Snapchat Spectacles: Everything you need to know

Tired of staring at your phone and ignoring your surroundings in order to stay connected? Well, Snapchat (now Snap Inc., technically) has the answer. The company’s Spectacles sunglasses have lit up the internet, a result of both the product’s unique nature and its initial limited availability.

Now that Spectacles can be purchased online, avid snappers will no doubt have lots of questions about the fashion-forward eye candy, so let’s not waste time. Scroll down to learn more about Spectacles.

How to find a pair

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Spectacles (available in black, coral, or teal) went on sale in late 2016, and could only be purchased using a Snapchat Snapbot vending machine, or from the dedicated pop-up store in New York. That has all changed over the past months, and Spectacles are now much easier to find and buy. If the cool tech eyewear is for you, then Spectacles can be purchased for $130 on the Spectacles website, plus taxes and shipping. From July 19, Spectacles can be purchased through Amazon for the same price, and in all the official colors.

In early June, Snap Inc. launched Spectacles in the U.K., after first selling them only in the United States. All three colors are sold through the local Spectacles website for 130 British pounds. Also on July 19, Amazon U.K. started to sell Spectacles, just like in the United States.

Just a few days later, Snap debuted a pop-up shop in a brick and mortar location — and not just any brick and mortar location. The social media company chose none other than the famed London department store Harrods to become the first in-person vendor of the Spectacles (previously, you could only buy the glasses online or through a Snapbot vending machine).

The kiosk doesn’t really integrate much technology, surprisingly enough. Rather, there’s just a mirror for you to check out how the Spectacles look, and an Android phone that displays the sorts of 360-degree videos you can record with the eyewear.

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Snap’s pop-up Snapbot location in New York City. The store closed on February 19.

Before you buy

Well, it goes without saying, you will need an iOS or Android phone running Snapchat in order to use Spectacles. If you aren’t already a Snapchat user or you find it confusing, we don’t think Spectacles will change that outlook.

Note: You will also need to be using an iPhone 5 or newer that’s running at least iOS 8, or an Android device that’s running at least Android 4.3 (Jelly Bean) with Bluetooth Low Energy and Wi-Fi Direct.

However, there are other things to keep in mind. Spectacles isn’t one-size-fits-all. For one of our editors, the Spectacles felt small and tight on the face. Snap says this can be adjusted by an optician, but be careful: applying heat or water to where the electronics are (in the front of the frame) may fry them. If Spectacles feels loose, Snap suggests tightening the screw of each temple – where the arm joins the lens frame.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to try them before you buy. If you decide you don’t like Spectacles after you receive one, Snap offers a 30-day return policy, provided you have a receipt and your pair isn’t damaged or altered. You can also exchange for a new pair if you encounter any problems that you can’t troubleshoot.

If you wear prescription glasses, you can swap out the Spectacles lenses for ones that match your prescription. An optician needs to do this for you.

Snap has released news special edition Spectacles, such as a pair designed to be compatible with goggles. There’s also a secret project in the works that involves augmented reality.

What’s in the box?

The Spectacles comes inside a magnetically-sealed, wedge-shaped case in Snap’s trademark yellow. For a glasses case it is somewhat large and hefty – you probably wouldn’t want to carry it around in your coat pocket. It’s made of a soft material that should protect the Spectacles in case of accidental drops. Inside, you’ll also fine a USB charging cord.

The case also doubles as a portable charging cradle. When seated inside the case, contact points at the joint of the Spectacles’ left arm (when folded) connect magnetically. One end of the cord ($10 for a replacement) is then connected to the case, while the other end has a standard USB connector for plugging into a computer, portable battery, or wall charger. The cord can also connect directly to the Spectacles, eliminating the need to use the case. Once the cord is attached and charging, you will see LEDs light up. Snap recommends using a USB wall charger, however, there isn’t one included.

Inside the case is a built-in battery that can be used for on-the-go, standalone recharging. When fully charged, the case can recharge a pair of Spectacles up to four times. Without the case, it takes approximately 90 minutes to fully charge a pair of Spectacles using a wall outlet, according to Snap. To see how much juice is left, double-tapping on the side of the left arm (where the shutter button is) will light up a number of LEDs that correspond to the percentage of battery life left. You can also find battery info via the Spectacles menu in the Snapchat app.

