Black Friday pricing takes $300 off various Google Pixelbook models

The best prices we’ve ever seen on these high-performance Chromebooks.

Amazon is offering a number of Google Pixelbook models on sale in its Black Friday deals week, with up to $300 off and prices starting as low as $699.

The laptop-tablet hybrid is thin, light, and futuristic in design with ultra-powerful internal specs that allow the Pixelbook to work great as a laptop or mobile device. There’s even support for a dedicated Pixelbook Pen for drawing and writing on-screen with a natural feel.

Google’s Pixelbook with Intel i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and 128GB SSD is the most affordable in this sale. It’s down to $699 — its lowest price to date. For the last few months, the price has fluctuated between its full MSRP of $999 and a $925 sale price, and we’ve never seen it drop below $749 before making now a great time to pick one up. If you need more internal storage, the 256GB capacity model is also $300 off, bringing its price down to $899 for a limited time.

If you want the tricked-out model, this is your chance to save on it. With a 7th Gen Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, and 512GB of storage, the top-spec model in this sale is down to an unprecedented low price of $1,349 which is — you guessed it — $300 off its retail price. This Pixelbook model has never dropped below $1,395 — a price it has only hit once — and sells for around $1,550 on average.

These prices are only available for a limited time and while supplies last. If you’ve been holding out for Black Friday to grab a Pixelbook, your time is now!

As we count down to the big day itself, we’re bound to see more brands and retailers drop prices and push promotions on products you care about. We’re rounding up the best deals to make it easy for you to keep track of deals to take advantage of, and deals to ignore, this shopping season.

Best of Android 2018: the best audio

We’ve subjected the best Android devices of 2018 to a slew of testing and can confidently inform you of what the best sounding phone is, as well as list other standout products with excellent audio. While we’ve only highlighted one phone, a handful of options produce perceptually perfect audio when it comes to noise and dynamic range. Aside from the models that are virtually indistinguishable from each other, we’ll also address a few other phones that perform well but not perfectly.

What makes something the best sounding phone?

Best sounding phone: Red Hydrogen One headphone jack

As more and more flagships drop the headphone jack, its presence has become a sought-after feature for audio junkies and is required to be crowned the best sounding phone.

As writers from our sister site SoundGuys will tell you, audio is both a subjective and objective experience. While the subjective, experiential part is valid, we’re here to highlight some of the more scientific bits to get you on your way.

When looking for a phone that produces excellent sound quality, there are a few things to keep an eye out for:

  • Noise levels should be under -96.6dB for CD-quality music.
  • Dynamic range should similarly be at or over 96.6dB.
  • Frequency response shouldn’t ever deviate from 0dB in either direction, but you won’t hear it if it’s less than 0.5dB.
  • Smartphone speakers suck.
  • Headphone jacks are the only way to ensure high-quality audio.

Only three phones tested exhibited audible errors

If you were to take a look at our huge, color-coded results spreadsheet, you’d notice right away how most smartphones in 2018 exhibit no audible flaws. When it comes to figuring out which smartphone is better than others for audio quality, only two things separate them: features (like a headphone jack), and Bluetooth.

We don’t like shaming phones around here, but these are the offending models:

  1. RED Hydrogen One
  2. Huawei P20
  3. Huawei P20 Pro

SoundGuys noted some irregularities with the Huawei phones when it came to AAC, but also noted every Android phone has errors with that finicky codec. The phones listed here can handle SBC, LDAC, aptX, and aptX HD on-spec. Additionally, the errors exhibited by those phones are unlikely to be heard by over 70 percent of the population, so be sure to temper outrage on that front.

However, the RED Hydrogen phone has frequency response errors of over 7dB, meaning you’ll absolutely hear it affect your music. It’s the lone “bad” phone for audio here.

The tests tell a very rosy story

We were surprised to find that noise wasn’t really a factor in differentiating phones, as most phones did a great job with it, however, there were a few shortcomings in other areas that thinned the herd considerably.

Dynamic Range

Higher is better

While it’s important for smartphone audio to minimize noise, high dynamic range is just as crucial. Although we’re accustomed to seeing the acronym “HDR” in photography, auditory dynamic range is the ratio of the quietest sound to the loudest sound a device can produce.

Dynamic Range

Higher is better

Speaker loudness might mostly serve to annoy the crap out of everyone around you, but sometimes you need a little boom in your mobile to catch a call or watch a YouTube video with a group. This purely tested how loud a given smartphone’s speaker can get and didn’t take into account distortion. We see quite a bit of difference between our top contenders, with the Nokia 7.1 and LG V40 ThinQ leading the pack.

Speaker Loudness

Higher is better

A fourth metric brings us back to the fundamentals of audio: frequency response. Although consumer headphones and earbuds tend to alter sound with a brand’s specific “house signature,” if you’re looking for accuracy, you want a device’s frequency response to be as neutral as possible. Though much hay is made over the high-end DAC assemblies of the LG V40 and Samsung phones, the truth is most handsets can decode and output a decent enough signal for even picky listeners. Only five phones crossed our +/- 0.5dB barrier, three of which are listed above. 

