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LATEST SMARTPHONES, TABLETS & WEARABLES

ANDROID ADVISOR

ISSUE

45

FROM IDG

TESTED:

OnePlus 5T +

Hands-on: Razer Phone

HID

AT

URES

’S OREO BEST E DEN F

How Google is taking back control of Android


ANDROID ADVISOR

CONTENTS

4

REVIEWS

4

OnePlus 5T

17

Motorola Moto X4

28

BlackBerry Motion

40 Honor 7X HANDS-ON

50

Razer Phone

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Keep updated with all the latest Android Advisor news, by following us on Facebook

57 14

FEATURE

69

Android Oreo’s best hidden features 57 How Google is taking back control of Android 63 Google Pixel 2 tips and tricks 69 Google cracking down on accessibility services 80 HOW TO

Use Android 8.0 Oreo’s autofill API 83 Use Oreo’s picture-in-picture mode 86 Get Microsoft Edge on Android 89 Turn off predictive text 94 Take a screenshot on Android 98

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OnePlus 5T £449 inc VAT from fave.co/2jclVDD

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aking a mark on the smartphone market is hard enough. Muscling in to compete in the same arena – if not at the top step – doesn’t happen often. OnePlus has bucked this trend with its phones of high specifications and low prices. Times change though. You may have needed an invitation to buy the OnePlus One in 2014, but the clamour was justified when the phone cost just £229 at a time when the then-flagship iPhone 5s sold for £549 and could compete on specifications.

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The £449 OnePlus 5T is an upgrade on the five-month-old OnePlus 5 in the same way the 3T was to the 3 a year ago. In 18 months, there have been four flagship devices from a company that had previously only made two (the mid-range OnePlus X being its other device). The new phone is excellent – a huge, crisp screen and screaming performance – but it’s coming from a company that is dangerously close to annoying its fans and appearing like it has run out of ideas, even though it hasn’t. It’s an impressive refinement of the company’s fast progression in smartphones. It’s very similar to the OnePlus 5, but the new screen size and face unlock feature make it feel surprisingly fresh.

Design Let’s not pretend here, the OnePlus 5T naturally looks like the OnePlus 5. The front is more attractive with the lack of bezels and fingerprint sensor but the phone itself is largely unchanged aside from the new 18:9 display. It’s only available in midnight black at launch and yes, it looks a lot like the Oppo R11S. It’s a tiny bit taller than the OnePlus 5 to accommodate the new screen, measuring 156x75x7.3mm. It won’t fit properly in an old case, but you wouldn’t want it to now that the fingerprint sensor is on the back. Luckily, it’s really fast, easy to use and is circular. The rear otherwise looks the same, with dual cameras and a OnePlus logo. It charges via USB-C (and its excellent but proprietary Dash Charge charger) and retains a headphone jack, but ships with no headphones.

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There is no waterproofing of any kind, nor any form of wireless charging. We don’t care about the latter too much, but the former is something the 5T lacks in comparison to nearly every other Android flagship this year. So there are some sacrifices to achieve the price. It’s a phone we find to be slippery. It’s so thin, and the back isn’t easy to grip so snapping it into a case almost a must. This is a shame, as the cases don’t show off the excellent premium build underneath. This isn’t a problem unique to OnePlus, though. It’s also definitely a two-handed phone. The lack of bezels looks lovely, but makes a phone harder to hold. Only the massive-handed will be able to reach their thumb to the top of the display, and for us texting with one hand is impossible. But for £449, wow, what a looker. It is a more attractive and pleasing phone to use than the OnePlus

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5, whose bezels now look antiquated in comparison. And though the specs haven’t changed much, they remain credibly high-end.

Performance Unlike the OnePlus 3T, the 5T does not get a notable bump over the previous generation in terms of core specs. But with a Snapdragon 835 and 8GB RAM in the £499 version we tested (and a perfectly adequate 6GB in the cheaper model) that won’t prove a problem for all your smartphone needs. A benchmark of the handset against phones with similar specs shows that the field is pretty well balanced. It’s worth mentioning that the benchmark speeds of the iPhone X will beat anything Android for this year and probably the next couple, but that the Geekbench 4

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GFXBench Manhattan

GFXBench T-Rex

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OnePlus 5T feels as fluid as an Android phone can feel other than the Pixel 2. The OnePlus 5 scores higher than the 5T on a couple of tests, but it is a tiny difference. OnePlus was also accused of boosting the 5 for tests, so they may have stopped that when everyone noticed. The 5T is the fastest phone we have ever used besides the Pixel 2 this year. Away from Android, this year’s iPhones are also ridiculously quick with Apple’s new A11 Bionic chip.

Display The display is altered with a 6.01in Optic AMOLED panel that uses a 2160x1080 resolution to create the 18:9 aspect ratio. It takes up a whopping 80.5 percent of the front of the device. It’s a bright, colourful panel that is a smidge under Samsung-quality, but as is usually the case with OnePlus, it’s a belter of a screen for the price. We found though that the auto-brightness setting is too aggressive and makes the screen too dim much of the time. The only changes are the display, fingerprint placement, camera sensors and new face unlock feature. The latter works stupidly fast but is less secure than Apple’s Face ID, and akin to the same feature on the Galaxy S8 in that it records a 2D image that can potentially be fooled by a decent quality print out of your face. Apple’s uses 3D mapping, which can’t be tricked this way. It’s also great that the 5T does not suffer from the jelly scroll effect that plagues the OnePlus 5 still. The display size and quality is the best upgrade here.

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Cameras The camera set up is now two Sony sensors. The main is 16Mp with f/1.7 aperture while the secondary is a 20Mp with f/1.7 aperture. This is an upgrade from the OnePlus 5, whose secondary camera was an f/2.6 telephoto lens. With improved aperture, OnePlus claims the 5T is its best ever phone for low light photography (image 1), and this appears to hold true. We noticed that it takes a lot for the second sensor to even kick in though, and it feels a bit redundant as an inclusion. It’s not needed at all for zoom, and is best reserved for portrait mode. This, like on the OnePlus 5, performs with mixed results.

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Below is a shot of a goose (2), where the bokeh effect worked pretty well, but zoomed into the head you can see that the phone struggles to identify exactly where bird ends and background ends, with blurred patches. There were better results of human subjects (3), and the cameras did well in the below shot to well define the position of the camera, with the person blended better into the background. It doesn’t perform as well as the Pixel 2 (which only has one lens) and is less consistent than the iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X. The camera best performs in bright daylight, where landscapes look excellent (4), but it doesn’t achieve the same standard as the best cameras in phones from Apple, Google and Samsung.

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The front-facing camera is a 16Mp sensor with f/2.0 aperture and is pretty decent in daylight and for video calling. The 5T isn’t the high-end phone to pick if you want the ultimate smartphone camera, despite its relentless ‘Shot on OnePlus’ social media campaigning. You’ll find better results in phones that are admittedly more expensive.

Connectivity and audio Call quality has been solid, and it’s good to see OnePlus plough on with the dual-SIM slot as standard, but there’s still no expandable storage. It gets Bluetooth 5.0 which paired the phone flawlessly with a Samsung Gear Fit2 Pro for the duration of our testing.

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Full LTE compatibility, 802.11ac Wi-Fi and NFC round up all the inclusions you’d expect.

Battery life The battery life is about the same as the 5, and the 5T shares the same capacity. Dash Charge remains an excellent charging technology even if it only works with the supplied cable and brick. We also saw the 5T achieve four hours of screen on time under fairly heavy usage until it was reaching empty. It’s not as much of a two-day powerhouse like the BlackBerry KeyOne (read our review on page 28), but for a phone with the best specifications out there and an OLED display, the OnePlus 5T holds its own.

Software It’s a disappointment that the 5T doesn’t ship with Android Oreo. It’s on Nougat 7.1.1, but we’re hopeful for 8.0 Oreo in the coming months. OxygenOS, the firms interface, continues to improve. OnePlus pushes you on set up to use its new font ‘OnePlus Slate’ which is toying with a comic sans vibe at times. We still prefer the other option, ‘Roboto’, Google’s preferred font. We used the 5T with the Dark theme, a nice touch that changes the whole UI to a slicker black hue with the ability to change the accent colour of icons and menus. The changes to stock Android are thoughtful and unobtrusive. Swipe up for apps is better than an app tray, while the notification shade is familiar but excellently customizable.