Double-tap on the side of Spectacles, and the front LEDs illuminate to show battery life. (Credit: Snap Inc.)

Snap says the Spectacles’ battery should last a day or 100 snaps on a single charge (one Snap is considered one 10-second video), but we’ve seen reports that indicate battery life is much shorter. If you use the Spectacles often, you may want to bring along the case.

Low battery indicator inside the frame. (Credit: Snap Inc.)

Unlike regular sunglasses, Spectacles requires extra care. Do not use one in water.

Wells Fargo accidentally leaks 1.4 gigabytes of information on high net worth clients

Why it matters to you

Wells Fargo is having a tough time of things these days, and this accidental leak is just the latest faux pas.

The latest high profile leak to make headlines wasn’t the result of an attack, a security breach, or even a bug. Rather, the leak of thousands of sensitive documents from embattled bank Wells Fargo was the result of an accident. As the New York Times reported, “Wells Fargo … turned over — by accident, according to the bank’s lawyer — a vast trove of confidential information about tens of thousands of the bank’s wealthiest clients.”

It is estimated that a staggering 50,000 individual customers had their data inadvertently shared with lawyers as part of 1.4 gigabytes of files (on a CD, no less) that Wells Fargo willingly turned over. And that data included quite a bit of sensitive information, including customers’ names, social security numbers, the size of their investment portfolio, and the fees the banks charged. The majority of the affected customers are clients of Wells Fargo Advisors, the branch of the bank that serves high-net-worth investors.

Initially, the documents requested from Wells Fargo were part of a defamation lawsuit against a bank employee, and were intended to be no more than a few emails and documents directly related to the case. But clearly, lawyers for Gary Sinderbrand, the employee in question, received much more than they bargained for. According to the Times, “The files were handed over … with no protective orders and no written confidentiality agreement in place between [a former employee’s] lawyers and Wells Fargo’s.”

That means that it would be totally legal for the recipients of these files to simply release the materials or include them in legal findings, making them publicly available.

So how did this happen? According to Bressler, Amery & Ross, the law firm Wells Fargo hired to deal with the case, was working with an outside vendor who apparently failed to adequately vet the documents to ensure that only necessary files were being sent over. Lawyer Angela Turiano called the disclosure was “inadvertant” and in an email exchange, noted, “Obviously this was done in error and we would request that you return the CD asap so that it can be properly redacted.”

Lawyers for Sinderbrand noted that the former employee plans on keeping the CD and its contents confidential. “We are continuing to evaluate his legal rights and responsibilities,” laywers said. “Wells Fargo has not identified what specific documents it asserts were inadvertently exposed.”

Verizon slowed down YouTube, Netflix, and other video streaming services as part of a “test”

Why it matters to you

Network regulation by carriers may make it harder for you watch streaming video online — just as Game of Thrones is getting good.

Subscribe to Netflix and stream movies over Verizon? Chances are you were throttled. On Friday, the internet provider acknowledged that it capped customers’ speeds to 10Mbps this week as part of a “video optimization test.”

“We’ve been doing network testing over the past few days to optimize the performance of video applications on our network,” a Verizon spokesperson told Ars Technica. “The testing should be completed shortly. The customer video experience was not affected.”

Verizon said that the experiment, which used a new “video optimization system” designed to slow down streams from specific video sources, was temporary, and that the quality of video shouldn’t have been affected. But some YouTube users on Reddit and Howard Forums reported excessive buffering, longer-than-average loading times, and other visual issues brought on by Verizon’s throttling.

At least two Verizon subscribers observed reduced speeds in the YouTube app’s “stats for nerds” section.

“YouTube is being throttled to 10Mbps as well,” one person wrote on Thursday. “In the ‘stats for nerds’ it would load at roughly 1,250KBps which translates to 10Mbps. Put the VPN on and that number tripled easily. Didn’t have an issue playing 1080p in 60fps, though.”

“Confirmed here too,” another person wrote. “1440p videos are throttled at a constant 9.95Mbps. I wasn’t even able to keep up and buffered at a few points.”

Verizon’s traffic-shaping would appear to skirt the FCC’s net neutrality rules, which generally outlaw throttling. But Verizon says that the test fell within the bound’s of the FCC’s exceptions, which allow carriers to impose limitations as long as they’re (1) metered out equally across services, and (2) imposed for the purposes of network management.

