ZTE’s latest big-screen phone packs dual cameras for $129

While the rest of the tech world gets ready for the return of Samsung’s Galaxy Note line, ZTE continues its quiet takeover of the budget phablet market. Every year since 2014, the company has released a low-cost handset with a large screen, generous battery and surprisingly modern features (think: fingerprint sensors and USB-C ports). This time is no different. The 6-inch Blade ZMax is now available for pre-order via MetroPCS, and will be in stores on August 28th, starting at $ 129.

What stands out about this year’s model is that it has dual cameras — an unusual feature at this price. A slew of $ 200 phones unveiled at CES all featured the same iPhone 7 Plus–like setup, but the Blade ZMax is the first to offer it for less than $ 150. With the pair of sensors on the back, you can take pictures with artificially blurred backgrounds to highlight your subject. The Blade ZMax’s 16-megapixel RGB sensor captures color information, while its 2-megapixel monochrome counterpart takes care of details. During my brief time with the new handset, this system worked, blurring out chairs and desks in the background while keeping the man in the foreground crisp.

The Blade ZMax’s images fall short of those taken with iPhone 7 Plus, though. Apple’s software delivers cleaner, sharper pictures with better-defined edges between the subject and the background. Upon closer inspection, I also noticed a halo effect around the subject in shots taken with the Blade ZMax. It could be because I was using a defective unit, although ZTE hasn’t responded to my question as to whether this was the case. Still, the artifact was minor enough to overlook, and I’m not going to nitpick about a device that costs less than a night out with friends.

There’s really not much else to say about the Blade ZMax. Its rear is covered with a grippier dotted texture than its predecessor’s matte cover, while its battery is now 4,080mAh, up from 3,400mAh on last year’s model. Impressively, the phone is ever so slightly (0.03 inch) slimmer than its predecessor, despite that larger cell inside. But I still prefer the older handset’s aesthetic, which featured a blue rear with rose gold accents. The new rubbery cover feels comfortable, but it looks dull.

ZTE also opted for Japanese company Asahi’s Dragontail glass on its display instead of Corning’s Gorilla Glass. We’d seen this material on the Neo Reloaded as well, but Dragontail hasn’t shown up in other phones yet. From my time with the Blade ZMax, the different glass had no noticeable impact on the screen’s quality; colors and text on the 6-inch full HD display looked about as rich and sharp as on competing devices I’ve tested.

Although it has a more rugged aesthetic than its predecessor, the Blade ZMax is a well-rounded device for the price. In fact, it’s the only 6-inch phone around with relatively modern features for less than $ 150. There are some compromises you’ll have to tolerate in exchange for the savings, but people looking for a new handset with a large screen will find the Blade ZMax a promising option.

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Sony’s latest Xperia is a terrific slow-mo shooter, with caveats

At long last, Sony has made a seriously compelling flagship. Not only is the Xperia XZ Premium the best-looking handset the company has made in years, but it also boasts a high-end camera capable of extreme slow-mo video recording. It’s also one of the first phones to use the Snapdragon 835 chipset, which supports Gigabit LTE speeds where available. Plus, it has a sumptuous 5.5-inch 4K display that is HDR-ready. That’s a whole lot of reasons to check out the phone, but is it worth splurging $ 800 on? Well, that depends on your needs.

The XZ Premium certainly looks and feels every bit as expensive as it is. It sports the same somewhat boxy silhouette that the Xperia line is known for, but the gently curving sides, Gorilla Glass-covered front and back and super shiny finish make it attractive and comfortable to hold. In fact, it’s so shiny that the phone’s rear can double up as a mirror.

Because the XZ Premium is a relatively large phone and also due to its slippery, glossy finish, though, I often came close to dropping it. The good news is, if you drop it into a puddle, the XZ Premium should survive, thanks to its water-resistance.

Although it has a strikingly pretty frame, the XZ Premium’s real highlight is its camera. It has a 19-megapixel sensor that uses Sony’s new 3-layer technology to snap more rapid-fire pictures than before. It also shoots 4K video that’s nice and steady thanks to digital 5-axis stabilization. I liked how pictures and videos turned out — they were colorful, crisp and vibrant. In fact, I was most impressed when the series of pictures I snapped from a fast-moving cab all turned out sharp and distortion-free.

What truly stands out about the XZ Premium is its ability to shoot slow-mo videos at up to 960 fps. That’s four times the framerate of the iPhone 7 Plus, which shoots 240fps at the same 720p resolution. The resulting clips are mesmerizing and smooth. Most importantly, all my subjects looked impressively clear even at snail’s pace.

Recording slow-mo comes with a few caveats, though. For one, you’ll only capture good-quality footage under optimal lighting conditions, like outside on a bright day. Any time I tried to shoot in the evening or even indoors, the image got noisy.

