A closer look at that $14,000 Android phone

How much do you value your privacy, and how worried are you that your calls and text messages are under observation? If the answer to both question is “lots,” then perhaps you’d be interested in Israeli startup Sirin Labs’ first smartphone, the Solarin. The device is a titanium-clad Android smartphone that lets you quickly toggle between a regular Android device and a secure, locked-down communications tool. The headline detail here is that it costs $ 14,000 (plus tax), or £9,500 in the UK. At that price, it’s intended mainly for titans of industry and the jet set: people with secrets worth stealing. In many ways, it’s the first phone that’s been specifically designed to keep the personal data of the 1 percent safe from everyone else.

The system works like this: By default it’s a beefy, ultra-masculine Android smartphone with a skin that looks like it was designed by the prop department of a spy movie. But once you’ve flicked the tiny toggle on the back of the device, it’ll switch into a secure mode with a green and white, 8-bit skin. In this mode, all but the most essential sensors are disabled, and both calls and text messages are encrypted, only to be read by trusted devices carrying the Solarin Friend app. In this environment, your data is protected by 256-bit AES encryption, backed up by security firms Zimperium and Koolspan. There’s even a secure concierge service that monitors the state of your phone and warns you of incoming attacks.

An Android skin that looks like it was designed by the prop department of a spy movie

When not in this mode, it’s just your average Android smartphone, with a high-end Snapdragon 810 chip and a healthy 4GB of RAM. You’ll also get 120GB of internal storage (no memory card slot) and a 23.8-megapixel, Sony made camera and a quad-LED flash. Hold the 5.5-inch device in your hand and the first thing you’ll notice is how hefty it feels. The pictures convey some degree of chunkiness, but only in real life do you see how pleasingly solid it feels. Imagine a BlackBerry Storm binged on protein powder for a few months and you’ll get the idea. The unobtrusive styling, coated in black “technical leather” (read: leather made to look like carbon fiber), means that Solarin oozes the sort of ultra masculine charm that business types probably fetishize.

The 5.5-inch, QHD IPS LCD display boasts fantastic viewing angles and beautifully rich colors. Like the Snapdragon 810 chip, it isn’t brand new, but the compromise there was intentional. The year-old chipset was chosen to ensure that the company had a year to ensure it was secure. Likewise, the Solarin may not have a 4K display, but the comparatively lower resolution here is surely gentler on the 4,040mAh battery.

Of course, members of the jet set are so called because they’re often found touring the world. The company promises that the device will work with more LTE carriers across the world than any other device on the market. Regardless of the network you choose, you’ll insert your SIM into a single, hot-swappable microSIM card slot on the upper-right hand side. Connectivity-wise, the phone also packs gigabit WiFi and MIMO in order to handle multiple connections at once. Then again, BlackBerry made similar promises back in the day, and those never really amounted to much.

Now, it’s not hard to see who this device is aimed for, but you have to ask: Do they need this device anymore? An Android smartphone with high level encryption and security is highly desirable, but the highest levels of protection is only available within the secure mode. And in this secure mode, the only features you can make are calls and texts — and who does either of those anymore? Sure, there are a handful of people who still need to make calls, but is the NSA really targeting them?

When I spoke to co-founder Moshe Hogeg, he said that the NSA isn’t interested in business people, but the question is: are hackers? How likely is it that the precise details of a forthcoming transaction would be outlined on a voice call that criminals could then use to game the stock market? It’s plausible, sure, but enough to drag people away from the comfort of their Galaxy S7s and iPhone 6Ss? That’s harder to say. This phone will surely appeal to people who feel that they deserve a device this secure — this high-end — but then again, nobody wants using their phone to feel like a chore, right?

Aaron Souppouris contributed to this report.

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Meet the wearable tablet you might use at your next job

There’s no way I would wear the Rufus Cuff wrist computer. After a few minutes with this 3.2-inch Android tablet strapped to my body, my wrist started to get all sweaty. It felt bulky, weird and to be honest, not very cool. But if the massive pre-orders are any indication, there is clearly a market out there. In particular, says the company’s CEO, Gabe Grifoni, in a few years something like the Cuff will replace the iPhone in your pocket and even be part of your next work uniform.

I’ll admit, I was initially dubious that a device that makes me feel like a less-cooler version of Leela from Futurama will be the first step of an inevitable wearable-computer revolution. But then Grifoni began telling me about potential industrial uses for the Cuff and it all started to make sense.