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The home screen, app drawer, notification shade and settings menu on OxygenOS (customized)

Unlike previous OnePlus phones, the navigation buttons are now exclusively software features as the bottom bezel no longer accommodates capacitive buttons either side of a fingerprint sensor. They can, of course, be remapped, and there are little features like swiping down anywhere on the home screen or on the fingerprint sensor to pull down the notification shade. The top bezel still has room for a camera, and that’s how you can set up face unlock. It’s less secure than the fingerprint sensor or a simple PIN, but it is the fastest face unlock we’ve ever seen on a phone. Tap the power button while looking at the device and it’s so fast you don’t even see the lock screen. It’s odd at first, but is the fastest on any Android device we’ve used by a country mile. OnePlus also says that it won’t integrate it to be used in sensitive apps such

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as for banking, acknowledging its security pitfalls compared to fingerprint or PIN. Along with Google, Nokia and Motorola, OnePlus ships a clean, uncomplicated version of Android that’s all the better for it. If you like a bit of Samsung style flash on your phone, though, it might not be for you – the 5T is blindingly fast, but partly because of its lack of animations. Everything is very austere and clean cut in order to get a process done as fast as possible, but it’s a phone that encourages you to tinker to get a truly unique look and feel, which we love. The customization is now key to the OnePlus experience. People (including us) buy iPhones and Samsung phones and never tweak anything. Using the 5T implores you to dig into the UI and change things for the better, and we welcome that wholeheartedly. OnePlus confirmed at the phone’s launch event that it will be getting Oreo in ‘early 2018’, which will bring better notifications, security, handy features such as password autofill, and visual tweaks.

Verdict The OnePlus 5T isn’t a surprise, both in its existence and the fact it’s very similar to the OnePlus 5. It stands as a reminder that 2017 was the year every company produced a phone with an 18:9 display to make sure its bezels didn’t look outdated on the store shelf. But OnePlus isn’t on many store shelves given its online retail approach, and its many vocal core fans who bought the 5 will be annoyed by the 5T. It needed to update its design language quickly to keep up with the wider market where it is yet to make a dent, and

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the 5T is overall a better device than the 5. And let’s not forget that for £449, the 5T is an exceptionally well-rounded smartphone. It is at least £100 cheaper than similar handsets, and sometimes close to £300 less. If you buy into the design and price but can accept that the camera isn’t top draw, then it’s a great choice. Henry Burrell

Specifications • 6.01in full-HD (2160x1080, 401ppi) display • Android 7.1.1 Nougat (OxygenOS) • Qualcomm MSM8998 Snapdragon 835 processor • Octa-core (4x 2.45GHz Kryo and 4x 1.9GHz Kryo) CPU • Adreno 540 GPU • 6/8GB RAM • 64/128GB storage, no microSD support • Fingerprint scanner • Dual 20Mp and 16Mp, f/1.7, 27mm, EIS (gyro), phase detection autofocus, dual-LED flash • 16Mp, f/2.0, 20mm, EIS (gyro), 1µm pixel size, 1080p, Auto HDR • 3.5mm headphone jack • 4G FDD-LTE UK bands B3/B7/B20 • 802.11ac Wi-Fi • Bluetooth 5.0 • A-GPS, GLONASS, BDS, GALILEO • NFC • USB 2.0 • Non-removable lithium-polymer 3,300mAh battery • 156.1x75x7.3mm • 162g

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Motorola Moto X4 £349 inc VAT from fave.co/2j8Kphb

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otorola’s mid-range X series of smartphones is back with the new Moto X4, which follows 2015’s Moto X Play, X Style and X Force line-up. This time, Motorola has opted to go back to just the one model to keep things simpler, and it’s certainly a compelling offering with plenty of interesting and impressive features. But it has stiff competition from Honor and OnePlus.

Design In a bit of a departure from the rest of its phones, Motorola has gone for glass on the front and back

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(like many of 2017’s phones) mated to an anodized aluminium frame. This results in a premium-look and feel that’s lovely at first glance but little too shiny and smudge-prone. It’s available in Sterling Blue  or Super Black. The back is described as a 3D contour, which essentially means that it’s slightly curved to feel comfortable in the hand. That’s aided by its 5.2in screen, which keeps the X4 at a manageable size that’s easy to use one-handed. The X4 is 7.99mm thick for the most part, aside from the 9.45mm circular portion that houses the camera. It weighs 163g. While those measurements aren’t particularly outstanding, they’re good for a phone of this price. Impressively, the X4 has an IP68 water resistance rating, which we tested by dropping the phone into a shallow pool of water and can confirm that it still worked perfectly when we took it back out. That’s

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actually better than the flagship Z2, which is simply described as “splashproof”, and the Honor 9, which isn’t waterproof. Like the Honor 9 you’ll find a standard headphone jack alongside a USB-C port on the bottom edge, but the X4 has just one speaker, which doubles as the ear piece for phone calls. It’s fairly loud, and pretty much on a par with the Honor’s single bottom-firing speaker.

Display The X4’s 5.2in screen is Full HD, which means a resolution of 1920x1080 pixels. During our testing, we found the screen to be bright, colourful and crisp. It’s doesn’t live up to the standards of flagships from the likes of Samsung and LG, and its bezels prevent it from being as immersive as an edge-to-edge would, but for the price it’s very good. In fact, the colours are so bold in vivid mode that you’d be forgiven for thinking it was an OLED panel. In fact, it’s a top-tier LCD screen with great viewing angles.

Performance Inside the X4 is arguably its biggest weakness: Qualcomm’s mid-range processor, the Snapdragon 630, paired with 3GB RAM. In itself, that’s a fine combo for a mid-range phone. The problem comes from the competition, namely the Honor 9 which is a lot faster for only £30 more. You can see the difference in the graphs below. But in the real world, with real use, the phone is suitably speedy, launching and running apps without a problem and allowing us to switch between them without delay.

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Geekbench 4

GFXBench Manhattan

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GFXBench T-Rex

The worry is that although adequate for now, you’ll probably hanker after the Honor 9’s extra performance in a year or two’s time when the X4 could well feel slower than it does when you get it out of the box. Storage-wise you get 32GB storage built-in, but there’s support for a microSD card up to 2TB. This fits into the tray above the nano SIM card, which can be ejected from the top of the phone.

Cameras One of the Moto X4’s key features is its dual camera. Like the LG G6 and Asus ZenFone 4 it has standard and wide-angle lenses rather than telephoto. And like the ZenFone, it has 12Mp and 8Mp sensors respectively, so your wide-angle shots (image 1) aren’t

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going to have as much detail as photos from the main camera (2). However, unlike the Asus and LG, the X4 supports depth effect so you can get nice blurry backgrounds for your portrait photos. And there’s a handy slider at the bottom so you can adjust how much blur you want. Dual Autofocus Pixel technology means focusing is quick, and auto HDR is enabled by default. There’s a very slight delay after taking some photos for processing, but in most situations there’s no perceptible lag. In good light, the main 12Mp camera takes great photos which look nice and sharp. They’re a tad

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oversharpened, but we’d rather this than be too soft. Colours aren’t always the best: they tend to be a little dark and drab but this is all easily sorted in Snapseed or your favourite Android photo editor. As you can see above, there is noticeable distortion when using the wide-angle camera. With enough natural light, it’s perfectly possible to get lovely, sharp shots. In dim light there’s a bit of noise, but colours and detail are still good. However, in very low light, the X4 simply can’t cope and managed this dismal attempt of our standard low-light scene (see the image 3 overleaf).

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Around the front is a 16Mp front-facing camera for selfies which offers an adaptive low light mode as well as a Panoramic Selfie feature to capture bigger groups or the environment behind you. In terms of video, it can shoot 4K up to 30fps, and 1080p at 60fps. Unfortunately, like even certain flagship phone (such as the Mate 10 Pro) 3. stabilisation is only possible at 1080p30 or lower. That’s frustrating as the stabilisation is pretty good. But as it’s done in software, it seems there’s not enough processing grunt to work at higher frame rates or resolutions. The camera app also includes a 3D Detector, which scans an object in front of the camera, attempts to identify it and then give you relevant information. We tried it on an iPhone X and it successfully recognized it and brought up Apple’s web page for the phone. You’ll also find an AR feature for both the rear camera and selfies. It allows you to add animations to photos and videos, like Snapchat, but this isn’t going to appeal to everyone.

Battery The 3,000mAh battery is a non-removable and Motorola says it’s capable of providing power “all day”.

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It charges via USB-C and supports TurboPower fast charging with the bundled adaptor, which means six hours of power is achievable with just 15 minutes of charging time. And it certainly does last all day, even with pretty heavy use. Obviously, if you play games for hours on end you’ll need that charger before the day is out, but with mixed use you can usually make it through to the following morning.

Software The Moto X4 runs Android 7.1 Nougat (not Oreo, sadly) out of the box. As with all Moto phones, it’s almost plain Android with no annoying overlays or heavily modified menus and settings. Even the icons are the default Android ones. And, as any Motorola owner will know, you also get Motorola’s Moto app which includes a variety of features such as Moto Display and Moto Actions. With Moto Display you can get notifications to fade in and out when the screen is off, and the ‘one-button nav’ feature lets you use taps and swipes on the fingerprint sensor instead of the on-screen navigation keys. There’s the usual ‘karate chop’ to turn on the torch and double-twist to launch the camera. Moto Key means you can access password-secured websites using your fingerprint rather than having to type your password every time. Built into the US version of the Moto X4 is Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant, which is a first for Motorola and it can be used hands-free. Google Assistant is still available, so you’ll be able to take your pick. As of yet, there’s no support for Alexa in the UK model.

