TIME Smartphones

VIDEO: Amazon’s New Fire Phone (In Under 90 Seconds)

E-readers, tablets and now smartphones: Here's the skinny on the Amazon Fire Phone.

TIME apps

Facebook’s Slingshot Launches to Take On Snapchat

The most recent newcomer to the self-destructing messages game is Slingshot, birthed from a hackathon and nursed to life by a small crew at Facebook Creative Labs.

The app will feel familiar to anyone who’s used messaging app like Instagram, Vine and Snapchat to share short movies and photos that can be altered with scribbles and doodles.

Photos and videos shared via Slingshot self destruct a la Snapchat, but the main wrinkle where Slingshot is concerned is that if you share something with someone, they can’t see it until they share something back with you. Whatever you send them looks like a blocky mess until they return the favor. We’ll see how long it takes for that to get annoying: I’m imagining petabytes of shots of people’s feet being sent back just so they can see whatever’s been sent to them.

The app will be available today for iOS and Android. The links haven’t quite gone live as of the time this post got published, but you’ll be able to visit sling.me/download once everything’s ready.

Here’s a quick video that shows off the app:


TIME Gadgets

I’ll Take Two: 370-inch TV Only Costs $1.7 Million

Titan’s 370-inch “Zeus” TV measures over 26 feet — feet! — wide by over 16 feet — feet! — high. The company superimposes an elephant in front of it to give you an idea of how big it is. The elephant takes up maybe a fourth of the entire screen.

There are apparently only four in existence: one went to a buyer who wants to remain private, according to Engadget. If I had a 370-inch TV, I wouldn’t want anyone to know about it either but we all know it’s probably Barney Stinson.

The second one was just on display in Cannes, France. Here’s a video. Look at it! Look at it!

Did you see that? Of course you did. You saw that from wherever you live. I’m watching Adventure Time on it right now from Boston.

There are two left, and each costs a cool $1.7 million. They’re handcrafted, 4K-resolution screens that include installation and get delivered to your studio apartment in a customized Hummer. The company is based in the U.K., so you’ll have to contact them directly to see if they’re cool with fourth-story walkups in the U.S.


TIME Gadgets

After Recall, Nest Smoke Alarm Is Back and Discounted


Nest’s followup to its nicely designed smart thermostat was a smart smoke detector called Protect (see our original coverage here).

One of the features of Protect — aside from being Internet-connected and able to send alerts to your smartphone — was a trick that let you wave your hand underneath it to silence it.

The thought was that people have a tendency to accidentally set off their smoke alarms while cooking, and getting the alarms to pipe down is more cumbersome than it should be.

However, the company found that the feature might have been at risk of malfunctioning, which in certain cases could have silenced the alarm when it was supposed to be making noise. So in early April — a few months after Nest was acquired by Google for $3.2 billion — nearly half a million Nest smoke detectors were recalled; the wave-to-dismiss feature was able to be deactivated via a software update as well, making physically sending the smoke detector back to Nest unnecessary.

Now, the Nest Protect is back on the market, with the wave-to-dismiss feature disabled altogether. The company had originally alluded to trying to fix it via a future software update, so we’ll see if and when that comes to fruition. The price of the Nest Protect has also dropped from $130 down to $99 as well.

[New York Times]

TIME Gadgets

New Samsung Tablets Use Size and Screens to Take On iPads

Samsung's 10.5-inch Galaxy Tab S tablet Samsung

Samsung has trotted out another round of tablets: The 8.4- and 10.5-inch Galaxy Tab S line looks to take on the 7.9- and 9.7-inch iPads by offering larger, more colorful screens while keeping thickness and weight comparable.

The $399 iPad Mini with Retina Display, for instance, measures 0.29 inches thick and weighs 0.73 pounds. The 8.4-inch Galaxy Tab S, by comparison, is 0.26 inches thick and weighs 0.65 pounds. Take the $499 iPad Air: also 0.29 inches thick, and it weighs 1.03 pounds. The 10.5-inch Galaxy Tab S is 0.26 inches thick and weighs 1.025 pounds.

To the average person, the size and weight differences amount to splitting hairs; from a marketing perspective, Samsung gets to claim its tablets are thinner and lighter despite having bigger screens.

As for those Samsung screens, they’re color-rich Super AMOLED screens, each with 2560×1600 resolutions. Apple’s Retina displays are of the IPS variety and sport 2048×1536 resolutions. As far as total resolution goes, it’s another marketing point for Samsung. As for the merits of Super AMOLED versus IPS screen technology, the conclusions aren’t nearly as clear-cut. Here’s a good IPS vs. AMOLED piece if you’re interested. Spoiler: Let your eyes decide.

