All posts in “Hands On”

The OnePlus 5T is here with a larger screen and even better dual cameras

Scrappy Chinese smartphone maker OnePlus isn’t waiting until next year to unleash its next major Android smartphone.

Less than six months after launching the highly-rated OnePlus 5, the company that’s built its reputation delivering premium phones with flagship specs at half the cost of competitors, is back again to launch the better OnePlus 5T.

The new phone isn’t a complete reinvention of the OnePlus 5. The biggest upgrade is the new larger display with narrower bezels and improved dual cameras that better compete with phones like Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and Note 8

The OnePlus 5T’s sudden release next week on Nov. 21 doesn’t surprise us. Last year, OnePlus bucked the annual smartphone release cycle and launched the OnePlus 3T less than half a year after the OnePlus 3 was released.

There’s no doubt it pissed off some OnePlus 3 owners who felt their phones were suddenly outdated, but that’s just what happens when you back a company that’s very mantra is to “Never Settle” and move as quickly as possible to deliver new products with innovative technologies the very moment they’re ready.

OnePlus is not bound by the typical annual release. It has and will probably always cannibalize its own products for the sake of progress.

And boy was it worth it for the OnePlus 5T.

Bigger screen and slimmer bezels

The OnePlus 5T has a larger 6.01-inch display and it's gorgeous even though it's not the sharpest on the market.

The OnePlus 5T has a larger 6.01-inch display and it’s gorgeous even though it’s not the sharpest on the market.

Image: raymond wong/mashable

For not much more than the OnePlus 5 originally sold ($499 for 64GB of storage with 6GB of RAM and $559 for 128GB of storage with 8GB of RAM), the OnePlus 5T comes with a larger 6.01-inch AMOLED display with 18:9 aspect ratio.

The resolution doesn’t offer as many pixels on other flagship Android phones (2160 x 1080) at 401 ppi, but to my eyes, it’s still very sharp. It has all the characteristics that made the OnePlus 5 great, including high brightness, vibrant colors, and wide viewing angles with support for DCI-P3 wide color gamut, and a new “Sunlight” enhancement that automatically adjusts the contrast when you’re looking a photos, taking pictures and video, and gaming in direct sunlight so that content is more visible.

The larger screen means there’s no room for a front-facing fingerprint sensor. No biggie, because it’s now located on the backside. It’s the same ceramic fingerprint sensor as on the OnePlus 5 and works just as fast and unlocks in 0.2 seconds.

Flagship specs with a headphone jack

Specs remain the same as the OnePlus 5: Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chip and 3,300 mAh battery. I kind of wish OnePlus added a bigger battery like it did when it introduced the 3T, but the company tells me it should last around the same as the 5. In other words, all day battery life.

There’s no wireless charging on the 5T, but that’s okay because it still comes with the company’s industry-leading proprietary Dash Charge technology, which gets you from 0 to 60 percent in 30 minutes.

Still got that jack tho!

Still got that jack tho!

Image: raymond wong/mashable

You’ll also find the same mono speaker, headphone jack, dual SIM card slots, and no expandable storage.

Two new software modes

The OnePlus 5T still runs Oxygen OS 4.7, which is a lightly customized version of stock Android 7.1.1 Nougat. An update to Android Oreo will come in the future. From what I could tell, it’s fast and stable and every bit as fluid as my experience with the OnePlus 5. But I’ll have to do a little more testing.

The OnePlus 5 had two legitimately useful features I adored: reading mode, which turned the screen  monochrome and gaming mode, which muted notifications during, well, gaming. 

On the 5T, there’s two new software features: parallel apps, which lets you install two instances of the same apps (useful for keeping work and personal social accounts separate) and they’ve worked with WhatsApp to deliver a cool walkie talkie feature.

Face unlock

Though the phone still has a fingerprint sensor, facial recognition is no doubt a new trend all phones (not just expensive $1,000 ones) will have.

The OnePlus 5 comes with its own version of this new face-based biometric security that’s generically called “Face Unlock.”

After scanning your face, the phone will then unlock when it’s recognized your face. OnePlus says its algorithm is using “over 100 identifiers to securely unlock the OnePlus 5T.” I haven’t tested this feature extensively so I don’t know how secure it is (can it be fooled by a photo? how does it work with twins?), but I’m told by company spokespeople it’s not impenetrable.

