Apple’s ‘we’re sorry we took away your ports’ dongle sale ends today

When Apple rolled out its controversial new MacBook Pro last fall, potential buyers were a bit miffed at the need to buy a host of expensive dongles to make the computer work with their old devices. Apple quickly responded by cutting prices on a host of USB-C cables and accessories, as well as the new LG 4K and 5K displays that are compatible with the MacBook and MacBook Pro. Originally, those discount prices were set to expire at the end of 2016, but Apple extended the deal until the end of March. Well, that day of reckoning is here — the discount on cables, accessories and monitors is set to expire today, March 31st.

So if you’ve been considering buying one of those LG monitors, today is definitely the day to do it. The 21.5-inch 4K display currently sells for $ 524, down from $ 700. The 27-inch 5K screen is priced at $ 924, a pretty notable discount from the $ 1,300 it will cost tomorrow.

You’re not going to save nearly as much cash on cables and adapters, but Apple is still offering pretty steep discounts. The super-helpful USB-C to USB dongle is $ 9 right now, down from $ 19, while you can save $ 5 on USB-C to Lightning cables for your iPhone or iPad. More expensive multiport adapters for outputting video to external displays are $ 49 instead of $ 69. All third-party USB-C accessories are 25 percent off, as well. If you’ve been thinking about buying a new MacBook Pro (or already have one) and have been dragging your feet on getting the cables you need, now’s a good day to go get them.

Source: Apple Store

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The Morning After: Thursday, March 30th 2017

Hey, good morning! You look fabulous.

Yesterday we focused on Samsung’s big Galaxy S8 reveal, and it didn’t disappoint. If you need to get up to speed in a hurry, we boiled the entire event down into one nine-minute video that you can watch here.


No more leaksMeet the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+

Ever since the Galaxy Note 7 recall, Samsung has been waiting to get another flagship device into its customer’s hands. Now that the new Galaxy S8 family is here, we have new devices to talk about with new features like Bluetooth 5.0. Chris Velazco calls the S8+ “the most comfortable big phone I’ve ever held,” while Sean Buckley wants everyone to pump their brakes on the hype — it’s still just a phone. But it’s quite a phone, with Bixby AI, facial recognition and unlocking, and the DeX system that turns your smartphone into a desktop computer.


It’s good.Windows 10 Creators update release date & review

Microsoft finally has an official release date for its big upgrade to Windows 10: April 11th. Devindra Hardawar reviewed the OS, so you’ll know what to expect, which amounts to a series of tweaks and a few welcome new features. The Game Bar, upgraded Edge browser and Paint 3D are all useful additions, even if Windows doesn’t look very different after the update.


New Game+The Xbox One’s new UI is rolling out to everyone

While we wait for the Creators Update on Windows 10, Microsoft is pushing its latest software for the Xbox One. Already available to beta testers, this version brings a faster miniguide that pops up with a single button press, plus streaming with Microsoft’s Twitch competitor Beam. One thing, though, it’s time to say goodbye to the picture-in-picture Snap mode.


Six years after the premiere of ‘L.A. Noire’Hideo Kojima is headlining the inaugural Tribeca Games Festival

On April 28th and 29th the Tribeca Film Festival will have some company, as the Tribeca Games Festival takes place in New York City. Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima will speak, as some of the big names behind games like Bioshock, Max Payne, Firewatch and Overwatch. Also, Telltale Games promises a premiere and “crowd play” event for its upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy game. Tickets start at $ 30 and are available here.

But wait, there’s more…

  • Facebook opens up 360-degree live streaming to everyone
  • Lyft’s latest idea looks familiar because it’s a bus.
  • Take a look at the first interior photos of Blue Origin’s space capsule for tourists
  • Donald Trump is tweeting from an iPhone now
  • Bioware: Expect ‘Mass Effect: Andromeda’ support info Tuesday

The Morning After is a new daily newsletter from Engadget designed to help you fight off FOMO. Who knows what you’ll miss if you don’t subscribe.
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All the places you can buy the Galaxy S8 and S8+

If you’re looking to make sure you’re among the first to own Samsung’s swanky new Galaxy S8 but don’t want to line up outside a store on April 21st, you’re in luck. Major and minor carriers alike have announced that they’re running pre-order campaigns (with some hefty incentives) starting as early as tomorrow. Here’s what each has planned:

Inside An AT&T Inc. Store Ahead Of Earnings Figures

AT&T will begin taking orders both online and in stores tomorrow, March 30th. If you’re on the AT&T Next program, the $ 750 S8 will cost $ 25 a month for 30 months and the $ 850 S8+ can be had for $ 28.34. For AT&T Next Every Year customers those prices increase to $ 31.25 and $ 35.42, respectively, over 24 months.

