Tag: smartphone

The best devices and apps to up your selfie game

The first time a stranger on the train told me I had a nice smile, I didn't believe her. Back then, I hadn't yet had my crooked teeth fixed, and my self-esteem wasn't anywhere as high as it is today. I was an ugly kid, and it took a shocking number of selfies to convince myself that I'm not an ugly adult. It may seem like a superficial pastime, but selfie-taking has real benefits.

I'm not alone in believing there are psychological advantages here. Studies have shown that seeing a good picture of yourself can boost your confidence, while taking a smiling selfie can make you feel happier. Over time, that can improve your self-esteem. But getting selfies to look the way you want requires a very particular set of skills, skills I've acquired over a very long career of testing gadgets that are often designed to help you take better photos. We'll talk about those devices later -- best if you nail your technique first.

The basics

First of all, practice, practice, practice. When you have free time at home, take as many selfies as you need to figure out what angle works for you. Whether it's holding your phone up high, sticking your chin out at a particular angle or figuring out which of your smiles looks best, there are certain key elements that even the most advanced technology won't address.

There isn't a rule that applies to everyone, but in general, holding your camera slightly above your eyes will prevent the appearance of double chins. Tilting your head ever so slightly to the left or right will make your face look slimmer (if that's something you're going for), and it usually helps to stick out your chin slightly to elongate your neck. Ultimately, there are various flattering ways one can pose, and everyone's good angles are different. Your best bet is to experiment and learn what works for your face.

Understanding light

Once you've figured out your best angles (make sure you have a few to avoid becoming a one-trick pony), you'll need to find or create the best lighting. Any photographer will tell you that light is your best friend, and that's equally true with selfies. This is something you won't have much control over if you're outside with ample natural light. But if you're in an environment where light is coming from just one direction, try to face the light source without your hand casting a shadow on you. In fact, try to avoid any shadows on your face at all.

It also helps to understand the type of light you're shooting in. The best condition is natural light, specifically during the hour before sunset. Daylight is ideal for bringing out colors and details -- best for showing off a new outfit or hair color. But your pictures will look better on a slightly cloudy day than under harsh sunlight. Clouds provide a natural filter for a softer effect on your face and prevent the overexposure that can happen on a sunny day.

When you're indoors, very often you'll be stuck under overhead lights that have an orange or greenish cast. In these situations, try to find a neutral light source and face it. It's also better if the bulb is covered with a translucent material like tracing/tissue paper or a light-color lampshade, since this filters the rays to avoid harshness.

Remote triggers to avoid blur

All the prep you do before taking a picture can be ruined by shaky hands. Sometimes, you have to hold your phone in a way that makes the trigger hard to reach. In those situations, using a voice or gesture trigger can be very helpful. Today, many phones from companies such as Samsung and LG offer voice commands to take photos when you say prompts like "Cheese" or "Smile." You can even ask Siri or the Google Assistant to "take a selfie" (though Apple's software is useless since you still have to press the shutter button yourself).

Smartphone on its magnetic tripod

Activate these, as well as gesture triggers, to avoid introducing blur to your image when pressing down on a physical button. If your phone has none of these options, a good workaround is setting a short timer, pressing the shutter button, then framing your shot. You can also get a mini tripod for your phone, as well as a remote control, to take perfectly still selfies. I'd recommend a selfie stick, because they can be very useful in preventing blur, but they've been banned in so many places (I've had them confiscated at various security checks) that at this point they're not worth the investment.

Accessories you can buy

If you're serious enough about selfies to consider buying tools to improve them, the options run the gamut from lights to standalone cameras. Portrait photographers use a ring light to avoid their cameras casting a shadow on their subject's faces while creating a sparkle in their eyes. The phone equivalent would be a selfie case, like the ones from LuMee or Allure/CaseMate. They add bulbs around the screen of your phone that you can turn on when you're in a dark environment or if you just want a glamour boost.

Both the LuMee and Allure options have their strengths -- the LuMee Duo's lights are more flattering, while the Allure has a fold-out ring that makes for better grip and doubles as a kickstand. I prefer the LuMee Duo (and the Kardashians use it, too) but I wish it weren't so hard to pry off your phone once you put it on. I haven't tried other options like the Ty-Lite, unfortunately, so I can't vouch for it.

