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22
Sep

How to sign up for Amazon Prime


If you have an Amazon account (or have ever bought anything on the site), signing up for Amazon Prime is as easy as setting up your account in the first place.

But if you’re new to Amazon, don’t fret, just follow the step-by-step instructions below. Follow along to gain access to discounted shipping rates, Amazon Prime Video, Twitch Prime, Prime Music, audiobooks, Prime-only discounts and sales, free ebooks, and more.

Step 1: Sign in to your Amazon account

Amazon’s website is an entire digital ecosystem in and of itself, but its Prime section is quite specific. Head to the Amazon Prime page and sign in to your account by clicking the “Hello, Sign in” button in the top-right.

If you don’t have an account, make a new one! Click the same button, but when prompted with a login, click “Create your Amazon account” instead.

Step 2: Choose a Prime plan

Amazon offers a number of subscription options as part of its Prime service. The first gives you just access to Prime Video, which is perfect if that’s all you’re after and at $8 a month. It’s also the cheapest option. However, if you want access to everything else, you’ll need to opt for the Prime Monthly or Prime Annual services, which is $13 a month or $120 for the year.

Don’t forget: Students and those with a valid EBT or Medicaid card have the advantage of a much longer trial period and cheaper rates. Make sure to click the blue text beneath the orange “Try Prime” button to access your specific trial period and prices.

Step 3: Take advantage of the free trial

Whichever Prime plan you opt for, you’re given a 30 day free trial period (or six months if you’re a student). When you’ve selected your plan, click the orange, “Try Prime” button. You’ll then be asked to sign in if you haven’t already or confirm your credentials if you have.

If you decide you no longer want your Prime account, you can always cancel it. Just make sure you know what you’re giving up before doing so.

Step 4: Pick a payment method

If you have a credit or debit card (or two) linked to your Amazon account, you’ll be asked to pick which one you want the monthly subscription fees to be taken from. If you haven’t, you’ll need to add one, which will be charged monthly or yearly, depending on what plan you’ve chosen.

Step 5: Confirm your address

You’ll also be asked which billing address to use for your Prime subscription. Like the payment options, if you have one already twinned with your account you can simply pick one, or alternatively, add a new one as you would when making a standard order on the site.

Once that’s confirmed you’ll be a brand new Amazon Prime member. If at any point you want to cancel or make alterations to your Prime subscription, you can access it through the main account menu. Select your account name in the top-right, then in the drop-down menu click “Your Prime Membership.”

Editors’ Recommendations

  • How to cancel Amazon Prime
  • Tricks of the trade: How to get free stuff on Amazon
  • The best free music download sites that are totally legal
  • Amazon Prime Day is almost here: Here are 8 tips to find the best deals
  • I only watched free streaming services for a month, and I didn’t miss much



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22
Sep

Amazon doesn’t own the smartphone, but Alexa is everywhere that matters


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No matter who built the phone in your pocket, Amazon has something that works for you — and it’s something you’ll want.

Amazon is changing the way we look at tech companies. That’s a bold statement when you consider how broad the term “tech company” can be, but it’s true. Amazon has become just as vital and innovative as Apple, Google, or Microsoft, and it did it without selling you a phone or computer.

I know I’m not the only one who pre-ordered a $60 smart microwave from Amazon.

The latest round of Amazon gadgets is just incredible. The Echo family has been improved, and that should be expected year after year, but the new things they had to show off prove that someone in the company has figured out that Amazon will never make the computer you are using. And that includes the small computers we carry around from Apple and Google’s hardware partners. Once that simple truth was said out loud, Amazon went and did the impossible by becoming just as important as any of them.

Do you need a smart microwave? Probably not. Do you want one? There’s a good chance you said yes because 1) smart anything is better than dumb anything and 2) it’s only $60 like every other cheap microwave you can buy from Amazon. And the microwave part doesn’t matter — what’s important is how Amazon’s tech can be used so easily by companies that build things like microwaves and by people who use things like microwaves.

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That’s how Amazon is winning in a field that other tech companies aren’t even competing in. Google wants your information so it can make billions of dollars. Apple wants you to buy a small set of products so it can make billions of dollars. Amazon just wants you to buy anything and gives you really cool and easy to use ways to get you to buy it.

Apple can do what it does by building products that are luxurious with incredible attention to detail. Don’t come at me with your hate-fueled nonsense — iProducts look and feel amazing. Google can do it because the services it offers are so damn good and so damn free if you give away all your data. Everyone uses Gmail. Amazon does it because a $60 microwave makes sure you buy more stuff from Amazon, and it doesn’t care if you’re buying $5 stuff or $1500 stuff.

Alexa is a gateway drug to a serious Amazon Prime addiction. And most people are happy to get their fix.

Daniel pointed out in episode 398 of the AC podcast that the AmazonBasics Microwave with Alexa really only exists to get you to order more popcorn. He’s right — be sure to listen to the whole conversation, but know that the microwave only has Alexa smarts inside so you’ll subscribe to Auto Popcorn Replenishment. And this is only the most visible example — every product Amazon showed us at its 2018 event was designed to get you to buy things from Amazon. Once all the gadgets in your house are listening for you to say, Alexa, buying a box of paperclips or new curtains or an Xbox controller from Amazon is easy and you will do it. Maybe not every time, but enough times.

