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LG V20 review: Everything a power user wants


The V20 has broad appeal, an interesting camera setup and mountains of features — but it doesn’t quite ‘wow’ as a complete product.

LG’s flagship “G” series of phones have been solid hits for the company, particularly with the G2 and G3 that outpaced the competition in many ways. But seeing an opportunity for an even bigger and more feature-packed phone, LG unveiled a new device and entirely new line with the V10 in 2015. It was huge, rugged and packed an incredible number of features for a single phone — the selling point was that it was for “content creation” instead of consumption.

In 2016, the general-appeal flagship LG G5 has fallen flat, and is hardly on the radar of those looking for a high-end phone. Interestingly enough, the V20 looks and feels effectively like a larger G5 — though it retains many of the features and much of the V10’s DNA. This combination of approaches makes the V20 dramatically more appealing to a wider range of potential customers, but at the same time works to differentiate by packing as many features and specs as possible into a single big phone.

With two screens on the front, two cameras on the back, a removable battery, Android 7.0 Nougat running the show and a pile of content creation features, the V20 is quite a handful. It’s also commanding a large handful of money to acquire one. With LG failing to get out of the blocks with the G5, and building on a narrowly successful V10, can the V20 draw from both to be a success? We’re here to explore just that in our full LG V20 review.

About this review

I (Andrew Martonik) am writing this review after three weeks using a pre-production LG V20, followed by six days using an AT&T retail version of the phone. The phones were used on the T-Mobile network in Seattle, WA and San Francisco, CA, as well as the AT&T network in Seattle. Both phones were provided to Android Central for review by LG.


Less rugged, more appealing

LG V20 Hardware

Last year’s V10 was a physically imposing device, and while that was appealing to a small group of people it wasn’t the right strategy to be a broad hit. The V20 takes many of the hardware features that made the V10 appealing — a large screen, removable battery, dual cameras and a hefty metal frame — and implemented them with far more subtlety and efficiency. You won’t find a thick rubber back or heavy stainless steel sides anymore, but you’ll get something that’s a bit easier on the eyes while still being extremely sturdy.

The one area where the V20 doesn’t differentiate from the V10 is in its sheer size. Though it has trimmed down a bit in terms of weight, the V20 is still a massive phone. For a point of comparison, the V20 is actually larger in each dimension than the iPhone 7 Plus, which itself is also known for being a very large phone. At 159.7 mm tall it’s even a smidge taller than the huge Nexus 6, though thankfully a few millimeters narrower and thinner.

v20-front-2.jpg 159.7 mm v20-side-2.jpg
78.1 mm 7.7 mm
173 g
  • Display:

    • 5.7-inch display
    • 2560×1440 LCD
    • Secondary screen
  • Camera:
    • 16MP f/1.8
    • Secondary 8MP f/2.4 wide-angle
    • Laser, phase-detect, contrast auto focus
    • 8MP front camera
  • Battery:
    • 3200 mAh
    • Removable
    • Quick Charge 3.0
  • Chips:
    • Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor
    • 4GB RAM
    • 64GB storage
    • SD card slot

So what takes up all of that space? Well, from the front it’s all about screen and bezels. Starting with a 5.7-inch display means you’re automatically going to have a large phone — add to it the “second screen” and that makes the phone a bit taller. Add in about average-sized bezels, a front-facing camera and an earpiece for calls, and now you’re in “huge” territory. Despite its size and focus on audio LG didn’t go with front-facing stereo speakers, though, leaving the output to a single downward-firing speaker to the right of the USB-C port.

More: Complete LG V20 specs

The display itself — a QHD “Quantum Display” LCD — is really good, and unlike the past generation of LG phones gets very bright and stays vivid even in direct sunlight. It’s not quite on the level of Samsung and the new Pixel XL, but it’s darn close — I like it a lot.

The V20 is unapologetically massive, like the good ‘ol days.

The glass around the screen doesn’t extend fully to the top and bottom bezels, but flows nicely into the plastic (yes, the top and bottom are plastic for RF reasons) with curves shown off originally on the G5. It also smoothly transitions into the metal sides, which are actually part of the full removable back plate of the phone. LG has been one company that consistently puts value in having a removable battery in its phones, and it was basically a given that the V20 would follow suit. Rather than using a peel-off plastic back or odd modular bottom, LG went with a known but not often used strategy of a solid metal removable back.

The back plate is thick and extremely rigid, which is important — this bit of metal is the primary thing you hold on the phone every day, and the feeling of it would completely make or break the physical experience of the V20. The phone feels as though it’s a solid piece of aluminum, even though the top and bottom are plastic, simply because so much of what you hold is this big chunk of metal. Now it honestly doesn’t feel quite as nice as the Pixel XL, Moto Z or HTC 10 — you really can’t fake your way to a unibody feel 100% — but it’s damn good and much better than previous phones with removable doors. Importantly for LG, it feels like a different class of manufacturing from the G5’s calamitous modular bottom and odd coating over metal.

This design isn’t inspiring; it’s materials taken to their expected conclusion.

Though LG clearly executed its physical elements well, I don’t think it quite nailed the looks. This is a big silver or titanium grey rectangle with no eye-catching design flourishes — and that’s really saying something, as I even found the Pixel XL (which many panned as being boring) to be appealing. The V20’s design just feels … aggressively average. Though the metal back is very well done, the subtle difference in texture and sheen between that metal and the plastic is easy to notice and tough to unsee once you do. The shimmery thin metal trim around the camera pod looks and feels more like cheap plastic. It’s a huge grey rounded slab, no matter what angle you look at it from — there’s nothing stellar to point to as a design feature that keeps you interested in it.

