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OnePlus Addresses Reservation List Cheating

Posted by wicked August - 4 - 2015 - Tuesday Comments Off

20150804185738963

Jake Cooper figured out how to bump his place up on OnePlus’ reservation list and shared it with the world. OnePlus replied to the cheating in a message where they say they are aware of the problem there and in their #WWYDFT2 contest. They also said Jake Cooper will get an invite early… while he did it again.

OnePlus 2 Benchmark Scores Show Its Muscle

Posted by wicked August - 4 - 2015 - Tuesday Comments Off

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This video by FoneArena contains all the popular benchmarks being tested on the OnePlus 2, and their results will give you a good idea of just how much the device pushes the Snapdragon 810. As far as we can see, the scores are solid and in-tune with what we’d expect out of the phone’s new hardware.

Sony’s Emergence in The Middle: Is The Price Right?

Posted by wicked August - 4 - 2015 - Tuesday Comments Off

20150804085621820

Sony’s Electronics Division is not in its best days, and its smartphone products are seemingly an important cause of this. The Japanese giant’s Xperia line has been on the decline in terms of sales, and these past few months have been particularly damaging to the company due to the Xperia Z4’s market performance. Sony’s Q1 results were also not favorable, as its mobile division lost $184 million and sales slumped 16% year-on-year.

 

Not too long ago we featured a look at an interview with Sony CEO Hiroki Totoki, and much of Sony’s newer tactics make more sense now, just a few weeks later. In the interview, Sony discussed globalization and how it affected their past few years of global sales. It is no secret that one of Sony’s biggest interests is supplying for Japan, its home turf. Despite its efforts, the company lost its leading position in 2014, and it fell behind companies like Sharp and Fujitsu. Totoki’s statements implied Sony is looking to reap the fruits of globalization by focusing on emerging markets, and their new devices seem to do just that. What do they have to offer, and most importantly, should we care?

 

Traditional & Premium to New & Cheap

 

Yesterday, two new Sony devices were announced: the Xperia M5 and the C5 Ultra. We are all too used to the Xperia Z flagship line, and these devices are clearly aimed at the mid-range. Most importantly, though, they are aimed at emerging markets. While Sony’s market presence in countries like the UK is nothing to scoff at, it is clear that in order to tackle the globalized market and expand to new frontiers, Sony must play the game that everyone seems to have moved towards (at least in part), and what better way to do this than by releasing mid-range devices?

Xperia C5 Ultra and M5_2

 

There are some interesting aspects about these two phones. First of all, both feature good camera specifications, at least on paper and considering they compete in the $300-$400 price-range. The Xperia C5 Ultra features 13MP cameras on both the front and rear, while the M5 features a 13MP front-facing shooter and a 21.5MP one on the back. Something worth noting is that the C series is known for its selfie-capabilities, and the C5 Ultra once again brings flash to the front. Sony’s camera sensors are remarkable, and in fact, its area of business that sells smartphone camera sensors saw a 164 percent boost to $244 million last quarter, making those some of Sony’s biggest strengths.

Sony is smart for not only cashing-in on their own technology (even if, as we’ve seen, their software does not make the best use of it), but also for doing so in their new attempts at expanding inside emerging markets. Considering that Sony’s M5 is competing within the $400 bracket, those camera specifications look more than apt. But, on the other hand, Motorola’s Moto X Style features a 21MP camera for the same price, and the resulting experience is in DxOMark’s top smartphone cameras. Something worth noting is that the Moto X Style uses Sony’s own IMX230 CMOS camera sensor, the same one featured in the new M5. This alone suggests that it is possible for Sony to offer an equally impressive experience. Considering Motorola was able to improve upon their camera software so dramatically in a single iteration, it’d be silly to assume Sony is not capable of similar results with their own sensor (at least, if they truly tried).

20150804090553888Another aspect about these phones that is worth noting is their new chipsets: Sony opted out of the Snapdragon family for these two phones, and in turn they have joined the MediaTek crew. Before going into the undesired consequences, I wish to point out that, in terms of mid-range devices, Sony does not have as many options as one would think. While devices like the Moto X Play, which we still have not seen tested, opt for the Snapdragon 615, it might be wise to skip Qualcomm in this mid-ranger for a better bang-per-buck.

The Snapdragon 615 has been featured in devices like the Mi 4i and the YU Yureka, and the former was notorious for release-date overheating complaints which got addressed in a software update, while the latter can seemingly get up to 52° Celsius (in the back) while gaming. The Helio X10 in the M9+, however, looks to be significantly cooler, but variations may occur in both chips depending on the device that hosts it. If Sony wants to avoid more controversy after their Snapdragon 810 fiascos with the camera and stores, though, another chip from another company would be the place to start.

But this poses a big question regarding development. Sony is one of the most developer-friendly OEMs out there, and they support various efforts regarding custom software on their devices. Xperia phones see plenty of development in our forums, including very healthy cross-device tweaks and projects. MediaTek, however, is not exactly known for its GPL compliance nor developer friendliness, something which some already fear will become an issue when it comes to the device’s longevity. Sony has not been the fastest with updates either, particularly for non-flagship devices, but they have shown themselves to be willing to provide various software alternatives for Xperia devices. However, the very name “MediaTek” by itself carries a stigma that cannot be overlooked, and it could ultimately prevent power users from buying into this phone.

20150804090724839As for the chipset’s performance, we can only judge from what we’ve seen of it in other devices. The MediaTek Helio X10 found in the Xperia M5 has been featured on various devices, including the HTC One M9+ and the Meizu MX5. On paper, the Helio X10 is not a bad chipset, and by some metrics it is even ahead of the Snapdragon 805. However, a strikingly obvious downside of the SoC is its GPU. When Meizu announced their MX5 they had the nerve of showing an AnTuTu benchmark score of the Helio X10 at their event (pictured), but breakdowns show that the PowerVR G6200 GPU is actually rather weak (for 2015 standards), as revealed by their preferred benchmark (comparison below).