Subscribe to the Android Central Podcast at Google Play Music

The idea of Amazon wanting you to buy everything from its online mega-mall is a no-brainer. Of course it does, it’s first and foremost a retail operation. But how it’s using tech to grow is fascinating. Two Echo Pluses and an Echo Subwoofer are not going to sound as good as the cheapest bookshelf 2.1 system from JVC or Sony or any other audio brand, let alone Sonos. But without hearing it I can guarantee it will sound good enough for a whole lot of people who don’t want to spend Sonos money but still want a cool connected stereo system that doesn’t sound like total crap. Amazon doesn’t need to compete with Sonos and doesn’t want to. It’s competing with Walmart and slowly winning.

Amazon wants you to buy popcorn from its website. And rubber bands. And phone cases. And everything else.

Amazon is making it too easy to say no. Everything works with everything else, the company is making it easy for anyone to build things that work when you yell something at Alexa, and it’s even making it easy for you to program all of the things together to do exactly what you want it to do when you want it to do it with super simple Alexa Skill Blueprints. People like it when doing cool things is easy. they love it when it’s also cheap. Amazon is giving us what we want.

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Alexa can’t replace Google Assistant for me because Amazon doesn’t know all my details the way Google does. But Amazon doesn’t want to replace my Google Homes or Lenovo Smart Displays (The best product of 2018 by the way. Buy one.). It just wants an Echo or two to sit beside them to do the things that Assistant can’t. And it has succeeded because my NVIDIA Shield TV and Apple TV are both connected to a $400 55-inch FireTV that has a picture almost as good as the way-too-expensive LG TV it replaced. And it can order popcorn for me.

22
Sep

These are the very best Android launchers


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Want to upgrade your Android experience? Try upgrading your launcher.

The way we arrange, organize, and interact with our apps on Android is called the launcher. Launchers usually consist of a series of home screens, where we can arrange app shortcuts and widgets and an app drawer. Every phone comes with a launcher, but when they drop the ball, there are endless third-party launchers that not only pick it up again but knock it clear out of the park.

Some variants of this article have tried to claim that there is one launcher to rule them all, that there truly is a best launcher out there. I don’t believe that’s possible, even though I have a launcher I value over all others. You use your phone differently than I do, and I use my phone differently than my co-workers do or my friends or my family do. Everyone has their perfect launcher, but if you haven’t found your favorite yet, then here are a few launchers we think will satisfy users of every type.

Best light and easy launchers

  • Evie Launcher
  • Microsoft Launcher

Best customization launchers

  • Nova Launcher
  • Action Launcher

Honorable mention launchers

  • Best app drawer: Smart Launcher 5
  • Best business launcher: BlackBerry Launcher

Best light and easy launchers

Are you someone who doesn’t want to mess with a lot of bells and whistles? Do you just want to put your most-used apps front and center, maybe a widget or two, and get on with your Android experience? You want a fast launcher, a light launcher, one that doesn’t need a lot of fussing and tweaking, and these are the launchers for you.

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Best light launcher: Evie Launcher

AC
Score
4.5


Evie Launcher is a lightweight launcher that just doesn’t quit and uses its gestures in effective ways. Evie’s gestures got 200% this summer, allowing us to finally set swipe down to “Open Notifications” instead of Evie Search and well as customize the rest of the its gestures the way we want rather than being stuck with their gestures or nothing. This launcher is light enough to let you hit the ground running with it while still letting your personality show through with it.

Read more: Evie Launcher review

Evie is easy to set up and run with, but you can customize the desktop grid and icons just enough to keep things beautiful. It’s a quick launcher that’s completely free, so look forward to more optimizations and tweaks to help speed up your launcher experience. You can even back up your Evie layout and settings directly to Google Drive.

Download Evie Launcher (Free)

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Runner-up: Microsoft Launcher

AC
Score
3.5


You’d think that if Microsoft was going to bring a launcher to Android it’d be a launcher that matches Windows Phone — and you’d be wrong. Not only is Microsoft Launcher a completely Android-native experience, but it’s a top-quality launcher to boot, and one of the few launchers besides Nova Launcher to offer edge-to-edge widget placement (and subgrid positioning, too!).

Microsoft Launcher’s experience centers around a clean home screen with a robust, two-level dock, a smart feed fed by your Microsoft account and your daily phone use, and a speedy app drawer where you can easily find all your apps. Microsoft Launcher’s initial setup is a touch long-winded, but it’s a breeze to navigate. Microsoft Launcher is not quite as bare-bones as Evie, but it is still a fairly light launcher that’s well-worth considering, especially if you have an Outlook account for work, school, or personal email and calendar appointments.

Download Microsoft Launcher (Free)

Best customization launchers

Do you want full control over your home screens? Want to set more than just an app grid and a widget or two? Want to make your home screen look and act the way you want? Then you want a customization-based launcher. Often called theming launchers because theming is one of their more obvious uses, these launchers are actually for far more than just making your home screen look pretty; they’re for making your home screen function more efficiently and more effectively for your life.

By giving you control over gestures, advanced UI controls, and almost every aspect of your launcher experience, these launchers let you customize the way you interact with your phone in ways that truly exemplify the Android experience. These two customization-based launchers dominate much of the third-party launcher market, and there’s a very good reason: they’re freaking awesome.