Design is subjective, of course, and some may appreciate the simplicity and lack of flare with the V20. And if you do, the fact that it’s built extremely well and executed properly in terms of the hardware is extremely important. You’re getting an unapologetically big phone that packs a ton of specs inside, including power user features like an SD card slot and removable battery, without compromising much in terms of feel or build materials — that’s a win.


First* with Nougat

LG V20 Software, experience and battery life

LG is framing the launch of the V20 by the fact that it’s the “first” phone to launch with Android 7.0 Nougat out of the box, and for all intents and purposes it succeeded in doing so. The phone launched in South Korea back at the end of September with the then-latest version of the operating system mere days before Google unveiled the new Pixel and Pixel XL running Android 7.1 — so, mission accomplished. Those of us buying in the U.S. will technically be getting the second phone with Nougat pre-loaded, as the Pixels have already started shipping and the LG V20 doesn’t arrive in U.S. carrier stores until October 28. This “issue” was mostly created by LG’s release cadence, where it takes nearly two months after announce to get a phone out and on sale in the U.S.; but it doesn’t seem too keen to change that right now.

Those particular quibbles aside, I applaud LG’s commitment to launching with the latest possible version of Android at the time it actually announced the phone. LG has obviously been a long-standing partner with Google and that surely played a role in its desire to launch with Nougat, though simply choosing to release a phone in the fourth quarter always helps you coincide with the latest Android platform release as well.


LG’s take on Android 7.0 is a bit more subdued than its implementation of Android 6.0, and that’s a welcomed change. The quick settings, notification shade and settings have all taken on a stark black-on-white look that’s clean and easy to navigate, and isn’t too far removed from what you find on a Nexus or Pixel today. LG has also dropped a lot of the shadows and crazy colors, simply going to a flatter overall look with splashes of a turquoise color for effect here and there.

LG’s latest take on Android is subdued and simple in many ways.

Functionally, things are a bit improved as well. LG’s navigation buttons, while still customizable, are now actually standard buttons that interact with the system properly in terms of full-screen mode and the back button switching to a keyboard collapse button where appropriate. Its Recents menu is also Nougat-standard, including multi-window support.

Unfortunately you still get a handful of reminders that you’re using LG’s software. It has kept around the dopey animations on the lock screen and home screen, and the design of the launcher seems a bit stuck in the past throughout. LG’s default keyboard is a bit of a mess as well. Thankfully you can get past most of these issues with a swap of the launcher and keyboard — as I quickly did on my review units — to get something a bit cleaner and more modern.

LG unfortunately still caves pretty hard to the carriers in terms of bloatware, with my AT&T model shipping with an abhorrent 20 apps from the carrier, plus additional steps in the setup process and changes to the settings. It’s all too much, and it’s an area I wish LG could put its foot down and stop.

Bloatware is still a problem, and you’ll want to switch out the launcher and keyboard.

When it comes to performance, LG does a pretty good job keeping its software running quickly with the Snapdragon 820 processor and 4GB of RAM. For the most part everything was snappy and even heavy apps or multitasking weren’t an issue. I did however come across a few instances where things would chug along at a slower-than-usual pace, though, and sometimes I went through a minute or two when apps took an extra moment to open up. After thinking this was an issue with my pre-production version I was disappointed to see the same happen on the full production AT&T model as well. To be entirely fair the instances of slower performance were few and far between, but they happened often enough that they were frustrating.

Maybe I’m a bit spoiled having just spent over a week with the Pixel XL ahead of reviewing the production model of the V20, but the contrast in speed and overall fluidity between the two is quite noticeable. The Pixel XL is just downright faster, smoother and quicker to do everything. As I noted in my review of the Pixel XL it’s almost an imperceptible difference most of the time … but when you compare it side-by-side to another phone, like the V20, that’s just a little slower you can see how impressive Google’s software is.


Second screen

Just like its predecessor the V20’s “second” screen isn’t really physically a second screen as much as it’s just a little extra bit at the top of the main display panel that operates independently. Aside from in the camera app, the extra portion is never made available as a true extension of the main display — it’s purely dedicated to the second screen experience of glanceable and always-available information.

The small 160×1040 resolution panel can be configured to display up to seven different panels of information, which you can swipe through left or right independently of what’s on the main screen. You can see things like a set of five “quick tools” for most-used functions, shortcuts to five favorite apps, music player controls or quick contacts. I mostly used the quick tools and favorite apps launcher, but never really got into the habit of using the second screen.

The second screen is neat, but far from useful on a daily basis.

Much like I found with the “edge screen” on the Galaxy S7 edge (and Note 7), the second screen doesn’t really do much other than duplicate functions I can already do very quickly elsewhere on the phone. Just as easily as getting to the quick tools I can swipe down the notification shade. Just as quickly as swiping and then tapping on a recent app in the second screen I could just hit the Recents button in the navigation bar … and so on and so forth. Add to that the fact that the second screen is at the top of an extremely tall phone, and it makes it (literally) a bit less accessible than the same functions elsewhere on the phone.

The second screen is also kind of in the way when you want to reach up and swipe down the notification shade — I accidentally opened apps or toggled Wi-Fi more than a few times when I was just trying to swipe down to view notifications. If you have the second screen enabled to work when the screen is off you can get some accidental touches on it while it’s in your pocket, too — while it’s useful to work with the second screen to quickly toggle the sound profile when the screen is off, I more than once pulled out my phone to the flashlight having been toggled on accidentally.


