TIME Smartphones

OnePlus One Review: Phone of Dreams

Jared Newman for TIME

It's hard to imagine a better phone for Android geeks. Too bad you can't get one.

As I walked around Google’s I/O conference last month, my phone seemed to have a mythical status among the Android faithful.

“Is that the OnePlus One?” they’d ask. “How’d you get it? Can I see?” But it wasn’t the phone’s capabilities that made them so curious. It was the fact that the OnePlus One is nearly impossible to buy.

Right now, the only way to purchase a OnePlus One is through an invitation from another owner. And because OnePlus only seeded the phone to a small batch of original owners through a contest, there aren’t a lot of Ones to go around. (Mine came direct from the OnePlus PR department, with no invites attached.)

It’s easy to see why Android geeks are clamoring for the OnePlus One. It has all the hallmarks of a high-end Android phone, including a 5.5-inch 1080p display, a 2.5 GHz quad-core processor, 3 GB of RAM, 64 GB of storage, a 13-megapixel rear camera and a 5-megapixel front camera.

But at $350 unlocked, it’s roughly half the price of an unlocked iPhone 5s or Samsung Galaxy S5. While you can get subsidized phones for cheaper, an unsubsidized plan from AT&T or T-Mobile would save a lot of money in the long run when paired with a OnePlus One.

Besides, the OnePlus One is a standout phone even without the cost savings.

The funny thing is that when I show this phone to regular people, it draws an entirely different reaction. There’s nothing outwardly impressive or even noteworthy about it, save for the black backing that’s as grippy as ultra-fine sandpaper. (A 16 GB white model has a ground cashew backing that’s supposed to feel like baby skin. I found someone at I/O with this version, and while it felt pretty smooth, I didn’t have my test baby on hand for comparison.)

Still, much of the OnePlus One’s appeal comes from what it doesn’t do. In contrast to so many other Android phones, the One is devoid of questionable gimmicks and flare for flare’s sake. The front of the phone is unadorned with tacky brand names or logos, and there are no dual-lens cameras, finicky fingerprint readers or problematic curved glass. When the screen is off, it’s nothing but a thin silver frame surrounding a panel of black glass. The simplicity is striking.

Jared Newman for TIME

Start it up, and you’ll find something very close to stock Android 4.4, with hardly any unnecessary bloatware. The handful of tweaks that do exist come courtesy of CyanogenMod, a modification of stock Android that many enthusiasts install on their phones anyway. There’s a quick settings bar that appears above your notifications, a set of audio equalizer controls and a store for themes that alter the phone’s look and feel. But none of these additions feel intrusive, and most of them can be modified or removed.

Because the system is unburdened by junk and excessive visual flourishes, the OnePlus One always feels fast. The phone never left me hanging as I switched apps, swiped through homescreens and opened the camera. That’s not always the case with the latest mainstream Android phones.

The camera also lacks frilly features, but it’s dependable all around. Its f/2.0 aperture means it can handle low-light photography about as well as the HTC One (no relation), and while it’s not quite as good as HTC’s phone at fending off shaky hands, it’s capable of snapping much more detailed photos. I had no major issues with responsiveness either, as the phone takes about a second to establish focus and snaps photos instantly thereafter. My sole complaint is that you can’t hold the shutter button down for burst mode like you can on the HTC One and iPhone 5s. (There is a separate burst mode option, but that defeats the purpose when you’re trying to capture the perfect moment.)

Jared Newman for TIME

The other thing you only appreciate with time is the OnePlus One’s battery. I tend to charge my phone every night, but after most days I had well over 50 percent battery life in the tank. That includes days when I was constantly using the phone’s mobile hotspot or watching lots of video. It was nice having a phone where battery life was not a concern at all.

My only problems with the OnePlus One tended not to rise above nitpick status. The display, while clear and crisp enough at 1080p, can be a bit hard to read outdoors on sunny days, and its auto-brightness setting doesn’t always hit the appropriate level. I could also do without some of the software tweaks that OnePlus has added, such as the settings shortcuts that are redundant with Android’s own quick settings panel, and the gesture-based shortcuts that I always seemed to enter accidentally. But as I said above, OnePlus allows you to switch these off.

Most of the time, the OnePlus One just did what it was supposed to do. And outside the geekier climes of Google I/O, it never drew attention to itself by causing headaches or getting in the way, and never felt like it was anything less than a high-end handset.

That’s exactly how a smartphone should be, and it’s sad that so many Android vendors feel the need to distract with flips and cartwheels instead. If OnePlus can actually distribute this phone more broadly–and I’m told an actual pre-order system is coming eventually–its ability to excite people without glitz and gimmickry will be its greatest trick.

TIME Gadgets

10 Free Android Apps Everyone Should Download

Great everyday apps that span multiple genres

Every time I get a new Android smartphone or tablet, I install certain apps right away, before I even really start to play with the device — apps I use every week, if not every day, on the Android gadgets I test as well as the ones I own. For your benefit, I’ve narrowed down the list to 10 free Android apps I can’t live without.