Employers believe that small Bluetooth-enabled Android tablets on their employees’ arms are a pretty good idea, according to feedback from the companies that have reached out to Rufus. With an app and a connected scanner, tasks like inventory, housekeeping at hotels and ticket-taking can be streamlined by freeing up the hands of the employees who would otherwise have to hold a tablet. The relatively low $ 300 price tag also means that smaller companies without the deep pockets of corporations could also get in on the action.

After a successful crowdfunding campaign, Grifoni started getting unexpected calls from businesses and their employees. “We were starting to get all these emails from warehouse workers and hotels.” he told Engadget. He says he’s talked to UPS and other companies about their employees using the Cuff in the workplace.

While the campaign generated $ 800,000 in pre-orders, Grifoni realized that enterprise is where all the growth is right now. But don’t worry, early adopters, the company will still sell the Cuff to consumers. Just beware that you’re not going to be rocking the latest generation of technology. Specifically, the pre-production unit I tried out had a 400×240 3.2-inch screen, which will look absolutely ancient next to your modern-day smartphone. Also, the 640×480 front-facing camera is guaranteed to make all your selfies look awful.

The actual bracelet portion of the device looks fine, though, and at least kept the Cuff mostly parallel with my arm. That said, while I would probably get used to having a computer on my wrist all day, it’s not something I’d look forward to. Did I mention it made my arm sweaty?

Grifoni predicts that wearable computers (not smartwatches) will be the norm in five to 10 years. We’ll get tired of pulling our phones out of our pockets and instead opt to have them visible at all times.

Maybe he’s right. It’s possible the future of mobile computing could be attached to our bodies. But even if he’s wrong, if he can get the Cuff into businesses and warehouses, it doesn’t really matter if the world’s population embraces tablets on their bodies in their free time because at work, some of us will get them with our nametags.

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The best smartphones on the UK High Street

Picking the right smartphone can be tough. With Apple, Samsung, LG, HTC and plenty of other manufacturers releasing handsets at a steady clip, it can be difficult to keep up with each and every launch. We use our smartphones for work, play and everything in between, so it’s important to settle on the right blend of hardware, operating system and price tag that makes sense for you.

After all, you’re likely going to be spending anywhere from 18 months to two years of your life with your new handset, unless your budget allows you to upgrade on whim. Deciding between so many candidates can be a bit of a struggle, but we’re here to help with our guide to the best smartphones around.

Article prices are based on the RRP, but more up-to-date listings can be found in the buyers guide widget below.

Apple iPhone 6s

iPhone 6

Score: 91/100

Apple’s follow-up to the iPhone 6 isn’t as much of an incremental update as some were expecting. The 6s is more powerful and carries a pressure-sensitive display, not to mention significant improvements in the camera department. As well as simply being another easy-to-use iOS device, new features include the “3D Touch” panel, which lets you “peek” inside apps, surfacing information and actions without opening the app fully. The upgraded 12-megapixel camera has a few tricks of its own, too, like the new 4K video mode and animated “Live Photos.” New Rose Gold option aside, though, the iPhone 6s is practically identical in looks to its predecessor. It’s not cheap either, so iPhone 6 owners might find it hard to justify an upgrade.

In a sentence: Apple’s iPhone 6s is a great phone and safe bet, especially for anyone moving from an older 5 or 5s.

Price: £539 and up

Samsung Galaxy S7

Samsung Galaxy S7

Score: 90/100

Samsung’s Galaxy S7 takes everything that made the S6 great and improves upon it. The outcome is a flagship with a gorgeous Quad HD display, outstanding performance and subtle design tweaks that make the marriage of metal and glass that bit more appealing. Those already leaning in Samsung’s direction will be thankful for the return of expandable storage, with cards of up to 200GB capacity finding a microSD slot to call home. An IP68 water- and dust-resistant rating only sweetens the proposition. Only minor progress has been made in the imaging department, but the S7 has a capable and versatile camera nonetheless. A steep price is one of the only downsides of the device, but you’re paying for premium.

In a sentence: Easily one of the best Android smartphones available.

Price: £569

Moto X Style

Moto X

Score: 90/100

Motorola’s made a name for itself putting out great devices at reasonable prices, and the Moto X Style is a perfect example of that philosophy. A fondness for larger displays is a must. If that’s the case you’ll get a pleasing 5.7-inch Quad HD display to poke at, and Moto Maker means you can customise an already expedient design with whatever colour and texture combination you see fit. Purists in particular will enjoy the vanilla Android build with a light drizzle of Motorola chocolate sauce on top. The Moto X Style has a great camera, too, even if it isn’t quite as good as those on some rival devices. Similarly, the handset offers flagship performance, but it’s not the most powerful device around. There are compromises, but none that should tempt you to overlook the Moto X Style considering its relatively low price.

