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LATEST SMARTPHONES, TABLETS & WEARABLES

ANDROID

39

ISSUE

ADVISOR

FROM IDG

I/O 2017:

Google’s most exciting

event ever

+

ANDROID O

BETA: GET IT

NOW

ANDROID’S AI FUTURE


ANDROID ADVISOR

Contents

4

news

4 Google launches Android O beta

7 Google reveals why apps aren’t on Chromebooks

10 Android founder’s Essential phone here

13 Control IKEA’s smart bulbs with Assistant

15 Google moves Android into the car with Volvo

18 Legend of Zelda may be coming to Android

reVIews

19 Xiaomi Mi 6

35 HTC U Ultra

49 UMIDIGI C Note

58 Ulefone Armor

19

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Contents

69

14

Features

Google I/O 2017 69

Google preparing Android for an AI future 81

Google Lens: Six things we can’t wait to try out 85

81

How to

Get Android O on a Nexus or Pixel phone 90

Make selfie stickers in Google Allo 94

Use parental controls in Android 98

Keep updated with all the latest Android

Advisor news, by following us on Facebook

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news

Google launches

android o beta

Tech giant’s latest operating system includes Google Play Protect

and helpful interface tweaks, writes Brad CHaCos

Android O has been available as a Developer’s

Preview for a while now, but at the Google IO

conference, Google took the wraps off some

new features designed to make the next-gen version

of Android more accessible, secure, and long-lasting.

Let’s start with ‘Fluid Experiences’, or aesthetic

design tweaks to the operating system. Android O

actually adds some handy new features on this end,

such as a ‘picture-in-picture’ mode that minimizes an

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news

open app to a small window in the corner if you need

to multitask. Who says you can’t multitask on phones?

Another addition, ‘notification dots’, steals the look

of iOS’s notification bubbles on home screen apps,

but makes it more useful. A dot plopped on a home

screen app means you have a notification from it;

long-pressing the app’s icon will pop the notification

details up right there, over the icon.

Other Fluid Experiences take the hassle out of

everyday tasks. An opt-in autofill function taps

into Chrome’s password saving feature to help

you easily log into standalone apps, while a smart

text selection feature uses on-device machine

learning to automatically select the entire name or

address you’re trying to select. Even better? Those

smart selections come accompanied with relevant

contextual actions, such as the option to call a

selected phone number, or open an address in Maps.

Vitals

Google is also focusing on your device’s core health

in Android O, via security enhancements and tweaks

to the core OS. Most noticeably, all Android O devices

that come with Google Play preinstalled will also ship

with a new app called Google Play Protect. Think of

it as a security hub for your phone, scanning your

apps for malware and generally making sure your

device stays secure. None of it is new, per se, but

it was handled in the background before. Google

Play Protect makes it obvious.

Operating system optimizations also help Android

O devices boot twice as fast as their predecessors,

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Google says, and apps load much faster as well. The

firm is also baking ‘wise limits’ into Android O to tame

apps that want to run wild in the background – saving

your precious battery life.

Android Go

Finally, Android O marks the debut of an initiative

dubbed Android Go. This is designed to run better

on phones with limited hardware, in regions with

limited internet connectivity. It features streamlined

versions of Android and Google’s core apps, along

with a self-contained version of the Play Store, and

enables Google’s Data Saver feature by default. Look

for it on phones with less than 1GB of memory.

Curious? While Google didn’t reveal Android

O’s launch date – or what the ‘O’ stands for –

the company has released a beta version of the

Developer’s Preview.

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news

Google reveals why apps

aren’t on Chromebooks

The problem with Android apps? The windows. Ian Paul reports

Every time we open a Chromebook and see

that an update is available, we get a twinge of

excitement. Is this the moment that my Asus

Chromebook will finally get Android apps? So far, the

answer has been no, and it doesn’t look like that will

change anytime soon. Google didn’t have much to say

about the state of Android on Chrome OS during its

annual Google I/O conference. But the firm did run a

dedicated I/O session aimed at teaching developers

how to target their apps for Chromebooks and

larger screen devices.

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The big takeaway from the session is that Google

is grappling with the same issues we’ve been hearing

about for months. At the opening, Google showed

some of its own apps, including Google Maps and

Hangouts, that aren’t yet tuned for large screen

devices. The big issues that Android apps need to

deal with during the migration to Chromebooks are

support for wider screens; including a landscape

mode in addition to portrait; allowing for adjusting

an app’s window size; and tweaking input approaches

to suit a laptop with a keyboard and mouse.

The issues aren’t just affecting Chromebooks

either. Google said these optimizations can improve

the experience on Android-based laptops, as well as

newer Android phones that have a desktop mode like

Samsung’s Galaxy S8. Even if an app is lacking some

of these tweaks, they can still work well. The widerscreen

issue, for example, makes some apps look odd.

The image above is of Google Maps’ explore feature.

All the content is in the middle of a screen, while

the menu is stretched out across the entire display.

Similarly, not having a landscape mode just means that

an app feels cramped on a laptop, but it’s still usable.

The bigger issue is window resizing. Some older

apps become unstable when you try to resize them on

a laptop, because they weren’t meant to do anything

but display on a phone or tablet. To confront the

window-resizing issue, Google’s baked several tools in

its newest Chrome OS window manager. The system

scans apps to see which ‘era’ of Android they were

built for. If the app is not density-aware, for example,

the app will always display in a maximized window.

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Google Maps running

on a Chromebook

Pre-Android N apps, meanwhile, will switch

between a full-screen view and a fixed window size.

For Android N and later, most apps are freely resizable,

thanks to the windowing features built into Android

7.1. That said, some apps may not use the resizable

feature, in which case they would fill the screen.

The impact on you at home Unfortunately, this

still doesn’t answer the question of when all those

older Chromebooks slated for Android support will

get it. Currently there are just six Chrome OS devices

that support Android apps in the stable channel. Two

are in beta, and more than 80 are ‘planned’ to get

Android apps in the future, according to Google’s

Chromium site. Hopefully, this will all be sorted out by

the autumn, but at this point there’s really no point in

predicting when the great Android app revolution will

happen on Chrome OS.

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android founder’s

essential phone here

Andy Rubin’s handset offers a 360-degree camera and a nearly

bezel-less screen, reveals MICHael sIMon

After months of Twitter teases and hype, Android

founder Andy Rubin has finally unveiled his

latest project to the world. And as expected, the

vaunted Essential Phone is yet another Android phone.

But it’s also much more than that. While the specs

bear out a real-deal flagship competitor,

it’s clear that Rubin’s Essential

Phone is part of a new

ecosystem designed

to offer an alternative

to Google’s Android,

with a focus on design,

performance, and versatility.

Andy Rubin is the

godfather of Android, so any

move he makes is important.

However, while the Essential

Phone certainly looks great

in renders, it remains to

be seen whether it can

compete against Samsung,

LG, and even Google

itself in the increasingly

competitive phone market.

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Bare Essential

The handset is slated to work with a 360-degree

camera accessory, as well as an external digital

assistant similar to Google Home, but at the core of

everything is the phone. Like other mid-2017 premium

handsets, it features a Snapdragon 835 chip, 4GB of

RAM, a 3,040mAh battery, and a 128GB hard drive.

The design is ultra minimal, with a nearly bezelless

screen reminiscent of the asymmetrical Mi Mix.

The 5.7in display stretches all the way to the top of

the device, leaving a small chin at the bottom that

should help with orientation.

Essential Phone

Aside from an odd cutout in the screen for an 8Mp

front camera, there is nary an identifiable marking

to be found on either the front or rear of the device.

The glass and ceramic panels sandwich a piece of

titanium rather than aluminium. Essential says this

will hold up better to drops.

Rubin is also eschewing a company name or

symbol. While there’s plenty of room on the rear to

plaster Essential’s double-circle logo, Rubin is making

a statement with the phone’s unadorned glass:

“Just because we played a part in making it doesn’t

mean you should be forced to advertise that fact to

everyone in your life. Now you know why we don’t

have any logos on the phone.”

Future-proof

Above the space where a logo should be is a

fingerprint sensor and “the world’s thinnest dual

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camera system built for a phone.” You get a pair of

13Mp cameras, with one capturing in colour and

the other in monochrome to “capture up to 200

percent more light than traditional

phone cameras.”

Next to the cameras you’ll find

something that you won’t find on any

other phone: a pair of small magnetic

pins for modular attachments that

will purportedly keep your phone

“cord-free, future-proof, and

always up to date.” At launch, the

only accessory available will be a

360-degree camera, though other

mods are surely in the works.

While the Essential Phone was

designed to limit the amount of

adaptors you need to keep around,

there is one extra you’ll need: a

headphone jack dongle. The Essential

phone relies on USB-C and Bluetooth

for audio, though a dongle will be supplied in the box.

The Essential Phone is available for preorder for the

limited-time price of $699 (£TBC).

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Control IKea’s smart

bulbs with assistant

Broad AI support coming this summer, finds MICHael sIMon

news

We’ve been hearing a lot about how Google

Home and Amazon Echo can control our

smart appliances and devices, but for many of

us, they’re still out of reach. Spending a couple hundred

pounds on smart light isn’t an impulse buy, especially if

we’re just buying them to try out voice control.

But now there’s a much cheaper alternative for

smart home newbies. Thanks to IKEA, just about

anyone can install smart lighting in their homes and

manage them with Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa,

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news

and Siri. The Swedish furniture company announced

in a press release that you will soon be able to

control its affordable line of smart lights with the

smart speakers and assistants you already have.

IKEA’s bulbs offer a no-frills approach to smart

lighting. Unlike Philips Hue (£49 from tinyurl.com/

y753y6tc) or LIFX(£47 from tinyurl.com/yaauL3f6)

bulbs, the Trådfri bulbs are only available in white

light, but with a starter pack that costs £69 from

tinyurl.com/yc4q7p3z and add-on LEDs that won’t

break your budget. IKEA might not be the first name

we think of when its comes to wireless tech, but

they’ve been in the lighting business for years, and it’s

easy to see it expanding into other smart home areas.

The Trådfri bulbs are available now and start

at just £15 from tinyurl.com/y8yLrLa7. A variety

of bulbs and kits are offered for sale, including

panels, doors for IKEA’s cabinets and furniture,

and dimmers. To get up and running you’ll need

to plug the £25 Trådfri gateway/bridge (£25 from

tinyurl.com/yctm6mu6) into your router.

