TIME Ask TIME Tech

Amazon’s Kindles Compared: Voyage vs Paperwhite vs Standard

Kindles
Amazon's new Kindle Voyage e-book reader sits atop last year's Kindle Paperwhite Doug Aamoth / TIME

Amazon’s Kindle e-book readers are generally hot holiday items, so let’s explore the various differences between the three available models.

There’s the new $199+ Kindle Voyage, the $119+ Kindle Paperwhite and the $79+ standard Kindle to choose from. Here’s a closer look at what you’re getting.

Screen

Size

Choosing by screen size is easy since they’re all six inches diagonally. Things change once we dig into resolutions and lighting technology.

Resolution

The Kindle Voyage has the best screen, with a 300 pixels-per-inch resolution. The more pixels smooshed into an inch of screen, the better everything looks. The Kindle Paperwhite smooshes 212 pixels into an inch; the standard Kindle smooshes 167 pixels into an inch.

The big question is whether your eyes can discern the differences. I can tell you that when looking at the Paperwhite and the Voyage side by side, the difference is noticeable when looking at graphics and slightly less noticeable when looking at text. The standard Kindle looks… I wouldn’t say “the worst” because it doesn’t look bad. It just looks least good; let’s say that. I’d say the $40 jump from the standard Kindle to the Kindle Paperwhite is a much better value than the $80 jump from the Paperwhite to the Voyage, though.

Reading Light

The standard Kindle has no light; the Paperwhite and Voyage both have built-in lights. They both max out at nearly the same brightness, although the Voyage looks a little cleaner and whiter, and can automatically adjust its screen brightness to match your environment.

Touchscreen

All three devices feature touchscreens, though the Kindle Voyage features squeeze-able side bezels that allow you to turn pages back and forth as well. There’s a nice little vibration feedback with each press when using the Voyage.

Video: Kindle Paperwhite vs Kindle Voyage

Here’s a closer look at the $119 Paperwhite up against the $199 Voyage, with some analysis of all three models at the end:

Storage

Wondering which Kindle can hold the most books? The answer is yes. Yes to any of them: They all have four gigabytes of storage, good for over a thousand books.

Size

The Kindle Voyage is the smallest, measuring 6.4″ long by 4.5″ wide by 0.3″ thick and starting at 6.3 ounces (the 3G version weighs 6.6 ounces).

The Kindle Paperwhite measures 6.7″ long by 4.5″ wide by 0.36″ thick and starts at 7.3 ounces (the 3G version weighs 7.6 ounces). The standard Kindle measures 6.7″ long by 4.7″ wide by 0.4″ thick and weighs 6.7 ounces (there’s no 3G version).

They’re all incredibly portable. I’m not sure buying one over the other based on a tenth of an inch here or an ounce there makes a whole lot of sense, but those are the measurements.

Battery Life

The standard Kindle lasts up to four weeks on a single charge, assuming a half hour of reading each day with the wireless connection turned off. It fully charges within four hours.

The Kindle Voyage lasts up to six weeks on a single charge, assuming a half hour of reading each day with the wireless connection turned off and the light set at 10 (the max is 24). It fully charges within three hours.

The Kindle Paperwhite lasts up to eight weeks on a single charge, assuming a half hour of reading each day with the wireless connection turned off and the light set at 10 (the max is 24). It fully charges within four hours.

So as we see here, the Paperwhite actually has the best battery life. That’s probably a factor of its screen not having to push as many pixels around as the Voyage’s screen. The Paperwhite being ever so slightly thicker than the Voyage might make for a slightly higher-capacity battery as well.

3G or Not 3G?

That is the question. Adding a 3G cellular connection to your Kindle Paperwhite or Kindle Voyage adds $70 to the price tag, but results in being able to download books anywhere you have an AT&T signal — over 100 countries and territories are covered (see this map). There are no monthly service charges for downloading books, though you might incur added charges for downloading magazines and other periodicals.

If you read a lot of books and want to be able to download new ones frequently — especially while you’re on the move — the 3G version of whichever Kindle you’re considering is a no-brainer. If you’re going to be using the Kindle at home a lot or you’ll be around accessible Wi-Fi networks, save the $70.

Best Bet

To be clear, the new Kindle Voyage is an amazing e-book reader. It’s super portable, its screen is gorgeous and the added haptic-feedback page turns are a nice touch. However, the $119 Kindle Paperwhite is still a dynamite e-book reader and is a very worthy upgrade for $40 over the standard Kindle because of its higher-resolution screen and its built-in light. Making the $80 jump from the $119 Paperwhite to the $199 Voyage is simply a much tougher sell.

TIME How-To

Ask TIME Tech: Good Cheap Tablet for Skype?

We've got a $100 limit and a bunch of real-time video to sling back and forth. Let's go!

Question: My husband and I recently had our first child and we want to be able to Skype with my mom and dad. We (my husband and I) both have iPhones and iPads, so we looked in to FaceTime, but an iPad or iPhone for my parents seemed too expensive. They have a computer, but they don’t like using it all that much, although that could be an option in a pinch. Is there a good, inexpensive tablet we could get them, though? We’d like to keep it around $100 or less if possible.

Short answer: Get Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD 6 for $99 or use their existing computer for free.

Long answer: FaceTime is great if everyone has Apple produ–I’m so sorry: Congratulations on your new baby! I just launched right into the answer like a nerdy robot. Rude. I have a child, too. He’s about to turn one. We actually have a similar problem in my family, too, with everyone on different mobile platforms.

Anyway, enough with the small talk. To get Mom and Dad on the FaceTime train, your cheapest option would be to get them an iPod Touch, which is like a phone-less iPhone. Those start at $200; iPads and iPhones go up from there.

Now, if they have a relatively new-ish Mac computer, they’re already able to FaceTime with you guys. They can downloaded FaceTime from the Mac App Store here if they don’t already have it. It’s free. And if they have just about any type of computer with a webcam, they can use Skype for free — download it here.

An easy, cheap, portable option that doesn’t tie Mom and Dad to the computer, though, would be Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD 6 tablet. It’s got a powerful enough processor to handle Skype video chats, sports both front- and rear-facing cameras — which is an area where cheap tablets tend to skimp by only including one camera — and has an easy-to-use interface.

