’d have much preferred the company to focus on improving its primary camera than augmenting it with a crappy sidekick.

Still, there are things to like about the camera experience: the Cinemagraph mode is tons of fun, and I used it liberally. And the camera app itself combines powerful manual controls with a simple, elegant user experience that more phone makers should emulate.

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I’d also be remiss not to talk about the terrible power button placement. Did Motorola not get the memo that power buttons shouldn’t be on the left side of the phone? Sure, perhaps it would have been awkward to put it above the fingerprint sensor, but — no, that wouldn’t have been awkward at all. It would have been objectively better. The volume buttons should be on the left and the power button on the right. There’s no excuse for this.

Also troubling is that number of software bugs I came across, mainly pertaining to notifications. Remember how I told you Moto Display is great? Well, it is. But it relies on Android’s notification system, and on this particular device, notifications would either take hours to show up — I missed a few very important emails during my time with the phone — or would show up on time and, when tapped, wouldn’t actually do anything. I’d open the notification shade, tap on the message, and it would disappear but the accompanying app wouldn’t open. This usually happened on Twitter, but it wasn’t limited to that most persnickity of social networks.

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Software updates haven’t been a Motorola strongsuit in recent years, so don’t expect regular patches.

I did reach out to Motorola to ask about these issues, and they’re actively working with me to diagnose them — early hardware, early software, etc. — but the issues were pervasive enough to bring up here. Your mileage my vary.

Finally, there’s Motorola’s recent poor history of software updates. The Moto Z2 Play still hasn’t received an update to Oreo on its biggest carrier partner, Verizon, despite its more premium counterpart, the Z2 Force, receiving it in January. Seriously, the phone got Oreo more than seven month ago. It’s not that Motorola doesn’t update its phones — the original Moto Z Play has Oreo, but only in the unlocked stream — but that it’s so haphazard and inconsistent. And to owners of Motorola phones that have been burned by promises, that doesn’t mean much. I’d expect similarly slow updates for the Moto Z3 Play on Sprint and US Cellular, the phone’s only carrier partners.

Oh, and there’s no headphone jack.

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Moto Z3 Play The competition

This phone exists in a bit of a smartphone Purgatory: there aren’t many great devices left in the $500 pseudo-category. That’s because in the most lucrative of phone markets, the U.S., there’s no need for such a price tier: you either buy a phone through a carrier, which is leased on a monthly financing plan for $30ish a month; or you buy a cheaper phone outright, for presumably much less. Galaxy S9 or Moto G6. From a volume perspective, there isn’t much in between.

That’s likely why Verizon dropped the Moto Z3 Play this year — it the highest-profile provider of the first two Moto Z Plays, and the sole carrier of the Moto Z Force series — there just isn’t the need for this kind of phone on its network. Instead, most Americans will buy the Moto Z3 Play through Amazon, unlocked and unsubsidized, while the phone will have a very different life cycle in South America and India, where it is considered a flagship.

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So in North America, it’s only obvious competitor is the OnePlus 6, which kills it in almost every conceivable way (except haptics, which are terrible on the OP6). Given that the OnePlus 6 starts at $529, it’s still a full $80 more than the Z3 Play model I’m recommending, and it lacks the Mod in the box (and Moto Mods support altogether), but it’s still going to be a better deal for most people.

In other markets, like India and parts of Latin America, there’s a fair amount of competition from Samsung, Nokia, LG, Honor, ASUS, Xiaomi, and more, but Motorola has considerable more brand clout in those regions than it does in North America. It’s no accident that nearly every phone the company launches debuts in Brazil and not the U.S.

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Moto Z3 Play Should you buy it?

It’s not interesting or creative to parrot an existing line, but I’m not the first to say, “Yes, but…” when it comes to the Moto Z3 Play. Reviews are meant to be documents to reference, often one of many, when making a purchase decision. So I’ll make it easier for you with a point-form list:

  • If you have a bunch of Moto Mods from an earlier Moto Z phone, buy the Moto Z3 Play. You’ll love it and get lots of use from it.
  • If you’re a Motorola fan and just need to have that Moto Display (hi!), this is easily the best Motorola phone you can buy right now. You’ll love it and get many years of happy use.
  • If you have a $500-ish budget and are deciding between this and the OnePlus 6, think about what your needs are. If you learn more towards flexibility and customization, you’ll like the Z3 Play. If you’d prefer a more self-contained parcel, you’ll get more from the OnePlus 6. A lot more.
  • If you’ve never bought a Motorola phone before but are interested in trying one out, don’t buy the Moto Z3 Play. Buy the cheaper-but-nearly-as-good Moto G6 for half the price. It’s outstanding.

3.5
out of 5


I really like most of the Moto Z3 Play, and assuming the software bugs will be patched in a future update, I recommend it. Not to everyone, mind you, but to an educated group of users who understand the potential limitations and advantages of the Moto Mods ecosystem. Because as a phone, the Z3 Play is fine. As a conduit for Moto Mods, it can be outstanding.

See at Amazon

18
Jul

Netflix is revamping its TV interface in a big way


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You’ll see the updates starting today, and they’re gorgeous.

