Alcatel Idol 5 hands-on: A decent phone for $200

Alcatel is back with a new Idol flagship that won’t cost you a month’s rent (unlike some other phones we know). The Idol 5 is the latest addition to the company’s line of affordable handsets that offer mid- to high-end specs. The international version made an appearance at IFA earlier this month, but we now have details of the Idol 5’s release here in the US. The phone will be available exclusively on Cricket Wireless starting October 27th for just $200, and from my brief hands-on with a preview unit, I’m cautiously impressed by what it offers.

Gallery: Alcatel Idol 5 and Uni 360 hands-on | 14 Photos

The first thing I noticed was the Idol 5’s sturdy, elegant build. Its aluminum unibody lends the phone a premium feel, and I appreciate its matte finish.The glass rear that used to be a fingerprint magnet on previous models is thankfully gone. The Idol 5 also sports a round button on its right edge that the company calls the Now key. You can program this to launch any app from any screen, or to do specific tasks in certain apps, like taking a series of pictures instead of just one in the camera.

I was also surprised by the Idol 5’s bright, colorful screen, which made graffiti-esque wallpapers and cartoonish icons looked vibrant and crisp. The phone runs a mostly stock version of Android 7.0 Nougat, and offers apps from previous Alcatel phones like Deezer music and Color Capture. The latter creates color schemes from things you point the camera at, then applies it to the OS. It’ll even change the colors of the app icons. This is a nifty feature for those obsessed with customizing their phone, but the rest of us won’t find it all that useful.

Unlike some of its predecessors, the Idol 5 uses a MediaTek processor instead of a Qualcomm option, which I suspect has to do with keeping costs down. A spokesperson for Alcatel told Engadget, “At this tier, we felt the MediaTek chipset and GPU delivered the better experience, without sacrificing on overall device value.”

For the most part, the Idol 5 was responsive during my hands-on — scrolling through pages of apps and launching the browser did not exhibit any noticeable lag. But when it came to graphically taxing tasks, like applying a beauty filter in the camera app and exiting out of the VR launcher, the Idol 5 stuttered. A company rep told me the software on my preview unit still wasn’t final, so this might improve by the time the phone launches.

The Idol 5’s battery is smaller than its predecessor 2,850mAh but Alcatel is quick to point out the Idol 5 supports MediaTek’s fast-charging feature called Pump Express. Alcatel said this will get you from 0 to 100 percent juice in 100 minutes.

In addition to all the above features, you’ll also get NFC, which enables Android Pay, a USB C port, and a headphone jack. (Yay!) You won’t find dual cameras (which are all the rage even on cheaper phones) here, though. The Idol 5’s 12-megapixel rear and 8-MP front cameras don’t offer special features like the competition, but they appear to be serviceable. The selfies I took during my preview were clear and accurate, but not so beautiful that I wanted to share them.

Overall, the Idol 5 offers a decent set of features for the price. I’m concerned about the lag I encountered during my testing, but otherwise the phone provides relatively modern components for hundreds less than high-end flagships. It also offers some features that competitors like the Moto G5S don’t, like NFC. The Moto G5S does have a larger battery, but it costs $30 more.

Alcatel also unveiled a $50 VR headset called the Uni 360 Goggles (or Uni Goggles for short, which isn’t much better of a name). Instead of bundling the phone with the goggles like it did last year, the company is selling the accessory on its own. The headset is designed for first-time VR users, and the company claims it’s easier to use and less-intimidating than existing options. That’s why the Uni doesn’t have handheld controllers that, according to Alcatel, can confuse first-timers. The headset has on-device buttons for navigation, so you press down on the right for Yes and on the left to go back. I liked the travel (depth) and responsiveness of these buttons during my preview, and I quickly understood how to navigate the system.