The problem comes when you consider that this is still a 1080p display, and the (still) high-resolution benefits from good GPU performance. To give you an idea, the shown GPU score of the PowerVR G6200 is around that of a Snapdragon 800’s Adreno 330. When it comes to the GPU, the Helio X10 is not very impressive.

Snapdragon 800 [1080p Nexus 5]
Helio X10 [1080p MX5]
Snapdragon 805 [1080p Note 4]

 

On a last note, I want to address the fact that these mid-rangers are meant to compete in emerging markets, not in countries like the United States. This means that Sony is putting itself up against the new conquerors and their affordable phones. The ZenFone 2, OnePlus 2, both Motorola’s new Moto X devices, and the latest from Alcatel, Meizu, and Xiaomi are all notable competitors that Sony would have to out-manoeuver. To be quite frank, I believe these phones are not quite enough to break into the segment in the way Sony would ultimately need. The C5 Ultra has a very nice design with small bezels, and the M5’s metal edges make the phone borrow slightly from the Z line. However, when you look at the build quality of the phones mentioned above (with the exception, perhaps, of Alcatel’s and Asus’), it is clear Sony could have done more, as its competition has achieved very impressive quality inside and out for a very similar price.

 

Bang-per-buck

 

If Sony wants to begin expanding in developing countries, these phones can prove to be a good initiative. The fact that the company seems to be putting so much emphasis on one of their biggest strengths – that is, their camera sensors – should be refreshing for those that want good camera phones. But on objective terms, this seems to be one of the only definitive advantages Sony’s mid-rangers seem to be offering. In a sense, this is mostly a matter of pricing. It is not too little, but it is not enough in a global context where competitors are putting out such amazing smartphone deals. The fact that performance and perhaps development are held back by the MediaTek chip and will most likely not be up to par with the best of the bracket (like the Moto X Style and the OnePlus 2) could be the nail in the coffin for power users.

Sony is the OEM we want to save, and while these phones might not be the saviors we were expecting, there is a lot more to expect around the corner. Sony is shutting down its online store on August 28, something which many enthusiasts saw as a sign of decline. I see it as the opposite: Sony made it very clear to us that it will not exit the mobile industry, and they have said that they will “soon unveil a new online product showcase and more ways to shop”. This and their September 2 IFA 2015 press conference make me believe that Sony is looking to reinvent itself, or at least its mobile business. We know that Sony has put out great, balanced and quality products in the past, and we are eager to see how they can bring that level of polish to whatever new direction they take. Sony could finally be waking up, and we could see some very good phones out of that.

 

What do you think about Sony’s mid-range devices? Sound off below!

Sunday Debate: How Can We Get a No-Compromise Phone?

Posted by wicked August - 2 - 2015 - Sunday Comments Off

smartphone compromise

Join us in a fun Sunday Debate on Compromises. Come with your opinions and feel free to read some of our thoughts, then pick your side or play devil’s advocate to get your voice heard and engage in friendly discussion. You can read our food-for-thought or jump straight into the fray below!

 

 

Getting an upgrade is a big deal to us power users: it’s our little Android Christmas, where after a long time (for plenty of us, at least) of carrying a device we intensely research and drool over something new. But many, XDA writers included, feel that flagship upgrades today are more of a gamble that they have ever been, as many features or key aspects are sacrificed to boost others, or they are simply forgotten in the course of smartphone evolution. This leads to the nasty compromises that have us weighing every pro and con throughout days of pondering and anticipation.

Many phones this year have prevented users from leaving their older devices for the latest and greatest — often because the latest was not too great. The industry’s global context is likely at fault: affluent markets are approaching saturation, emerging markets are shifting the prices towards the low-end and mid-range, many technologies are hitting (sometimes momentary) plateaus and many reviewers and consumers seemingly demand premium quality instead of thorough technological advancements. These are, however, not the only factors, and we must keep these and more in mind to find a solution to the problem of smartphone compromises.

We are framing this as an open debate where you can suggest a way to minimize smartphone compromises in your upgrades, be it through expanded  repertoires of offerings and availability, user-selected specifications through modularity and online stores, or whatever you might think of. Please try to explain your suggestions and solutions to make them understandable so that we can all engage in healthy discussion. Feel free to check some of our ideas below or jump straight into the comments!

 

Possible Solutions & Alternatives

 

Keep in mind that these are hypothetical scenarios and not necessarily isolated; many of them are currently happening to some degree, and they are happening at once. None of them are mutually exclusive!

 

  • Phone modularity: With Project Ara coming soon, we might see the rise of phone modularity. If Android allows you to have a customizable, personal software experience, Ara is its hardware counterpart. This means that users have plenty of freedom when choosing the hardware they want, as they can quickly slide out the modules they don’t want to replace them with those they do want. This way they can adjust the phone to their use case without paying extra for the things they know they don’t need. Another benefit is that phones can last longer and that users do not need to get rid of an entire piece of hardware over an outdated component or because they desire, for example, a new processor or camera.
  • Component Selection: With online stores such as Moto Maker gaining a bigger presence, we could see devices come with more hardware variations other than just storage. Many devices now offer the option of coming with more RAM, such as the ZenFone 2, OnePlus 2 and Moto G 2015, but we could extend that to cameras, (the S6 already comes with two kinds of sensors), battery sizes, and more. It might lead to slight complications from a software perspective, but being able to choose your preferred specifications in your preferred device could be a good way to alleviate the problem by allowing consumers to upgrade certain components they want to be upgraded and get a better-suited purchase, while leaving the rest intact.
  • More Phone Variants: In a way, this ties in with what was seen above. We now see that many manufacturers are splitting their smartphone lines into multiple models. For example, the Moto X was split into the Style and Play and the OnePlus 2 comes in two models as well. These “tiers within the top tier” allow consumers to have more alternatives, and in Motorola’s case, it allows them to opt for different use-cases as well (given the Moto X Play has a much bigger battery at the expense of processing power and other features). Samsung will seemingly do the same with their S6 Edge Plus and Note 5, so that those who want a Note get a Note, and those who want a big S6 Edge can get one. While this can lead to fragmentation if not done right, it can help consumers get closer to what they want.
  • Throughout Upgrades At High Prices: The easy way out would be to just sacrifice price and provide upgrades to most if not all components to ensure a balanced and cutting-edge flagship. This would, in turn, keep those who cannot afford such upgrades at bay. However, if implemented with other models above such as multiple variants or the ability to reach the through upgrade through picking components in an online store, the notion of paying extra becomes easier to swallow. But even in itself, there is still a market for those who want the best of the best, and there is a growing space for those who are willing to provide a no-compromise experience and actually achieve it.
  • Greater Availability & Competition: Despite our globalized world, many manufacturers have not made it to important markets, and many are simply unable to have a shot at them for various reasons. Now that Chinese manufacturers are breaking into new regions and markets, we might see the spike in competition bring forth new phone alternatives that seek to provide the best experience possible. Conversely, we are also seeing manufacturers cut down costs to compete with the new players. Plenty of OEMs such as LG and Motorola opted for pricing their phones more competitively, and Samsung has revised pricing as well. But there is still demand for expensive phones, especially if they check all the boxes. With greater availability and more options incentivized by fierce competition, phones might once more seek to please everyone to reign the market.