In a sentence: An expert lesson in striking the balance between user experience and price.

Price: £369 and up

Apple iPhone SE

iPhone SE

Score: 89/100

Many people felt left behind by Apple’s turn to bigger-screened iPhones, and the SE is an attempt to regain their favour. The 4-inch form factor feels both familiar and fresh in its design — like an iPhone 5s with softer curves — and the SE benefits from the inclusion of the same internals found in the iPhone 6s, meaning it’s lightning fast. The two also share the same, excellent camera, though the iPhone SE lacks “3D Touch” functionality and possesses an older, slower Touch ID fingerprint sensor. Still, it offers fantastic battery life and happens to be the cheapest iPhone Apple’s ever sold. Oh, and lest we forget: Rose Gold.

In a sentence: A no-brainer for champions of the 4-inch form factor wanting to upgrade from an older iPhone.

Price: £359 and up

HTC 10

HTC 10

Score: 88/100

The HTC 10 marks the end of a few uneventful years at the company, defined by a series of unremarkable flagships. But what a return to form. The HTC 10’s sleek, all-metal design packages a 5.2-inch Quad HD display and internals that are almost unmatched in their performance. While its competent 12-UltraPixel camera isn’t the best on the market and battery life is distinctly average, HTC has cleaned up its Android skin and included a few attractive extras like hi-res audio support and AirPlay compatibility. HTC has again created a flagship handset that can hang with the best of ’em, but that means you’re looking at premium pricing to match.

In a sentence: On the podium as one of the top Android smartphones on the market.

Price: £570

Google Nexus 6P

Nexus 6P

Score: 87/100

The Nexus 6P is another device for those who prefer a larger-than-average screen. The 5.7-inch, Wide Quad HD display isn’t all the handset has to offer, though, with an abundance of processing power and impressive battery life. Being a Google device, the Nexus 6P also receives Android updates as soon as they become available, so you’ll always be on the latest version. Combine all these features with a solid camera, and you get a large-screen smartphone at a pretty competitive price. However, it’s worth bearing in mind the Nexus 6P lacks a microSD slot to expand storage, and its all-metal design is like the smartphone equivalent of Marmite.

In a sentence: A great option for people who like a larger screen that also benefits from the most up-to-date Android software.

Price: £449 and up.

Moto G

Moto G

Score: 87/100

When Motorola launched the first Moto G a few years ago, it immediately stood out as offering unparalleled value for money. Now in its third generation, the Moto G is still one of the best all-round smartphones for anyone on a budget, or those that would rather not pay for bells and whistles they’ll get little use out of. While it doesn’t excel in any one area and ignores flagship-grade components to keep costs down, there are no particularly uninviting compromises either. The Moto G’s outward appearance can also be heavily personalised using Moto Maker, at which point avid mobile gamers and users of more demanding apps might want to pay a little extra for more RAM and internal storage.

In a sentence: A decent, affordable Android smartphone that makes minimal sacrifices to hit its low price point.

Price: £149 and up.

OnePlus 2

OnePlus 2

Score: 86/100

OnePlus is in the business of making serious smartphones and selling them for a fraction of the price of competitors. Case in point: the OnePlus 2. It has all the guts and performance of a market-leading flagship, with style and build quality being far from an afterthought. Those features alone make the price tag easy to justify, and that’s without mentioning the versatile 13-megapixel camera. OnePlus has held back in a couple of areas, understandably, such as opting for a 5.5-inch 1080p display instead of a Quad HD panel. Other compromises include a lack of expandable storage and NFC, which are likely to be either deal-breakers or features you can easily live without.

In a sentence: A inexpensive, near-flagship device that prioritises performance and price.

Price: £249

LG G5

LG G5

Score: 81/100

LG has released some excellent flagship smartphones in the past, but this year the company has skipped an incremental upgrade in favour of something much more adventurous. Top-tier performance and fun, flexible dual-camera array aside, the bottom bezel of the device is completely removable, making space for a couple of modular accessories LG calls “Friends.” These include a hi-res audio attachment and a camera grip that also extends battery life, which is pretty average otherwise. At this point, however, you have look beyond the few accessories currently available and hope others will explore the potential of the modular design even further.