This is particularly pertinent, as it applies to the best sounding phone. By producing a neutral frequency response, a smartphone minimizes harmonic distortion at the source. Any issues with the DAC’s ability to reproduce an accurate, high-fidelity response may be amplified down the line when you plug your headphones in.

An accurate, neutral-leaning frequency response is imperative for any phone to be considered as the best sounding phone.

Most phones deviate less than 0.5dB in either direction, and score nearly perfect in this regard. Any of the phones listed today are essentially indistinguishable from one another performance-wise, making each smartphone an excellent choice when considering audio quality. While we can easily get lost nitpicking smartphone audio performance, the fact of the matter is smartphones handle audio exceptionally well. Generally speaking, you’re not going to be able to tell the difference between the top 10 smartphones for audio.

However, that brings us to a funny artifact of our scoring: only phones with a headphone jack could top our list. Dongles are a death sentence for our awards.

The current state of smartphone audio

Best sounding phone: The LG V40 ThinQ and the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 standing next to each other on a shelf.

Smartphone audio has come a long way, and we’re confident that any of the notable phones mentioned today will be satisfactory.

Listen to the SoundGuys podcast: The state of smartphone audio

Yes, 10 phones is a lot of models to be indistinguishable — it serves as a testament to how far smartphone audio quality has come. Now, what makes each phone a top contender is its ability to exceed the limits of human hearing.

Human hearing ranges from 20Hz-20kHz — hence why you see that range brandished all over headphone packaging — but this range assumes a young age and unsullied ear mechanics. Most of our hearing abilities degrade naturally by the time we hit our early- to- mid-twenties, which you can put to the test here. If you find that you can’t hear a few of those files, try applying a filter in your phone’s settings (found in Samsung, LG phones). You might be surprised at the improvements you can get.

What’s more, if you’re streaming over Bluetooth, even the highest quality codec can’t keep step with wired listening. In fact, LDAC 330kbps showed itself less reliable than SBC, the lowest-common-denominator of codecs. So, the assumed codec pecking order been skewed up until now. AAC diminishes audio quality a bit when streamed over an Android device, and aptX is what listeners should be sticking to. Even then, however, wired remains king of quality.  

The LG V40 ThinQ has the best sound quality of any handset in 2018

After subjecting each of the 30 contenders to a battery of tests and analyzing the data through our in-house scoring algorithms, the LG V40 ThinQ narrowly reigned victor over the Asus ROG Phone and Samsung Galaxy phones. These phones actually beat out the V40 in some cases, but because many of those measurements lie outside the realm of human perception, they didn’t give those phones an edge with our scoring methods. The LG V40 ThinQ’s headphone jack, Quad DAC, and internal amplifier is a winning combination that’s yet to be bested.

Best sounding phone: LG V40 ThinQ camera

The LG V40’s 32-bit Hi-Fi Quad DAC in tandem with the retention of the headphone jack makes it the best sounding smartphone of 2018.

It’s that internal amplifier that makes the LG V40 ThinQ a special phone. Where LG’s V-series has had it for a long time now, no other phones offer a 2V output, which means you can use power-hungry high-end headphones without breaking a sweat. Though it’s probably not the most practical idea to listen to a pair of planar magnetic headphones on the town, the fact is the LG V40 ThinQ is the only phone that’s going to let you do that. The Quad-DAC certainly sounds flashy, but the power behind the headphone jack is what makes the LG V40 ThinQthe best phone for audio. 

Editor’s Pick

Although it’s important to acknowledge the winner’s weaknesses, we tip our headphones to the LG V40. It — along with the Asus ROG Phone, Vivo NEX, and Samsung Galaxy Note 9 — outperforms its smartphone brethren in dynamic range. Additionally, the V40 frequency response deviates just 0.07dB, outperforming all other potential picks.

Although the V40 can’t outperform its competition in every metric, the top-notch power output makes it the best sounding smartphone of the year.

This year, there’s a wide selection of excellent phones out there for listeners who prioritize audio quality. All of the listed candidates are within a few meager points of one another and remain perceptually indistinguishable — unless you have a set of high-impedance headphones that require a lot of juice.

  1. LG V40 ThinQ
  2. Asus ROG Phone
  3. Nokia 7.1
  4. Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus
  5. LG G7 ThinQ
  6. Samsung Galaxy S9
  7. Vivo X21
  8. Vivo Nex
  9. Xiaomi Pocophone
  10. Samsung Galaxy Note 9

One more thing about testing

Best sounding phone: focusrite scarlett 2i2 connected to a smartphone.

We use a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 to conduct our smartphone audio tests.