SwiftKey Keyboard

SwiftKey

Because most stock keyboards aren’t that great, SwiftKey is often the first app I download on a new phone or tablet. SwiftKey’s prediction engine, which offers suggestions for words as you type as well as the next word you need, is based on the words you use most. It learns from your everyday input as well as from your email, social media accounts, your blog’s RSS feeds and other sources (if you connect them). If you have more than one Android device or decide to upgrade, you don’t have to start over with the learning. SwiftKey can store this data in the cloud and sync it across multiple devices.

SwiftKey saves typing time in multiple ways: Swype-like trace-to-type, shortcuts, long-press for alt characters and a dedicated number row on top if you want it. This is one of the most customizable keyboards I’ve used, with multiple color themes, the ability to change the size of keys and even the ability to split or push the keyboard to one edge or the other — great for phablet use.

Price: Free on the Google Play Store.

AccuWeather

Of the seemingly million weather apps for Android (including the one that probably came with your phone, complete with animated widget), AccuWeather offers you one solid reason to ditch them and download it instead: MinuteCast.

MinuteCast tells you the weather at this moment exactly where you’re standing or in whatever zip code you enter — not the forecast for the whole city, the forecast for right where you are right now. MinuteCast is especially useful during storms. Want to know when it will start raining, when it will stop or when it will let up enough for you to dash home? This app will tell you.

Price: Free on the Google Play Store.

TrustGo

Android boasts some decent built-in security measures for keeping your data safe and finding a lost phone, but they don’t address the other major mobile security threat: malware. TrustGo adds that protection plus advanced security features such as capturing images of a person trying to crack your security code, sounding an alarm to help you find a misplaced device and wiping the device remotely. Of all the free security apps available, TrustGo provides the most features for free.

Price: Free on the Google Play Store.

Firefox Mobile

Mozilla

Firefox is our top web browser pick for your personal computer as well as your mobile devices. Google Chrome is great and comes preloaded on Android devices, but thanks to its large library of add-ons, Firefox is worth an extra step to download and install. Chrome doesn’t support extensions on Android, but Firefox users can add Adblock, a cookie cleaner, Flash video downloaders and hundreds more tools.

Beyond that, Firefox Mobile is fast, clean and attractive, with an interface that syncs bookmarks, passwords and other data between all your browsers for seamless desktop-to-mobile use.

Price: Free on the Google Play Store.

Yelp

Google Maps is turning into a decent restaurant and business suggestion app, but Yelp still has Google beat in terms of sheer data. Yelp’s millions of user reviews are only one reason I use this app almost every day. New businesses show up on Yelp faster, and drilling down searches to a specific area brings up more results with a ton of reviews. Plus, I love Yelp Monocle, an augmented reality feature that shows ratings and business names on top of a real-time view from your camera.

Price: Free on the Google Play Store.

TuneIn Radio

As soon as I got a smartphone, I ditched my alarm clock. The feature I missed most after making the switch was waking up to my favorite radio station. That’s one of the reasons I like TuneIn Radio.

TuneIn Radio can access any station with an online stream, and you can choose to wake up to that station via the app’s alarm. While you listen, TuneIn brings up information about the song and artist or the program, which you can save. You can also use TuneIn to search beyond traditional radio for podcasts.

Price: Free on the Google Play Store.

Evernote

Evernote

Most note-taking apps work fine for jotting down quick ideas and shopping lists, but Evernote offers so much more. Even if you think you need something simple, you’d be surprised how a more comprehensive app can change your daily habits. I’m a fan of receiving reminders about my notes, so I know to follow up. When I can’t write or type fast enough, audio notes save the day.

The best feature is the page camera. Take a snapshot of printed or handwritten pages, and Evernote scans them for words that it then indexes to show up in searches.

Price: Free on the Google Play Store.

Pocket

Flipping through news using Flipboard, Blinkfeed, an RSS reader or Pulse is fine when most of the articles and posts are short enough to read in a minute or less. But for long reads, you want an app that strips away distractions (like ads) to offer an ebook-like reading experience that lets you immerse yourself in the words.

That’s why I love Pocket. Saving articles from your browser is easy, and Pocket automatically syncs all your stored articles for offline reading. Read them when you’re ready, even if you’re on a plane or a subway car. The reading experience is great, giving you control over the text’s font, size and background.

Price: Free on the Google Play Store.

Kingsoft Office

Downloading a document from email for reading or editing can be a pain if the office suite you’re using messes with the formatting, isn’t designed as well for small screens as it is for large ones or can’t save in the most popular file formats. Most preloaded office suites are a pain, so I always replace them with Kingsoft.

On top of Kingsoft’s qualities as a good document editor, it connects to cloud services like Dropbox and Google Drive to allow you to edit and sync without opening another app. It can save to Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint formats as well as in PDF format.

Price: Free on the Google Play Store.

DuoLingo

Learning a new language doesn’t come easily for everyone, especially adult beginners. But there comes a time when knowing basic phrases and greetings is useful: when you’re traveling abroad, moving into a mixed-culture neighborhood, trying to meet that cute guy or girl who only speaks Italian …

DuoLingo can help prepare you for basic conversation in just a few months via fun exercises you do occasionally. You don’t have to deal with the commitment of a class or spend hundreds of dollars right from the start.

Price: Free on the Google Play Store.