In a sentence: A powerful Android smartphone that dares to be different

Price: £449

Sony Xperia Z5

Sony Xperia Z5

Score: 80/100

The Xperia Z5 is either another of Sony’s beautiful, polished products, or a slightly lazy attempt to tweak its tired “Omnibalance” design. Regardless of which side of the fence you find yourself on, you can’t dispute the build quality and high waterproof rating. The Xperia Z5 offers the kind of performance you’d expect from a genuine flagship, but pairs that with a 5.2-inch 1080p display. Gorgeous it might be, but it does fall short of competitors’ higher-resolution screens. What your money is primarily going towards is the 23-megapixel rear camera, which happens to be one of the best on the market. The Xperia Z5 isn’t cheap, but it won’t disappoint serious smartphone photographers.

In a sentence: Another lovingly built Sony smartphone with one of the best cameras around.

Price: £469

Wileyfox Swift

Wileyfox Swift

Score: 79/100

Fledgling British brand Wileyfox has made an extremely good first impression with the Swift. Like the Moto G, the Swift is all about crafting a low-cost smartphone that still provides an excellent user experience. With a relatively charming, all-plastic design, a bright 5-inch, 720p display and easily customisable Cyanogen software, there’s plenty to like. You also get a decent amount of processing power for an affordable device, though the 13-megapixel camera leaves quite a lot to be desired. However, aside from its underwhelming camera, the Swift deserves serious consideration if you’re after a good smartphone that doesn’t weigh heavily on your wallet.

In a sentence: An affordable Android smartphone that represents excellent value for money.

Price: £129

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Engadget giveaway: Win a uniVERSE Case System courtesy of Otterbox!

If you’re like me, your smartphone is always at your side and that means more chances for it to take a tumble. These smart devices also pack plenty of business tools, photo, video and audio capabilities, making them a virtual pocket-sized production studio. Case and accessory maker Otterbox believes it’s found the ideal middle ground for keeping your phone protected and letting you expand its capabilities without compromising its shell. The Otterbox uniVERSE Case System includes a modular phone case with a connector for swapping in a range of accessories including tripods, lens attachments, memory card readers, battery packs and Bluetooth speakers. This week, the company has provided us with an iPhone 6/6s uniVERSE case, along with four of its add-on modules to help you get you started. Just head down to the Rafflecopter widget below for up to three chances at winning.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

  • Entries are handled through the Rafflecopter widget above. Comments are no longer accepted as valid methods of entry. You may enter without any obligation to social media accounts, though we may offer them as opportunities for extra entries. Your email address is required so we can get in touch with you if you win, but it will not be given to third parties.
  • Contest is open to all residents of the 50 States, the District of Columbia, and Canada (excluding Quebec), 18 or older! Sorry, we don’t make this rule (we hate excluding anyone), so direct your anger at our lawyers and contest laws if you have to be mad.
  • Winners will be chosen randomly. One (1) winner will receive one (1) Otterbox uniVERSE case, one (1) Polar Pro Trippler Tripod, one (1) Polar Pro Power Pack battery, one (1) Polar Pro Bluetooth speaker and one (1) SanDisk iXpand 64GB flash drive — total value approximately $ 290.
  • If you are chosen, you will be notified by email. Winners must respond within three days of being contacted. If you do not respond within that period, another winner will be chosen. Make sure that the account you use to enter the contest includes your real name and a contact email. We do not track any of this information for marketing or third-party purposes.
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  • Entries can be submitted until May 27th at 11:59PM ET. Good luck!

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Riding shotgun in a DIY self-driving car

“I’m an idiot.”

Superhacker and Comma founder George Hotz is standing in a Las Vegas suite, and he’s wearing a suit. That’s saying something: He was the first person to hack the iPhone and PlayStation 3 while using the hacker name GeoHot. He doesn’t wear suits. But now he’s running a company that’s built its own semi-autonomous AI-trained vehicle in a garage. Today it has employees and investors, and plans to release hardware by the end of the year. “This is a big deal, so he dressed up,” Jake Smith, head of operations, told me on my way to the meeting.

The reason Hotz is telling me he’s an idiot — while dressed out of character, no less — is that he set up test drives for reporters in Las Vegas without doing all of his homework. He didn’t realize that Sin City doesn’t use white lines to outline lanes. Instead, the state uses raised markers called botts dots instead of paint.

That’s a problem: The Comma test vehicle has never driven on roads with bumps instead of paint. Hotz was so worried about this that he barely slept the night before.