There also aren’t many reasons to use extreme slo-mo. A lot of the action I tried to record wasn’t fast enough for it to really look interesting. From waving hands to jumping friends, most regular activities barely show up as movement.

When it comes to faster action though, the XZ Premium really shines. I caught a bird mid-flight, butterfly flitting by, drops of water shooting out of a fountain, and the resulting slow-mo footage was stunning. But even then, the way the feature is applied in the camera app makes it challenging to get the results you want. First, you need to enable slow-mo mode, hit record, then press the onscreen trigger button (not to be confused with the dedicated physical camera button on the phone’s right edge).

The device saves about 3 seconds of slow-mo each time you push the button, and you can use it repeatedly as you’re recording, but you can only slow down short segments at a time, so you’ll really need to know what to expect when you’re shooting.

I understand Sony did this by design to prevent slow-mo enthusiasts from quickly eating up storage with these clips. But, unlike the iPhone, you can’t edit the footage after the fact to pick precisely when the slow-mo kicks in. You also don’t get any say over how long you can shoot in 960fps. Offering these options would make the feature much more useful.

Overall, though, the XZ Premium’s camera is a speedy shooter that delivers excellent quality. Its 13-megapixel front camera takes sharp, vibrant selfies even in low light. The pictures looked particularly vivid when viewed on the XZ Premium’s lovely 4K display. Sony used the same technology in its Bravia TVs in this handset’s panel, and it pays off. Everything from Instagram pictures to YouTube videos were rich and sharp.

The XZ Premium is also the first smartphone to support HDR, which appears particularly saturated and colorful on this screen. There’s not much HDR media floating around at the moment, though, so it’s not something you’ll notice a lot during typical use. Still, it’s a nice touch.

Frankly, I don’t have many complaints about the XZ Premium. It held up under intense multi-tasking thanks to the powerful Snapdragon 835 chipset, and the battery generally lasts a full day. Plus, recharging is surprisingly fast — I usually get about 50% of juice within 30 minutes of plugging in.

Like other high-end phones this year, the XZ Premium also runs Android Nougat, and Sony’s overlaid skin here is lighter than on previous Xperias. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to test gigabit LTE, since it hasn’t been deployed in the US yet.

Ultimately, there are many reasons to like the XZ Premium, but at $ 800, it costs as much as flagships from Samsung and Apple. The thing is, even though its standout slow-mo feature will only appeal to a very select group of people, the XZ Premium is a flagship that can finally contend with the Galaxies and iPhones of the world. Sony (and its fans) should be very proud.

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Alpine’s latest receiver brings wireless CarPlay to all

Apple CarPlay has finally gone wireless. After debuting the technology at CES this year, Alpine is now shipping the iLX-107, the first CarPlay receiver with support for wireless connectivity. And considering the tech world’s general disdain for wires and cables, it’s a surprise it’s taken this long to reach the aftermarket.

The receiver (compatible with the iPhone 5 and later) lets CarPlay be accessed through the touchscreen and Siri voice control. You’ll get the full CarPlay experience: make calls, read texts, choose music and get real-time traffic updates. Plus, depending on your car you’ll get customized vehicle information too, such as park assist. There’s no longer any need for the proverbial Lightning cable: simply connect your phone via WiFi or Bluetooth.

While CarPlay receivers have been kicking around for a while, this is the first to support wireless connectivity — a function that began development in 2015 but didn’t find an infotainment home until late 2016 when it was added to the 2017 BMW 5 Series Sedan.

Despite growing demand for such systems, very few manufacturers have the tech built into their cars, so it’s still very much a novelty. Perhaps this is the argument for the iLX-107’s eye-watering $ 900 price tag.

Source: Cision

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Latest version of iOS solves iPhone 6’s shutdown issues

Some iPhone 6 and 6s devices have been randomly shutting down over the past several months. iOS 10.2.1 was designed to fix the issue, and Apple says it has successfully solved the problem for most people who’ve already installed it. Cupertino told TechCrunch that 10.2.1, which has already been downloaded by roughly half of all iOS users, has led to an 80 percent reduction of unexpected shutdowns in iPhone 6s and 70 percent reduction in iPhone 6. TC says the affected phones unexpectedly shut down due to sudden spikes of activity in older iOS versions that cause older batteries to malfunction.

A spokesperson told the publication:

“With iOS 10.2.1, Apple made improvements to reduce occurrences of unexpected shutdowns that a small number of users were experiencing with their iPhone. iOS 10.2.1 already has over 50% of active iOS devices upgraded and the diagnostic data we’ve received from upgraders shows that for this small percentage of users experiencing the issue, we’re seeing a more than 80% reduction in iPhone 6s and over 70% reduction on iPhone 6 of devices unexpectedly shutting down.”

