TIME Virtual Reality

Here’s How Valve Cracked Virtual Reality’s Biggest Problem

This is shaping up to be the most important year in the tumultuous, not-quite-there-yet history of virtual reality.

A number of companies, from Facebook and Samsung to Google and Microsoft, are making significant pushes into the technology, which has been a mainstay of science fiction for decades but has largely failed to materialize as a viable consumer product. The latest piece of kit, the HTC Vive announced this weekend, is the product of a collaboration between the Taiwanese phone giant and Valve, the purveyor of the most important software distribution platform on the PC, Steam.

Virtual reality, or VR, has a long tortured history. Until three years ago, the technology was more or less moribund. Then Palmer Luckey (now 22), reignited interest with a series of prototypes for a new device called the Oculus Rift, which improved significantly on the old technology by taking advantage of advances in components for phones. His company, Oculus VR, was acquired by Facebook last year for $2 billion.

Most of Oculus’ advances, which are now being adopted or emulated by the likes of Sony and Samsung, are in how images are displayed to users wearing the headset. Long story short, a VR system has to display two sets of images—one for each eye—at very fast rates or the viewer will get nauseous.

But the HTC Vive, which the companies say will be available later this year, solves the next most vexing problems: once a viewer is seeing 3D space, how do they maneuver and manipulate the environment around them. Aside from content that is compatible with VR, these are the biggest outstanding questions. Once you’re there, what can you do and how do you do it?

Early development kits for the Oculus employ a standard console controller to move around, but that can be disorienting. Sony’s Morpheus prototype for the Playstation4 uses a set of controllers that look like ice cream cones with lightbulbs on top with similar results. And Microsoft’s recently unveiled HoloLens, which projects images onto the real world, uses hand gestures and arm motions. It’s still unclear which approach will win out.

HTC says its system will come with a base station that can track a user’s movements in 3D space. The company also hinted at a specific controller, perhaps a set of gloves, to enable users to manipulate virtual objects. Details are still scant, but this could solve the problems of mobility in a simulated 3D environment.

If Valve and HTC have indeed managed to do that, virtual reality may finally be ready for prime time.

TIME apps

These Apps Will Make Filing Your Taxes Way Less Painful

Taxes
Jamie Grill—Getty Images Woman filing taxes online.

From planning to scanning, there’s an app for every accounting need

Let me start by saying that I am not a tax professional. But I am a professional who pays his taxes, and I highly recommend getting expert assistance in navigating the bureaucratic machinations that are the state and federal income tax systems.

Still, if you are planning on going it alone (or you want to get organized enough that your accountant doesn’t charge you a bundle), there are many ways technology can help you file your taxes. Let’s take a look:

Planning:

The best way to take the sting out of tax time is to make a plan and stick to it year-round. Online budgeting programs like Mint can continuously monitor your spending to keep you on the straight and narrow, while making it easier to pull out certain details once tax season comes around. But Learnvest, a financial planning program with a great educational element, can help you better understand your money, not just categorize it.

Where neither of these fit the bill, turn to Ask A CPA, a free app available on iOS and Android that shares answers to many questions asked by taxpayers, some common — “Are funeral costs deductible?” — and others not —“Can I deduct my ‘girlfriend’ who lives with me as a dependent?” — really.

Receipts:

Whether it’s keeping track of a year’s worth of healthcare payments or accounting for various business-related expenses, the long slog of shepherding your receipts can be a tough one to keep up. TurboTax ItsDeductible, which is available online or as an iPhone app, excels at keeping track of your charitable donations, whether they were goods or funds. Shoeboxed, as its cutesy name implies, helps get through the clutter of your favorite paper receptacle by not only providing a scan-by-mail service for your paper trail but also by collecting electronic receipts from your Gmail account. With an organization system approved by the IRS, it’s a great way to go paperless with confidence.

For people who would rather scan their own files, Neat offers a great combination of scanners, mobile apps, and software to keep your data categorized and easy to search. It also offers cloud backups, which is great in case something happens to your home or office computer. However you do it, make sure you keep track of IRS guidelines for keeping electronic records.

Filing:

Gone are the days of filling in forms with pencils (and littering your table with eraser bits). Now, programs like Intuit’s TurboTax (available in every permutation imaginable, from CDs to online interfaces to mobile apps) are the way most people make good with Uncle Sam. For people with relatively straightforward taxes, the app makes filing almost fun, with easy-to-follow questions and imagery to help guide your answers. Of course, these conveniences come at a cost, as the mobile software has a mind-boggling variety of in-app purchases available.

H&R Block 1040EZ 2014 keeps it simple and low-cost for iPhone users as well, with free-to-file federal returns and just $9.99 for state return preparation. But perhaps more valuable is the company’s free, in-person audit support for people who use their services.

