TIME Smartphones

Where Samsung’s Galaxy Alpha Goes Wrong

Samsung

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TIME apps

Uber Now Lets You Set Your Destination Within the App

The Hamptons Lure Uber Top Drivers Amid NYC Slow Summer Weekends
Uber's ride request is displayed on an iPhone in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014. Victor J. Blue—Bloomberg / Getty Images

Getting from point A to point B just got a few seconds easier

Uber added new features Wednesday meant to make the journey from point A to point B as frictionless as possible: Riders can now set their destination from right within the app, then drivers will get those turn-by-turn navigation directions on their version of the Uber app.

When you request an Uber, the updated app will now prompt you to enter a destination, which it will automatically forward the address to the driver, enabling the passenger to skip the step of telling the driver where to go. Importantly, the passenger’s destination is shown to the driver “at pickup time,” Uber says, meaning drivers can’t cherry-pick fares.

In case the driver has any doubts about how to get there, the app will offer turn-by-turn directions, sparing the driver from re-entering the address in a separate navigation app or device, or simply turning around and asking for the best route.

“For drivers, that means Uber is more lucrative: saving time on trips means more trips per hour,” the company wrote in its announcement of the new features

TIME How-To

The Best Photo-Sharing Sites

Digital cameras and smartphones mean that most of us have a ton of photos scattered everywhere, from phones and computer hard drives to Facebook and Instagram profiles.

But what happens when you switch phones, upgrade computers or simply want to search all your photos at once?

Uploading pictures to a photo sharing site is a simple way to answer all those questions—and the services offer lots of other benefits, as well. You can organize large photo collections, make it easier for friends and family to contribute to shared albums and ensure your pictures stay with you no matter which device they came from.

There are four main criteria to think about when picking the best site for your needs:

1. Cost of storage. First you need to figure out how much memory you’ll need. This is largely determined by where most of your pictures come from. Smartphone photos can range from 500KB to 2MB in size, while photos from point-and-shoot cameras are usually 1-5MB, depending on the megapixel count of the camera. Choose lower storage limits at first; you can always pay for more when you need it.

2. Automatic photo sync. If you take a lot of photos, a service that syncs images automatically via a smartphone app or folder on your desktop can take out the hassle out of backing up.

3. Privacy. Do you want complete control over who can see your pictures? Family albums, for instance, might benefit from a site that keep albums password protected.

4. Full-size upload and download. If you want to back up a collection or print your photos, find a service that allows full-resolution uploads and downloads. Some services downsize photos for quicker uploads.

Below are our favorite sites and their best features. Let us know what you think – and what you use – in the comments.

Photobucket: Great for Editing

photobucket-editing-tools-600px
Photobucket

If your smartphone doesn’t offer much in the way of touch-up tools – or if you’re transferring pics from a digital camera – you may want to check out photo services with basic editing tools built in. Stalwart photo-sharing site Photobucket offers an intuitive image editor with simple features, such as red-eye removal, sharpening and cropping. You can also add splashes of color to a black and white photo, try out vintage-style filters and draw or write on pictures.

You can upload photos from Facebook, your computer, or other websites. You can also create shared albums where friends can contribute photos, video and text of their own. Albums can be posted to Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

Photobucket has a large community of users who post pictures to a public photo feed with tons of interest tags and trending topics, so it’s also a good option if you want your albums to reach more than friends and family.

The site also has its own photo-printing service to reproduce images for framed prints, canvas wraps, photo books and even blankets and shower curtains.

Cost of storage: 2GB free, with an additional 8GB if you use the Photobucket app; prices range from 20GB for $2.99/month ($29.99/year) up to 500GB for $39.99/month ($399.99 a year)
Automatic photo sync? Yes, with desktop computer and iPhone/Android apps
Do you need an account to view photos? No
Privacy control: You can add a password to albums or choose to make them visible only to you
Full-size uploads/downloads? Yes

Flickr: Great for Large Photo Collections

flickr-photos-600px
Flickr

The grandaddy of photo-sharing sites, Flickr offers 1TB of storage for free (which can hold some 2 million photos) with no limit on picture resolution. Users can also upload 1080p high-definition video clips up to three minutes long.

Users can organize pictures into collections and sub-collections, with options to tag keywords and people either individually or in batches of photos. You can search your library by keyword or people tags and sort by dates that pictures were posted or taken—a godsend when a lifetime’s worth of photos start to stack up.

