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HTC U12 Plus announced without a display notch

After most of its all-star design team went over to Google, it seemed like the end was near for HTC’s mobile business. But here we are almost half way into 2018, and HTC has introduced an intriguing device. While the company’s place in the market is still uncertain, HTC appears to be suffering few ill effects after its major shuffle.

On Wednesday, HTC unveiled a brand new flagship—you may have seen it leaked—known as the U12 Plus. The company claims its new device is “bigger, bolder, and edgier than ever,” with an expansive 6-inch Quad HD+ LCD display (2880 x 1440), Snapdragon 845 processor, 6GB of RAM, and 3,500mAh battery. These are the kind of specs you’d expect from a flagship phone in 2018.

Where the U12 Plus stands out is with its numerous features. Similar to the U11—and later implemented in the Pixel 2—HTC’s device comes with Edge Sense technology, which has been upgraded to support even more interactions. Consequently, expect Google to (hopefully) piggyback off the U12 Plus’ ideas later this fall.

With Edge Sense 2.0, the U12 Plus supports squeeze functionality, double tap, and hold, and it also recognizes which hand you’re using. Each new interaction can perform multiple actions; squeeze the device to launch Google Assistant, take a photo, or bring up HTC’s Edge Launcher. Double Tap can be used as a back button or to adjust the display for easier one-handed use.


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Optus has confirmed it’s shutting down Virgin Mobile

Optus has officially confirmed its intent to sacrifice Virgin Mobile, confirming rumours that first surfaced last month. Australia’s second-largest telco will be phasing out the Virgin Mobile Australia subsidiary over the next two years, ending 18 years of co-ownership.

The move will see Optus closing 36 Virgin Mobile stores and cutting 200 jobs associated with the Virgin brand. It is as yet unclear whether the staff will be reassigned to Optus stores.

Customers currently with Virgin Mobile will be moved over to Optus, but for those who don’t want to be an Optus customer, now’s probably a good time to start looking for a new mobile provider — and there’s now far more choice when it comes to mobile services in Australia than when Virgin first launched Down Under.

“Virgin Mobile customers can continue to use their service in the same way they always have. We will be contacting them in the coming days to let them know more about the changes and their future options,” Optus said in a statement.


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State of Decay 2 Review – Still janky, still fun

Survive and Thrive

State of Decay isn’t like other zombie games and stories. Usually, in zombie stories, we get one of two options. With Option A, the humans are the real monster, as the Walking Dead has spent the last eight years reminding us. With Option B, zombies are targets for action-hero guns, as in the Resident Evil franchise. In State of Decay, zombies are something simpler: an environmental hazard. Just like a deathly-cold winter, a forest fire, a flood, or any other thing our earth can throw at us, zombies are an obstacle to survival. Humans in State of Decay typically want to work together or join up. People share things with each other, and enclaves of people are just crowded homes, not cults. Crowded houses get tense, sometimes, but people work things out.

And so your goal in State of Decay 2, as in the previous game, is to survive and provide a stable life for yourself and those who join up with you, despite the almost constant stream of obstacles and hazards strewn in your way. Accidents and disagreements in the home, the occasional zombie horde, or a resource expedition that goes sideways — all those can throw things off, and so you have to compensate and mitigate.

Throughout all this, you’re stepping into the shoes of each of these survivors. You level up their skills by going on expeditions and searching deserted houses and businesses, taking down zombie infestations, and doing favors for other human enclaves. All the while you have to monitor your own health, stamina, fuel, and ammo supplies, as well as those of your home base.

Zombies in Hibernation

I’m kinda tired of zombies. I’ve been tired of zombies for a long time. But thanks to the original State of Decay, I’ve been eagerly awaiting this game since it was announced. Despite some pretty stereotypical story beats, the game’s survival mechanics were compelling enough to get me to play through the entire game even though I checked out of both the Walking Dead TV show and game before the first season even ended.

The original game was as ugly and bug-riddled as the zombies you fight in the game, but I couldn’t put it down.

And that’s also how I would describe State of Decay 2.


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YouTube Music: 5 things you need to know before signing up

YouTube is changing today with the rollout of both YouTube Music and YouTube Premium, a pair of services that could alter the way that you consume content from the video giant.

If you spend a lot of time on YouTube – especially if that time is spent watching music videos, listening to singles and playlists, or seeking out covers and remixes – then you’ll want to take note of YouTube Music. 

Why? It essentially rolls up everything great about YouTube’s vast, diverse library of music-related content and bundles that with a proper, Spotify-like music service, including millions of tracks and personalized recommendations.

Sounds great, right? It might be, but we haven’t used it yet. 

YouTube is gradually rolling out access in the United States, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, and South Korea starting today, with additional countries (including the United Kingdom and Canada) on the near horizon.