“We deliver whatever the content provider gives us,” a Verizon spokesperson said. “We’re always looking for ways to optimize our network without impacting our customers’ experience.”

As Ars Technica notes, Verizon’s throttling wasn’t severe enough to impact most subscribers’ experiences. Netflix says that its highest mobile quality setting, Unlimited, “may use up to 1GB per 20 minutes or more depending on your device and network speeds.” Assuming the download rate is relatively consistent, a connection of less than 7Mbps — much slower than the 10Mbps limit to which Verizon subjected subscribers — would be sufficient.

Until last year, Netflix throttled its own video streams on AT&T and Verizon in order to help users stay under their data caps. But it changed when it began letting users choose from several different quality settings.

It’s not the first time an internet provider has been caught imposing caps on services. In 2008, Comcast began throttling — and in some cases blocking altogether — peer-to-peer (P2P) BitTorrent traffic on its network. The cable provider initially denied responsibility for the reduced speeds, but later acknowledged in a memo to the FCC that it had “engaged in traffic management techniques” in order to “ensure a high-quality, reliable Internet experience.”

In 2009, it agreed to settle a class-action lawsuit brought on by angry customers for $16 million.

Spotify is being hit with yet another two lawsuits involving copyright infringement

Why it matters to you

It may be your favorite music service, but it’s certainly not popular among songwriters or the court system. Spotify faces another couple lawsuits.

It may be the most popular music streaming service in the world, but that won’t be a compelling defense for Spotify now that it’s being hit with yet another two lawsuits. Back in May, the wildly popular music platform settled a $200 million class-action lawsuit from songwriters for $43 million, but the company is far from out of the woods. Two new lawsuits were launched earlier this week in Nashville, Tennessee, and they could certainly put a wrinkle in Spotify’s plans to IPO this year.

The new lawsuits come a couple months after its most recent court battle, but it’s clear that when it comes to copyright law, Spotify still has a lot to learn. One of the new cases being brought against Spotify comes from songwriter Bob Gaudio, who claims that famous songs like Can’t Take My Eyes Off You and Rag Doll are being distributed without proper licensing.

Bluewater Music Services Corporation brings the second case against Spotify — the publishing rights company claims that “anything less than the maximum $150,000 statutory damage award for each of the Infringed Works involved herein would encourage infringement, amount to a slap on the wrist, and reward a multibillion dollar company, about to go public, that rules the streaming market through a pattern of willful infringement on a staggering scale.”

While Spotify has certain licensing deals and has purchased some blanket licenses, individual songs that are owned by publishers and songwriters aren’t necessarily covered by these licenses. Every time one of those songs is played, the writers are meant to get a payout. But Spotify has admitted that finding each of those writers has proved a “daunting” task, and is one that the company apparently doesn’t always complete. And that’s getting Spotify in a lot of hot water.

GM is putting app developers directly in the driver’s seat

GM is giving developers a fast lane to make it easier to build connected car apps for infotainment systems. 

The automaker is offering up its next-generation infotainment software development kit (NGI SDK) to the general development community with a new twist: App makers will actually be able to test their creations IRL with the new Dev Client program.

The automaker claims it’s the first time a car company is giving developers a shot to work on their apps in a real production vehicle this early in the process. The friendlier, more open platform could turn the GM dashboard into a new space for connected car innovation — if it catches on with developers.    

“By introducing GM Dev Client, we’re giving developers the missing link they need to finalize their applications,” said John McFarland, director of Global Digital Experience in a release.

The app creation process is streamlined, with an open developers network ready for new applicants. Once they’re ready to make something, developers can download the new SDK, which has been available since January, to build out their app and begin emulating the in-car environment to kick things off.   

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Once an app design goes through GM’s internal review process, it can be downloaded to the developer’s own car for real-world testing. App makers will have to have at least one friend in the car with them, however, since safety features kick in so that a connected laptop can only be used in the passenger seat while a car is moving. 

GM is also planning to offer the SDK with a new set of templated frameworks, like a media player layout or a point of interest layout, to give developers a more focused starting point for projects. Those should roll out by the end of the year, according to the company.

