Pinterest’s camera search Lens gets a new look


Pinterest’s camera search tool, Lens, is getting a makeover today with some updated including the ability to zoom in and out and tap to focus, and making it easier to search with Lens from photos they’ve already taken.

Lens is very much a move to try to collapse the distance between the experience within Pinterest the app (or site) and the real world. Users point their camera at something and are looking for some additional information for it — such as a price tag, where to buy it, or what they can do with it. Many of Pinterest’s recent product updates are geared toward inching users closer and closer to that “do” moment. If it can get a user there organically, it can give advertisers a window into user behavior that they might not get on Facebook or Google.

By making Lens seem more and more like typical camera apps — say, Snap or just the camera app — Pinterest seems like it’s trying to make it fit more into the norms and behavior that you’d find in those other apps. And that’s not necessarily bad: these apps have been refined over many, many years and settled on a user experience that seems to stick with people. Dropping that friction and making Lens more appealing is low-hanging fruit for Pinterest.

Pinterest earlier this month said it raised $150 million at a $12.3 billion valuation. There wasn’t a major jump in valuation here, but that really has to do more with the expectations that were set in 2015 against the reality of running a new kind of advertising business that’s going up against Facebook and Google. The actual user growth and reported revenue numbers came short of what some leaked projections showed, implying that Pinterest had more to do if it were to meet a loftier valuation.

To be sure, it’s trying to do that, and Lens is a big part of that. Pinterest said that the financing round was geared toward improving its visual search technology. Pinterest’s visual search tools went from a moonlight project dovetailing on improvements in visual recognition algorithms — and the proliferation of GPUs — to being one of its primary pitches toward advertisers. That technology will soon be applied to its advertisements as well, lining up branded content against other kinds of Pins that are called up with its visual search tools and not just keywords.

It’ll still be an uphill battle. Pinterest’s pitch to advertisers may be getting increasingly difficult now that Snap’s stock price is getting clobbered. Pinterest is supposed to be a new generation of advertising that taps into the kind of user behavior that you don’t see on Facebook — following a user from all points of the buying cycle, from discovering something to eventually buying it. But it needs to make that jump from experiment to mainstay for brands. That’s going to come in the form of better advertising products, but it’s also going to come in the form of refining products that Pinterest can demonstrate magnify that opportunity for brands.

Rinse raises $14M in Series B funding to bring its laundry pick-up nationwide


Rinse, the San Francisco-based dry cleaning and laundry delivery service, has closed a $14M Series B round of funding.

This comes after a $6M Series A last year, meaning the startup has now raised about $23.5M in three rounds.

The round is being led by Partech Ventures, with participation from existing investors including Javelin Ventures, Arena Ventures, Accelerator Ventures, and Structure Capital.

Rinse was started in 2013, at the height of the on-demand boom. At the time companies like Washio (which is now shut down) offered to pick up your dry cleaning within an hour and return it the next day. But Rinse had a different model. Sticking to the belief that no one really needed their dry cleaning picked up within an hour, Rinse focused on nightly pickups between 8-10pm with standard return times (unless you wanted to pay extra for faster service).

This strategy seems to be working, as the money saved by not having to pay valets to sit around all day waiting for a laundry pick up has allowed them to expand margins and grow month-over-month revenues by double-digits since launch four years ago.

Another interesting differentiator – Rinse’s valets (who pick up and drop off your clothes) are part-time W2 employees as opposed to independent contractors like most on-demand startups used. Ajay Prakash, Co-Founder and CEO of Rinse explained this is important because these valets are often the only point of contact with a customer, and being salaried allows Rinse to invest more in training and customer service.

The startup has expanded slowly; after four years Rinse is only live in three cities (San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington D.C). But Prakash explained that this slow growth has allowed them to focus on quality over quantity, which sets them apart from other competitors when it comes to developing a sustainable relationship with customers.

While Rinse will use this funding for general company-wide expansion, the startup does plan to grow to 10 new markets, including New York, Chicago and Boston with the goal of eventually being a nationwide service.

Watch former Apple engineers and Scott Forstall discuss the creation of the iPhone


Last night at the Computer History Museum, former New York Times reporter John Markoff interviewed some of the original engineers who work on the first iPhone that was unveiled in January 2007. Hugo Fiennes, Nitin Ganatra, and Scott Herz all talked about their own experience working on this incredible project. Then, Scott Forstall looked back at his time at the company when he was leading software development.

Scott Forstall left the company in 2012 after the release of iOS 6. Less than a year later, Apple introduced iOS 7, the biggest redesign for the operating system. With that version, Apple moved away from the famous skeuomorphic apps and switched to flat design with a big emphasis on white space and transparent user interface elements.