The carrier is offering a whole slew of incentives if you do opt to pre-order. First, you’ll receive up to $ 750 in credits towards another Samsung Galaxy S8 or S8+. It also comes with a Gear VR headset, controller and some bundled content. You can also pick up a Gear S3 smartwatch for $ 50 (they normally retail for $ 300) with a two-year service agreement. And finally, AT&T will try to unload a Tab E or Gear S2 on your for $ 1 if you go in on a 2 year service agreement.

A Verizon Communications Inc. Store Ahead Of Earnings Figures

Verizon Wireless’ offers are a bit more… nuanced. For a limited time with an eligible trade in device and enrollment in the Verizon Unlimited Plan, you can get the S8 or S8+ for as little as $ 15 a month. Otherwise you’ll pay $ 30 for the S8 and $ 35 for the S8+. There are a bunch of restrictions on that offer so make sure you read the fine print before you pull out your wallet.

To sweeten the deal, Verizon will throw in one of two Samsung Gear VR bundles. You can get the Controller Bundle ($ 180 value) for free, which includes a Gear VR with controller and Oculus content. Or you can splurge on the Experience Box ($ 550 value) for $ 100, which includes the Controller Bundle plus a pair of Harman Kardon headphones and a 256GB micro SD card. These bonuses are only available before April 21st and must be redeemed at the Samsung promotions site before May 21st.

Inside A T-Mobile US Inc. Store Ahead Of Earnings Figures

T-Mobile isn’t one to be left out. In addition to opening its pre-order window at 9:01 PT tonight, the company will offer the S8 for $ 30 a month on its Equipment Installment Plan, though you’ll need to pay $ 30 up front. The S8+ will cost you the same per month but you’ll need to drop $ 130 when you order. Whichever size you go for, you will get a free Gear VR with controller and Oculus content. MetroPCS customers won’t be able to pre-order but they can still score the Gear VR bundle when the phone launches on April 21st.

SPRINT-SOFTBANK/

Sprint’s offer is a cross between AT&T’s and Verizon’s. You can pre-order starting tomorrow. The S8 and S8+ will cost $ 31.25 and $ 35.42 per month, respectively, for 18 months (a half year less than AT&T’s 24-month plan). Plus, if you pay the first 12 installments on the phone, you’ll be able to upgrade to whatever the next Galaxy handset will be. Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile USA customers, however, will have to wait until April 21st to purchase.

Sprint’s bonus bundle is identical to Verizon’s: the $ 180-value Gear VR with Controller with Oculus Bonus Content will be free and the $ 550-value Gear VR, headphone and memory card set will cost you $ 100.

US Cellular has a heck of an offer: Trade in an eligible phone (Galaxy S6 or later; iPhone 5s or later) between March 30th and April 20th and the carrier will give you an S8 or S8+ for free. If you don’t have a phone to trade in, US Cellular will still give you a $ 100 promotional gift card. The company will also throw in the Gear VR with Controller bundle. You will need to be on the Total Plan or Shared Connect plan and subscribe to the company’s Device Protection + program as well.

We also expect Cricket Wireless and Straight Talk Wireless to carry the handsets, however they have yet to release information on bundles and availability. As they do, we’ll update this post.

Click here to catch all the latest news from Samsung’s Galaxy S8 launch event!

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Google’s iOS app comes with its GIF-friendly keyboard on the side

It’s no secret that Google is hoping to make its own lineup of search, navigation and email apps the go-to services for Apple users. The folks in Mountain View have even gone so far as to introduce new features in iOS apps months before rolling them out to their Android counterparts. Today, Google is trying to strengthen that hold on iPhone users with even deeper integrations of its flagship, search-focused app into Apple’s operating system.

After streamlining the app’s news feed late last year, the main Google app now brings the Gboard iOS keyboard under its wing. In other words, you no longer need the standalone app to get Gboard’s in-keyboard access to search, GIFs and emoji across all your iOS apps. It now comes installed with the Google app and users can set it up inside the Google app settings.