Battery life

The LG V20’s battery is removable and swappable for a fresh cell at any time, but that means that the battery itself is a tad smaller than you’d likely get if it were permanently embedded. 3200 mAh isn’t that small, but given the fact that smaller phones like the Galaxy S7 edge and Google Pixel XL manage to have 3600 and 3450 mAh batteries, respectively, it’s clear there’s a trade off going on here.

You’ll get through a day with a bit to spare; but how about that removable battery, eh?

LG’s done a pretty good job at getting battery life to where it needs to be on the V20, but it honestly comes up a bit short of my expectations. Thanks to the big QHD display, always-on second screen and below-average battery size, the V20 is good for a full day of use … but it doesn’t always do it with much left in reserve. My typical day, as I’ve described many times in reviews, involves a few hours of “screen on” time, lots of time spent on Wi-Fi, all of my email and social media accounts syncing, plenty of time spent listening to music and podcasts, and frequent use of Maps, Drive, Twitter and the like.

With this usage, the V20 was good for about 15-16 hours to be completely dead. That means on average I’d be ending my day with something like 10-15% battery in the tank, which is right on the cusp of being worrisome for me. That extra 5-10% drop off of capacity compared to other big phones could add enough padding that I wouldn’t ever be worried about battery life on the V20. As it stands, though, it’s good enough, but not spectacular — especially for a big phone.

And for some, the combination of a removable battery that can be swapped for a 100% charge in seconds and Quick Charge 3.0 support is enough to make up for that. I personally have no desire to manage charging and keeping around phone-specific batteries, so I leaned on Quick Charge 3.0 instead, but some people are still clinging to the idea that a user-replaceable battery is a thing they need. More power to ’em.

Quad DAC and high-res audio

LG has hung its hat on high-resolution audio with the V series, and the V20 sports a 32-bit Quad DAC that you can quickly toggle on when you’re using wired headphones. As I continually say when reviewing phones I’m not an audiophile in any way, though I do own and use a few pairs of nicer-than-average headphones. But no matter what you’re listening to or what pair of headphones you have plugged in, you can clearly tell a difference in the audio quality from the high-end DAC on the V20. The audio is richer and fuller, with a wider range, and there’s absolutely no downside here — you just get better audio any time the phone is outputting to the headphone jack.

My big question is this: if you didn’t have access to the higher-quality DAC at the press of a button, or you were just listening to music on another phone with an inferior DAC, would you actually notice the difference? I’d posit that most people wouldn’t, and while some of that comes down to the aspect of “not knowing what you’re missing,” there’s something to be said for too much hype being put into these nicer DACs. Everyone will notice some sort of benefit, and better-sounding audio is always a good thing, but few people have the hardware or the ears to make the 32-bit Quad DAC in the V20 a selling point for the phone.


Double the fun

LG V20 Cameras

The V20’s camera setup is something LG can be proud of, though it isn’t materially different from what we saw several months ago with the G5. This is the same dual camera componentry, pairing a 16MP sensor with a “standard” lens alongside an 8MP sensor with a wide-angle lens. You also get a hybrid auto focus system that combines laser, phase-detect and contrast auto focusing to select the best one for the scene.


LG’s camera interface is pretty simple but brings your most-used functions easily to hand on the left edge of the interface, including the second screen for toggling between shooting modes. Frustratingly it’s still missing an HDR toggle, though — you need to hop into the full camera settings to use it. The V20 also offers an extremely comprehensive Manual shooting mode, including a Manual video mode, which is a photographer’s delight. The one shortcoming I find in the camera’s software is its speed. Sometimes it’s lightning-quick to launch and take photos, and other times it stutters and lags while opening or switching between the gallery and camera — I expect more from this high-end of a phone.


I absolutely love shooting with the V20 simply because of its dual camera setup that offers so many new and exciting opportunities, and those who have used the LG G5 know what I’m talking about. Just about every photo your friends and family post online today is taken with more or less the same focal length, providing the same look of “I took this with a smartphone and uploaded it.” With a tap on the screen you can switch the V20 to a wonderful wide-angle lens that takes super-interesting photos, and that’s wonderful. I found myself taking somewhere between one-third and half of my photos with the wide-angle lens just so I could mix things up a bit. It’s a real treat.

The only upsetting thing here is the dropoff in quality on the secondary camera.

When it comes to overall quality, the main 16MP sensor is obviously the better of the two — and it’s awesome. The main camera takes great, vivid photos that are if anything a slight step behind the likes of the Pixel and Galaxy S7 edge, but only in some situations. In most scenes, I saw literally no difference in quality between the V20 and the competition, and that lines up with what we found when spending time with the G5 earlier this year. LG is doing things properly here.

The real issue for me is the dropoff in quality when you switch to the wide-angle sensor. Its lower resolution and higher f/2.4 aperture don’t handle low-light situations in any way the same as the better main camera, and that’s extremely disappointing. During the day the wide-angle camera does just fine, taking some amazing photos, but when the lights dim you can no longer rely on that wide-angle camera to give you the quality you expect, and that’s disappointing. If LG could have figured out how to put an exact duplicate of the main sensor behind the secondary wide-angle lens, I really wouldn’t be able to find a complaint with this whole camera setup.

In terms of video, the V20 boasts all of the right features. Beyond its Manual video mode that I mentioned above, the V20 offers up to UHD video recording, tracking focus, electronic “steady recording” and super-high-fidelity audio recording from multiple mics. Videos taken on the V20 are steadier than most thanks to the combination of OIS (optical image stabilization) and EIS (electronic image stabilization), but the stabilization offered in situations like walking down the street come up well short of what Google does on the Pixels — to the point where I wouldn’t be surprised if a software patch was coming to improve things. When recording the mics handle a high range of audio without distorting, though — that’s really impressive. LG easily has the best overall setup for recording video on a smartphone, even if its image stabilization isn’t as smooth as Google’s.


