TIME Gadgets

8 Things You Didn’t Know You Can Do with Your Smartphone

I use my smartphone every day, often in the first few minutes I wake up. It’s not because I’m addicted (ok, maybe I am a little bit addicted) – it’s because my phone is so darn useful. It tells me the weather. It helps me avoid and navigate around traffic jams. It helps me keep in touch with my friends.

Of course, you probably know all about that stuff. But your smartphone can do some pretty unusual things that you’ve probably never even considered. Here are some of the most amazing, out-there tasks your smartphone can help you conquer.

Diagnose a leaky window

flir-one-thermal-imaging-camera-longer-510px
FLIR

As a homeowner in the oft-frosty Northeast, I know how important it is to have tightly sealed windows in the wintertime. Finding leaky windows doesn’t just make my home more comfortable; it saves money on my electric bills.

How can you find these energy-wasting areas of your home? Simple: Turn your phone into a thermal imaging camera with the FLIR ONE add on. It fits onto your phone much like a Mophie Juice Pack does, and translates thermal energy into color images. It’ll show you where cold air is seeping into your house, where pipes need better insulation and even help locate overloaded circuits.

The FLIR ONE Personal Thermal Imager is compatible with both the iPhone 5 and iPhone 5s. It’s available for purchase directly from FLIR.com for $349.

Measure your heart health

alive-cor-heart-monitor-case-350px
AliveCor

You don’t need to take a trip to an expensive hospital lab to get a detailed look at your heart health – there’s a smartphone app (and device) for that.

The AliveCor Heart Monitor rests on your chest or finger, converting electrical impulses from your body into a printable ECG graph. The included AliveECG app helps you understand if your ECG is normal, or if you have an issue you should consult a professional about. The device is no substitute for an expertly trained doctor, but if you’re concerned about your heart health, it makes a great supplement.

The AliveCor Heart Monitor is available as a stand-alone device or with a case for the iPhone 5/5S. Both are available for order at store.alivecor.com for $199.

Prevent drunk driving

bactrack-vio-smartphone-breathalyzer-350px
BACtrack

Imagine you’re at a house party with a couple close friends. You’ve all shared a glass or two of wine. You feel like you’re probably O.K. to drive, but it’d be far more responsible to know for sure.

That’s where the new Bluetooth BACtrack Vio Smartphone Breathlyzer comes in. The compact keychain device measures the alcohol present on your breath in just five seconds, wirelessly sending your BAC reading to your iOS or Android smartphone. An included app will predict how long it’ll take for your levels to return to 0%, helping you plan whether to call a cab or just “wait it out.”

The BACtrack Vio is available directly from BACtrack and at Amazon.com for just $49.99.

Watch over-the-air TV

Belkin

You may already know that your smartphone can connect to streaming video services like Hulu, allowing you to catch your favorite TV shows on the go. But did you know there’s a way to watch your favorite shows live, over-the-air? It’s possible with the Belkin Dyle.

The Dyle is a small antenna device that connects directly to your older iPhone or iPad’s charger port to receive over-the-air digital signals. It’s a great way to catch coverage of the big game while you’re sitting in the stands, pass time while riding the commuter rail or keep the kids busy in the car. Of course, for the device to work, you’ll need to be close to a major metropolitan area to pick up a quality signal.

The 30-pin Belkin Dyle is compatible with the iPhone 4/4S, iPad, iPad 2 and 3rd generation iPad. You can buy yours direct from Belkin or on Amazon.com for $29.99.

Measure your muscles

skulpt-aim-body-fat-monitor-350px
Skulpt

As any health expert will tell you, your bathroom scale isn’t the best way to measure progress at the gym. Muscle weighs more than fat, so gaining the occasional pound or two can be a very good thing.

The Skulpt Aim helps you get a better handle on your fitness by tracking your body fat percentage and the muscle fiber size instead of your weight. It uses small electrodes to measure individual muscle groups and areas and relays the info to your phone, giving you an overall picture of where you’re making progress and where you’re not. The device even comes with an app that recommends exercises that are best for your body’s unique composition.