The screen measures six inches diagonally, which is small for a tablet. That makes it easy to hold in one hand, but if your parents have poor eyesight or they just want to watch Junior waddle around on as big a screen as possible, this option is almost like giving them an oversized smartphone. The screen itself is sharp, though.

You didn’t mention which kinds of iPhones you and your husband have, but here’s the Amazon tablet sandwiched in between a Kindle Paperwhite e-reader on the left and an iPhone 5S on the right:

Skype Kindle Fire HD
Kindle Paperwhite e-reader (left), Kindle Fire HD 6 tablet (middle), iPhone 5S (right) Doug Aamoth / TIME

The tablet is sized like a thicker, heavier e-reader. Your parents can read books on it, too, along with doing a bunch of other stuff, so that might be a bonus. If they want to use it only for Skype, that’s perfectly fine.

Once they get the tablet, here’s a quick step-by-step for installing Skype. You can either send them to this article and have them watch this quick video or tell them what to do by stepping them through the directions after the video:

Basically, they’ll want to tap “Apps” at the top of the tablet’s main screen, then “Store” in the upper-right corner (there’s a shopping-cart icon), then “Search” in the upper-right corner, then type “Skype” and hit the magnifying glass in the lower-right corner of the keyboard.

Careful: That magnifying glass is right above another magnifying glass that searches the entire tablet. And there are two Skype apps that pop up in the search results. They’ll want to tap the second one. The first one is called “Skype WiFi” and searches for Wi-Fi hotspots. They want the second one: plain old “Skype” with the “S” logo.

They’ll need to create a Skype account, of course. They can create one here or from directly within the app when it first launches.

Good luck!

TIME Apple

iPhone 6: 8 Reasons to Buy, 6 Reasons to Wait

Do you really need one of Apple's bigger iPhones? These 14 pros and cons should help you decide.

Apple just made it a lot harder to pick an iPhone.

The company recently introduced not one, but two new iPhones: the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, both of which you can order on September 12, and pick up when they go on sale September 19.

But with the iPhone 5c and 5s still formally in the running and price-reduced, that means you now have four iPhones to choose from. What’s more, the spectrum of features keeps growing, making that choice about as involved as it’s ever been.

I’m just going to focus on the new iPhones, though if you want to scan our iPhone 5s rundown from last September, you can find that here.

On your mark, get set…pros!

Reasons to Buy

The return of curves (assuming you like curves)

Remember the original iPhone way back when? That thing, you probably forgot, had a half-curved edge (from the back) before Apple shifted to a frame nearer hard right angles.

The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are like that original frame, but more holistically executed: what Apple calls “a continuous, seamless design,” meaning the surface is texturally unbroken, and the cover glass (“ion-strengthened,” referring to a process in which one type of ion is exchanged for another to make the glass more durable) meets the anodized aluminum backing without tactile differentiation.

Apple adds that these are its thinnest iPhones yet, with thicknesses of 0.27 inches (the iPhone 6) and 0.28 inches (the iPhone 6 Plus). That’s hair-splitting: the iPhone 5s is only fractionally thicker at 0.30 inches, and good luck discerning hundredths of an inch. But I suppose it gives Apple’s marketing team another bragging point.

The new 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch higher-resolution displays

Apple calls the iPhone 6’s new 4.7- and 5.5-inch diagonal screens “Retina HD displays.” That’s a marketing term and something of a misnomer: a tautological way of talking about technology that’s already outpaced your eye’s ability to spot discrete pixels.

But for those that like bigger numbers, the displays are notably higher resolution: 1334 by 750 pixels (326 pixels per inch, or over one million pixels, a tick higher than 720p) for the iPhone 6 and 1920 by 1080 pixels (401 pixels per inch, or over two million pixels, and native 1080p) for the iPhone 6 Plus. The new screens also have broader viewing angles, says Apple, and the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus have dramatically higher 1400:1 and 1300:1 contrast ratios, respectively, compared with the 4-inch 1136 by 640 pixels (326 pixels per inch) screen with 800:1 contrast ratio found on past models.

Size-wise, the new screens make these significantly bigger phones overall, which I’m putting in the pro and con column depending on your smartphone-versus-phablet proclivities: 6.22 inches high by 3.06 inches wide (the iPhone 6 Plus) and 5.44 inches high by 2.64 inches wide (the iPhone 6), compared with the iPhone 5s’s 4.87 inches high by 2.31 inches wide.

What about older apps? Apple claims they scale up to the new resolutions just fine. We’ll see. Generally speaking, scaling’s less of an issue on screens this dimensionally small. Interpolation, which is what scalers do to fill in missing pixel data, is a problem more when you’re dealing with much bigger display spaces, say the troublesome blurriness you get running Nintendo’s Wii at 640 by 480 pixels (480p) out to a giant 50- or 60-inch 1920 by 1080 pixel (1080p) screen.

Apple’s also throwing in a new “landscape view” unique to the iPhone 6 Plus, so if you want to view traditionally portrait-locked apps sideways, the new landscape view lets you tap around the home screen’s rows of icons sideways, and adds functionality (like side-by-side panes, as well as a bigger keyboard) to apps that have been optimized for it. In other words, as The Verge put it during its Apple event live blog, it’s a little like an iPad Mini Mini.

The new phones have even zippier processors

Meet the A8 chip, Apple’s second-gen 64-bit offering with some 2 billion transistors, which Apple describes as sporting “up to 25% faster processing power and up to 50% faster graphics.” If you’re after some of the fastest phablets on the planet, the new iPhones are probably going to rank at the front of the pack.

Battery life is slightly to significantly better

The iPhone 6 Plus has a larger battery, which lends it the ability to do up to 80 hours of audio (versus 60 for the iPhone 6 and 50 for the iPhone 5s), 14 hours of video (11 and 10 for the iPhone 6 and 5s respectively), an hour or two more than the iPhone 6 and 5s when browsing over Wi-Fi, LTE and 3G, up to 24 hours of talk time over 3G (versus 14 and 10 for the iPhone 6 and 5s respectively) and 16 days of standby (versus just 10 days for both the iPhone 6 and 5s).