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Verdict We’re pleased to see that Motorola has revived the Moto X. For the most part, we like the new glass design and the specs and features are good for the £350 price – it looks like a more expensive phone. Waterproofing and the dual-lens camera sets this apart from rivals, and we like the 5.2in screen size for comfort and practicality. It’s slower than the Honor 9, and has half the storage as standard, but if you’d prefer the waterresistance over the extra speed, the Moto X4 is a great choice for anyone that can’t afford the hefty price tags of the current flagships. Ashleigh Macro

Specifications • 5.2in (1920x1080, 424ppi) IPS display • Android 7.1 Nougat

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• Qualcomm Snapdragon 630 processor • Octa-core 2.2GHz Cortex-A53 CPU • Adreno 508 GPU • 3GB RAM • 32GB built-in storage, up to 2TB microSD card slot • Dual-lens 12Mp and 8Mp rear camera with Dual-LED flash

• 16Mp front-facing camera • 4G LTE • 802.11ac Wi-Fi • Bluetooth 5.0 LE • Fingerprint sensor • A-GPS, GLONASS, GALILEO • NFC • Water Resistant IP68 • 3,000mAh battery with Turbo Charging • 148.4x73.4x8mm • 163g

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BlackBerry Motion £399 inc VAT from fave.co/2jgqcpM

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lackBerry continues to morph into its true second phase in 2017. The KeyOne was a minor success in tech circles, with people enjoying the classic aesthetic, physical keyboard and up to date Android experience. The Motion continues that revival as part of BlackBerry Mobile’s licensing deal with TCL. The former markets, the latter manufactures. On this evidence, it is doing a pretty great job. The Motion is a solid, austere slab of smartphone at an affordable price point, but when you look at the

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specifications, there are high-end options out there for less than £100 more.

Design BlackBerry is remembered for its mid-2000s heyday when handsets like the Bold 9900 were strictly business looking and felt close to indestructible. The Motion is going to pick up scratches, dents and maybe a smashed screen like any other phone might, but it does feel solid with its aluminium frame, a nice addition at the price point. Unlike the DTEK50 and DTEK60, TCL and BB Mobile’s other all-touchscreen BlackBerry phones, the Motion feels premium. It is slightly larger than the KeyOne and boasts a 5.5in display. The bottom bezel is a tad chunky but houses capacitive navigation buttons that you can’t swap over as they are backlit, specific symbols. A physical button integrates a fingerprint sensor and an unsubtle bit of BlackBerry branding. The top bezel is slimmer with camera and LED notification light if you long for the retro BlackBerry vibe. BlackBerry’s mappable convenience key is now on the right edge next to the power button, while you’ll also find a headphone jack (hooray), downward facing speaker and camera with flash. The back also has a Kevlar-esque texture that is less pronounced than on the KeyOne, but is still a great addition for grip and also doesn’t show fingerprints like so many other phones do. It charges via USB-C and has an attractive textured detail to the metallic silver bumper. We also like how the phone curves over at the top

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rather than being flat, something we’ve not seen on any other phones recently.

Hardware The Motion is on the large side, measuring 155.7x75.4x8.1mm with pronounced bezels. The 5.5in screen is just about manageable one handed, but it’s by no means a small device. Luckily you can swipe down on the fingerprint sensor to pull down the notification shade, but it’s not as intuitive as with a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor. The sensor itself recalls the Galaxy S6 and S7 in that it is a physical button rather than this year’s trend for static sensors. It’s not the fastest unlock mechanism on the market, but a simple placing of your thumb or finger on the sensor wakes the phone promptly. In my initial use of the phone it has coped pretty well with all tasks considering the mid-range Snapdragon 625 processor found in the KeyOne and the Moto G5 Plus. 4GB RAM certainly helps that, while it has 32GB of expandable storage up to 256GB for all your local media.

Display The display is a 1920x1080p IPS LCD with 401ppi, and looks vibrant enough, but isn’t the brightest panel out there. Viewing angles are decent but it does struggle a bit in bright sunlight. Touch responsiveness is decent, and the panel feels more rugged compared to the sometimes flimsy-feeling KeyOne. The Motion has slight light bleed on the top and bottom of the screen

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that’s particularly visible when it’s white, but that is commonplace on devices of this price. You’re tapping directly onto glass that is nanodiamond coated, a world first according to BlackBerry Mobile. It’s therefore not the industry-favourite Gorilla Glass and considering the promise we actually picked up a small scratch on the first day of use. It feels nicer to use glass though than something like the plastic coated ShatterShield on the Moto Z2 Force, but BlackBerry is saying the Motion’s screen is anti-scratch rather than scratch proof, so it just about gets away with it.

Cameras The camera is a 12Mp sensor with f/2.0 aperture and a dual LED flash. It’s also great to see 4K video recording at 30fps on a phone that costs under £400.

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Results are predictably mixed, with bright sunlight being the optimum shooting condition (image 1). You need a steady hand too, as it’s easy to get blurry shots without realising until you view them enlarged. We also viewed some images on a monitor to find they were better than the Motion’s display suggested. So, we can’t recommend the Motion’s camera for more than the odd point-and-shoot situation, though it’s perfectly adequate for social media purposes.

Battery life One of the headline specs here is the phone’s 4,000mAh battery, and it delivers on the promise of

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two days battery life. Charging happens over USB-C and Quick Charge 3, though you have to unlock the phone and select boost mode when you plug in or it won’t charge as fast. The Motion breezes past three hours screen on time with at least 60 percent battery left, and with medium to heavy use using the phone as my main device, We comfortably got two full working days from the Motion, and only reached for the charger around midday on the third day. And if you’re wondering, yes this is insane. Of all the phones we’ve tested recently, only the Lenovo P2 can match the Motion for this kind of battery stamina. It is no coincidence that these phones share the same Snapdragon 625 processor, but the P2 one-ups with its 5,100mAh battery. The P2 is half the price, but a pain to get hold of in the UK, so the Motion is a fine alternative. BlackBerry Mobile relentlessly positions its handsets in the business market as productivity tools, and the battery life is a key part of this. But if you are an avid phone user who needs four hours of screen on time out of a single charge for video and music then the Motion is a phone to consider, but the mid-range processor means high level gaming isn’t possible.

Performance Oddly, the Motion refused to run our normal Geekbench 4 benchmark tests (same as the KeyOne) so we ran Antutu and GFXBench tests to compare the Motion’s pure processing speeds to similar devices.

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Antutu

GFXBench Manhattan

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GFXBench T-Rex

The phone is also IP67 dust and water resistant, the first ever BlackBerry to be so. This means it’ll handle a downpour or an accidental submersion with no issues. It’s another attractive benefit to picking the Motion over the KeyOne alongside the price and the increase in battery life. The Motion did hiccup a few times when we flipped between apps, downloaded them, or general tried to multitask like we might on a high-end device. This is to be expected, but as the Motion is £399, it’s quietly creeping towards that arena. The Moto G5 Plus performs very similarly as the benchmarks show, and costs just £199.99. At first glance, it looks like BlackBerry is simply charging £100 extra for the physical keyboard of

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the KeyOne, meaning unless you’re absolutely set on that slice of typing nostalgia, the new Motion will save you money and not compromise on any other specs.

Connectivity and extras Call quality is good, with a speaker that gets more than loud enough, and we used Bluetooth headphones and a Samsung Gear Fit2 Pro with no trouble over Bluetooth 4.2. Android Pay (and other functions) are a go with NFC, too. Also welcome are the included headphones. They are above-average, in-ear buds in a slick black, but like the fingerprint sensor have unsubtle BB branding.

Software The BlackBerry Motion ships with Android 7.1.2, and BlackBerry Mobile has confirmed it will receive Oreo ‘in the new year’ which is incredibly open-ended, but good to hear. As with its previous Android devices, BlackBerry’s skin over Google’s stock UI is quite utilitarian unlike the playful versions found on OnePlus and even Samsung devices, but you may well prefer this. We enjoyed the widget features where you swipe up on an app to quick-view your widget of choice right on the home screen rather than having to place a whole widget on there permanently. There’s also an app called Locker that hides content in fingerprint-secured folders if you don’t want people to access certain files. An option in the camera is clever where you tap (not fully press) the fingerprint sensor to take

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a photo and it goes directly to the Locker app, bypassing any cloud upload you have. We found ourselves using it more than we thought to store things like passport details and receipts. As well as a Night Light feature to turn down the blue tint after dark, there’s the DTEK suite of security prompts and decent frequency of security updates. My review device arrived with a 6 November 2017 security patch, which was mere days before it landed on my desk. You’ll only find this speed of update elsewhere on a Pixel device, and is a great reason to plump for the Motion if you want regular security patches (and you should, frankly). Consumers unknowingly walk around with Android devices with ancient security patches, and BlackBerry Mobile should be commended for taking the matter seriously. We also like the convenience key, which you can map to something generic like to open the camera, or something as specific as new email to a specific contact. You can also pin these types of granular

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commands to the home screen for quick, efficient and usually work-oriented tasks. There are other neat integrated features. We initially thought the physical home button was a step backwards in design, but a tap of the button (rather than a physical press) acts as a back button. Slightly odd as there is a back button directly to its left, but we found ourselves using it all the same. You can do all the tweaks to the OS that you’d expect, but the skin doesn’t invite to customise as much as Samsung, OnePlus or Google. We get the feeling this is a phone to simply set up, be secure and last forever on a charge. And that is not a bad thing. If you’re a die-hard BlackBerry fan, you’ll also enjoy being able to set app icons to the style of both the BlackBerry 10 and BlackBerry 7 operating systems. It’s a small nod to the old company’s past as is the Motion’s name, surely a nod to Research in Motion?