Still, we’ve heard plenty about the incoming service, so here are five key things you need to know before signing up for YouTube Music.

1) It’s a full-fledged streaming service 

It’s rarely hard to find the tunes you’re looking for on YouTube, whether they’ve been put there legally or otherwise, but YouTube Music is something different: it’s a music-focused streaming service that seems designed to wage war against the likes of Spotify and Apple Music.

Google calls YouTube Music “a new music streaming service” that promises official renditions of millions of songs and albums. In other words, it doesn’t sound like they’re just slapping a label and a price tag on the existing YouTube content you know and love – it’ll be that stuff along with the usual amenities of a streaming music service.

Of course, video remains YouTube’s specialty, and there’s nowhere better for finding official music videos from artists. That’ll continue to be the case with YouTube Music, and a redesigned mobile and desktop app will serve up music videos, tunes, and plenty more with ease. We have to assume that web access is also included … it is still YouTube, after all.

2) But it has some unique quirks, too 

YouTube might be gunning for the Spotify throne with YouTube Music, but they’re also trying to lean into what makes YouTube such a compelling place for music lovers. Yes, it’ll include the same kinds of albums and tracks found on other services, but it sounds like YouTube won’t forget about all of the other content around it.

That means that things like cover songs, parodies, and live performances will remain accessible alongside the official tracks and videos, making YouTube Music an ideal service for immersing yourself in an artist’s catalog – and everything else linked to it. 

The service will also feature thousands of curated playlists and a recommendation engine that’s built around your tastes, along with where you are and what you’re up to. Google mentions gym and commute playlists as examples there, or that it can suggest relaxing pre-flight tunes if you’re at an airport.

One of the more compelling features is a super-smart, surely A.I.-driven search engine that goes beyond simply searching for song titles and artists. Yes, it can help find songs based on lyrics, but it can also try finding tracks based on misheard lyrics – for example, that oft-misunderstood line in Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” that sounds hilariously like “Starbucks lovers.”

Another example they’ve pointed out is “that rap song with flute” (Future’s “Mask Off”) and “that hipster song with the whistling” (Peter Bjorn and John’s “Young Folks”). If it really works as well as they suggest, then it could be a huge help for locating tracks that you don’t know much about.

3) It has free and paid experiences 

Apple Music might be all-in on premium subscriptions, but YouTube Music will instead offer a Spotify-like model, letting users choose between free and paid versions of the service. According to the official blog post, the free version of YouTube Music will be ad-supported, of course, and it will require an Internet connection. Beyond that, any restrictions on playback haven’t yet been detailed.

YouTube Music Premium, on the other hand, will provide some very beneficial features that might be worth springing for. First and foremost, it cuts the audio advertisements—so you won’t have to worry about awkward commercials after every few songs, but it’s unclear whether music videos will lack ads. YouTube’s chart suggests otherwise, although it’ll feel strange to see any ads within the YouTube Music app if you’re paying for the service.

The paid service will also provide background listening on mobile, so you can switch away from the app and multitask, plus you’ll be able to download songs for offline listening. YouTube Music also has a cool feature called “Offline Mixtape,” which “automatically downloads songs you love” so you have them handy if you really want them. That’s a considerate perk!

YouTube Music Premium is priced at $9.99 per month in the United States, which is the same price as Spotify, Apple Music, and Google Play Music. We don’t have international pricing just yet, but we have to imagine that Google will aim to stay comparable with the competition everywhere.

While this might seem confusing at a glance, YouTube Music Premium is not the same as YouTube Premium. That said, YouTube Premium encompasses everything that’s in YouTube Music Premium, but then adds more content. And it costs more. 

… Like we said, it’s confusing.

YouTube Premium is essentially the rebooted version of YouTube Red, the previous paid version of the site that never seemed to catch on in a big way. Like YouTube Red, YouTube Premium offers access to original series and movies, which the company is ramping up on. Furthermore, it lets you watch YouTube videos without ads, play videos in the background on mobile so you can still hear what’s happening, and download videos for offline playback.

And then it adds YouTube Music Premium’s full functionality on top of that. As a result, YouTube Premium will cost $11.99 per month – that’s $2 more than YouTube Music Premium, and $2 more than YouTube Red was. 

Luckily, if you were already a YouTube Red subscriber, they’ll let you keep your existing price point. No word on when that will change.

5) It’s not replacing Google Play Music 

Did you read all of this and think, “Wait, doesn’t Google already have a streaming music service?” If so, then you’d be correct: it’s called Google Play Music and it’s still around today. For some reason, it’ll still be around in the future too. Google clarified that YouTube Music is not meant to replace Google Play Music, as they’ll apparently coexist. Google Play Music users will gain access to YouTube Music Premium as well.

“To the Google Play Music users out there, nothing will change – you’ll still be able to access and add to all of your purchased music, uploads and playlists in Google Play Music just like always,” reads a blog post from YouTube Music product manager Elias Roman.