While Forstall didn’t really comment on his departure and iOS 7, it’s still fascinating to hear him talk about the early days of the iPhone. (And yes, it looks like he’s wearing the same shirt in yesterday’s interview and during his last WWDC presentation in 2012 pictured above)

As for the three engineers on the first panel, it’s crazy to see that they only knew about one part of the iPhone but discovered many of the things that made the iPhone special when Steve Jobs used it for the first time on stage.

If you have a couple of hours, here’s the video of the event:

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Featured Image: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg/Getty Images

5 common Sony Xperia XZ Premium problems and how to fix them

The Sony Xperia XZ Premium is Sony’s top-of-the-line phone this year, and it boasts impressive hardware and specs. It hit retailers on June 19, but people in other parts of the world have already gotten their hands on the highly anticipated smartphone, allowing us to assemble some tips and tricks, and to take a look around various forums to see what Xperia XZ Premium problems they have run into so far.

It is Sony’s latest smartphone, running the latest version of Android, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe from harm and the occasional technical issue. Fortunately, we can give you a heads up on what problems to brace yourself for, and how you might handle them.

Problem: Camera distortion

A couple of threads on the XDA-Developers and Sony Mobile forums have detailed accounts from people who have experienced a weird distortion or wavy affect when taking pictures with the phone’s camera. In some cases, like when taking pictures of flat objects, it’s a little subtle, but with 3D objects and people, it becomes noticeable enough to be an issue.

Potential solutions:

  • A future update for the Xperia XZ Premium may sort out this particular problem.
  • You can try adjusting the camera’s focus by going to Settings > More > Touch to adjust > Focus and brightness. (Can only be done when camera is in Superior auto mode).
  • Try running a diagnostic. While you have an internet connection, open the camera and go to the Camera’s settings > More > Help > Camera, Front camera, Flash or Camera button, then follow the steps provided on screen.
  • You can perform a factory reset by going to Settings > Backup & Reset > Factory Data Reset > Reset Phone > Erase Everything. Remember to back up first. Alternatively, you can install the Xperia Companion program for PC, and use it to backup, restore, update, and repair your phone.
  • Reach out to Sony Mobile support, as it may be a hardware issue you’re unable to deal with. You may be entitled to receive a replacement phone.

Problem: Bluetooth connectivity

Like other smartphones, the Xperia XZ Premium can have issues with Bluetooth; mostly issues involving people being unable to connect their phones to Bluetooth accessories. There are a few options and steps that worked for other people, and may work for you.

Potential solutions:

  • Restart your phone and try Bluetooth again.
  • Turn Bluetooth off and on by going to Settings > Bluetooth and tapping the slider.
  • To unpair a Bluetooth accessory, go to Settings > Bluetooth > Paired devices, tap the gear icon next to the devices you’re connected to, and tap Forget.
  • Back up, then perform a factory reset.

Problem: Constantly losing Wi-Fi connection

Like the Bluetooth issue above, Xperia XZ Premium owners have also been losing their Wi-Fi connections. Some lose their connection despite being within range of their router, while others have a constant connection but are notified that they’re currently offline.

Potential solutions:

  • As always, try a quick phone restart. This has been known to help a couple of people in the thread linked above.
  • You can turn Wi-Fi off and on again by going to Settings > Wi-Fi and tapping the slider.
  • This Sony Mobile support page suggests removing your protective phone case, as it may be interfering with the connection.
  • Make sure your phone has the correct internet settings. You can download current ones by going to Settings > More > Internet Settings > Accept.
  • You can try setting a new Wi-Fi Sleep Policy that will ensure you maintain a connection even when the phone is asleep. You can do this by going to Settings > Wi-Fi, tap the gear icon, tap Keep Wi-Fi on during sleep, and choose one of the options shown.
  • Boot your phone into Safe Mode to see if your Wi-Fi performs as expected. If it does, this means a third-party app is causing your connection problems. To boot into Safe Mode, do the following:
    • Press and hold the Power Key until the Power off screen appears.
    • Tap and hold Power Off until you’re given the option to Reboot into Safe Mode. Tap OK.
    • The phone will reboot, and you’ll know you’re in Safe Mode when you see the text Safe mode in the bottom left corner.
  • Back up and perform a factory reset.

Annoyance: Unable to Double-tap to Wake phone

A number of users have voiced concerns about not being able to double-tap their phone’s screen to wake the phone up.