The Skulpt Aim works with both Android and iOS devices and is expected to start shipping in fall 2014. You can preorder yours at skulpt.me for $169.99, which includes free shipping.

Figure out why your check engine light is on

automatic-car-check-engine-light-diagnoser-350px
Automatic

I own an older Honda Civic. It’s a great, reliable car. But now that it’s been in service for nearly a decade, seeing the check engine light come on is a fairly regular occurrence.

The good news: You and I don’t need to take our cars to an expensive mechanic just to get that light diagnosed – we can do it ourselves using our smartphones and a device like Automatic. It connects directly to your car’s onboard computer, turning check engine events into push alerts to your iOS and Android phone. If it’s a minor issue, you may be able to fix it and clear the light yourself, saving a trip to the shop.

Automatic also tracks your driving, giving you feedback on your acceleration and breaking habits that can help improve your gas mileage. It can even alert emergency authorities in case of a disabling crash.

Automatic is compatible with most gasoline cars sold in the U.S. since 1996. You can purchase the device directly from Amazon for $79.99.

Improve your basketball skills

94fifty-smart-basketball-350px
94Fifty

Are you looking to take your son or daughter’s basketball game to the next level? You could clear out the spare bedroom and spend some serious cash on a live-in NCAA-quality basketball coach. Or, you could save the six-figure expense and get a similar coaching experience from a smart basketball like the 94Fifty.

The 94Fifty Smart Sensor Basketball is a regulation size and weight ball that contains a tiny Bluetooth sensor that measures spin and bounce. It connects wirelessly to iOS and Android phones to offer real-time feedback during the included training exercises, helping to improve skills in the moment. It’s like having a real basketball coach with you at all times, even when you’re just shooting a few layups in the driveway.

The 94Fifty Smart Sensor Basketball is available in both men’s and women’s sizes on Amazon.com for $249.95.

Catch fish

smart-fishfinder-350px
Friday Lab

Normally, a family camping trip would be a reason to leave the smartphone behind so you can better enjoy the great outdoors. But let’s face it, this is 2014. Modern technology can make everything better – even your time away from it on the lake.

How? Check out the Deeper Fish Finder. The small, spherical device works as a fish-finding sonar in both salt and fresh water, helping you locate fish up to 120 feet under the surface. You simply attach it to a fishing line and cast it where you want to fish – it’ll turn on automatically upon hitting the water. Deeper works with most modern iOS and Android devices, but we recommend pairing it with a waterproof phone or tablet like the Samsung Galaxy S5 or the Sony Xperia Z2.

The Deeper Portable Fish Finder is available for purchase on Amazon.com for $243.43.

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

More from Techlicious:

TIME Rumors

Don’t Count the iPhone 6’s September 9 Debut Out Yet

The new iPhone line reportedly had a backlight engineering problem that goofed up the assembly process earlier this summer.

Reuters is reporting that Apple may be having difficulty prepping a sufficient number of screens for the next iPhone. Apple is expected to unveil the new line at media event on September 9. The problem, says Reuters, involves a “key” component that’s disrupting the production of the line’s new screens, rumored to be larger than the iPhone 5’s current four inches, and possibly come in two sizes.

More specifically, Reuters’s supply chain sources say the problem is with the backlight configuration in the new phones. Apple wanted to reduce the material used for the backlight from two layers to one in hopes of thinning the phones, says Reuters. But without that second layer, the phones apparently weren’t bright enough, which forced the parts back to engineering and held up the assembly process earlier this summer. That’s now impacting the number of screens Apple’s been able to produce in the ramp up to the unveiling, according to Reuters’ sources.

How many phones amounts to a sufficient number at launch anyway? I have no idea, nor does Reuters, but the news site defangs the issue somewhat by pointing out that its sources indicated the “hiccup” may or may not make it harder for you to get one of the new phones at launch or delay the phones outright. Thus we’re left to mull the possibility that there could be a launch availability problem, but with absolutely no idea of its magnitude, on a scale that runs from “catastrophic” to “irrelevant.”