Flickr displays photos in a minimalist grid with a slideshow option. The site also offers the same beginner-friendly image editor as Photobucket, with Instagram-style color filters, cutesy effects like frames and stickers and basic editing tools, such as contrast, saturation and focus tweaks.

You can upload photos via email, the website, or directly from the Flickr smartphone app and share albums on Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr and Twitter. Avid photographers will have a huge audience in the Flickr community, who post 3000 photos every minute on average.

Cost of storage: Free, with 1TB of storage and displayed ads; $49.99 a year for ad-free version
Automatic photo sync? Yes, through the Flickr smartphone app for iPhone and Android
Do you need an account to view photos? No
Privacy control: You can choose the audience for every photo as friends, family, public or only you (adding contacts allows you to set them as friends or family)
Full-size uploads/downloads? Yes

Yogile: Great for Collaborative Sharing

yogile-arches-600px
Yogile

If you’re hosting an event where many people will be taking photos, such as a wedding, Yogile is a simple way to create a shared gallery where everyone can upload their photos without the need to sign up for an account. Once you create the gallery, attendees have two upload options: Upload images directly to a custom URL or reply to a Yogile-generated email with photos attached. You are given a link where attendees can go to upload or email their own photos.

This no-frills service has no editing options except for changing captions and photographer credits. You can sort photos by date or by contributor and anyone with access to the album can download full-size images. A slideshow option is a neat way to watch the story of the event unfold, as each photographer’s pictures intermix into the correct chronological order.

Cost of storage: $44.95 per year for unlimited uploads; free for 100MB worth of uploads a month, but albums automatically delete after 14 days
Automatic photo sync? No
Do you need an account to view photos? No
Privacy control: You can add a password to your gallery.
Full-size uploads/downloads? Yes

500px: Great for Discovery

500
500px

This sleekly designed site is all about its striking photography. You’ll find no family pics or collections of vacation snaps on 500px; instead there are highly edited shots of landscapes, animals and beautiful people, displayed in a minimal, endlessly-flowing grid.

You can upload pictures from your computer or import them from Dropbox, Facebook, Instagram and more. You can add keyword tags to make your photos easier to find.

Once you pick a couple categories you’re interested in, say People or Macro, 500px will try to match you with other users whose tastes match yours. When you start following particular categories and photographers, your homepage (called “Flow”) will display pictures that your contacts have liked or commented on. You can also browse through dozens of themes, including Abstract, Street or Journalism.

For pro users, premium accounts come with a portfolio website. 500px also offers the chance to buy – or sell – photos as wall art or stock photography.

Cost of storage: Free for 20 uploads a week; plans from $2.08/month allow unlimited uploads and the ability to organize photos into sets
Automatic photo sync? No
Do you need an account to view photos? No
Privacy control: You can upload pictures privately so that only you see them; otherwise they are publicly visible by default.
Full-size uploads/downloads? Yes

Shutterfly: Great for Photo Products

shutterfly-photobook-600px
Shutterfly

Shutterfly offers a creative range of photo gifts, including metal prints, wooden wall art and battery cases for smartphones. There’s also the usual lineup of personalized stationary, crockery, blankets and cushions, as well as kiddy-oriented products like lunch bags, puzzles and books customized with your little one’s face throughout their pages.

Even if you don’t purchase any photo prints, Shutterfly is a good option for collating your photo collection online, as it offers unlimited storage with no restrictions on the size of photos uploaded and the ability to import pictures directly from Facebook, Instagram, iPhoto, Google+ Photos and Adobe Photoshop. You can also send pictures through iPad, iPhone or Android apps.

Once pictures are uploaded, you can send a link to the gallery via email or Facebook for friends to view. Anyone who can view your album can also order prints of the pictures in it. For collaborative albums, you can create a “Share” micro-site for group members to upload photos and share calendars, messages and polls.

Cost of storage: Free, with unlimited storage; signing up gets you 50 free prints
Automatic sync? No
Do you need an account to view photos? No
Privacy control: Albums are private by default and Share sites are limited to their members.
Full-size uploads/downloads? Yes

ThisLife: Great for Collating Diverse Sets of Photos

thislife-600px
ThisLife

If your pictures are scattered throughout the Internet, photo aggregator ThisLife can import and organize them. The service links with Flickr, Instagram, Facebook, Picasa and SmugMug to pull in all your photos and sort them by date and place. You can upload full resolution pictures directly from your computer and premium accounts support high-definition video, as well.