Official solution:

  • Current models of the Xperia XZ Premium simply do not have this specific feature. The Xperia Blog notes that it may be added in later models or as part of a future software update and there’s a lengthy thread full of people hoping for the same. For the time being, however, people will have to live without it. You can double tap to turn the screen off if you toggle on the option in Settings > Double-tap to sleep.

Issue: Viber no longer working

Look no further than the Sony Mobile and XDA-Developers forums to read multiple accounts from people having issues with the Viber app no longer working the way it should. Some have said the app will crash, or go to a white screen and become unresponsive, while others are unable to even install it.

Potential solutions:

  • Restart your phone and try using the app again.
  • If there’s an update available for Viber, consider applying the update. The app was last updated on June 13 to version 6.9.5.
  • If the app is already on your phone, but not working, uninstall it and install it again.
    • If the app freezes during use or startup, you can force close it by going to Settings > Apps > Viber > Force Stop > OK.
  • Go to Settings > Apps > Viber > Storage > Clear Data, then restart your phone.
  • Go to Settings > Apps > Viber > Storage > Clear Cache > OK.
  • A few people have said that previous version of the app work fine. Go to Settings > Apps > Viber, tap the three vertical dots icon, then tap Uninstall updates > OKAlternatively, you can download previous versions of the app here.

Mobile gaming sessions down 10 percent year-over-year, but revenue climbs


The U.S. is leading the world in mobile gaming, accounting for 20 percent of all sessions played. That’s the word from a new industry report on the mobile gaming landscape, released this week from Flurry. That puts the U.S. ahead of markets including India, China, Brazil and Russia, it found. However, gaming sessions are dropping, even as the money to be made in games climbs, and the total time spent gaming remains largely unchanged.

According to the report, mobile gaming sessions are down 10 percent year-over-year. That’s even with the outsized hits like Pokémon Go gobbling up huge chunks of users’ time and attention.

This is not the first time Flurry has spotted a decline in gaming. In January, the firm reported it had seen a 4 percent drop in terms of the time spent in games (which is different from sessions, aka individual app launches). Meanwhile, messaging and social apps saw a 394 percent increase in time spent, Flurry had said.

It’s also the second year in a row that gaming sessions have fallen year-over-year. This signals, perhaps, the ephemeral nature of mobile games, and the industry’s reliance on addictive hits.

But it mainly speaks to specific declines in particular gaming categories. Three years ago, arcade, casual and brain games drove 55 percent of all sessions. In the time since, there have been substantial declines in both arcade and casual games, says Flurry. For example, arcade games accounted for 24 percent of all gaming sessions in 2014 – a figure that’s now decreased by 34 percent. And casual gaming sessions are down by 50 percent.

These two drops alone accounted for the overall downturn in gaming sessions, and no other gaming category stepped in to pick up the losses.

However, it’s not all bad news for mobile games. Though sessions may be down, the time spent in mobile games is largely unchanged – it’s up by 1 percent over last year. That means users are participating in fewer, but just slightly longer gaming sessions than in the past.

Flurry didn’t theorize why this could be, but it’s possible the Pokémon effect is one factor here, as is the fact that games themselves have matured. While there are still plenty of quickly played, disposable titles to be found, the App Store today also features beautifully made, more immersive games like Monument Valley 2, for example, which Apple itself even promoted during its WWDC event this month.

In the U.S., the average consumer is now spending 33 minutes per day in mobile games, with sessions that have increased to 7 minutes, 6 seconds this year, up from 6 minutes, 22 seconds in 2016. This is a big jump – sessions never exceeded 6 minutes in either 2014 or 2015.

The gaming industry has also grown more diverse over the years. Sessions today are spread out across a large number of app categories. For example, card and casino games now account for 15 percent of all sessions, up 22 percent since 2014. Board and strategy games grew 29 percent since last year, and sessions are up 80 percent since 2014. And racing games grew 26 percent year-over-year, increasing its game app session share to 2.1 percent in 2017.

The full report digs into other trends as well – like how tablets lead to longer average session times of 10 minutes, for instance, or when games tend to be played. Not surprisingly, mobile games on smartphones are popular during morning commutes, while tablets are more popular for on-the-couch gaming in evenings.

Gaming revenue is also still a bright spot. Flurry cited Sensor Tower’s recent report of a 53 percent year-over-year growth in revenue across iOS and Android, from $7.8 billion in Q1 2016 to $11.9 billion in Q1 2017, which it attributed to popular titles in Japan and China. In addition, download to revenue conversion is up 38 percent from January 2016 to January 2017, Sensor Tower had said.