Short of actually delaying the debut, which seems unlikely at this point–rumors of a September 9 event bubbled up just a few weeks ago, well after the June/July timeframe referred to in the Reuters piece–it’s unlikely we’ll know whether this story impacted the phones’ arrival. Availability issues have been a major part of every new iPhone launch, and a certain amount of scarcity–so long as Apple’s able to ramp up production to meet or surpass its fiscal projections in the long run–isn’t the worst problem to have. Sony’s PlayStation 4, for instance, which Sony claims was plagued by supply issues from launch, has gone on to sell 10 million units worldwide, a record-breaking figure even Sony can’t explain.

TIME FindTheBest

How China Will Change the Smartphone Industry: Predicting Winners and Losers

Back in 2012, if you compared a budget phone to a premium phone, you’d likely see a spec/features breakdown like this:

The comparison was simple: Twice the money bought you a phone that was, statistically speaking, twice as good.

But with Chinese manufacturer Xiaomi’s ascendance, the following type of comparison is becoming increasingly common:

The Xiaomi Mi 3 is less than half the cost of a Galaxy S5, yet boasts nearly identical specifications, even edging out Samsung’s flagship phone in a few categories, including display sharpness and standby time. For the money (at least based on the raw data) the Mi 3 is the clear choice.

But what about the fluffy stuff, like build quality, interface and overall user experience? Surely that’s where the Galaxy S5 earns its higher price tag.

Not necessarily. CNET calls the Mi 3 “quite the looker,” complementing the phone’s “aluminum-magnesium chassis and…beautiful face.” Meanwhile, TechRadar praises the “polished and comprehensive MIUI interface,” awarding the phone four out of five stars in both design and usability. Compare those accolades to the same experts’ opinions on the S5’s hardware (CNET: “at the end of the day, the Galaxy flagship feels…like plastic;” TechRadar: “[the S5] doesn’t look like a cutting edge smartphone”).

So Samsung might actually be in trouble, and the first warning signs are already here. Just last quarter, Xiaomi leap-frogged Samsung to become China’s #1 smartphone seller, usurping a spot Samsung had owned for over two years. What’s more, Xiaomi is just getting going, with its new flagship, the Mi 4, all set for launch.

The catch for Americans, of course, is that the highly-affordable, surprisingly-capable Mi line won’t be available in the U.S. for the foreseeable future. Until Xiaomi decides to brave the fierce, patent-infested waters of the American electronics market, U.S. citizens will be stuck paying $650 for unlocked, top-shelf handsets.

Still, Xiaomi’s ascendance will likely shake up the mobile industry for years to come, as rival smartphone makers are forced to respond to top specs at low prices. So with that in mind, let’s speculate as to who will win and lose as a result of China’s maturing budget phone industry.

Winners

Chinese Manufacturers

The biggest winners here are Chinese handset makers—and not just Xiaomi. Originally the market followers, China’s gadget manufacturers are now positioned to be market leaders, with an opportunity to shape pricing, features and development trends around the world. If rival Chinese makers like Lenovo, Huawei and Yulong can match Xiaomi’s quality, they’ll be able to fight over Samsung’s old throne for the next several years.

Best of all, they’ve got a giant pie made up of 1.5 billion customers.

Consumers in Emerging Markets

Naturally, phone choice is only getting better in China, as manufacturers offer better and better phones at the same mid-to-low price points. It won’t be long before Americans are jealous of the latest Chinese-only hit—a 180 degree turn from five years ago.

Losers

LG, Samsung, Sony

Rival smartphone makers in Korea and Japan have the most to lose here—over time, they will have tremendous trouble competing with their Chinese counterparts on price. In order to survive, each company will need to find new ways to differentiate its offerings…and it has to be something other than specs and price.

Remains to Be Seen

Consumers in Developed Markets

On paper, consumers in developed markets should benefit from China’s new army of low-cost, high-quality handsets. Once Xiaomi and co. finally enter the U.S. market, the inexpensive products will theoretically drive down prices from the likes of Apple, Sony, and Samsung.