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Best customization launcher: Nova Launcher

AC
Score
5


Nova Launcher is over six years old, and this storied launcher has been a major player in the Android launcher market longer than most of us have used Android. The reason for this continued dominance is simple: Nova’s mix of customization, convenience, and cunning is unparalleled. Nova lets your phone look more Pixel-y than a Pixel and more TouchWiz than a Galaxy S9 and does it with ease and grace. In fact, Nova’s biggest strengths are things that are hidden in plain sight, like its pocket ace Subgrid Positioning and its excellent backup system.

Read more: Nova Launcher review: Still king of the mountain

When we build themes for our Android Central readers, nine times out of 10 the launcher we use to build it and to share it with you is Nova Launcher. It’s an excellent launcher if you want to build complex themes or if you just want a smartly laid out launcher with excellent gesture controls. Nova Launcher has been upgrading its Settings layout and look to make things easier to understand, and there has never been a better time to try it out.

Download Nova Launcher (Free, $4.99)

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Runner-up: Action Launcher

AC
Score
5


Action Launcher is one of the most popular launchers on the market, and the watchword of both the launcher and its users is QUICK. Quicktheme, Quickdrawer, Quickpage, Quickbar, quick, quick, quick. To ensure that Action Launcher can be the quickest and best launcher for users who want to set everything up just so, Action Launcher has taken it upon itself to be one of the most customizable launchers on the market. From its robust gesture controls to its ubiquitous Covers and Shutters to hide folders and widgets under seemingly normal looking app shortcuts, no matter what you want to use, Action Launcher makes it easy to set up, even if its Quicktheme sometimes misses the mark.

Action Launcher is also quick to support features from the newest versions of Android, including as much of Android Pie’s goodness as can be replicated on a third-party launcher. There’s a reason it’s the only launcher Phil uses: Action Launcher is damn good at what it does. While it’s not quite as intense as Nova Launcher, it’s a launcher that’s incredibly — well, quick — about getting you set up and on your way.

Download Action Launcher (Free, in-app purchases)

Honorable mention launchers

Now, there are launchers that don’t quite top the list for the lighter, easier quick launchers and can’t quite crack the intense theming prowess of Nova and Action. This doesn’t mean that these launchers aren’t awesome, and we’d like to highlight launchers with a standout feature or that serve a launcher niche excellently. After all, there are a lot of launchers out there, and there are a lot of ways to use them to interact with your apps.

Lawnchair Launcher was going to be added to this list, but the version currently in Google Play is a holding pattern as its developers ramp up an overhauled v2. As such, while Lawnchair Launcher is a neat take on Launcher 3 — the AOSP launcher and base of Google’s Pixel Launcher — with some Pixel flair, edge-to-edge widget placement, and basic but beautiful theming, we’ll wait and see what Lawnchair v2 brings before adding it as the Best Early Access launcher.

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Best app drawer: Smart Launcher 5

AC
Score
4.5


Smart Launcher has been around for a while, but they really kicked things up a notch with Smart Launcher 5 this year. The home screen features a gridless widget-placement system and Smart Search has been overhauled, but the real star of the show here is still the app drawer. Smart Launcher 5 automatically sorts your apps into several categories, and if you pay for Smart Launcher Pro, you can even add your own custom categories and sort your various drawer tabs in a variety of ways, from most-used to install time to even icon color.

Read more: Smart Launcher 5 review: An amazing balance of customization and simplicity

Smart Launcher 5 has a lot here to like, from a responsive and comprehensive categorical app drawer to some of the most precise widget placement on Android to the most diverse icon options on the market. Its gestures are also top-notch, especially the double-tap shortcuts that can at least double the functionality of every app on your home screen. Remember when I said that I use Nova Launcher for 9 out of 10 themes? Smart Launcher is the launcher I use for that other 10%, including or our dead awesome Deadpool theme and our Heart Canada theme!

Download Smart Launcher 5 (Free, $6.99)

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Best business launcher: BlackBerry Launcher

AC
Score
3.5


BlackBerry has made something of a comeback since its migration to Android a few years ago, and nowhere is this more apparent than BlackBerry Launcher, which is openly available on Google Play. BlackBerry Launcher is a stable launcher that eases Android newcomers into the many, many possibilities available in an Android launcher today. Part of this is by necessity, as millions of government and enterprise users are introduced to Android and what an Android launcher can do through DOD-certified BlackBerry phones.

From pop-up widgets that can appear with the swipe of an icon to one of the easiest-to-understand Shortcut galleries I’ve seen on Android to a no-nonsense approach to launcher settings and customization, BlackBerry Launcher lets you get things set up just the way you like them and then streamline your launcher experience for efficiency.

BlackBerry Launcher’s keyboard shortcuts are the best on Android

Keyboard shortcuts on BlackBerry Launcher are exclusive to BlackBerry’s physical keyboard phones, but they offer unparalleled ease and versatility. In the esteemed words of our own Jerry Hildenbrand:

My KEYone and its keyboard shortcuts let me keep my home screen blank and I just long press a keyboard key to open the app I want to open: “A” for the AC app, “C” for Chrome, “G” for Gmail, “K” for Slack, and “S” for Signal. This keeps me from tapping things with my bumbling fingers or worrying about things happening in my pocket.

How to set up keyboard shortcuts on the BlackBerry Launcher

As a business-geared launcher, BlackBerry Launcher offers a premium experience, and rather than paying a one-time fee for the launcher, BlackBerry Launcher relies upon a BlackBerry Hub subscription to eliminate its ads after 30 days. Or you could buy a BlackBerry phone and get access to the best launcher shortcuts on Android.