This article was written by K.T. Bradford and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME Earnings

Samsung to Investors: Get Ready for a Sharp Decline in Profits

SKOREA-SAMSUNG-EARNINGS-ESTIMATE
Visitors walk past a glass door showing the logo of Samsung Electronics at the company's showroom in Seoul on July 8, 2014. Jung Yeon-Je—AFP/Getty Images

The company warned falling demand could cause profits to tumble by as much as 27%

Samsung Electronics prepared investors for a third straight quarter of disappointing earnings, warning on Tuesday that operating profits could fall by as much as 27%.

The company took the unusual step of issuing a one-page explainer in advance of its second quarter earnings report. It blamed disappointing sales on a wider slump in demand across Europe and Asia, combined with an unfavorable exchange rate that made its products more expensive relative to cheaper phones flooding the market.

Samsung also said demand for tablets took a hit as sales of large smartphones, some with screens just an inch shy of tablets, cannibalized sales of its smaller, 7-to-8 inch tablets.

Samsung’s stock declined by 11% in the past month, though there are signs that investor pessimism may have bottomed out. The Wall Street Journal reports that the stock bounced back by a modest 2.1% in early trading Tuesday.

“The company cautiously expects a more positive outlook in the third quarter with the coming release of its new smartphone lineup,” Samsung concluded in its explainer.

TIME Smartphones

50 Best Android Apps for 2014

From high-end Android handsets to low-cost prepaid phones, you’re not getting the full value unless you load up on great apps. We’re here to help, with recommendations for news, weather, productivity, task management and more.

  • Agent

    If you’ve ever envied the “Assist” feature on Motorola’s latest handset, Agent is a worthy substitute that works with any Android phone. When you’re driving, Agent can read text messages aloud and let you dictate responses by voice, and it can automatically leave a marker where you parked. It can also silence your phone during meetings, and it lets you set nighttime hours when only a specific list of contacts can get through. It’s like having a silent personal assistant, and all it takes is a few minutes of set-up.

    Link: Agent (Free)

  • BitTorrent Sync

    Cloud storage is great for accessing files from anywhere, but sometimes you want something more secure that isn’t subject to recurring subscription costs. BitTorrent Sync fulfills that need by automatically syncing any folder from your phone to your tablet or PC–or vice versa–over your local Wi-Fi network. Set it up for your phone’s photo folder, and your precious memories will always be backed up on your computer’s hard drive.

    Link: BitTorrent Sync (Free)

  • CBS Sports

    CBS does a mighty fine job with brackets and fantasy sports leagues, but its Android app is no slouch either. You’ll get real-time stats for most major sports, including live game trackers and push notifications. There’s also on-demand video highlights, live fantasy football and fantasy baseball shows, and personalized news feeds based on your favorite teams.

    Link: CBS Sports (Free)

  • Chrome Remote Desktop

    While there are plenty of remote desktop apps for Android, Chrome Remote Desktop has the advantage of being simple, free and unlimited, and it doesn’t need any additional client software if you already use the Chrome browser on your computer. Just add the Remote Desktop app in Chrome, set up a PIN for remote access, and you can quickly get to your entire desktop. It’s handy if you need to send yourself a file or check on a desktop program.

    Link: Chrome Remote Desktop (Free)

  • Circa News

    With an almost unlimited number of news sources nowadays, it’s almost impossible to keep up with everything that’s going on without a little help. Circa rounds up the most important news events and breaks each one down into a stream of bite-sized snippets, letting you see the latest updates first before flicking your way downward to get more of the back-story.

    Link: Circa News (Free)

  • CloudMagic

    One of the frustrating things about Android is that it comes with two e-mail apps–one for Gmail, and another for everything else. CloudMagic is a fine alternative if you’d rather combine them into a single app. It supports lots of services including Gmail, Exchange, Yahoo and IMAP, and it has a slick interface that easily rivals Android’s native Gmail experience. It also has some helpful integration with other apps such as OneNote, MailChimp and Pocket.

    Link: CloudMagic (Free)

  • ConvertPad

    ConvertPad isn’t the prettiest unit-conversion app around, but it’s free, and it’s loaded with pretty much everything, from weight and distance to energy flux and radiation absorbed dose. It does currency conversions as well and keeps itself up to date on exchange rates. You can also customize which categories you want to see, just in case viscosity and capacitance aren’t things you’ll be converting anytime soon.

    Link: ConvertPad (Free)

  • Current Caller ID

    Although your smartphone can recognize calls from your contact list, for some reason full caller ID never made the leap from the landline era. Current Caller ID compensates by drawing on WhitePages to tell you who’s calling, and letting you block telemarketers. And for people you do know, the app can show that contact’s recent social network updates and local weather conditions as the call comes in.

    Link: Current Caller ID (Free)

  • EndlessTV

    Need to kill a few minutes? EndlessTV lets you pick from well-known video sources such as Comedy Central and ESPN, and gives you a steady stream of clips with no ads. And if you don’t like what you see, you can swipe to the next video. It’s sort of like channel surfing, but on your phone, and it’s free.

    Link: EndlessTV (Free)

  • ES File Explorer

    ES File Explorer is a free file browser with a slick interface and lots of features, including integration with cloud storage services like Google Drive and Dropbox. You can certainly get by without a file browser on Android, but it’s nice to have one in case you ever want to sort photos into folders or send multiple files as a ZIP file.