But how long will this take? Will Apple sue Xiaomi for infringing on patents to stall the threat? Will American manufacturers start making lower-quality phones to compete with China on price? And will any of this help solve America’s biggest smartphone problem: namely, the appalling, worst-in-the-world contracts forced upon us by big carriers? There may be a tech revolution going on in China, but the U.S. benefits could take years to unfold.

Apple

It’s tempting to call Apple a loser here. After all, the company has always rejected the low-cost phone, and here Xiaomi seems to be proving its success.

At the same time, however, Apple might just be positioned to sit above the fray as Samsung, LG and Sony fight for Xiaomi’s crumbs. Consider that Apple has never played the spec game, having ceded the spec-sheet war to Samsung years ago. Apple doesn’t sell handsets on the strength of megapixels or CPUs, but rather, great design and the Apple mystique. Perhaps the company was right to avoid the low-cost market all along, a territory that a Chinese company like Xiaomi was bound to win eventually.

Maybe people will finally abandon Apple once they can buy a phone with similar specs, for a third of the price. Or maybe the same group of geeks, Apple apologists and design nerds will just keep buying iPhones, Mi or no Mi. Time will tell.

This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.

TIME Smartphones

Sprint Has This Year’s Most Unique Phone, and It’s Cheap

Sprint

Forget curved displays and head-tracking cameras. The award for this year’s most interesting phone goes to the Sharp Aquos Crystal, which has practically no bezel around the sides or top of the display.

We’ve seen bezels get narrower over the years — the LG G3’s side bezels are particularly slim — but no one’s managed to remove them completely until now. With the exception of the extra-large chin on the bottom of handset, the Aquos Crystal is nearly all screen.

And oddly enough, Sprint and Sharp aren’t using this neat trick to justify jacked up prices. The Aquos Crystal is a mid-range device, and it’s priced like one at $240 off-contract.

That price gets you a 5-inch, 720 display, a 1.2 GHz quad-core processor, 1.5 GB of RAM, 8 GB of storage, a microSD card slot, an 8-megapixel rear camera and a 2-megapixel front camera. (Sharp also makes a high-end Aquos Crystal with a larger display and faster processor, but there’s no word on a U.S. launch.)

Removing the bezels does have a couple of inherent drawbacks. Because there’s no room above the screen for a front-facing camera, Sharp had to put it in an awkward spot on the bottom bezel. The lack of top bezel also precludes a proximity sensor to detect when you’re holding the phone up to your ear. As The Verge reports, the phone’s display simply locks up when you’re on a call.

In other words, going bezel-free might not be the course of action for most handset makers — at least not until they can solve the above issues (or until people stop taking selfies). But as a one-off way to stand out from dozens of similar-looking phones, the Aquos Crystal will be tough to beat.

TIME Gadgets

Wireless Price Wars Continue with Cheaper Verizon, Sprint Plans

Just note the fine print: Limited-time promotions may lead to higher prices around the corner.

We have truly entered the Bizarro World of wireless service, in which carriers keep inventing new ways to slash prices instead of further gouging their customers.

Verizon and Sprint are the latest to retool their plans, with promotional pricing for the former and permanent price changes for the latter.

If you’re a new subscriber to Verizon on an individual plan, you can now get 2 GB of data, unlimited talk and unlimited text for $60 per month. And if you sign up for Verizon Edge, which lets you trade up to a new phone for free once per year, the plan drops to $50 (plus the monthly installments on the phone itself). Either way, the new plan is $30 cheaper than before.

Some caveats apply: Verizon says this pricing is “promotional,” but doesn’t say when the promotion will end. And it’s only good for single-line, 2 GB plans. If you need more data or more lines, you get the same pricing as before. Also, existing subscribers can only get the reduced pricing when they upgrade to a new phone.

As for Sprint, the carrier is offering new shared data plans that are cheaper in many scenarios than plans from AT&T and Verizon. Like its larger rivals, Sprint is offering a single bucket of data shared across all phones and tablets, but the baseline data prices are less expensive.