All the new tech tweaks, especially to the cameras

The new iPhones now include a barometer (to check air pressure and measure elevation — important for the new Health app in iOS 8), 802.11ac support (theoretically up to three times faster than the iPhone 5s’s 802.11n), a new M8 motion coprocessor (the iPhone 5c uses the M7) and a new Wi-Fi calling option, “for making high-quality calls when cell conditions are poor.”

But the coolest-sounding improvements are clearly to the iSight and FaceTime cameras. The 1080p iSight camera in both phones is still 8MP with 1.5µ pixels and ƒ/2.2 aperture (just like the iPhone 5s’s), but includes a new sensor that supports an autofocus-enhancing feature called “Focus Pixels” found in high-end DSLR cameras. Apple says autofocus is much faster (and continuous — important for video), local tone mapping and noise reduction have been improved, you can shoot video at 30 or 60 frames per second and take slo-mo video at both 120 and 240 frames per second. The cameras also include video stabilization (and the iPhone 6 Plus specifically includes optical as opposed to digital image stabilization, meaning the lens moves to compensate for shaking), and the new phones can identify faces (and blinking, and smiling) more efficiently whether close up or further away. What’s more, your panorama shots can be up to a whopping 43 megapixels now.

The still-720p, 1.2 megapixel FaceTime camera has been upgraded, too, with a new sensor and larger ƒ/2.2 aperture, bringing it up to par with the iSight in that regard. It can also do automatic high dynamic range in videos (the iPhone 5s only supports this in photo mode) and has a “burst” mode, which Apple says will let you take up to 10 photos (or selfies) a second.

The new iPhones can finally talk and chew data at the same time

Apple’s best iPhones until today could do up to 100 Mbps LTE with 13 bands. The new iPhones can do up to 150Mbps, supports 20 bands (more than any other smartphone, claims Apple) and more than 200 LTE carriers worldwide.

More importantly, the new phones support “Voice over LTE,” or VoLTE. If you want a more detailed explanation of what VoLTE is, see here. But in summary, so long as your LTE carrier supports it, expect improved voice audio quality, and that you’ll no longer see your voice call connection throw your data link under the bus.

You want to pay for stuff with your phone

Apple Pay, which is what Apple’s calling its new pay-with-your-phone service, is Apple’s bid to make cash, checks and plastic credit cards obsolete by coupling the new iPhones’ NFC antennas with a TouchID fingerprint sensor. Imagine walking up to some store’s cashwrap, holding your phone near a sensor and simply fingering the TouchID button to make the transaction. Apple says it’s really that simple, and that it’ll support Visa, MasterCard and American Express at launch.

We’re talking about a highly theoretical pro, bear that in mind, and plenty of other companies have tried and fumbled with digital wallets. But if it works as simply and securely as Apple says, including the company’s provocative claim that Apple Pay is more secure than keeping cards in your wallet, it could be the deal-clincher many have been waiting for. I’m loathe to posit cliches about Apple being more likely to pull something like this off than any other big company with a compelling idea, but to the extent economic and political cachet matters, Apple still has it.

You get more storage for your buck

Recent iPhones have scaled from 16GB to 32GB to 64GB at $100 price intervals from a base of $199. The new iPhones still scale at $100 intervals, but jump from 16GB to 64GB, then up to 128GB. That means you’re getting 32GB more for the same relative price via the midrange model, and 64GB more for the high-end model.

Okay, that’s the feature-related pros list out of the way. Here’s why you might want to wait:

Reasons to Wait

These are big phones

Not ridiculously big, say like Sony’s 6.4-inch diagonal Xperia Z Ultra, but still big for iPhone owners who, even after Apple’s 0.5-inch iPhone 5 uptick years ago (from the original models’ 3.5-inch diagonal screens), have been accustomed to holding a slender device, width-wise.

If you’re no fan of phablets (or the idea of phablets, if you’ve never held one), you might want to wait to pull the trigger on a preorder and heft one of the new iPhones for yourself, just to be sure.

Apple’s flagship iPhone is $100 more expensive than usual

The starter 16GB iPhone 6 is $199 with a standard two-year contract, just like prior flagship iPhones at launch. But the 16GB iPhone 6 Plus — and let’s not mince words: that’s the model 4-inch iPhone upgraders are going to want — is $299.

If you just want an iPhone that’ll run iOS 8 seamlessly, offers all the basic features and plenty of the advanced features found in the new iPhones, and actually prefer thinner 4-inch smartphones, the 16GB iPhone 5s is now just $99, and the 8GB iPhone 5c is free (both with two-year contracts).

The new processor’s pushing a lot of pixels around

Bear in mind that a lot of the A8’s processing horsepower has to go toward animating all those extra pixels in both the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus (processing overhead increases exponentially as you scale up, pixel-wise). In practice, it probably means games for the new phones are going to look roughly the same as the sort of games you’re already playing on your other 64-bit iOS devices, complexity-wise. “Metal,” Apple’s better-optimized developmental 3D interface for iOS, is supposed to change that somewhat, but not just for A8.

Also, don’t get confused by claims about the iPhone 6 Plus playing games at “higher” resolutions than next-generation consoles (higher PPIs, yes, higher resolutions, no): 1080p is the PlayStation 4’s lingua franca (the iPhone 6 Plus tops out at 1080p, and the iPhone 6 at just above 720p).

More importantly, who cares? At 401 or 326 pixels per inch on incredibly small screens when compared to TVs, games with half the graphical bells and whistles tend to look just as good as games on high-end PCs or consoles. It’s a “how much detail can your eye differentiate at 4.7 to 5.5 inches diagonal” thing.

You want an iWatch but don’t need a new iPhone

The iWatch, which requires the iPhone, starts at $349 and goes up from there, so buying an iWatch and an iPhone 6 (much less an iPhone 6 Plus) is going to set you back quite a bit more than you might otherwise have budgeted for just a phone.

The good news: so long as you have an iPhone 5 or better, you can use Apple’s new iWatch when it arrives sometime in “early 2015.”

Apple Pay

Apple was just involved in a public kerfuffle involving the theft of sensitive photos from various high-profile personalities’ iCloud accounts. What technically happened and who’s technically responsible is debatable, but it hasn’t helped the company’s image from a consumer confidence standpoint.

