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 Companies

The Next iPhone Will Reportedly Have a Way Bigger Screen

Apple is reportedly increasing the size of the iPhone display from 4 inches to options of 4.7 or 5.5 inches

Apple has ordered larger-sized screens for its next generation of iPhones this year, the Wall Street Journal reports, betting that consumer demand for bigger phone displays will help wrest market share from competitors like Samsung.

The company has asked suppliers to manufacture between 70 and 80 million units of large-screen iPhones with 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch displays. The most recent versions of the iPhone, the 5s and 5C, have only 4-inch diagonal displays.

Samsung, which has a 29% share of the smartphone market compared with Apple’s 18%, produces the top-selling Galaxy S with a 4.8-inch display. Apple’s move into larger screens may be a competitive strike against Samsung just as the company prepares to release its third-quarter results Tuesday and provide a financial outlook for the period ending in September.

Apple’s 70- to 80-million unit initial order for what is being called the iPhone 6 is significantly larger than the 50- to 60 million-unit initial order of the iPhone 5S and C.

[WSJ]

TIME privacy

Italy Gives Google Deadline to Change Data-Use Policies

Google must present a game plan in September

An Italian data-regulation official told Google it has 18 months to change how it stores users’ information.

Italy is one of several European countries that have been jointly investigating Google’s consolidation of 60 different privacy policies into one last year, Reuters reports. The Italian watchdog said in a statement that Google’s disclosures about data use were insufficient, despite the company’s efforts efforts to abide by local laws.

A spokesperson for Google said the tech company has consistently cooperated with the inquiry and will continue to do so after it reviews the watchdog’s latest decision.

Google has a year and a half to, among other demands, start asking for users’ consent to profile them based off their data for commercial purposes. The official also asked Google to follow through on users’ requests to delete their personal data within two months.

In addition to the 18-month deadline, Google must also present in September a detailed plan for how it intends to meet the regulator’s demands. If Google ultimately does not comply with the regulator, it could face fines.

France and Spain have already fined the company for violating local data-protection laws. A Dutch regulator is still deciding whether to take steps to enforce changes following similar legal breaches in the Netherlands.

[Reuters]

TIME Video Games

The Destiny Beta Just Went Dark Until Wednesday

Bungie

If you can't log in, that's by design, and the whole thing should be back in roughly 48 hours.

So that’s it PlayStation owners, the horn just sounded and it’s time for everyone to climb out of the pool: Bungie’s Destiny beta, which arrived last Thursday for PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 owners, is now offline for a two-day maintenance hiatus.

Don’t worry, it’ll be back on Wednesday (this week) at 10 a.m. PT, at which point PlayStation players will be able to log back in, this time joined by their Xbox One and Xbox 360 friends across the aisle — though that aisle is technically uncrossable: the game doesn’t support cross-platform play.

In fact it doesn’t even support same brand play, which makes sense if you’ve read Bungie’s thoughts on the matter, namely that screen resolution and detail levels do matter when you’re talking about information that might convey critical advantages to one player or another.

The beta will officially wrap for everyone on July 27 at 11:59 p.m. PT. In the lead-up, Bungie’s planning a Beta Rally on Saturday, July 26 that kicks off at 2:00 p.m. PT. If you’re present during the rally (read: “stress test”), you’ll receive a beta tout you can bring to the final version of the game.

The final — or perhaps we should just say “launch” — version of Destiny arrives for Xbox and PlayStation platforms on September 9.

TIME Law

U.S. Judge Grants Investigators Access to Gmail Accounts in Criminal Probes

The judge says the law already supports giving investigators access to documents simply to determine whether they're warrantable or not.

A New York federal judge ruled on Friday that prosecutors have a legal right to access Gmail-based emails in criminal probes that involve money laundering, a sharp turnaround from previous rulings in comparable cases and an alarm bell for privacy advocates.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Gabriel Gorenstein said that his decision was based on a law already on the books that allows investigators to seize documents–which Gorenstein interpreted as including emails–to determine whether data should be subject to a warrant, Reuters reports.

The big question is what happens if a user’s email account doesn’t yield any information that would justify a legal warrant, and how much public support lies behind the idea of privileging high profile investigations over personal privacy.

[Reuters]

TIME Star Wars

For Nerds, This Video Is Absolutely Everything

A mash-up of epic proportions

+ READ ARTICLE

One Star Wars fan is recreating Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope entirely out of stills from Minecraft, the massively popular, low-res video game. The process has already taken three years, with individual scenes taking up to six months to recreate. Naturally, there’s not an official release date yet, though 90 minutes of the film are complete. When it does come out, it will be free to view.