You can also try a clip-on selfie light like the Chatlight or a plug-in flash like the iBlazr LED if you don't want to swap out your existing phone case. I found both those options effective (if a tad blue) during my testing, but I don't like carrying additional accessories on me, so I prefer the cases.

Of course, strong lights like that can cause oily faces to look shiny, so make sure you blot or powder your skin before snapping a shot. If you don't carry blotters or powder on you, even dabbing your forehead and nose with a napkin or tissue will help.

Some accessories let you get some distance from the camera, so you can see more of yourself in the picture. A mini tripod is a good way to set up your phone far away, but a camera accessory that's controlled by your phone has the added benefit of giving you a preview of your shot before you capture it. Try this webcam-like toy called a Snap Petz that you can set anywhere to take your picture. You may also consider the upcoming Amazon Echo Look, a voice-controlled camera that takes full-length pictures or short videos. The Echo Look also has built-in LED lights, and also senses depth to apply an artificial background blur so you (and your outfits) stand out. The Echo Look still isn't available, though, and we've yet to test it.

If you have money to blow and are happy to be extremely extra, go ahead and take a drone selfie. These flying cameras can recognize your face and follow you as you wander around a picturesque field or mingle with guests at a wedding reception. There are plenty of options, and they typically cost hundreds of dollars. Drone cameras are excellent for aerial videography, capturing stunning landscapes that add drama to home movies and indie films alike.

We don't recommend spending so much just to take an impressive selfie, but if you happen to get the chance to play with one, definitely make full use of it. Be careful to keep your eye on your drone, though. As our UK bureau chief Mat Smith learned, the possibility of accidentally decapitating other attendees or yourself is always looming.

Our favorite is the Hover Passport drone by startup Zero Zero, which Snap Inc is rumored to be buying. But at $550, the Passport is a pricey investment. There are plenty of decent alternatives for less money, including the Parrot Mambo FPV, the Yuneec Breeze 4K and the DJI Spark.

Apps

After you've taken the picture, there's more you can do to improve your selfie. Aside from using your built-in Photos app or Instagram to tweak highlights, shadows, warmth, saturation and more, you can also consider fixing your pictures with selfie apps.

These let you make fixes as subtle as smoothing your complexion or as dramatic as giving yourself a new look altogether. Discussions about misrepresenting yourself aside (a good practice when editing your selfies is to declare if you've done so), a virtual makeover can entertain your friends and followers. You can try out a different hair color, add thick eyelashes and see what your pals think.

My most popular selfies, as determined by number of Instagram likes, have been the ones where I've experimented with wild looks. I achieve most of these with CyberLink's YouCam Makeup app, which not only lets me slim my face, apply digital makeup and smoothen my noticeable acne scars, but can also change the color of my eyes and hair for a dramatic result. YouCam is excellent at detecting my facial features to apply things like eyelashes, eyeliner or blush, but it struggles to recognize hair. You'll have to manually paint an outline of your hair for the app to correctly identify it and change its color.

After I'm done with YouCam, I often use another app called Meitu Xiuxiu to add an overall glow to the picture. You might recall Meitu for its ethereal anime-esque selfie filters, but the app offers so much more. You can stretch yourself to appear taller, turn yourself into the cover star of a magazine or add stickers, doodles and text. I usually use Meitu for its beautifully rosy filters that make Instagram's options look garish by comparison.

There are many other apps that let you edit your face, but I've stuck with the above two for years because they're the most full-featured. For fun, I sometimes use an app called EditLab to add a double exposure effect that blends another picture on top of my selfie, which creates a romantic effect. I also like Snow for its fun Snapchat-like face filters, that superimpose my face onto a cartoon schoolkid or a steaming hot shower. It's a good alternative for those who don't have or want Snapchat but would still like to play with photo effects.

Remember, though, these apps are really more for fun than for achieving perfection; don't go overboard trying to look like someone you're not -- your friends can tell when you don't look like yourself.