 

There are many, many other alternatives and solutions, so feel free to bring them up!

 

Debating

There will never be a smartphone that is perfect for everyone, but the new models of pricing, hardware sales, and phone manufacturing might get us there, or at least closer to that. Availability, competitions, a bigger range of products, modularity and customization can all be relevant factors in the path towards a new model that is flexible enough to satisfy a bigger number of consumers. So keeping all of this in mind, we ask you the following questions:

 

  • How do you think OEMs can balance out costs while giving consumers what they want?
  • How can OEMs maximize consumer satisfaction?
  • What alternative models would allow consumers to get the phone that suits them?
  • How do you see the industry evolving with the rise in online stores, modularity, and globalization?

 

XDA Picks: Best Apps of the Week (July 25 – Aug 1)

Posted by wicked August - 1 - 2015 - Saturday Comments Off

apps and games

Apps are at the front and center of any smartphone experience, and with over a million apps on the Google Play Store and new apps being submitted to our forums every day, staying up to date on the latest apps and games can be a hassle. At XDA we don’t discriminate apps – if it’s interesting, innovative, original or useful, we mention them. The XDA Portal Team loves apps too, and here are our top picks for this week.

 

Focus Gallery [FREE]

 

focus1Francisco Franco is a well-known developer, especially around power-users. His latest application is Focus, an attractive gallery app that brings neat tricks to try and take on giants like Google Photos and Quick Pic. Focus lets you tag pictures for organizing with both preset and custom tags, you can access any bit of media directly from the main screen, and there are collections to have organized galleries. Most importantly, though, the app is responsive and features beautiful Material Design. So if you are in line for a new gallery application, give Focus a go!

 

focus2

 

Arrow Launcher [BETA]

 

arrowlauncher1Arrow Launcher is a new homescreen replacement by Microsoft which aims to bring a sleek, stylish and functional experience. The application still has a long way to go, but Microsoft’s effort shows in the attention to detail that went into the app’s design. With a nice glass UI, Arrow Launcher can fit plenty of custom themes and skins from different manufacturers. It doesn’t look the best with Material Design, mind you. But nevertheless, if you are looking for a prepackaged launcher and want to see a new project develop, this beta is worth following.

 

arrow2

 

Monospace Writer [BETA]

 

monoMonospace is a simple and extremely minimal writing pad app for laying down all kinds of thoughts, and it was designed specifically for touchscreens to deliver a pleasant writing experience. This writing app only has the essentials, but it does allow for different formatting styles and it has Dropbox integration for cross-device sync. You can also use hashtags to organize your writings, and the app allows for Markdown support to export your creations to services like WordPress. For an early beta, this app nails its concept rather well, so if you are into blogging, check it out!

 

monospace2

 

Super Drawer [FREE]

 

drawerSuper Drawer is a fresh application that lets you fire up your favorite apps without the trouble of searching for them, as it has Fuzzy Search support that also allows for intelligent partial matching. You can also search for contacts to quickly dial a call, send an email or a Whatsapp message, and more. To make things easier, you can look up apps by their package name and contacts by their email, contact number, company name, etc. The app has plenty to offer and it works with all the big-name launchers, meaning you can try it without regrets!

 

superdrawer2

 

Yahoo Livetext [FREE]

 

yahoo1This video-chat application is unlike the typical Skype clone: it lets you text while having a video call, minus the sound part. At first, the concept might sound useless, but it allows for a more personal texting experience and it is great for those times where one is in a loud or crowded room but still wishes to see the other person. Considering many video-messaging clients don’t allow for chat and video at once, Livetext turns out to be original by providing something so simple yet at times quite useful. While not for everyone, this app makes long texting sessions much more personal.

 

yahoo2

 

A Day in The Woods [PAID]

 

house1A Day in the Woods is a very well-designed puzzle game with excellent graphics that has you sliding across a fantasy world gameboard. You have to help Little Red Riding hood get through the forest and other environments by moving tiles around each board, and you must have her avoid creatures while collecting supplies along the way. There are 60 different levels and plenty of unlockables. The real stand-out, though, is the game’s design and the stylish graphics that are some of the best we’ve seen on an Android puzzle game.

 

house2

 

 

Notable Updates:

 

That is it for this week. We hope that you might have found some of these apps as interesting, useful or entertaining as we did. Whether you are a student, a developer, a designer or a gamer, Android has you covered. We will try to reflect that each week with a variety of picks to spark your interest, and if you see (or publish!) any new apps that you think are worthy of a feature, be sure to send us a tip and we’ll give it a look. Until next time!