    Link: ES File Explorer (Free)

  • Fandango Movies

    Fandango is one of a few apps for movie listings, trailers and ticket purchases, but its simple interface and clean design leave it a cut above the rest. From the top of the page, you can easily see what’s playing near you, and there’s a lot of editorial video below the fold if you just want to see what’s happening in Hollywood.

    Link: Fandango Movies (Free)

  • Flipboard

    Flipboard is like a personalized miniature magazine for Internet content. It takes stories from around the web and reformats them into little pages of text and images, so you can flip through by swiping up and down. You can also plug in your Twitter or Facebook profiles, and Flipboard will pull the links that people share into the mix — along with the occasional tweet or timeline post.

    Link: Flipboard (Free)

  • Gas Guru

    Here’s a easy way to save up money for some of the other apps on this list: Install Gas Guru, and use it to find the cheapest gas in your area. Nearby stations are displayed on a map, along with color indicators that show how good the pricing is. You can also compare prices in multiple locations, such as home and work, to figure out the best place to fill up. You’ll have app money in no time.

    Link: Gas Guru (Free)

  • Get Sh*t Done!

    This unashamedly vulgar app isn’t so much a task manager as it is a task motivator. Assign yourself a job, set the timer and–this is the important part–add a reward for success and a punishment for failure. Get Sh*t Done will try to amp you up along the way. It’s a clever tool to keep yourself from procrastinating, even if it’s a little heavy on the bro-speak.

    Link: Get Sh*t Done! (Free)

  • Google Docs and Sheets

    Although Google Drive is still around, Google recently split off its document and spreadsheet editors into separate apps. They’re basically unchanged from before, which means that they’re still a great pair of tools for creating and editing documents from a mobile device. But they do have one new trick: You can now edit and save Microsoft Word and Excel files without any cumbersome conversion process.

    Link: Google Docs and Google Sheets (Free)

  • Google Keep

    Keep is definitely worth checking out if you need a quick way to get your thoughts down. You can create notes with text, by voice (with automatic transcription), with photos or as a list, and they’ll show up in chronological order. Notes are automatically saved online, so you can access them on your computer’s web browser at drive.google.com/keep.

    Link: Google Keep (Free)

  • Google Translate

    When you need to translate text or spoken words, Google’s translation app still has no equal, especially with this year’s addition of offline translation. Google Translate now supports text and speech translation in 80 languages.

    Link: Google Translate (Free)

  • Google Wallet

    Google’s Wallet app comes with a bunch of finance-related features, but the most useful one is the ability to store loyalty cards in a central location. You can load any loyalty card into Wallet by scanning the bar code or entering the card number, and you can sign up for a handful of programs directly through the app. It beats carrying around a dozen cards on your keychain.

    Link: Google Wallet (Free)

  • Holo Bulb

    Nothing fancy here, just a slick little flashlight app with a focus on battery efficiency and simple, ad-free design. Tap the big bulb to turn on your phone’s LED flash bulb, or use Holo Bulb’s widget to turn the light on directly from your home screen.

    Link: Holo Bulb (Free)

  • Hotel Tonight

    Hotel Tonight might just be one of the most aptly-named apps on this list. If you’re in a pinch and need to book a hotel room, Hotel Tonight will show you which ones are available nearby and help you book all the way up until 2am. The company says it personally vets all of the hotels it lists, too, and you can book for up to five nights if the hotel you’re considering has enough space available.

    Link: Hotel Tonight (Free)

  • IFTTT

    With so many web-based services to take advantage of nowadays, a little automation goes a long way. Think of IFTTT (If This, Then That) as a middleman that sits between all of them, letting them interact with each other. You can get an e-mail when it’s raining, save your photos to a cloud-based storage service, or get a text message when your stocks go up or down.

    Link: IFTTT (Free)

  • iSyncr for iTunes

    If you want to listen to your iTunes music collection on your phone, but aren’t ready to go fully online with Google Play, iSyncr can help. Install the companion desktop app, and then use the Android app to transfer your library, either over USB or Wi-Fi. The desktop software is fairly light–it’s just a syncing tool, not a full-blown iTunes replacement–and supports some advanced features such as album art, syncing of multiple iTunes libraries and the ability to transfer playlists created on the phone back to the computer.

    Link: iSyncr for iTunes ($4.99)

  • Life Time Alarm Clock

    While almost every Android phone comes with a clock app, Life Time Alarm Clock aims to be better at breaking the wake-snooze cycle. You can set a “pre-alarm” to gently stir you with calmer tones, set hard limits on snooze time and give yourself simple puzzles to help shake your grogginess. And although the app doesn’t have a huge set of sounds to choose from, it does support MP3 playback.

    Link: Life Time Alarm Clock (Free)

  • Link Bubble

    Instead of replacing your phone’s default browser, Link Bubble acts as a supplement, opening links in the background while you use apps like Twitter, Facebook and Reddit. The idea is that you can keep scrolling through your feed without interruption, then open the fully-loaded page whenever you’re ready. It’s free to use with a single app and one bubble at a time, and you can remove those limits with the $5 “Pro” version.