Why keep Google Play Music around if YouTube Music Premium does the same things and more? That’s unclear. Maybe it’s just to gradually ease subscribers over to the new app and experience without annoying anyone with sudden shifts. 

In any case, it looks like Google plans to keep its current service around for the time being, and we’ll just have to wait and see whether or not that approach holds up long-term.


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Alcatel 3V jumps into the US this month

Alcatel’s 3V features 6-inch 2K (2160×1080) display with an 18:9 aspect ratio, a MediaTek MT8735A processor, 2GB of memory, 16GB of storage, a microSD card slot, 12MP and 2MP rear cameras, a 5MP front camera, a 3000mAh battery, a fingerprint scanner, and Android 8.0 Oreo.

Those specifications might be light in some areas, but the overall design and its custom-built display are incredible considering the price. Retailers will have the 3V set at $149. In the past, you had to pay around $600 for glass and screen resolution higher than Full HD. The 3V also has facial recognition, a feature not normally found on entry-level or mid-range hardware.

Considering its all-glass design that’s curved, Motorola should keep an eye on the 3V. It seems to be a serious rival to the Moto E5 that launched recently.

Finding the 3V won’t be difficult. The latest budget-friendly product from Alcatel will be sold by Amazon, Best Buy, and Walmart. If you’re deciding to pick one up, make sure you have wireless service on a GSM network. The Alcatel 3V is fully compatible with networks such as T-Mobile’s and AT&T’s.


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Volvo V40 becomes the first car you can order on Amazon Prime – for a test drive

Amazon Prime is pretty amazing with the things you can get delivered to your door, but now it’s added something you wouldn’t expect – the Volvo V40 hatchback.

That’s right, using your Amazon account you’ll be able to order a Prime Now delivery of a Volvo V40 to either your home or office.

Now, this is a fairly limited run (which smells more than a little like a marketing stunt), only available over a series of a few weekends in June and July, and only in select cities. 

Coming to a postcode near you

Just in case you want to be one of the lucky few who’ll be able to take advantage of the Amazon Prime Now test drives, here are the time and dates that you’ll be able to book:

  • 9-10 June, London
  • 16-17 June, Birmingham
  • 23-24 June, Manchester
  • 30 June – 1 July, Edinburgh

You’ll need to head over to the Amazon page dedicated to the Volvo partnership, enter your postcode, then pick a time slot for your V40 to be delivered. It’ll be accompanied by an expert who can explain the V40 to you. 

We’d have liked to see true Amazon integration so that you could use you Amazon Echo to call for a vehicle to come to your door, but you can’t have everything, eh?


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I’m very concerned about the T-Mobile and Sprint merger

This merger isn’t between two small, regional companies. T-Mobile and Sprint rank third and fourth nationally. Competitors don’t overlook them. Putting together their businesses would give the new T-Mobile above 100 million subscribers. Much of that would be comprised of the old T-Mobile’s customers, but Sprint is still bringing over a hefty 40 million or so subscribers.

You need choice, and the combined company significantly hinders that. If you’re shopping for a nationwide, modern network that’s always advancing, you’ll be limited to just three carriers. Verizon and AT&T, the two longtime juggernauts, would be joined only by the new T-Mobile.

Regulators have long desired to maintain at least four competitors in this industry. When AT&T tried to purchase T-Mobile, the U.S. government issued a ruling that consumers would be harmed by lack of choice. The same happened when SoftBank tried acquiring T-Mobile outright in 2014. Now there might be little resistance to such a transaction.

Yet, even with a pro-business administration in the White House and Congress also leaning in a favorable direction, the same negatives still exist.

Better competition means better pricing. That’s what the new T-Mobile is pushing out of the gate. Legere, Claure, and everyone else going along for the ride is proclaiming that customers will get an industry-leading network at a cheaper price.

While I’d love to be wrong on this one, I highly doubt the new T-Mobile will deliver less expensive wireless service. You can’t possibly give us the world’s first nationwide 5G network with continued expansion for 4G LTE at a lower price. There’s also no chance investors would allow such a thing.

T-Mobile and Sprint say they need each other to win the 5G arms race. True, indeed. But in the process teasing lower prices is foolish. Have Verizon or AT&T lowered prices? No, and they’re incredibly diverse companies. With over 100 million subscribers each, the last thing a major carrier thinking about is affordability. Instead, it’s thinking about generating more money off you.


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Telstra and Vodafone join the ‘unlimited’ mobile data fray, with new plans from $60

UPDATE: Vodafone, looking to undercut Telstra’s offer, has raised the speed cap limits on its unlimited data plans. Information updated below.

Following on from Optus’ brief re-introduction of its Unleashed plan, which offered unlimited mobile data on a SIM-only plan to eligible customers, Telstra and Vodafone have now thrown their own unlimited data offers into the ring, and as you might’ve expected, they’re not entirely limited. 

