Monthly Archives: August 2018

Android

Slightly less powerful, less expensive BlackBerry KEY2 LE announced at IFA 2018

As part of the IFA 2018 event underway in Berlin, TCL Communication announced the launch of the BlackBerry KEY2 LE. The new device is slightly less expensive than the BlackBerry KEY2, something TCL achieved through some targeted changes. Those changes bring the starting price down to $399 making it a bit easier for fans of […]

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Android

Slight less powerful, less expensive BlackBerry KEY2 LE announced at IFA 2018

As part of the IFA 2018 event underway in Berlin, TCL Communication announced the launch of the BlackBerry KEY2 LE. The new device is slightly less expensive than the BlackBerry KEY2, something TCL achieved through some targeted changes. Those changes bring the starting price down to $399 making it a bit easier for fans of […]

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Android

Huawei’s AI Cube isn’t a cube, but it is smart and packs 4G capabilities

Huawei has announced their brand new AI Cube at IFA 2018, and the most obvious thing about it is that it isn’t a cube. No, seriously. The cylindrical smart speaker is called the AI Cube. I don’t get it, either. Okay, so maybe they’re just bad at naming things, but Huawei has still managed to […]

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Android

Anker updates their Soundcore Flare S+ bluetooth speaker with Alexa compatibility

Anker’s Soundcore speaker offers a stellar 360-degree sound experience with some cool flashing lights, and at IFA 2018 they’ve made the product even better. You’re still getting a great sounding speaker with 25-watts of power, but there’s more smart stuff to love here. In addition to the customizable LED lighting ring and IPX7 waterproofing, the […]

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Android

Master Python, HTML, CSS, and computer science on the cheap

It’s never to late to get started on a new hobby or career path. Finding what resonates in you is important, and for some people, that means creating and tinkering. To create in today’s world that often revolves around coding, or computer science.

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Topics range from basic Python programming all the way up to creating chatbots and working with Alexa. Additionally, there tons of stuff on jQuery, CSS, HTML, JavaScript, and more.

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Android

Find your perfect match-ress. Take the Helix Sleep quiz and save up to $150 off this Labor Day

In a perpetually stimulating world full of smartphones, computer screens, and now VR, people are turning to caffeinated beverages, nootropics, and meditation sessions to recharge their energy reserves.  But there is simply no replacement for a good old fashioned night’s sleep – and a high quality mattress is the foundation to achieve that healthy lifestyle.

That’s the core concept behind Helix Sleep, a rising star and unique player in the mattress startup community. Helix matches each type of sleeper to his or her ideal mattress to provide the most comfortable bed possible. Prefer your mattress soft or firm? Sleep on you side, back or stomach? Helix has a mattress designed for every individual.

This Labor Day weekend, Helix is offering a rare and hefty $100-$150 off their mattresses. To take advantage, you can visit their online site before Tuesday.

But how does Helix even make the connection between sleeper type and ideal mattress? Using their proprietary Sleep Quiz that takes only two minutes to complete, Helix has created an easy-to-follow mattress shopping process.

Enjoy 100 nights to test out your mattress and a no-questions-asked return policy!

After taking the Sleep Quiz, you are matched with a mattress that was designed specifically for your sleeping preferences, e.g. ideal firmness, sleep position, support needs, and more.

Here are some of Helix’s mattresses built for specific types of sleepers:

The Dawn: For the back sleeper who prefers a harder surface

Perhaps you grew up camping and have nostalgia for laying outside under the stars. Designed with proprietary Helix Dynamic Foam and High-Grade Polyfoam, this mattress provides ergonomic support to accommodate a body that enjoys the supine position. Check out the Dawn here.

The Sunset: For the cuddly side sleeper who needs plush

For the more cuddly sleeper, this mattress features a Memory Plus Foam layer which supports the pressure points that side sleepers normally toss and turn to relieve with a plush, cloudlike feel. Eliminate those morning aches in your shoulders and hips, and check out the Sunset.