Photos are privately displayed in a timeline and can be further organized by category and people tags. You can also search by information in the image metadata (the camera used to snap the photo), its original source and the keywords associated with it (Instagram hashtags).

You can also organize pics into “Story” galleries that you can then share via email. Since the service is owned by Shutterfly, you can also create prints and other photo gifts of your pictures.

Cost of storage: Free up to 2,500 photos; $59/year for 25,000 photos; $139/year for 100,000 photos
Automatic photo sync? Yes, through a desktop folder or the Instagram app
Do you need an account to view photos? No
Privacy control: Only friends with the link to the gallery can view it; however there’s no password protection
Full-size uploads/downloads? Yes

Google+ Photos: Great for Slideshows

google-photo-stories-600px
Google+

A lot of photo-sharing sites offer a slideshow feature, but Google+ Photos throws in some unique auto-create options for photos taken with an iPhone or Android phone.

If you turn on auto back up and location history in the Google+ app, Google will collate a “Story” slideshow based on pictures snapped while you’re away from your usual haunts—that is, when it thinks you’re on vacation.

If you take a set of similar photos—say, on burst mode—the Auto Awesome feature turns the images into a mini-animation, viewable from the website or app. If you’re on an Android phone (OS version 4.3 or newer), there’s an additional Movie feature that can stitch together a movie from photos and videos you select.

You can also upload photos from your smartphone or computer and manually create albums. Photos can be as public or private as you want; users of the Google+ social network can set which Circles can view the photos, or simply email friends a link to the gallery. The photo viewer offers sharing and editing options, as well as a slideshow view.

Cost of storage: Free for unlimited photos at Google’s downsized “standard” size, which is sufficient for web sharing, or 15GB of full-size pictures (storage shared with Google Drive and Gmail accounts); from $1.99/month for 100GB, up to $299.99/month for 30TB
Automatic photo sync? Yes, option to sync to a private album via a desktop folder and iPhone/Android apps
Do you need an account to view photos? No
Privacy control: You can set the audience for the photo album and prevent others from sharing the album.
Full-size uploads/downloads? Yes, but full-resolution photos count against storage limit

Zenfolio: Great for Professionals

zenfolio-600px
Zenfolio

Built to host portfolios rather than photo feeds, Zenfolio offers sleek homepage layouts to show off your best images and a blog where you can easily upload photos and videos as you go.

There’s no limit on the size or number of photos you can upload, so it’s a good tool to store ultra-high resolution images taken with a DSLR.

You can sort photos into galleries that have searchable descriptions and category and keyword tags. Photos can be viewed as an elegant slideshow in which you control the background music and the player’s speed and transitions.

Zenfolio supports plug-ins to transfer pictures from professional photo-management software, such as Adobe Lightroom and Aperture. For pros who want to sell their prints, there’s the option to build in a shopping cart, as well guestbook and contact pages.

Cost of storage: $30/year for 2GB of storage, plus an additional 1GB for every year you hold an account; $60/year for unlimited storage; from $140/year to add selling features
Automatic photo sync? No
Do you need an account to view photos? No
Privacy control: You can add a password to a gallery to keep it private
Full-size uploads/downloads? Yes

Facebook: Great for Social Sharing

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Facebook

If you simply want your photos stored where it’s easy for friends to see them and share them with other friends, then Facebook might the best place to upload your camera work. You get unlimited uploads, a high likelihood that the person you want to tag is also on the network (something that the fuller-featured, lesser-used Google+ cannot claim) and a simple interface for liking and commenting on photos.

You can send individual pictures by private message, or share a particular photo publicly on a friend’s wall. Each album also has the option to be turned into a shared album, allowing multiple friends to add to the gallery.

The downside, as with all things Facebook, is that it isn’t possible to be truly private. Even if your album visibility is set to friends-only, photos tagged with friends’ names are still viewable to all their friends (unless they’ve set their privacy so that no one can see their photos), which could be a turnoff if you’re looking to share family albums.

Uploaded photos are limited to 2048 pixels wide, so high-resolution pictures off a camera will be downsized and therefore less suitable for printing.

