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22
Oct

Better Together is rolling out to Dev channel Chromebooks


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Not sure what’s new in Chrome OS? We’ve got you covered!

Chrome OS, Google’s own desktop operating system, receives regular updates to outfit it with new features, bug fixes, and more. There are three main levels of Chrome OS (Stable, Beta, and Developer) and while you can learn more about what these mean here, this guide will be updated regularly to highlight the main additions with each new release.

Since Google releases updates so frequently, we’ll only share them when something significant is added or patched as new builds are rolled out.

Without further ado, here’s what’s new in the Stable, Beta, and Developer Channels for Chrome OS!

Stable

September 19, 2018 — Stable Channel now getting Chrome OS 69 with Material Theme UI, easy emoji access, and more!

After making its way to the Beta Channel last month, users in the Stable Channel are now receiving their official update to Chrome OS 69.

All of the changes we were introduced to last month are included here, meaning there’s a new UI for the Files app, refreshed Material Theme design for the Chrome browser, the night light feature can be enabled without having to mess with flags, and using a Chrome OS device in tablet mode should now feel a lot better.

Chrome OS 69 also brings something we’ve been waiting for for years — easy access to emojis! Just right-click on any open text field, click “Emoji”, and a virtual keyboard will pop up at the bottom so you can quickly find what you want.

The update is rolling out to everyone on the Stable Channel now, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled!

June 7, 2018 — Progressive Web Apps can be installed and Tablet Mode gets split-screen support

Chrome OS’s Stable Channel was updated to 67.0.3396.78 on June 7, and it comes equipped with a host of new features.

One of the big highlights is the ability to download Progressive Web Apps as standalone applications — similar to how you’d download Android or regular Chrome OS apps. Progressive Web Apps are technically portals to websites but come with refined user interfaces and increased performance. They essentially give you desktop apps for things like Spotify, Flipboard, and more without developers having to create apps specifically for Chrome OS, meaning that we’ve just about ended the complaint that Chrome OS doesn’t have enough applications available for it.

Another big addition is that you can now use apps/websites in split-screen while in Tablet Mode. With devices like the HP Chromebook X2 and Acer Chromebook Tab 10 now around, a feature like this couldn’t have come at a better time.

Other goodies include a cleaner list of your Bluetooth devices, the ability to zip files on Google Drive via the built-in Files app, and new shortcuts that pop up when holding down your power button.

Read through the full changelog here

Beta

August 24, 2018 — Chrome OS 69 adds a blue light filter, Linux app support, and Material Theme UI

Chrome OS 69 is rolling out now to the Beta Channel for “most” Chrome OS devices, and there’s a lot of cool stuff to check out.

First of all, Linux app support is finally included! This is something that’s been limited to the Developer Channel for quite some time, so it’s exciting to see it now be ready for Beta users. Linux support is only available for select Chromebooks, including the Pixelbook, HP Chromebook X2, Samsung Chromebook Plus, and more.

Also new is a night light / blue light filter mode right in the quick settings. This is something that previously required you to enable a flag, so while not an entirely new feature, it’s much easier to access now.

Lastly, this update brings an updated UI with elements from Google’s Material Theme aesthetic and changes to the BIOS and trackpad firmware.

June 7, 2018 — All HTTP sites are now labeled as “Not Secure”

HTTPS is the future of website security, but for whatever reason, there are still some sites that continue to use the old HTTP standard.

As it stands right now, sites using HTTPS show a green “Secure” badge to the left of the domain. Starting with the Chrome OS 68 beta, that “Secure” badge is being removed and all HTTP sites wil show a “Not Secure” label so users can more easily identify if they’re on a site that’s not as safe as it should be.

Read through the full changelog here

Developer

October 21, 2018 — ‘Better Together’ Android phone pairing feature rolling out

Pairing and syncing between Chromebooks and Android phones has been something we’ve all wanted for a while, and Google has been working on the Better Together feature to do it for quite a while, but until now, we’ve only had placeholders, rumors, and strings of Chromium. Well, some users are getting the chance to actually test out Better Together as the service rolls out on the Chromeook Dev channel.

chrome-dev-channel-better-together.png?iSource: Android Police

If your Chromebook is eligible, you’ll receive a notification about the service asking you to set it up and manage your device preferences in the new Connected Device settings. Currently, those settings include two of the three features that Better Together was reported to include back in the summer: SMS syncing through the Android Messages desktop client and Smart Lock to keep your Chromebook unlocked when your phone is nearby.