The Nightfall: For the person with a bigger figure

Designed for plus size customers who need maximum support and durability, the Nightfall has an additional layer of high density foam and is 12 inches tall to ensure the right amount of cradle and support. A blissful night of sleep awaits with The Nightfall.

In honor of Labor Day weekend, Helix is offering $100-$150 in savings. Head over to their site to get matched with a mattress sure to revolutionize your lifestyle.

Be warned, you may experience unprecedented energy levels and Helix takes full responsibility.

Helix Sleep also stands out for its emphasis on value — and you can rest easy knowing that you have 100 nights to test out your new mattress with a no-questions-asked return policy. Each mattress is delivered to your doorstep for free, built 100% in the USA, and sold at one third the price of traditional retail.

You can explore the simple possibility of upgrading to a Helix mattress by taking their short quiz, but don’t forget to take advantage of their Labor Day Weekend sale while it lasts – you’ll thank us later.

Android

Sony Xperia XZ3 officially unveiled at IFA 2018

Sony has taken the wraps off their latest entry into the high-end flagship level smartphone market with the launch of the Sony Xperia XZ3. From a hardware standpoint the Xperia XZ3 is competitive with other flagship phones on the market and depending on what one thinks of Sony specific technology, like their OLED screens, may […]

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Android

Alcatel 7 review

As phones continue to get better, we’re seeing some compelling options at the cheaper end of the market. Companies like Motorola have made a statement by producing very nice devices that can be had for the price of a nice steak dinner with the family.

Alcatel, much like Motorola, has plenty of experience making “cheap” but good devices. We’re now getting our first look at its newest “flagship” device the Alcatel 7. This isn’t a flagship in the normal sense, but it is the best and most expensive phone Alcatel released in 2018.

Alcatel sent over its Alcatel 7 for us to take a look at; we’ve used the device as a daily driver for the last few weeks. During this time, we’ve been using it on the MetroPCS network since the 7 is a Metro-exclusive device. You can walk into a store right now and pick one up for under $200.

Hardware

The Alcatel 7 is a bit of a trip down memory lane. While many companies work to put as many so-called premium materials in their devices today, the 7 doesn’t feature any. We’re reminded of the shiny plastic Samsung Galaxy S4 when we pick the device up.

The smooth plastic back is definitely a throwback and won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Sure, some will overlook the device for not featuring enough glass, but others will appreciate how durable this makes the device. We’ve seen enough of our share of problems with glass-backed phones to make us appreciate that this one can survive a fall.

One of the biggest issues we’ve had with the Alcatel 7 related directly to that plastic back. This thing is incredibly slippery. We have seen some devices that are worse in this respect (the Samsung Galaxy S6 comes to mind), but you will definitely want to grab a case for this phone if you want to avoid is slipping onto the floor. It didn’t really matter where this phone sat, it was always trying to slide.

The back of the device is dotted by a fingerprint scanner just below a dual camera sensor. The scanner is rougher than we’ve seen in other devices and threw us for a bit of a loop. It’s something we got used to eventually, but we never did get used to how painfully slow it is. After using Pixel and Huawei devices with lightning-quick scanners, this one felt like we were puttering along in the slow lane.

The camera, which we’ll touch on more in a little bit, is a dual 12 MP f/2.2 + 2 MP f/2.4 affair. It can record up to 1080p video at 30 fps, but that’s about it. It is flanked by a dual LED flash that does a pretty respectable job of lighting up a room. We’ve definitely seen worse.

Around front, things get a little more interesting. We’re treated to a 6-inch, 1080p display. The display follows the popular new 18:9 display ratio we’ve seen on phones for the last 18 months or so. We were really surprised at what a really nice display the Alcatel 7 has.

For this generation of devices, Alcatel went with its own in-house displays to cut down on some costs and it was a great move. Sure, you’re not going to be blown away like you would be on the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 (a phone 5x its price!), but considering this is a $180 device, we were impressed.