Netflix today is rolling out an update that pretty drastically changes the way it looks on your television. This’ll be pretty obvious — you won’t have to go looking for it or anything.

In fact, let’s just let Netflix explain in its own words. From Stephen Garcia, Director of Product Innovation:

The new TV interface was designed to make the Netflix experience simpler and more intuitive in a few different ways. First, it is now easier to search and view new content added to the service. It is also far simpler to start browsing with either a series or movie; our research has shown us that while a member generally isn’t sure what exact title they want to watch, they have a pretty good sense of whether they are in the mood for a quick series episode or a longer movie experience. We’ve also made it easier to access titles you’ve saved for later viewing in My List. In our testing of this new interface, we saw that that this simpler design helped members find something great to watch.

While this may feel like an obvious update to some, validating that this TV experience was better for our members took extensive research, testing and technology improvements. Along those lines, we will continuously learn from our members and evolve the TV experience so that it gets even more simple, fun and easy to find the stories that make Netflix great. Much like how introducing video previews to the TV experience a few years ago helped cut down on how much time members spent browsing, this new design is one of many improvements we will be rolling out over the coming months to make Netflix even better for our members around the world. We hope you enjoy!

Fire up Netflix today on your TV and take a look for yourself.

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18
Jul

Best Action Games for Android


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Get your blood pumping with these action-packed games for Android

There are so many awesome action games in the Google Play Store, it can be hard to sort the wheat from the chaff. But we’ve done the heavy lifting for you and after hundreds of hours of playing, we’ve rounded up the best action-packed games for Android that are worth checking out.

Many of the games on this list are paid apps which might give you pause, so you’ll need to trust us when we say these games are well worth the initial investment. Plus, it’s always good to support those teams developing great games for Android!

Looking for an awesome shooter game? Check out our list of best shooting games!

  • Battlelands Royale
  • Suzy Cube
  • ICEY
  • Death Road to Canada
  • Stranger Things: The Game
  • Death Point
  • Island Delta
  • Downwell
  • Penarium
  • Injustice 2
  • Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

Battlelands Royale

Battlelands Royale is a made-for-mobile battle royale game that combines cartoony graphics and a top-down perspective with a simplistic last man standing gameplay format that works really well. This game offers a fairly unique take on the battle royale formula that is absolutely for casual gaming sessions as a match takes only a few minutes to complete. Just like PUBG or Fortnite, you parachute down onto a map with a bunch of other players — 29 opponents in this case — and must scavenge for weapons, ammo, and armor while staying in the safety circle and eliminating your enemies.

You’re limited to carrying one gun and ammo is very sparse, leading to some pretty intense moments where you need to decide whether to engage an enemy or try and sneak past them. There’s also a duo mode where you can team up with a friend or a random player. The art style and gameplay are bright and fun and this is a great little game for killing time. It’s free to play with in-app purchases for character skins.

Download: Battlelands Royale (Free w/IAPs)

Suzy Cube

Suzy Cube is a game that’s been in the works for many years. Developed by an indie game developer, this action-packed platformer is a must-play game on mobile with touch controls that have no right being as good as they are. It’s easiest to compare the graphics and gameplay to Super Mario 3D Land for the Nintendo 3DS and is far superior to Mario’s mobile debut, Super Mario Run.

In Suzy Cube, you play the titular character who has set out on an adventure to reclaim her family’s fortune which has been stolen by block-shaped baddies. Most enemies can be defeated by jumping on their heads, while other obstacles require quick reflexes to dodge each attack.

There are a lot of ways a 3D platformer can go wrong — bad controls, shoddy camera, uninspired level design — but Suzy Cube is a rare gem that shows that a proper console-quality platformer can be made for mobile without compromise. You hear that, Nintendo?

Download: Suzy Cube ($3.99)

ICEY

From its name to its app icon, ICEY is a rather unassuming entry in the Google Play Store that would be easy to overlook — but that would be a mistake.

At its core, ICEY is a 2D side-scrolling action game where you play as the titular character, a mysterious cybernetic warrior that kicks serious ass. The game plays flawlessly, with tight controls and new skills to be unlocked and upgraded as you progress through the game.

If that’s all ICEY was — a kick-ass side-scrolling action game — it would still find a spot on this list. But that’s just the beginning, there’s also an entire meta-narrative at play here exploring the relationship between the player and the narrator. The narrator will guide you around the world and tell you where you should go… but what happens if you ignore the narrator?

There are layers to this game and a sizeable list of trophies to unlock. If you love indie games and meta-humor you definitely need to check out ICEY!

Download: ICEY ($2.49)

Death Road to Canada

When you’re going to be dropping money on a game, you’re going to want to be sure it has good replay value. In that regard, Death Road To Canada is an outstanding choice.

Facing a zombie apocalypse, you must lead a scrappy squad of somewhat interesting characters on a deadly mission to the relative safety of Canada. Along the way, you’ll need to explore and loot places for supplies, while also managing your team’s health and morale.

Everything in Death Road to Canada is randomly generated, making every play-through a unique experience in this road trip action-RPG. You can randomly generate your character and buddy or custom design your starting characters with different attributes to help them stay alive.