Download BlackBerry Launcher (Free trial, subscription)

What’s your favorite?

Do you have a favorite launcher? What’s on your Android phone now? Sound off in the comments below.

Updated September 2018: We’ve been hopping launchers a ludicrous amount, and it’s official — these are still the best launchers on Android!

22
Sep

Should you buy a Samsung Galaxy Watch with LTE?


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Best answer: Most people should buy the standard Bluetooth model of the Galaxy Watch. It’s less expensive up-front, but also doesn’t require an ongoing service with your carrier. Aside from streaming music and receiving calls independent of your phone, it does everything that the LTE model does — and it gets better battery life.

Amazon: Samsung Galaxy Watch ($329+)

It’s about more than the up-front price difference

The Galaxy Watch starts at $329 for the 42mm model, but you’ll pay an extra $50 to get one with LTE capabilities — that’s the case whether you buy directly from Samsung or buy from a carrier like T-Mobile.

But really, the $50 extra is inconsequential. What you really need to keep in mind is the ongoing cost of that LTE connection for your watch.

It’s $50 more up front, and another $10 per month as long as you use it.

Different carriers offer different plan options, but T-Mobile is the first to offer the Galaxy Watch with LTE (and is actually the cheapest). You’ll pay an extra $10 per month just to get LTE service on your watch — and you’ll have to add it to an existing T-Mobile plan. So if you have another carrier, you’ll have to wait for it to support the watch before you can even consider buying one.

That’s an extra $120 per year just for the connection on your watch, so after three years, you’ve spent just as much on service as you did on the watch hardware itself. That’s a tough sell.

LTE doesn’t give you a whole lot

The extra ongoing cost is tough to swallow because it just doesn’t add all that much to the Galaxy Watch experience.

You can receive calls and messages, but there isn’t a whole lot you can do on this small of a screen.

The main benefit is the ability to receive calls and messages on your watch when you’re not near your phone. Meaning you could go on a run or a bike ride miles away from your phone, but still get important contact from people directly. Calls can be handled via the speaker in the watch, or over Bluetooth headphones. The functionality isn’t just limited to SMS, either — you get a proper remote connection to your phone, so any notification on the phone can be mirrored to the watch. There isn’t always a ton you can do on the little circular watch display to deal with the notification, but you at least get it.

You can also use that LTE connection for apps and widgets on the watch, again without the assistance of a phone. You can stream music from Spotify, and you can get up-to-date information like the weather and news headlines delivered to your wrist anywhere you are.

Those are only useful features for a very small set of people, though. Most of us have our phone nearby most (if not all) of the time, and the standard Galaxy Watch has Wi-Fi for a remote connection to your phone any time there’s a network as well. Spotify can cache playlists to the local storage on the watch for runs, and most of the apps on the watch can’t do a whole lot considering the size of the screen, making that information less useful than you’d think.

Battery life takes a hit

And as a trade-off for that extra LTE functionality, you get lower battery life. It’s pretty intuitive: Bluetooth is much more energy efficient than LTE, so every minute you’re using that mobile data connection it’s using extra battery. So if you take a run and stream Spotify for an hour over mobile data you could take a sizable chunk out of your battery.

The standard Galaxy Watch can make it anywhere between one and four days on a charge depending on which model you get and how you configure its settings, but you can expect to cut a couple hours per day off of each of those estimates if you use LTE regularly.

Our pick

Samsung Galaxy Watch

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$329+ at Amazon

Don’t get tied to a carrier plan for very few extra features.

The Galaxy Watch is a great device even without LTE. Between a Bluetooth connection to your phone, Wi-Fi and local storage, there’s little need to spring for LTE considering its extra cost.

22
Sep

NASA’s planet hunter satellite gets first hit in its search for another Earth


Relocating is complicated enough when you’re simply moving to a new city. Scientists at NASA have taken property searches up an infinite number of levels, however, as they search for another Earth.

NASA’s planet-hunting team turned up a potential relocation candidate on the first pass with a new satellite. The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) uses four wide-field, 16.8MP cameras designed and built by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory to capture detailed images of stars and other objects in space. The goal is to identify previously unknown exoplanets for further study.

TESS recently began a two-year mission to scan the southern and northern skies. During the mission, TESS will study an unprecedented 85 percent of the sky — an expanse 350 times greater than NASA’s earlier Kepler mission.

The satellite observes a sector of the sky for about 27 days before moving to the next sector. The trick is to watch for drops or dips in a star’s brightness in successive images. A dip may indicate something passing in front of the star — possibly an exoplanet or a super exoplanet.

An exoplanet is a planet with roughly the same density as Earth that orbits around a star other than our Sun’s solar system. A super-exoplanet is a larger exoplanet, or “super-Earth,” with greater, but not more than 10 times the Earth’s density. Density alone doesn’t determine habitability by humans. Discovering a new exoplanet is the first step for a more complete study.

NASA announced the discovery on Twitter: “The @NASA_TESS team is excited to announce the mission’s first candidate planet — a super-Earth around the bright star Pi Mensae, nearly 60 light-years away. The planet orbits every 6.3 days. The discovery is now being reviewed by other scientists to validate it. Stay tuned!”