For the power users

LG V20 Bottom line

The V20 checks a lot of boxes in terms of features and specs: big bright screen, high-end internals, great cameras, fast charging, removable battery, SD card slot, fingerprint sensor, Android 7.0 Nougat, hi-fi audio, manual camera controls and so much more. But in putting this all together into one phone, it seems to be missing that extra little bit that makes it feel like a complete product to me.

The V20 includes a ton of specs, but is so big that it’s unmanageable for many people. The removable battery is good for a small group of potential buyers, but the battery life suffers a bit and more importantly the build of the phone takes a hit (also losing waterproofing) to integrate the removable battery door. The second screen seems neat, but makes the phone taller and isn’t all that useful on a daily basis. LG pushed to get the V20 running Android 7.0 Nougat out of the box, but its customizations still feel a bit mismatched and we have no solid prospects for regular security updates or future versions of Android.

The V20 is a great phone for power users, but some will notice its lack of cohesiveness.

There are two ways to measure the V20. The first is how it compares to its predecessor, the V10: the new model gets the hardware right, has better software and has retained the unique features of a second screen, removable battery and advanced camera and audio capabilities. It is quite clearly a huge upgrade from the V10, and in many ways a better complete device than the LG G5 as well.

Next, and more importantly, we have to look a bit more critically about how the V20 compares to its immediate competition from Samsung, Google, Moto and yes, Apple. Each of the flagships from the aforementioned companies offers a similar screen size, the same basic specs, a good camera experience, fast charging and long battery life, and in each case a better overall hardware build than the V20. Yes LG can lean on its great dual-camera setup, its slightly larger display, a removable battery and hi-fi audio … but some people would give up one or more of those features for a more cohesive phone experience.

Late in 2016, smartphones are still all about compromises. Every single decision a company makes about a spec or feature has something else tied to it. With the V20, LG focused on getting the most stuff crammed into a single phone, and in the end the trade off was getting a phone that’s not quite built as well as the competition, is a bit to big for many hands to manage and lacks the software polish to go against Google’s own flagship.

Those who enjoyed the V10, the feature and spec junkies who are self-described “power users,” will be all over it; and rightfully so, as the V20 does just about everything you could want and does it pretty darn well. The general consumers looking for a more thoughtful, well-balanced and considered phone are likely to drift in the direction of LG’s high-end competition.

LG V20

  • LG V20 review: Built for power users
  • LG V20 specs
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  • Discuss the V20 in the forums!



All About Chrome: How Google’s browser got everywhere


We’re moving along with our plans for Chrome. But first, let’s talk about what Chrome is and how we’re going to be doing it.

Here at Android Central, we like to talk about more than phones and tablets that use Android. Google news, carrier news and even huge mega-corporations we’re familiar with buying other huge mega-corporations for obscene amounts of money are all things we find interesting and think you will, too. One of those things that are poised smack dab in the middle of Google’s plans for the future is Chrome.

Long time readers — and we appreciate you being here — might know that I like Chrome. In fact, I’m more interested in Chrome than I am with Android, and I really like Android. Let’s just say I’m a fan. I know I’m not the only fan because Chrome keeps getting better and things that use it are being developed and sold every day. Companies don’t pour money into something that doesn’t offer a return for very long. But what is Chrome? When Android Central (and Mobile Nations as a whole) talks about Chrome here’s what we think and how we’re going forward.

Chrome is a web browser


There is a good chance you use Chrome if you have a computer you use to get online with. Windows, Mac and Linux all have official builds of Chrome from Google and it’s pretty popular on all three platforms. If you have a recently built Android phone, you have Chrome on your phone, too. Even people using an iPhone can use the Chrome browser.

All these different versions of Chrome are built on the same code base. They all have similar features and the same basic user interface. For all intents and purposes, the Chrome browser is the Chrome browser.

We’ll talk about Chrome the browser when something important or cool happens. If it’s something platform specific, you might find it at Windows Central or iMore. We’re not going to focus on Chrome the browser, but we’re not ignoring it.

Chrome is an operating system

Chrome is also an operating system that powers a whole lot of laptops, minicomputers and “stick” PCs. It follows the familiar design language we know from Chrome the web browser on other devices, and it even has a browser window that’s almost exactly like Chrome for Windows, Mac or Linux. But it’s more than a browser.

Chrome the operating system is also a complete application platform.

Chrome the operating system is also a complete application platform. It supports hardware-accelerated 3D graphics, rich audio and media playback, a full array of input devices and some of the highest resolution displays available on a laptop. It’s also very lightweight and designed to run well on the most inexpensive hardware so value-conscious shoppers can find a computer that’s worth buying. And unlike Android, none of these “cheap” devices get left behind.

The things that run Chrome OS


Chrome’s low system requirements make all of this fascinating. Whether you’re using a cheap and portable Chromebit or a high-end Chromebook like a Pixel or one of HP’s tricked-out models, Chrome is Chrome. You have the same UI, the same application platform, and the same code base. We’re going to talk a lot about the things that run on Chrome.

There are a ton of apps to talk about. Apps that are apps and run in their own space without any internet-powered code, apps that are extensions that are used to make your web browsing experience better and apps that are wrappers for an online experience like a code compiler or Microsoft’s Office suite. There’s something here for everyone, and we want to sort through it all.