That means the mobile gaming industry hold promise for developers looking to generate revenue. Meanwhile, future trends like VR or AR – the latter aided by Apple’s release of ARKit – could drive mobile gaming forward for years to come.

*Disclosure: Flurry is owned by Yahoo, which has been acquired by TechCrunch’s parent company, Verizon. 

Image credits: charts/graphs – Flurry; mobile games – Sensor Tower

How to get Google Play Music’s New Release Radio station without a Samsung phone

Nothing on the internet ever really dies, and an equally immutable fact could be nothing on the internet is ever really exclusive. Samsung smartphone owners were recently given exclusive access to Google Play Music’s “New Release Radio” station. The station is a personalized mix of new music releases — it’s updated daily and based on your listening preferences. This comes a few months after Samsung and Google partnered to make Google Play Music the default media player and streaming service on all Samsung phones.

If you have a Samsung phone, once you open the Google Play Music app, you will be prompted with a notification introducing the New Release Radio as a “Samsung Exclusive.” With a simple tap of the “check it out now” button you will be able to check out the station and add it to your Music Library. Google has not released numbers on how many people are paying for its streaming music service, but this is the latest attempt at bolstering those numbers and bringing more ears to Google. There is a free version of the service that does not require a subscription fee as well.

For Samsung, it is a way to make music streaming a selling point for new phones after its Milk Music streaming service was shut down in September 2016. Samsung Milk Music was meant to be an alternative to Pandora and Spotify, offering personalized radio stations free of charge and without ads. In the statement announcing Milk Music’s shutdown, Samsung noted it would be focusing on partnerships that help with “seamlessly integrating the best music services available today into our family of Galaxy devices.”

For those of us without Samsung smartphones, there’s good news — there is a way to enjoy Google Play Music’s daily playlist of newly released music, and you don’t even need a subscription. I tried the method mentioned below to get New Release Radio on my Moto Z Force Droid with a Gmail account that had no Google Play Music subscription, and within 20 seconds I was listening to Vince Staples’ latest song, Rain Come Down.

Spotify offers a Release Radar playlist, but only compiles the newest music released every Friday. Friday may be the international day new albums are released, but new music is being released every day in the age of blogs, Soundcloud, and YouTube. A few music veterans, like Apple Music’s Beats 1 Radio’s Zane Lowe, thinks music is being released so often, it’s hard to keep up with what is new.

Here is how to get the New Release Radio station on your mobile phone if you are not using a Samsung device:

google play music new release radio samsung 1

Step 1: Navigate to the desktop website for New Release Radio from Google Play Music.

Step 2: Click on Add To Library.

Step 3: Open the Google Play Music app on your mobile device.

Step 4: Slide the left-side sidebar out and click on Music Library.

Step 5: Click on the Stations tab, and New Release Radio will be among your list of favorite stations.

Step 6: Click the Play button on the New Release Radio station and enjoy.

The best cheap phones you can buy

Update: We’ve replaced the OnePlus 3T with the OnePlus 5. The OnePlus 5 is now our top pick, and the ZTE Axon 7 is now the second-best budget Android smartphone.

Well more than a billion smartphones were sold across the world in 2016. One of the great things about the fierce competition in the smartphone market is that prices are tumbling down. That makes buying one of the best cheap phones outright, without being locked into a two-year contract, a realistic possibility for everyone under the sun.

The tricky part is finding the right phone for you, but don’t worry, because we’re here to help. We’ve been testing out the best budget smartphones and this is our short list. If you have a little more money to spend, head over to our best smartphones guide to see our top picks.

Our pick

OnePlus 5

oneplus 5 vs galaxy s8 back

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Why should you buy this: With specifications surpassing even the Samsung Galaxy S8, the OnePlus 5 does everything well at a fraction of the cost.

Who’s it for: Anyone who wants a near stock Android experience at a lower price than the Google Pixel

How much will it cost: $480+

Why we picked the OnePlus 5:

While the $480 price tag means this is the most expensive OnePlus smartphone to date, you’ll be hard pressed to find internals as powerful for a comparable price.  The OnePlus 5 is sleek, with a minimal design that resembles the iPhone. The dual-camera setup on the rear is heavily inspired by the camera on Apple’s latest iPhone 7 Plus — there’s even a Portrait mode that applies a bokeh effect, where it blurs out the background of a subject. It’s mostly accurate, and sometimes beats out the iPhone 7 Plus.

Want the fastest Qualcomm processor to power your smartphone? The OnePlus 5 has you covered with a Snapdragon 835. It’s the same chip powering the Samsung Galaxy S8, HTC U11, and Sony’s Xperia XZ Premium — phones that cost more than $650 a pop — and it even offers more RAM. You get a choice of either 6GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage, or 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage.