Cost of storage: Free, with unlimited uploads
Automatic photo sync? Yes, option to sync privately from smartphone apps, then you choose which ones to share
Do you need an account to view photos? Yes
Privacy control: At your most private settings, friends of anyone tagged in a photo will be able to see that photo.
Full-size uploads/downloads? No

This article was written by Natasha Stokes and originally appeared on Techlicious.

More from Techlicious:

TIME Security

Snowden Claims NSA Knocked All of Syria’s Internet Offline

Wired Snowden
Edward Snowden on the cover of Wired magazine. Platon/WIRED

Former NSA contractor also says the U.S. was working on an automated cyberattack response system in WIRED interview

National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden has claimed a team of NSA hackers was responsible for effectively knocking the entire country of Syria offline two years ago during a period of intense fighting in its still-ongoing civil war.

Snowden’s claim is significant because many observers believed one of several other parties to be responsible for the outage, including Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government, hackers aligned with but perhaps not a part of Assad’s government, or Israel.

Snowden’s story, as revealed in an interview with Snowden published Wednesday in WIRED, goes like this: The NSA team essentially tried to get access to a primary component of Syria’s main Internet Service Provider. Syria only has one big ISP, making it a particularly inviting target for electronic snooping; setting up that backdoor would have given the U.S. unparalleled access to nearly all digital communications within Syria, a major intelligence advantage.

But the plan backfired as the NSA team accidentally fried the very equipment it was trying to tap. The hardware was so vital to Syria’s Internet infrastructure that its loss essentially plunged the country into digital darkness — ironic, because other parts of the U.S. government were trying to keep Syria connected. Writer James Bamford describes Snowden’s claim:

“One day an intelligence officer told him that TAO—a division of NSA hackers—had attempted in 2012 to remotely install an exploit in one of the core routers at a major Internet service provider in Syria, which was in the midst of a prolonged civil war. This would have given the NSA access to email and other Internet traffic from much of the country. But something went wrong, and the router was bricked instead—rendered totally inoperable. The failure of this router caused Syria to suddenly lose all connection to the Internet—although the public didn’t know that the U.S. government was responsible.”

WIRED‘s Snowden story has another cybersecurity scoop: The former NSA contractor claims for the first time that the U.S. government was (or still is) working on a cybersecurity response program that automatically detects and blocks incoming cyberattacks. However, the program — dubbed “MonsterMind” — isn’t just defensive: Once it blocks an attack, it then automatically carries out a counter-attack against what it thinks was the source, Snowden says.

That could be an issue, says Snowden, as good hackers can — and typically do — make their online attacks look like they’re coming from somewhere else. “You could have someone sitting in China, for example, making it appear that one of these attacks is originating in Russia. And then we end up shooting back at a Russian hospital,” he explains.

The NSA did not comment to WIRED on Snowden’s claims about Syria’s Internet outage or MonsterMind, but it’s possible that MonsterMind or programs like it would be designed to circumvent such spoofing by detecting a rerouted address and either standing down or switching targets.

[WIRED]

TIME Video Games

Microsoft’s Xbox Tomb Raider Deal Is a Timed Exclusive After All

Xbox boss Phil Spencer won't say how long the timed exclusive lasts, only that it's not "in perpetuity."

I wondered why in the world a platform-agnostic studio like Crystal Dynamics would turn its beloved-once-more Tomb Raider franchise over to a single platform after a string of successes across multiple ones. The news out of Gamescom yesterday was that the studio would bring Rise of the Tomb Raider, its sequel to 2013’s Tomb Raider, to the Xbox One exclusively. There was no mention in the presentation of it being a timed exclusive.

Crystal Dynamics’ head of product development Darrell Gallagher said the game was “coming holiday 2015, exclusively to Xbox.” The devil’s in those two words, “holiday 2015,” it seems.

According to Eurogamer, who asked the obvious question of Xbox honcho Phil Spencer at the show, Spencer — and let’s give him credit for being willing to say this much so soon — says the exclusivity deal isn’t forever.

“When people want me to say, can you tell us when or if it’s coming to other platforms, it’s not my job,” Spencer told Eurogamer. “My job is not to talk about games I don’t own.”

And he’s sympathetic to the competition.