 

Voices Of XDA: Orbiting The Earth With Android

Posted by wicked August - 1 - 2015 - Saturday Comments Off

nexus one strand android

Editor’s note: This week’s feature has been written by forum member RowHanSolo and takes a look at the exciting prospect of launching satellites fitted with little more than an Android phone as an onboard computer. From a university to NASA, multiple projects like this have launched!

 

Technology is an ever-growing industry, regardless of which corner you look at. However, each area of technology has its limitations on what it can do and how far it can expand. For satellite technology, that limitation is space. Now when I say space I don’t mean the vast void of the universe, I mean the orbital space around our planet.

We rely on the array of satellites shooting around our planet for much of what we do. No doubt, every one of you has a mobile phone or tablet that requires these satellites; whether it be for GPS navigation, messaging or even internet. There are 6 billion mobile phones currently active in the world; that’s certainly a lot of satellite coverage for mobile phones alone, never mind the satellites we use for other purposes. This leads to about 1100 active satellites, both private and public, and over 2500 decommissioned satellites all orbiting the Earth. Now that is a lot of space. So how do we fix this? The answer may come from one of the causes of satellite crowding and, as I’ve said, you all most likely own one: mobile phones.

You see, as the mobile phone industry has grown, the hardware and software incorporated into each device has expanded. Current mobiles all now contain magnetometers, accelerometers, gyroscopes, cameras, a power supply and, of course, a processor; all the equipment necessary for a basic satellite.

A couple of teams of researchers in the scientific community took advantage of this and started two projects; NASA’s PhoneSat and The University of Surrey space research centre’s (SSC), in association with SSTL (Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd.), STRaND-1.

STRaND-1 (SSC)

 

STRanD-1 is a 3U CubeSat that launched in 2013. Despite being launched two years ago it is still functioning, despite only being powered by a Google Nexus One and still running Android OS.

Not only was STRaND-1 the first nano-satellite to be run by an off-the-shelf smartphone, it also picked up a number of other firsts in the process. Alongside the equipment provided by the smartphone, such as a camera, accelerometers and radio links, the satellite also has two different types of experimental propulsion systems; a WARP DRIVE (Water Alcohol Resistojet Propulsion Deorbit Reentry Velocity Experiment)* and electric Pulsed Plasma Thrusters (PPTs). Both of these propulsion systems are the first to be used on a nano-satellite. The satellite is also flying with amateur radion 9600 bps AX.25 packet radio downlink on 437.568 MHz to allow for effective communication and tracking of the satellite and a 3D printed part, believed to be the first used in space. The telemetry information and tracking is monitored by AMSAT-UK.

*The WARP DRIVE works by firing jets of water alcohol through a 0.2mm hole, providing more thrust than similar sized propulsion systems whilst maintaining a specific impulse of the same standard.

 

At this point in time the project is in Phase 2. This means that now all control of the satellite is being run by the Nexus One at its heart. Furthermore, the phone is also running four additional apps designed and made by the public. While still under construction, the team at SSC ran a FaceBook competition to find these apps, and these were the four winning apps:

iTESA – This app utilizes the phone’s magnetometer, usually used to determine the orientation of the phone, to measure and record the magnetic field around the phone. This data could be used as proof of principle for principles such as Alfven waves (Magnetic oscillations in the upper atmosphere).

The STRaND Data app – Installed on the satellite is a second camera, external to the phone, that faces the screen. The app displays the telemetry information of the satellite on the phone’s screen in graphical representations. Not only will this prove that a standard smartphone screen is durable enough to withstand the harshness of space, but will also allow us to interpret trends from new graphical telemetry.

The 360 app – Using a combination of the smartphone camera and the other equipment on the satellite, this app determines the position of the satellite over Earth. Images can also be requested to be taken from the satellite via an online site and then shown on a map of where they were taken (http://www.360app.co.uk/).

Scream in Space – This app is set to test the popular theory from the Sci-Fi film Alien (1979) that in space, no one can hear you scream. The public are encouraged to record themselves screaming in many different ways and upload it to a website, where the most popular videos will then be uploaded to the satellite and played through the phone’s speakers. The phone’s mic will then attempt to re-record the scream.

PhoneSat (NASA)

 

Unlike STRaND-1, PhoneSat was not equipped with any propulsion systems and as such, the mission was much shorter. However, the PhoneSat mission was comprised of three satellites. The orbits of the satellites decayed after about one week, but this was enough time to achieve NASA’s mission objectives. The main objective of the PhoneSat mission was simply to prove that a satellite built from Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) products could survive and operate in the harshness of space. Of the three satellites that were launched, there were two different models, Graham and Bell. Two Graham models and one Bell were launched into orbit on the maiden voyage of the Antares launch vehicle on April 21st 2013.

Graham is the PhoneSat 1.0 base model. Like STRaND-1, it is powered by a Nexus One running Google’s Android 2.3.3. As well as the phone, the satellite contains an accelerometer, magnetometer and a StenSat radio at 437.425 MHz. The radio transmissions sent small data packets containing images taken from the smartphone camera to amature radio operaters and tracking stations around the world, where they were then sent to the NASA Ames Research Centre. Here they stitched the data packets back into complete images.

Bell is the PhoneSat 1.0 (Graham) model but with one addition, an Iridium transceiver mounted on one end. The purpose of the Iridium experiment was to send data packet to the Iridium satellite constellation** which were then sent via email to NASA.

**The Iridium satellite constellation is a satellite constellation owned by Iridium Communications and is used to send data and voice coverage to pagers and satellite phones on the Earth’s surface.

 

NASA are currently working on a new beta model of the PhoneSat. Alexander is the beta PhoneSat 2.0. On top of the suite of equipment carried on Graham, Alexander has some additions and improvements. Firstly, Alexander carries a Nexus S, as opposed to the Nexus One, running Android 2.3.3. It also comes with a router, solar panels to charge the phone battery and magnetic torquers*** to reduce the spin rate of the satellite to no less than 5dps (degrees per second). The mission objectives of Alexander, when launched, will be to turn on, charge its batteries and send sensor data.