The 5.5-inch AMOLED screen only offers 1,920 x 1,080-pixel resolution, but that should be more than enough for most people. You also get Bluetooth 5, which offers faster connectivity and range, along with OnePlus’ proprietary fast-charging technology, Dash Charge. The latter provides you with a full day of battery life in just 30 minutes. Speaking of the battery, the OnePlus 5 has a 3,300mAh capacity and can be charged via a USB Type-C port. And yes, you can charge and listen to music at the same time, because there’s a headphone jack on the bottom of the phone.

One of the OnePlus 5’s biggest draws is its smooth and accessible user experience. The Oxygen operating system is based on Android 7.1.1, and the user interface is akin to the one on the Google Pixel, except it allows for far more customization. For example, you can turn on a system-wide dark mode, or change the accent color of the notification drawer, among other actions.

You should note, however, that the OnePlus 5 is only available on GSM networks, meaning you can use it on AT&T and T-Mobile, but it won’t work with a Sprint or Verizon connection. Other downsides include the phone’s lack of water resistance and its slippery exterior. Some people may also scoff at how similar it looks to the iPhone, and the lackluster camera. But for $480, you’re getting equal, if not better performance, than the Galaxy S8 — without the gimmicks.

OnePlus 5 Review

The best cheap iPhone

iPhone SE

Apple-iPhone-SE_005

Why should you buy this: It’s the best 4-inch smartphone ever made with many of the same specs as the iPhone 6S and a strong camera.

Who’s it for: Anyone who wants an iPhone, but has limited cash or just likes ‘em small

How much will it cost: $400+

Why we picked the iPhone SE:

This is the obvious choice for bargain-seeking Apple fans who have their hearts set on an iPhone. It takes most of the features of the iPhone 6S and packs them into the body of an iPhone 5S. If you feel like modern smartphones are getting too big, then the iPhone SE will suit you perfectly.

It has the same A9 processor as the 6S, backed by 2GB of RAM. On paper that doesn’t sound impressive, but in terms of real world performance, it’s lightning fast and beats many more expensive phones. There’s a great 12-megapixel main camera that takes sharp, crisp, natural-looking photos, and has support for Live Photos. You also get Touch ID, Siri, and NFC for Apple Pay.

The 4-inch screen matches the 6S for pixel density, so it’s sharp and clear. The iOS platform is very easy to use and you get access to an excellent library of slick apps and games. The battery is only rated at 1,642mAh, but since it’s powering a smaller display, it results in above average stamina.

Inevitably, there are some disappointments here. The front-facing camera is just 1.2-megapixels, so this is not the phone for selfie fans. The basic version only has 16GB of storage, which isn’t enough, and it will cost you an extra $50 to jump up to 64GB. There’s also no 3D Touch. Despite the compromises, this is the most reasonably priced iPhone you can buy right now.

iPhone SE Review

The second budget Android phone

ZTE Axon 7

zte-axon-7-0009-970x647-c

Why should you buy this: It’s a true flagship killer with high-end specs, great processing power, and a sharp camera — all wrapped up in a sleek metal package.

Who’s it for: Anyone who wants a great Android phone at a relatively low price

How much will it cost: $400

Why we picked the ZTE Axon 7:

Nothing about the ZTE Axon 7 suggests a budget price. This is a classy piece of tech, sporting an attractive all-metal design with prominent dual speaker grilles flanking a gorgeous 5.5-inch AMOLED screen. It looks and feels expensive and it can compete with some of the best Android phones on performance.

Things don’t get any less impressive when you pop the hood, because there’s a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor with 4GB RAM and a whopping 64GB internal storage inside. There’s also a more expensive 128GB version with a whopping 6GB of RAM, and you get a MicroSD card slot for further expansion in both models.

You won’t be disappointed by the camera, either. It features a 21-megapixel camera sensor with electronic and optical image stabilization. The front-facing camera is rated at 8-megapixels. Both take great pictures and offer manual settings. A 3,140mAh battery ensures that the Axon 7 will get through an average day with juice to spare.

Then there’s the front-facing stereo speakers with Dolby Atmos technology for unrivaled smartphone sound. If you’re looking for the compromise, you’ll be hard pressed to find it. Even ZTE’s MiFavor UI is mercifully close to stock Android and the manufacturer has pushed out Android 7.0 Nougat, the latest and greatest Android version from Google.