Verdict The BlackBerry Motion proves a difficult device to rate. It’s too big, and there’s not much to tempt a casual smartphone buyer here aside from outstanding battery life. It is too austere and clunky even in comparison to the KeyOne, and won’t stand out in the £400 price bracket. BlackBerry isn’t a cool brand, but the Motion has a huge battery, a headphone jack and a CPU that will just about cope with what you want it to do besides high level gaming. If the KeyOne was a comeback, the Motion is just about a solid sequel but there are phones like the Moto G5 Plus with similar specs for half the price. Henry Burrell

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Specifications • 5.5in (1920x1080, 401ppi) IPS display • Android 7.1 Nougat • Qualcomm MSM8953 Snapdragon 625 processor • Octa-core 2GHz Cortex-A53 • Adreno 506 GPU • 4GB RAM • 32GB storage, up to 256GB microSD card slot • 12Mp, f/2.0, phase detection autofocus, dual-LED (dual tone) flash • 8Mp front-facing camera • 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi • Bluetooth 4.2 • Fingerprint sensor • A-GPS, GLONASS • 4,000mAh lithium-ion battery • 155.7x75.4x8.1mm

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Honor 7X £269 inc VAT from fave.co/2k0UUno

A

fter the jaw-dropping Xiaomi Mi Mix back in 2016, phone manufacturers quickly started launching ‘bezel-less’ phones. And many decided to cram in a larger screen rather than make a physically smaller phone. They did this by making it taller with an 18:9 aspect ratio instead of 16:9. 18:9 is super fashionable, but until now with the 7X, was out of reach for those on a budget. Even the OnePlus 5T costs £449, which is the very top of mid-range.

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The Honor looks a lot like Huawei’s Mate 10 Pro, but saves on cost to bring the price right down.

Design Let’s start with the screen, as it’s the most obvious feature. On paper the specs – 5.93in, 18:9 aspect, 2160x1080 resolution – could fool you into thinking it’s the same display as the Mate 10 Pro. But it isn’t. OLED screens are more expensive, so Honor has gone for an IPS panel in the 7X. It makes sense, and it’s still a great screen. Viewing angles are wide, it’s nice and bright and colours are surprisingly vibrant. Obviously it doesn’t have the option of an always-on clock with notifications, but it still looks impressive with tiny size bezels and much smaller top and bottom borders than other phones at this level. There’s no room for a fingerprint reader so this is on the back in the middle. You’ll also find a pair of cameras at the top with an LED flash. Rather than spoiling the design, the antennae lines add a bit of interest to the otherwise featureless expanse of matt-finish aluminium. Talking of finish, the 7X comes in black or blue – the gold version won’t be sold in the UK. The bottom edge reveals a standard headphone jack, microphone and mono speaker and – slightly strange at the end of 2017 – a Micro-USB port. Maybe the 2018 Honor phones will move to USB-C. In any case, it makes it easy to charge as you’ll find Micro-USB cables just about everywhere you go. Nothing but a pinhole for a microphone breaks up the top edge: the SIM tray sits at the top of

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The fingerprint reader is located on the rear of the phone

the left-hand side and takes a pair of nano SIMs. Alternatively, if you want extra storage you can insert a microSD card instead of a second SIM. It isn’t unreasonable to expect some waterproofing from a cheaper phone, as the Moto G5 Plus demonstrates, but while the 7X doesn’t have any Honor goes out of its way to talk about build quality. It says it has strengthened all four corners of the phone so it can better withstand drops. We’d still recommend using a case, but unlike with Huawei phones you don’t get one in the 7X’s box.

Performance Internally the specs are mid-range: a Kirin 659 processor, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. The latter two are generous, but overall performance is

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Geekbench 4

GFXBench Manhattan

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in line with what you’d expect: this isn’t a flagshiprivalling device, and it isn’t meant to be. Benchmark results show that isn’t far from superfast, but in real-world use it’s perfectly quick. Apps may take a little longer to launch, but they run smoothly and you can run most games (such as Asphalt 8 and Pokémon GO) without issue: they won’t look quite as good as on much faster phones, but they also won’t run like the slideshows we saw in GFXBench, which is designed to highlight the differences between phones. Honor is working with certain developers including Gameloft to optimise games for the 18:9 screen so you see more of a scene. With most games, forcing them to use the entire screen just crops them so you

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actually see less (as is the case with all 18:9 screens at the moment). Battery life, from our weekend of testing, shows that the 3,340mAh battery can make it through a whole day with normal use, but it drains quickly if you’re playing games. There’s no fast charging, so you’ll probably end up connecting the charger each night when you go to bed.

Cameras The main camera has a 16Mp sensor and uses PDAF for focusing in a claimed 0.18 seconds. The second camera has a 2Mp sensor and is simply used for depth sensing rather than capturing photos or video. It means you get the same portrait and wide-aperture modes that you’ll find on the Huawei Mate 10 Pro and the stock camera app is essentially the same minus a couple of features, and the Leica branding. One of those is video stabilisation: the 7X doesn’t have any. It’s limited to recording at 1080p30 with no 60fps option, so this will put some off. There’s an 8Mp selfie cam and you can enable depth effect for blurry backgrounds. Thanks to gesture support you can wave and get a countdown for group shots. In selfie mode there’s the expected beauty mode, but you can also apply fun masks and effects. Photo quality isn’t amazing from the main camera. It’s best in good light, where photos look sharp and have good detail levels. HDR isn’t automatic, so you have to select this from the list of modes if you think it’s needed. This was taken with HDR (image 1) on a gloomy day, but even so we’d expect colours to be

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1.

a bit warmer. The portrait mode works well, though, and you can switch to the wide-aperture mode when taking a photo of something that isn’t a person. You also have lots of other modes, including light painting, time lapse and slo-mo to play with. Video defaults to 720p, so make sure you choose 1080p to get the best possible quality. The lack of stabilisation means you need to keep the phone as still as possible, but video and audio quality is reasonably good. In low light, including indoors at night with artificial lighting, you can easily notice the drop in quality (2):

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2.

photos lack detail and sharpness, which is presumably caused by a lot of noise reduction. You also need to make sure your subject stays still: we ended up with a lot of blurry photos of excitable animals and children.

Software The 7X doesn’t have Oreo, but it’s possible Honor will release an update in the not too distant future. Out of the box you get Android 7.0 Nougat with EMUI 5.1 – older than the EMUI 8 you’ll find on the Mate 10 Pro. Still, the interface is pretty much identical and it’s hard to spot many differences between the

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versions. For those unfamiliar with EMUI, it’s looks a lot like Samsung’s TouchWiz and the default setting of placing all apps on home screens makes it very familiar to iOS users. It has some nifty features such as double-tapping the screen to wake it, and double-pressing the volume-down button to launch the camera app. You have to enable these through the settings as they’re disabled by default. There’s one-key split-screen so you can carry on watching a video (on Netflix, say) while you reply to an email or message. You’ll also find the same App Twin menu option, but unlike the Mate 10 Pro, you can only sign into two Facebook accounts – there’s no option for WhatsApp or Messenger here. Like EMUI 8, you’ll get warnings when apps are using a lot of power in the background and it’s generally helpful for stopping lots of apps running, freeing up memory with one tap. For audio, you get Huawei’s Histen effects, which lets you either play with the EQ or enable a ‘3D sound’ mode where you can adjust a slider from Near to Front to Wide. Unlike on the Mate 10 Pro, those 3D modes seemed ineffective, and it was far more useful having a customisable equaliser to add bass.

Verdict Honor does pretty much everything right with the 7X. It looks like a much more expensive phone than it is (price is still to be confirmed though), has a headphone jack and offers a choice of dual-SIM or expandable memory.

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The 18:9 screen is great to use, and most apps work okay when forced to fill it. Battery life is good and cameras are acceptable, but not excellent. We can’t give an official score until we know the UK price, but it looks like Honor has put together a decent phone that gives you an 18:9 screen which looks like a flagship for far less than flagship prices. Jim Martin

Specifications • 5.93in full-HD (2160x1080, 407ppi) IPS display • Android 7.0 Nougat • HiSilicon Kirin 659 processor • Octa-core (4x 2.36GHz Cortex-A53 and 4x 1.7GHz Cortex-A53) CPU • Mali-T830 MP2 GPU • 4GB RAM • 64GB storage, microSD up to 256GB • Fingerprint scanner (rear mounted) • Dual: 16Mp and 2Mp, phase detection autofocus, LED flash • 8Mp, 1080p • 3.5mm headphone jack • 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi • Bluetooth 4.1 • A-GPS, GLONASS, BDS • Micro-USB 2.0 • Non-removable lithium-polymer 3,340mAh battery • 156.5x75.3x7.6mm • 165g

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Razer Phone £699 inc VAT from fave.co/2jiBUAh

T

he Razer Phone is a bit of a puzzle. It’s not surprising that it exists, given that Razer, best known for PC hardware and peripherals, acquired smartphone maker Nextbit in January of 2017 in order to produce this device. Nor is it surprising that, based on our hands-on time with the device at a recent briefing, the Phone seems to be equal parts Nextbit’s Robin and Razer’s laptop line, touting impressive specs at a reasonable price of £699.

