Saturday, 24 February 2018

Best Tech of February 2018!

The February installment of "Best Tech." While we typically focus on smartphones, our "Best Tech" series expands our scope of interest and lets us take a look at the various devices our smartphones can control. Which device is your favorite?



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Friday, 23 February 2018

Unlocked HTC 10 is now receiving its Android 8.0 Oreo update

HTC 10 hands-on video

Last month, we heard that the unlocked version of the HTC 10 had started receiving its Android 8.0 Oreo update. That update didn't actually end up rolling out for whatever reason, but now it looks like it really has started out out. For real this time.

Unlocked HTC 10 owners in the US are now reporting on Twitter that they've started receiving their Android 8.0 Oreo update. It clocks in at 1.32GB in size.

The update to Android 8.0 Oreo brings with it many new features, like picture-in-picture so that you can watch a video from one app while performing tasks in other apps. Other new Oreo features include smart text selection, notification dots, and Android Instant apps.

If you've got an unlocked HTC 10 and haven't yet gotten your Oreo treat, you can launch your Settings app and go into About > Software updates > Check now.



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What's your favorite mobile game?

Alto's Odyssey

It’s been a long time since the original Snake on old brick phones, and yet I can’t help but remember those times fondly. I played a lot of Brick Breaker back then. Probably more than Snake, honestly. I loved that game. Especially when I got my hands on a BlackBerry with that track wheel on the side.

So many hours spent breaking digital bricks.

One of the benefits of getting better smartphones is that our games have gotten a lot better, too. Not to take anything away from those old school games or anything, but the titles we have to choose from now are pretty fantastic.

There is a lot of promotional material that suggests our mobile games have reached “console level graphics”, and that’s probably true — if we don’t count current consoles. But, honestly, that’s not really here nor there.

I actually want to talk about the games themselves, and find out which titles have been your favorites over the years. We have had so many to choose from, especially with the digital storefronts like the App Store and the Play Store to offer them up. We have even had console ports, which, at least in some cases, have actually not been awful.

In fact, two of my favorite games on mobile have been console ports. Bastion and Transistor are two fantastic titles. (They both also offer spectacular original soundtracks, which I definitely recommend giving a listen to.) They aren’t quick titles, and offer a rich story, and I’ve loved going back to them.

As for the faster options, the games that can kill just a few minutes of time, Alto’s Adventure is still one of the best in my opinion. Also, Alto’s Odyssey just came out and it’s every bit as good, if not better, than the original.

Capcom recently launched Puzzle Fighter, which has been one of my favorite titles for years so I was happy to see it launch on mobile. It has a pesky waiting period for a lot of things, but that’s fine.

My go-to game has been Crossy Road for years now and I don’t think that’s going to change any time soon. It’s always fun to try and get a new high score, especially with all the different characters there are.

But what about you? What mobile games have you played, or still play, that are your favorites? Which game or games do you keep going back to? Let me know!



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Google say dark mode coming to future version of Android

Android figure large

As more and more smartphones come to market with OLED displays, many Android owners have been clamoring for Google to add a dark mode to Android. Now it looks like Google is finally going to do just that.

Back in November 2017, someone posted in the Google Issue Tracker asking for Google to add a dark mode to Android 9.0. A Google employee said at the time that they shared that request with the engineering team and that they'd share more info as it became available.

Fast forward to February 2018 and the Googler has marked the issue as fixed and said that a Google engineering team has added a dark mode. "It will be available in a future Android release," the employee added.

There aren't really any other details about Android's dark mode right now, but this is still exciting news. One of the benefits of OLED displays is that you aren't using as much energy to power a black screen compared to an LCD, so a dark mode that has mostly black or dark elements could help conserve energy. Plus, sometimes you just want to have a dark UI rather than a blindingly white one.

It's unclear when Google will officially add dark mode to Android, but it is expected that Android P will be released later this year, so maybe we'll see it then. Will you use Android's dark mode when Google adds it?



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Google Assistant will soon learn new languages and Routines feature

Google Assistant Pixel XL

Google Assistant is growing in a big way.

Google today announced some new features for Google Assistant. The company says that Google Assistant will be available in more than 30 languages by the end of 2018, up from the eight languages that it currently supports.

Some of the new languages that Google Assistant will learn include Danish, Dutch, Hindi, Indonesian, Norwegian, Swedish, and Thai.

Google Assistant will also learn to be multilingual this year, meaning you'll be able to speak to it in more than one language and it'll understand you.

Google is also bringing Routines to Google Assistant. Starting next week, you'll be able to use six routines that'll help you get multiple things done with one command. For example, you can say "Hey Google, I'm home" and your Google Assistant will turn on your lights, share your home reminders, play music, and more.

Also coming next week are location-based reminders for your smart speaker. This feature is already available on phones, but next week you'll be able to tell your Google Home to remind you to get milk at the grocery store and when you get there, the Google Assistant on your phone will remind you.