Keeping Track:

Once you’ve submitted your income tax return information, be sure to download IRS2GoApp, which is available for both Android and iOS. The official smartphone app of the IRS, it can provide status updates on your refund as well as provide tax tips so you’re streamlined and ready to go next year.

TIME Smartphones

The Galaxy S6 Is Samsung’s Best-Looking Smartphone Yet

Samsung’s new flagship Galaxy S6 was announced Sunday amid trouble for the company’s smartphone division. The Galaxy S5 didn’t sell as well as expected, and competition from HTC and Chinese manufacturers like Xiaomi and OnePlus has also had an impact on sales. To rub salt in the wound, Apple has gone from strength to strength since the release of its iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus.

It’s unsurprising, then, that Samsung went to great pains during its Mobile World Press press conference in Barcelona, Spain to convince the world the Galaxy S6 is better than the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. A reference to Apple’s possibly overstated troubles with bending iPhone 6 Plus units and side-by-side comparisons of photos taken with the iPhone 6 Plus and Galaxy S6 were heavy-handed examples of Samsung’s efforts here.

So the Galaxy S6 is Samsung’s great white hope – well, it comes in “Gold Platinum,” “Black Sapphire” and “Green Emerald” as well. And this time around, Samsung has changed its approach. Instead of packing every feature under the sun onto its flagship smartphone, Samsung has focused on design and desirability.

That’s not a totally unexpected move. Both last year’s metal-framed Galaxy Note 4 and Galaxy Alpha hinted at things to come. There’s no denying it — the Galaxy S6 is a good looking phone, far nicer to hold and look at than any of its predecessors, although it feels a little too light. It looks like a cross between the iPhone 6 and iPhone 4 – two design classics, but it doesn’t quite have the right heft and feel. It’s undoubtedly made of high-quality materials, but like previous Galaxy phones it doesn’t exude class when you hold it.

Samsung has realized that people want more than a functional phone: They want a desirable one, too. But has it gone too far? The S6 is handsome. A smooth metal frame is sandwiched between two pieces of the latest and toughest Gorilla Glass 4. The back is surprisingly grippy for glass, but it’s also a magnet for fingerprints. Every use required a wipe to remove the fingerprints while we were filming. That’s not something you want to see on such an expensive handset.

With the Galaxy S6, plenty has been sacrificed in the name of design. Gone is the removable back cover and with it the replaceable battery. That won’t be missed by too many. What will be missed is the microSD slot. This is one differentiating feature that Samsung fans had to lord over iPhone owners, but no longer. Instead, the Galaxy S6 comes in three storage variants: 32GB, 64GB and 128GB.

There’s a lot more to talk about than the design. A brand new camera has been fitted to the back that packs 16 megapixels and optical image stabilization – a feature that helps you get better shots in the dark. Selfie-lovers are well catered-for too, with a five-megapixel front-facing camera.

The front camera has larger pixels, like the HTC One M9, and we were pleased by the test shots we took. Less convincing was the rear camera that protrudes significantly from the rear of the phone. The image quality of our shots was a little blurry – on first impressions the HTC One M9 may well have the better camera.

We haven’t had a chance to fully test the capabilities of the Galaxy S6 yet, but early signs are promising. A brand new eight-core processor manufactured by Samsung powers the S6, helping it zip through menus and opens apps instantaneously. It’s probably quicker in benchmark tests than Apple’s iPhone 6, and perhaps quicker than its other great rival announced just hours before – The HTC One M9.

(Read more: The HTC One M9 Could Be One of the Best All-Around Phones of the Year)

It’s efficient, too. Samsung claims the S6’s guts are 30% more efficient than the Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 processor on the Galaxy Note 4. Combine that with quick charge technology — Samsung says the S6 will fully charge in half the time it takes the iPhone 6 to do the same — and wireless charging, and the S6 should last a while and be easy to charge on the go.

One area that makes the Galaxy S6 stand out is its glorious screen. With a pixel-packing 2K resolution, it’s far sharper than the iPhone 6 or HTC One M9. Is all that sharpness necessary? Arguably not. But both its competitors are plenty sharp. Where the S6 really pulls ahead is with dark scenes and colors. These look fantastic on the S6’s 5.1-inch AMOLED screen – far better than the LCD screens on the One M9 and iPhone.

The fingerprint scanner is now a match for Apple’s Touch ID, too. On the Galaxy S5, it was a clunky affair that only worked with precise swipes. Now simply resting your thumb on the home button springs the S6 to life. We didn’t get a chance to see quite how well it works for ourselves, though.