One thing to watch out for is that the ZTE Axon 7 is not officially supported on Verizon or Sprint. It is technically capable of working with their networks, and some people report limited success, but your mileage may vary. It’s also slippery, it’s not water resistant, and there’s no wireless charging support, but we’re nitpicking because this is an unparalleled phone for the money.

ZTE Axon 7 Review

The best phone under $300

Moto G5 Plus

Lenovo Moto G5 Plus review

Kyle Wiggers/Digital Trends

Why should you buy this: The Moto G5 Plus is a great, cheap Android phone with solid specs and a decent camera that won’t let you down.

Who’s it for: Pure Android fans on a budget who prize substance over style

How much will it cost: $280

Why we picked the Moto G5 Plus:

Despite Lenovo’s takeover of the Moto brand, the budget Moto G line is still a budget phone flag bearer. This is the best smartphone you can buy for less than $300 right now.

The G5 Plus boasts a 5.5-inch full HD (1920 x 1080 pixels) screen, a zippy Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor, and 4GB of RAM. The basic model has 32GB of storage, and there is a MicroSD card slot for expansion. You’ll also find a 12-megapixel camera with phase detection autofocus and laser autofocus, and a wide-angle 5-megapixel selfie camera. A 3,000mAh battery provides enough power to see you through a full day, and there’s a fingerprint sensor with support for swipe gestures.

One of the best things about the G5 Plus is the complete absence of bloatware. It almost feels like stock Android.

Motorola isn’t the most timely manufacturer when it comes to updates, which means it might be a while before the G5 Plus gets a major software upgrade, such as Android O. U.S. G5 Plus models also lack support for NFC, which is sure to disappoint if you’re keen to use your phone for contactless payments. Despite all that, the Moto G5 Plus is still a great all-rounder.

Motorola’s selling a cheaper variant of the G5 Plus, the G5, for $50 less. But you sacrifice the G5 Plus’s superior camera, half the RAM and storage capacity, and the fingerprint sensor. That’s not to say the G5 is a bad budget option, but if you have an extra $50 to spare, the G5 Plus is worth the splurge.

Moto G5 Plus Review

The best phone for less than $200

ZTE ZMax Pro

ZTE ZMax Pro

Why should you buy this: It’s amazing to get a phone this good for less than $200. Its 6-inch Full HD screen is great for phablet fans.

Who’s it for: Anyone with a hard budget who likes big phones

How much will it cost: $100-$180

Why we picked the ZTE ZMax Pro:

You’ll be amazed at what you can get for a single Benjamin here. ZTE is offering an unbeatable bargain with the ZMax Pro, and we’re not sure how it can turn a profit with these specs at this price.

The ZTE ZMax Pro follows the big screen trend with a 6-inch, full HD display. It has a respectable Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 processor inside with 2GB of RAM. There’s 32GB of storage, with support for MicroSD card expansion. You also get a 13-megapixel main camera and a 5-megapixel front-facing camera. The phone is ably powered by a 3,400mAh battery that easily lasts a day between charges.

As if all that wasn’t enough, the ZMax Pro also features a nice curved design, a USB Type-C port with support for fast charging, a fingerprint sensor, and a minimal UI that’s close to stock Android.

The ZTE ZMax Pro is only available through T-Mobile and MetroPCS right now. The only major omission here is NFC. Camera performance is also mediocre, but for $100 it seems churlish to complain, because you are not going to find anything better. It’s $180 at T-Mobile, but that’s nothing to sneeze at, either.

ZTE ZMax Pro Review

How we test

We’re fanatical about our phones here at Digital Trends. Every phone we test serves as our main device for at least a week, often longer, so we can get a real feel for what life would be like living with it. We read on them, game on them, shoot video and photos, navigate, organize, and occasionally even make calls. Every facet is explored, every manufacturer claim is challenged, and we’re careful to take the intended audience and price tag into account when judgment time comes.

Debates on the best phones in different categories are a regular occurrence and no one on the mobile team is shy about sharing their opinion. When we find flaws, we tell like it is. Ultimately, we’ll never recommend any phone that we wouldn’t be happy using ourselves.

Is now a good time to buy?

This is a thorny question for technology in general, because there’s always something better just around the corner. There are signs the smartphone spec war has been slowing down recently, but what you can get for your money at the budget end of the market continues to change quite rapidly.

Much depends on your current situation. If you’re content with the phone you have, then keep it, because the longer you wait, the better your choices will be. You can also potentially save up more money while you wait to see what’s released.