Wrap-up

Now that we've gone over the technical skills you can use to improve your selfies, remember to have fun and not try to perfect your pictures for others. Our digital world can get toxic sometimes, and even the best selfies will be subject to scrutiny and ridicule. Even Kim Kardashian gets sensitive about unflattering photos and the subsequent insults. Ultimately, these your pictures are for your own pleasure and entertainment. Experiment, strike a weird pose or share an "ugly selfie" with your friends -- if it makes you happy, it's a good selfie.


Fake iPhone X has a fake notch, obviously

We're only one week away from iPhone X pre-orders, but the counterfeit market is already offering a variety of similar-looking devices to a particular crowd. As I anticipated, I came across one such clone while wandering around Hong Kong's Global Sources electronics fair earlier today, courtesy of a Shenzhen company by the marvelous name of Hotwonder. Its Hotwav Symbol S3 (also not the best name) is essentially an entry-level 4G Android phone shamelessly packaged into an iPhone X-like body, except for one notable difference: the screen "bezel" is white instead of black.

You see, unlike the real deal, the Symbol S3 only uses a rectangular display (a 6-inch 1,440 x 720 IPS panel), so if you strip away the white paint around it, you'll end up with an ordinary-looking smartphone with a regular forehead and chin. In other words, the white contour and notch are for mimicking the specially-cut shape of the iPhone X's OLED display, but such illusion only works when the background is black. Not to mention that the Android interface here is a dead giveaway, anyway.

Of course, you can't expect this random Chinese factory to clone Apple's TrueDepth sensor, but it did fill the notch with a pair of cameras plus an LED flash, making it a total of four bokeh-enabled cameras on this device: 5 megapixels plus 2 megapixels on the front, and 13 megapixels plus 2 megapixels on the back. Hotwonder also took the liberty to add a fingerprint magnet mirror finish to the back side, which could be considered as a bonus feature for those who carry a pocket mirror around.

The Symbol S3's spec sheet lists Android 8.0 as its operating system, and it can be equipped with either MediaTek's new MT6739 chipset (1.3GHz, 4x Cortex-A53, dual-LTE or LTE + WCDMA) or its much older MT6592 (1.7GHz, 8x Cortex-A7, 3G only). The device also packs a 2,900 mAh fixed battery (no wireless charging here), 16GB of internal storage and a mere 2GB of RAM. Yikes.

It's unclear how much this cheeky device will retail for, but I wouldn't be surprised if you can buy seven or eight of these for the price of one genuine iPhone X. But seriously, don't.


Google compensates Pixel 2 buyers who overpaid at pop-up stores

If you rushed out to buy a Pixel 2 at one of Google's pop-up stores on October 19th, you probably got a rude surprise: the Verizon reseller handling your purchase, Victra, was charging customers an extra $30 on top of the normal price. Unless you knew enough to haggle it back down, you paid a premium to walk out of the shop with a phone in hand. However, Google isn't having any of it. The company informed The Verge that it's reimbursing the difference for customers who overpaid for the device, and it'll contact you if you haven't already heard back. "This is an error, which is now fixed," a spokesperson said.

Victra was willing to price match for shoppers who drew attention to the discrepancy, but that just underscores the arbitrary nature of the price hike -- it had no connection to the actual price of the phone. This wasn't meant to cover activation fees, taxes or the other usual charges, either.

The remedy is coming quickly, but the incident underscores the risks of tech giants running stores where they don't have full control. Google may have given the impression that it was the one charging extra, which would undoubtedly have left a bad taste in your mouth. As it stands: if you're ever worried about the possibility of price gouging, it's usually wise to buy either online or from a carrier's official stores.

Source: The Verge


Google Play lets you test drive Android apps before installing them

Google's Instant Apps are available in a few places for curious Android users, but they've been conspicuously absent in one place: the Play Store. Wouldn't you want to check out an app before committing to it? You can now. Google is now building Instant Apps into the store through a "Try It Now" button on app pages. Tap it and you can find out if an app is your cup of tea without the usual rigamarole of downloading it first. Only a handful of apps are explicitly labeled as Instant Apps-ready (the New York Times' crossword game is one example), but we'd expect that list to grow before long.