The last feature was Instant tethering — something that the Pixelbook and Pixel phones already do — but as the feature is just beginning its time on the Dev channel, there are plenty of changes that could happen in the coming weeks and months.

July 11, 2018 — Android Nougat’s app shortcuts are now live!

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App shorcuts, first introduced with Android Nougat, are finally making their way to Chrome OS.

On July 11, 2018, Chrome OS evangelist François Beaufort announced that they are now live in the Chrome OS Dev Channel.

To start using them, simply enable the flag chrome://flags/#enable-touchable-app-context-menu. Once that’s done, right-click on an Android app that’s pinned to your shelf or in your app drawer and you’ll see the app shortcuts menu pop up.

The flag is still experimental, so don’t be alarmed if things are a bit buggy right now.

June 8, 2018 — The Pixelbook’s power button can act as a physical two-factor authentication key

Two-factor authentication is a great way to secure your online presence, and one way to go about this is by using a USB key. If you’ve got a Pixelbook running the Developer Channel, you can now mimic the functionality of a USB U2F key with its power button.

To enable this, simply open a Chrome Shell and enter u2f_flags g2f. As with everything in the Developer Channel, this feature isn’t the most stable so consider having a USB key anyways just in case something goes wrong.

June 5, 2018 — Chrome OS’s emoji shortcut is now available!

Chrome OS has long been in need of an easy way to access emojis, and if you’re running the Developer Channel, there’s a new tool that allows you to do just that.

After enabling the flag chrome://flags/#enable-emoji-context-menu, right-click on a text field and you’ll see a new “Emoji” option. Click on this, and you’ll be able to insert whatever emoji you’d like.

It’s reported that the implementation is still a little wonky, but it should smooth out as it makes its way through the Beta and Stable Channels.

How to change your software channel on Chrome OS

Chromebooks

  • The best Chromebooks
  • Chromebooks in education: Everything you need to know
  • Should you buy a Chromebook?
  • Chromebook Buyers Guide
  • Google Pixelbook review
  • Join our Chromebook forums

22
Oct

Smart bulbs, gaming laptops, and more are discounted today


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

There’s never a shortage of deals available, but sorting through all of them can be difficult at times. We’ve handpicked all the best tech, and everyday essentials discounts that you can take advantage of right now and brought them to one central location. From wireless routers to trucker hats, these are today’s best deals.

Tech Deals

View the rest of the deals

Everyday Essentials

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

22
Oct

…and a clock, and microwave, and a… [#acpodcast]


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Daniel Bader, Andrew Martonik, Alex Dobie, and Jerry Hildenbrand are here to celebrate the 400th episode of Android Central Podcast with some seriously deep Pixel 3 gazing and analysis of the Huawei Mate 20 series phones! They also discuss Pixel Slate, Google Home Hub, and a ton more!

Plus, as a special bonus, Ara Wagoner is joined by Des Smith of T-Mobile to chat about the history of Android phones and share some of their favorite devices. This is a truly epic episode. Don’t miss a syllable!

Listen now

  • Subscribe in iTunes: Audio
  • Subscribe in RSS: Audio
  • Download directly: Audio

Show Notes and Links:

  • Google Pixel Slate hands-on
  • Google Home Hub preview
  • Google Pixel 3 review
  • Huawei Mate 20 Pro hands-on
  • Huawei Mate 20 series: Everything you need to know!
  • My Logitech Harmony remote is one of the best purchases I’ve ever made
  • @askdes Des Smith on Twitter
  • Android Central Celebrates 400 Episodes of the #ACPodcast — Special Edition LIVE Video Podcast ***This is a special video stream that’s entirely different from the Ep. 400 audio podcast.

Sponsors:

  • Thrifter.com: All the best deals from Amazon, Best Buy, and more, fussily curated and constantly updated.