Apple has a point when it claims, in theory, that Apple Pay ought to be more secure than cards in your wallet. In practice, however, it’s a giant question mark. So if you’d rather wait for competent security firms to weigh in (there’s nothing wrong or unduly paranoid about that), you can pull Apple Pay out of the “pro-new-iPhone” column.

Your contract’s not up

Welcome to my world (I have to wait until October to buy one of these things). Do you have three to four times the contract price lying around to pay in full for the 16 GB, 64 GB or 128 GB iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus? Neither do I.

TIME Computers

Need a Cheap Chromebook? Here’s How to Pick One

Let's make sense of all these sub-$300, browser-based laptops.

If you’re shopping for a cheap laptop, there’s a good chance you’ve crossed paths with a few Chromebooks.

Instead of running Windows, these lightweight, inexpensive notebooks are based entirely on Google’s Chrome web browser. So while you can’t install traditional programs such as Office and Photoshop, you can use web-based substitutes like the free Office Online and Pixlr. In exchange, you’ll get a computer that boots up quickly, is safe from viruses, doesn’t have any obnoxious bloatware and is optimized for browsing the web.

Although inexpensive Chromebooks have been around for a couple years, we’ve seen a lot more of them lately, and from a wider range of vendors. With so much competition among these sub-$300 laptops, here’s some help picking the best one for your needs.

The Cheapest Chromebook: Acer C720 (2 GB RAM)

Acer

This Acer Chromebook originally had a sticker price of $199, but for some reason the price has recently gone up at most stores. Fortunately you can still snag one at Best Buy for $179, which is the cheapest price I’ve seen for any Chromebook.

Compared to other low-cost Chromebooks, the Acer C720 is a bit heavier, and its fan will produce some noise as you work. Its build quality is also on the chintzy side, and the 2 GB of RAM isn’t great for keeping lots of browser tabs open at once. Still, for basic browsing, it gets the job done at a (currently) unbeatable price.

The Prettiest Chromebook: HP Chromebook 11

HP

I called this one a “vanity laptop” when I reviewed it last fall. It has, by far, the most gorgeous display you’ll find on any Chromebook. We’re talking MacBook quality in terms of viewing angles and contrast, while most other Chromebooks wash out when you tilt them just slightly away from you. The keyboard is also solid, the speakers are loud and you’ve got to love the blue accents on the shiny white chassis.

But the HP Chromebook falters on performance, as it can lag when switching between heavy web pages, and it only gets around five hours on a charge. (You can top it up with a MicroUSB cable, which is kind of neat.) If you can deal with those shortcomings and prefer something thin, light and easy to look at, this is your Chromebook. Best Buy has it for $229.

The Best All-Around Chromebooks: Asus C200 and C300

Asus

Asus’ C200 ($229 at Walmart) and C300 ($229 at Amazon) are part of a new wave of Chromebooks hitting the market this summer, with a fanless design made possible by Intel’s latest Bay Trail processors. That means they won’t make any noise as you use them, and they’re both quite light, at 2.5 pounds for the 11-inch C200 and 3.1 pounds for the 13-inch C300. Best of all, both laptops get about 10 hours of battery life on a charge.

As a trade-off, these laptops can’t quite keep up with the processor in the cheaper Acer Chromebook, but it’s probably not something you’d notice in most cases. Asus’ two Chromebooks are solid all-around performers, and your best options if you’re willing to pay more than bottom dollar.

The Sub-$300 Workhorse: Acer C720 (4 GB RAM)

This Chromebook used to be a solid choice at $250, but now I can’t find it anywhere at that price. Still, even at $271 from Newegg, it’s the cheapest Chromebook available with 4 GB of RAM. You’ll want the extra memory if you’re planning to juggle dozens of browser tabs at once. It seems that Acer has discontinued this laptop in favor of a Core i3 model that’s probably overkill for most users, so get it while you can.

Whatever you decide, don’t fret over it too much. I’ve used a lot of Chromebooks over the past few years, and they all offer the same basic benefits in terms of speedy startup times, security and ease of use. As long as you’re not expecting a full-blown operating system like Windows or Mac OSX, chances are you’ll be satisfied with your choice.

These prices and configurations are good as of August 18, 2014.

TIME Ask TIME Tech

13 Streaming Music Services Compared by Price, Quality, Catalog Size and More

Beats Music, Google Play, iTunes, Pandora, Rdio, Spotify and others: See which one's best for you.

Forget for a moment how profitable streaming music services are (not terribly), or how much they’re paying in royalties to rights holders (or in particular, how much is ultimately trickling down to the artists). Those things couldn’t be more important when you get down to it, but they’re also intangible figures we’re left to speculate about, since full disclosure of a revenue network as complex and legally tortuous as the music industry’s is inconceivable.

So let’s talk about what we do know, in the wake of curation-angled streamer Pandora hiking its rates by a buck a month, and revisit how the top music services currently available in the U.S. stack up from a subscription pricing and features standpoint.

The chart below summarizes what I believe most are looking for when weighing options: catalog size, maximum streaming quality (note that in most — if not all — cases, the streaming quality will be lower if your connection is slow or fickle), platforms supported and pricing.

I’ve done my best to provide the most up-to-date info, but bear in mind that streaming services are moving — and in some cases murky — targets: not all services update information like catalog size routinely, and where you’re talking about millions of songs and ongoing catalog negotiations, it probably changes frequently. I’ve also tried to list all of the most notable platforms, mobile or otherwise, but a few of these services support a smattering of others (Sonos, Roku, etc.) that I’ve left out for brevity’s sake.