The controls take some getting used to, and there’s a pretty steep learning curve as you learn which weapons are most effective and when it’s better to fight or run. And you will die, early and often, although that’s part of the fun of a zombie apocalypse, right?

There’s a ridiculous amount of depth in this game, including 10 different game modes to unlock. The price might seem a little steep, but if you’re a fan of rogue-like zombie games, it’s well worth the investment!

Download: Death Road to Canada ($9.99)

Stranger Things: The Game

If you’re a true fan of Stranger Things, you’ve already binge-watched the entirety of Season 2 (possibly in one sitting). But the truest of Stranger Things fans have also beaten Stranger Things: The Game, a surprisingly solid game released by Netflix that has no right being as good as it is.

Set in the town of Hawkins, Indiana you start out playing as Police Chief Jim Hopper as he heads out to search for a missing kid, but discovers much more than he bargained for. The gameplay has a classic Zelda vibe to it, and the mix of puzzles and action sections keep things feeling fresh. As you explore the town, you’ll find other characters from the show who join your party and have special abilities which allow you to reach new areas of the world.

There’s just so much to appreciate here. Not only is it a faithful adaptation of the show, it’s available for free with no in-app purchases or annoying ads…beyond the game itself.

Yes, this game is essentially a playable advertisement for Season 2 of Stranger Things — in fact, one of the rewards for completing the game is an extended trailer for said season. But unlike other mobile games tied into movie or TV show franchises, Stranger Things: The Game can stand on its own as a great game whether you’re a fan of the source material or not.

Download: Stranger Things The Game (Free)

Death Point

Death Point is as polished a game as you’ll find on Android. It’s a top-down stealth shooter in which you play a captured spy in a post-apocalyptic world where you must sneak through enemy compounds taking out guards and sabotaging their systems as you go.

Your goal is to meet up with the only other member of your team who has survived, an operator who is able to communicate with you through technology implanted in your brain. She’s there to give you tips and info on upcoming sections, and provide some lighthearted banter and story as you get down to business getting your revenge.

The graphics are next level, and you’ll probably need a recent flagship to get the most out of this game, with great lighting effects to show you when you’re visible to guards and when you’re hidden in the shadows. You’re free to play through however you please — be extra stealthy, or go in Rambo-style — but you’ll quickly learn that this game is very unforgiving if you make mistakes making a stealthier approach the clear winning strategy.

There are 10 challenging chapters to play through that will test even the most hardcore gamers. It’s a great title that’s worth the premium price.

Download: Death Point ($1.99)

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Island Delta

Island Delta was published by the fine folks at Noodlecake Studios, which alone makes it worth checking out. Developed by Mantisbite out of Finland and released for iOS in late 2016, Island Delta brings unique top-down action-adventure-puzzler fun to Android. You’re tasked with exploring a mysterious retro-futuristic island with your heroes, Zoe and Baxter, as you try to take down the evil Doctor Gunderson and his army of henchmen.

Using your anti-gravity gun, you must work your way past mechanical minions, traps, and guards as you solve puzzles to make it through to the end of each level. At times Island Delta feels like a stripped down, third-person version Portal, which is something I wasn’t aware I needed in my life.

The cartoony graphics and outstanding level design will immediately draw you in, but this game can get seriously challenging at times. Fortunately, the game is fairly forgiving with checkpoints.

Check out our full review of Island Delta for a more in-depth look at what this game has to offer.

Download: Island Delta ($0.99)

Downwell

Downwell is a retro-styles rogue-like game where the goal is fairly simple — you jump down the well and see how far you can fall. Easy, right? Well, not quite — the well is filled with enemies. But don’t worry, you’re able to shoot down as you go, which also helps you kind of float.

Story? Who needs a story when all you’re looking for is action, baby! From the cool graphics and simple controls, this is a game that’s easy to jump into but hard to master. Each time you play is unique, with new weapon upgrades popping up randomly. At the end of each stage, you also get to choose an additional power-up to help you along.

But be warned this game is challenging as hell. There’s a steep learning curve as you learn how to best use your weapons and which enemies can be stomped and which need to be blasted. Since this is a rogue-like game, you can pick up and play it a different game each time.

Download: Downwell ($2.99)

Penarium

Penarium is a tough-as-nails platformer created by Team 17, who you probably remember best from the Worms franchise. Whereas Worms was a slow-paced strategy game, Penarium is on the opposite end of the spectrum featuring fast-paced action and requiring quick reflexes to survive.

It tells the tale of a Willy, a portly farm boy who’s always longed for adventure. One day, a circus show rolls into town and Willy decides to run away for a bit of fun and excitement. But unfortunately, this is no ordinary circus — it’s Penarium, the sadistic circus extravaganza!

Willy’s the next contestant in their twisted game, where the goal is to smash the barrels while dodging all sorts of devious traps and weaponry. This game was originally released on Steam, but the gameplay is ideal for mobile devices. The platforming action here is really tight, with a rotating variety of traps and weapons keeping things fresh.

The graphics are beautiful without ever affecting the gameplay performance, and blends with the soundtrack to create a really polished experience. Touch screen controls are often hit or miss, but I think they work really well here as an homage to the simple penny arcades of the era. The platforming action here is really tight, and the graphics are beautiful without ever affecting the gameplay performance.