Until the AI integration is offered later this

summer, IKEA offers its own proprietary app through

the Android and iOS app stores, or you can use a

physical remote control.

We talk a lot about the internet of things and how

smart devices are the next big thing, but high price

tags are preventing mass adoption. Most of the objects

that connect to our speakers are way more expensive

than the devices themselves, so IKEA’s solution is a

welcome addition. It might not be the thing that brings

smart lighting mainstream, but it’s a good start.

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Google moves android

into the car with Volvo

New system will let you control everything from car’s air

conditioning to its windows. MICHael sIMon reports

news

Android Auto may not get as much attention as

Waymo, Google’s more exciting and mysterious

self-driving car technology, but it’s chugging

along. While no cool new features were unveiled at

I/O – we’re still waiting for the Waze integration we

were promised at last year’s event – Google’s clearly

been busy putting Android Auto directly into cars.

Right before I/O, Google announced a partnership

with Volvo and Audi to integrate Android Auto right

into the navigation system, no phone required. We got

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to see the Volvo V90’s Android-powered navigation

system in action, and it’s a big upgrade from the

relatively small screens we use now.

The vertical-mounted giant display was similar

to the Tesla’s (though not quite as big). As soon as

you turn the car on, it comes to life with four tabs to

select from: Google Maps, the most recently used

app, Phone, and Studio. At the bottom of the screen

is a set of climate controls that let you adjust the

temperature or turn on the heated sets, but you don’t

have to touch the screen to operate them. Just say,

“OK, Google, turn up the air conditioning,” and your

car will start to get cooler.

Google Maps doesn’t require a phone to operate,

but if you bring one along, all of your searches and

trips will be synced. You’ll also be able to make calls

through your phone (iPhones too, of course). There’s

no dedicated messaging interface, though you will be

able to see and reply to notifications from your phone.

Available apps mirror those that work with

Android Auto (which means there aren’t too many

available yet), but popular services such as Spotify

and Pandora are represented. When you’re listening

to music, you’ll be able to adjust the sound using the

Studio tab, which gives you a standard set of speaker

controls, including a fader, and bass and treble.

Swipe right and you’ll see options for things like

the backup camera, the car’s fuel-saving ECO driving

mode, and cruise control. There’s a button on the

steering wheel to bring up Assistant (or you can say

“OK, Google”). Because the screen is resistive and not

capacitive, it’ll work when you’re wearing gloves, too.

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The Volvo V90’s

display lets you

control things

such as the air

conditioning with

maps and music

We asked about updates. While they technically can

be delivered over the air (OTA), the engineer we spoke

to said they were still figuring out the how to push

them out without disrupting the experience.

Our biggest takeaway from my demo was just how

much Android Auto has matured. It’s hard to see when

we’re running it in our cars now, but Google has given

its in-car OS an overhaul that should motivate other

car makers to climb onboard. It’s more elegant than

nearly every other navigation system we’ve used, and

having Google Maps built-in is a major selling point.

Just like regular navigation systems, car makers can

opt to allow for Apple’s CarPlay to be overlaid. That

would be tricky with the Volvo V90’s vertical screen,

while the Audi uses a more standard landscape display

that would faithfully adhere to Apple’s interface.

The built-in Android Auto looks so good, it’s hard to

imagine anyone opting to replace it, even if you’re

fully invested in the Apple ecosystem.

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news

legend of Zelda may

be coming to android

Another Nintendo classic coming to phones, writes Ian Paul

Nintendo is charging ahead with its plans for

mobile by bringing yet another iconic gaming

series to smartphones. The gaming company is

reportedly working on a The Legend of Zelda title for

Android and iOS, according to The Wall Street Journal.

There’s no word on when the game would roll

out, but probably in the latter part of 2017. Pricing is

also unknown. It may be similar to Super Mario Run,

which offers the game as a free download with a

few complimentary levels. Anything more than that,

however, and you’ll have to pay £9.99.

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ReVIews news

Xiaomi Mi 6

£381 inc Vat from fave.co/2sCQnua

Wow. That’s what comes to mind when you

consider Xiaomi’s new flagship Android

phone for 2017. The Mi 6 is around half the

price of more familiar flagships such as the Galaxy S8,

LG G6, Sony Xperia XZ Premium and HTC U11, but it’s

just as fast, just as beautiful, and just as much a musthave

for anyone serious about their smartphone tech.

A clear contender for snatching the crown for

best Chinese phone, the successor to the Mi 5 and

Mi 5s takes on design aspects from the Mi Note 2,

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adds a dual-camera and forward-facing features

such as USB-C audio, and tops it all off with faster

performance than anything we’ve seen yet.

While Samsung is still debating whether to add a

dual-camera or under-glass fingerprint scanner to its

Galaxy line, Xiaomi’s already done it. And though it

might lack the Quad-HD Infinity Display and curvedglass

edges, the Xiaomi has a great screen and is a

much more comfortable size to hold in one hand.

Buy the Xiaomi Mi 6 in the UK

The one drawback of the Xiaomi Mi 6 is that, unlike

those aforementioned rivals, it’s not available to buy

directly from Xiaomi in the UK, nor from any of our

major mobile operators. That means you’ll have to

import it from China, and pay for the whole thing

up front (though you can save some money with a

SIM-only deal).

The up side of that is you’ll pay nothing like as

much for the Xiaomi Mi 6 SIM-free as you would a

flagship from the likes of Samsung, HTC, Sony and

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LG. You won’t get much change from £700 for those

phones, but with the Mi 6 you could almost buy two.

It’s incredible to believe Xiaomi is able to offer such a

great deal at what is in essence a mid-range price.

Our photo black Xiaomi Mi 6 is the ‘International’

edition with 6GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. There’s

also a version with 128GB storage (neither support

expansion via microSD, though few people would

find themselves low on space at this capacity) and a

ceramic model with the same 18K gold detailing as

seen on the revolutionary Mi Mix.

It was sent to us to review by GearBest, which is

one of many Chinese companies offering to import

tech to the UK and elsewhere. Pricing is just £381.91

for 64GB and £429.65 for 128GB, though you’ll need

to also factor into your budget import duty. This is

usually calculated at 20 percent of the value printed

on the shipping paperwork, plus an admin fee of

around £11.

We’ve reviewed many a Xiaomi phone sent to us

by GearBest, and we’ve never experienced any issues.

But we acknowledge that for some customers things

can sometimes go wrong, and when they do you

need to remember your rights are different when

purchasing goods from outside the UK.

Something else to consider is that different

cellular frequencies are used in different countries

across the globe, and these Chinese models may not

necessarily work in your country of residence. In the

UK what we typically see with Xiaomi phones is that

they don’t support the 800MHz/Band 20 frequency

which is relied on by O2, Giffgaff, Sky Mobile and

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others for 4G connectivity. These customers will not

receive anything faster than 3G connectivity without

connecting to Wi-Fi, while customers of networks that

support other 4G bands but also use 800MHz may find

4G coverage patchier than they have done previously.

Another thing that can make Xiaomi phones a

poor fit for UK customers is their lack of Google apps.

This is not true of all Xiaomi devices, and wherever

possible you should look to buy a ‘Global’ edition of a

Xiaomi phone which will include access to the Google

Play store and Google services out of the box. Some

‘International’ models also come with Google Play

preinstalled, or allow you to install Google Services

via the Mi App store.

Sadly, the International version of the Mi 6 we

have here does not come preinstalled with Google

apps, and there’s no obvious way to add them. We’ve

read that this may have something to do with MIUI

8.0, a custom version of Android 6.0 Marshmallow

that is preinstalled on the Mi 6, and if it is then

there’s hope there will soon be a fix.

Of course we’ve found a workaround, but it is one

that won’t appeal to less techy users. Something to

keep in mind before you rush ahead and buy what

looks to be the best-priced flagship of the year.

Add Google Services to Xiaomi Mi 6

Full credit for this workaround goes to Jaasir, a

Diamond Member of the MIUI community forums.

• Download the necessary files (RAR; Extracted), then

extract them to your PC or laptop’s desktop.

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• Connect the Mi 6 via a USB-C cable and open an

Explorer window to view its contents (if you’re on

a Mac use the Android File Transfer tool).

• Browse to Internal storage, MIUI, Backup, AllBackup

(create that folder if it doesn’t already exist) and

drop the file here to copy its contents to the phone.

• On the Mi 6 open the Settings menu and go to

Additional settings, Backup & reset, Local backups,

then tap on the file you just added.

• Tap Restore.

• When the process has finished, restart the phone,

then launch the Google Play store icon on the

home screen. You should be prompted to enter

your Google account details.

Design

It’s very rare (although not unknown – remember

the LG G5 and the Google Pixel XL) for a company’s

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flagship to look anything short of amazing. And so it is

with the mirror-finish Xiaomi Mi 6, though this phone

appeals for more than its basic good looks.

The Mi 6 is fitted with a 5.15in screen, features

very slim screen bezels, and is just 7.5mm thick with

almost slippery smooth, rounded edges at the rear

that make it feel ever so comfortable in the hand.

As manufacturers look to differentiate themselves

on screen size and quality, with flagships that get

larger with every new release, Xiaomi is sticking to its

ground. This is a relatively compact phone that will

be ideal for those customers who think the market is

beginning to outgrow them.

We still have yet to see a Quad-HD Xiaomi phone

– this Mi 6 has a full-HD panel with a 1920x1080-

pixel resolution and a density of 428ppi – but Xiaomi

is not alone. It’s funny that the company it is most

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often accused of copying, and one that is perhaps the

biggest and best-known in the western world, also has

no Quad-HD smartphone in its line-up. (Hint: Xiaomi

is also known as China’s Apple.)

We have to say we’re inclined to agree with Apple’s

claims that you don’t need Quad-HD: though you

absolutely can tell the difference between full- and

Quad-HD, so don’t believe all that ‘Retina’ BS, the Mi 6

is perfectly clear at this resolution. This is not a screen

you’d find yourself complaining about.

With increasing screen resolutions also comes

increasing demands placed on the battery, of course,

and this is a standout area for the Mi 6, fitted as it is

with a 3,350mAh cell that supports Quick Charge

(but not wireless charging) and may even keep

going two days. So the full-HD screen is a trade-off

we’re more than happy to make – especially when

that display is as bright (1- to 600 nits) and vibrant

as this one, with great contrast, realistic colours and

excellent viewing angles.