On the morning of our meeting he had to take the car out to “teach” it to drive using botts dots as lane markers. He just drove it around. That’s the main conceit of Comma’s semiautonomous driving system: teaching the car to drive by actually driving it. But it’s also a flaw. The company has just one vehicle and it’s only been on the road for about 100 hours. Right now it has about the same amount of on-the-road time as teenager, and we all remember the horrible decisions we made while driving in high school.

To close the gap between what Comma’s AI system has actually seen in the real world and what it needs to launch commercially later this year, Hotz and his team came up with a very Silicon Valley solution: an app.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Chffr app (it was originally called Chauffeur, but the company realized no one knows how to actually spell that word) will crowdsource the driving data Comma needs. Drivers mount their smartphone running the app to their windshield and drive. The information is then anonymously shared with the company via WiFi. Hotz’s team then uses those trips to train its AI. “It’s a great way of being part of self-driving cars,” Hotz told Engadget. “You’re helping literally teach our system how to drive.”

The app also doubles as a fancy dash cam that records video and trips for later perusing. And if that isn’t enough to get you on board, Hotz also announced that the company would incentivize the system: For each minute someone is behind the wheel, she getshz a “Comma Point.” When the app and companion site launch at the end of June, there will be a leaderboard for power users and a forum. As for what these points are actually worth, Hotz just grinned and said, “People who are at the top of that leaderboard, they’ll be happy they are there. Let’s just say that.”

Initially the app will be available only on the Galaxy S6, Nexus 6P and Galaxy S7, with iPhone support coming later. Hotz said half of the people who signed up for the beta were iPhone users, so getting an eventual iOS version out is imperative. Comma also needs as many users as possible to make the AI good enough that average drivers will be confident enough to put their lives in the hands of a box that drives your car for you. Throwing a car together in your garage is one thing; selling products is another.

Hotz knows this, which explains the PowerPoint deck, suit and press event in Las Vegas. “There’s a big leap going from a hack built by one person in a basement over a few months to a product that’s actually shippable to a large number of people with a code base that’s maintainable and will continue to scale throughout the entire problem of driving not just one small subset of it,” Hotz told Engadget.

But even the grown-up, taking-care-of-business version of GeoHot is still a ball of energy: lots of non sequiturs and asides peppering his prepared statements. After telling me in a very serious voice, “This is no longer a hack, this is a startup,” he followed up with: “We’re gonna ship products. We’re not just going to sit there on our VC dollars and sip fancy fruit juice all day.” There’s still a lot of GeoHot behind that tie.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When I took the updated version of his Acura ILX sedan out for a drive to see how it works, he ran around the car talking a mile a minute showing off updates and changes to the system. The car no longer has a joystick or LIDAR (the spatial-measuring system that uses lasers was for training purposes only). He was keen to show off the DIY methods he used to mount a battery in the trunk (it was surrounded by bits of styrofoam). He also pointed to the LTE antenna on the trunk and radar attached to the bumper (both held in place with mounds of black tape). Additionally, there’s a gaming PC in the trunk and an amp for “480 watts of sound.” He’s having fun and it’s infectious.

As we’re about to take the car on the freeway to show off its semiautonomous features, I ask if he minds if I do a Facebook Live video. I’m the first person in the car since he trained it that morning. “Not at all,” he says. A few seconds later: “Actually, let me think about that. All right, I guess we’ll do live stuff.” The car could have failed spectacularly and he knew it. After we get on the freeway and I start the stream, he yells out, “Yeah, self-driving. What’s up?”

The actual drive was impressive. Without thinking about the amount of technology or research that’s been put into the car, Comma’s system is almost as good as Tesla’s Autopilot but without the lane-changing capability or the road-sign reading found on other systems (features Hotz calls gimmicky). After all, Hotz started this on his own in September of last year with off-the-shelf components. Now the company has with six employees. If Chffr takes off and the startup gets the data it needs to teach its AI to be a better driver and it can get its sub-$ 1,000 system for folks who can’t afford the luxury of a Model S, it’ll be a huge achievement. It might even help ease the longer-term transition to fully autonomous vehicles.

Comma’s motto is: Ghostriding for the masses. That’s a tongue-in-cheek reference to jumping out of a vehicle and letting it roll down the street while the driver dances alongside. It’s funny, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the slogan changes before the company ships any hardware. Cars are dangerous hunks of metal hurtling down the road. There’s nothing funny about people being hurt in a car accident. Hotz may have called himself an idiot for not anticipating the botts dots of Vegas, but he’s far from stupid. Running a company that actually ships stuff is a sign he’s looking toward the future. He’s getting ready to take on the grown-ups of the automotive world, but will probably keep having fun along the way.