Colors look fantastic and pop right off the screen. Where some cheaper displays appear to have the display far below the digitizer, images felt forward and right in front of our eyes with the Alcatel 7. The only time we could really tell we were looking at a budget panel was some slight color shifting when looking at the device off-axis. Though that being said, the phone does get very bright outdoors and is very usable on all but the brightest of days. Low light scenarios were a bit different. We wish the display was able to get a little bit darker so it was a little easier to use late at night or first thing in the morning.

Above the display sits your normal selection of sensors and the front-facing camera. We really enjoyed front-facing flash for selfies, something that is bound to be a popular feature with younger individuals looking for a solid phone. Just beware, this thing gets BRIGHT and will leave you blinking for a few minutes after. Still, it’s a nice touch.

Another nice feature we’re seeing in more devices is fantastic buttons. The Alcatel 7 has wonderfully clicky buttons and a textured power button. Nothing ruins an experience quicker than mushy buttons that you have to think about when pressing. Alcatel’s choice of buttons here is great. They’re tactile, have great travel, and almost no wiggle. Sure, this might be a small thing, but its this attention to detail we really appreciate.

The top of the device hides an IR blaster that you’d be forgiven for forgetting about. It was trendy to stick these devices back in the HTC One M7 days, but that quickly died out. We love to see Alcatel keeping the idea alive here. It’s convenient to grab our phone, open up an app and have control over our cable box, television, or window-mounted air conditioning unit.

The opposite end of the device holds the USB type-C port and a speaker. We weren’t blown away by the sound quality of the speaker, but it was fine for a speaker call in a moderately loud situation. You aren’t going to stun anyone with how awesome music sounds coming out of this thing, but it’ll get the job.

And speaking of music coming out of this thing– yes– it does have a 3.5mm headphone jack!

Software

Cheaper Android devices are a mixed bag in terms of software. We see some like Nokia embracing stock Android. But, equally as often, we see others like Blu put really ridiculous skins on the phone.

Alcatel tries to walk a fine line here and does a pretty decent job.

After you get through the initial setup, you’re greeted by a launcher and icons that will make you roll your eyes. But, upon further inspection, there’s a lot to like here. Yes, the Joy Launcher is terrible and the icons are laughably bad but those are easily replaced. And hey, at least the Google pane is to the left of the homescreen, something we’d like to see more often.

The rest of the device is left unmolested by customization by Alcatel. Notifications, settings, and other important system apps look just like they would on your Pixel device. There are some added settings like Face Unlock (which I was never able to get to work despite repeated efforts), but you’ll feel at home here if you’ve ever owned a Nexus or Pixel device.

Where Alcatel and Metro go wrong is the apps it has included with the system. We’ve seen devices that have included more, but this definitely on the high side. The phone is loaded down with apps like Metro’s own “App Store”, MetroZONE, Lookout, Device Unlock, Hotspot, Name ID, myMetro, and more.

Metro PCS’ App Store application is nothing more than an advertisement. The app gives users links to suggested and promoted applications and does nothing more than link to the Play Store listings for these apps. It’s like Metro asked “How can we make some money?” and came up with this. It’s terrible and shouldn’t exist in the first place.

Another pretty terrible inclusion is the MetroZone app. The app aims to be a one-stop shop for all of your local news, movie times, events, gas prices and more.

I wish I had never opened this app.

The Alcatel 7 unit we have for review is now taken over by advertisements because of the MetroZone app. Every time we open up the device, we see an ad. They appear full screen until you close them, which doesn’t sound like a big deal until you quickly need to get some info from your device. It feels like I’m using Internet Explorer in 2007 without a popup blocker.

I think what honestly bugs me the most is this app doesn’t give me any information I didn’t already have access to. Weather applications are extremely popular. So are apps for gas prices and movie times. And then there are the sponsored blog posts it tries to get you to click on….

Ugh.

One addition that we did like is Alcatel’s Smart Manager. This app allows you to keep an eye on which apps are opening on startup and which apps are deep in hibernation. I’m not sure how useful it will be to most people but giving users more control over their devices is never a bad thing.