Any of the nine alternatives are very close to the LG V40. We understand if you want a more financially viable choice, or a battery that’s not going to quit after a few hours. In that case, the Xiaomi Pocophone, and Samsung’s Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus remains standout performers. Though they’re technically not the best sounding phones, they’re sure to satisfy any enthusiast’s ears. We’ll have future comparisons coming down the line to help inform you on future smartphone-related decisions.

Although we’re not yet publishing our internal scoring, we implore our readers to learn about how we conducted our testing, and the philosophy behind it. We want to ensure our data tells a story and informs our audience of relevant information. What’s more, we want our data to be accessible to a wide array of readers, be it the computer engineer or the average consumer.

Come back throughout the week for more Best of Android 2018 coverage as we have plenty more to share with you.

Next: Best of Android 2018: The best displays

eSIM: Pros and cons of the new way to connect

Infineon The eSIM chip itself is tiny, and is installed directly into the smartphone’s circuitry

SIM cards have been in our cellphones for more than 25 years. The only thing that’s really changed over the decades is the size of the card itself. SIM cards have made it somewhat cumbersome to connect to a service provider, given the need to have them physically present, plus they’re easily damaged and lost.

A new system’s been around for a little while and smartphone industry players are starting to get on board — enter the eSIM.

Android Authority‘s Bob Myers did a great job running through the history of the Subscriber Identity Module (SIM), along with the new eSIM, where the “e” stands for “embedded,” meaning the SIM function is embedded into the circuitry of the smartphone. This was set down by the GSMA, the international association of cell network operators and related businesses. The eSIM might be a chip, but it works more like temporary storage now. It’s reprogrammable, and can be provisioned over the air without any physical modifications.

There are some major pros and cons to the new eSIM approach, mainly where we consumers are concerned. Let’s take a look.

eSIM Pros:

It’s more reliable

You can’t lose your eSIM, it doesn’t need to be cut to an exact size, and it won’t wear out. You don’t need to go to a store to buy one, or even pay for one, like the bad old days when companies would charge for SIM cards. No need to wait for a company to send one out either.

Remote provisioning

People have been using eSIMs in the wild for a little while now and experiences have been good. With the Google Pixel 2, Project Fi activates almost instantly. Switching between networks that support eSIMs, which are increasing, means no need to switch between old SIM cards and new SIM cards. Remote provisioning make the switch quick and painless.

A closeup of the SIM card tray seen during a OnePlus 6 teardown.

One less ingress point, plus space saving

This one benefits makers directly, but it will flow down to consumers as well. Manufacturers have gradually cut down SIM card size, using the saved space for other useful components. Removing the components to read a SIM card, and the SIM card slot itself, removes a handful of complexities in smartphone design, and removes a big hole in a device.

Switching to eSim means there’s one less places to worry about water and dust resistance, which helps improve IP ratings and general water splashproof-ness. Companies justified removing the headphone jack for space reasons, so removing the physical SIM card space may give us more room for new technology.

MIKI Yoshihito

You don’t need the little SIM-ejector anymore

With a few billion smartphones now in existence, there’s also a few billion of those little pokers for ejecting physical SIM cards. Even with so many around, you can never find one when you need it. Even the guy who normally carries around a bunch of them has lost them gradually over the years, stolen by those he thought he could trust. Now that’s not an issue!

Oh, and there won’t be a need to jam other sharp objects in your phone when you lose the poker too.

eSIM Cons:

Switching phones is a little more complicated

Tech reviewers will change SIMs at the drop of a hat between phones, and for everyone else, it’s always been useful to pull out the SIM card and remove a significant amount of personal information. Of course, phones these days are full of images, video, music, photos, passwords, notes, settings, and so on, but the SIM had plenty on it as well. Disposing of a phone or passing a phone down the line to friends or family will take a little bit more effort in order to wipe the eSIM properly.

Currently, there aren’t any dual eSIM phones either — just support for a normal SIM and an eSIM. Dual eSIMs seem likely in the future, but we haven’t seen any yet.

Android 9 Pie review Quick Settings Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Cellular, Vibrate

No disconnection from cellular networks

Now that an eSIM is always present, you’ll always be connected to a network once you’re provisioned. That makes phones far more trackable. Any device with just an eSIM will constantly be active and on a network. For most law-abiding people of democratic states that’s not an issue, but there are plenty of regions in the world where people may not want to be tracked by governments or intelligence. Yes, it’s a little bit far removed from what most people deal with, but it could be a problem.

Hacking

Another problem for some will be hacking. I don’t pretend to know where the battle between hackers and eSIM security stands. Embedded though it may be, an eSIM is a physical chip, which makes hacking it very difficult. However, operators will need to be concerned about provisioning and exchanging configuration data between their network and the phone, even if it is encrypted. An eSIM offers one more potential exploit for a hacker, even if it’s a tiny one.

Overall

The move towards the eSIM is another sign of the times, where technology could improve our lives — with a few side effects. It won’t be too long before explaining to another generation how physical chips were necessary to receive 180-character text messages will make it seem like we lived in the dark ages.

Have you tried an eSIM yet? Are you wary, or ready for the new technology?