22
Oct

Here’s every Google Pixel 3 case we could find


Keeping your Google Pixel 3 in mint condition has never been easier, with so many cases available for Google’s latest flagship. Whether you’re looking for a thin case, a heavy-duty case, a wallet case, or anything else, this list has all the options for you in one place!

Thin cases

Spigen Thin Fit

Spigen Thin Fit

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$12 at Amazon

Incipio NGP

Incipio NGP

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$20 at Incipio

Totallee Case

Totallee Case

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$29 at Totallee

Avalri Ultra Thin

Avalri Ultra Thin

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$12 at Amazon

Cimo Slim Grip

Cimo Slim Grip

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$8 at Amazon

VRS Thin Grip

VRS Thin Grip

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$11 at Amazon

MNML Case

MNML Case

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$15 at MNML

Clear cases

Spigen Liquid Crystal

Spigen Liquid Crystal

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$12 at Amazon

Spigen Ultra Hybrid S

Spigen Ultra Hybrid S

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$14 at Amazon

MoKo Clear Case

MoKo Clear Case

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$8 at Amazon

Ringke Fusion

Ringke Fusion

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$9 at Amazon

Ringke Fusion X

Ringke Fusion X

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$11 at Amazon

Caseology Waterfall

Caseology Waterfall

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$10 at Amazon

Speck Presidio Stay Clear

Speck Presidio Stay Clear

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$40 at Speck

Tech21 Pure Clear

Tech21 Pure Clear

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$40 at Tech21

Trianium CLARIUM

Trianium CLARIUM

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$8 at Amazon

VRS Cleasr case

VRS Clear Case

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$8 at Amazon

Rugged Cases

Spigen Rugged Armor

Spigen Rugged Armor

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$13 at Amazon

Spigen Neo Hybrid

Spigen Neo Hybrid

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$14 at Amazon

Caseology Vault Series

Caseology Vault Series

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$12 at Amazon

Speck Presidio Grip

Speck Presidio Grip

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$40 at Speck

Tech21 Evo Check

Tech21 Evo Check

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$40 at Tech21

UAG Pylo

UAG Pylo

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$40 at UAG

Digital Hutty Protective Cover

Digital Hutty Protective Cover

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$11 at Amazon

Heavy Duty Cases

Spigen Slim Armor

Spigen Slim Armor

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$39 at Amazon

Spigen Tough Armor

Spigen Tough Armor

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$17 at Amazon

Caseology Legion Series

Caseology Legion Series

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$16 at Amazon

Otterbox Defender Series

Otterbox Defender Series

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$50 at Amazon

Tech21 Evo Max

Tech21 Evo Max

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$45 at Tech21

UAG Monarch

UAG Monarch

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$60 at UAG

Poetic Revolution 360 Degree Protection

Poetic Revolution 360 Degree Protection 

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$17 at Amazon

CoverON HexaGuard Series

CoverON HexaGuard Series

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$8 at Amazon

Leather & Wallet Cases

Bellroy Lather Phone Wallet

Bellroy Lather Phone Wallet

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$89 at Bellroy

Bettop Anti-Slip Case

Bettop Anti-Slip Case

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$8 at Amazon

Bellroy Calssic Leather Case

Bellroy Calssic Leather Case

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$45 at Bellroy

Arae Wallet Case

Arae Wallet Case

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$13 at Amazon

Maxboost Wallet Case

Maxboost Wallet Case

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$10 at Amazon

KEZiHOME Two-Tone Laather Case

KEZiHOME Two-Tone Laather Case

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$17 at Amazon

Other Cases

Wood Cases by Carved

Wood Cases by Carved

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$40 at Amazon

Google Fabric case

Google Fabric case

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$40 at Google

Moment Photo Lens Case

Moment Photo Lens Case

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$35 at Amazon

This entire list is full of a bunch of great options to protect your Pixel 3, regardless of your budget or style preferences. A personal favorite of mine is the Spigen Neo Hybrid because I find it has the best mix of style, protection, and thickness, that makes it feel good either in my pocket or in my hand. Either way, no matter what you’re looking for, there’s a case out there for you.

22
Oct

Google Home Hub Review: Little, fierce, and nearly perfect


The most impressive example of Google’s design chops I have ever touched.