While it’s indeed true that customers on the unlimited plans will no longer receive excess data fees, every plan still comes with a monthly gigabyte allowance, and customers who go over that limit will find their transfer speeds capped to a rather sluggish 1.5Mbps. 

Thankfully, the limits themselves are still comparatively large, meaning most users will likely fall well short of reaching their monthly allowance anyway. 

Telstra’s new unlimited plan will be available from this Thursday, May 3, while Vodafone’s plans will kick off from tomorrow, May 2. 

Telstra unlimited

Dubbed the ‘Endless Data BYO Plan’, Telstra’s single offering provides customers with 40GB of data at uncapped speeds before being capped at 1.5Mbps once that limit has been reached. 

As the BYO part of the name implies, you’ll have to bring your own phone for this SIM-only plan. It also comes with unlimited calls and texts within Australia, as well as data-free streaming for a number of sports apps. 

Telstra’s Endless Data BYO Plan is priced at $69 per month on a 12-month contract, bringing the total minimum cost to $828 over the contract period.

Vodafone is Vodafiiine

Offering a little more variety than Telstra’s single 40GB option, Vodafone is launching three different unlimited plans with varying uncapped data allowances, each of which will also be capped at 1.5Mbps once that initial limit has been reached.

Vodafone’s $60 per month plan offers 40GB of 4G mobile data, while its $80 per month option gives you a whopping 70GB before you’re slowed down. If that’s not enough, Vodafone’s third and final unlimited mobile data plan gives you 100GB of uncapped data for $120 per month.

Each of the plans include unlimited standard national talk and text within Australia, and like Telstra’s offering, can only be acquired on a 12-month contract. 


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Microsoft seemingly confirms new Surface devices for 2018

During its conference call for the fiscal third quarter results, Microsoft discussed the performance of its hardware. The Surface series, of course, was an important part of the conference call and it revealed that sales of the devices have grown by 32 percent. Microsoft thinks the growth in the fourth quarter will exceed that, which would be incredible.

The next phase for Surface devices was mentioned by the executive in charge of overseeing the company’s financials. Amy Hood, the chief financial officer at Microsoft, commented that the increased growth will come from what’s in the pipeline.

Here’s what Hood said:

“We expect Surface revenue growth in the high teens as we continue to transition to the latest products in our portfolio.”

While not explicitly stating what will be announced and released, the statement does make it seem like there are new Surface devices set to launch sooner rather than later. The fourth fiscal quarter begins on July 1. Microsoft’s announced laptops and hybrids in May before, meaning that could happen again.

Both the Surface Pro and Surface Laptop are due for upgrades, even if it’s just for internal components. The Surface Book, meanwhile, was refreshed in late 2017. But it’s the budget-friendly laptop and its hybrid sibling that need new Intel processors as well as other improvements.

The company still doesn’t have a USB-C port on the Surface Pro and Surface Laptop, so that’d be one design change needed as well.

The Surface Studio, which was introduced almost two years ago, is also in need of attention. Microsoft released its all-in-one two years ago this December. Since then, a bunch of components have made advancements that would be beneficial for a refreshed model.

Microsoft doesn’t have a Surface-specific event on the calendar, but Build is coming up. That’s the annual conference where developers come together to see the latest for Windows and other services. The company doesn’t usually show new hardware there, however. Any Surface devices in development that are set to be released in 2018 will probably launch in the second half.


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New FCC filing suggests Nintendo is working on improved Switch Joy-Cons

Despite its enormous success since its launch last year, the Nintendo Switch has been unable to shake one particular connectivity issue with its left Joy-Con controller, which keeps disconnecting for many people.

After several early attempts to fix the issue via firmware updates, Nintendo eventually narrowed the problem down to a hardware issue, advising its customers to avoid placing their Switch consoles “within three to four feet of another wireless device, such as a wireless speaker or a wireless access point.” 

The company has also suggested that Switch owners keep their consoles away from aquariums and microwaves and other devices which may provide interference.

Nintendo also came up with another, somewhat unorthodox fix involving the application of conductive foam above the controller’s antenna, which supposedly shields it from RF interference. However, customers were required to send their controllers back to Nintendo for this particular fix to be applied.

Joy-Con division

Thankfully, it appears that Nintendo is finally planning to release updated Joy-Cons, with a new filing to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) suggesting that the gaming giant has found a fix to its disconnecting controller woes.

The filing includes photos of a device that’s shaped exactly like one of the Switch’s current Joy-Cons, albeit opened up and showing the circuit board that lies within. 

Nintendo has yet to comment on its upcoming Joy-Con plans, though if this filing is anything to go by, we can probably expect some new and improved controllers to hit the market in the not-too-distant future.


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