There are two game modes to play: Campaign mode which lets you unlock additional arenas and is the “story mode” so to speak; and Arcade mode, which challenges you to survive for as long as you can collecting coins which you can spend on upgrades. It’s a great game for quick casual sessions that offers a great challenge. It’s a paid app as well, so there’s no ads or in-app purchases to distract you.

Download: Penarium ($1.99)

Injustice 2

Injustice 2 is the sequel to the award-winning game Injustice: Gods Among Us, which is also one of the best fighting games for Android. If you’ve played and enjoyed the first game, you’re sure to enjoy the sequel which features more fantasy fight match-ups between your favorite heroes and villains from the DC Universe.

Unlock new heroes and build your ultimate team as you battle in 3 vs 3 fights with the ability to swap out fighters as needed. The usual suspects are here — Batman, Superman, Joker, Harley Quinn — as well as a whole slew of new heroes and villains which you’ll discover and unlock as you play.

Controls are optimized for Android and feel even better than they did in the first game. It’s easier than ever to jump, duck and shoot projectiles, with epic Super Moves available to finish off your opponents. Graphically this game really shines, powered by the Unreal engine. You start out with a Campaign mode only, with Arena, Story, Operations, and Challenge modes unlocked later on.

Like the first game, Injustice 2 is free-to-play with a stamina bar to manage and coins and crystals to collect and spend. There are in-app purchases if you’re impatient and want to unlock new characters quickly, but there’s plenty of fun to be had without spending a dime.

Download: Injustice 2 (Free w/IAPs)

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

Grand Theft Auto is one of those iconic video game franchises that continues to influence other games. Chances are you’ve played a GTA title before on PC or console, but they play just as nicely on Android, too!

Rockstar Games has released five great GTA titles for you to choose from and you really can’t go wrong with any of them. Play through Liberty City Stories, San Andreas, Vice City, GTA III, and Chinatown Wars and get your shoot-’em-up, blow-’em-up, car-stealing fix on mobile!

They’re all great games to choose from, but I’ve decided to highlight San Andreas because it’s got that massive map and introduced a bunch of awesome features to the series that remain to this day. Reconnect with CJ and the Grove Street Families gang as you spill enemy blood on the streets of Los Santos. On that note, it’s worth stating that these games are NOT for kids. The Mature rating in the Google Play Store isn’t lying.

So, if you want full Grand Theft Auto games right on your phone, hit up the Google Play Store and go to town. Just remember that, since these are the full games you know and love, they will occupy a ton of space on your device.

Download: Grand Theft Auto San Andreas ($9.99)

What did we miss?

What’s your favorite action game for Android? Let us know in the comments!

Updated July 2018: Added Battlelands Royale and Suzy Cube to our list and updated pricing for the other games. These are still our top picks for action-packed Android games!

Android Gaming

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18
Jul

Google defends Android following $5 billion fine from European Commission


The EC claims Google is too heavy-handed with its services on the OS.

Less than a week ago, a report claimed that the European Commission was in talks to fine Google for heavily pushing its software/services on Android. The EC has since made that news official and is charging Google €4.3 billion (around $5 billion USD).

google-campus-android-statues-may-2018-4

Margrethe Vestager is one of the people leading this charge against Google, and according to her, Google’s acted illegally by requiring Android OEMs to pre-load Google Search and Chrome onto Android phones, pay manufacturers to exclusively install certain Google apps over competing ones, and prevent them from selling any sort of smart device that runs a “forked” version of Android.

Google’s since said it plans on appealing the fine, and shortly after it was issued, CEO Sundar Pichai published a blog defending his company’s treatment of Android.

As Pichai notes:

The decision ignores the fact that Android phones compete with iOS phones, something that 89 percent of respondents to the Commission’s own market survey confirmed. It also misses just how much choice Android provides to thousands of phone makers and mobile network operators who build and sell Android devices; to millions of app developers around the world who have built their businesses with Android; and billions of consumers who can now afford and use cutting-edge Android smartphones.

It’s still unclear what sort of repercussions the European Commission’s actions will have here, but if Google fails to change its business practices within the next 90 days, it’ll be faced with an additional fine of up to 5% for its global daily turnover.

What’s your take on this? Should Google be fined for pushing its services on Android, or does it have a right to seeing as how it owns the operating system? Leave your thoughts down in the comments below.

Google Duplex will begin testing in the real world this summer

18
Jul

Samsung Galaxy Watch rumors: Release date, specs, price, and features!


The Galaxy Watch could be Samsung’s best and boldest smartwatch yet — here’s why.

It’s been a hot minute since Samsung released the Gear S3, and while the Gear Sport did a nice job at holding us over for a while longer, it’s time we get a proper sequel to one of 2016’s best smartwatches.

The rumor mill suggests that this year will see Samsung release the successor we’ve been longing for, but instead of a traditional Gear S4, reports are coming out that the new gadget will be called the “Galaxy Watch” and use an operating system Samsung hasn’t dabbled with since 2014.