    Link: Link Bubble (Free)

  • Mailbox

    Mailbox looks to tame your Gmail and iCloud inboxes by letting you quickly archive e-mails with a swipe or turn them into task-like entities to deal with later. The app’s design emphasizes speed and simplicity, helping you to slice through your mountain of messages in a matter of minutes. Yes, you’re basically engaging in digital procrastination, but at least it’ll help you feel somewhat organized. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of reaching inbox zero, if only for a short while.

    Link: Mailbox (Free)

  • Microsoft Office Mobile

    Microsoft’s productivity suite used to cost $99 per year with an Office 365 subscription, but not anymore. The Android phone version is now free, so you can view Office documents in full fidelity and make light edits. And if you use OneDrive cloud storage, all those documents will be waiting for you when you get back to your computer.

    Link: Microsoft Office Mobile (Free)

  • Mint.com Personal Finance

    Managing your finances may not be the most exciting activity, but at least Mint.com makes it look good. The Android app provides a crisp, clean interface for keeping track of your expenses and accounts. You can also get e-mail and text alerts when it’s time to pay the bills.

    Link: Mint.com Personal Finance (Free)

  • Notification Toggle

    Notification Toggle is a crucial app if your phone doesn’t come with its own quick settings menu, or if you’re not satisfied with the one you’ve got. This highly customizable menu resides in the notification bar, and lets you adjust things like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, brightness, rotation lock, airplane mode, mobile data, NFC and audio. It can also include shortcuts to your favorite apps.

    Link: Notification Toggle (Free)

  • OpenTable

    OpenTable helps you skip all the nonsense of trying to make a restaurant reservation over the phone and get right to the point: what’s nearby, which times are available, and how are the reviews? Potential eateries can be filtered by cuisine, distance, price and more. Once you find a restaurant that looks good and has an available table, tap to reserve it. Done and done.

    Link: Open Table (Free)

  • Photo Editor by Aviary

    Aviary’s mobile photo editor is loaded with effects, filters and enhancement tools. But most importantly, it has a “meme” button that superimposes the black-outlined Impact font on top of your photos, so you can hang on Reddit with the best of them. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, just relax and enjoy all the other editing tools that Aviary has to offer.

    Link: Photo Editor by Aviary (Free)

  • Pocket

    Let’s say you find a long article on the web — something you need at least 10 minutes to read — but you’re at work or otherwise too busy to read it all right away. Just install the Pocket extension or bookmarklet in your browser, and you can save the story for your lunch break. Pocket’s Android app formats web pages in a clean, booklike view, and it stores content off-line so you can still catch up even while in a dead zone.

    Link: Pocket (Free)

  • Pocket Casts

    Android doesn’t have a built-in podcast app, but Pocket Casts is the best stand-in you’ll find. It’s a beautifully designed app on both phones and tablets, with plenty of features including auto-downloads, variable speed playback and cross-device syncing.

    Link: Pocket Casts ($3.99)

  • Power Bubble – Spirit Level

    The Google Play Store is lousy with bubble level apps, but this one by Boy-Coy has just the right amount of skeuomorphism. An “LED” meter reads the angle of the level, and the app will beep as the angle approaches zero. And while the app shows advertisements, you can choose to hide them if you wish (in exchange for a minor guilt trip for not supporting the developers).

    Link: Power Bubble – Spirit Level (Free)

  • Remember the Umbrella

    Even if you have a favorite weather app already, Remember the Umbrella serves an important purpose: If the forecast at the start of your day shows a high chance of precipitation, the app sends a notification telling you to take an umbrella. All you do is specify the notification time and whether you want alerts by noise or by voice. Ideally, you’ll often forget that the app is even installed.

    Link: Remember the Umbrella (Free)

  • RoadNinja

    Imagine you’re on a road trip and you see a highway sign advertising a McDonald’s two miles ahead. You’re getting hungry, but you don’t particularly like McDonald’s, and you’ll be kicking yourself if you pull off and there’s a Carl’s Jr. at the very next exit. RoadNinja can save you from this dilemma by giving you a list of services near each exit. You can also customize which services you want to see, and look up Foursquare reviews for some of the more obscure roadside stops.

    Link: RoadNinja (Free)

  • Secret

    One of several apps that lets people anonymously air their dirty laundry, Secret digs through your contact list and builds a network of people you may or may not know. You’re then given an endless feed of secrets to read through, revealing people’s innermost fears, desires and impulses. It’s sort of addictive, but don’t believe everything you read.

    Link: Secret (Free)

  • Shazam

    You hear a song you like. You don’t know who plays it. You open Shazam and press the big button, and a few seconds later, the app tells you the title, the artist, the album and even the lyrics. It’s basically the embodiment of what mobile apps are all about.

    Link: Shazam (Free)

  • ShopSavvy Barcode Scanner

    ShopSavvy is the slickest barcode scanner you’ll find, and unlike some others, it’s not biased in favor of any particular retailer. Using your phone’s camera to scan barcodes, ShopSavvy serves up product information and reviews, and can tell you if there’s a better deal to be found online or in another nearby store. The app also shows the latest deals, coupons and promos, so you can be prepared before the shopping spree begins.