***Magnetic torquers work by inducing a magnetic field that interacts with the ambient magnetic field, creating forces on the torque rod that produce a torque.

 

Now, both of these projects were made with, now outdated, Android phones. There have been many advancements in Android technology over just a couple of years; improved magnetometers, more efficient batteries and more powerful processors, higher resolution cameras and much more. The satellites we could build out of these more advanced devices can be incredible. And if you’re thinking ‘but what about the price tag?’ bear in mind that the PhoneSat 1.0 cost just $3,500 to make by being built out of COTS. Now this is a quite bit of money but compared to the average cost of a normal satellite, around 200 million US dollars, it’s mere pennies and something that could easily be financed by a few like-minded enthusiasts.

In a world where technology appears to be getting bigger and better, maybe the answer to some of the problems this causes is to utilize the smaller ‘commercial’ advances.

Further Reading

For more information on the STRaND-1 project head over to here,
For telemetry information about the STRaND-1 visit this site,
Online live tracking of STRaND-1 is available here,
More information on the PhoneSat project can be found here.

 


This article was part of our series “Voices of XDA”. The new articles you will start to see under “Voices” are entirely thought of and written by you, the members of XDA. If you have an idea for an article you would like to write, you can find more information here and apply here.

CloudPlayer: DIY HiFi Music Streaming Solution

Posted by wicked July - 31 - 2015 - Friday Comments Off

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 5.26.54 AM

In our Helpful Guide to Music Streaming Services, we mentioned several different services that offer ways to stream catalogs of music directly to your device. While each service has their benefits and drawbacks, the common theme among them is to give you access to a vast library of music without the need to store your own, and charge you a monthly fee for the privilege. But what if you already had access to your own catalog of music? Sure, there are many music locker services out there that allow you to upload and stream your own files. Google Play Music allows you to upload up to 50,000 tracks at no cost, and Amazon Music can even store them for you automatically when you purchase music on a physical medium. But what if you wanted to bypass the re-encoding that these services do to your files? What if you wanted to use the cloud storage services you already pay for? Enter CloudPlayer, the newest app from developer doubleTwist.

Simply stated, doubleTwist’s CloudPlayer allows you build your own music streaming service from the files you already have, using the cloud storage services you already use. The app links to your Dropbox, OneDrive, and Google Drive accounts, as well as pulls from local storage, and scans each for compatible media. Then, it builds from all available sources to create a database, and organizes it into one music library, complete with album art, tags, and metadata.  It supports MP3, AAC, OGG, M4A, WAV, and WMA files, and as of version 1.0.4, also supports FLAC files, including those at higher resolutions (up to 24-bit, 192kHz audio). This is probably the biggest reason to use CloudPlayer over other digital music locker services, as most others re-encode lossless or high-resolution files to some type of lossy format. At any time, you can make any file or playlist available for offline playback, and restrict the data needed for streaming to WiFi networks only. There is Chromecast and Apple AirPlay support, and Last.FM scrobbling is built-in.

CloudPlayer is a free download from the Google Play Store, however a one time in-app purchase of $4.99 is needed to unlock the most desirable features, including the cloud storage functionality itself, Chromecast and AirPlay support, and the equalizer and other sound processing features. Upon first opening the app, you are greeted with this information, and can proceed with a 7-day free trial of these “premium” features by logging in with your Google account.

CloudPlayer_FreeTrial

The app itself borrows a lot of visual and operational cues from Google Play Music, which isn’t a bad thing. It offers Material design, and revolves around a gesture-based interface for navigating around your music library. The hamburger menu pops out and allows quick and easy access to sorting options, such as Albums, Artists, Playlists, Songs, Genres, and Composers. From here, you can also show only tracks you’ve downloaded for offline playback and have stored locally, as well as access the settings menu. From the settings menu, you can link to or re-scan your cloud storage services, which include Dropbox, OneDrive, and Google Drive, toggle the use of cellular data on or off, change the default sorting option, set up Last.fm scrobbling, or reset the music database.

CloudPlayer_Menu
CloudPlayer_Settings
CloudPlayer_Import

CloudPlayer_Albums
CloudPlayer_AlbumArtists
CloudPlayer_Songs

Once you connect your cloud storage accounts and allow CloudPlayer to access them, a database is built and organized using track metadata and album art. While browsing the library, overflow menus can be used to make tracks or selections available offline, added to an existing or new playlist, added to the play queue, or deleted. Selecting something for playback will take you to the Now Playing screen, or you can slide it up from the bottom to access it from anywhere within the app. This screen is nicely laid out and functional, and includes high quality album art, play/previous/next buttons, shuffle and repeat controls, a scrolling title bar in ‘track name-artist name’ format, and elapsed/remaining track times. You can swipe left and right on the album art to quickly advance through the playlist, or tap the album art to be able to rate the currently playing track. The bottom of the Now Playing screen houses an ‘Up Next’ section, allowing you to view and quickly jump around the entire playlist. The overflow menu button brings up the 10-band equalizer, SuperSound settings (simulated surround sound settings for headphones), browse currently playing artist, browse currently playing album, and clear play queue options.

CloudPlayer_Selection
CloudPlayer_NowPlaying
CloudPlayer_UpNext
CloudPlayer_EQ

The app supports lock screen controls, displaying the album artwork fullscreen, and also has a persistent notification with quick controls. Also available are three home screen widgets: A full 4×4 widget, and two 4×1 widgets: a dark-themed widget, and a lighter-themed one.

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Performance is fluid and fast, with no detectable stuttering or dropped frames while navigating through the app. I had no issues getting playback to start with both MP3 and FLAC formatted files from any of the supported cloud storage services, but do keep in mind that there is a very slight delay of a second or two while streaming from them, as the app accesses the track and buffers it. The only time I noticed any significant amounts of delay is when I quickly skipped around a song numerous times, forcing it to re-buffer entirely, but this should not be an issue for most.