Today’s other big iOS update today is a live-updating “Trending on Google” widget that can be accessed through the app or pinned to your notification center for easy access to current search trends. The big search topics of the moment are displayed in blocks of Google primary colors, and tapping a topic will open a search tab with that subject. Finally, Google has also added or expanded the 3D touch functions throughout the app, so users can preview search results, bring up that trending widget or jump right into an incognito or voice search right from the home screen.

The updated version is live now in the App Store.

Source: Google Blog

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The Apple TV Remote app is finally optimized for iPads

No, we still don’t have an iPad version of the Instagram app, but another longtime holdout has gotten some big(ger) screen love. Apple has finally given its Apple TV Remote app a refresh tailored for the slate’s display. The iTunes listing says that in addition to the expected visual improvements, there’s also lyrics and “playlists for music and chapters.” That’s in addition to captions section for movies and TV shows.

Last February, Apple’s Eddie Cue and Craig Federighi said that with the then-forthcoming app that it would be a “full replacement” for the Apple TV remote. At the time, he was speaking directly about how an iPhone armed with the app can be a second controller for games. Now, the same functionality (with Siri voice commands, no less) on a more substantial screen is a reality. Don’t have an iPad? Well, then you’ll have to settle for the usual “general performance and stability improvements.”

Source: iTunes

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Android creator Andy Rubin teases his new smartphone

The creator of Android, Andy Rubin, is building a new smartphone — and today, he shared the first image of his mysterious hardware. It’s just a tease, revealing only the corner of the phone, where battery, time and network information is displayed in tiny white text.


The new device comes from Rubin’s company, Essential Products Inc., which is focused on creating tablets, smartphones and mobile software. Essential’s flagship phone will serve as the foundation for a lineup of connected products, according to early reports about the company’s movements. A handful of its smartphone prototypes are larger than an iPhone 7 Plus, featuring bezel-free screens and ceramic backings. Rubin and co. are apparently working on a proprietary version of Apple’s 3D Touch and they’re playing around with magnetic charging accessories.

The image Rubin shared today is reminiscent of Xiaomi’s Mi MIX concept phone, which has an edge-to-edge 1080p LCD and a ceramic body. However, with such a small portion of the hardware exposed in this single tweet, it’s hard to say where the similarities truly begin (and end).

Essential’s flagship smartphone is expected to drop in mid-2017.

Source: @Arubin

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The best hair dryer

By Shannon Palus

This post was done in partnership with The Sweethome, a buyer’s guide to the best homewares. When readers choose to buy The Sweethome’s independently chosen editorial picks, it may earn affiliate commissions that support its work. Read the full article here.

After more than 20 hours of research and interviews, more than five hours of putting seven dryers to speed, heat, and time tests, and a holiday season’s worth of hair styling, we worked our way through all the marketing claims to find out that no hair dryer is going to make your hair look better or dry faster than the leading competition. The Xtava Peony tied for second-lightest of all the dryers we tested, has a curved handle and a long cord, and will make your hair look just as good as a dryer that costs 10 times the price. We’ve now used our top two picks for a year, and even after pitting them against a $ 400 luxury dryer, we still like them just as much.

Who should get this

If you have a hair dryer that’s 1,800 or more watts, not too heavy, and in possession of a long-enough cord, and—if you prefer a curly or wavy hairstyle—a diffuser attachment, you can stick with what you have now.

However, if you have a cheaper hair dryer that tires your wrists or is slowing down in its old age and you blow-dry your hair frequently, you might consider switching to our pick before your current one bites the dust. A good hair dryer isn’t just competent at getting the water off your hair: It’s light enough for you to hold above your head for several minutes, the buttons are easy to push without getting in your way, the handle fits easily in your hand, and the plastic’s finish feels nice.

How we picked and tested

An armful of the dryers we considered. Photo: Michael Hession

Most of the buzzwords and specs on hair dryer boxes are useless at best and pseudoscience at worst. No clinical studies say one type of hair dryer is better for your hair than another—at least, none that we, nor the dermatologists that we interviewed, could find. After speaking to experts, I looked for hair dryers that were hot and fast. A few qualities that don’t have anything to do with speed or heat helped us narrow down what to test: multiple heat settings, a cool-shot button, a nozzle that’s compatible with attachments, and an intake filter that’s removable so that you can clean out debris. I also considered cord length, diffuser attachments, and how a dryer felt to hold. See more about hair dryer claims and the features that matter in our full guide.