The Galaxy S6 also packs Samsung Pay, a variant on Apple Pay that looks like a winner. It allows payment through the magnetic strip used in older card readers, so doesn’t just rely on Near-Field Communication (NFC) like the iPhone and Apple Watch.

And now to an area that has traditionally held Samsung back: TouchWiz. TouchWiz is Samsung’s interface – a layer that goes over Android (5.0 Lollipop, in this case) to make Samsung phones look and feel unique. It’s not bad, but it’s never been as slick as Apple’s iOS operating system or HTC’s Sense layer.

Samsung has rebuilt TouchWiz from the ground up, attempting to make it a better all-around experience. Has it succeeded? It looks a lot better. Once again, Samsung has emulated Apple, so icons have become text buttons. Unfortunately, after about 15 minutes of use, we got a faint indication of the annoying momentary lag we’ve experienced with TouchWiz on previous Galaxy phones. It’s too early to reserve judgment now, though.

Has Samsung done enough with the Galaxy S6? That’s the big question. It may have gone too far in its attempt to emulate Apple, and could alienate the very fans that bought a Galaxy phone for the sheer amount of features they provide. The behemoth Samsung marketing machine will go into overdrive to ensure the S6’s success, and on first impressions there’s no reason it shouldn’t do well. This is a good-looking phone that packs top-notch specs.

Finally, Samsung also announced a Galaxy S6 Edge variant at Sunday’s event. The Edge packs the S6’s features into a phone with a screen that curves around the edges. It’s pretty, but the side screens aren’t as useful as they are on Samsung’s Galaxy Note Edge. It’s a little difficult to hold a phone with narrow sides, and the extra functionality the edges provide here – notifications when the phone screen is off and quick access to up to five contacts – feel like a solution waiting for a problem. Add a few hundred dollars to the cost and there’s no reason to opt for the Edge over the S6, unless you really want to be different.

 Galaxy S6 Edge
SamsungSamsung Galaxy S6 Edge

Both devices will be released in the U.S. and 25 other areas on April 10. Pricing has not yet been confirmed, although rumors suggest the S6 Edge will cost significantly more than the S6.

For Trusted Reviews’ full hands-on with the Samsung Galaxy S6, visit Trusted Reviews.

Read next: How to Slash Your Cell Phone Bill in 7 Minutes or Less

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TIME Smartphones

See Samsung’s Brand New Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge Phones

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge MWC
Lluis Gene—AFP/Getty Images The Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge (L) and Samsung Galaxy S6 are presented during the 2015 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on March 1, 2015.

New features include built-in wireless charging and Samsung Pay

Samsung on Sunday unveiled its brand new flagship phone, the Galaxy S6, and a sister smartphone, the Galaxy S6 edge, at this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

The Galaxy S6 and S6 edge are made from a metal frame and glass body, ditching the plastic backs that Samsung previously used for smartphones in the series, the company said. The main difference between the S6 and S6 edge is the latter’s front screen, which curves away on the sides. Both phones have have 5.1 in. screens and 16 megapixel rear cameras, among other specs.

The S6 and S6 edge will also feature Samsung’s first built-in wireless charging functions, providing about four hours of usage after only 10 minutes of charging, the company said. Samsung Pay—Samsung’s answer to Apple’s mobile payments system, Apple Pay—will also launch later this year on the S6 and S6 edge.

The S6 and S6 edge will go on sale globally on April 10.

TIME Smartphones

Samsung Is Going Head-to-Head With Apple Pay

Samsung Pay Galaxy S6
Lluis Gene—AFP/Getty Images The Samsung Galaxy S6 is presented during the 2015 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on March 1, 2015.

Samsung Pay will launch during the second half of 2015

Samsung might be losing its title as the world’s largest smartphone maker to Apple, but the company isn’t going down without a fight.

The South Korean company unveiled Samsung Pay—the company’s answer to Apple’s mobile payments system, Apple Pay—at this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on Sunday. Samsung Pay will be “compatible with more locations than any competing offering in a single application,” and protected by Samsung KNOX (Samsung’s mobile enterprise security systems), fingerprint scanning and advanced tokenization, the company said.

Samsung Pay’s high compatibility is made possible by its use of magnetic secure transmission (MST), a technology that allows Samsung Pay to work with even older credit card readers. So far only Samsung uses the MST technology, thanks to its acquisition of the mobile payments startup LoopPay last month. Like Apple Pay, Samsung will also employ near-field communication (NFC), which allows contactless payments at pay terminals.

Samsung Pay will launch on the Galaxy S6 and the Galaxy S6 Edge in the U.S. during the second half of 2015.