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Adding a display to smart speakers is a relatively new thing still, so a lot of companies are experimenting to figure out the “best” experience for everyone. For such a simple concept, it really does require careful design to create something you can put anywhere and still have it be great. The way the speakers fire, the angle of the display, and the amount of space the whole thing takes up are all incredibly important. Mess one of these things up, and your smart display stops being useful in several rooms of most homes.

Google’s Home Hub was announced with a couple of bold claims. According to the marketing materials, this is the smart display you’d actually want to put in your bedroom, or feel comfortable putting anywhere else and enjoy the way it disappears into the environment until you want to use it. For anyone who has used an Amazon Echo Show or Lenovo Smart Display, you know these claims are more than a little lofty.

After a few days using it, however, I see this isn’t marketing fluff at all. Google’s Home Hub really does disappear into a room, and it really is the only smart display I would ever put in my bedroom. And it all comes down to the simple, brilliant design decisions that went into this impressively tiny assistant.

Just about perfect

Google Home Hub

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$149 at Best Buy

The hype is absolutely real

If you want a smart display for any room but the kitchen, this is the thing to get. Google nailed every aspect of this design, and Google Assistant has never shone brighter.

The Good

  • Flawless LCD display
  • Fantastic night modes
  • Practical privacy features
  • Nearly perfect microphones
  • Clever new Smart Home management tools

The Bad

  • WHY NO NETFLIX, GOOGLE?

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Google Home Hub What I like

After the last year of the bulky Amazon Echo Show and the massive Lenovo Smart Display taking up space in my kitchen, the first thing that continues to blow me away about Google’s Home Hub is how compact it is. This thing is tiny compared to the current batch of smart displays. The 7-inch screen sits in front of a conical speaker with two buttons on the entire body, and that’s the privacy switch to disable the microphone and a volume rocker. The bezels on the display aren’t bad either, so you really just get the display and a little bit of the stand when looking at it head on.

This thing is tiny.

Firing Home Hub up felt neatly identical to the Lenovo Smart Display, even though they aren’t both running Android Things. Instead, Home Hub is running something lighter-weight and based on Google Cast, but you really wouldn’t know it by looking at or interacting with this thing.

The way it reacts to “Hey Google” and the kind of information it displays is identical, save for one key place. There’s a top menu you can pull down with a swipe, and it looks a whole lot like the Home controls in your Google Home app. You can swipe around to control lights, outlets, thermostats, really anything connected to your network that works with Google Assistant. It’s a souped-up version of the home control system you see on the Amazon Echo Show, and a worthy addition to this experience.

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The real star of the show here is the display. This 7-inch LCD panel works with a light sensor on the front on the Home hub to match your room in the same way your phone does. If it’s dark in the room, the panel dims. If you use LEDs that lean more on the cooler end of the color spectrum, Home Hub will adjust to match. If the lights are out entirely, Home Hub will shift to a super dim black-and-white clock that you could easily use on a bedside table.

When you’re not using it at all, Home Hub’s brightness will drop to a position that makes it so the display is almost impossible to notice unless you’re looking for it. Where most displays are bright enough to catch your attention as you walk through a room, Home Hub intentionally avoids this. My son, poking at the new thing in the house, remarked that the display looked like an actual photo was taped to the front of it, instead of like a screen. When you aren’t using this thing, Google wants it to disappear. And it does.

This is a stunning example of how much Google as a company is focusing on quality design and functionality, while being dead simple to set up and use.

There’s nothing missing from this experience, either. Using Google Cast instead of Android Things does not mean it is missing something the Lenovo Smart Display offers. You can stream music and video to it, dial out and receive video calls with Duo, and access all of the same great kitchen-friendly cooking instructions. The microphones easily picked up my voice from across the room even when blasting music at 90% of its max volume, and it connects to any other Google Assistant speaker for a unified music experience.

And for my privacy-focused friends out there, you will find no camera on this smart display and the microphone is very easily disabled with a physical switch. What you will find is incorporation with Digital Wellbeing in the form of Downtime support. You can set Home Hub to stop responding at certain points of the day, which is handy when you want some personal time with a significant other or you want the kids to actually go to bed when you send them.

