MONEY Tech

Wireless Charging Coming to an Ikea Nightstand Near You

Furniture giant Ikea is introducing lamps and tables that will recharge your smartphone — no power cord necessary.

TIME Smartphones

The HTC One M9 Could Be One of the Best All-Around Phones of the Year

But it isn't a radical upgrade from the HTC One M8

HTC announced its new flagship Android smartphone, the HTC One M9, at the annual Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona, Spain on Sunday.

You might think it’s boring — the HTC One M9 doesn’t do things radically differently to its predecessor. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore it. This could be one of the best all-around phones of 2015.

If you’re not aware of the One range, think of it as Android’s equivalent to the iPhone. Made of metal and sporting design aesthetics that Apple would be proud of, the HTC One M9 looks almost identical to its predecessor, the HTC One M8.

That previous HTC flagship phone had a few drawbacks, though. The most glaring was the rear Duo camera that felt like a bit of a gimmick. It just didn’t provide the level of performance HTC promised, especially when compared to Samsung, LG or Apple’s finest. That aside, it was a solid phone, with a great 5-inch screen, ergonomic design and outstanding battery life.

HTC has kept everything that was good about the One M8, improved the Boomsound speakers to provide a surround sound-like effect, and fixed the rear camera. It’s not a revolutionary handset, but the hour or so we had with it left us with a very good impression indeed.

What’s new

The HTC One M9’s rear camera now has a more traditional 20-megapixel sensor, which should provide much more detail than the previous 4-megapixel “Ultrapixel” camera, which sacrificed the sheer number of pixels in favor of making each pixel larger to capture better shots in low light. HTC hasn’t given up on that idea entirely — the Ultrapixel camera has shifted to the front of the phone, perfect for party selfies in dark bars and clubs.

The One Gallery app now pulls together all the photos you have from Facebook, old phones, Flickr and more into, unsurprisingly, one gallery on your phone.

The M9 packs a Snapdragon 810 processor, one of the fastest mobile processors we’ve ever tested. This is a high-performance phone. The experience was butter smooth when flicking through menus, and quick when opening apps. The model I had in my hands was a pre-production sample, though, so there’s plenty of testing to be done before we know exactly how well it performs. Suffice to say, just like the best phones on the market right now, it will be plenty fast for the majority of people.

Perhaps the biggest strength of the HTC One M9 is its operating system. Its foundation is the latest version of Android – 5.0 Lollipop – but it’s been heavily customized with what HTC calls Sense UI (user interface). More often than not, the UI skins that manufacturers place on phones are more hassle than they’re worth. Not so with Sense. It looks smart, it’s easily customizable and, crucially, provides a smooth and coherent experience.

The M9’s Sense 7 is HTC’s latest version of the software. It comes with Blinkfeed, a service that aggregates all your news and social media updates in one place. That’s been around for a while. What’s new is Themes, an app that customizes the look and feel of the M9 from the lock screen all the way to the fonts. Have a favorite picture? Themes can examine it, pick the colours, and design a phone UI to match – all in just a few seconds. It worked really well in our tests.

A feature that might prove more irritating than useful is Sense Home. This adapts your homescreen to an experience that’s tailored to your location. Want to use the HTC One M9 as an IR remote to control your home theater setup? The app will pop up as soon as you walk through your front door. We’ll have to wait and see to find out if this is more confusing than helpful. Thankfully, you’ll be able to permanently pin your most important apps where you want them so they won’t move around.

Early verdict

It’s easy to like the HTC One M9 right off the bat. It does what a good phone needs to do, and with aplomb. If you want to be critical, you might say that HTC has played it safe. But that’s no bad thing – “innovative” features are often of questionable value. Innovative or not, the One M9 could be the best all-around phone we’ve ever seen.

Will it be enough to tempt Apple fans away from their beloved iPhones or damage the prospects of the Samsung Galaxy S6, also about to be revealed at Mobile World Congress? We’ll need to test it further to figure that out.

The HTC One M9 will be available in the U.S. on all major carriers in early Spring. HTC will sell an unlocked version directly through its website.

For Trusted Reviews’ full hands-on with the HTC One M9, visit Trusted Reviews.