What is the Galaxy Watch and why should you care about it? Here’s everything you need to know!

The latest Galaxy Watch news

July 18, 2018 — Galaxy Watch to launch with the Note 9, Tizen now expected to be the OS of choice

Up until now, we’ve been unsure as to when Samsung will be announcing the Galaxy Watch. The possibilities include the Note 9 event and IFA, but according to a new report from ZDNet, it’ll be the former of those two.

The Note 9 launch is scheduled to take place on August 9 in New York City, and along with this, ZDNet also says pre-orders will go live just a few days later on August 14 with an official launch following on August 24.

Furthermore, both that report and one from SamMobile claim that the Galaxy Watch will actually run Tizen and not Wear OS like we’ve heard from other rumors. This does seem more likely considering the time and money Samsung’s invested into Tizen, but maybe we’ll still see a special edition of sorts that does run Wear OS? Who knows.

July 10, 2018 — New logo confirms the Galaxy Watch name

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Looks like that Galaxy Watch branding is the real deal.

A few short days after that name popped up for the first time, the above logo was spotted going through the Korean Intellectual Property Office — essentially confirming that Samsung’s next watch will be called the Galaxy Watch and not the Gear S4.

All the big details

What’s with this talk about Wear OS?

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Almost all of Samsung’s wearable products have used the company’s own Tizen operating system, but with the Galaxy Watch, that could be changing.

Back in late May, it was reported that some Samsung employees had been seen wearing Gear watches running Google’s Wear OS (previously called Android Wear). That rumor was put to rest a couple weeks later, but then on July 6, another tipster stated that the Galaxy Watch will, in fact, use Wear OS instead of Tizen.

While that may seem like a ball out of left field, this wouldn’t be unheard of for Samsung. In 2014, one of the very first Android Wear watches to come out was the Samsung Gear Live.

However, on July 18, another report popped up claiming that Tizen will actually be the operating system of choice — not Wear OS.

We’re still not entirely sure what’s going to happen here, but a Wear OS watch from Samsung would be a huge win for the platform as a whole. Google needs big names to back Wear OS, and who better to support it than one of the largest companies on the planet?

When will the Galaxy Watch be released?

Samsung’s yet to release any teasers or press invites for the Galaxy Watch, but according to the rumor mill, we’ll see it announced alongside the Galaxy Note 9 on August 9.

Current rumors point to the Galaxy Watch launching on August 24.

Following the August 9 announcement, pre-orders for the Galaxy Watch will follow on August 14. From there, the gadget will officially launch on August 24.

Should that rumor turn out to be false, the next logical announcement will likely come during IFA in Berlin in late August / early September.

How much will the Galaxy Watch cost?

Now, most importantly, let’s talk price.

As much as we loved the Gear S3, its price tag wasn’t the easiest to swallow at the time at $349. However, compared to today’s market, that’s not really unheard of.

A Series 3 Apple Watch with GPS and LTE will set you back at least $399. If you get the model without LTE, you’re still looking at a minimum of $329.

With that in mind, we’ll probably see the Galaxy Watch sell for around $300 – $350 depending on whether or not it has LTE.

That’s certainly not cheap, but if Samsung knocks it out of the park with its design and features, it should be able to hold its over (if not trump) what Apple’s currently offering.

Android Wear

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

Updated July 18, 2018: Updated Wear OS and release date sections to reflect current rumors/reports.

18
Jul

The Amazon Fire TV Stick, Echo Dot, and Instant Pot were this year’s Prime Day best-sellers


More than 100 million products purchased worldwide.

Now that the huge 36-hour event is over, Amazon is offering us a quick look inside some of the successes of Prime Day 2018. As we expected, this was the biggest shopping event that Amazon has ever had, beating out previous Prime Day events, as well as Black Friday and Cyber Monday when comparing the same lengths of time. During the 36 hours, Prime members purchased over 100 million products around the world, and while the best-seller list varied by region, there were some clear standouts.

Amazon’s Fire TV Stick and Echo Dot lead in overall sales for the whole day, which isn’t overly surprising given that the deals were available 12 hours before the event started and Amazon had slashed the prices by around 50% on each. Philips Hue lights, Instant Pots, SanDisk SD cards, and more were popular across several regions, and Amazon says it welcomed more new Prime members on July 16 than any other single day in its history.

Last night we broke down the most popular items as purchased by you, our readers. That list included:

Amazon Fire TV Stick
Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K
SanDisk 128GB microSD Card
Amazon Echo Dot (2nd-Gen)
Toshiba 50-inch 4K Fire TV Edition
Instant Pot DUO60 6-Quart
Amazon Cloud Cam Security Camera
Kindle Paperwhite E-Reader
Roku Streaming Stick
Amazon eGift Cards

Overall, our list is quite similar to Amazon’s but there are a few differences. The Toshiba 50-inch Fire TV was quite popular amongst our readers, and while Amazon said it was the best-selling TV deal to date, it didn’t make the top sellers list for the day. Other devices, like the Roku Streaming Stick, Cloud Cam, and even the Kindle weren’t on Amazon’s list either. Keep in mind, the gift card likely only made the list because Amazon was offering a $5 credit with the purchase of a $25 card, so it was basically free money.