The @NASA_TESS team is excited to announce the mission's first candidate planet — a super-Earth around the bright star Pi Mensae, nearly 60 light-years away. The planet orbits every 6.3 days. The discovery is now being reviewed by other scientists to validate it. Stay tuned!

— NASA_TESS (@NASA_TESS) September 19, 2018

At under 60 light-years distant, the new find is much closer to Earth than the Kepler Mission’s 2015 discovery of an exoplanet named Kepler-452b — that one was 1,400 light-years away.


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nasa finds exoplanet closer to earth host star pi mensae

Host star Pi Mensae

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The dip indicates the exoplanet, Pi Mensae c

The new exoplanet, called Pi Mensae c, is about 2.14 times Earth’s radius and 4.82 times Earth’s density, Gizmodo reports, citing a paper in preprint form filed by MIT’s C. X. Huang. Preliminary indications are that Pi Mensae c has an iron core and also contains water, methane, hydrogen, and helium.

As NASA and other groups continue to study Pi Mensae c, TESS continues its search for additional exoplanets.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • TESS, NASA’s planet-hunting space satellite, begins science operations
  • NASA’s planet-hunting TESS satellite: What you need to know
  • Scientists pinpoint exoplanets where life could bloom like here on Earth
  • NASA (again) delays launch of the world’s most powerful telescope
  • We’re going to the Red Planet! All the past, present, and future missions to Mars



22
Sep

Hateful software kills our enthusiasm for newcomer Realme’s $155 Android phone



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Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

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Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

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Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

realme phone

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

realme phone

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

realme phone

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

realme phone

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

realme phone

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

realme phone

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

realme phone

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

realme phone

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

realme phone

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Realme only became a proper, full smartphone brand on August 3, making it very, very young. Even OnePlus has been around since 2014, and we still consider it a “new” brand on the block. There’s a reason we bring up OnePlus: It’s because Realme shares similar origins with the prolific manufacturer. Its founder comes from Oppo, the same as OnePlus’ founder,  and Realme also makes use of Oppo’s tech to keep prices reasonable.

This lineage grabbed our interest, so we jumped at the chance to try out the firm’s second phone — that’s right, it has already released two devices — the Realme 2. Can it compete with the many decent mid-price level phones out there at the moment, from OnePlus itself, Honor, Xiaomi, and even Samsung? We’ve given it a few days to win us over.

Design and battery

Let’s talk about the design first. We love the colourful, crazy light-reflecting rear panel, which takes us back to how awesome the HTC Touch Diamond looked when it came out in 2008. It’s made of polycarbonate, and there is a handy silicone case included in the box to keep it looking fresh. The metal chassis has been cleverly designed to hide the 8.2mm thickness, as the Gorilla Glass 3 over the screen sits proud off the curved sides, making it feel slimmer in the hand than it actually is. The edges of the glass are a little sharp though, and you feel them under the thumb more than we like.

realme phone

realme phone

It’s solidly built, doesn’t creak or groan, and at 168 grams it has a pleasing in-hand weight. Take a tour around the edges and you’ll find a 3.5mm headphone jack, and sadly a Micro-USB charging port for the absolutely massive 4,230mAh battery. This is one of the main plus points of the Realme 2: The battery lasts for days. We’ve used the phone for three days now, with varying levels of involvement, and it only now needs a recharge. That’s impressive, and regular normal use should see the phone last two days on a single charge.

The 6.2-inch LCD screen has a notch at the top, a chin at the bottom, and some bezels at the sides too, and the resolution is a disappointing 1520 x 720 pixels. However, the Realme 2’s screen-to-body ratio is still a decent 88 percent, with a 19:9 aspect ratio. How does it look? It’s good, but not great. The main issue being it doesn’t get very bright, and although it’s fine indoors and on gloomy days, in sunlight it’s not as visible as we’d like. Watching YouTube videos is a pleasant experience, but you don’t get the high definition experience you would with a OnePlus 6, or an Honor 10.

Performance and software

It’s a similar story with performance. A Qualcomm Snapdragon 450 powers the Realme 2 with a choice of either 3GB or 4GB of RAM, paired with 32GB or 64GB of internal storage space. We used the phone for social networking, web browsing, and some games, and it was adequate. Scrolling through Twitter or Chrome can be slow and jerky, but Reckless Racing 3 was playable on the default settings. Provided you don’t expect too much, the Realme 2 does the job.

The software problems were so annoying, we wondered if the device was running out-of-date or pre-production software.

Except, now we come to the Realme 2’s big problem: Software. It runs Android 8.1 Oreo (Google released Android 9 Pie last month) with Oppo’s ColorOS over the top. We aren’t particular fans of ColorOS when it’s run on serious hardware like the Find X, and it’s worse on a slower phone. There are pauses when opening apps, and many run slower than we’d like, especially data-hungry apps like Google Maps.

However, by far the worst, and most unusual issue, was the way the phone would randomly open apps. Without any prompting, the phone will start up the Clock app and switch to the Alarm tab, or try to open the Oppo Theme Store app. We reset the phone, but the problem persisted, and it often happens over and over again. The Realme 2 was lucky not to be thrown across the room. Both these actions also keep the screen on and waste battery, which is annoying when the phone is hidden in a bag.