We also appreciated the power saving modes included. Most Android OEMs include some kind of lower power mode, but the Alcatel 7 has two. We have our normal power saving mode that kicks on when your battery gets low and limits background activity, throttles down your processor speed, and dims the screen.

Then we have an even more powerful mode that turns the wallpaper black, limits which apps can be launched and is designed to get the absolute most out of your device.

We love this restrictive power saving mode, but there seems to be a problem with its implementation on the Alcatel 7. Our unit constantly reloaded the power saving mode and therefore wouldn’t let us access anything. It took a full power cycle get out of the mode and we came away with a bit of a bad taste in our mouth. If we had been in an emergency situation with a dwindling battery, this could make the difference between getting help and not.

There are a ton of little quirks with the Alcatel 7’s software, but at its core, it sticks pretty close to stock. If you replace the launcher and disable some of the built-in apps, you could probably enjoy your time with the Alcatel 7 a little bit more than we did.

Performance

The Alcatel 7 is a budget device through and through. It features a MediaTek Helio P23 SoC clocked at 2.5GHz. The octa-core chip is not the fastest or most powerful out there and it shows in the day-to-day performance of the Alcatel 7.

We found tasks like opening apps or scrolling through lists frustrating. There is lag in almost all areas of the device. The system routinely drops frames during animations which leads to stuttering and a choppy feel. Android is heavily dependant on the device being able to render graphics and animation smoothly for an overall pleasing software experience and the Helio P23 really falls flat here.

But, it’s not all bad news. The Alcatel 7 reminds us a lot of that older car that takes a few cranks to get going, but once it does, is completely fine. We saw a ton of dropped frames and sluggish behavior after waking the phone up from a deep sleep, but once we used the device for more than a minute or so, we were good to go. Scrolling through Reddit or browsing Instagram was completely fine. It’s a weird issue, but one we were able to reliably produce.

Unfortunately, the bad news doesn’t stop there. The phone isn’t properly able to support the camera app because of how much lag is in the system. Remember the front-facing flash we mentioned? Well, almost every selfie we tried to snap with the flash enabled failed. The flash would light up, go dim again and we’d still be waiting on the camera shutter.

It is ridiculous for a phone in 2018 to behave like this. If Alcatel’s key demographic for this device is younger individuals looking for an inexpensive phone, it is really shooting itself in the foot with this terrible experience. I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but people like to take pictures of themselves and their friends with the front-facing camera and they don’t like to be embarrassed by terrible phone performance.

The Alcatel 7 features just 2 GB of RAM and this initially gave us pause going into this review. We routinely review devices with double or triple that amount of RAM and we were interested to see how full-fledged Android would perform with just 2 GB of RAM.

We have to say that we were pleasantly surprised. There were definitely apps that got pushed out of memory before they would on other devices with more RAM, but we never encountered an app being killed while used. We were also surprised to pick up the phone after a while and find some of our social media apps still in memory. Games are another story and die almost immediately, but that is to be expected.

If performance is somewhat disappointing, then battery life is the standout. The Alcatel 7 features a 4,000 mAh battery and supports quick charging. We were able to get well over a day’s worth of use with 40% to 50% of our battery left at the end of the day. The large battery capacity coupled with a weak processor and average display resolution really lended to some fantastic battery life. If you’re a regular user, we could easily see two days of battery life here.

Camera

Most people aren’t going to expect a camera experience that rivals a Samsung flagship on a $180 device. And they’d be right to temper their expectations.

The 12 MP + 2 MP main camera is nothing to write home about. Dynamic range is weak, auto-focus can be hit or miss and we see a lot of colors that are misrepresented. Not only that, pictures with bright light sources routinely look blown out, destroying many lovely outside shots.

Is it possible to take a good picture with the Alcatel 7? Sure. But, you’re going to have to adjust with the included Pro mode, and even then, we’d suggest just sticking them on social media. If you’re looking to pick this device up for your kid as their first device, you probably aren’t going to hear much complaining. But, if you’re used to higher end devices, you will probably be frustrated here.