Apple also told TechCrunch that it has given the older iPhones the ability to restart without needing to be plugged in. Before the fix came out, people had no choice but to plug in their phones whenever an unexpected shutdown happens. In addition, the tech titan will roll out another feature in the next few days. If the latest version of iOS deems your battery to be too old and worn down, you’ll see a notice in settings telling you that “your battery needs service.”

Apple didn’t give an advice on what to do if version 10.2.1 doesn’t fix the problem for you. But if you’ve been experiencing the same issue, try installing the platform update first before getting your battery replaced.

Source: TechCrunch

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Earin’s latest wireless earbuds tout AirPod-like controls

Fancy the subtle tap-based controls of Apple’s AirPods, but want something that’s not quite so conspicuous (or conspicuously targeted at iPhone owners)? Earin wants to talk. It’s introducing its second set of wireless earbuds, the M-2, and they promise a taste of AirPod-like control in a subtler design. You only have to tap an earbud to pause your music or answer a call — no reaching for your phone or fiddling with buttons. It’s not as sophisticated as the AirPods (you won’t be talking to Siri as easily), but the simplicity remains a big deal.

The M-2s are also more ergonomic than their cylindrical ancestors. Battery life hasn’t changed much, though: you can expect 3 hours on a charge, and the magnetic charging capsule will give you a total of 12 hours of listening. This is more for your workout than a long flight, in other words. Earin hasn’t divulged pricing, but the new earbuds should hit shelves near the end of the first quarter.

Click here to catch up on the latest news from CES 2017.

Source: PR Newswire

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Kohl’s is the latest retailer to roll out its own mobile payments

If you like to shop at Kohl’s and need an alternative to Apple Pay, Android Pay or Samsung Pay, you’re in luck. The retailer announced today that its own mobile payments platform, Kohl’s Pay, is now available to all customers nationwide. The company revealed last month that its take on payments would complement its existing mobile wallet app that gave customers a way to store payment info, organize rewards and collect promotions in the same spot.

Unlike retail mobile payment platforms from Walmart and CVS, Kohl’s Pay doesn’t allow customers to add their credit and debit cards to the app for use in stores. Instead, you’ll have to sign up for one of the company’s own Kohl’s Charge cards. While that might seem like an odd choice, TechCrunch reports that the retailer has 25 million customers actively using its credit cards with 60 percent of in-store purchases being paid for with Kohl’s Charge. That’s a substantial number of people you could bring to the mobile platform even if they can’t add any payment method they want.

The payments system is available inside the store’s existing mobile apps for Android and iOS. The Kohl’s app also doesn’t support NFC or tap-to-pay like Apple Pay, Android Pay and Samsung Pay. Instead, it displays a QR code that’s scanned by the cashier at checkout. That code is used to not only handle payment, but to apply any savings a customer has stored in the app, too. When you combine the ability to pay to for items, organize discounts/promotions and track returns, exchanges and regular purchases, Kohl’s is giving its customers a handy shopping companion. And that’s on top of using the app to browse items, save gift cards to the mobile wallet and scan barcodes will looking around in stores.

Kohl’s still supports Apple Pay, including the ability to earn loyalty points when using that payment method on an iPhone or Apple Watch. It was the first retailer to do so and it was also the first store to allow customers to use its own credit cards with Apple’s payment platform.

Via: TechCrunch

Source: Kohl’s

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Pebble’s latest update adds quick views and more shortcuts

When Pebble announced its latest Pebble 2 and Time 2 watches earlier this year, it also revealed several software improvements that would roll out not just to the new models, but to most other existing Pebble hardware. Today, the company is finally releasing that update. Now even old-school Pebble users can get Quick View peeks, shortcut buttons, a revamped Health app plus more email features for iOS users.

Available only to the latest Time edition devices, you can now press down on the watchface to check out upcoming events thanks to a new Quick View peek that takes up just a small sliver of the display. Tap it for more info or hit the Back button to dismiss it. There’s also a new Launcher menu — press Select to see it — plus an App Glances feature that gives you a preview of info without having to open the app.

The update also adds 4-button Quick Launch, which essentially lets you map the side buttons to specific shortcuts — you trigger them by long-pressing each key. You could do this before the Up and Down buttons but now you can do so with the Back and Select keys as well.

Seeing as Pebble is a lot more fitness-focused these days, it also took the opportunity to redesign its Health app. Now you’re able to quickly glance at weekly charts to get a better idea of your progress toward your step or sleep goals. You can also just press the up button on the watchface to access the Health app that much quicker. Pebble Health settings are also now in the main settings area instead of the Apps tab.

Last but not least, Pebble is also giving iOS users a bit more email functionality for those with Google accounts. At long last, iPhone fans can reply, delete and archive email directly from Pebble notifications, be it from Inbox, Gmail or the Mail app.

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