Camera

Turning attention to the camera, the Realme has a dual-lens array on the back with a 13-megapixel main camera and a 2-megapixel secondary lens. The aperture is f/2.2 for the main lens, and it has autofocus. The photos are average, but lack color and visual pop, and suffer from low dynamic range. We did enjoy playing around the various live filters.+

realme phone Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The portrait mode is basic, and for the most part, pretty bad. It doesn’t like anything other than bright conditions, is slow to focus, and often refuses to add a bokeh effect at all. However, it’s not as bad as the selfie camera, which is terrible to the point of being unusable. Bright light confuses it, it can’t see in low light, and the beauty mode seems permanently switched to “pasty.”

The software problems were so annoying, we wondered if the device was running out of date, or using pre-production software. A check of the built-in software updater revealed it was completely up to date, so this is representative of the phone you’d get if you purchase one. Luckily, software problems are fixable, and seeing as Oppo’s might is behind it, we’d expect to see improvements very soon. We’ve asked Realme for comment on these problems, and will update when we hear back.

Based on our time with the Realme 2, it’s not worth the gamble until the software is fixed

Back on the positive side, the stadium-shaped rear fingerprint sensor is fast, and the face unlock system is effective, if not quite as fast as others we’ve used.

Early days

Should you buy one? Let’s address the price first. Realme has global ambitions but at the moment the Realme 2 is for sale in India, where it’s the local equivalent of $155. That’s not just cheap, it’s ridiculously cheap for the quality of the device itself, and considerably less than the competing Xiaomi Mi A2 and Pocophone F1.

However, based on our time with the Realme 2, it’s not worth the gamble until the software is fixed. The hardware is great, the battery life is excellent, and we like the colorful design, but the software bugs ruin the ownership experience. The camera is also poor quality, especially for selfies. We’d choose the Mi A2 or Pocophone F1 every time.

Is everything lost for Realme? No. The OnePlus One had more than its fair share of problems, which the company strived to overcome and now produces some incredible, desirable devices. Realme has another phone coming very soon, the Realme 2 Pro, so it’s not slowing down, and we hope it improves over the standard version. Realme is one to watch, but for now, not one to buy.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • Following trailblazer OnePlus, Realme becomes a real smartphone brand
  • The amazing $300 Pocophone F1 is so fast, it uses water inside to keep cool
  • Xiaomi Mi A2/Mi A2 Lite: Everything you need to know
  • Pocophone F1 by Xiaomi review



22
Sep

Anker Soundcore Flare+ Review: 360-degree sound and LED lights


For some people, me included, music is an essential part of life.  My days are synced to my personal soundtrack and music affects my productivity and mood. At any time, I have a dozen or so headphones, earbuds, and speakers around.

But, I’m no audiophile. I just don’t have that level of sensitivity when it comes to listening to music. I sure wish I did because I’d love to enjoy it even more, but I’m just not built like that. A $30 speaker can make me just as happy as a $300 speaker.

Even though I can enjoy cheaper audio products, you can always tell a difference. To get the price down, companies routinely have to cheap out on parts that make a difference. It’s possible to get cheap headphones or a speaker that provides good bass or a large soundstage, but it’s rare.

Which is why I’m so damn impressed with the Soundcore Flare speaker. Soundcore is a name you might not know yet, but you probably know its parent company, Anker. Anker has a great reputation for producing high-quality products for not a lot of money. It obviously took those lessons and used them for the Soundcore Flare.

Coming in at just $99, this is a speaker that punches way above its weight.

Hardware

Am I crazy to think this thing looks like a vase? But instead of flowers, you get tunes. Alright, maybe I am crazy, but I love the hardware here.

The body’s gentle slope is covered by a soft fabric that reminds us a lot of something like the Urbanears Lotsen speaker. It looks classy and won’t seem out of place in any environment.

That soft fabric is actually highly resistant to dirt too. We saw it pick up the tiniest bit of pet hair during our review period, but that was about it. It never stained or held onto anything from its time around a bonfire or two. If you’re a smoker, you may want to avoid this one because it can hold onto some smells, but that’s about it.

The top of the speaker holds five buttons, play/pause, volume up and down, a button that controls the lighting, and one for extra bass. If there’s one weakness of the Flare+, it is definitely the buttons here. They’re hard to press, provide little feedback and are generally frustrating overall.

The soft touch rubber often holds onto finger grease too. Gross.

The Flare+ advertises 360-degree sound and definitely delivers on that promise. But, there is an obvious front and back. The front has the Soundcore log and the rear houses a wrist strap, a Bluetooth button, and power button. These buttons are equally frustrating to use, but we do love the wrist strap. You aren’t going to take this with you on a nice stroll through the countryside, but the strap does make it a lot easier to carry it while your hands are full of beer and firewood.

The base of the speaker is where it gets really fun. A “halo” LED reacts to the music coming out of the speaker to provide a pretty awesome light show. There are several themes that the speaker follows so you’re not always going to see the same thing. And, if that isn’t enough, you can customize the light show from the Soundcore app. This light really adds a lot to the value of the speaker and I absolutely love it. If you don’t like it as much as I do, you can turn the feature off via the incredibly hard to press the button on top of the speaker.

Rounding out the hardware section, we have a microUSB, full USB, and 3.5mm jack hidden beneath a flap. We really wish there was a USB type-C charging port here. We’re speeding toward the end of 2018 and the USB type-C standard has been popular for nearly two years. It’s time to adapt.