To test, I looked at the basic stats of seven hair dryers (plus the Dyson Supersonic, a luxury dryer released after the initial round of testing), using a weather meter to test speed and heat, an iPhone app to test volume in decibels, and a postage scale to weigh them.

Next, I timed them drying a swatch of hair wetted with five grams of water with the dryers on their highest setting. With a few dryers eliminated, I put my four favorites to a few more time tests with the hair swatch and took them home for a couple weeks to use daily. I found few differences in drying time, but I did learn that a number of other features, like button placement and size, cord length, and weight are rarely discussed but are very important to the overall experience of using a hair dryer.

Our pick

The Xtava Peony, our top pick. Photo: Michael Hession

This dryer is as inexpensive as a dryer you’d find at a drugstore, but it will dry your hair just as well as a luxury device. It’s lighter than most we tested, smaller, and by far the easiest one to hold, and has a nicely curved handle. The buttons on this one are all located in a logical position. (Sounds like a small thing, but we disqualified one dryer from our favorites for having buttons that would poke your hand.)

Most important, it gets the job done just as quickly as every other dryer we tested: The Xtava Peony took about the same amount of time to blow-dry a hair swatch in testing trials as the rest, and the same amount of time to blow-dry my head of hair during my morning routine, as nearly every other dryer I tested. It made my hair look just as nice as the $ 300 dryer I tested did.

This dryer’s housing is shiny and sleek. Sure, that’s superficial, but the way the housing looks was the only difference that I noticed between the drugstore dryers and the stuff on sale at Sephora. With its sleek design, this one won’t look cheap sitting in a fancy bathroom.

Runner-up

Our runner-up pick, the Rusk CTC Lite. The cool-shot button is the wide blue one near the top of the handle. Photo: Michael Hession

The Rusk CTC Lite is lighter than almost all dryers we looked at. The buttons were all nicely placed—easy to push but hard to push accidentally—and the cord is long enough (8 feet, 7 inches) to reach distant outlets. The housing is nice: It’s glossy, the logo is understated, and the nozzle is on the shorter side. The sound of the air is smooth. It comes with both a concentrator and a diffuser.

At 0.95 pounds, the Rusk CTC Lite is very, very light. Of the seven dryers we tested, it was second lightest by only 0.04 pounds. Like the Xtava, the buttons are easy to reach. Unlike other dryers, the cool-shot button is wide, so holding it down for several seconds won’t be uncomfortable.

The CTC Lite was originally our top pick, until it doubled in price, making it more expensive than the Xtava. We like the sleek black design and lighter weight a little better than the Xtava’s—but because they do the same thing for your hair, we don’t feel the CTC Lite is worth the extra cost for most people.

Budget pick

The Conair Comfort Touch Tourmaline Ceramic dryer, our budget pick. Photo: Michael Hession

Our pick is already on the inexpensive side for a dryer, but another one we liked is about the same price and includes a diffuser. If you don’t dry your hair often or our top pick is sold out and you want a dryer that comes with a diffuser and you have an outlet near your mirror, the Conair Comfort Touch dryer will do a good job and doesn’t have any hugely annoying design features. What makes this dryer less desirable than our other picks is the clunky and cheap casing: it has a thicker handle and a shorter cord that make it harder to maneuver.

This guide may have been updated by The Sweethome. To see the current recommendation, please go here.

Note from The Sweethome: When readers choose to buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn affiliate commissions that support our work.

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China says Apple isn’t cloning a local phone maker

Did it seem ridiculous to you that Beijing officials ordered a ban on the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus over a dubious design patent claim? You’re not the only one. A court has reversed the ban (which was suspended during a dispute process) and declared that Apple isn’t violating the patents of Shenzhen Baili Marketing Services, which insisted that the iPhone 6 riffed on the look of its 100c smartphone. Regulators issued the ban without real proof of wrongdoing, according to the ruling, and the iPhone has traits that “completely change the effect” of its design versus its (frankly very generic-looking) rival. Customers haven’t had a problem telling the difference between the iPhone and 100c, the court says.

This is water under the bridge for Apple given that it stopped selling the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus a while back — it wasn’t going to lose much money even if the court upheld the ban. However, the win could serve as a shot across the bow of other Chinese companies that might try a similar move in the future. If they want future claims to stick, they’ll have to show that there’s more than a passing similarity between devices. Otherwise, they may not get much more than a brief burst of publicity.