Home Hub can also be set to filter music and Actions to a PG rating, which is handy if you have little ones. Couple that with Google Assistant’s ability to only grant access to your personal information when it hears your voice making requests, and Google Home Hub quickly becomes the best option for safe and smart access to home controls.

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Google Home Hub What I don’t like

There’s very little about this Home Hub I don’t like, but there are a few things about this design that are necessary compromises. The speakers on Home Hub are not the loudest in the world. They sound very good, especially when you use the Google Home app to customize the bass and treble to your personal liking, but if loud is all you’re looking for you won’t find it here. The massive speaker in the Lenovo Smart Display or Echo Show 2nd Gen are much louder — which makes sense because they’re also considerably larger. The speaker in Home Hub sounds pretty close to what you get with Google Home, which makes sense given the size.

My biggest frustration with Google Home hub is a piece of the software. Specifically, the confusing way you can’t use every Google Cast app with this display. Like the Lenovo Smart Display, you can’t connect Netflix at all. If you tap the Cast button in Netflix, smart displays don’t show up. Hulu, Plex, and dozens of others work just fine, and once you get a stream started from Cast on your phone you can control everything on Home Hub with your voice or with touch. We have yet to get a satisfactory answer from Netflix or Google on why this doesn’t work, but as someone who enjoys having a show on while I cook this really needs to be fixed.

Google Home Hub: Should you buy it?

I am already on board with smart displays, especially in the kitchen. But Google Home Hub is the first smart display I have wanted to use in other parts of the house. It’s a digital photo frame that looks like it’s holding real photos, a quality music speaker when you’re jamming out, and a fantastic way to start your day by asking for your news feed while getting dressed in the morning. This is a stunning example of how much Google as a company is focusing on quality design and functionality, while making things dead simple to set up and use.

And, honestly, the price is perfect. At $150, this is something you can be comfortable trying even if you’re not totally sold on smart displays. Once you have this one in your house, I’m pretty sure you’ll agree it’s just about as close to perfect as a smart display can get right now.

5
out of 5


Something I didn’t focus on much above, Home Hub comes in four really interesting colors. The Chalk (white) and Charcoal (black) colors are pretty safe for just about any house, but the Aqua (blue-green) and Sand (pink) colors really pop in person. Personally, I’m a fan of the Aqua, but the variety of options makes choosing the right one for you a lot more fun.

$See at Best Buy

22
Oct

These $60 truly wireless earbuds are better than you’d expect


These earbuds aren’t perfect, but for $60, they’re definitely worth a look.

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TaoTronics makes some of the most popular budget headphones on Amazon, and if you caught my review of the company’s noise-canceling headphones, you’ll know that I’ve previously been impressed with what TaoTronics can pull off with such competitively-priced products.

The latest TaoTronics headphones to hit the scene is a pair of truly wireless earbuds. This is the very first time TaoTronics has tried making a pair of earbuds in this form factor, and while they’re far from perfect, this is a really valiant first result that’s still worth your consideration.

On the right track

TaoTronics True Wireless Earbuds

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$60 at Amazon

A good entry into truly wireless earbuds.

Truly wireless earbuds require a lot of work to be any good, and while TaoTronic’s first shot at them isn’t perfect, reliable Bluetooth performance and a great price makes them worth a look.

The Good

  • Easy pairing process
  • Bluetooth connection is (mostly) reliable
  • Multiple listening modes
  • IPX7 water resistant

The Bad

  • Sound quality is just OK
  • Charging case feels cheap
  • Finicky touch controls

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TaoTronics True Wireless Earbuds What’s good

With truly wireless earbuds, one of the easiest things to get wrong is the pairing and connectivity. So many models utterly fail in these regards, but somehow TaoTronics has managed to avoid most of these pitfalls.

Upon pairing them to your phone for the first time, just put both earbuds in your ears, tap on them from the list of Bluetooth devices on your phone, and they’ll connect. From that point forward, they’ll automatically connect when you put them in your ears and disconnect when they’re placed back in the case.

While not quite as magical as what you’ll find with AirPods with an iPhone, everything here works much better than I was expecting. Bluetooth 5.0 is used to deliver strong connectivity for up to 10 meters (33 feet), and while I noticed a couple of tiny dropouts during my testing, it was for less than a second and nothing that really detracts too much from the overall experience.