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New Google Maps ads will drop branded pins on your search results

Yes, Google builds plenty of useful and fun products, but don’t ever forget — the company is first and foremost an advertising business. As such, today the company is announcing a number of updates to its various advertising products to help brands do a better job at reaching the billion-plus people using Google’s core services like search, Gmail and Maps.

The change that’ll probably be most noticeable to Google’s end users comes to Maps, a particularly valuable product for the company — Google says that nearly a third of all mobile searches are related to specific locations, and lots of those searches likely end up with the user in Google Maps. So now, when you’re looking at Google Maps on your phone, you’ll see the occasional “branded pin.” It’s similar to the red pin that shows up when you do a search, but it contains a brand’s logo right in it. These will show up when you’re looking at a map or looking at the navigation view in Google Maps.

Google is also offering brands and advertisers more customizable product pages within Google Maps itself. If you tab through to an advertising business’s detail page, you’ll be able to search a store’s local inventory or redeem special offers (if the store chooses to offer those options, that is). During a press briefing, we saw a Best Buy that offered 10 percent off iPhone accessories and a Starbucks that offered a dollar off your drink when you tapped through to the specific location details.

Obviously, none of us really want more ads in our products, but it’s an inevitability when dealing with Google. And there are worse things than having the option to save a few bucks if you need to hit a big-box store or chain. Hopefully Google and advertisers will exercise some restraint when using this tool, which will start popping up on iOS and Android over the coming months.

Source: Google

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I salvaged my shattered iPhone with a ‘Band-Aid’ screen cover

After a BBQ last Sunday (there may have been alcohol), I dropped my phone. Multiple times. And I wasn’t lucky. Although my iPhone 6 Plus has suffered tiny hairline cracks in two of the corners, this time the drops were critical hits resulting in a spiderweb of substantial cracks, the majority of them around the bottom right corner — you know, where your thumb always is. Typing on it meant risking a tiny shard or two cutting into my thumb, and even when I avoided that, those cracks still irritated my fingertips. Touch functions were also impaired. Google Maps was not cooperating. While the brunt of the damage was in the lower corner, the drop had also crippled my front-facing camera. Perhaps the camera leaves the screen structurally weaker there, or was this the universe’s way of saying I’d taken one too many self-portraits?

And yet the next day was Monday, a work day. The Apple Store was fully booked. I needed a miracle. Or at least a cheap short-term solution. I turned to Pitamo’s smartphone bansouko (“Band-Aid”), a cut-it-yourself three-layer screen for broken smartphones. It promises to contain any more shards of doom, stop the cracks from getting worse, and keep your phone useable — all for under 10 bucks. What could go wrong?

I heard about the smartphone “band-aid” from my colleagues at Engadget Japan. None of them had tried it out — possibly because they were sober enough to not drop their (caseless) iPhone multiple times. I went to one of Tokyo’s many giant electronics stores to make a purchase.

I picked it up and grimaced. “Cut to size,” it said at the bottom of the packaging. I was going to be dependent on my cutting and tracing skills for this to work even remotely well. There’s a laborious nine-minute, Japanese-language tutorial on how to apply it, but the pictures included with the cover explain everything, even if you have no kanji-reading skills. You trace the outline of your phone (and because you cut it yourself, you can use it on any smartphone model). Then you cut out your phone-shaped sticker. Carefully. The guide then suggests you use a toothbrush to gently remove any excess phone screen shards. Except my thumb had done that for me already.

Then there’s the heady (actually low-stakes) tension of attaching your screen cover: no bubbles, get the sides aligned just right, and make sure nothing gets trapped underneath. In case you’ve never used one before, welcome to the wonderful world of smartphone screen covers. These little sheets of curvy plastic have the inexplicable superpower to trap air, hair and dust no matter how hard you try not to. (The Apple Store offers this service for free for a reason: You’ll screw it up on your own.)

The base layer of this particular cover is made of a softer material that keeps what’s left of your screen in place and intact. It also has a bit of flexibility to it and feels like it’s tightly bound to my phone. The topmost layer has a low-reflective satiny finish which the maker says should resist fingerprints more easily — though that’s really the least of my problems.

When it finally went on, it felt good. Peeling a “fresh” cover off an out-of-box smartphone is the primary reason most tech writers get out of the bed in the morning. This may be the reverse of that, but it feels just as satisfying. However, the struggle wasn’t over yet. I then had to grab a craft knife and cut away and areas that needed access to the outer elements: the home button, speaker and front-facing camera. The scrape of a craft knife on my iPhone made me queasy — especially on the home button — but I pushed through. Still, the glass-based damage to the front camera (coupled with multiple layers of plastic) means I’m going to have to learn how to take selfies with the iPhone’s main camera.