TIME Video Games

This Is the Incredible Game President Underwood Is Obsessed With in House of Cards Season 3

It's called Monument Valley and it's pretty great

Francis Underwood, Kevin Spacey’s Machiavellian character on the Netflix series House of Cards, has always allowed himself a few good video games. These have tended toward the violent, first-person-shooter variety. But in Season 3, which became available on the streaming service on Friday, a beautiful, somewhat esoteric indie game for mobile devices becomes a minor plot point.

That game is Monument Valley, created by UsTwo. The title—available here for Android and here for iOS— was ranked one of TIME’s 10 best games of 2014. Here’s a description of the game by its designers, part of which Spacey alludes to in the show:

In Monument Valley you will manipulate impossible architecture and guide a silent princess through a beautiful world. Monument Valley is a surreal exploration through fantastical architecture and impossible geometry. Guide the silent princess Ida through mysterious monuments, uncovering hidden paths, unfolding optical illusions and outsmarting the enigmatic Crow People.

Or as TIME’s reviewer put it: “Monument Valley celebrates non-Euclidean geometry, beautifully bizarre architecture and the art of silent storytelling. Combine royalty with optical trickery, trajectory-fiddling with bonsai pruning, aesthetic contemplation with tactile interaction and you wind up with something like designer ustwo’s delightful, enigmatic puzzler.” Worth checking out, no matter where you are on the road to world domination.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 25

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. The U.S. wants to hack your phone because it doesn’t have the real spies it needs.

By Patrick G. Eddington at Reuters

2. Eight universities account for half of all history professors in the U.S. How did that happen?

By Joel Warner and Aaron Clauset in Slate

3. Bill Gates is investing in low-tech impact entrepreneurs in India.

By David Bank in Entrepreneur

4. “Liquid biopsy” can detect cancer from a few drops of blood.

By Michael Standaert in MIT Technology Review

5. Let’s build the infrastructure to make microfinance institutions into true innovation hubs.

By Jessica Collier in Medium

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Tech Policy

Here’s Why Russia Is Cracking Down on Google

A model of the Android operating system logo at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, on Feb. 27, 2012.
Bloomberg via Getty Images A model of the Android operating system logo at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, on Feb. 27, 2012.

The search giant's Android platform is at the center of complaints

Google may be running afoul of anti-monopoly laws in Russia. The country’s regulators are investigating the way the search giant bundles its apps onto Android devices in response to a complaint by Yandex, Russia’s leading search engine, according to The Guardian.

Yandex is taking issue with the fact that smartphone makers have been blocked from pre-installing the company’s services, which compete with Google’s, on Android phones in the country. Google restricts which apps can be pre-installed on the most popular version of Android. A fully open-source version of the software, which is used to power mobile operating systems used by Amazon and Xiaomi, is freely available but doesn’t include access to the Google Play store.

Google has faced legal scrutiny in multiple markets for the way it controls the Android ecosystem. In Europe regulators are reportedly planning to launch a formal inquiry into Google’s mandates regarding pre-installed apps, according to Reuters. In the U.S. a lawsuit claiming that Google harms smartphone buyers by forcing Samsung and others to pre-install Google apps on their Android phones was dismissed by a federal judge last week.

Read next: Why Chevron Is Helping Fund STEM Education

TIME apps

These Are the 10 Best Apps for People Who Commute

Holiday Travel Gets Underway Ahead Of Thanksgiving Weekend
Win McNamee—Getty Images Traffic converges on highway I-495 South just west of the nation's capital on one of the busiest travel days of the year November 23, 2011 in McLean, Virginia.

To win the rat race, you’ll need a smartphone as your co-pilot

Putting in an honest day’s work can be challenging enough, so commuting shouldn’t make it any harder. But between freak snow storms, soul-crushing traffic, and off-schedule public transit, the daily migration to and from the office can be enough to make a person “work from home.”

Whether you drive, ride, walk, or do a mixture of all three, these ten smartphone apps will help you get to the office (and more importantly, back home) on time and in good spirits.

Driving…

MotionX GPS Drive

Lauded by gear-heads and techies alike, this GPS app does it all, from providing turn-by-turn voice guidance to giving you quick access to nearby pit stops like coffee shops and gas stations. Clear maps, speed limit readouts and lane-assist visuals make it a must-have weapon for any road warrior.

MotionX GPS Drive is available for $.99 on the App Store.