Catalog Quality Platforms Price
Beats Music 20m 320 Kbps Android, iOS, Web, Windows $10/mo.
Google Play 20m 320 Kbps Android, iOS, Web Free or $10/mo. extras
Grooveshark Unknown Unknown Android, Web Free w/ads, $6/mo., $9/mo. mobile
iHeartRadio 15m Unknown Android, BlackBerry, iOS, Web, Windows, Xbox Free
iTunes Radio 26m 256 Kbps Apple TV, iOS, OS X, Windows Free w/ads or $25/yr
Last.fm Variable 128 Kbps Android, iOS, Linux, OS X, Windows, Sonos, Web Free or $3/mo. extras
Sony Music 25m 320 Kbps Android, iOS, PlayStation, Web, TVs $5/mo. or $10/mo. mobile
Pandora 1m 192 Kbps Android, BlackBerry, iOS, Roku, Sonos, Web, Xbox Free w/ads or $5/mo.
Rhapsody 32m 192 Kbps Android, iOS, Web, Windows, Xbox $10/mo.
Rdio 20m 192 Kbps Android, BlackBerry, iOS, OS X, Web, Windows $5/mo., $10/mo. mobile, $18/mo. family
Slacker 13m 128 Kbps Android, iOS, Web, Windows, Xbox Free w/ads, $4/mo., $10/mo. extras
Spotify 20m 320 Kbps Android, BlackBerry, iOS, OS X, Windows $10/mo.
Xbox Music 30m 192 Kbps Android, iOS, Web, Windows, Xbox $10/mo., $60/yr for Xbox Live to listen on Xbox

Beats Music

Created by musician/producer Dr. Dre and Interscope/Geffen/A&M chair Jimmy Iovine to replace MOG, Beats Music (reviewed by my colleague Harry McCracken here) has been described as a hybrid of Spotify and Pandora: a sort of middle ground, on-demand music service that marries the former’s expansive catalog and direct control of it, to the latter’s “What do I listen to next?” taste curation — though in Beats’ case, it emphasizes listening lists cultivated by human tastemakers over rote computer algorithms. Streaming quality is strong, at up to 320 Kbps.

Monthly cost: $10 individual, $15 family (up to five members on up to 10 devices, exclusive to AT&T Mobility).

Google Play Music

I had mixed feelings about Google Play Music when it launched last May with fewer perks than a service like Spotify. But if you prefer Google’s online app-related modus operandi, Google Play Music lets you upload up to 20,000 songs of your choosing (accessible across all devices), or for $10 a month, access its catalog of 20 million songs, listen to them offline and create playlists as well as themed radio stations with unlimited skips.

Monthly cost: Free, $10 individual for extra features.

Grooveshark

Launched in 2006, Grooveshark is arguably the black sheep of the bunch if you factor turbulent relations with publishers into the equation: the company, which offers a vast catalog of music through a web interface and Android devices, has been embroiled in legal battles for alleged copyright violations for years (for which Apple eventually kicked it off the App Store, thus it’s not an iOS contender). But on the features front, it’s an interesting amalgam of elements, allowing you to upload your own MP3s, see what friends have been listening to (or subscribe to their playlists) or fiddle with recommendation algorithms derived from users’ ratings of songs.

Monthly cost: Free with ads, $6 individual, $10 individual to access mobile app.

iHeartRadio

iHeartRadio is the only completely free service in the mix, with ad-free streaming of some 15 million songs supporting multiple platforms. The kicker, of course, is that it works like an actual radio station, meaning you can nudge it in a musical direction, but you’ll have to listen to its picks.

Monthly cost: Free

iTunes Radio

Apple’s approach to streaming music is an extension of its iTunes application, thus restricting it to Apple products or iTunes-supported platforms. You gain access to Apple’s impressive catalog of some 26 million tracks, but like Pandora and iHeartRadio, you’re restricted to giving the service directions by selecting an artist, song or genre, then listening as it queues a medley of related tunes, with a limit of six skips per hour (per station).

Monthly cost: Free with ads, free (no ads) with $25/year iTunes Match subscription.

Last.fm

One of the oldest members in this list, Last.fm is a free (no ads) music recommendation tool that keeps track of everything you’ve listened to — a feature endearingly known as “scrobbling,” though Last.fm’s contemporary rivals now offer the same essential functionality — to devise music recommendations. The service has a unique Wiki-like angle, in that users can collaborate to provide annotative material for tracks.

Monthly cost: Free, $3 for extra features.

Music Unlimited

Sony’s streaming music service, Music Unlimited — formerly known as Qriocity — leverages the company’s massive music catalog across its array of Sony-branded devices (TVs, phones, games consoles, etc.) with high-quality playback on par with Spotify, Beats Music and Google Play.

Monthly cost: $5 individual, $10 individual to access mobile apps.

Pandora

The catalyst for this piece was Pandora announcing a fee hike for ad-free music by $1 a month, effective this May (according to Reuters, it’s to cover escalating licensing costs). The only trouble with an automated music streamer like Pandora — another of this list’s oldest members — is the size of its comparably diminutive music catalog: just a million songs. The service’s curation process masks this somewhat, but even at the free-with-ads end of the pool, the service is starting to look awfully threadbare, massive listener base or no.

Monthly cost: Free with ads, $5 individual.

Rdio

Arguably one of Spotify’s chief rivals in terms of dynamism and value, Rdio offers moderate-quality streaming of a Spotify-sized music catalog with offline playback support, robust social networking features and one of the friendliest interfaces of the bunch.

Monthly cost: $5 individual, $10 individual to access mobile apps, $18 family.

Rhapsody

Spotify’s other major rival, Rhapsody, offers a sprawling subscription as well as MP3 download service that’s grown from 16 million songs just a few years ago to 32 million today (thanks in large part to the service’s acquisition of Napster in 2011). Part of Rhapsody’s appeal is its breadth: I’ve listed the primary platforms in my chart above, but according to the company, the service is available on “more than 70 consumer electronics devices.”

Monthly cost: $10 individual.

Slacker Radio

Before Beats Music, Slacker Radio was doing “expert”-created music stations (by professional DJs, says Slacker), and that’s still one of its selling points, offered in either free-with-ads or pay-to-zap-ads tiers. It’s another of the automatic curation streamers, meaning you’re left to the whims of its algorithms (based on your selections), though there’s a premium service option that gives you ready access to select songs on demand.

Monthly cost: Free with ads, $4 individual, $10 individual for extras (including on-demand streaming).

Spotify

Probably the best known streamer of the bunch for its meteoric rise in recent years, Spotify offers high fidelity streaming and a robust 20-million song catalog across a range of platforms with conventional social networking options, all for a flat take-it-or-leave-it $10 a month. The trouble with Spotify these days is that its desktop interface could do with a radical overhaul, and it’s arguably flushing revenue down the drain by ignoring the demographic clamoring for a family subscription option.