For instance, Sprint charges $100 per month for 20 GB of shared data, while AT&T and Verizon charge $150 per month for the same data allotment.

On top of that data charge, you also have to pay per line. If you’re going with a standard two-year contract and subsidized phone, Sprint’s per-line prices are the same as its rivals, at $40 per month.

Alternatively, you can pay the full price of the phone in monthly installments. This provides a discount on the per-line fee, and lets you trade up to a new phone for free every 12 months. AT&T and Verizon have an edge here, as they both charge $25 per line for plans with less than 10 GB, and $15 per line for plans with 10 GB or more. Sprint makes the $15/$25 cutoff at 20 GB, so its plans tend to work out best for families who need a lot of data.

To kick off the new family plans, Sprint is offering a promotion that waives all per-line fees “through 2015,” and tacks on another 2 GB for each line. That means you could put a family of five on a 20 GB plan and pay only $100 per month, and you’d actually have 28 GB to play with through next year. But you have to sign up by September 30, and the plan would increase to $175 per month starting in 2016.

If you’re wondering about Sprint’s “Framily” plans, which offered higher discounts as you added more people, Re/code reports that they’ll still be available. It’s just that Sprint won’t market them as much.

Sprint hasn’t been much of a competitor lately, even as T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon all dropped prices to keep up with one another. But after abandoning its attempted T-Mobile takeover and bringing on a new CEO, it seems that Sprint is ready to rejoin the price wars. Things are only going to get weirder from here.

TIME Gadgets

First Smartphone Turns 20: Fun Facts About Simon

Simon Smartphone
An original IBM Simon Personal Communicator is placed next to an Apple iPhone 4S at the Science Museum on August 15, 2014 in London, England Rob Stothard / Getty Images

A tip of the hat to Simon, long referenced as the first smartphone. It went on sale to the public on August 16, 1994 and packed a touchscreen, email capability and more, paving the way for our modern-day wondergadgets.

Here’s a look at some of Simon’s history.

IBM and BellSouth first showed Simon off in late 1992.

It was code-named “Angler” and was unveiled at the fall COMDEX convention in Vegas, but wouldn’t be available to purchase by consumers until August 16, 1994. In 1995, the great Computer Chronicles TV show led its “Year of the Portable” episode with Simon.

Here’s the brief segment:

“I am totally computer-functional!”

The phone had no web browser — heck, computers were just getting decent browsers back then — but email access was a big selling point. It could send faxes, too, which is a technology people haven’t been able to completely kill off yet despite decades of trying.

It was big and expensive, but not insanely so.

By today’s standards, of course, Simon was clunky and outrageously priced. But for a do-it-all gizmo in the mid-’90s, its $1,100 price tag should elicit a mere shrug from most of us nowadays. And if you signed a two-year contract with BellSouth, you could get it for $900; that subsidized price eventually dropped to $600.

The phone itself measured 8 inches long by 2.5 inches wide by 1.5 inches thick, and weighed two ounces north of a pound. That’d be pretty clunky today, but we’re talking about the ’90s here. Everyone was wearing Hammer pants and Zubaz, so pocket space wasn’t much of an issue, right? As you can see in the above photo — where it’s placed next to an iPhone 4S — it’s big but not monstrous.

It had a touchscreen and apps.

Touchscreens weren’t exactly nonexistent back in the early ’90s, but they weren’t super common, either. Simon is believed to be the first commercially available phone with a touchscreen, though earlier PDA devices had showcased various portable touchscreen technologies. Simon’s interface could be navigated with an included stylus, and somewhat less easily with a finger.

These were the early days of mobile touchscreens, mind you. Take a look at Simon’s interface in this fascinating TekGadg video from 2011:

Best line: “I don’t think it does multi-touch, Winston.” That parting jab at Android was uncalled for, fellas.