TIME Google

Google Has a Huge New Business You Probably Don’t Know About

Google on iPhone 5
Iain Masterton—Alamy

Selling apps, television shows, e-books, music and games through Google Play is becoming a big business for the tech giant

fortunelogo-blue
This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published atFortune.com.

In five years, Google Play has gone from being an upstart marketplace for mobile phone apps to a mammoth media hub.

On Thursday’s second-quarter earnings call, Google’s outgoing Chief Business Officer Nikesh Arora all-but-said as much. In addition to apps, it now sells now sells digital movies, TV shows and music to the more than one billion people worldwide who own Android phones and tablets.

It “continues to grow at breakneck speed,” Arora said on the call.

Google doesn’t break out numbers for just how well Google Play is doing. But sales have steadily grown into the second largest source of revenues behind the company’s long-standing cash cow, advertising.

Finding alternative sources of revenue is critical to Google as it tries to offset the inevitable slowing growth in its online ad business. Selling apps and entertainment for mobile device can be an important way to keep Wall Street investors happy along with making its operating system more attractive to consumers and device manufacturers.

Citigroup analyst Mark May predicts Google Play’s annual revenues will grow from $1.3 billion in 2013 to $5.2 billion in 2017. Those figures remain a fraction of the $10 billion in iTunes sales Apple reported last year, but Android’s momentum is undeniable.

For the rest of the story, go to Fortune.com.

TIME

Here’s Definitive Proof Nintendo’s Wii U Isn’t Dead Yet

Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto demonstrates the new control scheme in Star Fox for the Wii U. Nintendo

Nintendo hasn’t had a great run of it lately. Sales of its latest Wii U consoles have generally been down and, during its last earnings call, the company admitted how far away they were from the company’s original projections. Even its 3DS handheld—which had been a bright spot—has seen better days. Now there’s some good news for fans of the old-school Japanese game-maker.

As Time.com’s Matt Peckham writes:

Nintendo claimed Mario Kart 8 (reviewed here) was June’s top-selling game and gave us a few rare figures: 470,000 physical and digital units sold in June, bring the total to more than 885,000 units sold (in the U.S. alone) in the game’s first five weeks. Nintendo says June 2014 Wii U sales are up 233 percent over June 2013, while Wii U software sales are up 373 percent for the same period. (Nintendo says Mario Kart 8 was the top-selling game once you factor in digital sales.)

While NPD says portable sales declined year-on-year, Nintendo notes that June 2014 3DS sales were up over the prior month by more than 55 percent, driven in part by sales of Tomodachi Life (175,000 digital and physical copies sold).

Nintendo still has plenty of challenges ahead of it. The Wii U lacks compelling specs or a sweetheart price. And worse, the company’s failed to woo third-party developers, leaving the Wii U’s cupboards bare on an on and off basis. But now, at least, the firm’s strategy of banking on beloved franchises appears to be working in the marketplace.

 

TIME Web

Netflix Is Testing a ‘Privacy Mode’ So Nobody Can See Your Bad Movie Habits

Netflix Ends Messages Blaming Verizon
The logo of Netflix, the biggest driver of Internet bandwidth, is displayed on an iPhone. Bloomberg—Getty Images

Soon you may not have to worry about your friends who share your logon making fun of you

Netflix is reportedly testing a feature that will allow you to conceal your viewing activity so you can hide your more embarrassing binge watches.

Cliff Edwards, director of corporate communications and technology, told Gigaom that the company is testing a “Privacy Mode” option that will keep what you’re viewing from appearing in your activity log and ensure that Netflix doesn’t use it to recommend future titles you you or anyone else who shares your account.

The Netflix rep told Gigaom that the feature is being testing in all markets, but not all users will have access. It’s still unclear if the feature will be released for everyone to use after testing.

[Gigaom]

TIME Terrorism

Malaysia Airlines Ukraine Crash: A Working Theory of the Shootdown

A dangerous missile, and a dangerous lack of training on how to use it

+ READ ARTICLE

The U.S. military’s top commander in Europe spoke last month at the Pentagon of Russians training pro-Russian separatists from Ukraine. “What we see in training on the east side of the border is big equipment, tanks, APCs [armored personnel carriers], anti-aircraft capability,” Air Force General Philip Breedlove said, referring to the Russian side of the Russian-Ukrainian border. “And now we see those capabilities being used on the west side of the border”—inside Ukraine.