It’s a convenient and quick way (like the S8’s face unlock) to unlock your phone after pressing the power button, but the fingerprint sensor’s more secure and is still necessary for Android Pay. 

Improved Portrait mode

The dual cameras are better and the fingerprint sensor's now on the back.

The dual cameras are better and the fingerprint sensor’s now on the back.

Image: raymond wong/mashable

And, of course, no company worth its salt would pass on the opportunity to improve the cameras. The front camera is an unchanged 16-megapixel shooter. But the rear camera has been improved in a few ways that may not be noticeable at first.

The dual cameras are still made up of a 16-megapixel wide lens and 20-megapixel 2x lens (neither camera has optical image stabilization). The camera’s really quick to snap photos and image quality looks pretty good, although some details are a little soft and dynamic range could be better. Like everything else, I’ll have to shoot with it more.

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

On the OnePlus 5, the company shamelessly ripped off the iPhone’s Portrait Mode. But on the 5T, you’ll notice Portrait Mode no longer punches in with the second camera’s focal length. It takes depth photos with the same field of view as the main camera and the blurred background (aka “bokeh”) looks good.

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

Never settling

It feels too soon for OnePlus to be launching a new flagship phone, but I’m not that upset. I love that the company is so hungry and has the agility to deliver new phones with features that meet new trends.

Despite being backed by the deep pockets of Oppo, OnePlus still operates like a startup. And while it’s still got a ways to go before it’s even remotely close to a household name, it’s taking the right steps to disrupt the industry.

The company saw that phones with narrow bezels, face recognition, and better dual cameras were the latest trends and it’s delivering them with the usual price that undercuts the established market leaders. 

I just love watching a small company fight its way up the ranks. It’s both entertaining and inspiring, especially when they’re making tremendous progress like OnePlus.

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Razer’s new MacBook Pro slayer has no gimmicky Touch Bar

Razer, the company behind that crazy triple-screen laptop concept, will not stop until all other PC makers are its dust.

At this year’s E3 gaming expo, Razer refreshed its littlest laptop, the Blade Stealth, with the latest specs, and announced a new, toned down version with a larger screen (but the same dimensions) that ditches the brand’s neon green.

Is Razer finally growing up and shedding its gamer badge? Heck no. But at least you’ll be able to take your Stealth Blade to class or a meeting without looking like a total douchebag.

The Blade Stealth wowed us immediately with its stealthy compact aluminum design, 12-inch 4K-resolution IGZO touchscreen, solid Chroma-glowing keyboard and trackpad, and myriad ports.

It wasn’t much of a gaming laptop, but if you bolted on the Razer Core external GPU enclosure, you could definitely get desktop-class gaming performance out of it.

The new Blade Stealth has all of the things that made the original great, but now it’s got the latest seventh-generation Intel Core i7-7500U processors, better Intel HD Graphics 620, 16GB of RAM, up to 1TB of PCie SSD storage, and up to nine hours of battery life. All these specs will also hit your wallet kinda hard; a 512GB machine costs $1,599 and a 1TB $1,999.

If the 12.5-inch Blade Stealth screen’s a little too cramped for your liking, you might want to consider the more affordable 13.3-inch Blade Stealth, which starts at $1,399. It’s got a larger screen, but the body’s the exact same size as the 12.5-inch model, thanks to its slimmer bezels.

No glowing green logo on the gunmetal 13.3-inch Blade Stealth.

No glowing green logo on the gunmetal 13.3-inch Blade Stealth.

Image: LILI SAMS/MASHABLE

The 13.3-inch Blade Stealth has the same processor, RAM, and graphics as its smaller-sized brother, but it comes with one big difference: screen resolution. Whereas the 12.5-inch has a 3,840 x 2,160 (4K) touchscreen, the 13.3-inch only has a 3,200 x 1,800 (QHD+) touchscreen. Will you see much of a difference? Not at all.

It's also a touchscreen.

It’s also a touchscreen.

Image: LILI SAMS/MASHABLE

The larger-screened laptop also comes in two colors: black and gunmetal. 