Triplog

There are few work tasks more mundane — or important — than logging your mileage. Triplog takes the sting out of it by automatically starting when your phone is plugged in and you’re moving faster than five miles per hour. With comprehensive tracking reports that are IRS compliant, Triplog lets drivers focus on the road — not on the paper trail — ahead.

Triplog is available for free on the App Store and Google Play.

ETA

You have places to be, and ETA is all about getting you there. Use this app to tag your usual haunts (home, work, the gym, your favorite bar), and it automatically calculates the length of time required to get there. If you happen to be in some random locale, tapping on your hotspot will give you driving directions in a pinch. ETA even works if you choose to walk, rather than drive. Just swipe right, and ETA toggles between steering and strolling.

ETA is available for $.99 on the App Store.

Waze

Google’s crowdsourced traffic app, Waze, has been making waves lately, with police requesting that the search giant remove the program’s cop-flagging capabilities. But even if Google does that, this app is a favorite among drivers because it shows real-time traffic and road information. With everything from expected-time-of-arrival to reported gas prices (as well as maps and directions, of course), Waze is basically a smart car in a handset, supercharging commutes for weary drivers.

Waze is available for free on the App Store and Google Play.

Walking…

Citymapper

An Apple app of the year for two years running, this trip planner will get you where you want to go by stitching together public transit, bike sharing, ride sharing and walking information into one place. Only available in certain cities (so check the link before you download), the app gives you multiple options for getting to and fro, but the cool part for walkers is how it calculates walking time and calories. Sure, walking apps do that too, but they can’t help you out if you bail on the journey halfway through.

Citymapper is available for free on the App Store and Google Play.

Walk with Map My Walk

If you’re looking to get a workout in on your way to work, this well-trodden walking app is the way to go. Calculating everything from calories burned and speed to elevation and duration, Map My Walk lets you save your information or even integrate it into Apple’s Health app. And if you’ve got co-workers who are also hoofing it, you can share your fitness activity with them through links to social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

Walk with Map My Walk is available for free on the App Store and Google Play.

Transit

What’s another public transport app doing in the “walking” section? Well, with Transit, it’s all about getting to your destination. So if you’re walking and you suddenly realize that you’ll be late, pull up this app and check out all your nearby options for alternate modes of transportation. Showing nearby departures from various subway and bus lines, as well as how long it will take to hail an Uber, the easy-to-read app will give you a fresh look at your commuting options.

Transit is available for free on the App Store and Google Play.

Riding…

Moovit

If getting there is half the fun — forget that — Moovit only cares about getting you there. This no-nonsense trip planner uses real arrival times to map out a route through public transport, sending updates and push notifications when there are delays. The app also offers real-time buss tracking powered by other users, helping commuters in more than 60 cities from Albany to Wichita.

Moovit is available for free on the App Store, Google Play, and for Windows Phone.

Things

Got time to relax on your ride home? Of course you don’t — you’ve got stuff to do, and Things will help you keep them top of mind. A high-powered to-do list app, this isn’t your average box-checking organizer. Part of a suite of programs designed to keep you on task across your computers, Things pulls up a new list each day. It also lets you tag your items, categorize them any way you please, schedule them for later dates, and group them by project. Dive into it on mass transit to not only extend your day, but be ready for the next one, too.

Things is available for $9.99 on the App Store.

Watchup

If you feel like you have no time to stay current with the news, this personalized video feed is your new companion for your morning and evening commute. Just tell Watchup what kind of news you’re interested in (entertainment, sports, tech, and others) and what time you’d like your newscast ready. Then, using the latest news videos on the web, Watchup will cobble together a program from multiple outlets like Fox News, The Street, the Wall Street Journal, and others.

Watchup is available for free on the App Store and Google Play.

TIME Advertising

Google’s Latest Ad Will Break Your Heart into 50 Million Pieces

Animal friendship and frolicking as far as the eye can see

Looks like Google’s been taking notes on Budweiser’s wildly successful ads featuring a puppy and a Clydesdale horse striking up a lifelong friendship. In a new Android commercial developed by ad agency Droga5, the company shows off a bunch of unlikely animal pairings: a kitten and a pair of baby chicks, a cat and a dog, and a dog and a dolphin, among others. The idea hews to the latest Android slogan, “Be Together. Not the Same.” It’s a not-too-subtle dig at the uniformity of Apple’s iPhone line compared to the variability of Android devices. It’s very, very cute. But it may not resonate with consumers. Apple just sold a record number of iPhones in the final quarter of 2014, and one estimate by Kantar Worldpanel says that iOS overtook Android as the leading mobile OS in the U.S. last quarter for the first time since 2012.