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What’s confusing is what it isn’t. Razer says this isn’t meant to be a gaming phone. Rather, it’s a phone for gamers, Razer fans, and Android enthusiasts, meaning it’s intended to deliver a great experience for all kinds of ‘content consumption’, not just gaming. But it’s a weird message when Razer’s core audience is gamers – and Razer is still pushing gaming partnerships that take advantage of the Razer Phone’s unique screen.

A 120Hz display The Razer Phone is packed with a 120Hz, 2560x1440, 5.72in LCD panel. If you’ve ever used a high frame rate PC display, you know the difference a faster refresh rate can have on simple tasks – not just games. Thumbing through feeds, switching apps, and ‘consuming content’ all felt super-smooth. I even got to track the refresh cycles with Razer’s own built-in version of FRAPS (yes, I asked, and yes, you can turn it on in the final version). The panel uses some of the same adaptive refresh technology as Nvidia’s G-Sync and AMD’s FreeSync, so when you’re idle you also aren’t wasting precious battery. Speaking of battery, the Razer Phone packs a 4,000mAh one inside its 197g body. That, paired with the newer Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, help it last for long ‘content consumption’ sessions. The phone also features 8GB of dual channel LPDDR4 RAM clocked at 1,600MHz. Razer really knows its audience when it lists detailed specifications like that for a device. How about another PC-centric spec to catch your attention? Members from the same team that came up with the custom-cooling solutions in the Razer

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Blade line also had a hand in custom cooling for the Snapdragon 835. Razer says its cooling solution allows the 835 to run longer before throttling down, and when it does, it doesn’t throttle as low.

Shared design language Razer also wants the Razer Phone to feel right at home with the company’s other hardware offerings – and it does. The engineers worked with some of the same teams that helped make Razer’s refined Razer Blade laptop series. At first glance it looks much like the Robin that came before it, but in my hands, the Razer Phone made the Robin feel like a toy. I would describe the overall design to be monolithic.

The aluminium gathers dust, but I still prefer it to all glass phones

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The chassis is aluminium and has a nice, tactile feel in my hand. I’ve never been a fan of all-glass phones, so I’m glad to see Razer lean into what it knows. It also feels like a tank that could easily withstand some drops – much like LG’s V20. It was dense without feeling too weighty. The back of the phone is one solid piece of aluminium, disrupted only by Razer’s snake logo in the middle and a camera bump at the top. The edges show a glimpse of antenna lines, but they blend in well. On the front of the Razer Phone is a dual speaker grille – again, like the Razer Blade – with notches taken out for the front-facing camera and sensors.

Phone audio with a punch The Razer Phone’s dual speaker grille and stereo speaker configuration are not a first by any means, but I’d be hard-pressed to find a louder setup on any phone! Each speaker has its own amp, allowing the Phone to be pushed to higher decibels without distortion. I’m currently using a Google Pixel 2 XL (which also has dual front-facing speakers), and side by side it’s no contest: The Razer Phone blew the Pixel out of the water at the highest levels. Sadly, the Razer Phone does not include a headphone jack, and I’m not a fan of this decision. It especially makes no sense when Razer makes a number of high-quality headphones that still support this format. Razer does offer a couple of headphone options that support Apple’s Lightning connector, so I’m hoping the company releases USB-C support in the future. Until then we are stuck with dongles.

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Stock for the Android Enthusiast Razer is also trying to court Android enthusiasts. The Phone runs a near-stock version of Android 7.1.1 out of the gate, and Razer promises 8.0 Oreo support in Q1 of 2018. Unlike Nextbit with the Robin, Razer focuses on the basics while adding only a few custom tweaks, like its own Gamebooster technology and a theme store. We’ve heard this ‘focus-on-the-basic’ approach before (re: Essential), so I’m hoping Razer can deliver. One choice I liked was Razer’s decision to default to Nova Prime Launcher rather than make its own. I’ve been using Nova Launcher for years, and it’s one of the most popular out there. The Robin had a heavily skinned UI that matched the aesthetic they were going

Razer says that 90Hz might be the sweet spot for performance versus battery

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for at Nextbit, and Razer could easily have gone down that same path. Instead Razer is allowing the freedom of stock Android and providing a theme store if you want custom Razer looks. To round out the enthusiast angle, the Razer phone is sold unlocked (GSM only), with the bootloader unlocked out of the box as well. This phone might be a great option for the tinkerers out there!

Final thoughts I would have loved to have seen a headphone jack and more attention paid to the camera setup (it’s very basic), but there’s still plenty to like about the Razer Phone. Gaming phone or not, Razer is still partnering with big phone gaming publishers like Square Enix (Final Fantasy) and Tencent (Arena of Valor) to offer 120Hz optimized experiences. During my meeting, I got the feeling that the team from Nextbit got to follow their passions on the software side while having access to the hardware resources of the teams at Razer. It feels like a grown-up Robin, which is what Razer needed. Adam Patrick Murray

Specifications • 5.7in full-HD (2560x1440, 515ppi) IPS display • Android 7.1.1 Nougat • Qualcomm MSM8998 Snapdragon 835 processor • Octa-core (4x 2.35GHz Kryo and 4x 1.9GHz Kryo) CPU

• Adreno 540 GPU • 8GB RAM • 64GB storage, microSD up to 256GB

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The Nextbit Robin spent some time in a cocoon this year and emerged a hardcore butterfly

• Fingerprint scanner (side-mounted) • Dual 12Mp, f/1.8, 25mm and 12Mp, f/2.6, 2x optical zoom, phase detection autofocus, dual-LED (dual tone) flash • 8Mp, f/2.0 • 802.11ac Wi-Fi • Bluetooth 4.2 • A-GPS • NFC • USB Type-C • Non-removable lithium-polymer 4,000mAh battery • 158.5x77.7x8mm • 197g

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Android Oreo’s best hidden features Not all the cool features get top billing, writes RYAN WHITWAM

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oogle is pushing Android 8.0 Oreo to Nexus and Pixel devices as device makers scramble to get their phones updated. Google’s devices will be the only ones running the new software, at least for a while. What’s this Oreo update all about, anyway? Everyone knows about the big stuff, like picture-in-picture and autofill apps, but a lot more is going on if you dig deeper. Here are five awesome hidden Oreo features to get you started.

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1. Widgets via app shortcuts Google has changed the location and appearance of the home screen widget picker several times, and Oreo brings yet another alteration. This one might make using widgets much easier, though. All of an app’s widgets are accessible with a long-press on the app icon. This works in the app drawer as well as on the home screen. The long-press menu is the same one that shows pending notifications via notification dots, one of the high-profile changes to Android 8.0. Less well-known is the icon that looks like four small squares. That’s the widget shortcut. It’s at the top of the popup for apps that have launcher shortcuts, but it has a full line with a label on those that do not. Tap the icon (wherever

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it may be), and a panel appears at the bottom of the screen with just the widget or widgets for that app. You can long-press and drag any of them onto your home screen.

2. Enforce background limits on apps Android 8.0 comes with a new raft of tweaks to background processes that prevents apps from bleeding your battery dry. There’s a big catch, though: These background limits are enforced only on apps that target the new API level in Oreo. You can force an older app to abide by the new background limits, however. To make this change, open your system settings and go to Apps & notifications > App info. Find the app you want to modify. On the info screen is a link to battery usage. Tap that, and you can turn off the toggle for Background activity. Keep in mind, apps that aren’t set up to use the job scheduler correctly will

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have delayed notifications and other bugs when not allowed to run continuously in the background.

3. Snooze notifications Android is great at delivering a ton of information in notifications, but you don’t always want to pay attention to a notification immediately. In Android 8.0 Oreo, you can snooze notifications until later. You don’t have to dig into any menus to set this up, but it’s still somewhat hidden.

When you get a notification you want to snooze, slide it left or right, but don’t swipe it away. Tap the clock icon next to the notification, and it will be snoozed for one hour. At that time, the notification pops up again. You can also change the hour timer to 15 minutes, 30 minutes, or two hours by hitting the drop-down next to the hour snooze indicator.

4. Granular control over sideloading apps In past versions of Android, the ‘unknown sources’ permission was all or nothing. Either every app on your phone could install apps as sideloaded APKs,

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or none of them could. Android 8.0 changes that to make sideloading a per-app setting. It’s safer, sure, but it’s also a bit of a pain to manage. If you download or access an APK with the intention of installing it in Oreo, the phone will give you an error and send you off to a menu to change your settings. You can find this menu in Apps & notifications > Special access apps > Install unknown apps. Apps that have tried to open APKs will appear here. Each one has a settings screen where you can toggle unknown sources on and off. If you aren’t going to install APKs from an app, make sure that it stays off. This prevents rogue applications from trying to sneakily install APKs by hijacking your taps.