18
Jul

True Tone on New MacBook Pro Relies on Multi-Channel Ambient Light Sensor With Display Open to Work


Following in the footsteps of the latest iPhone and iPad Pro models, the new MacBook Pro features True Tone technology.

True Tone automatically adjusts the white balance of the MacBook Pro display to match the color temperature of the light around you, which, as Apple says, provides a more natural viewing experience. The feature is similar to Night Shift, but more dynamic, continuously adapting to the surrounding environment.

If you are standing in a dimly lit room with incandescent light bulbs, for example, the display would appear warmer and yellower. If you are standing outside on a cloudy day, the display would appear cooler and bluer.

True Tone on iPad Pro
We’ve received many questions about how True Tone is enabled on the new MacBook Pro, and we’ve sought out some answers from Apple.

Apple says the new MacBook Pro has a multi-channel ambient light sensor, next to the FaceTime HD camera, that can assess brightness as well as color temperature, adding that the display should be open to enable that functionality. Apple added that True Tone does not use the FaceTime HD camera for its operation.

Apple says the ambient light sensor in previous-generation MacBook Pro models can only assess brightness, suggesting that True Tone is not a feature that can be enabled on older machines through a future software update.

The information also suggests that True Tone will only work on the LG UltraFine 4K, LG UltraFine 5K, and Thunderbolt Display when the display on a connected MacBook Pro is open, rather than in closed-display aka clamshell mode. Apple did not directly confirm this, though, so we’ll be testing to see.

True Tone can help reduce eye strain, so it’s a feature worth considering if you purchase the new MacBook Pro. It can be enabled or disabled in System Preferences under Displays, alongside options for Night Shift and auto-brightness.

True Tone can also be enabled on the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone X, 9.7-inch and 10.5-inch iPad Pro, and the 2017 model 12.9-inch iPad Pro.

Eric Slivka contributed to this report.

Related Roundup: MacBook ProTag: True Tone displayBuyer’s Guide: MacBook Pro (Buy Now)
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18
Jul

European Commission Fines Google $5.1B for Favoring and Pre-Installing Own Services on Android


The European Commission hit Google with a $5.1 billion fine today, stating that the tech company broke EU antitrust laws by striking deals with Android phone manufacturers to favor Google’s services over rival services (via The New York Times).

Android P is the newest version of the software, set to launch this fall
Specifically, the European Commission pointed towards the Google search bar and Chrome web browser coming pre-installed on Android smartphones like those made by HTC, Huawei, and Samsung. With these options already in smartphones when users purchase them, other services are “unfairly boxed out.”

“Google has used Android as a vehicle to cement the dominance of its search engine,” said Margrethe Vestager, Europe’s antitrust chief. “These practices have denied rivals the chance to innovate and compete on the merits. They have denied European consumers the benefits of effective competition in the important mobile sphere. This is illegal under E.U. antitrust rules.”

Now, Google has 90 days to ends these practices or face penalties of up to 5 percent of the worldwide average daily revenues of parent company Alphabet. In response, Google’s European Twitter account confirmed that the company will appeal the Commission’s decision.

.@Android provides choice. With Android, you have a choice of 24,000 devices, at every price point, from more than 1,300 different brands & with over 1 million apps available in the Google Play Store. #AndroidWorks More on our blog: https://t.co/dOXaQ6ZPT3 pic.twitter.com/kK8EHiAVqb

— Google Europe (@googleeurope) July 18, 2018

Google CEO Sundar Pichai commented on the decision in his own blog post today, pointing out that Android phones come preloaded “with as many as 40 apps from multiple developers,” not just Google. Users can delete them if they want and install their own choices after they purchase the smartphone.

According to Pichai, the EU fine “sends a troubling signal in favor of proprietary systems over open platforms.” Pichai also notes that Android phones compete with iOS phones, a factor that isn’t brought up in the ruling.

Today, the European Commission issued a competition decision against Android, and its business model. The decision ignores the fact that Android phones compete with iOS phones, something that 89 percent of respondents to the Commission’s own market survey confirmed.

It also misses just how much choice Android provides to thousands of phone makers and mobile network operators who build and sell Android devices; to millions of app developers around the world who have built their businesses with Android; and billions of consumers who can now afford and use cutting-edge Android smartphones.

The European Commission has targeted Google previously, fining the company $2.8 billion last year for unfairly favoring its own services in Google search results. For the new $5.1 billion fine, the EU is said to be taking advanced measures to “rein in the clout” of American tech companies, but Google is not expected to back down from its appeal decision and has begun to populate a hashtag on Twitter — #AndroidWorks — against the Commission’s fine. According to The New York Times, the case is now “likely to drag on for years.”

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18
Jul

From picking to pollinating, agribots are pushing farming into the future


A shiny, metallic one-armed robot wheels along the rows of red pepper plants, its video camera bobbing up and down to spot the ripened fruit. When it zeros-in on one, the arm, equipped with a gripper distantly resembling a human hand, stretches out and grasps the pepper, while a quick swish of a knife cuts it off the vine. The bot may not look like the elegant C-3PO from Star Wars, but don’t shrug it off as yet another dummy automation. This pepper-picker is a new breakthrough in modern engineering: a sophisticated AI-equipped machine, built by the leading Israeli and European roboticists, that may one day pick fruit for your snacks and veggies for your dinner — a task way more difficult and important than it appears.