Google Home Hub vs Lenovo Smart Display

Google Home Hub vs Lenovo Smart Display front size

There are now a few choices if you’re in the market for a new smart display. The JBL Link View, Amazon Echo Show, Lenovo Smart Display, and the new Google Home Hub all pair the convenience of a voice assistant with the utility of a screen for even more useful features.

Lenovo recently rolled out an update to its Smart Display that includes much of the Google Home Hub’s functionality, including the Home View dashboard. With software parity now on the cards, which of these two Smart Displays is the better buy?

Spec showdown

  Google Home Hub Lenovo Smart Display
Display 7-inch, 1,024 x 600 resolution 8-inch, 1,280 x 800 resolution
10-inch, 1,920 x 1,200 resolution
SoC Amlogic CPU Qualcomm Snapdragon 624
(Android Things)
Speakers 1x full range speaker, 80dB SPL @1KHz 1.75″ 10W Full Range Speaker, 2 x Passive Tweeters
Microphones 2x mic array 2x dual mic arrays
Camera No 5MP wide angle, 720p video call resolution
Wireless Bluetooth 5
802.11 b/g/n/ac (2.4/5 Ghz) Wi-Fi
Bluetooth 4.2
802.11 b/g/n/ac (2.4/5 Ghz) Wi-Fi
Dimensions 178.5 x 118 x 67.3mm
480g
263.2 x 142.2 x 111.4mm /
311.4 x 173.9 x 136mm
1kg / 1.2kg
Colors Sand, Aqua, Chalk, Charcoal Grey / Bamboo
Price $149 $199.99 / $249.99

At $149, the Google Home Hub is much more affordable than the larger Lenovo Smart Display. As such, it’s a little more basic in terms of specifications, with a smaller, lower resolution display, a more basic speaker setup, and no camera for video calls. I would argue just $50 more for the 8-inch Lenovo Smart Display offers good value for money, but $100 more for the 10-inch model feels a little expensive. The sheer size may also make it trickier for some people to find a good home for Lenovo’s behemoth.

Read: Google Home Hub review | Lenovo Smart Display review

The Home Hub comes in a wider range of colors, so you can probably find something you like to fit into your home. Lenovo is more limited here, locking the grey or bamboo options exclusively to the different sized models.

Google Home Hub vs Lenovo Smart Display back design

Look and feel

There’s no escaping the large 10-inch, 1,920 x 1,200 resolution display on the bigger Lenovo Smart Display model — it takes over any room it’s in. The high pixel density lends itself nicely to displaying Google Photos in Ambient Mode and playing back videos with crisp clarity. Colors pop, brightness is great, and the 86-degree viewing angle makes sure you can see the display from virtually anywhere in a room. The smaller 8-inch version makes do with a 1,280 x 800 resolution, which still handily beats out the Google Home Hub’s 7-inch, 1,024 x 600 panel.

The Lenovo Smart Display is elegantly designed, boasting a curved bamboo back that lets you stand the display vertically as well as horizontally. Don’t let that sell you on this, though — the UI doesn’t shift into a portrait mode when the hub is on its side apart from when making video calls. This makes the whole design pretty much useless as I can’t see people flipping the hub up just to make video calls. I wonder if Lenovo had thought it might have been able to do more with the UI at some point in early development.

If you’re primarily looking for a picture frame or small castable TV, the Lenovo’s superior display makes it the better choice.

Lenovo’s design certainly won’t be for everybody, but I prefer it to the Google Home Hub’s functional white plastic. The partially textured look will be familiar to anyone who owns other Google Home products, but if you’re not a fan of pastel colors, the design won’t be for you. Fortunately, the Google Home Hub is nice and compact, making it much easier to find space for — it sits nicely on a desk or side table. You definitely need to set aside some space for Lenovo’s model.

Smart Home Multi Room audio settings menu

Music and video all-in-one

Integrated Chromecast functionality is a major win for both the Lenovo Smart Display and the Google Home Hub. You can broadcast music and video from a wide variety of apps straight to the speakers with minimal hassle. Unfortunately, Netflix casting support is still absent from both products, but app support is otherwise the same as a regular Chromecast. Again, the bigger size and higher pixel density of Lenovo’s displays make them better products for watching back video, though the Google Home Hub is more than good enough for playing back YouTube music videos or following along with recipes in the kitchen.

Editor’s Pick

Speaking of streaming, both products now support multi-room music streaming. These display can be added to home groups, along with other cast enabled Home smart speakers. Speaker quality differs between the models though.

On the front on the Lenovo Smart Display there’s a large speaker grill housing the 10W full-range and dual passive radiator to direct sound out towards you. The speaker is loud, crisp, and packs plenty of bass. It’s certainly better than the regular Google Home, I wouldn’t recommend it over a decent hi-fi setup if you’re really into your music. The Google Home Hub still packs a decent punch for its little size and I’d ballpark the speaker quality in the range of the regular Google Home. It will certainly suffice as a basic home speaker, but the Lenovo has a slight edge.