Click here to view an album of Alcatel 7 camera samples on Google Photos

Conclusion

During our review period, I asked several people for their thoughts on the Alcatel 7. Almost universally, people thought the device felt pretty cheap. On its face, that’s not a great sign. But, when I asked those same people how much they thought the device would retail, I didn’t get any answers under $300. Sure, it might not feel premium, but Alcatel isn’t asking for a premium price either.

One area where the 7 shows its value is the display. We really can’t say enough how impressed we were with the panel on this device. We’ve seen devices that cost two to three times more with inferior displays. Since we spend our entire lives looking at screens now, it makes sense to pick a phone with a quality display and the Alcatel 7 won’t disappoint.

Unfortunately, the Alcatel 7 disappoints in enough areas that we’d suggest holding off if you’re used to the flagship lifestyle. The MediaTek processor in the Alcatel 7 just isn’t good enough to get the job done. We found the experience of using this phone very frustrating due to slowdowns and lag.

We’re also disappointed in the apps Metro and Alcatel loaded on the device. Some are pointless while some almost feel malicious like MetroZone. Sure, there aren’t a ton of these apps (and far less than you’d expect to see on a Samsung flagship), but they’re just plain bad. If you do decide to pick this phone up, I’d avoid these at all cost. Uninstall or disable where you can.

But these trade-offs aren’t enough to avoid this phone. There are few devices in a carrier store that carry a price tag under $200 and that makes the Alcatel 7 very attractive. If you’re picking this up for your kid or perhaps an older family member that needs a first smartphone, they’ll probably be fine with this.

Alcatel has a long history of making quality devices and they’ve done so here again. The Alcatel 7 certainly isn’t perfect, but it gets the job done.

Android

How to Unbrick Samsung Galaxy Note 9

When using a high-end Android based device it doesn’t mean that you won’t experience any software related issues. Because Android is an open-source platform that can be easily and quickly tweaked in different ways and by using mostly third-party apps and programs it’s quite easy to mess things up within the default Android core system. […]

Android

Google pulling Android Messages update is a breach of trust

Google recently pushed an update out that brought its new Material Theme and dark UI to Android Messages. Users were happy to see this new version of the app hit their phones. Unfortunately, the excitement was short lived. Less than 48 hours after the update, Google pulled the new UI back with no explanation via a server-side regression.

Downgrading a new version of an app isn’t uncommon. Developers find small bugs after the fact all the time and recommend users to revert back to the previous installation. However, these server-side changes by Google feel different. There’s a slight hint of betrayal.

The way the update is pulled makes a huge difference in how it’s viewed by the user. That’s because ultimately we, as users, should have full control over individual apps we install. Especially those that are already sitting in our app drawer. Google stripped us of this right when they made changes to Messages without the user’s consent.

I’m not one to make a fuss about the “big bad” Google. I’m normally OK with the company and the tradeoffs it offers me for data, etc. However, pulling back a service that was literally a different version with new features is a step too far for me.

This would be fine if I were running Android beta software and a settings element is removed or added, but taking the entire new Material Theme back from the Android faithful isn’t what a company like Google should be doing. You don’t see Apple doing something like this. If Tim Cook and friends don’t want you seeing a new version, then you simply don’t see it. They make sure that nothing is revealed to users until it’s ready for prime time. Or if it is a mistake, then Apple is more apt to make an official statement to its users that the app will be pulled or changed.

Honestly, that may be my biggest issue with these server-side changes. It’s the lack of transparency. Making changes in the background without notification or consent is just confusing. Hell, we see users running the exact same software version of applications but seeing completely different experiences on their phones. This shouldn’t be common practice for a company with the scale of Google.

We are happy to report that the new UI theme is back live for some users, but it doesn’t change the fact that the way it’s being implemented is more than murky. It might even be a little shady. Google needs to decide on a better way to reach its base with new features in its official apps. Pulling it after people are seeing it on devices without warning is a breach of trust. We deserve better. And we should demand better from Google when many of us are buying close to $1000 hardware running Android.