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Melbourne to host its first vinyl-pressing plant in over 30 years

Why it matters to you

Records are making a resurgence, and to keep up with this nostalgia-based demand, countries are opening up new vinyl-pressing facilities for the first time in decades.

If you’re looking for evidence to support the cyclical nature of history, look no further than the good ol’ vinyl record. For a solid seven decades between the 1920’s and the 1990’s, the record was a popular form of storing and playing music. But with the advent of digital technology, these discs gradually lost their appeal. Now, it would appear that our nostalgia has gotten the better of us, and we’re turning once again to the once-abandoned medium. And that means that we need more record-pressing facilities. Luckily, Australia is in the process of opening its first modern vinyl pressing plant in over 30 years, and it’s all thanks to Program Records.

As it stands, there are only 48 record-pressing facilities in the world, 18 of which are located in the U.S. The remaining 30 are scattered around the world, but soon, that number will grow. Program Records is focusing on “supporting the local music scene backed by a data-driven and highly efficient production facility,” the company said in a press release. The new facility will come complete with high-tech WarmTone presses made by Viryltech in Toronto, as well as a new plating and stamper-making system. Program Records also boasts experienced mastering and lacquer cutting in its upcoming factory.

“We want to make great records, support the Australian music scene, and have fun along the way,” Program Records’ Steve Lynch.

As per the Program Records website, the new plant will find a home in Melbourne’s northern suburbs and will double as an event space, hosting launches and other musical acts.

Australia, however, is not the only country that will soon be getting a new record plant. A couple Asian nations are joining in on the fun as well. In fact, South Korea recently opened its very first vinyl-pressing plant in over a decade. Machang Music & Pictures now has a facility in Seongsu-dong, eastern Seoul, earlier this month, which could mark the return of the vinyl records industry in the country. This announcement came shortly after Sony revealed that it would start pressing records again for the first time in nearly three decades by opening a new plant in Japan’s Shizuoka Prefecture in March 2018.

The Program Records facility in Melbourne is slated for an early 2018 opening as well.

Verizon admits to throttling Netflix and YouTube

Why it matters to you

Network regulation by carriers may make it harder for you watch streaming video online — just as Game of Thrones is getting good.

Subscribe to Netflix and stream movies over Verizon? Chances are you were throttled. On Friday, the internet provider acknowledged that it capped customers’ speeds to 10Mbps this week as part of a “video optimization test.”

“We’ve been doing network testing over the past few days to optimize the performance of video applications on our network,” a Verizon spokesperson told Ars Technica. “The testing should be completed shortly. The customer video experience was not affected.”

Verizon said that the experiment, which used a new “video optimization system” designed to slow down streams from specific video sources, was temporary, and that the quality of video shouldn’t have been affected. But some YouTube users on Reddit and Howard Forums reported excessive buffering, longer-than-average loading times, and other visual issues brought on by Verizon’s throttling.

At least two Verizon subscribers observed reduced speeds in the YouTube app’s “stats for nerds” section.

“YouTube is being throttled to 10Mbps as well,” one person wrote on Thursday. “In the ‘stats for nerds’ it would load at roughly 1,250KBps which translates to 10Mbps. Put the VPN on and that number tripled easily. Didn’t have an issue playing 1080p in 60fps, though.”

“Confirmed here too,” another person wrote. “1440p videos are throttled at a constant 9.95Mbps. I wasn’t even able to keep up and buffered at a few points.”

Verizon’s traffic-shaping would appear to skirt the FCC’s net neutrality rules, which generally outlaw throttling. But Verizon says that the test fell within the bound’s of the FCC’s exceptions, which allow carriers to impose limitations as long as they’re (1) metered out equally across services, and (2) imposed for the purposes of network management.

“We deliver whatever the content provider gives us,” a Verizon spokesperson said. “We’re always looking for ways to optimize our network without impacting our customers’ experience.”

As Ars Technica notes, Verizon’s throttling wasn’t severe enough to impact most subscribers’ experiences. Netflix says that its highest mobile quality setting, Unlimited, “may use up to 1GB per 20 minutes or more depending on your device and network speeds.” Assuming the download rate is relatively consistent, a connection of less than 7Mbps — much slower than the 10Mbps limit to which Verizon subjected subscribers — would be sufficient.

Until last year, Netflix throttled its own video streams on AT&T and Verizon in order to help users stay under their data caps. But it changed when it began letting users choose from several different quality settings.