You can listen in full stereo sound with both earbuds in each ear, or listen to mono audio with just one. Along with that, TaoTronics also offers a Twin Mode that allows two people to each use one earbud.

Add that together with IPX7 water resistance, customizable ear tips, and solid battery life (3 hours of playback with 40 chargers with the charging case), and it’s easy to see that TaoTronics did a lot of things right.

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TaoTronics True Wireless Earbuds What needs some work

On that same note, there are a few areas where I’d like to see some improvements made if we get a version 2 of these earbuds at some point down the road.

For starters, sound quality can’t help but feel a bit lifeless. It’s perfectly fine for casual listening at the gym or around the house, but don’t expect anything more. Songs and podcasts aren’t unenjoyable to listen to, but bass is virtually nonexistent.

Sound quality for these earbuds is just OK.

You can control your tunes using a variety of taps on the side of either earbud, ranging from skipping tracks, playing/pausing a song, and even adjusting your volume. Having access to all of these controls is nice and something you won’t even find on the $160 AirPods, but if you’re not precise with each tap, it’s easy to not have anything be registered or to accidentally skip a song when you just meant to pause it.

As for the charging case, I’m a bit hesitant about how well it’ll hold up after a few months of solid use. It’s relatively portable and simple to use, but the button to open it is extremely mushy and the top plastic feels like it could pop off at any second.

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Should you buy them? If you’re on a budget, maybe

Time to get down to business — should you buy the TaoTronics True Wireless Earbuds?

For its first shot at earbuds of this form factor, I think TaoTronics did an admirable job. The earbuds are enjoyable to use and give you the same conveniences of other products that cost $100 more.

If you absolutely need the truly wireless style, TaoTronics’ earbuds are some of the best you’ll find within this price range. Then again, if you’re okay with the traditional wireless style that has a wire connecting both earbuds, you can get similarly priced products with much better sound.

3.5
out of 5


I wouldn’t recommend everyone rush out and buy these ASAP, but for the right buyer, they could be exactly what you’ve been looking for.

See at Amazon

22
Oct

UK Deal: Get the Blink XT home security system at its lowest price ever


Don’t blink, you might miss this deal.

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Today only, Blink XT Home Security Camera Systems are down in price at Amazon UK. With 23% off, these are the best prices we have seen to date on the weatherproof cams.

The sale includes:

  • 1-Camera Kit – £114.99 (Was £150)
  • 2-Camera Kit – £184.99 (Was £240)
  • 3-Camera Kit – £254.99 (Was £330)
  • 5-Camera Kit – £384.99 (Was £500)

The Blink XT camera can be used indoor or outdoor and is a modular system that can be expanded with up to 10 cameras as you want them. You can set it up and control it easily with an iOS or Android smartphone, and you can add voice control with any Alexa-enabled device like the Echo Dot. The built-in motion sensor can send an alert to your smartphone when it’s triggered and record the event in the cloud. The included AA Lithium batteries should power it wirelessly for up to two years. The free cloud storage requires at least iOS 9.3 or Android 4.4.

For more UK deals coverage, be sure to keep an eye on Thrifter UK, sign up for the UK newsletter and follow the team on Twitter.

See at Amazon UK

22
Oct

Are you sticking with the Pixel 3’s default launcher?


Even in 2018, third-party launchers are still mighty popular.

If you picked up a Pixel 3 or Pixel 3 XL, you’ve likely been getting familiar with the launcher that comes pre-installed on it out of the box. Just like the Pixel and Pixel 2 series before them, this year’s phones ship with the latest version of Google’s Pixel Launcher.

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The Pixel Launcher is one of the smoothest launchers around and offers easy access to the Google Discover page, a persistent Search bar at the bottom, and the super helpful At A Glance widget. For all the things the Pixel Launcher gets right, however, it’s definitely not the best choice for people that want access to the most customization options possible.

When asked if they were sticking with the Pixel Launcher on the Pixel 3, this is how the AC forum community responded:

default.jpgklau25
10-20-2018 10:59 PM

i am. Used to only use Nova, but since the Pixel Launcher changed all icons to the same now. They are all uniformed. i am sticking with Pixel Launcher for now.