In Europe, Israel, and elsewhere, finding agricultural workers is getting harder, explains Yael Edan, professor at Agricultural, Biological and Cognitive (ABC) Robotics at Ben-Gurion University in Israel.

Bringing robots into the field or greenhouses can help deal with many problems associated with farming today.

“It’s a hard job, done under harsh conditions, high temperatures, and humidity, whether in the fields on in greenhouses,” Edan told Digital Trends. Plus, it’s seasonal and only serves as temporary employment, “so nobody wants to do it.”

And because fruit tends to ripen all at once, while humans can only toil so many hours a day, a good chunk of every harvest simply falls off the trees and rots, releasing the infamous greenhouse gasses instead of gracing our tables.

Which is why experts, like Edan, are turning to robotics, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and other emerging technologies as a way to combat the demands of farming in the future. High-tech tools are being tested on everything from simple harvesting tasks to sophisticated wine production and pollination. While there will always be a need for human laborers — at least, in the near future — technology could help fill the voids where farmers cannot.

Robots can do more than just pick fruits

Bringing robots into the field or greenhouses can help deal with many problems associated with farming today. Machines can work around the clock, including even at night with sufficient lighting.  With some tinkering, they can be adjusted to tolerate heat and humidity without overheating or taking breaks. As a result, picky foodies would receive high-quality peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, and other produce, harvested at their peak rather than too hard or too mushy. More fruit and vegetables will actually end up on our plates, because less would go to waste. The more efficient and economical process may also help balance the ever-increasing food prices too.

It’s easy to automate an assembly line, but Mother Nature doesn’t work like that.

But robots can do more than harvesting. BGU researchers are working on other “agribots,” such as drones that can pollinate flowers instead of bees, and smart sprayers that can calculate exactly how much pesticide should be spewed onto grapevines to prevent disease. Both projects could impact the future of food safety and security: As more crops move from fields into greenhouses, whether because of climate change or other reasons, pollinating can be a challenge. Plus, in the past decade bee populations around the world have been declining, because of the infamous colony collapse disorder, which poses a real threat to food supply.

The United Stated Department of Agriculture estimates that bees pollinate 80 percent of flowering plants and about 75 percent of the nuts, fruits, and vegetables Americans eat. Having robotic bee alternatives may one day come really handy if we want an uninterrupted vegetable supply. And with surging health concerns over pesticide overuse, smart sprayers can reduce the number of harmful chemicals dumped not only on grapevines, but any produce we eat and the soil it grows in.

Agribots’ challenges: funding, image recognition, Mother Nature

It seems that with so many benefits, we should’ve automated husbandry decades ago. But that’s trickier than it seems. Unlike other industries, agriculture remains the unconquered frontier for robots, and for good reasons. Humans can learn to spot the ripened fruit so easily, but for robots it’s a complex mathematical and spatial task, requiring machine learning and artificial intelligence, and still hard to computerize.

It’s easy to automate an iPhone assembly line or a car conveyor belt—because sizes, lengths, locations, and parts always stay the same for a given model. The holy grail of mass-produced goods is being able to repeat the same action thousands and millions of times. A screwdriver-wielding robot at a Toyota factory is programmed to place its instrument exactly at the same position on every car of the same make. And every time it raises the screwdriver, the screw is there, waiting to be screwed in.

But Mother Nature doesn’t work like that. It is utterly random. Even when produce is grown in greenhouses where many conditions like temperature, light, and humidity are controlled, exactly where each plant will decide to bloom is completely unpredictable. Unlike with a car assembly, you can’t program a shrub to flower at specific coordinates, and thus you can’t program robots to look for peppers at any exact locations.

“We don’t expect these robots to completely replace humans in the fields. We expect them to help with tasks humans can’t and don’t want to do.”

As a result, the simple action of fruit picking varies drastically, depending on the location of the fruit, its size, shape, and leaves it can hide under. The machines must be intelligent enough to recognize peppers or cucumbers by appearance, which, depending on the specific variety can differ in sizes, shapes, and color. The robots also need to learn to peek behind or under bunches of lush foliage, and they need to know how to handle their crops gently so they don’t squish them into a pepper puree or don’t pull out the entire plant along with one fruit.

To top it all, Edan says, traditionally there’s been little money for agricultural innovations, so robotic husbandry has been quite literally left out in the boondocks. But now that paradigm is changing. As part of the European Union’s SWEEPER collaboration with Dutch, Swedish, and Belgian researchers, Edan’s team is now testing the pepper-picking robot in some greenhouses in the Netherlands.

“It took hundreds of thousands of pepper pictures—huge databases of pictures to get the machine learning algorithm to recognize the peppers properly,” says Polina Kurtser, a Ph.D. student at Edan’s lab. “But now the computer can handle that.” The team is testing different harvesting strategies—cutting fruit off versus sucking it in with a vacuum, and other methods.