Is my screen perfect again? God, no. Look at it! But the smartphone cover is helping. I can safely run my fingertips over the screen; it’s at least useable again. My iPhone will live another day to play games, get me places on Maps, and help me rant on Facebook. Fortunately, I had paid extra for Apple Care, and so I’ll be taking my phone in later next week to get it replaced. This “Band-Aid” cover is very much a short-term solution, but by that criteria, it works.

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OS X update could use iPhone’s Touch ID to unlock Macs

As we approach Apple’s annual WWDC event that starts June 13th, the rumors about upcoming iOS and OS X features are sure to ramp up. This week, MacRumors is reporting that the company is working on a way for you to unlock a Mac using your iPhone’s Touch ID feature. The security measure is said to bypass a typed log-in using Bluetooth when the phone is “in close proximity” to a computer running OS X. As MacRumors notes, there’s a similar feature on the Apple Watch that allows an unlocked iPhone to provide access to the wearable without the need to enter a second password.

If this Touch ID to unlock a Mac functionality sounds familiar, the third party Knock app for iOS and Apple Watch unlocks a nearby computer with those devices rather than having to key in a password. Back in March, Recode reported that Apple Pay was on its way to the browser for making purchases on the web. This new report suggests that the Touch ID interaction with Macs will be used to confirm those transactions as well. As is the case with any rumor, it pays to be a bit skeptical. However, we won’t have to wait long to see if this news is indeed true.

In terms of other rumors for OS X 10.12, reports indicate that Siri could finally make its debut on the desktop. This week, rumblings surfaced about the design of the dock icon, but we’ll have to wait a few more weeks to see if that virtual assistant or Touch ID unlocking will be a part of this fall’s software update.

Source: MacRumors

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Boosted’s new electric skateboards go further, ride smoother

Many a short journey has been livened up with one of Boosted’s electric skateboards underfoot, but after selling the same line-up for a few years now, it’s time to pimp that ride. The second-generation Boosted boards unveiled today keep the same, classic longboard styling and bamboo deck, but are otherwise different beasts. For starters, the boards will now take you a lot further thanks to swappable batteries and an extended-range option that increases average distance from 6-7 miles to 12-14 miles. Bigger 80mm wheels, custom-built trucks and various improvements to the motors and transmission should make those longer trips that much smoother, too.

All the important parts are now shielded against water damage, making puddles less of an obstacle, and are “modular” according to Boosted, allowing sidewalk surfers to fix and upgrade their boards without professional assistance. There’s also a new port for powering accessories like headlights, and finally, a new dual Bluetooth radio setup for keeping a strong connection to the throttle/brake remote and Boosted’s iPhone and Watch apps. Best of all, the second-generation electric boards are selling for the same price as their predecessors: $ 999 for the Single, $ 1,299 for the Dual and $ 1,499 for the Dual+. When you’ve settled on what kind of top speed you’d be comfortable with, throw in an extra $ 100 and you’ll get the extended-range battery as standard.

Boosted is asking for a $ 100 refundable deposit to reserve one (no Kickstarter campaign this time around), with the first electric boards shipping towards the end of July. International certification also means riders outside the US can jump on a Boosted board for the first time. Come fall, shipping will be expanded to Australia, New Zealand and much of Europe, including the UK.

Source: Boosted

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Android Wear is getting a massive overhaul this fall

It’s been over two years since Android Wear was introduced, but smartwatches are still very much an unproven commodity. But Google has been making plenty of tweaks and refinements to its watch-based OS to hone the features owners find most useful. Today at its annual I/O developer conference, Google is announcing what Android Wear VP David Singleton is calling its “biggest platform update yet”: Android Wear 2.0. It’s a visual and functional overhaul organized around the three things Google has found to be most important for Android Wear users.

The core uses for Wear so far are glanceable information, messaging and fitness. Each of those parts of the OS have been improved, but the changes actually reach far beyond just that. “For the very first time, we’ve been able to take a holistic pass across the design of the entire system and UI to really hone and tune the interactions around key things that people want to do,” Singleton says.

Some of the most profound changes to Wear come under messaging, so let’s start there. Many of the changes Singleton outlined go far beyond messaging apps, most notably notifications in general. Gone are the white cards that you’d swipe through to see what info Android Wear is pushing to your watch. Now each card has a dark but colored background as a visual cue to what app wants your attention. Hangouts is dark green, Gmail is red, and so forth.