“I get the reaction I see,” he continues. “If I’m a PlayStation person all of a sudden I feel like, the franchise has gone.” But Spencer lays concerns he bought or somehow controls Crystal Dynamics to rest, confirming Rise of the Tomb Raider isn’t Microsoft’s forever, and that he doesn’t “own [the studio] building Tomb Raider on other platforms.”

When pressed, Spencer wouldn’t say how long the deal lasts (naturally), adding only that Microsoft has Rise of the Tomb Raider on Xbox 360 and Xbox One for holiday 2015. “What they do with the franchise in the long run is not mine,” he says. “I don’t control it. So all I can talk about is the deal I have. I don’t know where else Tomb Raider goes.”

TIME Companies

Amazon’s New Credit Card Reader Takes a Swipe at Square and PayPal

The latest entrant into the already crowded field of mobile payment systems comes at a competitive discount

+ READ ARTICLE

Online retail giant Amazon took a swipe at credit card processing services Wednesday with the debut of its latest service: a credit and debit card reader which plugs into a phone or a tablet, providing brick-and-mortar stores with a mobile payment system similar to the ones already being offered by companies like Square and PayPal.

Amazon’s offering, however, comes at a steep discount compared to those now rival services. Retailers that start using Amazon’s card reader, called “Amazon Local Register,” before October 31 will pay a rate of 1.75% on transactions, versus 2.75% for Square and 2.7% for PayPal. At the close of the promotional window, the rate rises to 2.5%, still a bit lower than comparable offerings.

Retailers can sign up for Amazon Local Register for free, but must pay $10 for each card reader. The system also generates detailed customer reports that will give both the retailer and Amazon new insights into the habits of offline shoppers, making it a potential data goldmine for Amazon.

TIME Smartphones

Samsung’s New Galaxy Alpha Smartphone Is Going Metal

Plastic is so Galaxy S

Samsung is ditching plastic in favor of metal on its new smartphone, abandoning what some critics have called a cheap aesthetic.

The tech company’s new high-end smartphone, the Galaxy Alpha, will go on sale in September. It has a metal frame on the four edges of the phone, Samsung said Wednesday, and will launch in five colors including black, white, gold, silver and blue.

Samsung said in a statement it was taking “a fresh approach” to its hardware design, “based on the specific desires of consumer markets.”

“With an entirely new appearance, the Galaxy Alpha focuses on both beauty and functionality,” JK Shin, the head of Samsung’s mobile division, said.

The phone will have a 4.7-inch HD display and features including a fingerprint scanner and a battery-saving mode. Just don’t call it heavy metal, though: Samsung says it is insistent on going lightweight.

TIME technology

These Vintage Computer Ads Show We’ve Come a Long, Long Way

These ads from the 70's and 80's remind us of a time when computers came in briefcases and cost "Under $18,000!"

TIME

Google Is Investing in a Superfast Fiber-Optic Cable Across the Pacific

File photo of Google Inc's logo
Google's logo at an office in Seoul on May 3, 2011 Truth Leem—Reuters

It will deliver speeds of 60 terabytes per second. That's crazy huge

Google will be joining forces with five East Asian companies to build a 9,000-km (6,000 mile) fiber-optic underwater cable that will span the Pacific Ocean, connecting the West Coast of the U.S. to two cities in Japan. The $300 million project aims to address the needs of rising Internet usage along the trans-Pacific route.

China Mobile International, China Telecom Global, Japanese mobile carrier KDDI, Singapore’s SingTel and Malaysia’s Global Transit — some of the largest telecom firms in Asia — will also be investing in the project that is scheduled to begin service by 2016. The cable system, called FASTER, will be supplied by the Japanese vendor NEC and designed to deliver speeds of 60 terabytes per second — “about ten million times faster than your cable modem,” Urs Hölze, Google’s senior vice president of technical infrastructure, wrote on his Google+ page.

“The FASTER cable system has the largest design capacity ever built on the Trans-Pacific route, which is one of the longest routes in the world,” Woohyong Choi, the chairman of the consortium, said in a statement.

The system will connect to the cities of Shima and Chikura in Japan and will also extend to major cities and their environs on the U.S. West Coast, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland and Seattle, according to a statement released by NEC.

The project is not Google’s first investment in underwater cable systems; it also backed UNITY in 2008 and SJC (South-East Asia Japan Cable) in 2011. Google’s investments in network infrastructure in Asia reflects global trends that indicate the region now has the greatest number of Internet users in the world.

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