The company also refined its existing VR software launcher, which will be available on the Idol 5. The new app is called VR Home, and it feels more polished and developed than before, featuring a three-column layout that’s reminiscent of the Gear VR and Oculus launchers. It’ll pull in compatible content from the Google Play Store as well as VR company Littlestar. Alcatel said it opted for its own ecosystem instead of using something like Google’s Daydream or Oculus, to help it circumvent hardware requirements so it could make a device that’s affordable and easy-to-use. I’m not convinced that will truly be better for VR newbies, but the low price could very well tempt folks who want to dip their toes in VR, but want something better than a Google Cardboard.

All told, Alcatel’s new products show its commitment to making decent low-cost devices for people who aren’t looking to shell out for the likes of the latest iPhones and Galaxies. But the affordable phone market is competitive, with companies like ZTE, Huawei and Moto each offering compelling products for under $250. We’ll have to spend more time testing the Idol 5 and Uni 360 to see if they’re the best budget option, but in the meantime, they appear to be worthy of a closer look.

Anker crammed a projector into a soda can-sized smart speaker

While every CES brings a new set of smaller and smarter devices, the age of the mobile projector hasn’t quite arrived. But gadget company Anker’s Nebula Capsule, launched today on Indiegogo, makes a strong argument by bundling a speaker and Bluetooth connectability in to the visual package. Even if you aren’t binging TV or showing a film, you can still link it to your phone to play tunes. And if you’re swayed by popular opinion, give the Nebula a look: Its crowdfunding campaign went live today and it’s already raised over $140,000 as of publication.

The Nebula supposedly packs a lot in a tiny (soda can-size) package: Five speakers that project omnidirectional sound and a projector, with battery life claims of 2.5 hours displaying video or 40 hours playing music. It runs Android 7.0 out of the box, meaning you can load up all your Netflix or HBO apps and play from there. Or you can play content from another device wirelessly over Bluetooth or WiFi (connecting with AirPlay and Miracast) or via HDMI and USB ports.

With a native resolution of 854 x 480 pixels, the Nebula is no replacement for an HD or 4K screen, but its portability and brightness (press materials claim 100 ANSI lumens) make it a potentially great home theater choice. Plus, Anker is a known brand in gadgetry, most recently announcing its cheaper Echo-like Genie digital assistant last month. Best of all, the Nebula’s crowdfunding page claims they’ll start shipping Nebulas this December. The starting $200 deals have already sold out, but you can still get one for $250, a bit off the planned sticker price of $350, which gives you the speaker, a remote, cable and a wall charger.

Are Samsung’s Smart TVs really spying on you?

Remember when Microsoft revealed Kinect would quietly listen to everything you said, causing the internet to erupt into furious, anti-Orwellian storm? Now it’s Samsung’s turn.

A passage from the company’s Smart TV privacy policy has been doing the rounds, revealing a small but concerning detail: “Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of Voice Recognition.”

The idea of our personal information being captured by any sort of technology should make anyone uncomfortable, but it’s that mention of a “third party” which is most disconcerting.

However, Samsung has tried to offer some reassurance. It told TechRadar it “does not retain voice data or sell it to third parties”.

“If a consumer consents and uses the voice recognition feature, voice data is provided to a third party during a requested voice command search. At that time, the voice data is sent to a server, which searches for the requested content then returns the desired content to the TV.”

Privacy party

 It added: “Samsung takes consumer privacy very seriously. In all of our Smart TVs we employ industry-standard security safeguards and practices, including data encryption, to secure consumers’ personal information and prevent unauthorized collection or use.”

The company added that you’ll know if the voice recognition feature is active because a microphone icon will be present on the screen. Samsung also reminds us that the feature can be activated or deactivated by the user.

And of course, the TV owner can also disconnect the TV from the Wi-Fi network entirely, although that somewhat defeats the point of having a smart television.

That might help some people sleep more soundly at night, but as the Internet of Things starts to consume our daily lives, this certainly won’t be the last (or the worst) privacy scare.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 is now in India, priced Rs 67,900

While the world is going gaga over the iPhone launch today, Samsung just launched the latest flagship Galaxy Note 8 in India. We have no idea if Samsung intentionally went with this date or not, but seems like that’s not a big deal for the company. The smartphone was launched on August 24 in selected markets and is seeing delightful response till now.