    Link: ShopSavvy Barcode Scanner (Free)

  • Songkick Concerts

    Songkick helps you find concerts with minimal effort. The first time you open the app, it scans your music library, Google Play Music account and Last.fm account (if you have one), and then lists nearby shows for the bands in your catalog. You can also get alerts for new concerts and add a widget to the home screen to keep an eye on upcoming shows. It’s perfect for people who aspire to see more music but always forget to look things up.

    Link: Songkick Concerts (Free)

  • Spotify

    If you haven’t checked out Spotify on smartphones lately, it’s worth another look. The recently-overhauled free version lets you listen to any artist, album or playlist on shuffle if you’re using an Android phone–that’s more generous than most other free streaming music service–while Android tablet owners have access to single songs. A $10 per month subscription gives you on-demand listening, offline playback, no ads and higher sound quality.

    Link: Spotify (Free)

  • Stitcher Radio

    Why settle for one talk-radio source when you can choose from thousands? Stitcher brings together live stations, recorded talk-radio shows and podcasts from around the web into a single app and lets you create custom stations based on your favorites. Plus, it doesn’t get all weird around power lines the way AM radio does.

    Link: Stitcher Radio (Free)

  • Sunrise Calendar

    Android’s built-in Calendar app is fine for people who keep really good calendars on their own, but sometimes you need a little help. Sunrise Calendar can connect to lots of other online services, including Facebook (for events and birthdays) and TripIt (for flights and reservations). It’s a handy way to automate your calendar, and it helps that the design is easy on the eyes.

    Link: Sunrise Calendar (Free)

  • Swype Keyboard

    While Swype has plenty of competitors, its years of experience still make for the most accurate gesture keyboard available. Instead of tapping on each letter, you simply drag a finger across all the letters in a word, and Swype uses prediction to figure out what you meant to write. Take a week or two to get used to it, and suddenly regular typing will seem impossibly sluggish.

    Link: Swype ($3.99)

  • TripIt

    With a little extra effort up front, TripIt spares you from digging for your travel details later. Just forward your flight, hotel, car rental and restaurant reservations to plans@tripit.com, and the app pulls them into separate itineraries. And if you use Gmail, Tripit gathers those details automatically.

    Link: TripIt (Free)

  • Triposo

    Although Triposo’s design is a bit dated, it’s hard to complain about the app’s wealth of worldwide travel data. Each locale is loaded with intel on things to do, sights to see, places to eat and special events–to the point that it’s even useful for where you live. You can also download individual guides for offline access, which is helpful for overseas trips.

    Link: Triposo (Free)

  • Umano

    When talk radio and podcasts won’t do, Umano will read the news straight from your favorite websites, kind of like an audiobook for current events. You can download articles for listening offline, make playlists and personalize the kinds of stories you’re interested in.

    Link: Umano (Free)

  • Valet

    Valet won’t park your car for you, but it’ll tell you where you left it, and remind you when the meter’s about to expire. For those who live in the city, Valet can even remember street sweeping schedules. If you have Bluetooth or a car dock, the app will mark your spot automatically, so you won’t have to remember anything. Isn’t that what technology’s all about?

    Link: Valet (Free)

  • Weather Underground

    To begin with, Weather Underground has an excellent layout, starting with the basic forecast flowing into ever-more detailed data as you scroll down the page. But what really helps this weather app stand out is its “hyper-local” data from enthusiast weather stations around the world. This way, you can find out whether the area you’re headed to is a little bit warmer or colder, or is due for a shower.

    Link: Weather Underground (Free)

  • Yelp

    There’s still nothing better than Yelp when you want to find a nearby restaurant, barber shop, auto mechanic, dry cleaner and so on. Peruse the user reviews or swipe to the bottom of each listing for helpful information about ambiance, suggested attire and the parking situation. You can even use filters to see only what’s open right now.

    Link: Yelp (Free)

  • Zedge

    Wallpaper and ringtone apps are somewhat notorious for adware, but Zedge is a safe choice with no shady advertising tactics. It has plenty of ringtones and wallpapers to choose from, and getting them onto your phone can be done with the press of a button.

    Link: Zedge (Free)

TIME Big Picture

The Death of Phones

StarTAC
Getty Images

I remember my first cell phone. It was a hand-me-down Motorola StarTAC from my father.

As many who had cell phones during this time will remember, there was a liberating feeling in being able to talk to any one, any time, any place.

Smartphones didn’t exist at this point in time, and as the cellular industry grew, it went on a run where the central value of the device was telephony. Those days are gone. The phone as an app is the popular way to think about the role of telephony on a mobile device today.

While telephony still exists via an app on mobile devices, it’s not the central reason for buying a smartphone in today’s world. What are consumers buying? This is where the taxonomy breaks down. They aren’t buying a phone. While we call it a “smart phone,” those words are just labels.

When you sit down and really watch people use their smartphones, what are they doing? They take pictures, watch movies, check in on Facebook or Twitter, read the news, play games and more. So what if instead of buying a smartphone, consumers are buying cameras, mobile gaming consoles, portable TVs, newspapers, and whatever else the smartphone can turn into thanks to software?

While this may seem obvious, I’m not sure it’s obvious to consumers: Rather, it’s very subconscious. They may not realize cognitively they are shopping for a pocketable camera, game console, or TV, but they know they want those features and they want them to be great.