Finally, Google says that it's working with device makers and carriers to make Google Assistant better. Through the Assistant Mobile OEM program, Google is helping device makers to build deeper integrations into their devices with Google Assistant. Soon, integrations on devices from LG, Sony, and Xiaomi will be available.

Meanwhile, the Assistant Carrier program will help Google Assistant users get more details on their service, such as getting customer support and adding new services. Sprint, Koodo, Telus, and Vodafone are already working on integrations with Google Assistant.



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Sony Xperia XZ2 and XZ2 Compact leak out ahead of MWC

Sony Xperia XZ2 image leak

Lots of manufacturers will debut new smartphone hardware at MWC next week, Sony included. But it looks like Sony's surprise has been ruined thanks to a new leak.

The Sony Xperia XZ2 and Xperia XZ2 Compact have been leaked by VentureBeat. The device you see above is the Xperia XZ2, which is the larger of the pair with its 5.7-inch 1920x1080 display. The XZ2 Compact reportedly features a 5-inch 1920x2080 screen.

The bigger XZ2 also includes glass on its front and back with an aluminum frame sandwiched in the middle. There's a 19-megapixel rear camera with f/1.8 aperture and 4K HDR video capture and a rear fingerprint reader on the XZ2, stereo speakers on the front, a haptic feedback system that syncs vibrations to the sounds being played, and a Snapdragon 845.

Powering the XZ2 is a 3,180mAh battery that can be recharged over USB-C or using wireless charging. On the software side, Android 8.0 Oreo is preloaded.

Switching over to the smaller Xperia XZ2 Compact, there's the same Snapdragon 845 processor, 19-megapixel rear camera, rear fingerprint reader, and stereo speakers (but no haptic feedback system). The Xperia XZ2 Compact's battery is a bit smaller, coming in at 2,870mAh, and it lacks the wireless charging found in the standard XZ2.

Both phones are expected to be announced at MWC next week, with a release happening in March. There are no details on pricing just yet.

The Xperia XZ2 looks to have an improved design compared to other Sony flagships we've seen in recent years. It looks to have a tall display like many other new flagships, and while its bezels aren't the slimmest on the market, they are an improvement over Sony's previous offerings. After years of using larger bezels with its Omnibalance design, it's exciting to see Sony switching things up a bit.



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Free Video Converter

Fire up Free Video Converter and you'll immediately notice its incredibly simple interface. This is an indication of the fact that it's very easy to use, offering you the opportunity to convert videos in a wide range of formats.

While there is support for a lot of formats for input, when it comes to the formats you can convert to, you're rather more limited – just AVI, MPEG, DVD and iOS's native video format. You can also rip the audio and save it as a separate MP3 file. The beauty of the program is that there's no need for any prior experience,

While this software is free to use, it's more of an extensive trial than a full program – there's a very strong push to get you to upgrade to the premium version. The upgrade means that there are no ads to endure, and nor are there any watermarks on the videos you convert.

The fact that these are added to video created in the free version will be off-putting to some people – and it certainly rules out using the free version for anything professional – there will be others who see it as little more than a minor inconvenience.

User experience

There's no faulting Free Video Converter when it comes to ease of use. Just select the video or videos you want to convert, select the format you want to convert to from the drop-down menu, and then specify the output quality. That's all there is to it. In terms of extras, there's nothing to think about.

You can queue up multiple files, but when it comes to options, the only things you can tweak are the output folder and the way output files are named. For people looking for nothing more than a basic conversion tool, this is perfect; anyone more demanding may find the simplicity frustrating.

The competition



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HandBrake

Originally a Mac-only title, HandBrake ultimately made its way to PC users where it found an audience eager to lap up its capabilities.

As its heart, this is a video encoding tool, and this includes the ability to rip DVDs – a great addition to the program – but it's the video conversion side of things that we're interested in.

You can get quick results by simply loading up a video into the program and then using one of the many presets in the side panel to convert to different formats with various settings in place. Better, however, is to work through the numerous tabs in the Output Setting section, customizing precise encoding settings, apply effects, cropping overly large videos, tweaking frame rates, changing codecs and much more.

This is where HandBrake separates the beginners from the experts. There's little attempt to explain the video encoding terminology, so if you are unfamiliar with the jargon, you're going to have to do a little research.

But before long you'll be adding subtitles and editing sound settings in addition to the main video-related options. As video encoding can be a time-consuming process, it's good to see that there's a queuing feature, and the batch conversion tool can be used to encode a folder full of videos in one fell swoop.  

User experience

There's no getting away from the fact that HandBrake will look somewhat intimidating to many people. While some video tools take steps to guide you through the conversion process, HandBrake isn't ashamed of the fact that it is hugely powerful and packed with features, and this mean sacrificing user-friendliness to some extent – although there are a handful of presets available for many options.

With a little perseverance, you can squeeze a lot from HandBrake, but you'll need to work for it. In order to get the very best output, you'll need to manually work through quite a number of settings, but the results mean that it really is worthwhile.

The competition



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