Black comes with your standard Chroma-lit keyboard capable of glowing in 16.8 million colors per key, glowing green triple-headed snake logo, and green-colored USB ports. 

One Thunderbolt 3 port (USB-C), USB 3.0 port, and headphone jack.

One Thunderbolt 3 port (USB-C), USB 3.0 port, and headphone jack.

Image: Lili Sams/mashable

USB 3.0 port and full-sized HDMI port.

USB 3.0 port and full-sized HDMI port.

Image: lili sams/mashable

Gunmetal, however, is boardroom and classroom-ready. The backlit keyboard only lights up in white, the Razer logo on the lid is a more subtle polished gray, and the USB ports are standard silver. 

Some might find the gunmetal version dull (if you’re buying a Razer laptop, you’re not afraid to shout from rooftops you drink the green glow), but I personally prefer it over the standard black and green version. It’s too bad about the keyboard, though. I really wish it still had the Chroma keyboard.

Image: LILI SAMS/MASHABLE 

I’ve only had a few days to poke around with a pre-production gunmetal version, and so far it’s been pretty speedy. 

You just don’t realize how convenient it is to have full-sized USB and HDMI ports on your laptop until you’ve used laptops, like the new MacBook Pro, that don’t have them. That said, it’s also great to see a Thunderbolt USB-C port on the Blade Stealth, so you still get the best of both worlds.

Based on first impressions, I’d say the new 13.3-inch Blade Stealth is a better buy than the 12.5-inch version. The larger screen, despite its lower resolution, is roomier than the 12.5 despite having the same dimensions, and you get the same performance. Plus, no gimmicky Touch Bars.

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Google Family Link is a good start for parental controls, but here’s what needs work

Google’s got a new tool for parents: Family Link, a way for them to keep tabs on what their kids are doing on their devices, especially for those younger than 13. It has a good framework of parental controls, but some of the tools lack much-needed detail. Still, most parents will enjoy is the way it enables you to remotely manage activity: You can approve or deny your kids’ requests from anywhere.

Family Link represents Google’s attempt to address the trend of kids accessing devices and the internet at younger and younger ages. It gives kids real Google accounts, complete with Gmail addresses and access to most Google services, like Maps and search—but with restrictions that only the parent can control.

The Family Link app icon.

The Family Link app icon.

Google let us borrow a couple of Nexus 5X phones—one for the parent, one for the kid—to try out Family Link. They were already signed into test accounts, but Google also walked us through the sign-up process.

Starting a (Google) family

The first thing you need to do is download the Family Link app, so you can create a Family Group on Google, which establishes the parent as the group manager. Then, you use the app to create a Google account for your kid, which will automatically provision it as a kid account, with restrictions.

If you squatted a Gmail address for your kid years ago, bad news: You’ll need to create a new address for them through this process—you can’t just “kidify” that pre-existing account. You’ll also need a credit card since Google uses a $0.30 charge as official parental consent.

Creating Google accounts for your kids is straightforward, but is intentionally not a fast process. You should set aside time to sit down with your kid when you do it.

Creating Google accounts for your kids is straightforward, but is intentionally not a fast process. You should set aside time to sit down with your kid when you do it.

Creating account creates a 30-cent charge to ensure parents give clear consent.

Creating account creates a 30-cent charge to ensure parents give clear consent.

The kid account also has its own password, but the parent can always access a kid’s device with the parent password.

With the kid account created, you simply use it to set up a new (or reset) device just like you would any Google account. This shows one of the strengths of Family Link: by and large, it’s not a new system for parents and kids to figure out; it’s just Google, with more restrictive rules—kind of like an annoying employer internet policy (which, let’s be honest, your kid should probably get used to anyway).

Family Link asks the parent to review Google’s pre-installed apps—all of them.

Still, although setup is straightforward, it takes longer than your average phone purchase. For starters, Family Link asks the parent to review Google’s pre-installed apps—all of them. This is a necessary step, since most of the apps weren’t designed for kids, so parents need to take the time to review permissions for each.

Each app—from Drive to Gmail—has a rating (E for Everyone, T for Teen, and so on). Parents can (and should) deselect apps they don’t want their kids to use (Hangouts and search will probably top that list). Android Pay and YouTube, however, are off limits for all kid accounts (though YouTube Kids is available).