Read next: 9 Ways Advertisers Think We Could Convince Parents to Vaccinate

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Smartphones

Why Microsoft Would Invest in an Android Startup

The Latest Mobile Apps At The App World Multi-Platform Developer Show
Chris Ratcliffe—Bloomberg / Getty Images A logo for Google Inc.'s Android operating system is displayed on an advertising sign during the Apps World Multi-Platform Developer Show in London, U.K., on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013.

The potential investment hints at a larger battle to grab real estate on your phone's homescreen

Microsoft is reportedly set to invest in a startup building its own version of the Google-owned Android mobile operating system.

Microsoft will hold a minority stake in Cyanogen, which rewrites Android’s open-source code and offers it as a souped-up alternative to Google’s version of the platform, the Wall Street Journal reports. Some 50 million devices currently run Cyanogen’s Android, while CEO Kirt McMaster says his army of 9,000 volunteer programmers are reshaping the software into a superior product.

“We’re going to take Android away from Google,” McMaster told the Journal.

That raises a few intriguing question about Microsoft’s investment — such as:

Why should Microsoft care about this startup?

Google currently dominates the mobile market. Roughly 84% of the world’s phones come pre-installed with Android, according to estimates from IDC. That means a vast majority of phones come pre-packaged with Google apps. Unbox the phone, and there they are the home screen. The user can always download rival apps, but who’s going to take the time to download Microsoft’s apps when Google’s are already there?

How did Google come to dominate the home screen?

Google gives away Android’s source code for free, even to rival device manufacturers. But the giveaway comes with a few strings attached. If device makers want access to Google’s most popular apps, such as Search and the Google Play store, they have historically had to sign agreements to place those apps “immediately adjacent” to the home screen, according to signed contracts reported by the Wall Street Journal.

Cyanogen’s version of Android, however, would release device makers from those contractual obligations. That would mean if Microsoft made hardware running Cyanogen’s Android, it would be freed up to put its on apps front and center.

Can’t Microsoft just puts its apps on the phones it already makes?

Sure, but Microsoft’s Windows Phones comprise only 3% of the global market. That’s why Microsoft has recently unleashed its flagship apps for iPhone and Android phones. Apple iPhone and iMac users have already downloaded Word, Powerpoint and Excel more than 80 million times to date. Now that its apps are in a polygamous relationship with rival devices, Microsoft might want to ensure they get front and center on all devices.

Will Google let that happen?

Probably not without a fight. The whole purpose of the free Android giveaway is to route as many users as possible to its search pages, where it gets millions of eyeballs on its advertisements — and Google’s ad business, especially on mobile, is already showing weaknesses.

TIME apps

iPhone and Android Finally Have a Full-Featured Outlook App

It's Microsoft's latest move to make cross-platform apps

Microsoft freed Outlook email from the confines of the office PC on Thursday, releasing for the first time fully-featured Outlook apps for iPhones, iPads and Android devices.

The new Outlook apps are now available for download through Apple’s iTunes and the Google Play store. While Microsoft previously offered versions of Outlook for iOS and Android, neither had the power of this new software.

MicrosoftOutlook for iOS and Android

Microsoft’s move comes on the heels of its decision to release a motherlode of its flagship software from Word to Excel as mobile-friendly apps that work across a range of devices.

“To date, we’ve seen more than 80 million downloads of Office on iPhone and iPad worldwide,” Microsoft said in a public statement. “We have received tremendous customer request for Outlook across all devices, so we are thrilled to fulfill this for our customers.”

The new Outlook mobile app includes familiar features, such as swipe gestures for rapid archiving and machine learning algorithms that learn which emails the user is most likely to read and pushes them to the top of the inbox. What sets the app apart is a built-in calendar, enabling the user to schedule an appointment within the app, rather than laboriously copy and paste event details in a second, calendar app.

Microsoft on Thursday also released new versions of its Word, Excel and PowerPoint apps for Android tablets.

MONEY Tech

You’ve Bought a Lot of iPhones Lately

Phone sales drove Apple's revenue to nearly $75 billion in its latest quarter, the most profitable one in the company’s history. Apple's revenue was higher than Microsoft's and Google's combined.

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