Smarter pollination, reduced pesticides

Other agribots are also sprouting roots. Shai Arogeti, Yael’s collaborator at BGU, is working on a pollinator drone. Still in early stages of development, the drone neither lands on flowers nor looks like a bee, but it can quite literally create enough buzz to achieve the same results.

Some plants, like tomatoes, don’t require bees to pollinate them—they can pollinate each other nicely in the wind. So Arogeti has been testing a bot that can fly between the rows of greenhouse plants, creating a gentle breeze with its spinning blades and blowing plants’ pollen around. The task deals with a similar precision challenge—the bot has to be smart enough to fly in between the lush vegetation without crashing into it. To prevent the bot mowing down the plants, it is tethered to “a base” and can only fly straight through the isles,” but the robo-pollination prove of concept works.

Dani Machlis

Another computerized helper in the works is the pesticide spraying robot—the brainchild of Ron Berenstein, formerly at BGU and now at the University of California, Berkeley. To keep fungi, insects, and other crop pests under control, farmers spray millions of gallons of chemicals all over the world. Quite often however, they only need to sprinkle a small amount of the specific affected spots rather than showering it all over the patch and soil. Berenstein’s vine-spraying robot can identify grape clusters and suggest to farmers where and how much pesticide should be sprayed. The goal is to reduce the amount of toxic chemicals sprayed over the vines and soil, which ultimately seeps into the grapes themselves and into the wine made from them. Berenstein’s design also allows operating the robo-sprayer remotely, reducing the farm workers’ exposure to pesticides.

We’ll still need humans to work alongside robots

Will robot farmers cause massive loss of jobs in agriculture? Scientists don’t think so.

“We don’t expect these robots to completely replace humans in the fields,” Edan says. “We expect them to help with tasks humans can’t and don’t want to do,” enabling us to grow the best produce possible.

Exactly when will robots join us in the field is a bit less clear. “It’s a million dollar question,” Bernstein chuckles, adding that commercializing depends on funding, investors interested in the project, and other things. “I think five years is a reasonable estimate—because the technology exists.”

So, some time next decade your perfect-looking strawberry pack may indeed say “robot-picked.” Or even, “robot-pollinated and sprayed.”

Editors’ Recommendations

  • A Swiss weedkiller robot could curb our dependence on herbicides
  • From robotic bees to bacteria, the tech that is making for a greener tomorrow
  • To give bees a break, farmers pollinated an apple orchard using drones
  • Click and Grow gardening starter kit provides you with micro greenhouses
  • Clorox won’t cut it. Volcanologists explain what it takes to clean up after Kilauea



18
Jul

Samsung mocks iPhone X download speed in new ad for Galaxy S9


Samsung has always had fun poking fun at Apple and its devotees when it comes to smartphones. With every new Galaxy handset, the Korean tech company goes all in on mocking its big rival by putting out amusing ads that seek to persuade consumers to reject the iPhone in favor of one of its own offerings.

The latest commercial from Samsung, set inside an Apple Store, is no different. The 30-second ad shows an exchange between a customer and an Apple “genius,” so-called because of their supposed expert knowledge of all things Apple. Except that the fella in this ad fails to answer the only question thrown at him.

The ad starts with the customer, Rosie, confirming with the genius that “the iPhone X doesn’t have the fastest download speeds.”

The genius agrees, but points out that it’s “faster than the iPhone 8.”

Rosie comes back with a line about the iPhone X being slower than Samsung’s Galaxy S9, a statement that prompts the genius to twist and contort his face in a way that surely no genius face has ever twisted or contorted before. As the various elements of his face return to their usual positions, the woman lands the killer blow, saying, “But I thought [the iPhone X] was the smartphone of the future.”

Unable to respond orally, and with his facial features unwilling to perform a second dance, the genius smiles and offers a more sober expression that suggests he, and indeed Apple, have been rumbled. He’s speechless, and the commercial ends right there.

Rosie is so determined to tout the Galaxy S9 that you’d be forgiven for thinking she already has the phone in her pocket and merely enjoys spending her spare time trolling members of staff in Apple Stores.

Samsung used recent data from internet speed-test company Ookla as the basis for its claim about the Galaxy S9’s download speed. The study indicated that the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus sport speeds of up to 37 percent faster than the iPhone X, 17 percent faster than the Google Pixel 2, and 38 percent faster than the Galaxy S7.

Of course, there’s a lot more to a phone’s performance than just download speeds, and there are plenty of iPhone X owners perfectly happy with their Apple-made handset. But if you’re in the market for an upgrade and can’t decide between the X and the S9, check out our handy comparison guide. Don’t forget, too, that there are plenty of other excellent phone makers out there besides Apple and Samsung, so be sure to look for the best phone and deal that suits the way you intend to use it.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • New Samsung ad compares Galaxy S9 to iPhone 6, for some reason
  • Samsung thinks an iPhone X-like design will turn China on to the Galaxy S9
  • Samsung now offers 128GB and 256GB Galaxy S9, S9 Plus on website
  • Samsung sees a second-quarter slump, due in part to slow Galaxy S9 sales
  • Is the Samsung Galaxy era over? Are smartphones dying?



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