Source: SCMP, Reuters

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HTC U Ultra review: Bad decisions in a beautiful body

I was almost giddy when I reviewed the HTC 10 last year. After years of casting about for the right approach, the company built a phone that seemed like a clear step in the right direction. Fast forward to January 2017: HTC revealed the $ 750 U Ultra, a glossy flagship that represented a totally new direction for the company. The phone packs a huge screen, a second display for quick controls and an AI-powered virtual assistant that promises to subtly help you out during the day. It’s an ambitious device, certainly, but what’s life without a few risks? Unfortunately, looks aside, HTC’s newest phone feels poorly thought-out. At the risk of sounding too grim too early, the HTC U Ultra is beautiful, expensive and misguided.

Hardware

Normally, I loathe putting phones in cases – engineers and designers didn’t slave away on these things just so you could hide them behind cheap plastic. But with the U Ultra, I didn’t feel like I had a choice. After years of crafting metal-bodied smartphones, HTC wrapped the Ultra in glass, including Gorilla Glass 5 on the 5.7-inch screen and a curved pane of colorful “liquid surface” on the back. (There’s another version of the U Ultra with sapphire crystal coating the screen, but it’ll set you back close to $ 1,000 — no thanks.)

I don’t have enough adjectives for how nice our blue review unit’s finish looks. Stunning? Striking? Rapturous? (That last one was a little much, but you get the idea.) Just as impressive is how those two glass sides gently curve toward each other, eventually meeting the thin metal rim that runs around the phone without any harsh or protruding seams. The only thing that breaks up the U Ultra’s sleek lines is a square hump where the 12-megapixel rear camera lives. For all of the financial trouble HTC has had lately, it still knows how to build an impeccably pretty machine. It’s too bad that the U Ultra isn’t water or dust resistant — a phone this pricey should be a little more durable.

The downside, of course, is that glass breaks. It’s a good thing, then, that a thin, clear plastic case is included in the box. HTC says the phone can handle drops from as high as a meter (3.2 feet) without a problem, but anything more than could wreck that beautiful build.

The other downside becomes apparent when you spin the phone around. Let’s see, there’s a volume rocker on the right side with the power button below that, the SIM tray up top, the USB Type-C port on the bottom and… damn: no headphone jack. HTC’s repudiation of that classic port actually started with last year’s Bolt/10 Evo, but the loss doesn’t sting any less now that we’re looking at a 2017 flagship. Since HTC already threw in a case, you’d think a freebie 3.5mm-to-Type-C adapter would be in order, but no — you’ll have to use the included USonic earbuds or find another pair of Type-C cans.

The annoyances don’t end there. I wish the fingerprint sensor and the capacitive Back and Recent Apps keys were centered in the expanse of black under the phone’s screen. That might sound like I’m nitpicking, but, as you’ll see later, HTC’s attention to detail wavers pretty frequently in this phone.

While this design is new for HTC, the stuff inside should be very familiar. We’re working with a quad-core Snapdragon 821 chipset paired with 4GB of RAM, an Adreno 530 GPU, 64GB of internal storage and a microSD slot that takes cards as large as 256GB. While your hopes for an insanely fast Snapdragon 835 chip might be dashed, this well-worn spec combo is still plenty powerful. More concerning is the 3,000mAh battery tucked away inside. That’s much, much smaller than I expected for a phone this big. Even the new LG G6, which looks downright tiny next to the U Ultra, packs a more capacious cell.

Displays and sound

The U Ultra’s face is dominated by that 5.7-inch, Super LCD5 panel, and it’s easily one of the phone’s strongest assets. Sure, there are brighter screens out there — LG’s G6 and last year’s Galaxy S7s come to mind — but the U Ultra’s panel nonetheless offers excellent viewing angles and decent colors. Thankfully, you can address that latter bit with a quick trip into the device’s settings, where you’ll find an option to tweak the screen’s color temperature as needed. Most people won’t ever bother doing this, but I found it crucial since the U Ultra’s screen is a few degrees too cool for my liking.

And of course, there’s that second screen sitting atop the main one. It’s easy enough to read at a glance and, on paper, it packs many of the same tricks I enjoyed on the LG V20. The way those tricks have been implemented, however, feels kludgy at best and completely dumb at worst.