Xiaomi claims the Mi 6 has four-sided glass, which

isn’t as amazing – or confusing – as it sounds. Really it

means it is curved on the corners as well as the edges,

and only slightly – we’re not talking curved in the

same sense as we are with the Galaxy S8.

The Mi 6’s design isn’t a huge departure from the

Xiaomi Mi 5s before it, which means you still get the

under-glass fingerprint scanner on the home screen

that sort of looks like the button fell off (we’re not

overly keen on it), but it has returned to the glass rear

of the Mi 5 that was upgraded to aluminium for the

5s. You still get a tough steel frame, and to be honest

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we much prefer the Galaxy-esque glass look even

if it may be more vulnerable to accidental damage

and oh so many fingerprints.

Our photo black review sample looks very much

like a smaller version of the Mi Note 2, but with the

camera - sorry, cameras - found flush to the frame

in the top left corner. This is not the first Xiaomi to

feature a dual-camera (the Redmi Pro also had one),

but it is the first dual-camera Xiaomi flagship. We’ll

talk more about its photography credentials later on.

The Mi 6 is said to be splashproof, which is

something we’ve not seen before from Xiaomi. As

such it features a sealed SIM tray and lined ports.

You’ll find USB-C on the bottom, as before, and

the volume rocker in line with the SIM tray on the

opposite side of the device. This sits just above the

power button, while there’s an IR blaster (which is

becoming increasingly rare) at the top.

But something is missing here: the 3.5mm

headphone jack. Xiaomi is the latest phone maker

to drop the headphone jack in favour of USB-C

audio. Apple did the same thing with its iPhone 7 and

iPhone 7 Plus last September, which caused a lot of

complaints from users, although in the end everyone

just got on with it. That’s probably because Apple

supplied a headphone adaptor in the box, which

is what Xiaomi has also done here. Alternatively,

you can buy yourself a pair of wireless or USB-C

headphones, or rely on the phone’s built-in audio –

which isn’t bad, thanks to a pair of stereo speakers.

The Mi 6 is available in black, silver or blue, plus

there’s a ceramic version.

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Performance

Well, what can we say about the Mi 6’s performance:

it’s breathtaking. The Xiaomi features this year’s

class-leading processor – the octa-core Qualcomm

Snapdragon 835 – but while its rivals pair this chip

with 4GB of DDR4 RAM Xiaomi specifies 6GB. It’s likely

to get some competition soon from the upcoming

OnePlus 5, which is also rumoured to feature this

setup, but for now this powerhouse is unmatched in

the smartphone world.

And that is proven by its extraordinary performance

in our benchmarks, as we will reveal below.

The Snapdragon 835 is a 10nm chip built in

partnership between Samsung and Qualcomm, which

meant no phone manufacturer was allowed to use

it until the Galaxy S8 had been unveiled. Thus the

LG G6, which would normally be a rival for the latest

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Xiaomi, was forced to use last year’s Snapdragon 821

(as seen in the 5s). Its benchmarking performance is

therefore much lower.

Samsung doesn’t actually use the Snapdragon 835

in the UK – here you get the Exynos 8895 – but the

Xiaomi still beat its performance in our benchmarks.

The Snapdragon 835 is a 10nm chip, which improves

on Qualcomm’s previous 14nm chips with increases

of up to 30 percent in efficiency, 27 percent in

performance and 40 percent in power consumption.

It runs at a clock speed of up to 2.45GHz with a

big.LITTLE architecture, which means four of the

eight cores run at a lower 1.8GHz for efficiency.

We ran the Mi 6 through our usual benchmarks and

found some outstanding results. In Geekbench 4 it

recorded 6472 points multi-core (1940 single-core),

and it notched up a huge 170,709 points in AnTuTu.

In graphics benchmark GFXBench the Xiaomi

proved itself absolutely capable of all kinds of gaming

and media playback, with a very high 59fps in T-Rex,

52fps in Manhattan, 39fps in Manhattan 3.1 and 25fps

in Car Chase. It’s worth pointing out that we run the

on-screen tests since they are more closely related to

real-world usage, though other phone reviewers often

quote the offscreen results that are typically higher.

We also ran the JetStream JavaScript test, and the

Mi 6’s 70 result is as good as it gets in the Android

world. Only iPhones have scored higher in our tests.

Connectivity

We touched on the fact that this Xiaomi phone does

not support 800MHz (Band 20) 4G LTE in the UK, but

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that 2,100- and 2,600MHz 4G are covered, and that

those customers affected will still be able to receive

3G. However, something we left out was that the Mi

6 actually accepts two SIMs, operating in a dual-SIM

dual-standby fashion.

If you need to balance work and play and don’t

want to carry around two phones, or if you’re going

abroad and want to use a local SIM for data, this is a

useful – and very popular outside the UK – setup. The

Mi 6 accepts two Nano-SIMs. In common with other

Xiaomi phones one of these SIM slots can alternatively

be used to add a microSD card up to 128GB in

capacity, though with internal storage options of 64-

and 128GB you may find you don’t need one.

The Xiaomi supports Bluetooth 5.0, GPS, GLONASS,

NFC, dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi and even an IR blaster,

which are becoming increasingly rare but people still

like them for their ability to turn your phone into a

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Auto mode

remote control. Bizarrely, this was taken off the Xiaomi

Mi 5s, making it even more apparent that this is an

update to the Xiaomi Mi 5 rather than the Mi 5s.

Something that is missing, though, is the

headphone jack, which has been swapped out for

a USB-C port in order to allow space for a highercapacity

battery. This may be a deciding factor for

you if you’re keen on audio.

The fingerprint scanner is exactly the same setup as

we saw in the Xiaomi Mi 5s, which is to say very good

- although we’re not personally keen on the way the

front of the device looks. The recessed area in which

you place your finger just looks odd, and we yearn for

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HDR mode

the physical response pressing an actual button would

offer. But it is the future, increasingly so, and it actually

works incredibly well – fast and accurate.

Cameras

The Xiaomi Mi 5s was fitted with the Sony IMX378, a

12Mp camera also used by the Google Pixel and one

that offers very good image quality. It’s improved

things further for the Xiaomi Mi 6, now fitted with two

12Mp cameras – one with a wide-angle f/1.8 lens and

the other a f/2.6 telephoto lens. Key specs include

a 10x digital zoom, 2x optical zoom, four-axis OIS

and PDAF. It can also shoot 4K video, offers various

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shooting modes including manual, beautify, Tilt-shift

and group shot, plus real-time filters. After the photo

is taken there are also some decent editing tools.

We were impressed with the quality of our test

images, which were very well exposed and offered

very realistic colours. Detail was softer than we were

expecting, however. The front camera has also been

upgraded from 4- to 8Mp, which is plenty clear

enough for video chat and selfies.

Software

The Xiaomi Mi 6 runs MIUI 8.2, which is a custom

version of Android 6.0 Marshmallow (the latest version

of Android is Nougat, and Android O is expected

within the next few months). The main differences

you’ll notice are the lack of an app tray – everything

is laid out on the home screen in an iPhone-esque

fashion – and you’ll find some changes in the Settings

menu. Fortunately there’s a search option at the top

that makes it easier to find what you’re looking for.

Oh and, of course, the lack of Google Play. Which

is a real issue for UK users (if you intend to use the Mi

6 only for calls and texts you don’t need a Mi 6). Until a

Global model is offered with Google Play preinstalled

we wouldn’t recommend the Mi 6 to UK users who

don’t know what they’re doing. Although we managed

to get Google Play and various apps installed as we

have outlined earlier in this review, we did still run into

the odd issue, including a Gmail error message that

said it was having trouble with Google Play Services.

You can, of course, use Xiaomi’s own apps for

such things as email – you don’t have to use Google

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services at all. But if you’re already using them on your

current phone, it makes no sense to switch now.

MIUI 8 has some cool features of its own, including

Dual apps, which in essence lets you run two instances

of one app, and in a similar vein you can also et up a

second space on the phone – it’s almost like having

two phones. There’s a Child mode, too.

You can individually lock any app on the phone,

should you rather not lock the phone itself or you

want a second layer of security, and you can tweak

various things such as the theme and which side of

the home button your back and multi-tasking options

sit. You can make use of a Quick ball, which places

on screen a shortcut to options such as screenshot

and lock, although in common with the one-handed

mode (which shrinks the size of the screen to a more

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manageable area) it is more useful for the larger

models in Xiaomi’s line-up.

Verdict

This really is an amazing phone, and only the Chinese

software puts us off recommending it for a UK

audience. It is crazy fast, crazy beautiful and crazy

priced. If you know your way around Android go and

get one, and you won’t be disappointed. Marie Brewis

Specifications

• 5.15in full-HD (1920x1080, 428ppi) four-sided curved

glass

• MIUI 8.2 (Android 6.0)

• 2.45GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 octa-core chip

• 653MHz Adreno 540 GPU

• 6GB LPDDR4 RAM

• 64/128GB storage (no microSD support)

• Under-glass fingerprint scanner

• USB-C audio (no headphone jack)

• Dual-SIM dual-standby

• 4G FDD-LTE B1/B3/B5/B7/B8

• 2x2 MU-MIMO dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi

• Bluetooth 5.0

• GPS, GLONASS

• USB-C

• 12Mp dual-camera, 2x optical zoom, 4-axis OIS,

PDAF, f/1.8 and f/2.6 aperture

• 8Mp front camera

• 3,350mAh non-removable battery, Quick Charge

• 145.1x70.4x7.5mm

• 168g

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HtC u ultra

£649 inc Vat from fave.co/2s3s1gq

Okay, we know – we are meant to review every

smartphone in isolation, without relentlessly

comparing it to others in order to assess it.

But by summer 2017 we have already had great things

to say about the Samsung Galaxy S8, the Huawei

P10 and the LG G6. The HTC U Ultra was announced

before any of these phones, back in January at a

press conference. HTC has adopted the ‘U’ branding

because that’s who it says this phone is for – you. It

believes it has designed a highly personal device.

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It’s definitely different enough to stand out, and

we truly wanted to love this phone. In everyday use it

does make a half decent argument for itself, but given

its obvious flaws, it’s impossible for me to say outright

that you should buy it. It simply isn’t good enough.