There are some notable features which are missing, such as the lack of crossfade or gapless playback support, the lack of ChromeCast support for music that is stored on Google Drive, the inability to add or edit track metadata or album art, and the inability to upload music from your device to the cloud from directly within the app. These features, however, are all listed as coming soon in the Play Store description. One missing feature that I would have liked to see is the ability to view any sort of file information, such as the type of audio file, bitrate, sample rate, and bit depth information. As it stands now, If you have mixed file types or qualities in your music library, you will not be able to differentiate between them. CloudPlayer is a relatively new app, however, so we can be sure that doubleTwist is working on adding features and keeping the app well-supported for the foreseeable future.

Despite the missing features and a $4.99 price, CloudPlayer greatly excels at what it sets out to accomplish. The benefit of being able to connect to multiple cloud storage services means that one could have the space to support a pretty large music library using only the free storage provided by each of the three services, without having to pay for monthly storage from just one of them. And while Google Play Music and Amazon Music are great services on their own, you won’t get the ability to stream lossless audio tracks from them, as both re-encode uploads to lossy file formats. doubleTwist has released a very competent, well-designed, and great performing music player here, and their take on music streaming is one that a lot of people would be quite pleased with.

You can grab doubleTwist’s CloudPlayer from the Play Store.

You can also learn more about CloudPlayer from doubleTwist’s product page.


Have you tried CloudPlayer, or any other music locker service? Let us know your impressions in the comments!

The OnePlus 2 & The Year of Smartphone Compromises

Posted by wicked July - 31 - 2015 - Friday Comments Off

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We are very close to entering the last third of 2015, and we have now seen many of the biggest flagship lines issue their latest iterations. Phones like the LG G4 and Galaxy S6 were some of the most anticipated devices in smartphone history, and the hype surrounding the M9 and OnePlus 2 had us discussing for weeks. But for the most part, the awe has vanished.

 

There is a feeling that virtually all of us at the XDA office couldn’t shake off after each and every phone unveiling, something which can loosely be described as “cool, but not enough”. Mind you, by this we mean “I wouldn’t upgrade to it”, and I am sure many of you have felt the same. We’ve discussed each phone in-depth, and arrived at the conclusion that it is not because they are bad phones, and certainly not because they are worse phones than the ones before, but because most of them don’t offer a no-compromise, thorough upgrade.

The global context at large is most likely a culprit. We’ve seen the rise of the affordable phone with the original Moto G, but now the trend has moved into the premium space by the increasingly powerful influence of Chinese OEMs like Xiaomi and Huawei, and start-up companies like OnePlus. Some manufacturers like Motorola have given into the pressure and revised their pricing, and others are reportedly considering cutting prices as well. As we approach the saturation point in the biggest markets, the industry is shifting towards emerging economies that see increased sales of affordable devices.

Balancing out hardware advancements, the desire consumers have for “premium smartphones” and competition with the low-end is not an easy task. While 2015 phones have seen clear-cut upgrades on many fronts, we are left feeling that there were compromises and half-measures in their development. This wouldn’t be so bad if the companies themselves wouldn’t try to market their phones as a “no compromise” flagship. Case in point, the OnePlus 2. In this editorial, I will dig into why the OnePlus 2 has failed to meet the hype it set itself up for, and why these compromises ultimately lead to user discontent.

 

Never Settle

 

OnePlus had a hit last year with their One flagship, and its bang-per-buck ratio trumped plenty of competitive offerings. The hardware was great, the pricing was excellent, and the phone’s software was good as well. However, the company did meet plenty of controversy over their invite system, quality control issues and very shoddy consumer support. They promised that they would improve upon all of this, and in some ways they did. The OnePlus 2 has been hyped for months and months on end, and with each little tease, the fandom the OnePlus One developed had higher and higher expectations. This week we saw the end result, and while it is a good product, OnePlus made some nonsensical decisions and claims. Is this really the “2016 flagship killer”?

 

20150730154609154Let’s start with the Snapdragon 810: OnePlus announced this would be the chipset in their new flagship, and they were instantly met with skepticism. The company then issued a statement where they said there was nothing to fear, as the chipset would deliver no compromises in performance… because it had been underclocked to 1.8GHz. This alone contradicts their “never settle” campaign but given the processor at hand, it had to be done. The marketing became more intense when Qualcomm VP of Marketing Tim McDonough, whose claims I once disproved, showed up at the launch event to once again remind us how good the Snapdragon 810 is. OnePlus called it “blazingly fast”, and in that sense they are right: early impressions suggest the device gets hotter than its predecessor, and hotter than plenty of the competition by reaching up to 47.7°C (118°F). Moreover, the early benchmarks we’ve seen show scores not just lower than many other Snapdragon 810 devices, but also than the OnePlus One itself.

Battery life is something the OnePlus One surprised all of us with, so we were expecting greatness out of its successor. Shortly before the launch, we heard confirmation of a 3,300 mAh battery, which instantly got many excited. I remained skeptical because we had learned (through AMAs) that the OnePlus 2 would not feature a removable battery, nor wireless charging (because they said it was “too slow and inefficient”). When the company announced the USB Type C standard, I saw myself having to ground my friends’ expectations, because USB Type C does not inherently mean higher charging speed. And it turns out I was right: OnePlus opted for a standard USB 2.0, and to make things worse, it has no Quick Charge. We now know it can take around 3 hours to get a full charge, through a port that is not widely adopted, without wireless charging and without the option to change batteries. What’s more, MKBHD’s battery benchmark and real-world usage suggest a regression in battery life (although it is still too early to make conclusive statements).