For starters, that secondary screen can display the next event in your calendar, but there’s no way to specify which calendar you want it to use. That’s bad news if you rely on separate calendars for personal and work events, as I do. The screen displays a weather forecast for the rest of the day, but despite being a US-spec device, it insists on showing 24-hour time instead of AMs and PMs. You can control music playback in Spotify or Google Play Music, but that’s it; if, for example, you’re listening to Pandora station or a podcast in Pocket Casts, you’re stuck using the in-app controls. And for some reason, you can only access a tray of settings controls (think: WiFi, Bluetooth, etc.) when the screen is off. I get that HTC thought it was easier to swipe down into the quick settings panel, but why not make persistent controls an option? It’s sad to see that HTC’s attention to detail seemed to end with the U Ultra’s hardware.

Then again, HTC always had other plans for this additional space. It’s the little corner where HTC’s AI-powered Assistant, Sense Companion, lives, offering suggestions based on what it knows about you and your behavior.

At least the U Ultra does better at cranking out the tunes. The days of two front-mounted speakers on an HTC flagship are long behind us, but the compromise on display here works well anyway. There’s one front speaker that doubles as the earpiece and another speaker mounted on the phone’s bottom edge. Together, they’re capable of pumping out loud audio, and with decent channel separation, to boot. There’s a little software trickery at play here, too: When playing audio through the speakers, you can switch between “music” and “theatre” modes. I suppose the latter is supposed to sound more spacious, and it works to some extent, but the music mode tends to flatten out whatever you’re listening to so that it feels more present.

Similar software makes the included USonic earbuds more than just a cheapie pack-in. When you pop the buds into your ears for the first time, you’re ushered through a quick customization process that automatically tunes audio specifically for your head. I’m no acoustician, but to my ears, the difference was immediate. The earbuds are also meant to change the way that same audio sounds based on your environment, so you’ll continue to get great sound while you’re, say, waiting for the train to show up. The thing is, it’s a manual process that requires you to tap a notification every time you want to re-tune based on ambient sound. HTC fanboys might pine for the company’s audio halcyon days, but the U Ultra definitely still has some game.

Software

When HTC released the 10, it also updated its approach to the Sense interface. Long story short, the company streamlined the Sense interface, discontinued some apps where Google was clearly doing better work and added theming options so your phone doesn’t have to look like mine. The U Ultra ships with Android 7.0 Nougat onboard, but HTC’s approach to augmenting it hasn’t changed much since last year. In general, that’s fine by me: I’m a Sense fan (though it certainly isn’t for everyone) and Nougat brings enough notable changes in its own right. The less HTC messes with it, the better.

That — along with a lack of carrier pressure — explains why there are so few extraneous apps on the U Ultra. HTC’s Boost+ is a resource management app that made it very easy to free up storage space. My inner paranoiac had me frequently thumbing the controls to squeeze every last ounce of performance out of the phone, but I never actually noticed any speed gains. The app gets bonus points for letting me lock certain apps with a PIN or pattern to keep prying eyes out of my business. BlinkFeed is back too, for better or worse; a quick left-to-right swipe on the homescreen reveals a grid of content to digest.

BlinkFeed pulls content from social networks like Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter and LinkedIn, among others, along with articles from NewsRepublic if you’re so inclined. I didn’t have many issues with the sorts of stories the app automatically provided. Be warned, though: BlinkFeed likes to put sponsored posts right in your eye-line when you open it. Really? If you’re going to have me look at ads by default, give me a discount on the phone or something. While the ads are easy to disable, making them opt-out rather than opt-in does nothing for the overall experience.

The stuff I’ve mentioned so far is classic HTC. Sense Companion is not. There’s a team somewhere within HTC that has spent months building an AI-powered virtual assistant that means to offer suggestions (like a reminder to bring a power bank on a day your calendar says is busy) on that underutilized second screen. As it turns out, “means to” are the operative words in that sentence; I’ve been testing the phone for nearly two weeks and Sense Companion hasn’t done much of anything. I’m opted-in; I’ve allowed all permissions, and still nothing. Every once in awhile I’ll get what looks like a Companion notification, but it’s a false alarm; the phone is asking me to opt-in to suggestions that never come.