More: The Best Chromebook apps

Some Chromebooks run Android apps. Android is now part of Chrome OS, and there is a lengthy list of Chromebooks, Chromeboxes and even a Chromebit or two that will be getting Android app support in the very near future. Google is taking their time here because businesses and schools depend on usable and worry-free Chromebooks. Android apps on Chrome was vetted very well and will continue to be vetted as it gradually rolls out to more devices.

Chrome is a lot of things but some will get more attention than others.

We expect all future Chromebooks and Chromeboxes will be built with Android support in mind. That’s going to influence our recommendations for apps and devices. We think that any new Chromebook you buy should have all the hardware features needed to support Google Play integration, and we’ll make our recommendations accordingly. As for apps, if the best app that fills a certain need is an Android app, so be it. As mentioned earlier, Android is now part of Chrome. We think pretending otherwise would be a disservice to you and to the people building the apps and hardware to run them.

It’s going to be great

We’re still an Android site. If I’m knee deep in something Chrome and I’m needed to look at something for Android, I’ll switch gears. We won’t be taking time away from Android phones so we can play with Chromebooks. We will still tell you how awesome Android can be and what you can do with it and let you know everything we think you want to know. We won’t be scaling anything back when it comes to Android.

It’s also OK if you’re not at all interested in Chrome. When you visit, you’ll find plenty of other content to go over, and once you’ve read everything there is to read we have a huge group of users in the forums who probably enjoy Android as much as you do. If you’re not participating there, you’re really missing out.

I like to be open and on the level. Maybe more than my bosses like, maybe not. I’m just letting everyone know what to expect now that I have more time to do the thing I’ve wanted to do for a long time. Trust me, it’s going to be great.



  • The best Chromebooks
  • Should you buy a Chromebook?
  • Google Play is coming to Chromebooks
  • Acer Chromebook 14 review
  • Join our Chromebook forums


Microsoft Research helped ‘Gears of War 4’ sound so good

Popping in and out of cover has been a hallmark of the Gears of War franchise since the first game came out in 2006. It hasn’t changed much because it didn’t need to. What’s always been an issue though is how thin the game sounds — a shortcoming of the underlying tech, Unreal Engine, powering it. But Microsoft owns the series now and has far more money to throw at it than former owners/Unreal Engine creators Epic Games did. With help from Microsoft Research, Redmond’s Gears of War factory The Coalition found a high tech way to fix that problem. It’s called Triton.

Two years ago Microsoft Research’s Nikunj Raghuvanshi and John Snyder presented a paper (PDF) titled “Parametric Wave Field Coding for Precomputed Sound Propagation.” The long and short of the research is that it detailed how to create realistic reverb effects based on objects in a video game’s map, to hear it in action pop on a pair of headphones and watch the video below.

At its simplest, Triton looks at an entire video game level and calculates the reverb properties of every material. From there, it applies realistic echo/reflection effects to the soundscape. This means incoming fire passing over a wooden crate sounds different than it would a brick wall.

It’s a much different approach compared to the way other games tweak audio to sound more realistic. Those rely on comparatively basic volume ducks and one-size-fits-all muting effects to create the illusion of occlusion and obstruction between you, the player, and the source of the sound. Peek your head up to take a potshot and the sound is unobstructed, but because you’re sitting behind a wooden garden box in a greenhouse instead of a cobblestone plaza it’s going to sound distinctly different.

Obstruction and occlusion are what keeps dialogue or battle sounds in adjacent rooms from playing at full volume, confusing the player as they walk around an environment, too. Rather than adjusting the levels of audio clips for distance, Triton considers the simulated materials and acoustical properties of the surrounding gamespace. Sound bounces off of a cave wall differently than a deserted hospital, so Triton does its best to simulate that.

If you need an example of obstruction and occlusion gone horribly wrong, fire up the recently released BioShock Collection — also based on a version of the Unreal Engine. Early on in the first game, a splicer enemy is singing a lullaby to the revolver in her baby stroller. Yes, she’s crazy, and the scene is absolutely creepy. But her voice sounds clear as day from two rooms over when there’s 30 feet (and a wall) between you. This is the type of thing that robs a scene of its immersion and atmosphere and undermines the developer’s intent: to make you forget you’re playing a video game.


“[Triton] is quite the complicated beast,” Gears 4 audio director John Morgan said. “The occlusion and obstruction values that Triton gives our game are really, really accurate to every listener position permutation possible on the map.”

A gunshot sounds basically the same in any situation in BioShock, but in Gears 4, a shotgun blast will ring out differently in the middle of a cathedral than it might in the entry way. Why? Because the ceiling is higher. It sounds like an insignificant detail, but getting it right makes a huge difference in terms of immersion — especially if you’re shooting a gun literally thousands of time in a game and rarely hear the same sound effect twice.

“A lot of people would be like, ‘Why does it sound like I’m in a bathroom when I’m going through this hallway?’ People playing the game didn’t understand why it was wrong, but it felt wrong to them,” Morgan said. “A big part of that is how does the dialog sound? How do the weapons sound? How does the reverb of that space, or the acoustic properties of that space sound? “If you get it wrong, people will notice right away.”

“People playing the game didn’t understand why it was wrong, but it felt wrong to them.”


Triton probing for sound data; player in the middle.

One of the examples Morgan is most proud of is near the game’s beginning. The new Gears have just finished fighting a few waves of robotic sentry guards and have to cut through a hospital’s maternity ward. Outside, trees sway in the breeze that descends from the mountains surrounding the deserted city; leaves rustle along the cobblestone street as the wind whispers around brick facades. The area feels like large open space because it sounds like a large open space.