One feature separating the two is the Smart Display’s inclusion of a front-facing camera for video calling. It’s nice for those that use Duo, which I personally don’t. The Google Home hub handles regular calls, sans video. Lenovo also included a shutter slider to block the camera, which the privacy-conscious will appreciate.

As a home entertainment system, the Lenovo Smart Display’s better specs give it a definitive edge.

The Google Assistant you know and love

If you’re familiar with Google Assistant, you’ll know what to expect from these Smart Displays. The familiar timer, weather, commute times, reminder, news, music casting, YouTube streaming, alarms, and other features are identical between the two Smart Displays. I might not be the most demanding smart home user, but I couldn’t find any unsupported common commands on these products.

At launch, the Lenovo Smart Display was missing a number of key Assistant features found in the Home Hub. As well as the aforementioned Multi-Room Audio feature, Lenovo didn’t have Continued Conversations and the Home View dashboard for managing other smart home products. Fortunately, these are all now accounted for and Lenovo has also increased the number of third-party smart home products supported by its Smart Display.

There are a few subtle software differences, such as Google implementation of a small LED to display when the mic is muted, while Lenovo sticks a black bar across the screen. Lenovo offers variable volumes for audio and alarms, while Google sticks with just a single setting. Even so, the software of these two Smart Displays offers the same core features, UI, and Assistant experience.

Google Home Hub showing feature menu
Lenovo Smart Display Speaker grill front

Google Home Hub vs Lenovo Smart Display: Which is worth a purchase?

I prefer the Lenovo Smart Display to the Google Home Hub, owing to the larger display for pictures and video, and the better-sounding speakers. The design certainly won’t suit everybody and the size means it can’t be a discrete part of your home, but overall I think it’s the nicer one.

As a home entertainment system, the Lenovo Smart Display’s better specs give it an edge.

If you’re looking for  extra multimedia capabilities, then Lenovo Smart Display is certainly worth a look. Thanks to a recent update, Home View isn’t an exclusive selling point for the Home Hub anymore, either.

However, those looking for a cost-effective, small panel from which to manage their existing smart home will still likely find the Google Home Hub a compelling purchase.

Ultimately, the right one for you will come down to how much you want to spend on a Smart Display. The Google Home Hub is the more attractive entry point for those dipping their toes into their first smart home purchase. Don’t count the JBL Link View out either, if you’re after something a little more music oriented.

What do you think? Which Smart Display would you buy?

UK Deals of the Week: Google Pixel 3 and Honor early Black Friday sales

Google Pixel 3 deals

Welcome to your weekly round-up of the best U.K. deals of the week for Android phones, network plans, accessories, smart home tech, and a little of whatever else is on offer in the world of mobile!

US Deals

This week’s deals include early Black Friday offers on a whole load of Google products, an iPhone X for less than 700 pounds, a killer offer on a Xiaomi Redmi 6A and Mi Band 3 bundle, and much more.

""Amazon Prime Day 2018: Deals, dates, and everything else you should know

Below are the most enticing deals we’ve seen this week hand-picked with a little help from the folks over at HotUKDeals – the U.K.’s biggest deal-sharing community.

Motorola One deal

Phones

Google Pixel 3 (SIM Free, 64GB) – £699 (was £739) @ Google Store

Google Pixel 3 XL (SIM Free, 64GB) – £829 (was £869) @ Google Store

Motorola One (SIM Free, 64GB) – £199 (was £269) @ Amazon

iPhone X (SIM free, 64GB) – £679 (was £999) on 12 months buy now pay later w/code N77PP @ Very

Honor 10, Honor 9 Lite, Honor Play Black Friday deals @ Amazon

Xiaomi Redmi 6A (SIM Free, 16GB) and Xiaomi Mi Band 3 – £109 (was £126.98) @ Three

Nokia 8 (SIM Free, 64GB) – £219 (was £259) @ John Lewis

Moto G6 Play (SIM Free, 32GB) – £129 (was £149) @ John Lewis

Xiaomi Mi Band 3 deal

Accessories

Xiaomi Mi Band 3 – £19.99 (was £26.99) @ Amazon

SanDisk 128GB Ultra A1 Micro SD Card – £19.99 (was £34.99) @ Base

Anker Premium Nylon USB-C to USB-A 2.0 Cable (2 Pack) – £5.59 Prime / £6.58 non Prime (was £8.99) @ Amazon (Anker Direct)

Google Pixelbook deals

Tech

Google Pixelbook (Intel Core i5, 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD) – £699 (was £999) @ John Lewis

Google Home – £79 (was £129) @ John Lewis

Google Home Mini – £29 (was £49) @ John Lewis

Google Chromecast (3rd Gen) – £20 (was £30) @ Argos

More UK content:

Have you seen any amazing deals this week? Be sure to share your finds in the comments.