Monthly cost: $10 individual.

Xbox Music

Fire up Xbox Music and you’ll almost be seduced by its elegant promise: 30 million on-demand songs (the largest catalog going), a visually pleasing interface, a “smart DJ” radio feature, a cloud-match service for your local tunes and solid multi-platform support. But then the kickers kick in, chief among them the fact that Xbox Music is an embedded subscription: you’ll need an Xbox Pass ($10 a month) subscription for unlimited streaming, plus a $60-per-year Xbox Live subscription if you want to listen on your Xbox.

Monthly cost: $10 individual, plus $60 a year for Xbox Live for Xbox subscribers.

TIME How-To

Quick Tech Trick: Type Less with Text Shortcuts for Your Phone

There's no reason to type out commonly-used phrases over and over again.

Here are the steps for iPhone:

1. Go to Settings > General > Keyboard

2. Under Shortcuts, choose Add New Shortcut…

3. Type the full phrase in the phrase box (“On my way!”) and the shortcut in the Shortcut box (“omw”)

4. The next time you want to type “On my way!” simply type “omw” and hit the space bar

Here are the steps for the stock version of Android:

1. Go to Settings > Language & Input > Personal dictionary

2. Hit the plus symbol to add a new term

3. Type the full phrase in the first box (“On my way!”) and the shortcut in the Shortcut box (“omw”)

4. The next time you want to type “On my way!” simply type “omw” and choose “On my way!” from the selection menu above the keyboard

Your version of Android may differ, but it’s generally somewhere in the Keyboard and/or Language & Input section of the settings menu.

More Quick Tech Tricks:

TIME Social Networking

Facebook’s WhatsApp Acquisition Explained

Also: How you, too, can make a $19 billion smartphone app. Also: Not really.

Now that Facebook is planning to acquire WhatsApp for $19 billion, perhaps your head is swimming with questions. Among them: How can I also make billions of dollars by selling my mobile app to Facebook? As someone who writes about technology for a living and who’s definitely not a billionaire, I can’t answer that for you. But I can help with some other things you might want to know:

What is WhatsApp?

It’s a messaging app you can use in place of your wireless carrier’s regular texting service. You enter your phone number and WhatsApp looks through your contact list for other people who are using the app. Then you can message those users all you want without limits or overage charges. The app is available on many platforms and is free to download and has no ads, but it costs $1 per year after the first year.

How popular is it?

Right now, WhatsApp has more than 450 million active users — meaning they use the service at least once a month — compared to 1.23 billion for Facebook. Those users send 500 million pictures back and forth per day, about 150 million more than Facebook.

How much money is $19 billion in the startup world, exactly?

A lot. My colleague Harry McCracken put together a chart of big startup acquisitions, and WhatsApp is the biggest. Most deals don’t come anywhere close. Bigger companies tend to change hands for a lot more money, however. For instance, Comcast wants to buy Time Warner Cable for $45 billion.

Is Facebook going to kill WhatsApp and/or ruin it with advertisements?

That’s not the plan. Facebook says WhatsApp will act like an independent company and stay in its own Mountain View, Calif. headquarters. The product will stay ad-free, and the two companies will focus on growth for the next few years. Then, they’ll figure out how to make money in some way that doesn’t involve shoveling ads into the app. (Harvesting all that sweet, sweet user data for targeted ads on Facebook or Instagram would be the safe bet, but more on that shortly.)

Is WhatsApp going to change at all, then?

WhatApp says nothing will change. Perhaps the $1 per year charge will go away at some point, given that Facebook says it’s not a big priority to expand subscriptions.

One potential downside: WhatsApp may become less inclined to work with companies that compete with Facebook, or vice versa. See, for reference, Instagram killing Twitter integration in 2012, several months after Twitter cut off its contact lists for Instagram users. We can only speculate that Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram — or Twitter’s previous failed acquisition — had something to do with the bad blood.

So why is Facebook spending so much money for WhatsApp?

This is the fun part, because every tech pundit thinks they’ve figured out the “real” reason for the acquisition, when in reality everyone’s just making educated guesses.

If there is a “real” answer, it’s probably a combination of several theories, some of which are related. Here’s a sampling:

  • Facebook wants the photos. See the above statistics about how more people share photos on WhatsApp than on Facebook. It’s too big of an activity for Facebook not to own, says Sarah Lacy at PandoDaily.
  • Facebook is becoming a social media conglomerate. Kara Swisher at Re/Code paints Facebook as a Disney-like media giant. It may not be able to own every popular service, but it can become the dominant player with different tools like Instagram and WhatsApp in its arsenal. Each one does things that the other property can’t.
  • Facebook lives in fear of being disrupted in mobile. At this point, Facebook is pretty safe from becoming the next MySpace or Friendster, but it can’t risk losing peoples’ attention at the hands of newer, cooler apps, BuzzFeed’s John Herrman argues.
  • Facebook needs to expand its Europe and emerging markets presence. As TechCrunch’s Josh Constine notes, WhatsApp is huge in developing countries. Facebook could also use WhatsApp to help bring more people online through subsidized Internet, which Facebook already offers in some countries. The acquisition is a shortcut to owning those growing markets.
  • Facebook must buy its way into “ephemeral” and/or “dark social” communications. Just think about all the stuff you talk about, the photos you send and the links you share when you’re communicating privately — if not through WhatsApp then through something else like e-mail — instead of broadcasting to your Timeline. All that data is invisible to Facebook, unless you use Facebook Messenger. (And if Messenger was hugely popular, Facebook wouldn’t need WhatsApp.) WhatsApp can provide troves of data about the things we’re really interested in, which can then be used for targeted advertising on other Facebook properties. Alexis Madrigal’s 2012 post on Dark Social helps put this idea in context.

Oh, and Facebook’s official line is that it acquired WhatsApp to “make the world more open and connected,” which is probably as true as it is vague. Mark Zuckerberg always seems genuine in his world-changing ambitions, but there’s always the business side to keep in mind.