In terms of events, there aren’t many options for budget phones other than the upcoming Moto Z2 Play, Moto E4 Plus, and a rumored budget Google Pixel 2. For Apple fans, there likely won’t be any new phone releases until September 2017, but you never know – the iPhone SE’s March, 2016 release was a surprise.

We think it will probably be late summer, or the middle of fall before we see new smartphones forcing their way onto this list. If you can’t wait that long, and you see something you like, this is a good time to pull the trigger.

SEGA’s new SEGA Forever collection brings classic games to mobile for free

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SEGA is bringing some of your favorite games to mobile in new, free-to-play formats that include ads as a way to drive revenue, support offline play and other more modern features like cloud saves. The games can also be rendered ad-free with a one-time $1.99 purchase, which is a really good deal given the pedigree of some of these titles, and what you might pay elsewhere to get re-released versions of classic console games.

The SEGA Forever collection already has five titles you can get at launch, including Sonic The Hedgehog, Phantasy Star II, Comix Zone, Kid Chameleon and Altered Beast. Each of these will be available on both the Google Play Store and the App Store for iOS devices (with iMessage sticker packs for each included in the bundle).

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  2. Sonic_The_Hedgehog_-_Mobile_-_Screenshot_02_1497526054

  3. Altered_Beast_-_Mobile_-_Screenshot_02_1497526092

  4. Comix_Zone_-_Mobile_-_Screenshot_02_1497526078

SEGA’s not stopping with those five, however – the plan is to launch new additions to the collection every two weeks, which should mean you’ll eventually see all your boxes ticked in terms of SEGA console nostalgia. This will expand to cover multiple console generations over time, SEGA says, and icludes both “official emulations and ported games.”

Classic games likely have a finite shelf life, so it makes sense that we’d see companies do whatever they can to extract all of their value before that time runs out. But for gamers, this new model is a welcome change, since it means you can casually enjoy classics without putting down any money at all, and getting the ad-free upgrade isn’t going to break the bank.

Instagram Live videos can now be saved for playback for 24 hours

Why it matters to you

The ephemerality of Instagram Live videos was once its differentiating factor, but now, Instagram is making these videos last a little longer.

Snapchat may have built an empire on ephemerality, but now that FOMO (which is to say, fear of missing out) is becoming more relevant every day, the concept of disappearing content may be … well, disappearing. At least, that appears to be Instagram’s strategy, now that it is giving users the option of saving public live broadcasts to your Instagram stories, where they can be viewed by your followers for 24 hours. That means that no longer will your followers have to worry about missing out on your content — instead, you can choose to share your live content even when it is no longer live.

While Instagram, for quite some time, appeared to be taking its cues from Snapchat, it now looks as though the photo-sharing platform is setting new precedents. This live video feature, after all, is not something that Snapchat has (yet) and it could help Instagram even further its lead over the rival social media app. Instagram Stories now boasts 250 million daily users, which represents a 50 million increase from its 200 million mark in April.

Snapchat, on the other hand, can only claim a total of 166 million daily users across its entire app — Instagram, for reference, has 700 million total users.

“From new creative tools to location stories, we’ve been focused on making it easier to share any moment and uncover stories from the accounts and interests that matter most to you,” Instagram told TechCrunch. “As a result, we are continuing to see strong growth both in the U.S. and internationally.”

And just maybe, this growth can be further bolstered by the change to Instagram Live videos.

The decision to make these videos accessible for longer periods of time could be a controversial one. After all, the instant disappearance of these videos one of the few truly differentiating factors for Instagram — Facebook Live and Twitter’s Periscope both allow for playbacks. That meant that Instagram Live videos were truly special, in a way.

But hey, at least now, your friends and families will not have to worry about missing out on any of your content. And isn’t that what matters most of all?

First, Huawei wants AI to help you. Then it wants AI to be you.

Huawei is increasingly optimistic about the future of artificial intelligence. At CES Asia 2017, Chief Operating Officer Wan Biao spoke to Digital Trends about the technology’s growth, describing three key stages in AI’s evolution: “Enable me, Know me, Be me.” We’re already into the beginnings of the “know me” stage, Biao said. “Be me” is still some time away, but despite its potential, that may be a good thing.

Machines are already surpassing human intelligence, Biao said, and we’re edging even closer to the prospect of a smart society — where people and machines are one. This, combined with previous statements made by Huawei about artificial intelligence and the integration of machine learning into its smartphones, gives us a tantalizing glimpse of the smart future.

Enable Me, Know Me, Be Me

“‘Enable me’ typically means the control system and our voice are used to enhance the user experience,” Biao said. “In ‘Know me,’ artificial intelligence comes into the equation, to proactively know the requirements of users.”