5. Customize Notifications Oreo includes several changes to notifications, including notification dots and notification channels. If you want to filter out some of the noise, both these

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features include some handy customization options. Notification dots are straightforward. When an app has a pending notification, its icon gets a coloured dot. Long-press and the notification appears in a popup in addition to the notification shade. Not everyone wants the extra clutter, though. Dots can be disabled by opening the settings to Apps & notifications > App info > [app name] > App notifications. Turn off the toggle for notification dots, and they won’t trouble you again. The above notification menu is also where you’ll find channel controls. It can be accessed via the menu, or you can wait for a notification to pop up and move it aside (just like accessing the snooze option) and tap the settings icon. You can turn off the channel that notification belongs to right from there, or tap All categories to open the App Notifications menu. All the channels have on/off toggles and separate settings for notification importance and sound. Note, these settings are available only for apps that target Android 8.0.

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How Google is taking back control of Android The Pixel is Google’s way of saying, “Our Android is better than yours.” MICHAEL SIMON reports

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ith the Pixel 2, Google’s message is clear: For the best Android experience, come to us. Call it the Google stamp of approval. Where the Nexus phones were born of partnerships with the likes of HTC, Huawei, and LG, Google’s name was purposefully absent. They were ‘pure’ Android phones.

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Even though the Pixel 2 and 2 XL are manufactured by HTC and LG, respectively, the ‘G’ logo on the back is there to remind us that it’s Google through and through. As Mario Queiroz recalled at the October event: “We set out to design a phone ourselves because we believed we could make the smartphone experience better.” Simply put, the Pixel phones are about Google first, Android second. When Google launched the original Pixel, it loaded it with features no other phones had: Google Assistant, Daydream support, a killer camera experience, years of updates. It would take months for the best features to trickle down to the rest of the Android universe, offering but a small taste of what it’s like to use Google’s vision for what Android should be. A year later, Google’s doubling down on all of it.

The best of Google built in On the surface, Google is still playing nice with its biggest Android partners. There’s a promise from Google that Samsung, HTC, LG, and others will release an Android 8 Oreo update before the end of this year, not next. Then there’s Project Treble, which aims to take much of the heavy lifting away from future Android updates. Google’s message with the Pixel 2, though, is that you can do better. Google is no longer content to sit on the sidelines while manufacturers sell millions of phones based on bastardized versions of its Android vision. Its billion-dollar purchase of HTC’s smartphone team proves that point. It’s basically saying, “You can get a watered-down Android experience with the Note

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Hardware and design aren’t important on the Pixel 2

8 or the V30. Or you can get the best end-to-end solution from us.” Google also makes a subtle distinction, where its idea of ‘the best’ focuses more on the software than the hardware. Even before Google showed off a single device yesterday, it braced us for a harsh reality: Nothing you see will be revolutionary. “The playing field for hardware components is levelling off,” Google’s Rick Osterloh said. Osterloh continued with a thinly veiled reference to Samsung and Apple’s ongoing, tit-for-tat battle for best flagship phone. “I don’t envy those of you who

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have to write reviews for a bunch of smartphones with very similar specs.... Core features are table stakes now.” Osterloh has a point: The Note 8 is easily the best phone Samsung has ever made and arguably one of the best smartphones ever, but its software is still its weakest link.

Android as intended The Pixel 2 won’t turn heads like the Galaxy S8 or iPhone X, but it might be the best Android phone ever made. Not just Android at its purest, like Nexus phones represented, but the version of Android you can’t get anywhere else. No one is buying a Galaxy phone for the Samsung Experience, but Google thinks people

Active Edge on the Pixel 2 lets you squeeze to launch Google Assistant

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will choose the Pixel for what it brings to Android. And this year, it’s in the form of apps and features, not UI tweaks. In fact, the Pixel 2 doesn’t technically run a new version of Android Oreo at all. But compare it to the version running on a Nexus 6P, and the differences are clear. The Launcher has been tweaked to put the search bar in a logical position and spotlight upcoming events. There’s an exclusive preview of Google Lens. A squeeze-to-launch-Assistant gesture. And it has a neat camera app trick that simulates bokeh with just a single lens. Mind you, none of these things are groundbreaking. Other manufacturers have done background blurring without the use of a second camera. Widgets let you put your calendar entries on your home screen. Bixby Vision uses the camera for identifying books, wine, and buildings. But none of those features are as well integrated as Android is on the Pixel. Samsung may have built a Bixby button into the 2017 Galaxy phones, but I guarantee more people will be squeezing their Pixel phones to launch Assistant. It’s Android as Google intended: fully integrated with Google services in a seamless, fluid manner.

The ultimate updater The best feature of the Pixel didn’t even get a mention on the stage yesterday. According to the tech specs for the Pixel 2, the phones are guaranteed to get three years of OS updates, a jump from the previous Pixel’s two-year promise. That means when Android Rolo or Ring-Dings launches in 2020, today’s Pixels will be able to install it on day one.

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Three years of Android OS updates is a big deal – an iOS level of commitment that no other Android phone offers. You can spend £800+ on an Android phone from any other manufacturer and you’re only really certain to get one major update. Even a nearstock phone like Essential still hasn’t pushed out an Oreo update more than a month after its public release. The Pixel 2 is the first Android phone that obsoletes obsolescence. At some point over the next year, Google Lens will land in the Play Store, and the Pixel 2 launcher will appear in the Play Store. Maybe Google will even add portrait mode to the Google Camera. But the experience still won’t be the same as using a Pixel 2. Perhaps this will force other manufacturers to stay closer to stock Android to stay relevant. No amount of Pixel pressure is ever going to rein in Samsung, but maybe it will spur them to deliver timelier and longer updates. If Google were launching Android today, I have little doubt that it would be a Pixel-only OS. Google has slowly been reining in Android’s openness, and in many ways, the Pixel 2 is the ultimate fork, one that separates the original from the imitators. If it works, Android as we know it may never be the same.

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Google Pixel 2 tips and tricks Become a Pixel 2 power user with MICHAEL SIMON’s tips

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oogle’s Pixel 2 is one of the few Android phones that actually looks better after you turn it on. From the functionally elegant Pixel Launcher to the stock Oreo icons, there’s a lot to like about the Pixel 2 Android experience. It’s smart, stylish, and sophisticated, and it’s the number one reason to spend hundreds of pounds on one. As good as it looks, Android on the Pixel is just as customizable as it is on any other phone. The Pixel 2 features all sorts of little tweaks and tune-ups, so check out these 10 tips.

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1. Pick a live wallpaper Last year’s Pixel brought Live Earth wallpapers that gave your home screen a cool three-dimensional feel, but this year’s live wallpapers go beyond parallax effects. Simply press down on your home screen and tap the Wallpapers icon to find them. Inside the Living universe tab you’ll find a series of wallpapers that are like mini-movies on your home screen. The movement is subtle (such as waves crashing against the shore), but it adds a bit of surprise and delight to what was already a gorgeous array of photos. Furthermore, there’s a set of ‘Come alive’ wallpapers that feature interactive designs. Some let you manipulative shapes with your fingers, while others provide flashes of colour when touched. Mind you, they will all have some impact on your battery life, but they’re so cool, it might be worth it.

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2. Bring back double-tap to check and lift to check This year’s Pixel brings an always-on ambient display, and we couldn’t be happier. But if you’re not into it, Google hasn’t completely abandoned the old way of doing things. Inside the Ambient display settings (Settings > Display > Advanced > Ambient display), there will be two toggles beneath ‘Always on.’ Double-tap to check phone and Lift to check phone. The double-tap option will light up the screen when you double-tap on the ambient display (or illuminates the ambient display if it’s not set to always be on). The lift-to-check toggle turns on the ambient display when you raise your handset, like before. However, it works only if the always-on display is turned off, so you’ll have to choose.

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3. Turn on vivid colours The Pixel 2 doesn’t offer the kind of colour customization that the Galaxy Note 8 or LG V30 do, but there is one tweak you can make. Inside the Advanced menu’s Display settings, you’ll find a Vivid colours toggle, which will change the display profile to give your display a little more pop.

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4. Show the battery percentage It’s always been impossible to tell exactly how much battery you have left by viewing the tiny icon in the status bar. With Android Oreo on the Pixel 2, Google lets you add the precise battery percentage next to the icon, so you can know exactly when battery saver is about to turn on (or brag to your friends about how long it lasts). Just head over to the settings and flip on the Battery percentage switch.

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5. Use the power button to end a call The Android Accessibility settings include all sorts of useful tricks for vision-impaired Pixel 2 users, but there’s one option we can all benefit from: Power button ends call. Flip this switch and you can press the power button to end a call – especially handy if one hand isn’t free.