Samsung — and, by extension, Google — are still playing catch-up to Apple, however, when it comes to tablet-optimized apps. Android has made gains towards stocking its store with bonafide tablet apps recently, but with so many Android devices — both phones and tablets — out there, from a developer’s standpoint, the path of least resistance is to make an app that works well on Android phones and then hope it scales well enough to keep tablet owners happy.

Samsung’s 8.4-inch Galaxy Tab S Samsung

With Apple, you have far fewer devices for which you have to try to build apps: all iPhone models from the iPhone 5 onward have 1136×640 screen resolutions; all the Retina iPads have 2048×1536 resolutions. Your major outliers are the non-Retina iPad Mini and earlier iPhones that are on their way out.

Samsung’s arguably done a good job getting its tablets into the hands of consumers. As The Verge’s Dan Seifert notes, Sammy shipped 40 million tablets last year, against Apple’s 70 million. Samsung has also not been shy about flooding the zone with Galaxy tablets: “Samsung has released at least nine tablets in just the first six months of this year, many of which have overlapping features and designs,” writes Seifert.

And Samsung does have some neat software tricks up its sleeve. This line of tablets will let you dock two apps next to each other, and you have access to a specially-designed, high-definition Netflix app. You also get a feature that mirrors your Samsung phone on the tablet’s screen and Galaxy Gifts, a package of almost 30 time-limited premium services from the likes of Box, WebEX, Evernote and several newspapers.

On paper, this latest tablet salvo from Samsung looks impressive, but now we get to see how consumers react. The 8.4-inch model starts at $399, and the 10.5-inch model starts at $499. Both will be available as Wi-Fi models in July, with LTE versions to follow later in the year.


Surprise! Amazon Launches Streaming Music Service


Like a ninja in a library, Amazon has quietly launched Prime Music, a streaming music service similar to Spotify, Rdio and others.

If you’re a $99-per-year Prime member, you’ll have unlimited access to north of a million songs, which makes Amazon’s library far smaller than its competitors’ libraries. Spotify, for instance, boasts over 20 million songs.

But this is another added nicety for Prime subscribers, who, for $99 a year, get free two-day shipping on a bunch of Amazon products, a free Netflix-like video service, a handful of freely borrow-able Kindle ebooks and now, free music to boot.

The fact that Prime Music was launched without much fanfare likely means that Amazon isn’t looking to try to lure people away from competitors — not yet, anyway. If the company builds up the music catalog in the coming months, however, it could serve as an interesting underdog.

As for what you actually get with Prime Music, there are no ads and you can listen to as many songs as you like. Songs can be downloaded for offline listening, though you’ll have to listen to them through Amazon’s music app, which is available on most popular tablet, smartphone, web and computer platforms. Here’s a list of available songs.

Amazon is expected to launch its own smartphone on June 18, so we’ll see how much the company’s new music service plays into the phone’s launch.

TIME Wearables

Fancy Bluetooth Ring Connects to Your Phone for Discreet Alerts

Over at Wired, Liz Stinson profiles a tech-infused ring — called Ringly — that looks like costume jewelry (I only know what “costume jewelry” means after being with my wife for a decade). This ring sports a Bluetooth chipset, however, and pairs with your phone to discreetly alert you to calls, text messages, email and other notifications that’d otherwise steal your attention away. You can customize the alerts as one of four vibration patterns or one of five different colors.

Speaking to the ring’s creator, Christina Mercando, Stinson’s piece contains a quote that pretty much perfectly sums up what’s going on here:

“The fashion world is blown away; they can’t believe something like this exists,” says Mercando. “And the technology world is like, is that all it does?”

People who have been writing about gadgets for more than a couple years will instantly recall HTC’s Rhyme smartphone, a device awkwardly marketed to women by way of a little cube-shaped charm that plugged into the headphone jack and lit up when calls and texts came through. The idea was apparently that you could leave your phone in your purse, and stretch the charm outside your purse so you could see if someone was trying to get a hold of you. Our own Jared Newman took two for the team, first writing about the phone and then reviewing it.

High-tech rings pair with your phone to discreetly alert you to calls, messages and more Ringly

While Rhyme sales probably didn’t make HTC’s year in 2011, Ringly might have a shot. For starters, the ring itself will cost almost as much as an on-contract smartphone — just shy of $200 at retail, though pre-orders are going for $145. So it’s already a luxury item: It’s available in a handful of different designs and contains 18-karat gold.

More importantly, it doesn’t look like a ridiculous gadget you strap on your body somewhere. I showed a picture of one of the rings to my wife, who immediately identified it as costume jewelry, not some newfangled wearable device housing a power-sipping Bluetooth Low Energy chip. Big points for hiding the technology.

So would she wear one? “I would wear it as costume jewelry when going out, sure.” Would she pay $200 for it? “I wouldn’t spend $200 on costume jewelry. A lot of people do, though.”

If you’re going to pay $200 for an oversized ring, why not buy one that pairs with your phone, right?


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