That all changes once you bash through the door. Dialog has more echo as it bounces around the tiled floor and off of the propaganda posters lining the walls. Indoors, the shotgun has a more menacing bellow. Crossing the threshold back outside or into a glass-domed foyer and this changes because there isn’t a ceiling, or the one that’s there is higher and more reflective.

It’s this type of nuance and subtlety that set Gears 4 apart from its competition — even within Microsoft. But Triton’s fancy tech is a double-edged sword: Morgan said that a bulk of The Coalition’s early audio and engineering work was just getting the toolset up and running at parity with its previous project, the Gears of War Ultimate Edition remaster.

And because it’s specifically tailored to work with Unreal Engine and the third-party Wwise audio toolset, Triton’s benefits won’t make their ways into games using other design tools (even those made within Microsoft) anytime soon. Morgan said it’d be somewhat easy to port Triton into another Unreal game, but wouldn’t work with a custom game engine like, say, what Halo or Forza uses without a ton of additional labor.


If you get [reverb] wrong, people will notice right away.

John Morgan

What’s here is a far cry from the common tools used across everything Electronic Arts makes with its Frostbite engine.

“It’s not something we can just go. ‘Here, we’re handing this off to you.’” Morgan admitted. “That’s the tricky part right now if other game teams are looking at it. We’re trying to make it easier for them.”

That’s a shame, because save for Uncharted 4, there simply aren’t many other games that sound this good. Yet. A feature that’s exclusive to one game or toolset eventually finds its way elsewhere. Just look at the HDR audio system EA’s DICE studio pioneered with the Battlefield series or the lens flare effect that permeated practically every game in the late ’90s. That’s thanks in part to developers sharing their secrets at venues like the Game Developers Conference.

Microsoft has done the financial and physical heavy lifting to get Triton up and running, now it’s up to every other developer to follow suit and implement it or something similar.

“Nikunj [Raghuvanshi] has given a Siggraph presentation on [Triton], it’s not a secret anymore,” Morgan said. “People know we’re doing this, and that’s how it works.

“I think it’s a matter of going, ‘Do we want to spend the money on trying to make this happen?’”


BlackBerry DTEK60 vs BlackBerry DTEK50: What’s the difference?

BlackBerry has announced another DTEK handset, with the new DTEK60 joining the existing DTEK50. 

BlackBerry has been shifting over to Android, first launching the Priv slider, an innovative handset that offered a lot of BlackBerry and a lot of Android. The DTEK50 followed, a mid-range spec device, with the new DTEK60 fitting into a higher tier. 

Both offer BlackBerry’s take on Android, with added security functions, rapid patching and a few nice tweaks through the BlackBerry launcher and Hub.

This is how the BlackBerry DTEK60 and DTEK50 compare, as we run down the essential hardware specs. 

BlackBerry DTEK60 vs BlackBerry DTEK50: Design and build 

  • Toughened glass vs plastic
  • The DTEK60 is larger, but slimmer
  • DTEK60 features a fingerprint scanner

BlackBerry is moving on from building its own phones and focusing on being a secure software licensing company instead, hence both the DTEK50 and DTEK60 are build by TCL. If they look familiar, that’s because that’s you’ll have seen similar handsets badged as Alcatel, with the DTEK60 looking like an Alcatel Idol 4S and the DTEK50 the Alcatel Idol 4.

The DTEK60 is the larger device measuring 153.9 x 75.4 x 7mm compared to the 147 x 72.5 x 7.4mm of the DTEK50. There’s a 30g difference in weight, with the DTEK60 coming in at 165g and the DTEK50 at 135g. 

They offer a similar looking design, with a nice slim build. There’s an aluminium frame sitting at the core. The DTEK60 gets itself a toughened glass rear, where the DTEK50 has to settle for plastic. 

There’s also the addition of a fingerprint scanner on the rear of the DTEK60, meaning fast and convenient unlocking with a tap.

BlackBerry DTEK60 vs BlackBerry DTEK50: Display

  • DTEK60: 5.5-inch, Quad HD display
  • DTEK50: 5.2-inch, Full HD display

It’s in the display where things are really different and the DTEK60 asserts itself in more of a flagship position. 

The DTEK60 has a 5.5-inch display with a 2560 x 1440 pixel resolution, resulting in 534ppi. That means it has the big screen advantage, with loads of space to view and read. This makes this the largest BlackBerry display currently available. 

The DTEK50 is smaller at 5.2 inches, settling for a 1920 x 1080 pixel resolution.  That means there’s a lower 424ppi, meaning that the DTEK60 should look better than the 50 in all situations: it has a greater resolution and it packs those pixels in more tightly.

BlackBerry DTEK60 vs BlackBerry DTEK50: Hardware power

  • DTEK60: Qualcomm Snapdragon 820, 4GB RAM, 32GB storage + microSD
  • DTEK50: Qualcomm Snapdragon 617, 3GB RAM, 16GB storage + microSD

The story of the display is reflected in the story of the internal hardware too.

The DTEK60 carries a hardware load-out that’s familiar from flagship devices, using a powerful Snapdragon 820 chipset with 4GB of RAM. There’s double the storage at 32GB, which can be expanded using microSD.

The DTEK50 offers a mid-range chipset, so there’s less power on offer than its bigger brother, and less RAM at 3GB. Storage also takes a hit, dropping down to 16GB, although it also supports microSD, so that might not be a problem for you. 

Given the difference in hardware, we’d fully expect the DTEK60 to be the faster device in everyday use and offer a smoother experience.