Design

HTC considers itself ‘the master of metal’ but the

design mantra of the U series phones is ‘Liquid

Surface’, achieved with glass. Liquid surface doesn’t

really mean anything, but refers to the attractive depth

effect the glass takes on, as opposed to Samsung’s

method of placing colour sheets under a piece of

glass that gives a flatter, 2D effect.

Before you even turn it on, it’s a beautiful device.

With this break from metal phones, HTC has at

least made the U Ultra to the highest build quality

standards. But it’s just too big. Absolutely huge, in

fact. Now, we’re sure that many people out there

still prefer the presence of a bit of bezel. Bezelfree

devices may be the latest trend, but they are

debatably harder to hold (the Xiaomi Mi Mix in

particular is all screen and hard to grip without

registering erroneous touches on the display).

The U Ultra has a big old bezel at the chin, and

what appears like a bigger one at the forehead. The

chin houses a responsive fingerprint sensor and

capacitive Android navigation buttons that look

oddly too small for the design.

It appears HTC has copied this set up from

the HTC 10, but because the U Ultra is so much

bigger, there’s tons of unused space and the design

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looks wrong, almost like a manufacturing error,

as there’s no good reason why there should be so

much unused space. This is not good on a highend

phone, and we frequently missed the back and

recent apps buttons because they are tiny and don’t

stay backlit (though you can change this in settings

to the detriment of battery life).

Once you turn it on, you see that the large

bezel at the top houses a secondary display that is

operated separately to the 5.7in main display (with

more bezel to spare, by the way).

The U Ultra’s size means that it is undoubtedly

a two-handed device. Even scrolling through

Twitter with one hand on the train is perilous

such is the unwieldy nature of the phone.

Maybe it’s our nostalgia for the brand, but

despite these niggles it’s still nice to see HTC do

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something different and the U Ultra is certainly that.

While HTC’s phones have typically been variations

of grey with a sleek brushed finish, the U Ultra is

altogether more striking.

Whether it’s striking in good way will depend on

your personal taste. There are four colours to choose

from, the Sapphire Blue and Brilliant Black options are

best and the latter has a slightly green tint. However,

the pearlescent Ice White and Cosmetic Pink colours

are more garish but perhaps that’s what you’re after.

Our white review sample did grow on us though,

with a slight pink glint in the right light.

The curved glass makes for a comfortable fit in

the hand and although the material may be strong

and harder to scratch, it has various downsides.

The lack of friction makes the device slippery, it’s

a fingerprint magnet and, we suspect, prone to

shattering if you drop it.

A clear case is included in the box to help with

some of these issues but of course makes the

phone even bigger and heavier.

Everything else is in check, with USB-C and a

speaker on the bottom, SIM tray with two slots

(though one gives the option for microSD up to

256GB) on the top, a textured power button and

volume rocker on the right edge and nothing on the

left edge. The power button is nicely textured but

after this reviewer dropped the phone once, it lost its

tactile click and is now mushy.

Painfully, there is no headphone jack on the U

Ultra so HTC is following in the footsteps of Apple and

Motorola on this front. It’s a straight up crime that a

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The HTC U Ultra is a

magnet for fingerprints

USB-C to headphone jack dongle is not included in

the box, and has meant we were immediately put off

listing to music or podcasts on the phone.

You do get a pair of USonic headphones that utilize

the reversible port though, but there aren’t the best.

More on that further into this review.

The U Ultra retains HTC’s BoomSound stereo

speakers but like the flagship 10, only one faces

forward. There are four microphones on the handset

too for the capture of better audio in videos.

Overall the design is bold, different but frustrating

after extended use. I use a lot of phones and the initial

good impressions of the U Ultra are suddenly dulled

when you hold a better designed phone (in one hand)

and realise the U Ultra is a step backwards from the

marvellous HTC 10.

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Display

In 2017 as we see bezels shrink and screens get taller,

the HTC U Ultra has gone full traditional phablet – it’s

a big old device at 162.4x79.8x8mm, housing a 5.7in

Super LCD display with a 2560x1440 resolution and

513ppi. The screen produces colours excellently, and

we have no complaints when viewing video, web

browsing or playing games.

Then there’s also a small, thin strip screen at the

top of the device like we saw on the LG V10 and V20.

It’s two inches with a resolution of 1040x60.

We can’t say that this is a feature we ever hankered

after, and in fact now that we have it on the U Ultra,

it’s kind of annoying. Not because it makes an already

large phone even bigger, but because it also isn’t very

useful. You can scroll through customisable panels

for weather (the best one), app shortcuts, reminder,

calendar, favourite contacts and music controls.

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The weather auto updates with forecasts, which

is cool, and the reminder panel is good for ‘get milk’

and other temporary mind jogs. But the app shortcuts

are redundant when you can hit home and tap the

app anyway, and the whole display is only on when

the main screen is.

With both screens off, raise to wake shows the

time, date, notification icons, battery and weather

on the secondary display. You can then scroll

through all the normal modes, with an additional

quick toggle menu for access to Wi-Fi, flashlight,

Bluetooth and more. Bafflingly this handy option

is only available when the phone is locked.

A secondary screen is not high on the list of

consumers’ must-have features on a phone, and

the way it has been hurriedly implemented on the

U Ultra is disappointing. Okay, you can read the first

line of a notification when you’re in another app

without obstructing what you’re seeing, but it means

an already huge phone has to be bigger, and doesn’t

improve the user experience. It complicates it.

Performance

Aside from the screens, the phone runs on the

Snapdragon 821 processor also found in the OnePlus

3T and LG G6, paired with 4GB RAM. There’s definitely

enough power under the hood for most people,

and the 821 is a proven chip despite the 835 now

debuting on the Galaxy S8.

4GB RAM is still all you really need on a phone too

short of doing literally every computing task on it at

once, and the U Ultra stood up to solid performance

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in multitasking. App load times are good, as is

switching between apps.

Units ship with a generous 64GB storage, but that

is becoming standard for flagship Android devices

today. A limited edition 128GB version with Sapphire

glass is available in Taiwan.

In terms of pure power, the U Ultra is a high-end

device, if not the most powerful. But with constant use

it feels limited and overblown at the same time, which

makes for a frustrating experience. The hardware and

software are inextricably linked, but not in a good way.

It is also a weighty device at 170g, not helped by its

stretched dimensions.

There’s also everything else you’d expect; NFC,

Bluetooth 4.2, 11ac Wi-Fi and fast charging with Quick

Charge 3.0. But there’s no wireless charging despite

the move to glass (metal phones prohibit it), and no

waterproofing whatsoever. These things won’t matter

to everyone, but many competing Android phones

now have both as standard, and at £649 the U Ultra

really should have one or both.

There’s also no headphone jack, and the sad fact of

the matter is HTC can’t get away with this. Apple can.

It’s not fair, but it’s true.

Even though we’d prefer a headphone port on the

iPhone 7, at least Apple shipped an adapter with every

phone. In the UK, you don’t get an adapter with the

HTC U Ultra and the UK HTC site doesn’t stock it, so

you have to use the bundled headset.

That’s fine if you like black HTC in-ear headphones,

but we struggle with comfort of in-ears. So with no

other option besides Bluetooth headphones, we

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immediately considered the U Ultra a no-go for audio.

This is bad for HTC – we won’t be the only one who

will grimly persevere with the included headphones.

They are too bass heavy and there’s not a whole lot

else to say other than to repeat my frustration.

Camera

The camera is a 12Mp sensor with OIS while the front

facing camera is 16Mp. The latter can use UltraSelfie

with UltraPixel tech (lot of ultra going on here), a

mode that is four times more sensitive to light than

the normal mode. Get ready to photo that face.

Photos come up well but can look a tad washed

out or too dark – the lighting conditions generally

have to be spot on or the sensor struggles.

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It wasn’t this dark when

we took this photo

The rear-facing snapper can also take in 2160p

video at 30fps. The camera app is a little tricky to use

and feels a bit toy like, but once you’ve found the

settings menu then it can produce very good, if not

class leading, images. The camera bump is also huge

on an already thick phone. Surely HTC could have

made it flush?

Battery

And then there’s the battery – it’s 3,000mAh, which

simply isn’t enough for a phone with two displays.

This phone is physically massive, and it’s simply not

a big enough cell to keep it going. The U Ultra came

off charge most mornings at 8am and was hitting

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20 percent before 6pm while we were testing all its

features. Screen on time is frustratingly low, meaning

the U Ultra is nowhere near being a power user’s

phone, when the two displays and large dimensions

mean this is the main thing it should be.

HTC hasn’t commented on why the battery

is so small, but considering it says it left out the

headphone jack to easier design a curved back,

it reeks of a company trying to be different with

design to stand out, yet try to appeal to an iPhone

audience by copying Apple’s most annoying design

decision of recent times. Go figure.

Overall, the U Ultra’s unwieldy design could

be forgiven if it was a two-day powerhouse with

waterproofing and a headphone jack. The fact that

it’s not is bitterly disappointing.

Software

The phone’s UI is still HTC’s Sense, which is quite close

to stock Android. HTC has moved even closer to stock

Android since the 10, and our U Ultra review unit ran

7.0 Nougat. Rather than replicating every Google app

with an HTC equivalent, the U Ultra pushes you to use

Google’s Photos, Gmail, Calendar and everything else.

Sense has become very discreet, save for the HTC

Sense Companion you will find on the U Ultra. HTC

calls it AI, but it isn’t AI – it’s a set of reminder and

tutorial functions that pop up from time to time to

help you out. Sometimes it’s simply to say that the

phone is checking performance for you and will let

you know if an app is using too much power, or to

let you know about traffic in your area.

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These prompts feel untargeted, and despite

the fact it’s meant to learn your habits, we found it

next to useless. We know Android tends to prompt

you to manage power efficiency and such, but

we’d rather this phone just did it for me rather than

telling me it’s possible. The phone also doesn’t

yet have Google Assistant, so you’re left with the

inferior Google Now function and an invasive and

unhelpful Companion. We used neither.

The USonic headphones work with the software

to enhance your listening experience on the phone,

but we felt like the technology wasn’t up to much.

It apparently analyses your inner ear and adjusts the

audio output to suit (in our experience by cranking

up the bass far too loud).

It’s not adaptable, so won’t adapt to your

surroundings unless you manually go through the

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procedure again. Some may find it beneficial, but we

feel it’s one more thing HTC didn’t automate that

delivers a less than satisfactory user experience.