The overarching themes here are about attention and user data. WhatsApp has proven it can capture the former, and while Facebook says it has very little of the latter from WhatsApp, that can change, and messaging can become a rich data source for Facebook’s core advertising business. Perhaps that sounds scary, but it’s not much different from how Gmail works now.

How will we know when this starts happening? Just wait for the inevitable revision of privacy policies allowing WhatsApp and Facebook to freely share their data with one another.

TIME Smartphones

Which Wireless Plan Is Cheapest?

It's 2014 and wireless carriers are changing all their plans. This used to be a lot simpler.

Smartphone wireless plans didn’t used to be so complicated. You handed over about $200 for the phone, tried to get by with the minimum amount of voice, text and data — most carriers charged about $70 per month — and paid a little extra if you needed more.

Now, carriers want you to figure out exactly how much data you’ll use, down to the gigabyte. Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile would also like you to stop paying up-front for a subsidized phone and instead pay the full price in monthly installments. In exchange, they’ll give you cheaper service, and may even let you upgrade to a new phone more often. But the discount you actually get depends on which carrier you’re on, how much data you’re using and how many people are on your family plan.

And just when you think you’ve got it figured out, the carriers change their pricing structures again. That’s what happened this week when Verizon announced its “More Everything” plans, and last week when AT& T introduced its Mobile Share Value plans. The goal of both plans is to make early upgrades less of a ripoff than before.

So here’s what we’re going to do: Below are two charts comparing the prices of the four major carriers as they exist in February 2014 March 2014 April 2014. First we’ll compare their standard plans, and then we’ll compare the early upgrade plans, in which you trade up to a new phone every year. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll assume everyone’s getting a $200 phone, like a 16 GB iPhone 5s. Finally, we’ll calculate the long-term costs in a few different scenarios.

Best of luck to you in figuring it out. The carriers certainly don’t make it easy.

Verizon vs. AT&T vs. Sprint vs. T-Mobile

Here’s the breakdown by carrier without any early upgrade privileges. The first section shows monthly service pricing for a single phone with unlimited talk and text, with additional charges listed below. In all cases, we’ll assume everyone’s getting a 16 GB iPhone 5s or a comparably-priced phone once every two years:

Verizon AT&T Sprint T-Mobile
< 500 MB $55 (250 MB) $60 (300 MB) - -
500 MB $70 - - $40
1 GB $80 $65 $70 $50
2 GB $90 $80 - -
3 GB $100 - - $60
4 GB $110 $110 - -
5 GB - - - $70
6 GB $120 $120 - -
8 GB $130 $130 - -
10 GB $140 $140 - -
> 10 GB $10 per 2 GB Varies - -
Unlimited - - $80 $80
Upfront Phone Cost $200 $200 $200 $0
Monthly Phone Cost $0 $0 $0 $27 for 24 months
Second Line $40 $40 $60 to $70 $30 to $50
Third Line $40 $40 $50 to $60 $10 to $30
More Lines $40 $40 $40 to $50 $10 t0 $30
Mobile Hotspot? Included Included $10 (1 GB) Included

.

A few observations based on the chart above:

  • An individual, moderate data user would pay the least through T-Mobile. at $2,088 over two years, but Sprint’s unlimited plan isn’t much more expensive at $2,120 over two years.
  • If you’re an individual who burns through enough bandwidth to justify unlimited data and needs mobile hotspot, Sprint’s price jumps to $2,360. T-Mobile’s 5 GB plan is a little cheaper at $2,328 over two years, but unlimited data is much more expensive, at $2,568.
  • Individuals who can get by with just a little data will spend the least through Verizon ($1,520 over two years on a 250 MB plan) and AT&T ($1,640 on a 300 MB plan).
  • T-Mobile doesn’t do shared data for families. Additional lines start with 500 MB, and increase in $10 increments for 2.5 GB and unlimited data. A family of four, each with 2.5 GB of data, would pay $5,952 over two years — much less than any other carrier.

Verizon Edge, AT&T Next, Sprint Framily and T-Mobile Jump Compared

Early upgrade plans are trickier, because they all work a little differently. With AT&T and Verizon, you pay off the full price of the phone in monthly installments, which is a lot more expensive in the long run than getting a $200 subsidized phone. But in exchange, they give you a discount on service, and you can trade up to a new phone once per year at no extra charge. With T-Mobile, you’re already paying monthly installments and getting cheaper service, but for $10 extra per month you can trade up to a new phone twice per year. You also get insurance for lost, damaged or stolen phones.

Sprint’s “Framily” plans are even wackier. The base price is $55 per line with 1 GB of data. For each additional member who joins, everyone on the plan pays $5 less, down to a minimum of $25 per month per line. So for example, a “Framily” of three with 1 GB of data each would each pay $45 per line. The silly name comes from the fact that you can have friends or family on the same plan, with the option to pay separate bills. But Sprint’s plan also has one big catch: You can only upgrade every year if you have an unlimited data plan. Otherwise, you can only upgrade every two years.

Perhaps we should let the chart speak for itself. This time we’ll assume you’re getting a new 16 GB iPhone or comparably-priced phone once per year:

Verizon Edge AT&T Next Sprint Framily T-Mobile Jump
< 500 MB $45 (250 MB) $45 (300 MB) - -
500 MB $60 - - $50
1 GB $70 $50 $55 (no early upgrade) $60
2 GB $80 $65 - -
3 GB $90 - $65 (no early upgrade) $70
4 GB $100 $95 - -
5 GB - - - $80
6 GB $110 $105 - -
8 GB $120 $115 - -
10 GB $115 $115 - -
> 10 GB $10 per 2 GB Varies - -
Unlimited - - $75 $90
Upfront Phone Cost $0 $0 $0 $0
Monthly Phone Cost $27 for 24 months $32.50 for 20 months $27 for 24 months $27 for 24 months
More Lines $30 for plans under 10 GB
$15 for 10 GB or more
$25 for plans under 10 GB
$15 for 10 GB or more
Subtract $5 from all lines for each extra line (down to $25) $40 – $60 second line, $20 – $40 additional lines
Mobile Hotspot? Included Included $10 (1 GB) Included

.