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6. View the home screen in landscape mode Most Android phones need to be in portrait mode when looking at the home screen, making for some awkward fumbling when running landscape apps. But that’s not the case with the Pixel 2. Inside the Home Settings (which can be accessed by pressing down on the screen and tapping the gear icon), you’ll see an Allow Home screen rotation toggle. Toggle it on, and your icons and widgets will rotate when you turn your phone. One caveat: you’ll lose your Google search bar when in landscape mode.

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7. Customize the At A Glance widget Google has supercharged the Pixel Launcher’s new top-of-the-screen widget with the addition of calendar events and traffic information alongside the weather and date. But if you don’t want all that information, you can easily change it. Just long-press on the widget to bring up the Preferences menu. From there, you’ll be able to turn off calendar events and traffic updates

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8. Get rid of the Google app screen Swipe all the way to the right on your Pixel 2 and you’ll get to the Google app, which is basically a feed of news, sports, weather, and other relevant information. But it doesn’t have to be there. Head into the Home Settings (again, by pressing on the home screen), and you’ll see a Display Google app toggle. Turn it off, and the screen will disappear from your phone.

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9. Show Now Playing on the lock screen One of the coolest features of the new Pixel phones is Now Playing, which offers the ability to identify any song it hears without needing to ask Google Assistant or launch Shazam. It’s not an app, it’s a setting, and you can find it all the way at the bottom of Advanced in the Sound settings. Inside is where you’ll find the most important toggle of all: Show on lock screen. Turn this on, and you’ll be able to identify any song that’s playing within speakershot of your Pixel 2 just by glancing at the bottom of the lock screen.

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10. Turn off Active Edge We might not have needed another way to summon Google Assistant, but Google gave it to us anyway in the form of Active Edge. Like the HTC U11, you can squeeze the sides of your Pixel to launch Google Assistant. Unlike the U11, you can’t customize the squeeze to launch another app. If that’s a dealbreaker, you can switch off Active Edge in the Settings app. But it’s not so easy to find. Go to Apps & notifications > Advanced > Default apps > Assist & voice input > Active Edge. Then it’s just a matter of flipping the Squeeze for Assistant toggle.

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Google cracking down on accessibility services If you like Universal Copy, you’ll hate this, writes MICHAEL SIMON

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ne of the best reasons to buy an Android phone is the sheer number of ways you can manipulate it to your liking. Even without rooting, there are hundreds of apps that add, enhance, and tweak functionality to make the Android experience that much better. But a change coming to Google’s Play Store terms could put an end to it. At the time of writing, Google is preparing to shut down universal access to its accessibility services APIs within the next 30 days. According to letters

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sent out to a wide range of developers, apps that use accessibility services that are not explicitly being used “to help users with disabilities use Android devices and apps” may be booted from the Play Store unless the functionality is removed or changed. Google adds that “repeated violations of any nature will result in the termination of your developer account, and investigation and possible termination of related Google accounts.” While you might not think this will impact your Android experience, there’s an extremely good chance that one of your favourite apps uses accessibility services to enhance the experience. For example, LastPass uses accessibility services to automatically fill passwords for saved websites and apps, and Universal Copy uses it to capture text from apps that normally don’t allow it. And there are many, many others. While this doesn’t mean your apps will lose some of their best functionality, it presents some problems. Google offers APIs to replace some of these features (such as the Autofill API in Oreo), but there will be an adjustment period. For one, there aren’t many phones that run Oreo, and for another, it means a bunch of work for developers, many of whom have been using accessibility services for years. However, it’s a fact of life. As security ramps up and Google continues to limit what apps can and can’t do, more and more of the ‘open’ appeal of Android gets chipped away.

Accessible no more Accessibility services lets developers access core components of the Android system in the name of

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making a specific feature or function easier for people with disabilities to use. However, many developers take advantage of the powerful API to enhance the functionality of apps that aren’t specifically aimed at helping impaired users. For example, developers use the TalkBack screen reader to boost copy-and-paste, rather than specifically help blind users. A lengthy Reddit thread confirms that Google has sent out numerous letters to developers spelling out the offending service and asking for clarification on how certain features are designed to help disabled users. The developer who started the thread makes a popular app called Status that draws an overlay on top of the stock Android status bar to allow for personalization of the colours, icons, and animations. The biggest issue here is security. Opening up a powerful API to any developer who wants them presents a huge security risk. While the vast majority of these apps are simply using the API to give users greater functionality, unscrupulous developers could use accessibility services to steal data from users. By shutting down the use of accessibility services to non-accessibility apps, it will make Android a whole lot safer, but perhaps, not as fun. We shouldn’t be too surprised, though. Google has always stated that accessibility services “should only be used to assist users with disabilities in using Android devices and apps,” though it always seemed like Google was giving developers tacit approval to incorporate the API into general apps. But this new crackdown means that the floodgates are  being slammed shut.

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Use Android 8.0 Oreo’s autofill API HOW TO

Long passwords made a lot easier. RYAN WHITWAM shows how

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ndroid 8.0 Oreo’s autofill API is here to save you from one of technology’s biggest hassles: passwords. Google’s API allows apps to act as autofill providers at the system level. So, instead of opening a password manager and copying your passwords, the app can simply authenticate you and fill in the information automatically. This feature requires some setup, but it’s well worth your time. Autofill was somewhat possible in older versions of Android using the Accessibility service, which allows

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apps to input text and highlight fields. However, this process was slow and extremely buggy. Filling in passwords is not what it was designed to do. Google’s Smart Lock came to Android in Nougat, and it worked a little better, but most developers didn’t add support. So, the autofill API was devised to make password managers easier to use. Not all password manager apps work with this feature, but most of the big ones have announced support. 1Password, Dashlane, and LastPass have all added support for Oreo that you can try, but it’s still technically in beta for LastPass. If you don’t use a third-party password manager, you might still be able to use the autofill feature with Google’s own autofill service from Chrome.

Oreo’s autofill API Oreo’s autofill features are disabled by default, and they’re rather buried. To enable autofill, head into your main system settings and look in System > Language & input > Advanced > Autofill service. You can only have one active at a time, but “Autofill with Google” is built into the OS. Any other apps you’ve installed with support for autofill will also show up in this menu. Google’s option pulls in usernames and passwords from Chrome. That means you’ll already have access to lots of account credentials in Android if you’ve been saving things to Chrome on your desktop. The first time you open an app with a native login field (not an embedded web frame), a window pops up asking you to confirm your Google account so logins can be found. A drop-down list of matching logins will let you pick among several accounts.

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This is how you’d use Google and LastPass to log into the Arlo app

If you choose a third-party app like LastPass, the authentication step is different. These apps are a bit more secure based on the early implementation. For example, LastPass has you confirm your identity with a fingerprint (if enabled in the app) or LastPass password before it will autofill in other apps. Like the stock Google offering, these apps have drop-down menus where you can choose from all matching accounts before filling the username and password. There’s a bit of setup needed, but you’ll never have to worry about awkwardly copying and pasting your long, complex passwords on Android again. If you don’t have long, complex passwords, you can start using them with the knowledge you won’t have to type them in by hand.

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Use Oreo’s picture-in-picture mode HOW TO

Keep a video playing while you work. RYAN WHITWAM reports;

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ometimes you want to watch a video on your phone, but you’ve also got some serious business to handle. So, what’s a busy slacker to do? Google added split-screen mode for apps in Nougat, but that wasn’t designed with video playback in mind. Oreo finally makes video playback more friendly with the addition of picture-in-picture (PiP) mode on phones and tablets.

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Find out which apps have PiP in your settings

Launch picture-in-picture mode To launch picture-in-picture mode, just tap the home button. Okay, that sounds easy, but there’s more to it. You need to be watching a video or other live content that is enabled for PiP. Additionally, the app needs to have support for the new API in Oreo. We’re still in the early days, so it’s mostly Google apps that work with PiP. YouTube will work, but only if you have YouTube Red. Maps will use PiP for navigation if you tap the home button. Chrome, Play Movies, and Duo all do PiP for videos. VLC has PiP mode in the beta build of the app. When PiP mode is active, the floating video window can be dragged around the screen, but it always sticks

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to the closest edge of the screen. The video is small, but it’s borderless, and the controls are hidden to save space. You can tap on the video to get playback controls, as well as buttons to return to the full-screen app and an ‘x’ to close the video immediately. Note that PiP mode won’t start if you have a video paused and tap the home button. However, you can pause the PiP video at any time and return to it later without opening the full app again. More apps will add support for picture-in-picture mode over time. In fact, there might be some apps you don’t want to have play in PiP at all. You can disable PiP for any app, but you need to dig deep. Head into Settings > Apps > Advanced > Special app access > Picture-in-picture. This menu is handy for another reason: It lists all the apps on your device that support picture-inpicture. Because there’s no indication while using an app that it supports PiP, you might want to take an occasional trip into this remote corner of the settings to see if any new apps have gained PiP support.

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Get Microsoft Edge on Android HOW TO

MARTYN CASSERLY reveals how to sync passwords, favourites, and exchange data between your PC and Android phone

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icrosoft’s Edge browser was a welcome inclusion with Windows 10, bringing with it many interesting new features and an elegant user interface. Now Android users can get in on the action, as Edge comes to the world’s most popular mobile platform. We show you how to get Edge on your Android phone, and why it’s a good idea.