Annoying as it is for review purposes, HTC made this choice deliberately. The idea isn’t to overload users with AI-fueled notifications; subtlety is key here, with prompts to bring an umbrella timed for blustery days you’ll be out in the thick of it. Anything more pervasive than that might make you turn Sense Companion off altogether and, well, HTC can’t have that. Even now, it’s unclear whether what I’m experiencing is wrong or not, and that doesn’t bode terribly well for the feature’s short-term prospects. Sense Companion’s true value will only be made apparent in time, and it will almost certainly get better eventually. Still, if this is what everyone who buys the phone will have to deal with, I can’t imagine people would bother with Sense Companion for very long.

Camera

It’s impossible to miss the U Ultra’s main, 12-megapixel camera — it’s tucked away in that big, squarish lump around back. On paper, the camera seems promising enough: It has a f/1.8 aperture, large, 1.55-micron sensor pixels, optical image stabilization and hybrid phase-detection-and-laser autofocus, just like many other recent flagship smartphones. What the U Ultra lacks is consistency. In good lighting conditions, I found that this 12-megapixel sensor typically captures ample detail and accurate colors, but it occasionally struggles to accurately expose photos. Even then, they’re never bad, per se — just less impactful than what you’d get out of rivals like the Google Pixels. (Yes, I get that’s not a completely fair comparison since the Pixels rely on more algorithms to make photos look good, but the difference is clear nevertheless.)

Given its track record, HTC knows just how hard it is to nail a smartphone camera. The HTC 10 seemed like a great step forward last year, earning the company a surprisingly high spot on DxOMark’s mobile scale. At its best, the U Ultra produces clearer, more brightly rendered photos than the 10. Every other time, the U Ultra walks down the middle of the road. Put another way, this camera would’ve been a remarkably solid contender last year, but last year’s performance doesn’t do HTC much good now.

That’s not to say that HTC doesn’t understand anything about cameras. I often go back and forth, but HTC’s camera interface is my current favorite: It lends itself well to instantaneous shooting and the Pro mode (which lets you capture RAW images) allows for fast, meticulous fiddling. The included Zoe mode — yes, it’s still kicking around — shoots brief snippets of video along with a photo, just because. (For you iPhone people, think of it as a Live Photo broken down into its constituent parts.) And, vain as I am sometimes, I have frequently used and mostly enjoyed the U Ultra’s 16-megapixel front-facing camera.

Performance and battery life

Rather than wait for Qualcomm’s new top-tier Snapdragon 835 chipset to become widely available, HTC went with last year’s 821. It’s the classic choice between new and tried-and-true, and it’s worth noting that other manufacturers made the same decision this year. Fortunately, the 821 is still an excellent platform and I never felt as though I was missing out. The combination of these four processor cores with an Adreno 530 GPU and 4GB of RAM should sound familiar, but more often than not, they made for fluid app use, gameplay and general navigation.

Ah, but there are those pesky words: “more often than not.” For some reason, while the U Ultra didn’t so much as hiccup while playing intense games, my week of testing has seen more random bouts of lag than I would’ve expected. They happened most frequently as I was jumping in and out of open apps or even just unlocking the phone. These slow spells occurred perhaps once or twice a day and passed quickly, but they were more frequent than I cared for considering devices like the Google Pixels use the same components and were almost perfectly speedy. Your mileage may vary, though, and it’s worth reiterating that most of the time the U Ultra was snappy.

HTC U Ultra Google Pixel XL Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge HTC 10
AndEBench Pro 18,789 16,164 13,030 16,673
Vellamo 3.0 5,398 5,800 4,152 4,876
3DMark IS Unlimited 30,320 29,360 26,666 26,747
GFXBench 3.0 1080p Manhattan Offscreen (fps) 44 48 47 48
CF-Bench 38,065 39,918 46,290 49,891

The U Ultra’s high-end components can be taxing on a battery, especially when we’re working with a modest 3,000mAh cell. I typically got between a day and a day and a half of moderate use on a single charge — and by “moderate” I mean I pick up the phone and fiddle with it a few times an hour, rather than sitting around glued to it.

Since I’m the kind who charges his devices every night, that kind of battery life is more or less adequate for me. With that said, there’s no denying that some of its fiercest competitors do a better job. With a Google Pixel XL, a physically smaller device with a bigger battery, I could get about two full days of use without having to overthink it. The Moto Z Force, another smaller device, could last for about three days if I played my cards right. (LG’s V20 had a bigger battery, and it was removable, but it actually fared a little worse than the U Ultra in daily use.)