There are other important tweaks to the store, too. There's a revamped games area (shown above) with trailers and sections for new and "premium" paid games. Also, the redone Editor's Choice area is now up and running in 17 countries.

Google has also implemented some behind-the-scenes changes that could improve your chances of seeing your favorite subscription service on Android. In a parallel to Apple's App Store reforms, Google will reduce its cut of subscription apps from 30 percent to 15 percent if a user remains with the service for more than a year. This won't take effect until January 1st, 2018, but it could make all the difference for services that previously balked at giving away nearly a third of their revenue no matter how long you stayed aboard. And that's particularly relevant on Android -- as you don't have to offer apps through Google's store, some creators have skipped the shop altogether to ensure they get all the money. They'll still lose some income if they bring their apps to the Play Store after January 1st, but it'll be much more tolerable if you stick with their service for the long haul.

Via: TechCrunch, The Verge

Source: Android Developers Blog, Google Play


Google considers ‘fixing’ the Pixel 2 XL’s display colors

While Google's Pixel 2 XL has generally been well-received, there have been some complaints about its LG-made P-OLED screen. It's supposed to reflect "natural" colors, but many see it as downright dull after years of seeing extra-punchy OLED displays from Samsung and other phone makers. What if you want that explosion of color? You might just get it. A Google spokesperson tells 9to5Google that it's considering adding color options to the Pixel 2 XL beyond the "vivid colors" toggle you see today. It knows that some users want more saturation, and it's open to software updates to add that "if that makes the product better." There's nothing set in stone, then, but it's promising.

The 2 XL has reignited a long-running debate in the mobile world: is it better to have color-accurate screen, or an exaggerated but potentially more pleasing screen? They both have merits. Bold colors will make photos and videos pop, but accuracy is better if you want to be sure that your snapshots reflect what you really saw. There's a concern that some people are so used to punched-up colors that the 2 XL's more accurate display seems lifeless -- and without many options to tweak that display, prospective buyers either have to accept Google's current approach or find another phone.

As it is, any options won't completely address concerns about the P-OLED panel. It also produces a bluish tint when you look at the screen off-angle, and that's clearly due to hardware alone. While it's not going to wreck the experience (you do tend to look at a phone head-on while you're using it), you don't see this in many other OLED screens. Google and LG took a bit of a gamble on the larger Pixel's visuals, and it's not entirely clear that this bet paid off.

Source: 9to5Google


The best phones under $250

The iPhone X: $999. The Galaxy Note 8: $930. Even the more affordable Google Pixel 2 commands a significant investment of $650. Today's flagship phones are expensive enough that spending a significant chunk of your rent on a handset is seemingly the norm. You can opt for an installment plan to pay it off more easily, and for some people it's worth paying a service provider for two years to own one of the best devices available. But many other people can't afford, or would prefer not, to spend that much money on something they'll replace in two years (or less). Fortunately for the budget-conscious, you can find a better selection of phones for $250 than you could even a few years ago.

What to expect

Before we get into the best phones at this price, let's talk expectations. First off, many of the devices we're discussing come unlocked, so it's imperative that you check to see if they'll work on your carrier before you buy one. Many unlocked handsets are only GSM-compatible, so they'll support only AT&T, T-Mobile and their subsidiaries. Sprint and Verizon customers should be especially careful when making their selections.

At this price, you're not going to get high-end features like face-recognition cameras, curved screens or high-res, edge-to-edge displays. Most of these phones use older chipsets and often run Android 6 Marshmallow instead of the newer Android 7 Nougat (which itself is no longer the latest OS).

For daily use, you won't really notice a difference in speed with these phones, but don't expect much if you're using these for heavy-duty gaming or intensive multitasking. If that's going to be a problem, you're better off getting a flagship phone on an equipment installment plan (EIP) instead.