The Galaxy Note 8 is priced at Rs 67,990 in India, and will be going on sale from September 21 onwards. There’s no doubt that the smartphone is a great example of stunning design and powerful hardware, but it is yet to be seen if it really convinces Indian audiences to buy the phone at this price. The Galaxy Note 8 is one of a kind smartphone in it’s segment as there is no other phone right now that has pen support. The only competition it will face is the upcoming iPhone, and like always it would be interesting how Apple strategizes it’s entry in Indian market.

The Galaxy Note 8 comes with tons of productivity features and some additional pen function to put more sense into the hardware. It comes with several unique features that promises to literally boost user productivity. After last year’s Note 7 blast controversy, it was indeed a critical launch for Samsung in order to save it’s much loved Note line-up.

App pairing is one of the interesting new features that lets you utilise that huge 6.3-inch display to its fullest. App pairing allows you to pair two apps that can be launched together from the homescreen or in App Edge. This feature opens both the apps in split screen mode, allowing you to do two tasks faster than ever before.

With the Galaxy Note 8 and its new S-Pen, Samsung has introduced a feature called Live Messages. This is in effect a GIF maker – using the S-Pen, you can now draw a sketch and the Note 8 will create an animated GIF out of it. You can then send this new GIF to your friends or save it to your device.

Samsung has added new DeX abilities to better use Galaxy Note 8’s power. With DeX Labs, a majority of the apps can now be used in full-screen mode. Samsung has also modified the DeX user interface to have an overview of more apps and optimised video conferencing and email experience.

The Galaxy Note 8’s build and finish is quite similar to the Galaxy S8 but the design has seen an overhaul in terms of shape and form factor. It has the Gorilla Glass 5 on the back and also comes with IP68 waterproofing. It also retains the IRIS scanner and oddly placed fingerprint sensor on the back. Like the S8, it also has the 3D Touch enabled home button embedded inside the display. It has a hybrid dual SIM slot that means it can support microSD card up to 256GB.

In terms of specifications, the Galaxy Note 8 has a stunning looking 6.3-inch curved AMOLED full HD display with Corning Gorilla Glass 5 protection. While the US variant of the phone has the Snapdragon 835, the Indian variant of the phone will come with an octa-core Exynos 8895 and Mali-G71 MP20 GPU coupled with 6GB of RAM and 64GB of storage.

The Galaxy Note 8 features two 12-megapixel cameras on the back that both feature Optical Image Stabilisation. Samsung claims that this is the first time a dual camera setup has featured OIS on both the sensors. Additionally, the two sensors also feature Samsung’s Dual Pixel technology and Phase Detection Autofocus. On the front it has an 8-megapixel camera with f/1.7 aperture, 1/3.6″ sensor size and dual video call.

The Galaxy Note 8 also comes with a feature called Live Focus that lets you shoot portrait photos with a fancy bokeh effect. Samsung says that you can adjust the bokeh effect before and after you take the shot.

Connectivity options include, Wi-Fi 802.11, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, and USB 3.1, Type-C 1.0. It is powered by a 3300mAh battery, which is slightly smaller the the Galaxy S8 Plus.

 Samsung Galaxy Note 8 launch offers

Those who pre-book the device can avail one time screen replacement and get free wireless charger. As part of Samsung’s special launch offer, consumers using HDFC credit card for buying the Galaxy Note8 will get INR 4000 cashback.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 specifications

Display: 6.3-inch OLED Infinity Display with Corning Gorilla Glass 5

Resolution: 1440 x 2960 pixels

Processor: Samsung Exynos Octa-core

RAM: 6GB

Storage: 64GB

Primary Camera: Dual 12MP (26mm, f/1.7, PDAF & 52mm, f/2.4, AF), OIS, autofocus, 2x optical zoom, dual-LED (dual tone) flash