The point is, I’m struggling to understand why HTC couldn’t give us something better. There’s also no denying that the U Ultra didn’t fare well in the standard Engadget rundown test, where we loop an HD video at fixed brightness with WiFi turned on. On average, the U Ultra lasted for about 11 hours and 40 minutes before dying. That’s far short of the Pixel XL’s 14 hours, but still a half-hour better than the V20.

The competition

If you’re in the market for a fancy new smartphone and you need it now, stop and look at a Pixel XL first. It has a bigger battery. It has the same Snapdragon chipset but feels faster in use. It packs a superior camera. And don’t forget: HTC also built the thing for Google. Sure, it lacks the U Ultra’s sheer style, but the promise of fast and frequent software updates should help ease the blow. Some people really like the idea of a second screen, and those folks need to see the LG V20. It has more pronounced audiophile tendencies and the controls on the auxiliary display just work better

And then, of course, there’s the current crop of 2017 flagship phones. Despite its odd aspect ratio, LG’s G6 is a return to slightly more conventional hardware, and so far I’ve been impressed with the not-quite-final version I’ve been playing with these last few weeks. (Our full review will come when after we’ve tested a finished model.) It uses the exact same Qualcomm chip as the U Ultra, but squeezes those components into a tiny, sturdy metal body that also houses a great 13-megapixel dual camera setup. The G6 also packs Google’s Assistant, rather than something like Sense Companion, which has so far been a notable positive.

Meanwhile, the U Ultra’s biggest competitor — Samsung’s heavily leaked Galaxy S8 — is almost here. We know it will have a Snapdragon 831 chip, we know it has an AI assistant that could find a life beyond just phones, and we know it’s pretty damn good-looking. We’ll have to wait to confirm the rest of the juicy details at the launch event on March 29th, but based on what we know so far, I’d be a little worried if I were HTC.

Wrap-up

I can’t stress this enough: the HTC U Ultra is not a bad device. It’s beautiful, well built and plays home to a lot of good ideas. I think HTC was right to build a big phone, and the way it wants to subtly integrate an AI assistant into that second screen is genuinely smart. It’s just unfortunate that the good ideas here have been obscured by bad design decisions and what seems to be a terminal a lack of focus. Now, it’s very, very possible we’ll see another flagship phone from HTC before the year is over. For the company’s sake, I hope it takes a hard look at what the U Ultra does and doesn’t get right before it bothers to release its next big thing.

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Hackers try to extort Apple by threatening to wipe iPhones

Someone claiming to be a group of hackers called themselves the “Turkish Crime Family” has apparently been trying to extort money from Apple. As Motherboard reported a few days ago, the group claims to have login details for hundreds of millions of Apple accounts and is threatening to remotely wipe devices via iCloud unless it’s paid $ 75,000 in Bitcoin or $ 100,000 in iTunes gift cards. Today, ZDNet says that it was able to verify 54 accounts revealed by the hackers, although it’s still unclear how many other accounts they have or how they came by them.

In a statement, Apple said its systems have not been breached, and the alleged list appears to have been obtained from other sources. It also says it’s “actively monitoring” to prevent unauthorized access and is working with law enforcement.

Apple:

There have not been any breaches in any of Apple’s systems including iCloud and Apple ID. The alleged list of email addresses and passwords appears to have been obtained from previously compromised third-party services.

We’re actively monitoring to prevent unauthorized access to user accounts and are working with law enforcement to identify the criminals involved. To protect against these type of attacks, we always recommend that users always use strong passwords, not use those same passwords across sites and turn on two-factor authentication.

Because of shared passwords, hackers frequently use details obtained in other breaches to try and access more valuable accounts, which may be happening here. Previously, we’ve seen hackers try to extort users directly this way, using Find My iPhone to remotely lock devices until they’re paid. We’ve contacted Apple and will update this post if there are any other details.

Now that at least some of the information has been verified, it seems like a good time for anyone who has (or used to have) an Apple or iCloud account to update and lock down their security settings. Even if these hackers (or someone else) has obtained a password for your account, using two-factor authentication should keep them from being able to access details or remotely wipe devices.

Instructions on setting up two-factor authentication for your Apple ID can be found here. Additionally, if you haven’t changed your password in a while, or have ever shared it with an account anywhere else, it’s a good idea to change it to something strong and unique. Visit Apple’s password reset page at https://iforgot.apple.com/ (check for the secure padlock and correct URL in your address bar) to do that now.

Source: ZDNet

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