Flagships on a budget

You can still get a premium phone for cheap if you have the time and patience to monitor deal listings. Some carriers and websites slash prices for older (but still perfectly respectable) phones in anticipation of new launches or when approaching the holiday season. If you can wait till Black Friday, you'll probably find plenty of deals bringing down the cost of usually expensive phones. In 2016, T-Mobile offered the iPhone 7, the Galaxy S7 and the LG V20 for free to people who traded in eligible smartphones, while Huawei's Honor 8 dropped that year from $400 to $300. Right now, you can even find an iPhone SE ($399 at launch) for less than $250, or the older (but still good) HTC One M8 for $160. A Google search for "iPhone SE" returns options as low as $150 at Target for an AT&T version in space gray with 16GB of storage.

Affordable by design

If you weren't fast enough to snag one of those deals, you still have decent options. Bright, crisp screens with full HD (1080p) displays are common at this price, so don't fall for cheap phones with piddly 720p panels. Sub-$250 phones run the gamut when it comes to size, too, so you can pick from a big 5.5-inch screen down to a more compact 4.7-inch option. Many budget handsets also pack fingerprint sensors, long-lasting batteries, and dual cameras for special effects in portrait photography (although these tend to pale in comparison with iPhones and Samsung phones when it comes to quality).

The best budget phones

Motorola Moto G5S Plus

smartphone affordable budget

One of the best offerings is the $230 Moto G5S Plus. It's the successor to the Moto G5 Plus, which was already our favorite budget phone. The new handset features a 5.5-inch 1080p display, dual rear 13-megapixel cameras and a generous 3,000mAh battery, all wrapped in a body that feels more expensive than it actually is. The phone uses an octa-core Snapdragon 625 chip that can go up to 2.0GHz, which is powerful enough for the average person and quite good for the price. It also runs the relatively new Android 7.1 Nougat and works on all four major US carriers. The main downside is the absence of NFC support, so if you like using your phone for contactless payments, this isn't going to work for you.

Nokia 6

In that case, you can consider the $230 Nokia 6, which has NFC and runs the same version of Android as the G5S Plus. It features dual front-facing speakers with a "smart amplifier" and Dolby audio enhancements for louder sound. The Nokia 6 sports a single 16-megapixel camera on its rear, though, and uses a slower Snapdragon 430 processor. Also, it's unfortunately stuck in the past with its micro-USB charging port. That's a minor complaint, but when the rest of the world has already moved on to USB-C, it feels like an antiquated feature. Still, the Nokia 6 offers newish components for a reasonable price, and if you don't mind getting Amazon ads on your lock screen, the Prime exclusive version of the phone is even cheaper, at $180.

Alcatel Idol 5s

Also available as a Prime exclusive is the Alcatel Idol 5s ($200 with ads; $280 without), which has a vibrant 5.2-inch, a 1080p screen and a USB-C port and runs Android 7. Like the Nokia 6, the Idol 5s has only a single 12-megapixel rear camera, but it uses the faster Snapdragon 625 processor (the same chip used in the Moto G5S Plus). Alcatel's handset has a smaller battery than the Nokia 6 and the G5S Plus, though, so you might need to charge it more often. The Idol 5s looks and feels like a lot of Alcatel's previous handsets, with a rounded silhouette, chrome edges and a glass rear. Despite a slightly dated design, the Idol line is known for its good quality and affordable prices. Plus, this is one of the few budget phones to support all four major US carriers while packing a well-rounded feature set.

ZTE Blade V8 Pro

The ZTE Blade V8 Pro is a compelling option. It sports a 5.5-inch 1080p display and dual 13-megapixel rear cameras that enable Portrait mode for bokeh on your photos, although you won't get iPhone-quality images here. The Blade V8 Pro isn't as adept at detecting outlines when applying the blur, but in ideal conditions it pulls off the effect well. I liked the phone's sturdy build when I tried it out in January, but it's not as pretty as the other options on this list. The V8 Pro is equipped with the same Snapdragon 625 chip as the Moto G5S Plus and the Idol 5s, but it runs the older Android 6 Marshmallow instead. It does support NFC, though, making it one of the few on this list to do so and a good option for people who don't want to give up Android Pay.