Despite a few rough edges, we think Soundcore did an excellent job here. The speaker is very well built, provides a ton of features, and will stand up great over time.

Sound

But who cares about any of that if it doesn’t sound good, right?

I was initially very impressed with the audio quality of the Soundcore Flare+ and that hasn’t changed. It provides a clear separation of instruments and vocals (as much as you can in a $100 speaker) and some decent bass too.

Now, don’t get your hopes up. Is this going to compete with something from Sonos or a Google Home Max? Absolutely not. It’s about a third of the price and much, much smaller. But, what it will do, is provide the perfect audio for your outdoor party.

Music sounds good and the Flare+ gets INCREDIBLY loud. If you’re in an open-air setting, you’ll have no problem hearing this thing from 30-40 yards away, if not more.

Bass is lovely and present too. With the BassUp (bass boost) turned off, music does feel a little flat so I’ve generally kept it on. The added bass is pretty heavy but doesn’t get muddy which I appreciate.

If you’re willing to invest in two Flare+ speakers, you can pair them together for stereo sound. This is an awesome feature we’ve seen in several speakers through the years. Few get as loud as the Flare+, which is a big advantage for Soundcore. If you’re going camping or hosting an outdoor party, two of these bad boys is all you’ll need.

The only complaint we really have is how distorted the audio can get at higher volumes. Its to be expected since this is a small little guy, but it doesn’t sound wonderful at max volume. We start hearing some distortion at about 75% of max volume and it only gets worse as you increase.

Conclusion

There’s a lot to love with the Soundcore Flare+. Sure, we have our nitpicks, but the number of positives far, far outweigh the negatives.

There are a million Bluetooth speakers out there and even some with flashing LEDs. But we love the implementation here. With the LEDs at the bottom of the speaker, the light bounces off the surface it’s sitting on and gives off a pleasing halo effect. I’m also impressed by how bright it gets. Sure, it looks great at night but even in a well-lit room its very easy to see and is a lot of fun to look at.

Sound is really good for a $100 speaker and I love how much bass you can get out of this little body. Again, you’re not going to rattle the windows, but listening to rock, rap, and EDM was all very pleasing. We even snuck in some Ariana Grande while my daughter was in the room (totally not because I love her voice) and it still sounded great.

I enjoyed my time with the Anker Soundcore Flare+ and think you’ll be impressed if you pick one up too.

Buy the Anker Soundcore Flare+

22
Sep

How to fix squeaky brakes


Car Maintenance 101


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Nails on the chalkboard, a crying infant, snoring, and squeaky brakes — these are the noises that drive us batty. Most of these dreadful sounds can be easily avoided, but you might imagine squealing brakes are just something you have to live with. We’re here to tell you there’s a way to keep your sanity. Fixing squeaky brakes doesn’t necessarily require a trip to the dealership and you won’t need to spend an afternoon under your car. Sometimes small, simple problems cause brakes to squeak.

Why the whine?

Before diving into some of the causes and solutions to your brake headache, it’s worth noting that brakes will sometimes make noise. Intermittent chirps are normal, especially if you live in harsher climates. If you still have brake pedal feel and can scrub speed as normal, there’s nothing serious to worry about.

Put simply, brake squeal is vibration. Specifically, the noise comes from the interplay between a brake disc, caliper, and pad. Affected systems will emit a noise when pressure is applied from the caliper on the disc. You can slam on the brake pedal or carry more/less speed into each braking maneuver, but your brakes could still howl because of the contact between your pad and the disc.

If you notice your brakes only make noise sometimes, it might be due to moisture-turned-rust on the surface of a disc or pad. This can happen as quickly as overnight, and there may be some squeal until all of the rust has been scrubbed from the components.

Track day enthusiasts with racing pads need to acclimate to some squeal. The material used to make performance brake pads is more resistant to heat and creates greater friction, which boosts the resonant frequency into the audible range. For this reason, many weekend racers either choose a pad compound that isn’t aggressive enough to make noise, or swap pads for weekday commuting.

In these two instances, there’s no cause for alarm, but if you start to hear a shrill metallic noise rather than a consistent, high-pitched squeal, you need to tend to your brakes immediately. In this case, you’ve likely worn your pads down to the metal and are slowing your vehicle without any compound buffer.

What tools and products you’ll need

Before diving into a step-by-step guide to quieter brakes, here are some of the most important tools and products you’ll need, depending on which solution you prefer:

  • Some form of hand protection (we’d recommend a pair of mechanics gloves with some built-in grip)
  • Jacks and jack stands (Harbor Freight has some stellar deals on these year-round)
  • C-clamp
  • Lug wrench
  • Socket wrench (with multiple socket sizes to fit your vehicle)
  • Teflon shim
  • Brake grease or anti-seize
  • Anaerobic adhesive

How to silence that noise

Baranq/123RF
Baranq/123RF

Not every car’s brake system will squeal, but those that do can usually be fixed by a DIY-er in a few hours. First, you’ll need to decide whether you want to dampen the noise or change the components to stop the sound altogether.

The first and simplest solution is to change your pads. Depending on which compound you choose, new pads at all four corners can be a bit expensive ($100-$200), but it’s the best way to remove the conditions that lead to squealing. If you’re using a Kevlar pad, you may want to try a metallic or ceramic compound. There are a million aftermarket pad suppliers, all of which promise the best pad life, stopping power, and price, so you’ll have to do some research on the best for your particular make and model. We recommend buying original parts from your local dealer or a trusted supplier like Bosch.