It’s not the first time an internet provider has been caught imposing caps on services. In 2008, Comcast began throttling — and in some cases blocking altogether — peer-to-peer (P2P) BitTorrent traffic on its network. The cable provider initially denied responsibility for the reduced speeds, but later acknowledged in a memo to the FCC that it had “engaged in traffic management techniques” in order to “ensure a high-quality, reliable Internet experience.”

In 2009, it agreed to settle a class-action lawsuit brought on by angry customers for $16 million.

YouTube’s Video Editor is ‘going away’ soon because no one is using it

Why it matters to you

If you happen to be one of the few people still using YouTube’s Video Editor, you’ll need to wrap up any projects before September 20.

YouTube is ditching its Video Editor tool because hardly anyone uses it. The video-streaming giant said the tool will “go away” on September 20, so if you’re one of those rare few who does still crank it up, you’ll need to make sure your project is done and dusted by that date.

Launched in 2010, the web-based Video Editor offers basic tools that allow you to create a sequence with your clips before uploading it to the streaming site.

The Google-owned outfit said it has seen “limited usage” of the feature, prompting the company to take it offline in a couple of months.

“You can download your own videos from YouTube in 720p or use Google Takeout to retrieve your original files, in case you are looking to remix your uploaded videos into a new video,” the company outfit pointed out in a post announcing Video Editor’s imminent closure.

However, YouTube pointed out that it is keeping Enhancements as part of its Video Manager, which lets you make improvements to your video via things like trimming, blurring, and filters. You’ll also be able to continue making use of the audio library, slow-motion options, subtitling tool, and end screens, among other features.

In the same announcement, YouTube said it was also removing its Photo slideshow tool on September 20. Like its Video Editor, YouTubers have also shown little interest in the offering.

Other options

The company noted that anyone wishing to edit videos before uploading them to the streaming site can make use of a slew of free and paid offerings from a range of companies. There are plenty of smartphone-based video editing apps for casual hobbyists looking to knock something together in a few taps, while more fully featured options are available for desktops, too.

Digital Trends recently tracked down the best free and easy-to-use editing software on the market for anyone interested in sprucing up their videos. iPhone and Mac users, for example, can make use of iMovie, a solid piece of Apple software with a range of features that has expanded gradually over the years.

The VDSC Free Video Editor is a useful option for Windows users, though admittedly it does have a bit of a clunky interface.

Cross-platform choices include Lightworks and Avidemux, with the former offering the most features among the software listed here.

Lyft is working on self-driving technology of its own in a new facility

Why it matters to you

If you were part of the #DeleteUber campaign, Lyft’s latest move in self-driving tech will come as welcome news.

Lyft has been coming after Uber’s crown at full force, and it’s showing no signs of slowing. The ridesharing company has continued to charge through the door that’s been left wide open by Uber, and in its latest move, has begun developing self-driving technology of its own. On Friday, the firm announced that it was venturing into autonomous vehicles, and has opened a new self-driving-research center in Palo Alto, California. In the next few weeks, Lyft expects to hire a number of new engineering and technical folks to staff this new facility, and hopefully, overtake Uber as the leader in the future of transportation.

“We aren’t thinking of our self-driving division as a side project. It’s core to our business,” Luc Vincent, vice president of autonomous technology at Lyft, wrote in a blog post. “That’s why 10 percent of our engineers are already focused on developing self-driving technology — and we’ll continue to grow that team in the months ahead.”

This is by no means Lyft’s first foray into the self-driving space. Earlier in 2017, the company created the world’s first open self-driving platform. Heralded as “the most efficient way to bring your autonomous technology to market,” this platform set the tone for the kind of approach Lyft has taken in terms of autonomous tech. Whereas its primary rival Uber largely works on its own when it comes to self-driving practices, Lyft has been more than happy to collaborate.

“We want to bring the whole industry together with this, and we think there’s a unique opportunity in time right now for Lyft to become a leader while doing it,” said Raj Kapoor, Lyft’s chief strategy officer, as reported in the New York Times.

And it certainly seems as though there are plenty of takers when it comes to Lyft’s offer of collaboration. Partners that have already signed on to work alongside the company include Waymo, NuTonomy, Jaguar, Land Rover, and General Motors. And while we don’t know much about the terms of these partnerships, they’re all dedicated to working alongside one another to make self-driving cars the cars of the future.