Despite this, Nougat runs fast and responsive, and

the notification shade is one of the best we’ve used

for quick replies and actions. In fact, the efficient

software is one of the best things about this phone.

On the HTC 10, the hardware amplified its quality

but paired with the U Ultra’s hardware it makes

the software feel unremarkable and clunky. The

default settings display text and icons very large,

which adds to the unrefined overall feeling we

have about the device as a whole.

Verdict

HTC has confused us with this phone. The HTC 10

fixed the problems of the One M9 but the U Ultra

is a Frankenstein device. When a phone gives a

better impression powered off than on, you know

you’re in trouble. It’s not a bad phone full stop, but

it does a lot to an unacceptably middling standard.

It feels cobbled together despite the

liquidity of its beautiful design and makes too

many compromises with its massive body, no

headphone jack or waterproofing, a small battery,

and gimmicky use of the secondary display.

In a year of excellent high-end smartphones,

it’s impossible to recommend the U Ultra above

the Galaxy S8, LG G6 or OnePlus 3T to name but

a few. The HTC U 11 is just around the corner,

but we are worried that HTC may soon find itself

powering off for good. Henry Burrell

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Specifications

• 5.7in Quad HD LCD screen (2560x1440)

• 2in second screen (1040x160)

Android 7.0 Nougat

• Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor

• 4GB RAM

• 64GB (up to 256GB via microSD)

• 12Mp UltraPixel rear camera with phase-detection

and laser auto focus, OIS and dual-tone flash

• 16Mp front camera with selfie panorama

• Dual-band 11ac Wi-Fi

• NFC

• Bluetooth 4.2

• GPS

• Fingerprint scanner

• USB Type-C

• BoomSound Audio

• Non-removable 3,000mAh battery

• Nano-SIM

• 162x80x8mm

• 170g

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uMIdIGI C note

£106 inc Vat from fave.co/2s3phzs

UMIDIGI has turned out some great-looking

phones of late, and despite its budget price

tag the C Note is no different.

Available from GearBest in grey or gold at the

low price of £106, the UMIDIGI C Note is a metal

unibody phone with a 5.5in full-HD screen and

some mid-range specs. It supports all three UK 4G

bands – and on both of its twin SIM slots.

Before you jump in and buy the C Note, remember

to factor in import duty to the purchase price. This is

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calculated at 20 percent of the value on the shipping

paperwork, plus an admin fee of around £11.

Design

The C Note has the same premium design as the

flagship UMIDIGI Z Pro, with an aluminium alloy

body and a large, bright full-HD screen. It’s 0.1mm

thicker than its brother, but otherwise has identical

dimensions, and is 3g lighter at 172g.

Slim screen bezels and gently rounded edges at

the rear make the C Note feel great in the hand. The

screen features the same 2.5D curved glass, too,

which makes everything feel seamless as you run

your finger across its surface.

This handset is very well made for a budget phone,

with no gaps, creaking or flex. The metal should prove

reasonably tough against accidental drops, while

Dragontrail glass protects the screen.

This panel is the same as that found on the Z Pro,

a full-HD Sharp IGZO display that is sharp, bright and

offers decent contrast and viewing angles. You can

adjust the colour temperature and turn on Adaptive

brightness in the settings, too.

The rear camera protrudes only very slightly at the

rear, but fitted with the supplied clear protective gel

case you wouldn’t know any different. Unlike on the

Pro you get just the one 13Mp camera here, with a

5Mp selfie camera at the front.

You’ll see two grilles at the bottom of the handset,

which sit either side of a Micro-USB port – one of the

few obvious signs that this smartphone has a cheaper

price tag. There is actually just the one speaker inside,

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with a mic concealed below the other grille. The

3.5mm headphone jack is found at the top.

A pin-operated SIM tray is found at the top of

the phone’s left edge, and this is a hybrid tray that

can accept either two Nano-SIMs or one Nano-SIM

and a microSD card up to 256GB in capacity. The

built-in 32GB of storage is already very generous

at this price point.

We’re not overly keen on the Home button,

which you tap rather than press – it just doesn’t

feel very natural, though we’re sure you’d become

familiar with it reasonably quickly. Either side of this

are multitasking and back buttons, though with no

labels it takes a little getting used to.

Built into this home button is a touch-style

fingerprint scanner, which worked very well and

very quickly in our tests. It’s a shame that the phone

has no NFC support, since this would have enabled

mobile payments on the C Note.

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Performance

So the budget price of this phone is not at all evident

from the outside, but inside there is some decidedly

low- to mid-range hardware. Real-world performance

is still pretty decent, especially preinstalled with the

latest Android 7.0 Nougat out of the box, but you’re

not going to get anything close to that achieved by

the UMIDIGI Z Pro here.

In gaming framerates the difference in power is

most noticeable, but benchmark results are lower

across the board. To give you an idea of what we’re

talking about here, the UMIDIGI C Note is a much

closer rival to the Ulefone Gemini – it’s nothing to

write home about, and UK budget phones such as

the Moto G5 perform better.

But speed isn’t everything to everyone, and the

1.5GHz MediaTek MT6373T quad-core chip (based on

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the Cortex-A53) and ARM Mali-T720 MP2 GPU are up

to the job of daily tasks. UMIDIGI also specifies 3GB

of RAM, which will help improve multitasking.

We ran our usual benchmarks and recorded a

low single-point score of 672 in Geekbench 4, and

a still pretty low 1872 points multi-core. AnTuTu also

clocked the C Note at 39,691 points.

Gaming performance was lower, with just 11fps

recorded in GFXBench T-Rex (the best phones achieve

60fps here), 4fps in Manhattan and 3fps in Manhattan

3.1. This isn’t a phone you’d choose for playing games,

though it is capable of casual titles if you keep down

the detail settings. Its JetStream JavaScript score of

20.7 is about average for a budget phone but, again,

on the low side.

Battery life is very good from the 3,800mAh cell –

you should get two days’ use with moderate use. (And

you can always use a power bank if you need more.)

Connectivity

The only real thing missing from this phone in terms

of connectivity support is NFC, as we mentioned

earlier. This will be frustrating if you want to make

mobile payments, but it shouldn’t be too much of

an annoyance otherwise.

There’s 802.11n Wi-Fi support, as well as GPS,

GLONASS and Bluetooth 4.1. More interestingly, this

is a dual-SIM phone that can support 4G on either

card (not all dual-SIM phones do). It operates in

dual-standby mode.

Both are Nano-SIM slots and support all three UK

4G bands (if you’re buying elsewhere then check

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Auto mode

out our advice on how to tell whether a phone is

supported by your network), but annoyingly you must

choose between either dual-SIM or microSD – you

can’t have both.

Cameras

The C Note is fitted with a 13Mp Samsung S5K3L8

rear camera with phase-detect autofocus and a

dual-LED flash at the back, and a 5Mp selfie camera

at the front. At first glance the camera app is rather

basic, with just Normal, HDR and Panorama modes

and no real-time filters to speak of, but there’s also

a Professional Camera mode which UMIDIGI claims

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HDR mode

can help you to take DSLR-quality images. This gives

you loads of control over your images, with sliders for

everything from saturation and brightness to ISO and

white balance. To be honest, the quality of the camera

isn’t that good, but for the money it isn’t bad. Even in

Auto mode we saw natural colours and a reasonable

amount of detail, though blurred edges are visible.

With HDR mode switched on things look much better,

but there is a lot of image sharpening in evidence.

The main camera is capable of video recording at

1080p but by default is set at 720p. You can turn on

electronic image stabilization in the Video settings (or

rather Vedio settings).

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The selfie camera isn’t up to much, with a very soft

image. You can make use of a beauty mode, turn on

anti-shake and control such things as white balance

and scene mode.

Software

It’s refreshing to see a budget phone supplied with the

latest version of Android (7.0 Nougat) out of the box.

This is a vanilla version of the OS, with no deviations

from standard Android – it should feel instantly

familiar. Nova Launcher is preinstalled, but there’s

nothing else in the way of preinstalled bloatware.

You can double-click to wake the screen, change

the colour of the notification LED for incoming calls,

and rearrange the order of the touch buttons below

the screen.

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Verdict

The UMIDIGI C Note is a very well-designed budget

smartphone with a premium design. Performance is

lacking, but capable, and the camera can produce

decent results in good lighting. A good budget buy.

Marie Brewis

Specifications

• 5.5in full-HD (1920x1080) IGZO Sharp 2.5D display,

Dragontrail glass protection

Android 7.0 Nougat

• 1.5GHz MediaTek MT6373T quad-core Cortex-A53

64-bit processor

• ARM Mali-T720 MP2 GPU

• 3GB RAM

• 32GB storage (up to 256GB via microSD)

• 4G LTE on dual Nano-SIMs (dual-standby), supports

all three UK bands

• 802.1a/b/g/n Wi-Fi

• Bluetooth 4.1

• GPS

• GLONASS

• OTG

• 3.5mm headphone jack

• Micro-USB

• 13Mp Samsung S5K3L8 PDAF rear camera with dual-

LED flash, Professional Camera mode

• 5Mp selfie camera

• Front TouchID fingerprint scanner

• 3,800mAh battery (two-day life)

• 154.7x76.6x8.3mm

• 172g

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ulefone armor

£122 inc Vat from tinyurl.com/yd2t27qg

We all try to look after our smartphones and

protect them from damage, but for some

users doing so is almost impossible. If your

job involves manual labour or you’re into extreme

sports, your phone is more vulnerable to the elements

than most. For these type of users a rugged phone

such as this Ulefone Armor will make a great purchase.

Available from GearBest at the attractive price

of £122, the Armor is IP68-certified waterproof,

dustproof, shockproof and can withstand

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temperatures from -40°C to 80°C. With a Gorilla

Glass 3 coating the screen is also scratchproof.

Ulefone claims it has an extra strong signal thanks

to a large antenna and that plastic casing, which

combined with built-in GPS and a compass will be

useful in the great outdoors. Battery life is also good

from the 3500mAh lithium-polymer cell, and there’s

a dedicated SOS button should you get lost.

In other respects this isn’t the most exciting

smartphone, but with reasonable performance it

will get the job done.

If you decide to go ahead and buy the Ulefone

Armor from GearBest you should be prepared to

factor import duty into the overall cost. This is

calculated at 20 percent of whatever value is on the

shipping paperwork, plus an admin fee of around £11.