There was no app store, of course, but the phone came preloaded with several apps. You can take a look at Simon’s user manual, which is not only chock full of wonderfully nostalgic technobabble from back in the day, but also lists the following apps:

  • Address Book
  • Calculator
  • Calendar
  • Fax
  • Filer
  • Mail
  • Note Pad
  • Sketch Pad
  • Time
  • To Do

These things weren’t called “apps” back then. They were generally referred to as “features” found in the “Mobile Office” section of the phone. Here’s a look at the alarm clock:

Email was no picnic to set up, either. It used Lotus’ cc:Mail offering, which required you to dial in to a computer running cc:Mail software that housed all your messages — the “post office,” as it were. How would you set up this post office? You wouldn’t: According to Simon’s manual, “You don’t have to worry about how to set up a post office, because your E-mail administrator or service does that.”

It had predictive typing.

The feature was called the “PredictaKey” keyboard and, according to the user manual, “always shows the six most-likely letters that you need, depending on the characters you’ve just typed.

BellSouth had apparently also been working with Apple to develop a cellular connection for the Newton PDA at the time.

An early profile of Simon alludes to a BellSouth-Apple partnership for Apple’s Newton PDA wherein BellSouth was “working with Apple to integrate cellular into the device.” The piece quoted BellSouth’s then-product-manager Rich Guidotti assuaging concerns that the two devices would compete:

BellSouth’s work with Apple is not affected by the new Simon, Guidotti said. Referring to the Newton as an electronic organizer and the Simon as a personal communicator, Guidotti added: “No one product fits everyone’s needs.”

A cellular connection for the Newton wouldn’t materialize from the BellSouth-Apple partnership, however. Built-in cellular features for the Newton were apparently nixed altogether.

Simon made an appearance in The Net.

The movie, according to Frank Costanza, is “called The Net, with that girl from The Bus.”

You could plug it into a regular phone jack.

Though Simon was targeted at deep-pocketed business people, cell service was still spotty and expensive back in the mid-’90s. An optional cable allowed Simon’s owner to plug it into a standard phone jack (remember those?) to make calls via more reliable and less expensive land-line systems.

Simon lived fast and died young.

Despite its features, IBM and BellSouth didn’t exactly have a hit on their hands. Simon spent a mere six months on the market, with around 50,000 units sold. Businessweek’s profile of the device cites Simon’s weak battery — it lasted around an hour — and the cool factor of svelter and svelter flip phones as contributing to Simon’s demise. It sounds like IBM and BellSouth kind of lost interest in the project as well, with IBM in the middle of downsizing endeavors and BellSouth pumping resources into bolstering its cell network.

Simon, we hardly knew ye. But your ghost lingers on in our modern-day communicators.

Further Reading

Microsoft’s Bill Buxton has a great info page with links to a bunch of old Simon-related material. Check out Businessweek and Wikipedia for related material as well.

TIME Smartphones

How an iPhone With a Sapphire Screen Could Save You Money

Say goodbye to cracked screens with this synthetic crystal already used in airplane windows and rumored to be incorporated in the next iPhone

+ READ ARTICLE

The Apple rumor mill is buzzing about the prospect of a sapphire crystal display in the next iPhone, to be announced on Sept. 9. But what exactly is a sapphire display? And why would you want it?

According to GT advanced technologies, an Apple-backed sapphire manufacturing company, the crystal is a synthetic sapphire material. The material is used in LEDs, airplane windows, certain iPhone camera lenses and fingerprint readers.

The benefit of having a sapphire crystal display is that it would be much harder to break, making it much less likely that you’ll have to deal with a cracked iPhone screen every time you drop your phone.

TIME Innovation

Screaming at Your Phone Might Charge It Someday

This experimental smartphone converts background noise to battery power.

Researchers at Nokia and Queen Mary University in London believe they have a novel solution to smartphone battery limitations: Instead of trying to improve the battery itself, they’ve figured out how to keep it charged through sound waves.

The key, according to Gizmag, is the use of zinc oxide, whose piezoelectric properties can generate an electrical current from mechanical stress. The researchers started by spraying zinc oxide onto a plastic sheet and heating it in a chemical mixture, creating an array of zinc oxide “nanorods.”