For example, when a friend sends a message inviting you to dinner, it will likely include the address and location. “Know me” will automatically show this on the maps app. Over time, it will learn your daily behavior and activity, and get to know you personally.

The technology is unique to the platform, and couldn’t be implemented on a Qualcomm or other competing chipset.

Huawei’s user interface placed over Android — EMUI 5.0 and EMUI 5.1 — uses machine learning techniques to push resources directly to the apps you use most often, according to the company’s software engineering director, Christophe Coutelle. That way, it’s not warming up apps you almost never use, ensuring you don’t have to wait around or deal with lag when you open your favourite apps.

This works locally in the background, along with smart resource allocation algorithms — which constantly shift the processor power, along with the phone’s RAM and GPU resources — to where they’re needed at the time. The result is 20 percent faster app launch time, and a 40 percent decrease in wait time when you first turn on the phone. How effective is Huawei’s machine learning system on predicting your behaviour? In EMUI 5.0 — introduced with the Huawei P9 and Mate 9 — its accuracy was measured at 85 percent. For EMUI 5.1 on the Huawei P10, Huawei said the predictive accuracy is up to 90 percent.

Best of all, this is Huawei’s own technology, and it’s made possible by its Kirin 960 processor. It utilises one of its cores for storing and managing apps, rather than constantly killing them off. The technology is unique to the platform, and couldn’t be implemented on a Qualcomm or other competing chipset. It also means other companies need to come up with their own version should they want to follow along.

“Kirin is the future for our smartphones, and Huawei intends to continue investing in it,” Biao said, adding that in the future, “all smart devices will have these functions.”

This type of AI smarts is already available on other smartphones such as the HTC U11, as well as through other services such as chatbots in messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger.

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It’s all useful, but what about “Be me?” The very phrase is evocative. Do we want software and machines to be us? Biao’s not shy in painting a picture of a techno future more suited as a plot for a Terminator-esque movie.

“Man and machine will be integrated together for proactive thinking,” he said, when asked to describe what “Be me” will be like. “The brain is made of neural cells, it makes full use of the information stored, and is like a super computer. In the future, the machine will also store and acquire information from the outside world. The simultaneous calculations will be far stronger than the human brain.”

He cited the recent advances made by AlphaGo, Google’s now-retired AI computer program that’s purpose was to master and beat top Go players.

“Man and machine will be integrated together for proactive thinking”

“In the 90s, [computer program] Deep Blue beat a chess champion, as Go has done now,” he said. “Computers are already stronger. Einstein had an IQ of 160, and in some cases, AlphaGo has an IQ of 10,000. I believe AI and data processing will be far stronger than the human brain, and the world will become a smart society.”

The concept of a smart society, and man and machine becoming one, is likely to be a terrifying thought to many people. But Biao is optimistic that we’ll remain in complete control over this new wave of hyper-intelligent machines.

“In the end, machines will be controlled by people,” he said. “They’re powered by energy, and if the power is cut, they’ll stop working.” Let’s hope machines don’t control the power source.

The power of collective wisdom

This is not the first time Huawei has gazed into the AI future and given us its predictions. Richard Yu, Huawei’s president, also talked about the impact artificial intelligence will have on our lives during his 2017 CES keynote speech. He said over the next five to 10 years, there will be an, “intelligent revolution,” where all things will be connected, and be able to sense their environment. Our phones, he said, will be more like robots, and move past being simply smart phones, to become intelligent phones. The Kirin processor will continue to be instrumental in making this happen, with future versions having dedicated cores specifically for artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Huawei’s obviously convinced that artificial intelligence will play a big part in our smart devices over the coming years, and the company is making sure it’s in at the start. It reinvests 10 percent of its revenue into research and development each year, a figure that matches Google, and 79,000 of Huawei’s 180,000-strong workforce works in R&D. There’s no doubt it’s serious.

But so is everyone else. Samsung’s very keen on artificial intelligence, but isn’t off to the best start with its stalled Bixby virtual assistant — despite its acquisition of AI experts Viv Labs. Apple revealed more about its improvements to Siri during its WWDC 2017 keynote, including news of extensive machine learning tools being made available to developers inside iOS 11. It’s also likely to install a lot of these skills into its HomePod smart home device which launches later this year.

Huawei is the world’s number three smartphone manufacturer, behind Apple and Samsung respectively. Its goal is to be number one, and we were told of an important company mantra it considers key to reaching the top: A belief in “the power of collective wisdom.”  There’s a clear parallel between this, and the AI research described here. Let’s see if this can become more than just a fortuitous coincidence.