Xiaomi Redmi Note 6 Pro hands-on: Persistent iteration

The Redmi Note 6 Pro is Xiaomi’s first phone with four cameras.

To say that Xiaomi has dominated the budget segment in India over the last year would be an understatement. The Redmi 5A is the best-selling Android phone globally, four of the top five best-selling phones in India over the course of 2018 are made by Xiaomi, and the company sure is starting to look comfortable at the top of India’s handset market.

A particular standout this year was the Redmi Note 5 Pro. What made the device such a success was the hardware. The phone was the first to be powered by the Snapdragon 636, which offered a significant performance boost from the outgoing SD625. The camera also received a major upgrade, and the switch to an 18:9 form factor only made it more enticing.

Nine months later, Xiaomi is now introducing the Redmi Note 6 Pro in India. The phone doesn’t deviate much from its predecessor, retaining the same hardware while offering a few upgrades. The screen now has a notch, the main camera module has 1.4-micron pixels, there are two cameras at the front, and there are new additions on the software side of things. Here’s what you need to know about Xiaomi’s upcoming budget monster.

Xiaomi Redmi Note 6 Pro What I like

One reason for Xiaomi’s success is its ability to flood the market with a variety of models that cater to specific use cases. The company sells over 10 phones in the budget segment alone, and while there’s little to differentiate between each model when talking about specs, the one phone that has always stood out was the Redmi Note 5 Pro. The phone debuted back in February, and it’s safe to say that it was one of the best devices — if not the best overall — to grace this segment in 2018.

Xiaomi isn’t reinventing the wheel with the Redmi Note 6 Pro. A lot of the design elements are similar to that of its predecessor, with minor refinements. There’s a subtle curve running along the edges at the back that makes it easier to hold the phone.

It’s a subtle difference, and one that’s noticeable only when you use both phones next to each other. There are minor changes up front as well: there’s now a cutout that allows for more screen real estate, and the bottom bezel has also been trimmed. The result is that the Redmi Note 6 Pro features a 6.26-inch screen in roughly the same chassis as its predecessor.

There aren’t a lot of changes when it comes to the internal hardware either. The Redmi Note 6 Pro is powered by the Snapdragon 636, and Xiaomi will sell it in 4GB and 6GB variants. The performance is just as great, and with the phone running MIUI 10 out of the box, you’ll see a definite uptick in fluidity.

There’s a lot going on elsewhere: you get a 4000mAh battery, 2×2 MIMO Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, a hybrid SIM card tray that can accommodate a MicroSD card up to 256GB, an IR blaster up top, and a headphone jack next to it.

Interestingly, the Redmi Note 6 Pro comes with a P2i coating that should give it an added layer of protection against the elements. There’s no IP rating, but the device should be able to withstand the occasional splash of water.

Xiaomi doesn’t make a lot of changes to what is clearly a winning formula.

The main highlight with the Redmi Note 6 Pro is the dual cameras at the front. The 20MP camera is joined by a 2MP module that adds depth information. There’s a dual camera arrangement at the back as well, with the 12MP primary camera bolstered by a 5MP shooter. While the rear camera setup is the same as the Redmi Note 5 Pro, the primary camera has 1.4-micron pixels.

With dual cameras at the front and back, Xiaomi is making new portrait mode features available. Portrait mode in general looks better than the Redmi Note 5 Pro, and there are light trails and other settings available that add another dimension to the feature. I’ve been using the phone for just over a day, but it’s evident that portrait mode is going to be a differentiator on the Redmi Note 6 Pro.

Xiaomi Redmi Note 6 Pro What needs work

The one major issue I have with the Redmi Note 6 Pro is that it is still using a MicroUSB charging port. Xiaomi says it is switched to a corrosive-resistant alloy that should allow it to last longer in India’s extreme weather conditions, but with the Mi A2 costing about the same and offering USB-C, there’s no reason for the Note 6 Pro to not do the same. It’s inexcusable for a phone launching at the end of 2018 to still have a MicroUSB port.

There is a way to make an aluminum phone look great — just look at the Nokia 6.1.

Little has changed on the design front as well. Sure, the curvier design leads to better in-hand feel, but the overall aesthetic leaves a lot to be desired. With Honor and Nokia pushing glass-backed options in this category, the onus is on Xiaomi to come up with a more modern design language.

Xiaomi says it’s reticent to move to a glass back as the series 6000 aluminum back on the Redmi Note 6 Pro is much more rugged for everyday use cases, but then the Nokia 6.1 also features the same aluminum alloy while looking much more premium.

And although the phone comes with MIUI 10 out of the box, it is still based on Android 8.1 Oreo. There’s no timeline for when Pie will roll out to the device, and it’s clear that Xiaomi is positioning the unique set of features on offer with MIUI as more of a differentiator than the latest version of Android.

Xiaomi Redmi Note 6 Pro Bottom line

Xiaomi didn’t specify how much the phone will cost in India, but it should be in the same ballpark as its predecessor. That means we’re looking at sub-₹15,000 pricing ($210), which should allow Xiaomi to dominate this segment well into 2019.