Design

The design of the Armor is perhaps the most

interesting thing about it. With a blend of TPU and

polycarbonate plastic and rubber, nothing is getting in

or out of this case - water, dust or otherwise.

Ulefone claims it uses waterproof gum to attach

this case to the phone, and waterproof film to cover

any inevitable gaps. The touchscreen has also been

optimised to work effectively with wet fingers, and

worked well in our tests. The Armor has an IP68 rating,

which means it can withstand up to 1.2m of water for

up to 30 minutes, but in Ulefone’s own testing it was

able to withstand up to 1.5m of water in that time.

The rugged case adds some thickness to the

smartphone, which measures 12.5mm at its thickest

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point. Thankfully, though, the smaller-than-most 4.7in

screen keeps down the overall size of the handset. It’s

still reasonably weighty at 195g, but reassuringly so.

This screen is sadly only an HD panel, with a

resolution of 1280x720 pixels. It’s been a while

since we tested anything with a lower than full-HD

resolution, even in the budget market, but because

the screen is ‘small’ everything still looks sharp. It has

a pixel density of 313ppi, which is only just short of

the iPhone’s 326ppi.

You might find the screen a little dull for outdoor

use in the brightest conditions, and contrast is also

lacking, but on the whole it is a good performer with

realistic colours and good clarity.

The Ulefone Armor has an interesting design, and

is instantly recognisable as a rugged phone. Available

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in black or orange and black, it’s a bit like Marmite:

you’ll love it or you’ll hate it.

On the orange and black model an orange plastic

trim runs the circumference of the screen, which itself

has pretty large bezels. Though this is often something

you find in cheap phones, here it is purposely created

to protect the screen from damage.

The orange colour scheme is more obvious at the

rear, which comprises six vertical panels with a rough,

textured surface that helps you grip it with wet or cold

hands. The second panel down features two screws,

which you remove in order to prise off the panel and

access the dual Micro-SIM slots and microSD port.

Screws also hold in place the other rear panels, but

these require a different type of screwdriver to the one

supplied in the box for getting to the SIM slots. We

don’t think Ulefone wants you to remove these.

At the top of the rear is a 13Mp camera with a

waterproof housing and a single LED flash, and to

the right of this a mono speaker. The Armor wasn’t

built for audio quality, and not only will it fire sound

into your palm or on to a table or flat surface, but

the results are rather tinny.

At the bottom of the Ulefone is a large silver,

grooved piece, which we think is part of the antenna.

As we mentioned previously, Ulefone claims

excellent signal strength for the Armor.

Because the casing is rather thick, also in the

box you’ll find an extender cable for the 3.5mm

headphone jack, and a Micro-USB charging cable

with a slightly longer prong than most (you might

find using third-party USB cables tricky).

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Both these ports are hidden behind a rubber flap

– we would prefer to see waterproofing on the ports

themselves, as is the case with the Galaxy S8 and

iPhone 7, but this phone costs nowhere near as much

so we can hardly complain.

It’s a shame not to see USB-C here but, again, this

is a budget phone, and the processor doesn’t support

any form of quick charging in any case. Ulefone

supplies a 5W charger but it’s a two-prong adaptor,

so we recommend using your previous handset’s USB

charger or buying a third-party model.

Below the screen are three physical buttons for

home, back and multi-tasking. These are waterproof

and coated in rubber, and like the other buttons on

the phone require extra pressure to operate. Bizarrely,

above the back button is an on-screen back button,

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but with no label. Had we not noticed it mentioned

in the Quick Start Guide we would have thought the

phone was playing up.

The Armor also features something that’s becoming

increasingly rare these days: a dedicated camera

button. It’s located at the bottom of the phone’s right

edge, as you’d expect, but serves only as a shutter

button: it won’t launch the camera from standby.

Just up from this is an SOS button. If you’re going

to be going out and getting yourself lost then you may

see the need for this. Provided you have configured

it beforehand, pressing this button will automatically

call and send a text message to a specified contact

informing them of your GPS co-ordinates and the

fact you need help.

The SOS button works only with the first SIM, and

we didn’t like its position where we’d usually expect to

find the power button. However, it does usefully serve

to wake the screen when inadvertently pressed.

Separate volume buttons are found on the

phone’s left edge, while the power button is up top.

One issue we have with the Ulefone Armor is its

lack of notification LEDs, which means you’ve no

way of knowing you have a missed call, text, email or

other without picking it up and waking the screen.

Performance

Battery life from the Armor should be good, which is

important if you’re away from civilisation and unable

to fast-charge the battery. Ulefone quotes a full day’s

heavy usage, or two days with lighter use. It says it will

endure 300 hours on standby, or six hours of constant

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talk time. (And you can always use a power bank if

you need more.)

In other respects performance is nothing to shout

about, but the Armor is capable of most tasks. It’s

only a little slower than the Helio P10-powered Nomu

S30 in general processing speed tests, for example,

but a little faster in graphics tests which is likely due

to the lower-resolution screen.

The Ulefone Armor runs a 1.3GHz MediaTek

MTK6753 octa-core 64-bit processor with the

integrated ARM Mali-T720 GPU. This is paired with

3GB of RAM and a generous 32GB of storage, plus you

can add a further 64GB through microSD.

The Armor failed to run our JetStream JavaScript

test, but we successfully ran our processing and

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graphics performance benchmarks. In Geekbench

4 we recorded 603 points in the single-core

component and 2571 multi-core. AnTuTu 6 clocked

the Armor at 37,404, and in GFXBench it recorded

on-screen framerates of 20fps in T-Rex, 9fps in

Manhattan and 7fps in Manhattan 3.1.

Connectivity

Fingerprint scanners are pretty standard even in

budget Chinese phones, but you won’t find one in the

Ulefone Armor. That’s really all you’re missing, though,

because the phone supports dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi,

GPS, GLONASS, Bluetooth 4.0, OTG and NFC. The

latter could be useful for mobile payments and cut

down the amount of gear you have to take out and

about with you, but only provided a fingerprint is not

required for authentication.

As we touched upon earlier, the Armor is a dual-

SIM dual-standby phone, and allows you to insert two

Micro-SIM cards for two different networks. This can

be useful for managing separate SIMs for home and

work, or local and abroad. Only one can be specified

for data usage, but both numbers can make and

receive calls and texts.

A bonus: you’re not forced to choose between

microSD and dual-SIM functionality as you are with

phones that feature hybrid SIM slots.

If you’ll be using the Armor in the UK, it’s good

to know that all three of the UK’s 4G LTE frequency

bands are covered, meaning you should get the

strongest signal your mobile network can offer

wherever you may be.

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Auto mode

Cameras

We weren’t expecting miracles from the Ulefone’s

13Mp, five-piece-lens camera with single-LED flash

– this phone simply isn’t designed to be a premium

camera phone. As such the camera app is very basic,

and changing any of the options (such as selecting

HDR) will slow things down.

Viewing images at full-size noise is noticeable,

though a fair amount of detail is captured and

colours are reasonably natural. The Armor is certainly

up to the task of snapshotting your latest excursion

or whatever job you’re working on, provided you’re

not trying to take those shots in the dark.

The Ulefone Armor also has a 5Mp selfie camera,

which is fine for video chat and Snapchat.

Our review sample showed a glitch where all

the icons in the camera app would twitch after we

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HDR mode

switched between the main and selfie cameras. It was

still usable, but off-putting, and a restart seemed to fix

whatever had gone wrong.

Software

The Armor runs a fairly standard version of Android 6

Marshmallow, which was succeeded in late 2016 with

Nougat. We don’t know if or when the Ulefone will

be updated. You’ll find an entry for the SOS button in

the settings menu, and Ulefone has applied its own

theme to the UI which changes the look and feel of

the shortcuts on the home screen, but aside from

this everything should be as you’d expect.

Verdict

A capable rugged phone at a very good price, the

Ulefone might not be the fastest handset out there

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or have the best screen but for many people it prove

ideal. Marie Brewis

Specifications

• 4.7in HD (1280x720, 313ppi) LTPS display, Gorilla

Glass 3

Android 6.0 Marshmallow

• 1.3GHz MediaTek MTK6753 octa-core 64-bit

processor

• ARM Mali-T720 GPU

• 3GB RAM

• 32GB storage

• MicroSD support up to 64GB

• Rugged design: waterproof, shockproof, dust-proof,

scratch-resistant, temperature -40°C to 80°C

• Dual-SIM dual-standby (2x Micro, SOS function

works only with SIM 1)

• 4G FDD-LTE 800/1,700/1,800/2,100/2,600MHz

• Dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi

• Bluetooth 4.0

• GPS, GLONASS

• OTG

• NFC

• 13Mp, 5P rear camera with single-LED flash

• 5Mp, 5P front camera

• SOS button

• Dedicated camera button

• 3.5mm headphone jack (with extender)

• 3500mAh lithium-polymer battery

• 148.9x75.8x12.5mm

• 195g

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FeAtURe

Google I/o 2017

Brad CHaCos reveals everything announced at the event, from

new Android O features to standalone Daydream VR headsets

Big data on the big stage

Leading up to its annual I/O developer conference,

Google announced so many new products and

features that it was hard to imagine anything would be

left. But it left some rounds in the chamber, revealing

goodies ranging from an updated Google Assistant

to helpful feature updates for hardware like Home

and Chromecast to a new vision computing platform

that imbues Google apps with the ability to see,

understand, and translate the world around you.

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Android O

Even though Android O isn’t new, Google revealed

some fresh new features for its upcoming operating

system revamp. Highlights include a picture-inpicture

mode for app multitasking; ‘notification dots’

that show when a home screen app has associated

notifications, summoned with a long-press; and

tweaks designed to make everyday tasks like

copy-pasting much more fluid and seamless.

Android O is also getting operating system

optimizations that drastically reduce boot and app

load times, as well as a new Google Play Protect

app that’s your hub for keeping your phone safe and

secure. Even better? You can try all this stuff right

now with the Android O beta program.

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Standalone Daydream headsets

Google’s Daydream VR platform has largely felt

neglected since its launch at the last I/O, but it

received a fresh injection of energy this year. While

the initial Daydream devices required a compatible

Android phone for its smarts and screen, standalone

versions are now on the way, including devices

created by Lenovo and HTC – the creator of the

Vive headset for PCs.