  • BlackBerry DTEK50 review: Secure, just not top drawer

BlackBerry DTEK60 vs BlackBerry DTEK50: Battery life

  • DTEK60: 3000mAh
  • DTEK50: 2610mAh

The DTEK60, along with offering those increased hardware specs, also offers a larger battery. The bump up to 3000mAh gives the DTEK60 day-long use, with BlackBerry reporting a talk time of 26 hours.

The DTEK50, by comparison, sees itself with 17 hours of talk time.

If endurance matters, then go with the DTEK60.

BlackBerry DTEK60 vs BlackBerry DTEK50: Cameras

  • DTEK60: 21-megapixel rear, 8-megapixel front
  • DTEK50: 13-megapxiel rear, 8-megapixel front

Fitting the flagship vs mid-range positions that these BlackBerry devices occupy, there’s a 21-megapixel camera on the rear of the DTEK60, that offers 4K video capture.

This sits in comparison to a 13-megapixel camera on the rear of the DTEK50 which settles for 1080p video capture. 

Both offer an 8-megapixel front-facing camera, with a selfie flash.

BlackBerry DTEK60 vs BlackBerry DTEK50: Price

  • DTEK60: £475
  • DTEK50: £275

The difference in price really shows the difference in positioning of these two handsets, with a full £200 between them.

However, the DTEK60 is likely to be the better performer in all areas. If you’re after a phone for irregular use, then the cheaper DTEK50 might fit that bill, but if you’re a power user, you’ll want the DTEK60.


Samsung says the Note 7 is safe at 60 per cent battery, issues software update

It seems Samsung is doing everything it can to save itself from the shambles that was the Galaxy Note 7. The South Korean phone manufacturer has just announced a software update for European phones that will limit the battery to charge to a maximum of 60 per cent.

  • RIP Samsung Galaxy Note 7: A eulogy for a great but flawed friend

Samsung has said it’s issued the update as “the latest measure to reduce customer risk and simultaneously drive all remaining Galaxy Note 7 customers to replace their device immediately”.

Conor Pierce, VP IT & Mobile, Samsung UK & Ireland said the update is to increase customer safety and to remind Note 7 owners to replace their device as soon as possible, rather than live with a phone that can only charge up to 60 per cent. Samsung is currently running a Note 7 replacement programme that lets customers either claim a full refund on their device, or exchange it for another Galaxy smartphone, such as the Galaxy S7 or S7 edge.

  • Samsung Galaxy Note 7 alternatives: Best super-sized smartphones that won’t explode

Samsung all but confirmed the existence of the Galaxy Note 8 when it announced a trade in programme in South Korea that lets Note 7 owners trade their device in for an S7 or S7 Edge for now, and then upgrade to a Galaxy S8 or Galaxy Note 8 when they’re released next year.


O2 Home offers an easy route down the smarthome path

O2 has a range of smarthome packs, aiming to make it easy to get your home connected.

Rather than you going out and buying a range of individual devices, the O2 Home approach will let you choose a pack, have O2 install it and support it in your home, in exchange for a monthly fee, rather than paying for it all upfront. 

All the O2 Home devices use the same central hub, which then gives you control via one central smartphone app. This app – available via browser, iPhone or Android apps – will mean that there’s one point of access, rather than many.

There are three packs on offer called View, Comfort and Connect. 

O2 Home View

  • Two internal cameras
  • A motion sensor
  • Door sensor
  • O2 home hub
  • £30 a month

This pack is designed to give you a enough to be able to remotely monitor your home. Using the cameras you’ll be able to see what’s happening, with the motion and door sensors able to alert you to what’s happening when you’re away. If someone opens your back door, you’ll get an alert on your phone, for example. 

O2 Home Comfort

  • Tado thermostat
  • Two smart plugs
  • A motion sensor
  • O2 home hub
  • £30 a month 

With more of a leaning towards controlling your heating, the big piece of the Comfort pack is the Tado thermostat. This will give you controls over your heating remotely, meaning you won’t be wasting energy heating an empty house. Smart plugs are handy, letting you turn lights on and off, or turn off devices like hair straighteners remotely. 

O2 Home Connect

  • Two motion sensors
  • Two door sensors
  • Two smart plugs
  • O2 home hub
  • £20 a month

The final pack that’s offered has a range of devices to get your home connected. This misses out on the big ticket items like the thermostat or the camera from the other packs, but it does have a range of sensors so you’ll know when things are happening at home. 

Those packs aren’t all that O2 offers however, there’s a full selection of additional devices that you can add to the system and control through your O2 Home app, but you have to get those devices from O2, which is the catch.

There’s a parcel box that will allow deliveries to be securely placed in the box, with an alert letting you know you’ve got mail, there’s smart door locks, intruder sirens and even a keyfob to let you secure your house with a click of a button and a whole lot more.

Underlying the O2 Home is that monthly bill you’re paying, with a 2-year contract. O2 aims to add to that with additional support services, something you wouldn’t get it you just started piecing together your own smarthome devices. 

On the other hand, the ongoing subscription costs might deter some, especially when some smarthome systems will let you get started for a low initial cost and let you piece together what you want, how you want.

O2 Home is available now, but it’s initially only available in the south east of the UK. There’s plenty of information on O2 Home at


Bank of America is building an AI helper for its mobile apps

If you’ve ever wanted to get financial advice from a computer, then you’re going to love what Bank of America is working on. The company has announced that it’s developing Erica, a “virtual assistant” designed to help customers better manage their finances. The service will sit inside the firm’s mobile banking apps and is designed to become your “trusted financial advocate.” This means that it won’t be long before an AI starts asking why you spend so much money on hats instead of paying rent.