On to NFC: the company decided to leave out NFC support from their new flagship, because apparently “OnePlus One users were not using it”. This is something that I’ve heard before in my interview with Fairphone, and it shows that OnePlus did not project into the future: Android Pay will hit many markets soon, and expand to many stores. Alibaba is also popularizing mobile payments in China, one of OnePlus’ most important markets. This gives NFC the possibility of the widespread use it has not had since its introduction. OnePlus decided to incorporate a fingerprint scanner, but now it is mostly relegated to unlocking the phone, not mobile payments. What’s more puzzling is that Carl Pei himself had suggested an emphasis on biometrics for mobile payments, just not the close-contact kind which will expand with Android Pay, Samsung Pay, Alipay in China and Apple Pay (really original names, by the way) hitting more and more stores.

Finally, we have the screen. OnePlus had a very impressive screen with their previous phone, and this one does not look bad either. I am not the kind of user who is crazy about 1440p screens – in fact, I run my Note 4 at 1080p – but OnePlus once again showed nonsense: they have been advertising their Virtual Reality launch since it was announced, and they kept saying that Virtual Reality is the future. They even shipped out free VR Cardboards! Now, if there is a practical reason to have a high-resolution screen, that is VR. The fact that OnePlus has been pushing for VR while making their device a much less appealing option for VR is as retrograde as it gets. We had a feature on why VR can justify QHD and UHD displays, which we suggest you read in case you are out of the loop. You will see that QHD does have a noticeable effect on VR, and other manufacturers know this (which is why Samsung began its push for it with the Note 4).

 

Slow Death of Flagships

 

This is not the only phone to promise too much and deliver too little. The M9, for example, had many issues which we discussed time and time again  — and not all were due to the Snapdragon 810. But this infamous SoC did put most OEMs in a troubling spot. LG and Moto opted for the less powerful but more stable 808, which is one of the few ways  to avoid the flak the number “810” carries with it as well as possible performance inconsistencies. Rumors say that the 820 might come before we expected it to, around the last quarter of 2015. Hopefully this is the case so that other highly-anticipated devices (like new Nexus phones) can make use of a more powerful and more stable chipset. But the problem with the sales of 2015 smartphones, which didn’t meet expectations even for Samsung, is too complex to blame simply on hot chips or failed hype.

Like I said in the introduction, many of us just think that the advancements given are not enough, and the big compromises make us hesitant in making the jump, or even being enticed to do so. Many of the faults may be overblown and overplayed, but users opt out because of them, regardless of how bad they really are. Compromises such as the M9’s camera, the Z3+’s heating issues, the S6’s lack of microSD and removable battery, and the OnePlus 2’s clear cutbacks turn us off because, in the XDA team’s case, we already have devices that we carefully researched and thoroughly optimized. We bought them because they are either balanced or adjust to our use-cases. Thus, if new devices do not improve on what we want without sacrificing what we need, it becomes a no-go. Devices like the Nexus 6 and the Note 4 offered upgrades (over their predecessors) on virtually every aspect, while new devices like the M9 and the S6 do not. Sometimes not in terms of the specification sheet, and sometimes due to the resulting user experience.

So far, the “no compromise” phones have had compromises here or there. Some are big, some are not, but more often than not they are found in key areas of a phone. Regressing in something as important as the camera or battery life is not something anyone wants out of their precious and expensive upgrades. Now that flagships are powerful enough to last years (especially with good software or developer support from OEMs or XDA), there is less of a reason to upgrade. The market knows this, OEMs know this. Motorola has now split their flagship model into two, and the Moto X Pure is just $399. It features amazing specifications for that price. The Chinese giants are entering the West, and many first-world markets are beginning to show signs of saturation. Developing markets are more important than ever. In this context, balancing out every aspect while focusing on keeping a low price is a hard task.

The OnePlus 2 is not a 2016 flagship killer, because in many areas it cannot even kill 2014 flagships. But soon enough, there might be nothing left to kill: the high-end is beginning to merge with the middle-range. When most OEMs catch-up to the new model the market favors, OnePlus’ niche will go away. If Motorola is anything to go by, then it might just happen sooner than we expect.

 

What’s Next for Samsung and Its Flagships?

Posted by wicked July - 30 - 2015 - Thursday Comments Off

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If we were to say that the Galaxy S6 was a leap of faith made by Samsung, we wouldn’t be too wrong. After all, the device marked a definite change in how Samsung perceived the market and its own place in it, as it stood amongst the signs of decline which started with the critical reception of the Galaxy S5.

To recap, the Samsung Galaxy S5 was criticized heavily for feeling more like a toy, rather than a premium flagship device representing the top notch research and production capabilities of Samsung’s Mobile Division. While the device was a good performer capable of holding its own as far as specs goes, the design and overall feel of the device felt like a regression when viewed in front of metal honchos like the HTC One M8 and glass wizards like the Xperia Z3.

This prompted Samsung to take steps to improve upon the feel of its devices. It started focusing more on metal and glass, ditching polycarbonate plastic and all its accompanied pros and cons for being used on the exterior of the device. The result? A Samsung Galaxy flagship was produced, that looked more like an iPhone rather than a successor to the Galaxy S5. Even on the software front, TouchWiz was put on the treadmill to get a less bloated software experience.

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Reception for the Galaxy S6 has mostly been all-praise. The glass on the device lends a sense of fragility and luxury, while videos claimed that the flagship duo (Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge) could still survive some decent beating. Even TouchWiz was unanimously agreed upon to be an improvement this time, albeit a marginal one. Needless to say, Samsung was all pumped up for seeing how much of an improvement the Galaxy S6 (and Galaxy S6 Edge) would do to its market share.

Unfortunately, things may not have been as smooth sailing as Samsung would have wished for. As reports came in for the second quarter of 2015, it was revealed that the Galaxy S6 was not performing as well as Samsung expected. “Total sales of the S6 and S6 Edge during Q2 2015 were below expectations“, as Park Jinyoung, VP from Samsung’s Mobile Communications Team was quoted as saying.

Samsung’s official statement also tries to explain the situation:

Despite the launch of Galaxy S6, improvement to earnings was quite marginal due to low smartphone shipments and an increase in marketing expenses for new product launches.