Secondary Camera: 8 MP, f/1.7, autofocus, 1/3.6″ sensor size, 1.22 µm pixel size, 1440p@30fps, dual video call, Auto HDR

Battery: 3300mAh

Pebble Watch Creator Now Wants to Keep Your AirPods From Dying and Disappearing

In 2012, when everyone assumed that no one wanted a smartwatch, the original Pebble became the poster-child for the crowdfunding site Kickstarter when it raised just over $10 million from excited backers. Five years later, Pebble is no more, its intellectual assets are now owned by Fitbit, and the company’s CEO is returning to Kickstarter with a new product that promises to protect and charge your pricey AirPods headphones.

The PodCase is reminiscent of the bulbous smartphone battery cases that companies like Mophie sell. Inside it you’ll find a 2,500 mAh battery pack that can completely recharge a dead iPhone 7 (1,960 mAh) or almost double the life of the iPhone 7 Plus (2,900 mAh). It’s also charged through a USB-C port, so you can use the same charging cables your fancy new MacBook does. What sets the PodCase apart from other battery cases is a large protrusion, next to the iPhone’s rear camera, where you can securely dock and charge your AirPods headphones. The charging case that Apple includes with the AirPods has enough power to recharge the headphones around five times, but the PodCase bumps that up to somewhere close to 40 full charges—but that’s assuming your smartphone hasn’t already started depleting the case’s battery.

The PodCase also makes it easier to quickly access your AirPods, as Apple’s charging solution includes a lid you have to first pop open, and it allows you to charge your iPhone, backup battery, and headphones, all using just a single cable. The tradeoff? You’re completely negating all the work Apple put into making the iPhone a thin and sleek device. This is an accessory for people who prioritize battery life over everything else.

The earliest backers of the PodCase can pre-order one via Kickstarter for $80, with delivery expected in February of next year. If you’d rather hold off until product actually starts shipping, the retail version of the PodCase will sell for $100.

As with any crowdfunded product, there’s always some risk involved. On a certain level, crowdfunding sites like Indiegogo and Kickstarter are designed to pass the risks of launching a new product on to the consumer, but it’s not necessarily a success once a product is delivered. The team behind the PodCase includes Eric Migicovsky, the former CEO and founder of Pebble, as well as Steve Johns, who was the company’s founding industrial designer. The Pebble is considered one of Kickstarter’s biggest success stories, but after Fitbit’s acquisition of the company’s assets, Pebble owners were left with a smartwatch lacking a warranty or any tech support should their hardware fail.

There’s little doubt the team behind the PodCase will deliver the product to backers, but there’s good reason to be wary of what happens next. Migicovsky promises the case is the first of several products designed to solve simple everyday problems without the need for building a big company, but selling gadgets isn’t just about getting products out the door. “The good news about this product is that we’ve demonstrated that we know manufacturing and how to make and ship a great product on time,” says Migicovsky, when asked about the risks involved with backing his latest Kickstarter. “There is no software at all in the product, so there’s no chance of it not working over time. If it works today, it will work in future.”

But hardware does fail; it’s inevitable. And knowing that the $100 smartphone case you purchased will still be repairable in a few years is a valid concern. The PodCase might be an improvement on Apple’s solution for charging and protecting your AirPods, but if something goes wrong with Apple’s hardware in a few years, you can at least be confident you can get it fixed.

Beats Studio3 headphones even kill wind noise

https://images.cdn.stuff.tv/sites/stuff.tv/files/styles/main-full-width/public/brands/Beats/Studio3/beats_studio3_handson_3.jpg?itok=LOPzOLKc&timestamp=1504541395

Noise-cancelling headphones are saviours to commuters and jet setters alike, cutting out background babble and creating a calm oasis of tranquility… so that you can listen to Norwegian death metal or Dutch gabba in the peace and quiet these genres truly deserve – nay, demand.