If you don’t want to swap pads, another option is to insert a Teflon shim between the pad and caliper piston. This won’t work for every brake system — some are engineered without any margin of space for a shim to fit without making the pad drag on the disc. You could wear down your pad to a point where it no longer drags with the shim, but that would be a waste of money.

Another, more temporary, solution would be to coat the brake pad with brake grease or anti-seize to buffer the vibration frequency.

The final, and perhaps best modification (according to Popular Mechanics) is to move the pad backing plate to the caliper piston or housing. Doing so increases the piston’s mass and changes the vibration frequency to a point where it won’t squeal. To get the plate to stick for longer than a few days, weeks, or months, you’ll need the right adhesive. Popular Mechanics suggests an anaerobic adhesive that applies like a film or goo. When you press the plate firmly against the piston/housing, the adhesive will stick like a vice and resist corrosion from dirt and water.

Final thoughts

If you’ve tried everything and the squeal just won’t quit, make sure your vehicle doesn’t have an open recall for weak braking components. If there’s a chance the manufacturer will pay for a fix, that’s always the best solution!

Editors’ Recommendations

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22
Sep

Ripple cryptocurrency jumps 70 percent in 24 hours after news of bank deal


Luke Descryptive/Descryptive

A rumored new deal with banks that would use the Ripple cryptocurrency (XRP) to speed up and ease international transactions has sent the value of the altcoin skyrocketing. In the past 24 hours alone, XRP has jumped in value some 70 percent, rising to its highest peak in 2018.

At the time of this writing, XRP sits at $0.62 per token, which might not seem like a lot when you consider that Bitcoin is valued at $6,705 per digital token. However, this represents a stark rise from just 24 hours ago, where it was worth just $0.36 per XRP. The rise in value was pushed by a new wave of excitement over the alternative cryptocurrency which even made it the most traded of any cryptocurrency throughout the past 24-hour period, with some $2.2 billion of it changing hands.

This is due to the announcement by Ripple Lab’s Sagar Sarbhai in a chat with CNBC. He said that 120 banks were already partnered with Ripple and that the company’s xRapid cryptocurrency product would soon enter commercial application. Although he didn’t give a specific day, he suggested that it would happen within the next month or so.

xRapid is designed to give banks a quick and easy way to transfer sums across borders, leading to faster international transactions for their customers, potentially with reduced fees, in theory. The process would see local currencies converted into XRP before being transferred overseas and then converted into that local currency at the other end.

No specific financial institutions have been named as potential adoptees of the xRapid system, but with major partnerships with organizations like Santander, American Express, and Western Union, Ripple Labs has plenty of potential customers for its new tool.

Ripple use has generated some controversy in cryptocurrency circles since its creation in 2012, though. Unlike Bitcoin and most of its contemporaries, Ripple is centralized, meaning that Ripple Labs controls the majority of the tokens in existence and organizations like banks can have a say in how transactions are conducted. This is diametrically opposed to the decentralized, hands-off model that Bitcoin inspired in its users and so many of the altcoins that have been created since.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • How to buy Ripple
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  • How to buy Bitcoin



22
Sep

Google tells lawmakers it allows other apps access to your Gmail


Aleksey Boldin/123rf

Even though Google has ceased the practice of scanning user’s Gmail accounts to serve ads, the search giant admitted in a letter to lawmakers that — with user consent — it still allows third-party apps access to your messages. Google’s letter will likely set the tone for what lawmakers will discuss at a congressional hearing scheduled for September 26 on digital privacy with technology companies, including Amazon, Apple, AT&T, Charter Communications, Google, and Twitter.

Google defended its policy in the letter, stating that it makes its privacy policy easily accessible to users to review before granting access to third-party developers, and that developers may also share the data gleaned from emails obtained from Gmail users with other service providers. “Developers may share data with third parties so long as they are transparent with the users about how they are using the data,” Google Vice President of Public Policy and Government Affairs for the Americas Susan Molinari wrote in the letter that was sent in July to lawmakers and obtained by CNNMoney.

Before any non-Google app can access your data, Google will display a permissions screen to show what data the app is requesting and how the app intends on using such data. “We strongly encourage you to review the permissions screen before granting access to any non-Google application,” Google wrote in a blog post. Business users on G Suite can also control how their data is accessed by non-Google services through whitelisting. The company claims to have a vetting process in place, and that apps that misrepresent themselves to obtain data will have their access revoked.

Typically, the types of apps that request permission to access your email include trip planners, customer relationship manager software, and shopping and discount apps. A trip planner app, for example, can scan your email to pull and compile all your travel information, reservations, and itineraries in one place, so you don’t have to manage your hotel, airline, and other reservations manually. Shopping apps, like Earny, can also scan your emails for online orders. If the service detects a price drop, it will request a refund for the price difference less a commission fee. While Earny and travel apps are useful tools that save consumers a lot of time — and money — lawmakers may be concerned that malicious apps may abuse the system to access personal and sensitive information from Gmail users. Given that there are more than 1.4 billion Gmail users worldwide, that is a lot of data that could fall into the wrong hands.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • Congress demands answers over Gmail fiasco, data collection on phones
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  • Google is adding DRM to Play Store apps for offline verification
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  • Third-party call recording apps no longer work with Android 9.0 Pie



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