More observations:

  • A family of four using 10 GB per month on Verizon would pay exactly the same amount as a family with 12 GB on T-Mobile, at $6,912 over two years, but the data would be apportioned differently. The Verizon family would pool its data together and could upgrade once per year at no extra charge, while the T-Mobile family would get 3 GB per person, and could upgrade once every six months. (AT&T is only a little more expensive, at $6,960 every two years.)
  • If you have four lines on AT&T Next or Verizon Edge, you might as well get a 10 GB plan. It’s cheaper than the 4 GB plans on either carrier, because the line access fee is much less on 10 GB or higher plans.
  • Verizon Edge isn’t a great deal if you don’t use much data or don’t have other people on your plan. But it can be cheaper in the long run if you do.
  • AT&T’s new 2 GB pricing puts an individual plan at $2,320 over two years. T-Mobile’s costs plan, which offers 3 GB of shared data, is still a little bit cheaper at $2,328.
  • Want more evidence that wireless carriers keep their pricing in sync? AT&T and Verizon both charge $250 per month for 10 smartphones and a 10 GB shared data plan. That’s exactly how much Sprint charges for 10 “Framily” lines with 1 GB each. (If you can keep your mega-family to 30 GB or less, AT&T and Verizon are the way to go. Otherwise, put everyone on an unlimited Sprint Framily plan.)

Of course, pricing isn’t everything when picking a wireless carrier. The quality of service in your area and the availability of phones that you want can be just as important. But if you’re looking to make a switch and don’t know where to start, hopefully we’ve helped you do the math.

TIME Security & Privacy

6 Ways to Protect Yourself from Online Threats

To help better illustrate the importance of online safety and security, Microsoft recently released the results of its 2013 Microsoft Computer Safety Index study

To help better illustrate the importance of online safety and security, Microsoft recently released the results of its 2013 Microsoft Computer Safety Index study. The survey tracked safety behavior of nearly 10,500 people worldwide to get a handle on just how costly these digital threats can be, and to make recommendations on how to better protect against online danger.

The bottom line: An estimated $23 billion was lost last year to online risks such as phishing, ID theft, viruses, data leaks and more. The biggest cost – and arguably, the biggest threat – was damage to professional reputation to the tune of $4.5 billion yearly.

Don’t let the bad guys take their cut from your personal bank account. Here are 6 steps you can take to better protect yourself from danger.

1. Take Charge of Your Online Reputation

How, exactly, can damage to your online reputation be so costly? Ask Anthony Weiner, the former New York congressman whose bid for NYC mayor was sunk by compromising selfies he texted to women. In all seriousness, Microsoft survey data reveals that the median amount respondents paid out to repair their professional reputation was $2,600.

Naturally, the best way to protect your reputation is to watch what you say online and put your best foot forward. If you need a little bit of help, check out these tools for protecting your online reputation. You might also want to consider using a reputation-monitoring service like Persona.

2. Defend your Devices

Think about all the sensitive information stored on your mobile phone. Some people store private contacts. Others keep online banking data on our phones or use their phones as mobile wallets. A small percentage of Americans even have naked selfies saved.

But while there’s plenty to be stolen on our phones, Microsoft’s survey reveals that only 33% use a PIN to lock our mobile devices. Even fewer of us (21%) use mobile security apps. That suggests a lot of sensitive data is at risk should a snoop decide to play around with our phones.

Thankfully, protecting mobile devices is something that can be done quickly and at little-to-no cost. Read our need-to-know guide on mobile security for more on how to defend your smartphones and tablets. And if you’re worried someone may have installed spyware on your personal device, here are the warning signs and fixes you need to know about.

3. Create Strong Passwords

Virtually every account we create online asks us to create a unique password. Is it any wonder, then, that far too many of us use easily cracked passwords like our pet’s name or “1234”?

Don’t get hacked because you set a lazy password or PIN. Microsoft recommends you choose passwords that are “unique, long and strong.” It also recommends you keep your passwords to yourself, no matter how much it’s killing you to tell someone. You may also want to consider using a password manager like the iCloud Keychain built into iOS 7.

4. Use Social Networks More Safely

More than ever before, social media sites are encouraging us to share everything. That’s great for advertisers, but it can be downright dangerous for you and me. What happens if someone pulls information from Facebook to steal your identity? Or, worse yet, what if a stranger is watching your check-ins and tags to know where you physically are at all times?

Being safe on social media means being private on social media with personal details. Regularly review your Facebook privacy settings to make sure you’re not sharing anything you’d rather stay private, such as your phone number. You should also check these 5 Google privacy settings. Even if you don’t use the Google+ social network, it might still be leaking your private email address to the world.

5. Take Extra Steps to Keep Kids Safe

Sure, you may know the ins and outs of Internet safety like the back of your hand. But does your child? Play online with your kids. Have conversations with your kids about what they do online, and remind them not to share any personally identifiable information. Put blocks on sites you don’t want kids using.

Want even more protection? Make sure you embrace these 4 ways to keep kids safe online. You might also want to review our parents’ guide to social networking.

6. Protect Sensitive Personal Information

If you do any online banking, stock trading or make other sensitive online transactions, you should exercise extra care. Don’t access your accounts while on public Wi-Fi – such networks are notoriously hackable. Always access your accounts by typing the URL yourself, and never by following an email link. And when you do connect, make sure your transactions are encrypted (look for the “https”).

Now that you’ve had a refresher on the basics of what to protect, find out how well you’re keeping yourself and your family safe by calculating your Computer Safety Index score. And, check out our 6-item online safety checklist and review these 11 simple ways to protect your privacy. Let’s be careful out there!

This article was written by Fox Van Allen and originally appeared on Techlicious.

More from Techlicious:

TIME How-To

30-Second Tech Trick: How to Mute Group Email Messages

Prevent annoying reply-alls from incessantly flooding your inbox with this quick trick.

If you’re using Gmail and you’re tired of all the reply-alls coming in for a certain message, here’s what to do:

1. Select the message, and then click the More button in the upper right-hand corner, and then Mute.

2. Future replies will skip your inbox, though you won’t actually be removed from the message. To get the message back, look for it under All Mail or search for it using Gmail’s search tool.

3. There’s a similar feature for certain versions of Outlook — sometimes called Ignore — so check with your IT person (or search the web for it) to see if it’ll work.

More 30-Second Tech Tricks:

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