But don’t worry — Lyft assures its riders that it will “always operate a hybrid network, with rides from both human-driven and self-driving cars.” Ultimately, Lyft says that it hopes to usher in a new generation in which self-driving cars make for cheaper and more efficient transportation.

Making sense of it all: Smartphone specs and terms explained

When shopping for a new smartphone, there are tons of questions you’ll have racing through your mind. How much battery life can I expect? How good is the screen? How well will it handle multitasking? Devices have gotten so complex, there’s a litany of technical terms and jargon out there that can overwhelm even the experts among us. With the lightning-quick pace of advancement in the mobile space, there’s new language seemingly popping up every day. Fortunately, we’re here to help. In this article, we’ll explain a host of smartphone specs and terms, with real-world examples to help you make sense of it all.

Processor

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This is the spec you’ll probably see most frequently to denote performance. The processor is really the heart and soul of your phone. Different processors are usually classed by speed, which is expressed in gigahertz, or GHz. Additionally, modern processors are made up of multiple cores, which are individual processing units that can handle separate tasks. Duties can be split among the cores, allowing for parallel computing, and thus, faster output. Processors, specifically for smartphones and other mobile devices, are also termed “system-on-chips” or “chipsets” because they are usually a collection of multiple components on a single integrated circuit, like the device’s radios for calls and data, as well as the graphics processing unit.

Simply put, the faster a processor is and the more cores it has, the faster your phone should be. Here are some more specific descriptions of terms related to processors.

Manufacturers and brands (i.e. Qualcomm, MediaTek, etc.)

There are just a handful of companies that make processors for mobile phones. Qualcomm is the biggest, and they’re responsible for the Snapdragon series. Most devices running Google’s Android operating system feature Snapdragon chipsets, and Qualcomm has broken up its products into four classes: 200, 400, 600, and 800. In Qualcomm’s naming convention, the processors get faster as the numbers get bigger. So if you read that a phone contains a “Snapdragon 835,” you’re looking at Qualcomm’s top-of-the-line processor. Conversely, a “435” is a relatively lower-end chipset.

MediaTek is the second-largest producer of processors in Android phones. Devices running their chipsets are typically more common in Asia, though you can certainly find products in the Americas and Europe containing their hardware. MediaTek’s high-end processors are known as the Helio X series, with the Helio P series slotting just underneath. The rest of its offerings have less remarkable names, beginning with MT67, followed by some more numbers. As you’d expect, the bigger the number, the more powerful the processor — so an MT6753 outclasses the MT6738, for example.

There are other companies that produce processors too, like Huawei with its Kirin brand, as well as giants like Samsung and Apple that produce chipsets exclusively for their own products. Samsung’s processors are dubbed “Exynos,” while Apple has adopted a naming scheme of “A,” followed by a number. Apple’s processors are more generational in nature, so while the same rule of bigger number equals better performance applies, the A10 is also two years newer than the A8. There’s also the “X” series, like the A10X and A9X — though these are reserved for iPads and have yet to appear in a smartphone.

As an example of three high-end phones with relatively similar performance, the Samsung Galaxy S8 uses a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 in North American models, and Samsung’s own Exynos 8895 internationally. Apple’s iPhone 7 uses the company’s own A10 chip, while the Meizu Pro 6 is one of only a few phones to use MediaTek’s Helio X25.

GPU (Graphics Processing Unit)

Packaged with a mobile processor is a graphics processing unit, or GPU. The GPU is responsible for handling a device’s visual output, particularly where the creation of three-dimensional images is concerned. It usually comes into play with video games and, more recently, augmented reality applications  (where the device “augments” the feed coming from its camera with computer-drawn objects and effects).

Because the GPU is packaged within the processor on a smartphone, you won’t find many straight comparisons being made between GPUs in different devices. For example, any phone using a Snapdragon system-on-chip will also employ one of Qualcomm’s Adreno GPUs. Again, the higher number is better, so going back to the Snapdragon 835 as an example, the GPU used is Qualcomm’s Adreno 540. In terms of measuring GPU power, floating point operations per seconds, expressed as GFLOPS, are typically a better indicator of performance.