I think Benedict Evans summed up my thinking on this in this very poignant tweet:

Mobile is eating consumer electronics. The most personal device paired with diverse software allows it to eat as many use cases as the hardware and the software will allow. The death of the phone as the primary use case is the rise of the mobile camera plus connected sharing apps like Facebook, or the rise of the mass market mobile gaming console, or the rise of the portable TV.

This same thinking applies to tablets. What tasks the tablet absorbs are still being fleshed out, but we are seeing it absorb the load from the PC, the TV, magazines, books and more. The use cases the tablet can take on are only limited by its hardware and software evolution.

What makes all this interesting is that prior to smartphones, we bought a telephony device and that was it. Now consumers are buying this AND that, AND that, AND that, AND that all wrapped up into one product. As we look to how the landscape may evolve, we simply need to figure out what the next AND will be.

Bajarin is a principal at Creative Strategies Inc., a technology-industry-analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to the Big Picture opinion column that appears here every week.

TIME

Uber Gets Green Light in London After Massive Protests

Uber London
A London taxi driver speaks with Police Officers during a protest against a new smart phone app, 'Uber' on June 11, 2014 in London, England. Dan Kitwood—Getty Images

The ride-sharing service Uber has been given the green light by London's transport regulator, who ruled the company is legal

London’s transport regulator has said that car service startup Uber can legally operate in the British capital.

Transport for London (TfL) said Thursday that the ride-sharing service was free to continue working in London. The ruling comes in defiance of last month’s cab driver strikes held in the city and elsewhere across Europe in protest of Uber. Many cabbies argue that Uber, a San Francisco-based startup, was stealing business from them. They say Uber doesn’t follow local rules and doesn’t pay sufficient tax.

Uber, which lets customers book drivers via a smartphone app, says it’s an innovator in a rigidly conservative industry.

In a statement to the TfL board, Leon Daniels, Managing Director of Surface Transport, which governs London’s above-ground transit options, noted that other cab companies have alleged Uber is not a licensed Private Hire Vehicle operator and that Uber cars come with taximeters, which are only allowed in black cabs under London law.

In response, Daniels said: “In relation to the way Uber operates in London, TfL is satisfied that based upon our understanding of the relationship between the passenger and Uber London, and between Uber London and Uber BV, registered in Holland, that it is operating lawfully.”

Daniels added that because Uber’s taximeters are smartphones, they “have no operational or physical connection with the vehicles, and [so] … are not taximeters within the meaning of the legislation.”

A British court is due to make a final ruling on whether Uber’s technology is the same as a taximeter. Their decision will be delayed while six legal cases brought by a taxi union against individual Uber drivers are heard.

 

TIME Smartphones

How to Get Great Fireworks Photos with Your Phone

Watching the July 4th fireworks has been a long-standing family tradition. But capturing the beautiful aerial displays can be hard if you stick with the auto settings on your smartphone, so try these simple tricks for fireworks photos you’ll want to keep.

1. Use a tripod

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Joby

When you take picture of fireworks, your phone’s camera needs to hold the shutter open long enough to “see” the fireworks. The longer the shutter is open, the more susceptible your photo is to motion blur. So use a tripod to make sure there’s no movement. Joby’s GripTight Gorillapod, which can wrap around trees and poles or stand up on the ground, is a great option that fits most smartphones. Price: $29.95 on joby.com or $16.74 on Amazon.

2. Use the “landscape” mode

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The app for iOS lets you set and lock focus manually. Camera+

Your phone’s camera automatically tries to find an object on which to focus. And when presented with a black featureless sky, the camera doesn’t know what to do. By putting your camera in “landscape” mode, you’ll be presetting the focus to infinity and narrowing the lens opening, which keeps both near and far objects in focus.

If your smartphone’s camera app doesn’t have landscape mode, you’ll want to manually set the focus to infinity. There’s an infinity focus option with Shot Control ($2.99 in Google Play) for Android phones. For iPhones, you can use Camera+ ($1.99 in iTunes) and manually select and set a focal point in the distance.

If you have access to a camera, you’ll want to look for “fireworks” mode. Most point-and-shoot cameras have a button or dial with “SCN” or “Scene” on it. Otherwise you’ll find it under the “menu” button. When you put your camera in scene mode, a list of the available modes will pop up on screen. Select the one that looks like a spray of fireworks and/or says “fireworks.”

3. Turn off the flash

Turning your flash off will let your phone’s camera know that it only has available light to take a picture. This is important because the camera will then keep the shutter open long enough to capture the fireworks. The flash button is usually a separate button on the main camera app screen.

4. Turn down the ISO

High ISO will crank up the sensitivity of your phone’s camera so it can see details in the dark. However, the fireworks themselves are quite bright. So, to avoid overexposure and reduce noise, take your camera out of Auto ISO and change the setting to ISO 100 or even lower. The ISO setting is usually found under the main menu. You may have to put your camera in program mode to change this setting.

This article was written by Suzanne Kantra and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME Smartphones

10 Free iPhone Apps Everyone Should Download

+ READ ARTICLE

There are tons of apps on my iPhone that I love and use all the time, from my local supermarket’s app to fun games like Threes. It’s really hard to choose favorites, but that’s exactly what my editor Suzanne asked me to do: Pick my 10 favorite free iPhone apps.