The parental controls for what your kid can do on Google Play.

The parental controls for what your kid can do on Google Play.

Every app has a rating.

Every app has a rating.

For the ones that they approve, there are often controls over the level of access. Chrome, for example, gives three levels of access: unfiltered, SafeSearch (which filters porn and other types of sites) and restricted, where the parent needs to approve every website they visit.

Parents can block apps -- they'll still be on the device, but the kid can't access them.

Parents can block apps — they’ll still be on the device, but the kid can’t access them.

Google Play has automatic filtering by age, so kids won’t see mature content, whether it’s apps, movies or whatever. Parents can restrict whether the child can download paid or free apps and require kids to seek approval for in-app purchases. You can even restrict any and all downloads (even free ones) without a parental thumbs-up.

Seeking approval

All this approving or denying sounds tedious—and to a certain extent it is—but at least you can do it on your own time, wherever you are. Whereas many other types of controls (like Google’s own restricted profiles) require the parent’s physical presence for approvals, Family Link lets you do it remotely. When your kid wants something, you’ll get a notification, and consent is a tap away.

Parents can approve every site their child tries to access on the browser, but they can use Google SafeSearch too, which automatically blocks risky sites.

Parents can approve every site their child tries to access on the browser, but they can use Google SafeSearch too, which automatically blocks risky sites.

Parents can choose to approve every app the child downloads.

Parents can choose to approve every app the child downloads.

One of the better parts of Family Link are the broader controls. Every family is different as far as rules around screen time go, and Family Link takes this into account. Google lets you set a different limit for each day of the week, and you can also set a specific Bedtime period, where the device automatically locks up at a certain time of night.

However, the controls aren’t as granular as I’d like. You can only decide on periods with 30-minute increments, and—worse—you also can’t set the limit on any particular day lower than 30. There are some days in my family when no device screen time is allowed—why not have the option to go to zero? Also, it would be nice to be able to set different blackout periods that aren’t just bedtime (mealtimes, church, etc.).

Screen time limits can be different for each day, but only in 30-minute intervals.

Screen time limits can be different for each day, but only in 30-minute intervals.

What the child sees on the device after the daily limit has been reached.

What the child sees on the device after the daily limit has been reached.

All that sounds good in theory, but as a parent, I know it doesn’t quite work like that in practice. Kids often ask for extra time, and we often give in. It’s not just a lack of resolve—there are legit reasons (finish a battle in a game, for instance) where a few extra minutes can be warranted.

Unfortunately there’s no easy way for a kid to request extra time. They’ll see a warning that time is about to expire in the form of a notification, but there’s no way for them to request a few extra minutes. It would be nice if Family Link included a one-tap way to add 5 minutes to a session, but instead all you can do is completely unlock the device, getting rid of all limits for the day.

Time's almost up, kid!

Time’s almost up, kid!

At least there’s an easy way to deny access. If you need your kid to get off the tablet now, limits and schedules be damned, you can quickly lock if down in a couple of ways: On your phone, just go to screen time and hit the big green lock, which will turn red. If that’s a little draconian for your taste, you can also just hide your kids’ favorite apps on their devices without locking them out entirely.

The Lock Device Now button lets parents lock the kid device with just a couple of taps.

The Lock Device Now button lets parents lock the kid device with just a couple of taps.

And you’ll know which apps are their favorites thanks to Family Link’s analytics. At any time, a parent can see just how much time the kid has been spending in various apps.

Family Link's app analytics let parents know what apps their child has been using.

Family Link’s app analytics let parents know what apps their child has been using.

Google has done a good job of building a framework for Family Link. With more flexibility in the controls (especially around screen time), it could be ready for prime time—at least from the parents’ perspective. Still, I have to wonder if kids will take to Family Link. Countdown locks and lock screens are cold, unforgiving tools, and Google’s toolset can only be effective if parents marry it with the right amount of empathy and guidance.

There’s precious little of that in Family Link, nor should there be. Google makes impressive tech products, but it’s in no position to tell any parent how to introduce their kids to the internet and devices. If Google adds more detail to the controls they have the tools to do that at their own pace.