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avatar572941_3.gifDavidoo
10-20-2018 11:29 PM

Nova Prime for me as well. Can’t give up all that customization.

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avatar1737_23.gifareyes163
10-21-2018 12:36 AM

I like the stock launcher. I actually use the search bar a lot. I would like the option to move it though. The stock launcher is fast for me so no complaints here. I do like Nova though but I plan on sticking with stock for now.

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avatar1259824_1.gifArmeniandave
10-21-2018 11:48 AM

I switch between Nova and action launcher. Both are awesome in slightly different ways.

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22
Oct

Google’s Project Stream is so good it should worry the console makers


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When streaming games over the internet is this good, is there any reason to buy a game console?

I’m not just a nerd and editor here at Mobile Nations; I’m also a pretty big gamer. When I first heard about Google’s Project Stream game streaming service I signed up with every email account I had. When I got the email saying I was invited to give it a try, I jumped at a chance to play Assassin’s Creed Odyssey by beaming it over the tubes to a Chrome browser tab. After spending a bit of time playing it, I’m here to say that Sony and Microsoft should better get their ducks in a row because Google might make a traditional game console obsolete.

Seriously. It’s that good. Here’s my quick take on the good and the bad of streaming a performance-hungry 3D AAA title over the internet. This isn’t a review of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey — we have one of those already. It’s also worth noting that Project Stream is a closed invite-only beta so the billion Chrome users aren’t all hitting the servers at once.

Setting it up

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Project Stream, as mentioned, runs inside the desktop Chrome browser on every single platform that can install it. It runs in a standard tab like any other website and is purely a streaming service; there is nothing to download or install to get it up and running and outside of the same sort of cache you would see from a streaming service like Netflix. Nothing gets installed behind the scenes on your computer. Setting it up requires four things: A Google account, a Ubisoft account, a broadband internet connection and an invite to the service.

I don’t have the speediest internet on the planet, and did have to close down some bandwidth-hungry applications on my Windows 10 desktop computer in order to pass the initial test to make sure I could play. I also had to disable the Windows 10 Firewall to pass the test, but the service worked fine with it enabled after I got the green light.

You don’t need a gaming PC to play Project Stream; it works on a Chromebook or MacBook.

My gaming PC is a home-built system on an MSI motherboard, with an Intel i7 8700k CPU, 32 GB of DDR4 RAM, and two ASUS-branded AMD RX Vega 64 graphics cards using CrossFire. It drives either two 1080P monitors or a single wide 4K monitor, depending on the game I’m playing. It’s a fairly standard gaming rig, filled with hardware that probably helps a little once the data gets here, but is completely unnecessary for Project Stream, which can also run on a Chromebook or MacBook Air.

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Once your computer passes the tests, you are presented with the title screen for Assassin’s Creed Odyssey in full screen. You’ll be forwarded to sign into Ubisoft and to help alleviate a bit of that hassle you’ll get 1,000 game credits to buy cosmetic items at Ubisoft’s store. It’s enough to buy all but the most expensive thing available. If you already have a Ubisoft account, you won’t find any mention of the game in the UPlay app, but you can spend all those useless U gold coins you may have earned. It’s the microtransaction cosmetic racket you’ll find is typical of most AAA games in 2018, love it or hate it. (HATE IT.)

The tl;dr — have a computer that can run Chrome, a Google account, and an invite and you can be playing Assassin’s Creed Odyssey in about 3 minutes.

Quality

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I’m not a stranger to streaming games. I use NVIDIA’s GeForce Now service on my Shield TV on occasion, and previously streamed from my desktop to a Shield Portable (remember those?) when I had an NVIDIA-powered graphics card. But I wasn’t ready for what I saw when it comes to quality.

Project Stream isn’t open for everyone so it may degrade in quality. But Google Duo didn’t.

Streaming a game through Google Chrome is just as good as playing from the hard drive of my PS4 or Xbox One. It looks as good, it’s as responsive, and even more seamless than switching inputs on a television and turning on a console. You can even use a wired PS4 Dualshock controller or an Xbox (One or 360) controller, as well. It’s better in terms of quality than NVIDIA’s service — which I’ve always thought was more than acceptable and worth the price — both graphically and latency-wise. It was, in a word, shocking.