Users will be able to interact with Erica over voice and text chat, and the ‘bot will be able to analyze your spending and spot patterns. You’ll get warnings when you have a few days of excessive spending well before you go into overdraft, advice on how to improve your credit rating and budgeting tips. More importantly, Erica will be available 24/7 to help you process transactions and, presumably, be the first point of call if have a problem with your account.

It all sounds pretty exciting, so it’s sad to learn that we won’t be able to spend any time with Erica in our phones until late 2017. Bank of America’s digital chief Michelle Moore said that the firm is still developing the tool and expects to launch it towards the back end of next year. Until then, you’ll just have to stare at yourself in the mirror and ask those tough questions about the size of your hat budget.

Via: Reuters

Source: Bank of America


New York’s free gigabit WiFi kiosks are coming to the UK

BT celebrated the 80th birthday of London’s iconic red phone boxes earlier this month, and while some of these are being updated for the digital age, there are still countless antiquated payphones across the country needing a new lease of life. Today, BT has announced plans to rip out hundreds of these and replace them with next-gen kiosks that’ll offer free gigabit WiFi, free UK calls, charging facilities and access to maps, directions and info on local services via an embedded Android tablet.

If the rejuvenation project sounds a little familiar, that’s because BT’s teamed up with Intersection to make this happen — the same subsidiary of Google’s Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs that’s behind the Links kiosks in New York City. The monoliths themselves are identical, serving as up to 1 Gbps WiFi hotspots, providing free calls (headphones are recommended if you don’t want to broadcast your conversation through the booth’s loudspeaker), hosting two USB ports for emergency device charging and offering all kinds of useful information via the built-in tablet.

All of this will be paid for by advertising revenue, with two large displays on either side of the kiosks showing promotional material alongside public service announcements. Beyond what you can see, the pillars will also host environmental sensors for recording temperature, air and noise pollution, as well as traffic conditions and other metrics suitable for future big data/smart city applications.

The London Borough of Camden will be the first testbed for the payphone replacements, with 100 expected to be installed starting next year. “At least” 750 kiosks are planned in central London alone, with rollouts in other major UK cities over the next couple of years also on the agenda. Unsurprisingly, there’s no mention of free internet browsing on the embedded tablets, which had to be switched off in New York after less fortunate residents of the city began monopolizing them, sometimes for, erm… self-gratification.

Source: BT, LinkUK


‘The Division’ update keeps you playing past the endgame

Ubisoft is facing the same problem with The Division that Bungie encountered with Destiny: how do you keep people playing after they’ve hit the level cap, especially when extra content only goes so far? Its solution: dangle the promise of more loot. The developer has released that promised patch to overhaul the game’s mechanics, and its centerpiece is a new World Tiers feature that increases the difficulty of enemy characters in return for greater rewards. The higher the tier, the greater the chance you’ll get items you’d want to keep. You can also accrue experience beyond the regular and Underground level caps, and Ubisoft has tweaked loot drops across the board — you’re more likely to get equipment appropriate to your level, and any enemy has a chance of dropping advanced gear.

As for those overhauled mechanics? A lot has changed, and it’s mainly for the better. There have been “many improvements” to enemy AI, and it takes less time overall to kill them. Scavenging has been removed from the game entirely, for that matter, and you now progressively heal when you’re outside of combat. Weapons and armor have seen significant rebalancing as well. To top it off, skills behave very differently — there’s no longer a cap, but you face diminishing returns the higher your skill levels get.

It’s hard to say if the update will inject new life into The Division, although it at least clears the way for the DLC that Ubisoft had delayed for the sake of the new patch. From a cursory glance, though, the update appears to tackle some of the biggest complaints with online role-playing games of all kinds, especially shooter RPGs. You not only have more reason to play past the usual endgame, but should spend less time grinding or licking your wounds.

Source: Ubisoft


Dropbox pushes further into education by partnering with Blackboard

Dropbox is continuing to make the education market a priority as it looks for new customers. About six months after introducing its first product aimed specifically at schools, the company is announcing a new partnership with Blackboard Learn, one of the most widely-used “virtual learning” applications out there. If you haven’t used Blackboard Learn before, it’s a tool that makes it easier for students to collaborate and for professors to build an online home for their coursework.

The new partnership will put Dropbox right in the middle of Blackboard Learn — if you have a Dropbox account, it’ll be the default document sharing and collaboration tool in the app. Students will be able to work on documents shared in Dropbox together and use it to share files with their course instructors. And while Dropbox is now selling an education-focused product to universities, Blackboard Learn will support any level of Dropbox account. So students who may not want to shell out for a paid Dropbox account can still take advantage of it (until they run out of space, anyway).

Professors will also be able to use Dropbox as the default sharing space when organizing materials for a particular class. All the class materials can go into Dropbox, but students accessing the files won’t need to leave the Blackboard Learn experience — Dropbox will be integrated right into the software, without the need to jump to a separate website or app.

In a lot of ways, it’s similar to how Dropbox has been integrated deeply into Microsoft’s Office products over the last few years. When you use Office 365 online, Dropbox can show up as a default place to save and store documents, essentially putting it on the same plan as Microsoft’s own OneDrive. “A big part of our strategy is making dropbox work seamlessly with applications that people use every day, just like we did with Office,” says Billy Blau, head of Dropbox’s technology partnerships.

Given that 100 million people are using Blackboard Learn, it sounds like this partnership is another example of the company integrating with a tool that many of its education-focused customers are likely already using. And the company says that the number of education institutions using Dropbox jumped from 4,000 to 6,000 since it rolled out its new edu-focused plans in May. If you’re in education, either a student or a teacher, using one of Blackboard’s products, Dropbox integration should be rolling out today.

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