The original version’s still around, though. In fact,

Samsung’s Galaxy S8 phones will be receiving a

software update to become Daydream compatible

later this summer.

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Google Lens

Google announced Google Lens. Point your phone’s

camera at an object, invoke Lens via the Assistant

or Photos app, and Google’s computing brains in

the cloud will study the image to let you know what

you’re looking at. In an on-stage demonstration, Lens

identified a flower correctly.

It offers some nifty extras, too. You can take a

picture of your router’s ID label to automatically

connect your phone to its Wi-Fi network, and looking

at a restaurant or other businesses will surface ratings

and contextual information – including tickets to

events – about it from Google’s services. You can

also use Google Lens on foreign language text to

have Google Translate automatically kick in.

Look for Lens to eventually expand to other

Google apps over time.

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Google Assistant

Beyond the Lens integration, Assistant levelled up in

several other ways. The conversational digital, well,

assistant is now available on iPhone, and Google

rolled out an Assistant SDK to allow hardware makers

to bake the service directly into their devices. The

company’s working with vendors, including Sony,

Panasonic, LG, and Bang & Olufsen, to add Assistant

in a wide range of hardware this Christmas.

Google is also making it easier to converse with

Assistant. Not only is it picking up support for several

popular languages, it’s adding the ability to type in

queries – no more barking into your phone in public

like a madman.

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Google Home

Google Home is picking up some nice new features

of its own – the highlight being hands-free calling

capabilities. It will call businesses and your Google

Contacts on command, and you don’t need any extra

apps or even a phone line for it to work. You can opt

to allow the call to show your mobile number on the

receiving end, or it’ll use a number flagged as private.

The smart speaker will also offer ‘proactive

assistance’, or the ability to notify you of timely and

important notifications. The lights will flare to life

when you have a notification, prompting you to ask

Home “What’s up?” Amazon’s Echo rolled out similar

functionality. Google Home is adding Bluetooth

compatibility too, the ability to push content

to Google apps on your phone and support for

Spotify’s free, ad-based streaming music tier.

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Google Home


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Google Photos

Google is updating Photos to make it easier for you

to share your pictures with pals. A new selective

sharing function – lurking in a new Sharing tab in-app

– will automatically suggest photos for you to share

with your pals, creating its recommendations based

on where you were, who you were with, and your

frequent image-sharing contacts. Once you share

some pictures with a pal, they’re get a notification that

opens the Photos app on their phone, where they’ll

find a prompt to share photos of their own in return if

they were at the same event.

Photo is also adding shared libraries, which lets you

synchronize your albums with others. And it’s one of

the flagship apps for Google Lens, which can be used

to identify items and objects in your snapshots and will

offer actionable action prompts.

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Photo Books

The company’s new Photo Books service taps into

Photos to intelligently and automatically create

physical photo albums in Shutterfly-like fashion. Once

you start an album, you can select a range of photos

to include in it, and the Photos service will pick out

the best images and even lay them out for you, using

Google’s machine learning smarts. (You’ll also be

able to tweak things if you want, of course.)

Photo Books is live, with Android and iOS apps out

now. According to a screenshot flashed on screen

during the IO keynote, soft cover albums will start

at $9.99 (£TBC), with hardcover albums starting at

$19.99 (£TBC).

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Gmail Smart Replies

Smart Replies, which presents you with three

machine-generated short responses to quickly reply

to incoming messages, is leaving the confines of

Google’s Inbox app and hitting the big stage. It’s

coming to Gmail’s Android and iOS apps soon, though

only the English versions at first. Spanish Gmail apps

will gain the feature in the coming weeks, with other

languages to follow.

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YouTube

YouTube is getting the ability to play 360-degree

videos on TV sets, using a remote to navigate the

scene. To bolster the launch, the service is also

rolling out live 360-degree videos if you truly want

to live in the moment. The service is still trying to

beat Twitch at live streams, too. At Google I/O, the

company revealed a new Super Chat APIs – ‘Super

Chat’ being YouTube’s term for donations – that allows

your digital pounds to do things in the creator’s real

world studio, such as shutting off lights or enabling a

drone. Sounds complicated.

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Next-gen TPU hardware

A bit of ultra-nerdy news came when Google

announced a second-generation version of the

specialized ‘tensor processing unit’ hardware first

announced at 2016’s I/O. Businesses will be able to tap

into their power via the Google Cloud Platform, too.

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Google preparing

android for an aI future

TensorFlow is going on a diet to optimize for smartphones and

other lightweight devices. BlaIr Hanley FranK reports

The future of Android will be a lot smarter, thanks

to new programming tools that Google unveiled

recently. The company announced TensorFlow

Lite, a version of its machine learning framework that’s

designed to run on smartphones and other mobile

devices, during the keynote address at its Google I/O

developer conference.

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“TensorFlow Lite will leverage a new neural

network API to tap into silicon-specific accelerators,

and over time we expect to see [digital signal

processing chips] specifically designed for neural

network inference and training,” said Dave Burke,

Google’s vice president of engineering for Android.

“We think these new capabilities will help power a

next generation of on-device speech processing,

visual search, augmented reality, and more.”

The Lite framework will be made a part of the

open source TensorFlow project soon, and the

neural network API will come to the next major

release of Android later this year.

The framework has serious implications for what

Google sees as the future of mobile hardware.

AI-focused chips could make it possible for

smartphones to handle more advanced machine

learning computations without consuming as much

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power. With more applications using machine learning

to provide intelligent experiences, making that sort of

work more easily possible on device is key.

Right now, building advanced machine learning

into applications – especially when it comes

to training models – requires an amount of

computational power that typically requires beefy

hardware, a lot of time and a lot of power. That’s not

really practical for consumer smartphone applications,

which means they often offload that processing to

massive data centre by sending images, text and other

data in need of processing over the internet.

Processing that data in the cloud comes with

several downsides, according to Patrick Moorhead,

principal analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy: users

must be willing to transfer their data to a company’s

servers, and they have to be in an environment with

rich enough connectivity to make sure the operation

is low-latency.

There’s already one mobile processor with a

machine learning-specific DSP on the market today.

The Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 system-on-a-chip

sports the Hexagon DSP that supports TensorFlow.

DSPs are also used for providing functionality like

recognizing the “OK, Google” wake phrase for the

Google Assistant, according to Moorhead.

Users should expect to see more machine learning

acceleration chips in the future, Moorhead said.

“Ever since Moore’s Law slowed down, it’s been a

heterogeneous computing model,” he said. “We’re

using different kinds of processors to do different

types of things, whether it’s a DSP, whether it’s a

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[field-programmable gate array], or whether it’s a

CPU. It’s almost like we’re using the right golf club

for the right hole.”

Google is already investing in ML-specific hardware

with its line of Tensor Processing Unit chips, which

are designed to accelerate both the training of

new machine learning algorithms as well as data

processing using existing models. The company

recently announced the second version of that

hardware, which is designed to accelerate machine

learning training and inference.

The company is also not the only one with a

smartphone-focused machine learning framework.

Facebook showed off a mobile-oriented ML

framework called Caffe2Go last year, which is used

to power applications like the company’s live style

transfer feature.

Tensor Processing Unit

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Translation

Google lens: six things

we can’t wait to try out

Google’s I/O was heavy on AI and machine learning, and the best

intersection of the two is Google Lens, writes MICHael sIMon

Google Lens looks fresh and exciting, though

we’ve seen hints of this technology before.

Google Goggles might not have been

mentioned during the I/O keynote, but its spirit

was most certainly present at I/O. Released seven

years ago when AI and AR were still in their infancy,

Goggles was an app that let you identify places, scan

barcodes, and search for prices by snapping a photo

of the thing you were looking at.

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Restaurants

Google Lens, which was announced during the

very first minutes of I/O, is essentially a supercharged

version of Google Goggles. Built into Assistant and

Photos, the new machine learning AI promises to

decode the world around us by using Google’s AR and

neural networks to scan images and pull out relevant

bits of data. Here are the six things we’re most excited

to try out.

Translation

Google Translate is already one of our go-to tools

when trying to read text in a different language, but

Google Lens takes it out of the Translate app and

puts it right into Photos. To translate something, you

need only snap a picture of it and call on Google

Lens’ smarts. This approach makes using Translate’s

technology even simpler, and we’ll be much more

likely to remember to use it in a pinch.

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Learning

Restaurants

It’s not hard to find interesting spots when visiting a

new city, but with Google Lens, discovering hidden

gems in our own town becomes a lot easier. Just

point your camera at a place you’re interested in, and

Google Lens will scan it. Then, in real time as you look

through the viewfinder, you’ll be able to see what it

is, what it sells, and what people think about it. The

process is far simpler than getting the name, typing it

into Google, and scanning through the results.

Learning

This area is where you can see just how much Google

Lens has improved on Google Goggles. Google Lens

lets you snap a picture of just about anything, and

then it will tell you everything you need to know about

it – during the keynote, Sundar Pichai demonstrated

this feature by identifying a common lily. We’ll need to

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Routers

try it ourselves to confirm its accuracy, but our phones

could possibly become the greatest encyclopedia

ever, teaching us about arts, architecture, and nature

without requiring a dive into a search hole.

Routers

We’ve all been in the situation where we’re at a friend’s

house and we need to connect to their router, except

they don’t know the password. So we need to crawl

under a desk, flip over the router to find the label, type

each character, and, 10 minutes later, finally connect.

Google Lens does all that work for you. You’ll only

need to snap a picture of the password label on the

router and it will automatically connect.

Entertainment

Buying tickets to shows and movies on our phones

is already pretty effortless, but Google Lens wants to

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FeAtURe

Entertainment

make it a complete breeze. If you walk down a street

and see a marquee that shows a band that’s playing,

Google Lens will spring to life as soon as you snap

a picture. You can listen to sample songs, add the

date to your calendar, and, of course, buy tickets.

Presumably, it will work just as well with movies and

other events – we can’t wait to take a photo of a

movie poster and then see show times and trailers.

Shopping

The keynote didn’t mention anything specific about

buying stuff using Google Lens, but we can’t help but

wonder about its potential as a shopping assistant.

We’ve already seen something similar with Bixby

on the Galaxy S8, but outside of books, it’s not very

helpful. If Google can perfect the system so it brings

up shopping results for anything we scan, it could be

the killer use case for Google Lens.