The bigger change is that notifications no longer take up the bottom 10 percent of your watch face. Instead, if you receive a notification, the next time you raise your watch to your eyeline, you’ll see the card slide up into the display as a visual cue. It then recedes and gives you a clean view of the watch face. “It’s an obvious but also quite subtle cue that there’s something to take action on in the stream of cards, but then it goes away again,” Singleton explains.

Of course, you can still swipe up from the bottom of the watch face to go through your various notifications and cards — and there’s a host of new features if you want to reply to a message. You can already reply by voice or with the emoji-sketching feature introduced last year, but now Google’s gone mad and added a full keyboard, handwriting recognition and smart replies to Wear. All are available to third-party apps, as well.

All three of these new reply features are powered in large part by Google’s machine learning. Smart reply works like the same feature in Inbox: After reading your message, the app will suggest salient possible replies that you can just tap to send. If those smart replies don’t say what you want, you can sketch letters on the watch screen or use a tiny keyboard to swipe out a message. You can hunt and peck if you want, but swipe seems like a much better experience on such a small screen.

“We’ve worked really hard to make this work well for small screen devices,” Singleton says about handwriting recognition. “Our machine learning techniques recognize both the strokes that I draw, but also if I draw multiple strokes it can actually adapt the word that’s being recognized based on the context of what went before.” And once you type or swipe a single word with the on-screen keyboard, Wear will start suggesting words to follow it, again based on machine learning. In a lot of cases, you should be able to type or swipe out a couple words and then tap the suggested options to complete your message. I was extremely skeptical of a watch-sized keyboard, but in the brief demo I saw, it worked far better than I would have expected.

There are a few other UI changes, as well. Across the entire system, Google is using swipe-up-and-down gestures to hide navigation and actions. If you pull from the top of the screen, you’ll get the “wearable navigation drawer,” which lets you move through the various screens in an app. Pulling from the bottom brings up the “action drawer,” which is where you’ll find buttons to perform specific functions. “Having to give over a lot of real estate to moving between screens or taking actions means that the user has to do more scrolling,” Singleton says. “It’s harder for apps to just show at a glance the information that you care about.”

The next major change to Android Wear was introduced as a fitness feature — but the implications go far beyond fitness. Any app for Wear can now operate in a “stand-alone” mode, running on the watch itself with unfettered network access. Whether pulling data from your phone’s connection, a WiFi network or a built-in LTE connection, these apps can now operate fully untethered from your phone. If you want to go running with just your watch, for example, this means you can stream music from Spotify without having to sync songs in offline mode first.

Furthermore, stand-alone apps mean you’ll be able to find and install apps directly from your watch. Previously you had to go through your phone to add new apps. Perhaps the most notable thing about this change is that iPhone users with an Android Wear watch will have access to far more apps. Right now Wear is extremely limited if you’re pairing it with an iPhone. But with 2.0, you’ll be able to browse and install stand-alone apps straight to your watch, regardless of what phone you pair it with. So far it’s been hard to recommend Wear devices to iPhone users, but that may change when Wear 2.0 arrives.

The big fitness-focused change here is a new API called the activity recognition API. As you might expect, this lets the watch better identify what your body is doing at any given moment and launch the appropriate app to track your activity. “If I just start running, within about 10 seconds [fitness app] Strava can launch and show my time, my distance and my pace for my run,” Singleton says. “It just launched itself, in the right context.” Unfortunately, it sounds like the API only recognizes walking, running and biking, at least for now.

As for glanceable information, Google has built a new complications API that’ll let any third-party app display whatever it wants on any watch face. The watch face has to support complications, but once it does, any app can plug into it and share information there. The app developer decides what (if any) data it wants to make available. But if you’re building a watch face, as long as it’s designed to support complications, any app will work with it.

That’s a big change from how things have worked: Developers needed to design and build their own custom faces to share data from their app. And there was no way to have a variety of complications from different apps. Now end users will have a lot more options for customizing their watch to show the info they want to see.

Ultimately, Android Wear 2.0 doesn’t radically change the OS: It’s still based primarily on your notifications and Google Now cards, with richer app experiences becoming more common. That said, Google is definitely improving what it sees as Wear’s most important features. That should benefit all users. The updated UI, notifications and complications will be useful to everyone with a Wear device, and compatibility with the iPhone should take a big step forward. Unfortunately, you’ll need to wait a bit to get your hands on version 2.0. Google is seeding it to developers today, but consumers won’t get to try it until later this year.

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