Like most manufacturers, Xiaomi is following a tick-tock release cycle, where a major upgrade is followed by an iterative version that offers added refinements. As such, there’s little reason to upgrade to the Redmi Note 6 Pro if you’re coming from a Redmi Note 5 Pro. But if you’re currently running a Redmi Note 4 or older, there’s a lot to like here.

Considering the sheer number of products that are available in this category, you’re spoilt for choice. If MIUI is not to your liking, then you can pick up the Mi A2, which is available for ₹16,999, or the Nokia 6.1 Plus. Then there’s always the POCO F1 at ₹20,999, which is in another league of its own.

At the end of the day, it’s easy to see why Xiaomi has become so dominant in India over the last two years. The company has unmatched breath and depth in this category, starting from the ₹5,999 Redmi 6A all the way to the ₹29,999 Kevlar variant of the POCO F1. It’s no wonder, then, that Xiaomi has been the number one manufacturer in India for five straight quarters. And it doesn’t look like that will change anytime soon, unless Samsung drastically changes its strategy in the budget segment.

For now, the Redmi Note 6 Pro is a solid upgrade that is set to further Xiaomi’s momentum in the budget segment. I’ll have much more to share about the device in the weeks ahead, so stay tuned.

Portal from Facebook review: My new favorite way to video chat

This little box has reset my expectations for video chat everywhere.

Having a smart display in your home means different things to different people. Some like having a nice connected digital photo frame that also occasionally answers questions and controls smart home tech. Others enjoy using these displays as a whole home hub, with information for each person in the house and sort of mission control for music throughout the house.

Me? I like having these displays in the kitchen, where they can be a television and a recipe book and a podcast delivery mechanism when I need them without touching my phone. One thing I didn’t expect to want was a way to use these speakers as a phone, which both Google Home and Amazon Echo products allow. But now, thanks to Facebook, I now want to ditch phone calls in exchange for video chat. Because, for the first time ever, I found a video chat system that isn’t a chore to use.

Crazy good video

Portal from Facebook

$200 at Amazon

Facebook Messenger has never looked better..

A killer video chat experience paired with a subpar, mostly Alexa-based smart display makes for a confusing but exciting platform.

The Good

  • Excellent video chat system
  • Facial recognition features are fun and functional
  • Bedtime stories are cute

The Bad

  • Sound quality is just OK
  • Confusing Alexa/Portal “integration”
  • Facebook has partial access to a camera and microphone in my house

Portal from Facebook What I like

Like most smart displays, Facebook Portal acts as a great connected photo frame when you’re not using it. But unlike other smart displays, you have access to your Facebook photo library. This is great news for people who organize their Facebook photos into folders, but a little clumsy for people who automatically dump everything into the Mobile Uploads folder by default. Each photo offers the text you associated with it when sharing to Facebook, which is a nice touch. If you’re not a huge Google Photos user, this is probably the best connected photo frame you can buy.

With a Portal, you have access to a massive user base the other smart displays simply don’t have the ability to replicate. Facebook Messenger is ubiquitous, and something almost everyone I know has access to even if they don’t use it very often. Compared to the Amazon and Google video chat services, Facebook Messenger is a global juggernaut. And in the first few days of using Portal, I found myself using Messenger a lot more just because it was now noticeably more convenient to do so.

More than anything, Portal is a demonstration of just how advanced the Facebook Messenger video chat system is.

Portal includes a Home and Away feature, which automatically routes calls through Messenger to from your phone to Portal if it knows you are close to it. This requires giving Facebook Messenger access to your location, but it’s an opt-in feature which is a nice step forward for Facebook and privacy. And it works: as soon as I got home, if someone called me on Facebook Messenger my Portal would ring instead of my phone. This meant I could say “Hey Portal, answer” to connect the call if I happened to be wrist-deep in a meatloaf I was making, something you can’t do through Messenger on your phone. Hanging up a call requires a similar voice command, but it all worked exactly as advertised each time.

Video calls on a smart display aren’t new, but the software Facebook is deploying here is remarkable. Portal locks on to my face and zooms in, then follows me around the room as I do things. My Portal was set up in the corner of my kitchen, so the super wide angle fisheye lens on the front of Portal could see the entire room. This means no matter where I am in my kitchen, Portal was able to zoom in on me as though I was standing right in front of it. The video moves slowly and deliberately so it’s not too jarring for the person on the other end of the call, and it’s all done through software. There are no moving parts on this camera, which is incredible.

This facial tracking software lends itself to several other features in the camera, each impressive in its own way. It wouldn’t be a Facebook camera without augmented reality glasses and masks to play with, and while the selection isn’t as complete as the actual Facebook app, there are some fun options. If multiple people are in the field of view, you can choose which one Portal follows or just let it follow whoever is physically closer to Portal. As it follows that person, the microphones work to lessen the other sounds in the room. I had a pan of bacon sizzling right next to Portal on two separate occasions, and the person on the other side of the call couldn’t hear it at all over my voice, even though it was pretty damn loud.