The nanorod sheet bends in response to sound waves, creating enough mechanical stress to generate electricity. Researchers then sandwiched the sheet between layers of aluminum foil to harvest the voltage.

On a prototype device roughly the size of Nokia’s Lumia 925, the researchers were able to generate up to five volts from background noise such as traffic, music and voices. They claim that’s enough help charge a phone, though it’s not clear to what extent.

It’s easy to get excited about these kinds of developments, but keep mind that success in a university lab is a poor indicator of future products. For years, we’ve been hearing about amazing battery research, from the ability to charge electronics with a heartbeat to instant charging technology to entirely new battery chemistry, but none of these advancements have appeared in actual phones that you can buy today. Many of them must address significant hurdles around design, cost, manufacturing and safety before they become practical for the market.

In other words, you’ll have many more realistic reasons to scream at your phone for the foreseeable future.

TIME Companies

These 2 Harmful Chemicals Will No Longer Be Used to Assemble Your iPhone

Activist groups called for the ban earlier this year.

Apple said Wednesday that its factories would no longer use two chemicals that are potentially hazardous to workers in the assembly of iPhones and iPads.

On the heels of a petition earlier this year by two activist groups, Apple moved to ban benzene and n-hexane from final production, the Associated Press reports. Some 500,000 people work on final production at more than 20 factories, primarily in China but also in Brazil, Ireland, Texas and California. The California-based company also lowered the maximum amount of the chemicals that can be present during earlier production phases, which occurs across hundreds of other factories.

The company said that a four-month investigation found no evidence that those workers were at risk from the chemicals, which are often found in solvents used to clean machinery. Benzene, which is also found in gasoline, paints and detergents, is believed to be a carcinogen and n-hexane has been linked to nerve damage, according to the AP.

“We think it’s really important that we show some leadership and really look toward the future by trying to use greener chemistries,” Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of environmental initiatives, told the AP.

[AP]

TIME Smartphones

Where Samsung’s Galaxy Alpha Goes Wrong

Samsung

Samsung's latest phone has metal trim, but no soul.

I’ve been trying to figure out what’s bothering me about Samsung’s Galaxy Alpha, a new flagship phone that will launch at the beginning of September.

It might be that Samsung is making a big deal about its use of metal, when most of the handset–including the entire back panel–is covered in plastic.

Or it might be the press release, which pumps a pile of empty adjectives into describing what is basically a smaller Galaxy S5 with metal trim. (In order: “stunning … sophisticated … sophisticated … elegant … practical … optimal … stunning … elegant … fresh … unique … refined … sophisticated … tactile … perfect … calming … eye-catching.”)

Mostly, though, I think it’s the phone itself, and its flimsy justification for existing in the first place.

Samsung CEO JK Shin says the phone was “built and designed based on the specific desires of the consumer market,” which I think means people were getting tired of $600 Samsung phones covered in cheap plastic.

But as a response to those demands, the Galaxy Alpha seems like a mix of laziness and cynicism. The design takes no risks and breaks no new ground aesthetically. (For examples of phones that do, see the rounded metal HTC One and the customizable Moto X.) It doesn’t use any new materials, as Apple is reportedly looking to do with sapphire glass displays, but instead rehashes old ones. It’s as if Samsung just threw some aluminum on a phone to shut people up. You want metal? Here’s your stupid metal.

And although the Galaxy Alpha is extremely thin at 0.26 inches, it only gets there by lopping the battery down to 1,860 mAh. No Samsung flagship has used a battery that small since 2011’s Galaxy S II. Perhaps that’s why Samsung doesn’t even mention battery life on its spec sheet.

I understand why Samsung feels the need to launch the Galaxy Alpha. Smaller vendors are starting to produce phones that are similar to Samsung’s flagships, but for a fraction of the cost, and now they’re eating away at Samsung’s high-end profits. In theory, a premium design might help stop the bleeding.

But for users, I’m not sure what problem the Galaxy Alpha solves. It’s a soulless attempt at a slightly prettier phone, whose most unique asset will be likely obscured by people’s ugly protective cases anyway.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 45,338 other followers