Once again, it’s worth mentioning that this is a limited closed beta test. It’s possible that once open to more users Project Stream will turn into a laggy, blotchy mess where games that aren’t worth playing will be the norm. But I also participated in the GeForce Now closed beta, and it was never this good. I’m betting Google is using some of the same secret sauce for the bandwidth that it uses to compress and expand video for Google Duo here.

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You’ll still have the same weird looking characters you’ll find in most Ubisoft titles, regardless of engine, but you won’t see any blurry pixelated images or ghosting during movement or even glitches when there are plenty of game sprites on the screen at once. When you press a button on the controller or mouse, you won’t find any perceptible input lag or latency issues. It’s just like playing from your Xbox. You won’t get the same quality of graphics you would from the PC version of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey (there are no video settings other than brightness through the settings) but you will match a console like a PS4 Pro or Xbox One. It’s every bit as good as a high-end PC running in “High” or “Good” quality.

Menus are seemingly instant, and the only time you’ll notice a split second of waiting is when saving. Since I happen to really like the game, I also bought it for the PC and it does the same thing running locally. You’ll also see the same thing when saving your game on a console, as verified by several folks playing on one and kind enough to field some questions. And it’s all done inside a browser tab.

What’s not to love?

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When it comes to convenience and quality, Project Stream outperforms my expectations. By a very large margin. But that doesn’t mean you should put your console up on eBay just yet. There are still some unknowns when it comes to ownership.

It’s hard to find some new games DRM free. GoG and Humble Bundle are lifesavers, but most gamers will have Steam, or UPlay, or Origin (or all three) installed on their PC and Sony or Microsoft make no bones about DRM. That means you don’t own the game you’re playing. You only own the rights to play it, and that’s what you paid upwards of $60 for. We see the same with music and video — even if you buy the disk or the digital files, you don’t actually own the content.

Google sucks at digital rights for content.

It’s hard to tell how Google can (will) mangle up user rights when it comes to games purchased through or played via Project Stream. Google Play Music shows us Google isn’t the best company on the planet when it comes to securing content rights (ask anyone in Europe) and buying a service to play your favorite game and seeing that game disappear overnight because of a rights dispute is not a pretty thought. But it is a likely possibility if we look to Play Music or Play Movies & TV as examples. At least Sony or Microsoft won’t stop you from playing a game if you bought the disk and can’t get online to authenticate… oh nevermind. If you were a Destiny player, you know how it feels.

Is on-demand gaming worth not actually owning any of your games? that’s going to depend on pricing and availability as well as how well Google can satisfy the bloodlust of companies like EA. One thing’s for sure, it’s definitely better than this:

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It’s not clear what Google plans to charge for Project Stream when it launches, nor how many games will be offered, but if the quality and performance stay this good, Sony and Microsoft should watch out.

See at Google

22
Oct

The Lenovo Yoga Chromebook is now on sale at Best Buy for $699


You get a huge 15.6-inch display and Intel Core i5 processor.

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Back at IFA 2018 in August, Lenovo unveiled a trio of new Chromebooks for the holiday shopping season. The most powerful of the bunch, the Lenovo Yoga Chromebook, has officially been made available for purchase at Best Buy in the United States.

The Lenovo Yoga Chromebook comes equipped with a 15.6-inch IPS display with a Full HD resolution of 1920 x 1080. Since this is Yoga device, it can be folded back 360-degrees and used in a total of four modes — Laptop, Tablet, Tent, and Stand.

Under the hood is an 8th-generation Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, 128GB of eMMC storage, and Intel UHD Graphics 620. In regards to ports, you’ll find a 3.5mm headphone/microphone combo jack, two USB-C ports, one full-size USB-A 3.0 one, and a microSD card slot.

Package all of that up into a sleek aluminum chassis with a Midnight Blue paint job for $699, and you’re looking at a seriously impressive Chromebook that’s considerably less than Google’s Pixelbook or the new Pixel Slate. (You can also step up to a model with a 4K UHD display for $899).

The Lenovo Yoga Chromebook is available for purchase from Best Buy right now with free shipping and in-store pickup.

See at Best Buy

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