The statement isn’t directly talking about the shipments of the Galaxy S6, but rather of a drop in shipments overall across the Samsung smartphone lineup, aggravated by the older middle and low end models. The Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge infact had “increased shipments” if the official statement is to be believed.

While the information from the official statement sounds contradictory to the statement made by the VP, the difference lies in the wordings. The “sales” of the S6 were below expectations, while they had increased “shipments“. If we are being technical about it, shipped quantities would refer to the units transported to retailers for selling, while sold quantities would refer to the number of units actually making its way to the hands of the final consumers. For the purposes of calculating revenue and Quarter-on-quarter differences, the figure that matters for a manufacturer is the shipped quantity.

Although revenue increased, profits increased marginally QOQ, due to supply difficulties from higher than expected market demand for the Galaxy S6 edge, as well as increased marketing expenditures that typically accompany flagship product launches.

Samsung’s report also forecasts a slow down on the growth rate of its smartphone market share. To combat this, the Mobile division is expected to cut down the price of the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge.

The Mobile Business plans to firmly maintain its sale of premium smartphones by flexibly adjusting the price of the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge, and launching a new model with a larger screen.

The business report did confirm the imminent launch of the Galaxy S6 Edge Plus. The move is a direct target to the audience who prefers the iPhone 6 Plus and its phablet dimensions, and was expected from Samsung as it was amongst the first ones to successfully popularize the phablet with its Note series.

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Even within the S6 flagship duo, Samsung had predicted sales of 3 regular S6 for every S6 Edge sold. Instead, demand for the curved form factor exceeded Samsung’s expectations. So Samsung opting for a larger display S6 Edge seems like a calculated decision, seeing as to how the Galaxy Note 5 could serve as a replacement for a regular Galaxy S6 Plus.

A price cut for the Samsung Galaxy S6 and the S6 Edge seem like a sensible decision considering how the phones were targeting only the top tier of smartphone buyers. Bringing down their prices would help keep their sales on par, while the then vacant slot for “expensively premium” product could be handled by the combined might of the Galaxy S6 Edge Plus and the Galaxy Note 5.

Targeting a lower price segment would also increase the scope of the current flagship, bringing it on par with the competition and overall deal they provide with the help of freebies. If the new price is significantly lower, it would also eliminate the need for a upper mid segment product as the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge would fit the roles rather perfectly thanks to their extremely competitive hardware.

All in all, Samsung has realized that the smartphone market has drastically changed from its Galaxy S2 days. Adaptation and creative thinking is currently what is needed to survive in the market. That, or a silver fruit logo.

Let us know your thoughts on Samsung’s decision to cut prices of the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge in the comments below!

The Ultimate Showcase of dBrand Skins

Posted by wicked July - 30 - 2015 - Thursday Comments Off

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In the search for ways to protect, accessorize, and personalize; a user has many options. One could choose a case, a “skin”, “armor”, or “wraps.” In fact, the global mobile accessory market is poised to reach a high of $62 Billion in 2017. dBrand is one of the more creative and friendly vinyl skin manufacturers around. In hopes of sharing what they can offer, our friends at dBrand sent us over some skins to have a look at. They offer their skins in six categories: Carbon Fiber, Matte, Metal, Leather, True Color, and Wood. Of course, the metal, wood, and leather aren’t actually made of their respective namesakes – they’re all made of vinyl. Even still, I was surprised by how distinctly different all the different types felt.

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Since these skins were provided pre-applied, I can’t speak to the application process. dBrand does offer plenty of YouTube Tutorials for skin application. However, it’s quite surprising how well these skins adhere to the (notoriously rough) “sandstone” back of the OnePlus One. From forum posts and dBrand themselves, it seems like removing the skin from the OnePlus One should be easy enough as well – damage free & no residue.

 

Carbon Fiber:

Of all the different textures, this one may be the most unique. It certainly feels most like its namesake material. As you can see by the red skin below, it’s the one I chose to grace my OnePlus One with. It’s a bit more slippery than the stock sandstone back, but I think the looks (and scratch protection) make up for that. The carbon fiber option comes in four colors: blue, red, white, and black.

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Matte:

dBrand’s “matte” finish comes in white or black. These are meant to be non-glossy simple black and white skins. This particular flavor of skin has excellent grip and tackiness and probably feels the most like the vinyl one might expect.

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Metal:

The metal skins don’t actually feel very much like metal. However, they actually do a pretty good job of aping a metal back’s looks. The texture imprinted on the metal is a series of slightly uneven vertical lines. dBrand appears to be going for a “brushed” look and feel on this one. The metal skins comes in three identically textured varieties: black titanium, titanium, and gold.

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Leather:

Leather is offered in black and white flavors. I prefer the subtle black option to the louder white. These backs could be taken for leather from a distance, and I think they’re as close to the real thing as vinyl could ever be. Of course, a leather backed Moto X or LG G4 with real leather will provide a more irregular and natural pattern, along with a warmth and softness that vinyl can’t replicate.

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True Color:

If you want to add a vibrant splash of color to your device, this skin will do it. The colors look great and feel very similar to the matte option. Both the “True Color” and Matte options feel close to soft touch finish (like the Nexus 7 2013 & Nexus 5). True color is offered in: red, orange, yellow, green, and blue.

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Wood:

As you can see from below, these skins do a competent job of looking like wood, from afar. Of all the skins dBrand offers this variety winds up feeling the least like its label. Vinyl will likely never be able to mimic the porous and natural feel of wood: simply due to the material properties. In spite of the difference in feel, wood is definitely one of the most interesting skin choices. You can pick up a wood skin in either mahogany or zebra wood.

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As a person who uses devices without cases almost 100% of the time, these skins have impressed me thoroughly with their choices here. It’s great to be able to change the look of a device almost completely for just a few bucks. Not only can a new gadget look cooler, but it will stay positively pristine underneath that faux-metal skin.

Check out some more photos of dBrand’s offerings in our gallery below.

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