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Downloading the app Microsoft has added an early-access version of its Edge browser to the Google Play store, which goes under the name Microsoft Edge Preview (Unreleased). This means you can download it now, but as it’s still in the beta stage there will inevitably be a few bugs still to iron out. If you’re happy to put up with the odd crash or erratic behaviour while Microsoft perfects the app, then tap the Install button and you’ll be good to go in minutes. If, for any reason, you can’t download the app from the Google Play Store, then there is another route you can try. Open a browser on your PC and go to tinyurl.com/y8cj577L. Here you’ll find an option to select the Android version of the app, below which you can provide either a mobile number of

Scanning the QR code will take you to the app’s download page

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email address to which Microsoft will send a link to the Edge preview. Alternatively, you can scan the QR code on the screen with your Android phone, which once again will take you to a download page for the app.

Setting up the Edge browser Once the app is installed, open it and you’ll be asked if you want to use your Microsoft account? Those who want Edge to sync with its counterpart on their Windows PC should say yes or choose the Continue as [your email] button. If you don’t have a Microsoft account, or don’t want to link it up yet, can either choose the Use another account option, or tap Skip for now. The next step will give you the choice to share your browsing history or not. This is obviously

You’ll be asked to sign into your Microsoft account, though you can skip this

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up to you. Sharing will improve suggestions that are presented to you by Edge, but it’s by no means an essential feature.

Using the Edge browser Once everything is set up you’ll arrive at the Home page, which looks not hugely dissimilar to the classic Google variant. Enter a search into the main bar and you’ll be whisked off to the far corners of the internet. Tapping the microphone icon allows voice search, while the square with a line running through it will open the built-in QR reader. There are a few other options worth knowing about, especially if you already use Edge on your Windows 10 PC. In the top right corner, you’ll see a Star icon with three lines sticking out of its right side. Tap this and it opens up a new page with several icons across the top. From left to right they represent Favourites (bookmarks), Reading list, Books (a new feature arriving soon), History, and Downloads. Tapping the X on the far right will bring you back to the Home page. Along the bottom of the screen are a few more icons worthy of your attention. The three dots in the far right give you access to your account, settings, plus the ability to quickly open new standard tabs or private ones. Next to this is an icon with one rectangle on top of another. This shows you all of the tabs currently open in the browser, separating them into Standard and Private sections. The other main icon resembles a mobile phone with an arrow pointing out of its side. This is a clever

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Edge on Android allows users to start reading a website article on one device, then send it to the other so they continue there instead

new feature that allows users to link their Android phone and Windows 10 PC (so long as it’s running the latest Fall Creators Update). When set up it will enable users to start reading a website article on one device, then send it to the other so they continue there instead. Expect the capabilities of this to grow over time, possibly into something special. It’s looking good so far, and with Microsoft on form at the moment, we think this is one to watch.

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Turn off predictive text HOW TO

Predictive text can be a real pain the neck. JIM MARTIN explains how to turn off autocorrect and disable gesture typing

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ne of the (many) great things about Android is that it’s so customizable. Sometimes it’s hard to know where to go to change settings, though, so here we explain how to turn off predictive text on Android and how to set other keyboard preferences.

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Turn off autocorrect First, open the Settings menu on your phone or tablet and select Languages & Input. Tap Virtual keyboard under Keyboard and input methods, and select Android Keyboard.

Next, select Text correction, then slide off the toggle next to Auto-correction.

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Turn off predictive text Open the Settings menu on your phone or tablet and select Languages & Input. Tap Virtual keyboard under Keyboard and input methods. Next, select Android

Keyboard, and then Text correction. Finally, slide off the toggle next to Next-word suggestions.

Text correction options Another option in the ‘Text correction’ menu is your ‘Personal dictionary’. You can add words to this, and it’s useful if Android tends to autocorrect someone’s name or another word you use regularly. When you add a word, you can also enter a shortcut to type that word – that’s invaluable when you have long or complex words. Yet more options include toggles for showing correction suggestions;

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personalized suggestions (which shows words you type a lot or are learned from other Google services); and showing contact names as suggestions.

Gesture typing If you back up a level from the ‘Text correction’ menu, you’ll find the ‘Gesture typing’ menu. In that, you can disable the ability to type words by swiping across the keyboard, turn off the gesture trail and turn off automatically adding spaces between words when you swipe over the spacebar.

Advanced settings In the ‘Advanced’ menu, you can set the delay time for a long key press – such as when you hold down ‘T’ to get the number 5 – and the vibration duration for a keypress. Here you can also prevent usage stats being sent to Google.

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Take a screenshot on Android HOW TO

Want to capture the contents of your phone or tablet’s screen? MARIE BLACK’s helpful tutorial shows how

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aking a screenshot on Android is usually as simple as simultaneously holding down the power button and volume-down button, but various alternative methods can be found on the great many Android phones and tablets on the market. For a quick standard screenshot, first try exactly this: press the power button and volume-down button

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together, and hold for a few seconds until the screen flashes to signal the screen grab has been captured. There is a slight knack to this action: press the power button too soon and the display will switch off; press the volume-down button too soon and your screenshot may be marred by an on-screen volume slider. In most versions of Android you will get a notification pop up to confirm the screenshot was successful; some will automatically open that screenshot or present it in a pop-up window you can select to access sharing options. You can also find the screenshot in your Gallery app.

When pressing Power and Volume Down doesn’t work If pressing the power button and volume down button doesn’t work, this is probably because your phone or tablet has a physical home button. Try swapping out the power button for the home button in this scenario. To take a screenshot, simultaneously press and hold for a few seconds the home button and volume-down button. As in the previous step, the screen will flash to signal to you that the screen grab has been captured, and you’ll then be able to access sharing options. This method has long been the screenshotting process of choice for Samsung’s Galaxy S-series, but with the Galaxy S8 no longer featuring a home button you must instead press power and volume down.

Samsung phones and tablets If you are using a Samsung Galaxy phone to take a screenshot, you will find another option at your

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disposal. You’ll need to turn on this functionality in Settings, Motions and gestures, Palm swipe to capture first, but Samsung Galaxy phones allow you to take a screenshot with a swipe of the palm.

Extra functions on Samsung devices Screenshots on Samsung Galaxy phones now feature extra functionality, too. These changes were introduced with the Galaxy S7 but rolled back to the Galaxy S6, and we find them in the Galaxy S8 too. Screenshots, by default, show only what’s on your phone or tablet’s screen, but sometimes you need to capture more of the content on, say, a web page, but don’t want to have to take multiple screenshots and then stitch them together. Now when you take a screenshot on a Samsung Galaxy phone you’ll see four options pop up at the bottom of the screen: Scroll capture, Draw, Crop and Share. You can use the first option to take longer screenshots, the second to annotate them and the third to display only the information you want to be shown. The fourth option, Share, will allow you to send that screenshot to any compatible apps on your device.

Sony phones and tablets Moving on from the Samsung Galaxy series, some phones feature a screen capture option from the

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power options menu. To take a screenshot you need only press and hold the power button, then select Take screenshot. As is the case with the Sony Xperia Z5, pictured here, you may also find a Record screen option. This takes a video of whatever actions you then perform after selecting the option, and is incredibly useful if you want to show someone how to do something step by step without overwhelming them with a succession of screenshots. Screen recording used to be available to Android phones only if they were rooted, but it’s possible to take a screencast on any phone or tablet running Android 5.0 Lollipop or later.

Screen recording Screencasts are now possible in all devices running Android Lollipop and later. You may have an app preinstalled on your phone that will do this for you – check before you download another one – but if not simply launch Google Play and search for Screen Recorder. The app we have used in the past is now called the Riv Screen Recorder (free from tinyurl.com/ya7ocf7s). Install the app, click Open, and press the Start Recording button to begin your screencast. Press Stop Recording when

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you have finished, and the file will appear in the main window with playback, sharing and delete options. You can use the video editor on your phone to trim the start and end points accordingly.

Older Android devices It’s worth pointing out that it’s only been possible to take screenshots on Android without rooting the device since Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. Most of us are using newer versions of the OS now, but there are still some legacy Android devices kicking around. You can see which version of Android you’re running in the Settings, About device menu. If you’re running Gingerbread or an even older version of Android you’ll need to download an app to take a screenshot. This is where things get a little confusing as the effectiveness of the screenshot apps on offer vary from phone to phone. If you’re willing to pay for an app – and you don’t want to go through the hassle of rooting your Android device – you should try an app such as No Root Screenshot It (£2.99 from tinyurl.com/ydxf5L6b). Bear in mind that “This application will instruct you to download and install a free desktop application on your Windows or Mac. Once installed, you must run the desktop application with your phone attached to your computer. This will enable screenshots on your phone.”

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Android advisor issue 45 2017  

Making a mark on the smartphone market is hard enough. Muscling in to compete in the same arena – if not at the top step – doesn’t happen of...

Android advisor issue 45 2017  

Making a mark on the smartphone market is hard enough. Muscling in to compete in the same arena – if not at the top step – doesn’t happen of...

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