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How to

How to: Get android o on

a nexus or Pixel phone

HOW TO

If you want to check out Android O’s newest features before they

are officially released to the public, MICHael sIMon shows how

Google is constantly at work perfecting the

latest version of Android, but you might not

know that you can help test it out. Before

any new version is released, whether it’s a full new

major ‘sweet treat’ version (such as the new Android

O beta) or a simple maintenance release, you can sign

up to test it weeks or months before it’s available for

public download. All you need is a Google account

and the right phone.

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And Google makes it easy to sign up, as long as

you have one of the newer ‘pure Android’ handsets.

Currently, the list is pretty short, but if you own a

Nexus 5X, Nexus 6P, or one of the Pixel phones,

you’re all set. (Additionally, you can install the beta

on the short-lived Nexus Player set-top box, and

the Pixel C tablet.)

Those phones should be good for the rest of this

year, as Google has vowed that Nexus level devices

will “receive major updates for at least two years.” For

example, the 2014 Nexus 6 and Nexus 9 only recently

dropped off the list, so last year’s Huawei and LG

Nexus devices should be good at least through the

remainder of 2017.

If you have the right hardware, head over

to Google’s Android Beta Program website (tinyurl.

com/hhjhq94). You’ll need to log in with your Google

account, and once you do, you’ll be taken to a page

that explains what the program is all about. The usual

beta disclaimers apply, and Google warns that the

updates “may contain errors and defects that can

affect normal functioning of your device.” So before

you enrol you’re phone, it’s a good idea to back up

your data first, just in case.

In the middle of the page, you’ll see a list of your

eligible devices, with an Enrol button next to it. Tap

it and you’ll see be taken to a disclaimer screen.

Check the agree box, select Join beta, and in a

couple seconds you’ll be in.

If a new beta isn’t available, it will be business as

usual on your phone. Security updates will be installed

as normal, as well as any official releases, and you

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won’t know anything has changed. Once a beta does

land, you’ll get a notification about it just like you

normally would (although it will indicate that it’s a beta

update), or you can check in the usual place: Scroll

down to the About phone tab in Settings, and select

System updates. It will install over-the-air normally,

with a restart, and whenever a new one releases, you’ll

go through the same process. And when the version

you’re testing releases publicly, you’ll be able to

install that version on your phone, too.

If you’ve flashed your device and just want to

install the files yourself without registering for the

program, you can grab them from Google Developers

site (tinyurl.com/am8Ln3s). Just scroll down to the

Latest section, find the version you’re looking for,

and follow the link to get to the Public Beta Images

page. Then, locate your device and download the

If there is a beta to install, it will

show up when you select the

Check for Update button

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appropriate file. (The Android O beta downloads

are available from tinyurl.com/pj3sovs.)

With betas, Google is looking for feedback, so

if you spot something that needs fixing, you can

contact Google directly by heading to the Settings

app, tapping About, and then Send feedback about

this device. Additionally, Google hosts an Android Beta

Program Google+ community (tinyurl.com/y9zsen2y),

where you can share feedback with other users.

Finally, if you’re having serious problems with a

particular beta, you can always downgrade to the

most recent stable version. Simply select Unenroll

device on the same Android Beta Program page

where you registered your device, and Google will

deliver the latest general release to your phone.

However, as Google warns, it “will wipe all data on

the device,” so once again, you’ll want to back up

your data before downgrading.

If a particular beta is giving you fits, you can easily

unenrol from the program and downgrade to a

stable release. But back up your data first

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How to

How to: Make selfie

stickers in Google allo

HOW TO

The latest Android update lets you create stickers in your likeness

and send them to your friends, writes MICHael sIMon

Allo hasn’t been the runaway success that

Google thought it would be, but that hasn’t

stopped it from adding a stream of upgrades

and new features. But with the latest new addition,

some people might want to give it a second look.

With the new update rolling out to the Play Store,

Google is introducing a long-rumoured feature called

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selfie stickers. If you haven’t yet tried out Allo, stickers

are central to its appeal, as Google looks to bring an

Apple Messages-style whimsy to Android, adorning

your conversations with everything from Star Wars to

exercising avocados.

But selfie stickers add even more personality.

Google is using neural networks here “to analyse

the pixels of an image and algorithmically determine

attribute values by looking at pixel values to measure

colour, shape, or texture.” Translation: They actually

look like you. To find the feature, start a new message

with someone who has the Allo app installed and tap

the emoji button in the message field. Swipe left to

scroll past the default stickers and tap the overflow

(three dots) menu. On the next screen, tap the smiling

sticker icon at the far right of the selection window to

bring up your sticker gallery.

At the top of the list should be a new option to

turn a selfie into stickers. If you’re not seeing it, you

can side-load the APK (from tinyurl.com/y9r3ydkm),

but unlike other installs, I also had to clear the cache

(Settings > Apps > Allo > Storage > Clear Cache) and

quit the app. If you’re still not seeing it, you can force

stop (Settings > Apps > Allo) see if that works.

When you tap the selfie sticker option, you’ll see a

Create button. Tap that and you’ll enter a Snapchatstyle

selfie screen that lets you snap a photo (you can’t

use a prior selfie for your sticker). There are a pair of

eyeglasses in the middle of the screen, so you’ll want

to align your eyes with them.

Once you like what you see, tap the camera

button and Google’s engine will begin to work its

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magic. The whole process takes about five seconds,

and you’ll see a fun set of disguises to pass the time.

Then you’ll be taken to a new screen with your

selfie-inspired stickers.

From there, you can either save them to your

gallery or customize your face for better accuracy.

One thing to watch out for – if you’re wearing a hat in

your selfie, the neural network will think you’re bald,

so you’ll need to add hair in the customization panel

(a turban and hijab are also options). But otherwise,

the results are pretty spot-on. It even picked up my

hazel eye colour through my glasses.

In all, 24 stickers will be created featuring your

mug in a variety of situations, including your face on

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a slice of pizza, as a zombie, if you were an abstract

art painting, and sleeping. They’re just as easy to

use as they are to make, with the new sticker pack

appearing at the top of the list when you go to use

one. Just select the one that fits your mood and it

will automatically send to your recipient. You can

also long-press on one of the stickers to share it with

Android Messages, Google Voice, or just about any

other app that accepts images.

The new update to Allo is rolling out to the Play

Store, but you can also side-load the Google-signed

APK from APKMirror. You may need to follow the

instructions above to get the selfie sticker option to

appear, however.

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How to

How to: use parental

controls in android

HOW TO

JIM MartIn looks at how to keep your children safe online

Kids are increasingly tech-savvy these days, and

even a toddler will manage to use your Android

phone or tablet in ways you didn’t know were

possible. Apart from running up a heavy bill in app and

game purchases, this means your children may also be

at risk from online predators and adult content.

But you don’t have to live in fear. We’re going to

show you how to set up sensible parental controls

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and create user profiles for kids that you can use in

Android 5.0 or later (and in 4.3 onward on tablets).

Set up a child’s account on Android

We’re using Android (7.1 Nougat) on a OnePlus 3T, but

since the interface varies on just about every Android

phone don’t expect yours to look identical. The

process, though, is broadly the same - you may just

have to hunt around for the Users entry in your phone

or tablet’s settings.

First, drag down from the top of the screen, then

drag down further if a settings cog icon doesn’t

appear. Tap on the icon to open the Settings app.

Scroll down until you see Users. If your phone has

a Settings app split into sections, you might have to

search other tabs to find the Users menu.

In Users, you’ll see your own account, or the main

account of the owner of the phone. There will be an

‘Add user’ option, so tap on this.

Accept the message by tapping ‘OK’ then tap on

‘SET UP NOW’

The device will log you out and ask you to sign

into the new user’s account. As that’s for a child in this

case, you’ll continue to make the settings.

Tap Continue, as in the image above left, then you’ll

be asked if you want to sign into an Android account.

If you want to prevent your kids from downloading

apps, games, music, videos and TV shows through

Google Play, just tap on Skip Setup. You will still be

able to download apps via your own user account.

You’ll also have the option to set up their email

account, or tap Not now if you don’t want to.

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How to

Restrict content in Play Store

Assuming you do want to give your child access to

the Google Play Store within their account, either sign

in with your own Google account when prompted

during the setup, or use their account if they have one.

Then, launch the Play Store app (this is in their

user account on the phone or tablet still) and tap the

‘hamburger’ – the three horizontal lines at the top

left. Scroll down and tap Settings, then scroll until

you see Parental controls. Tap it, and you’ll have to

create a PIN code. Enter this twice.

Now the setting will be turned on and you can

then tap each category to set how restrictive you

want to be for each. For apps and games, the

numbers relate to ages, so tap PEGI 7 is the child is

between four and seven. Be sure to tap SAVE at the

bottom of each screen.

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Below the Parental controls master switch is

shown a summary of which restriction is set for

each type of content (see above).

If you want to prevent kids from buying content

freely, you can set a PIN that only you know which

will be asked for when they try to download anything

that costs money. To do this, go back to the main

Play Store settings menu and tap on ‘Require

authentication for purchases’.

The Play Store isn’t the only place to download

apps and games, so it’s important to make sure

other sources are blocked. To do this, go back to

the device’s home screen, and drag down from the

top of the screen again to get to the cog icon – tap

it to open the Settings app.

Find the Security section (called Security &

fingerprint on our phone), tap it and then check to

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make sure the Unknown sources switch is turned off

(which it probably will be).

Make YouTube safe

Kids love watching YouTube videos, and now there’s

a YouTube Kids app you can download for free in the

Play Store. Do this while logged into their account on

the phone or tablet.

Launch the app and it will explain that no algorithm

is a 100 percent guarantee that everything in the app

is totally safe for them and that you can easily flag

an inappropriate video so the team can review and

remove it. You can then set the restriction level to

Preschool, School age or All kids.

Finally, you have the option to turn search on or

off. With it off, they will have to use the menus in the

app to discover videos, but in our experience this is

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too limiting and it’s better to have search on – at least

for kids five and older.

It’s important not to use these parental control

features as an excuse for not supervising your child’s

use of the phone or tablet. It’s best to keep an eye

on what they’re watching and listening to, as well as

setting ground rules on what’s allowed and what isn’t,

plus how much screen time they can have each day.

There are lots of apps which can automatically

disable certain apps – or even the entire device, such

as Screenlimit (tinyurl.com/yacz4hcm).

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