Runners-up

Huawei Honor 6x

There are several other options in this space, but we'll cap off this roundup with two quick mentions. Huawei's Honor 6x is very similar to the ZTE Blade V8 Pro: It has dual cameras, runs Android 6.0 and features a 5.5-inch full HD display. But it doesn't support NFC and it costs $20 more. Also, Huawei's EMUI Android skin makes the software look cartoonish, despite adding useful fingerprint sensor shortcuts. The main reason to spend more for this phone over the Blade V8 Pro would be the Honor's more elegant metal body.

ZTE Blade ZMax

Finally, those who want a big screen at this price should consider ZTE's Blade line of affordable large phones. In particular, the Blade ZMax sports a 6-inch full HD display, dual cameras and a large 4,080mAh battery for $129. It's also impressively slim for such a large phone and was easy to use with one hand during a brief demo. Some caveats: It uses a relatively slower octa-core Snapdragon 435 CPU and is available only via MetroPCS for now, but we expect it to be sold unlocked soon as well.

Final thoughts

With all the improvements trickling down from high-end flagships to today's budget phones, shopping for a sub-$250 device no longer feels like digging through a bargain bin of iPhone rejects. They won't be the fastest or have the best cameras, but the options in this category are respectable handsets with relatively modern features. If you have a bit more cash to spare, you'll find even better phones in the sub-$500 category that are nearly on par with flagships in terms of performance. We'll be putting together those recommendations soon, so stay tuned.


Samsung’s phone-as-desktop concept now runs Linux

Samsung's DeX is a clever way to turn your phone into a desktop computer. However, there's one overriding problem: you probably don't have a good reason to use it instead of a PC. And Samsung is trying to fix that. It's unveiling Linux on Galaxy, an app-based offering that (surprise) lets you run Linux distributions on your phone. Ostensibly, it's aimed at developers who want to bring their work environment with them wherever they go. You could dock at a remote office knowing that your setup will be the same as usual.

It's not quite the same as your typical Ubuntu or Debian install. Linux on Galaxy launches through an app, and it's using the same kernel as Android itself in order to maintain performance. And it almost goes without saying that you'll really want a DeX setup, since most Linux apps are expecting a large screen, mouse and keyboard.

As it stands, you'll have to be patient. Linux on Galaxy isn't available right now -- you can sign up for alerts, but it's not ready for public consumption. Even so, this is good evidence that Samsung thinks of DeX as considerably more than a novelty feature. It may be a long, long while (if ever) before many people are using their phones as desktops, but Samsung is willing to gradually build up its ecosystem and eventually give you an incentive to take a second look.

Source: Samsung, Linux on Galaxy


Motorola’s newest mod puts an Alexa speaker on your phone

Ever wanted to have an Amazon Echo speaker with you wherever you are, rather than relying on your phone's built-in voice assistant? Motorola is betting you do. As promised, it's releasing an Alexa-powered Moto Mod (the Moto Smart Speaker with Amazon Alexa, to be exact) that slaps an Echo-like device on the back of compatible phones like the Moto Z2 Force or Z Play. The key, as you might guess, is that it delivers that across-the-room voice control in a way your phone can't by itself.

The large dedicated speaker is clearly one advantage, but there are also four mics to make sure it picks up your voice in relatively noisy environments. And with a 15-hour built-in battery, you won't kill your phone if you're constantly asking questions. The mod also has a clever dock design that's intended for use on your nightstand.

If there's an obstacle, it's the cost. The Alexa speaker will be available for $150 US (£99 in the UK) when it ships in November to those countries where Alexa has official support. At that price, you'll have to really like the idea of a truly portable Echo speaker that fits in your pocket; this might be excessive if you just want another Echo for the office.

Source: Motorola Blog


ZTE Axon M hands-on: A new hope for dual-screen phones

Many companies have tried to make the mythical dual-screen folding smartphone a reality. All of them have failed. But ZTE thinks it's time to try again. Now that Android supports multi-window apps, the company expects it will get enough buy-in from developers to create a phone that people will actually find useful. The Axon M will be an AT&T exclusive when it arrives in the US next month for 30 monthly payments of $24.17. I tried out the Axon M and while I'm not completely won over by the handset itself, I find the potential applications compelling.