It wasn’t easy. But after much deliberation, I narrowed the apps I use every day down to a list of 10 that spans multiple genres, from GPS navigation to fitness tracking. Take a look at my faves, and if you’d like, use the comments section to tell us all your favorite free apps that I might have missed.

 Maps
Google

Google Maps

To be sure, the stock Maps app on your iPhone has improved a lot since its disastrous launch two years ago, but it’s still not as well designed and robust as the Google Maps app it replaced. Google Maps 3.0 offers highly accurate traffic reports, construction alerts and road closings provided by Waze, lane guidance so you don’t miss your next turn, the ability to save maps for offline use and even mass transit directions with schedules built in. And if a new, faster route becomes available, Google Maps will alert you and ask if you’d like to switch.

You can download Google Maps for iOS on the Apple App Store.

Weather Channel App

Yahoo has long been the provider of your iPhone’s stock weather app, but that’s about to change later this year in iOS 8 when Apple will switch to The Weather Channel. But you shouldn’t wait for iOS 8 – the stand-alone Weather Channel app is leagues ahead of Yahoo’s version now. It offers extended 10-day forecasts and hyperlocal rain reports down to your exact location. It looks great, and as an added bonus, it doesn’t glitch out like the stock iPhone app occasionally does.

You can download The Weather Channel app for iOS on the Apple App Store.

Stitcher

I’m a big fan of NPR shows like Radio Lab and Wait, Wait, but I’m rarely around a radio when the shows are broadcast. That’s why I like the Stitcher radio-on-demand app. It streams podcasts direct to your phone from all the biggest names, from popular NPR shows to The Nerdist to Penn Gillette to Joe Rogan. There are plenty of news briefs, too, so you can stay current on what’s going on in the world.

You can download Stitcher for iOS on the Apple App Store.

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Gas Buddy

Gas Buddy

I recently took a cross-country road trip, and as you can imagine, I spent a lot of money on gas along the way. But I was able to save a lot of money on gas, too, thanks to the Gas Buddy app. It relies on crowdsourcing to constantly update gas prices at fueling stations across the country, letting you compare prices no matter where you are. You can even overlay prices on a map, pinpointing the best, cheapest location to refuel on your route. Prices tend to be accurate, and are generally quickly updated when they’re not.

You can download Gas Buddy for iOS on the Apple App Store.

Facebook

Pretty much everyone is on Facebook these days, for better or worse. To stay connected with everyone in your social circle, I recommend downloading the official Facebook app. It learns your preferences as you use it, delivering content it thinks you’ll find most relevant. And you can change your own profile and write your own updates on the go, making all your friends jealous of your exciting night out on the town. It’s a guilty pleasure that I just can’t do without.

You can download Facebook for iOS on the Apple App Store.

Google Now

It the past, I’ve called Google Now “creepy” – and it is. But that’s just because it’s so good at learning about you and your life. Google Now learns where you work, where you live, and where you travel, providing you with instant weather alerts, traffic and mass transit updates based on where it thinks you’re going. And if you’ve got a Gmail account, Google Now pulls travel bookings and restaurant reservation confirmations from it, automatically notifying you if your flight is delayed and letting you know when you’ll need to leave home to catch it. Plus, it learns from your Google searches to deliver sports scores and news headlines it thinks you’ll be interested in. You have to give up a lot of privacy to Google to use it, but Google Now is so good that doing so feels worth it.

Google Now is part of the Google Search app and is available for iOS on the Apple App Store.

Adidas miCoach

There are plenty of great fitness apps available on your iPhone, but one of my (and Suzanne’s) favorites is Adidas miCoach. It offers coaching, training plans, exercises, performance tracking that includes steps taken and calories burned, and GPS tracking. You’ll get the most out of miCoach by pairing it with a compatible activity monitor, but it still works great as a standalone app. Give the free app a try – you have nothing to lose but a few pounds.

You can download Adidas miCoach on the Apple App Store.

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Yelp

Yelp

Whenever I’m feeling hungry away from home, I reach for the Yelp local discovery app. It ranks local businesses based on user-submitted ratings and reviews, making it easy to discover a great new hair salon or the place with the best pizza in your town. Yelp learns your preferences as you use it and check in to businesses, tailoring recommendations to your own individual tastes. Yelp also helps you save money: Occasionally, businesses offer coupons and specials on the app just for stopping and checking in.

You can download Yelp for iOS on the Apple App Store.

RedLaser

RedLaser is a shopping assistant app designed to help you find the best prices on any item with a barcode. Just use the app to take a photo of an item’s barcode and RedLaser will figure out what the item is, which local stores and websites sell it, and at what prices. And as a bonus, the app stores all your loyalty card info and offers coupons, helping you turn a good deal into a great deal.

You can download RedLaser for iOS on the Apple App Store.

Spotify

I’ve said it before, but Spotify is my absolute favorite app for streaming music to my iPhone. I pay for the $9.99 monthly premium service, but there are plenty of free listening options available for those who don’t mind a few ads every now and then. Spotify lets you create and modify your own radio stations, create playlists and shuffle through songs by your favorite artists. And if you install the app on an iPad, Spotify now lets you listen to individual songs on demand without you having to shell out the cash to become a premium subscriber.

You can download Spotify for iOS on the Apple App store.

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

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