“Anti-aircraft capability”? Did that mean that Russian separatists inside eastern Ukraine had shot down a Ukrainian helicopter a week earlier, killing nine?

“It’s a very good likelihood,” Breedlove responded, “but we haven’t tied the string directly together yet.”

There’s also no hard proof yet that Russian separatists inside eastern Ukraine downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on Thursday, killing all 298 aboard. But there is a very good likelihood.

Russian and Ukrainian forces also have the kind of Buk missiles believed to have shot down MH17. A Russian press report said a Ukrainian Buk missile battery near Donetsk shot the airliner down. But the rebels have no air force, which makes one wonder what Ukrainian forces would have been aiming at (they have also failed to shoot at Russian aircraft that have crossed into Ukrainian airspace).

A pair of Russian batteries was just across the border. But it’s highly unlikely that a Russian unit went rogue.

Evidence is steadily mounting—training, equipment, purported post-shootdown telephone transcripts—that the separatists are responsible. While some elements may prove incorrect, the accumulating weight points at Russian separatists inside eastern Ukraine as the ones who fired the missile.

But that doesn’t absolve Moscow. If poorly-trained separatists fired the missile, it shows the dangerous game Russian president Vladimir Putin is playing. He and his nuclear-armed government have been fanning pro-Russian nationalistic fervor in eastern Ukraine, and providing them with weapons, intelligence and other support, U.S. officials say. Apparently, the rebels just got a little out of hand.

President Obama made clear Friday who he holds responsible, without saying so. “Over the last several weeks Russian-backed separatists have shot down a Ukrainian transport plane and a Ukrainian helicopter, and they claimed responsibility for shooting down a Ukrainian fighter jet,” he said. “Moreover, we know that these separatists have received a steady flow of support from Russia. This includes arms and training. It includes heavy weapons. And it includes anti-aircraft weapons.”

Pentagon officials believe MH17 was most likely shot down by a Buk Mk.2, which NATO calls an SA-11 Gadfly. Each SA-11 launch vehicle carries four 19-foot-long missiles atop a turntable that can hit targets at 60,000 feet. While the 35-year old design has been upgraded, it lacks some of the tracking capabilities of Russia’s newer systems.

“The SA-11, which is the one we believe was used to down Flight 17, is a sophisticated piece of technology,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said Friday. “It strains credulity to think that it could be used by separatists without at least some measure of Russian support and technical assistance.”

Whoever was operating the missile mistakenly believed that what turned up on their radar screen was a Ukrainian plane, U.S. defense officials theorize. In the past week, four Ukrainian aircraft have been shot down, including an Antonov AN-26 cargo plane flying at 21,000 feet on Monday. In two of those cases, the Ukrainian government believes the missiles involved were fired from inside Russia.

Russian media reported in June that pro-Russian separatists captured at least one Buk missile system. “The Donetsk resistance fighters have captured an anti-aircraft military station,” a Russian television network said three weeks ago. “The skies above Donetsk will now be protected by the BUK surface-to-air missile complex,” said the headline on the channel’s website.

There are plenty of military veterans in the region capable of operating the Buk system, U.S. officials believe, although the shoot down may have exposed just how little they really understood. That flaw—and the fact that the doomed airliner appears to have strayed north of the standard air corridor and ended up flying right over rebel-held territory—seems to have made the shootdown possible.

“Some separatists have received some training in these vehicle-borne systems,” Kirby said. “There’s no question about that.”

Yet they may not have been trained sufficiently. “The flight was transmitting its assigned transponder code corresponding with its flight plan, and flight tracking data was publicly available on the internet,” Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, told the Security Council Friday. “There was nothing threatening or provocative about MH17.”

But while a complete Buk missile battery consists of three vehicles—one carrying the missiles, one for the radar that guides them, and one for the missile commander—the missile-launching vehicle does have its own radar and can launch missiles by itself. If that happened, its crew of three or four may have been unable to, or never trained in, reviewing the airliner’s transponder data declaring their target to be a civilian airliner.

“Its built-in radar is normally used to track the target being engaged, but can be operated in a target-detection mode, allowing it to autonomously engage targets that were present in the radar’s forward field of view,” says IHS Jane’s Missile & Rockets editor Doug Richardson. “Although it has its own Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) system, this is only able to establish whether the target being tracked is a friendly aircraft. It is the electronic equivalent of a sentry calling out ‘Who goes there?’ If there is no reply, all you know is that it is not one of your own side’s combat aircraft. It would not give you a warning that you were tracking an airliner.”

Or attacking one.

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