Think of the Axon M as a tiny laptop with a screen where the keyboard and trackpad would usually be, except the screens face outward. A hinge in the middle lets you flip one display all the way back so both panels are on the outside. The secondary screen is thinner than the main display, but it feels sturdy and didn't flex during my testing. Together, the two 5.2-inch displays make one 6.75-inch screen and are separated by a 180-degree hinge.

The hinge is rigid enough to hold the screens in place even when they are slightly ajar, and this lets you prop the phone up in what's called "tent mode" in most convertible laptops. Because the Axon M can only be opened up as wide as 180 degrees for full-screen viewing, you can't get the displays to face each other. For the most part, you'll likely be using the Axon M like a regular phone, with both screens pointing outward and just the primary display turned on.

To make use of these viewing positions, the Axon M features three modes that you toggle through by tapping the M button ZTE added to the Android 7.1 Nougat navigation bar. This brings up four icons: Extend (full screen), Dual (two apps side by side), Mirror (same contents on both screens) and the regular single-screen format. The names can be confusing to understand at first, but the icons help by graphically depicting what each mode does. For example, Mirror mode is represented by a rectangle split into two with the letter "A" on either side, while Dual shows "A" on one side and "B" on the other.

The Axon M switched quickly among these modes during my demo. Mirror and Extend are relatively straightforward, since you just have to tap the corresponding symbols and the display is either duplicated or stretched, respectively. Dual mode brings up a launcher for you to pick the app that you want to run on the second screen.

All three modes are useful in their own way. Dual, for instance, makes for efficient multitasking since you can drag and drop info between the screens, bring up a reference Wikipedia article while typing an email, or compose a tweet while watching a YouTube video. Developers don't need to implement new code for this to work, either; as long as the app works with Android Nougat's multi-window feature, it will work on the Axon M.

Mirror mode has obvious benefits as well. It lets you display PowerPoint presentations or show a YouTube video to someone sitting across from you. It was also fun to play a game of Battleship in this mode with ZTE's global vice president of technology Jeff Yee, but the game had to be optimized to recognize input from alternating screens.

The advantages of Extend mode aren't as obvious. It opens an app across two screens, which lets you see more content at once. My first thought was that the squarish aspect ratio of the two combined screens is highly uncommon and would make for an awkward experience when watching videos or looking at pictures. But ZTE had other plans in mind.

Instead of stretching media to fit, the Axon M uses the extra space to show things like the comments section on YouTube videos. When Twitter is in Extend mode (and the phone is held horizontally), the bottom display shows the keyboard, so it doesn't cut into the space above for you to compose your thoughts. The Gallery app makes use of the extra space by showing thumbnails of all your pictures on one side while displaying a full-size preview on the other.

Apps work well in Extend mode when they're designed for it. ZTE says it has already optimized 80 of the 100 most commonly used apps, including Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, Photos, Chrome, Maps, Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, SoundCloud, Firefox and Pandora. Apps that haven't been optimized will go into tablet mode when Extend is activated to make use of the larger canvas. The difference, though, is that these apps won't realize that there is a half-inch tall gap in the middle of the display, so when you're, say, scrolling through an article, words will be lost in that dead space. Optimized apps, on the other hand, will skip over this gap so you won't miss any crucial information as you browse.

It's nice that ZTE is trying to alleviate this issue, but this fix doesn't feel like a feasible long-term solution. The gap is jarring when I'm trying to view things continuously across the two screens. It's less of a problem in Dual and Mirror modes, when boundaries for separate apps makes sense, or even in Extend when the gained space is used for something functionally distinct. Yee acknowledged this, and said the company's goal is to ultimately remove the bezel in future iterations. He's not sure if it's feasible within a year, but he said that achieving it in two years is possible, given the technologies he is seeing emerge.

Meanwhile, the company has implemented a handful of features to make such a unique device feel easy to use. You can swipe on the navigation bar when you're in an app to open it in Extend mode. Pinch to zoom works in full screen, too, even if one finger is on the top panel and another is on the bottom. If you have two videos open in Dual mode, only the audio from one will play, and a button will appear on the top right of the main display to let you toggle the source from which to play sound.