TIME technology

You Won’t Believe These Incredible Photos Were All Taken With iPhones

These exclusive photos show how Apple is putting the focus on its customers photos, not products, in a new ad campaign

Apple is turning the spotlight on its users in a new international ad campaign that will see photos taken “by real people” displayed on billboards across the world.

The switch in tactic—a first for a brand that traditionally favors product shots—will highlight the iPhone’s increasingly prevalent role in photography, both among amateurs and professionals, and is inspired by the popular use of the #iphoneonly hashtag on Instagram.

"Shot on iPhone6" billboard in Herald Square, New York City on March 3, 2015.
Josh Raab For TIME“Shot on iPhone6″ billboard in Herald Square, New York City on March 3, 2015.

In recent years, Apple’s popular phone has become one of the most used cameras in the world, with various models topping Flickr’s Camera charts since early 2011.

The new ads, which will be displayed on billboards, bus stops and train stations, will remain minimalistic, featuring a photograph, with the words: Shot on iPhone. To coincide with the worldwide outdoor and print campaign, Apple has also unveiled a new online gallery of images shot by 77 photographers in 70 cities across 24 countries.

Some of the photographers featured are among Instagram’s most popular users from Pei Ketron to Austin Mann and Cole Rise. “[The campaign] was a slightly mysterious process,” says Rise. “An ‘un-named’ company had reached out to my photography rep looking for exceptional examples of photos taken on an iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus. I spent a few days rummaging through the archives of photos taken on a variety of recent trips across the Northwest, selecting the 15 or so that told the best story. Learning that this company was in fact Apple was both a pleasant surprise and incredible honor, having carried every iPhone model since launch.”

Apple has now extended its campaign to include videos also shot on the iPhone6. The video below was shot by Jin C. in Nyaung Shwe, Myanmar.

Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent

Josh Raab is a contributor to TIME Lightbox. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter

TIME Gadgets

This Feature Could Save the Apple Watch

Apple Presents Apple Watch Battery Power ReserveApple Watch At Colette Paris
Chesnot—Getty Images The new Apple Watch is displayed during an Apple special event at Colette store on Sept. 30, 2014 in Paris, France.

The watch reportedly has a feature called "Power Reserve"

The word’s still out on whether the Apple Watch will be a commercial hit when it debuts this April—but there’s one feature that might make the high-tech wearable especially attractive.

The Apple Watch will have a battery-preserving “Power Reserve” mode, in which the device shows only the time, the New York Times reports, citing an unnamed Apple employee. Functions like “Power Reserve” don’t yet exist on any Apple products, such as iPhones, presumably because the battery-heavy functions—calling, Internet or GPS—are vital to the smartphone’s users.

Apple hasn’t announced the Apple Watch’s exact battery life, but CEO Tim Cook said in January that the watch will last “all day.”

More details about the Apple Watch will likely be unveiled during Apple’s March 9 event, ahead of the device’s release in April.

[NYT]

TIME Gadgets

We Finally Know Who’s Making Valve’s Virtual-Reality Headset

The HTC Vive should be out by the end of the year

Gaming company Valve dropped the news last week that it’s working on a virtual-reality platform akin to the Oculus Rift, but it wasn’t clear who was making the system’s hardware. Now we know: HTC on Sunday announced the HTC Vive, a joint HTC-Valve virtual-reality headset that’s due out by the end of the year.

HTC says the Vive has the “most immersive experience of any VR package,” thanks to a full 360-degree field of vision and 90-frame-per-second video capabilities. The company is also working on wireless controllers for the headset, which, given the Valve partnership, will probably be marketed primarily as a gaming device—games like shooters are a natural fit for the VR experience, and the Vive will be compatible with Valve’s SteamVR virtual-reality platform.

Still, games won’t be the only offering on HTC and Valve’s Vive headset. HTC is partnering with several content providers, including HBO, Lionsgate and Google, for other virtual-reality content like movies.

It still isn’t clear how much the HTC Vive will cost or what content will be available on the platform upon launch. A developer’s edition is due out this spring.

TIME Smartphones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s new

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

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

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

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

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

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

Early verdict

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

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

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

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

TIME Gadgets

Get Your First Look at Huawei’s Gorgeous New Android Smartwatch

The watch will arrive in mid 2015

Chinese telecom company Huawei unveiled its own smartwatch on Sunday at this year’s Mobile World Congress—and the round device stays true the timeless luxury watch design.

The 1.4 in. circular Huawei Watch is powered by Android Wear, and has 4GB of storage and 512MB of RAM, The Verge reports. The device will be sold in gold, silver and black, with designs tailored to men and women and several customizable watch faces.

The Huawei watch will debut in “mid-2015,” speculated to arrive months after the April debut of the Apple Watch. Exact pricing and availability will be announced at a later date.

[The Verge]

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