But Beats’ wireless Studio3 cans go a step further than previous efforts thanks to Pure ANC technology, which not only checks that the noise cancelling isn’t affecting how the music sounds (and does so a mere 50,000 times per second, no less), but is capable of counteracting wind noise – particularly useful given the onset of autumn and the promise of inclement weather.

And the best part? You can already order them, should you have £300 to hand. They come in six fetching colour finishes, and should arrive mid-October.

Beats keeps using cables that aren’t supported by Apple’s new computers

Photo: Beats

For the past two months, Apple has been giving students who buy a new MacBook or MacBook Pro a pair of Beats headphones for free. But here’s something kind of weird about that: Beats headphones can’t be charged by a new MacBook or the MacBook’s power brick without an adapter.

Despite Apple going all in on USB-C with its laptops, no Beats headphones support the increasingly popular connection standard. The headphones Apple has been offering to students include the Solo3 Wireless, which use a USB to Micro USB cable, and the Beats X, which use a USB to Lightning cable.

Apple evidently doesn’t find this to be a huge problem, as Beats just introduced a new pair of headphones yesterday — the high-end Studio 3 Wireless — that once again rely on a USB to Micro USB cable. That means there’ll be even more people who’ll have to hang onto an extra cable and adapter in order charge all of their stuff.

This isn’t a very Apple-like approach to things. With its own products, Apple tosses off standards before they’re ready to go, with little concern for its customers’ frustrations — just see its transition to USB-C and its move away from the headphone jack. So it’s pretty surprising to see Beats sticking with older standards, especially for a high-end product.

One can imagine Beats is doing this to make life easier for people who don’t have the latest and greatest MacBooks and Android phones, which are the main products that have switched over to USB-C. And there’s a good argument to be made for taking that approach: if Beats wants to appeal to a wider audience, it makes sense to use cables the wider audience is already relying on. But it’s a weird argument to make for a company owned by Apple, particularly since it means the headphones don’t connect directly to Apple’s own products.

This is something that’ll be frustrating for people buying into Apple’s ecosystem: if you have a MacBook, an iPhone, and a pair of Beats Solo 3s, you’ll need three different cables and up to two adapters.

Down the road, it seems like Apple plans to shift Beats headphones over to Lightning cables, which will eliminate some of this problem. The Beats X already use Lightning, and given that Apple controls the Lightning standard and profits off of its use, it’d make enough sense to see it spread to additional peripherals. It’d also mean that someone who owns an iPhone — that is, a whole lot of people — would be able to charge their smartphone and headphones off the same cord. That’s not as great as using USB-C for everything, but it’s certainly better than toting three cables around.

The Essential Phone earns one of iFixit’s worst repairability ratingsThe Essential Phone earns one of iFixit’s worst repairability ratings

Cynthia Gil

Andy Rubin’s Essential Phone has finally shipped to customers after half a summer’s worth of delays, and that means the teardown experts of iFixit have now had a chance to rip apart the slick slab of titanium and ceramic. The verdict? iFixit gives the Essential Phone a 1 out of 10 on its “repairability” scale, placing it in the company of some of the website’s worstoffenders. That score pales in comparison to the iPhone 7 (7), Google Pixel XL (7), or even the Samsung Galaxy S8 (4). Or, in the words of the email that iFixit sent out promoting the teardown post, the phone is “a hot mess.”

The Essential Phone was always meant to be a jewel of a device, something that stands at least a few steps away from the iPhones and Samsungs of the world because of its premium fit, finish, and design. But all that meant extra trouble for getting the phone open. After finding basically nothing was accessible by entering the back of the phone, iFixit had to freeze and crack the screen to access its components. “Any attempt at repair is likely to inflict as much damage as it fixes,” the team writes, noting that overuse of adhesives made it difficult to even get inside.