Speaking of, the Axon M is equipped with the same dual speakers and dedicated sound card as the Axon 7, which made for loud, crisp audio during my demo. I also found the Axon M's screen quality decent -- both screens use LCD panels with full HD resolution. Although they're technically identical, I noticed some discoloration on the secondary display when I looked at it from a wide angle. Straight on, though, image quality appeared to be the same across the board.

Since it's a dual-screen phone, the Axon M technically doesn't have a front or back. Because of that, it doesn't need to distinguish between rear and front cameras. ZTE uses just one 20-megapixel sensor above the Axon M's main display, opting instead to enable the respective screen for the viewfinder. This can be confusing. When I first opened the camera app, it defaults to the rear even though the sensor was already facing me. So the first thing you'll see is a message asking you to turn the phone around and use the screen on the other side to frame your picture.

When you tap the icon to use the "front" camera, an alert pops up to tell you to turn the phone around, and the other display is enabled. It's an unwieldy setup that would almost be worth the hassle if the pictures turned out great, since this is technically one of the sharpest front cameras around. Unfortunately, the photos I took with my preview unit were muted and dull. Give me back a dedicated selfie camera, ZTE!

A big point of concern about a phone with two displays is battery life. The Axon M has a 3,180mAh cell, which the company says will last about a full day, depending on your usage habits. Yee said it's not yet clear how best to estimate runtime, since the company has to test the phone in both single-screen and dual-screen conditions.

The Axon M's Snapdragon 821 processor isn't the newest chipset on the market, but performed admirably in the OnePlus 3T. During my preview, the Axon M ran smoothly, and its 4GB of RAM seemed enough to handle the device's multitasking. Granted, I didn't get to push the phone to extremes to see how well it holds up.

Ultimately, the Axon M still feels like a proof of concept. ZTE is aware it will face challenges with such a unique product, and says it remains dedicated to both the Axon M (dual-screen) and regular Axon (single-screen) lines. Yee said the company will launch a developer website to offer "tips and tricks" on how to optimize apps for the Axon M. For now, the Axon M feels like the first iPhone -- not as sophisticated as today's flagships, but it lays the groundwork for future generations.


DxO’s snap-on smartphone camera is coming to Android

DxO, the company best known for its lens and camera scores, is also behind one of the nicer smartphone-attached cameras out there, the $499 DxO One. Up until now, it has only supported the iPhone and iPad, but the company has revealed that it will soon release the DxO One Android via an early access program. It didn't give many details, other than saying it will attach to type-C USB connectors, so it'll likely only work with newer Android devices.

It should function much the same as it does on an iPhone, turning your smartphone into a display for the camera and letting you choose the f/stop, shutter speed, ISO and other settings. With a one-inch, 20-megapixel sensor similar to the one on the high-end Sony RX100 V compact, it'll generally give you nicer images than even the iPhone 8 Plus, Galaxy Note 8, Pixel 2 and other top-shelf smartphone cameras.

The company says version 1.0 of the DxO One Android camera app will arrive "in the coming weeks" as part of the Early Access program. You can sign up now to get in line, and the company has promised more details on November 2nd.

In other DxO news, there are new accessories for its current iPhone DxO One, too. For better selfies, there's a new tilt stand (above, right) that lets you set different angles for hands-free use, along with an external battery pack (left) that doubles its runtime. The latter also includes the "Outdoor Shell," a weather-resistant case. The tilt stand is included with new DxO One cameras (the company didn't mention if current owners can buy it separately) and the battery pack is $60.

Via the latest version 3.0 iOS update, the DxO One now supports Facebook Live streaming with multi-camera shoots, using both the DxO One and your phone's own camera. That could be helpful for folks who do a lot of live streaming, as an extra camera angle can make your shows more interesting.

It bears mentioning that you could buy a used Sony RX100 Mark III or IV for around the same price, and then just pair it with your smartphone. The DxO one is smaller, though, and more convenient if you share a lot of photos or edit them on your phone. Also, camera makers are not known for their great smartphone apps, and Sony's PlayMemories app is no exception. As mentioned, the DxO One is $499 at DxO's store.

Source: DxO One