A couple other interesting bits:

  • The earpiece speaker on the top of the phone is part of the same module as the selfie camera
  • All the identifying marks (like the FCC label) that are usually found on the back of a phone are instead hidden on a small tag that lives under the SIM tray
  • The USB-C port is soldered to the motherboard, which means it will be harder to fix or replace

It already seemed that, despite its titanium and ceramic build, the nearly full-screen Essential Phone would be a risky buy for clumsy smartphone owners. Learning how tough it could be to repair is only going to fuel that paranoia. If you own one already, or have one on the way, it’s worth reading through the full iFixit report — and maybe buying a third-party case in the meantime.

Facebook is offering the music industry millions to let its users upload songs in videos

Facebook is gearing up to battle YouTube to be the top destination for music videos and other content containing copyright-protected songs, according to a report from Bloomberg. The company is reportedly offering music publishers hundreds of millions of dollars to retain the rights to music featured in videos uploaded by users and page owners. It’s a way to, at least initially, stave off the concerns of the copyright holders who must tirelessly work through Facebook to get the content taken down.

Down the line, however, Facebook hopes to build a system for identifying videos with copyrighted content, similar to Google’s landmark Content ID system, that would pave the way for the social network to rival YouTube as the internet’s top-tier video service and, possibly, even a streaming music contender. Some type of deal would be the result of years of negotiations between Facebook and music publishers, and it would arrive just as Facebook is globally rolling out Watch, its redesigned video programming tab.

While appeasing copyright holders with regards to user-generated videos is a near-term concern for Facebook, the move would be a step toward realizing the company’s grandest vision for online video, something CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been plotting for years. If Facebook can begin vacuuming up video advertising dollars away from YouTube, as well as secure the rights to copyrighted content from big publishers, it can draw in even more users for longer periods of time and effectively rival every other form of online media on the web.

The company is already planning to produce original television shows in partnership with media companies and news organizations. If it secures rights from music publishers for user-generated content, it could also then do the same for premium content. Part of that process could involve landing a deal with Vevo, the rights holder to more than 200,000 music videos from top artists and labels around the world. Vevo’s exclusivity deal with YouTube ends this year, giving Facebook an opportunity to negotiate its own deal with the company.

Logitech resurrects the trackball mouse with the MX Ergo

The year is 2017, and Logitech is releasing a new trackball mouse called the MX Ergo. Yes, you read that right: the trackball is back, folks.

If you’re not familiar, the trackball mouse is an odd relic of a past computing age, when an actual argument took place as to whether or not it was more effective to move a physical mouse around (i.e., normal mice) or accomplish the same task by anchoring the mouse in place and manipulating the cursor through a giant plastic ball on the side instead.

While conventional mice seem to have won out — Logitech’s most recent trackball mouse was the M570, released back in the heady days of 2010 — there are still trackball aficionados out there that maintain that the trackball is the only way to roll.

And if you are a trackball fan, there’s a lot to like about the MX Ergo. Designed to be a trackball alternative to the company’s excellent MX Master S2, the MX Ergo shares a lot in common, with customizable back/forward buttons, a similar industrial design, and support for Logitech’s multi-computer Flow feature. Navigation is done through the giant grey trackball, which includes a dedicated precision button that switches the cursor to a dramatically slower tracking speed for small adjustments.

The mouse itself is comfortable to use, nestling nicely in the hand like a solid, smooth stone. And a magnetic base allows the MX Ergo to tilt from a level position to a 20-degree angle with an incredibly satisfying clunk that, if nothing else, is remarkably cathartic to fidget with.

The MX Ergo can either connect over Bluetooth or Logitech’s Unifying receiver. The company claims that users will get around four months of use off a charge, although like the other MX mice, Logitech is still using Micro USB instead of USB-C.

The other big disappointment is the scroll wheel, which sadly isn’t the fantastic ratcheting one found in the MX Master S2. Instead, Logitech has put a rather pedestrian scroll wheel on the MX Ergo, albeit one that does offer additional left and right tilting options instead.

The MX Ergo is expected to ship later this month for $99.99.