Weirdly, my favorite feature combines all of this cool tech for a kid-friendly bedtime story feature. Facebook Portal has four short stories baked in right now, and when you select one the person on the other end of the call is treated to a tiny theater where you perform the story with sound effects and face masks. The words for the story show up on Portal, and as you read them aloud the animations around your face help tell the story. I could walk around the room and tell this story, and the person on the other end still got the whole experience. Just from a technical perspective, it was incredible to see how smoothly it all came together. More than anything, Portal is a demonstration of just how advanced the Facebook Messenger video chat system is compared to the competition right now.

Portal from Facebook What I don’t like

While the front of this smart display is largely glass that is fairly easy to clean, the speaker grille just under the display is not. I splashed some Korma on my Facebook Portal the first day I was using it, and three days of trying to clean it out of these little speaker holes proved unsuccessful. This kind of thing is likely less obvious on the matte black version, but this white model captures just about everything and leaves you wanting to clean it constantly.

As great as Facebook Portal is at being a video chat box, that’s exactly how not great it is at being a smart display. You say “Hey Portal” to access a handful of Facebook-specific features, but everything else uses Alexa and requires a separate set of voice commands. This version of Alexa isn’t as complete as what you find on an Amazon Echo Show, including video chat between Portal and any other video-enabled Alexa system.

The video streaming options on Facebook Portal aren’t bad, but it’s a strange mix. Portal comes with Facebook Watch, YouTube via the web, Newsy, and Food Network. There’s a Portal App library where you’ll be able to install more apps in the future, but none of it really comes together as cleanly as it does on the Google Home Hub or Amazon Echo Show. You can’t really ask Portal to watch a specific episode of a show, for example. The UI for this part of the experience is very finger-focused, which is unfortunate given how good the microphones are.

It’s almost like the smart display features were an afterthought, something Facebook was still building at launch.

I live with multiple people with their own Facebook accounts, but Portal doesn’t support multiple accounts or voice-specific data access so I’m the only person who can use Portal to talk to friends. This is a huge oversight when you consider one of the biggest selling points to this device is the understanding that just about everyone you know has a Facebook account, and one I hope is addressed soon.

Portal offers multiple audio streaming options, but the speaker on Portal is not particularly well tuned for music. It’s great for spoken word conversations, but music through Portal is pretty mediocre. And Portal can’t connect to any other smart speakers right now, so you’re only getting this music right where you are. It’s fine for a smaller room, but the competition has whole-home ecosystems for music, and that’s a big advantage.

And really, that’s my overall opinion of Facebook Portal as a smart display. It’s… fine. There’s nothing about this part of the experience it does particularly well, but you can get most of the features you see prominently displayed on the competition if you go looking. It’s almost like the smart display features were an afterthought, something Facebook was still building at launch.

But what about privacy?

Facebook has had no shortage of very serious privacy issues over the last year, and as a user, I’ve never really felt like Facebook addressed them in a way that convinced me history won’t repeat itself. But even looking at Facebook Portal through that lens, I’m not concerned about the hardware listening in on me when I don’t want it to. The camera and microphone can be disabled with a button, and there’s a bright red light to let you know it can’t hear you. Facebook included a separate physical camera cover if that’s not enough for you. Every part of Facebook having access to your data is an opt-in experience through Portal, and since most of your voice commands go through Alexa it’s not like Portal can slurp up all of your voice commands for advertising.

That having been said, Facebook fully intends to use Portal as an advertising platform. It’s unclear what form that will take because it’s not active right now. But it’s not difficult to imagine ads in Facebook Watch and ads showing up in the digital photo frame in between your pictures. Again, not a thing we’re seeing right now, but something Facebook has already said it wants to do and something I can imagine would sour me on this experience fairly quickly.

Facebook Portal has access to exactly as much data as you let it, which is the same thing you can say about Amazon and Google when it comes to smart displays. For the moment, I’m not any more or less concerned about a privacy breach through Portal than I am my Amazon Echo Show.

Should you buy it? If you like Facebook Messenger, yes

I can’t stress enough how good Facebook Messenger through Portal really is. It really says a lot about how advanced Facebook Camera is, or could be very soon. If you use Facebook for video chat a lot, this is a great system. And if you aren’t really sold on the idea of video chat, I suggest you go try this out in a store. And the deal most electronics stores have right now is two smaller Portals for $300, which is a pretty good deal if you want someone else in your life to have a Portal, too.

3.5 out of 5

But if you don’t use Facebook Messenger, and are just looking for a great smart display, this is not what you want. And it’s not clear Facebook is going to be able to fix some of the bigger issues with music and apps fast enough to justify picking one up anytime soon.

See at Amazon

Samsung Good Lock gets nav bar customization and dozens of new icons

  • Samsung has rolled out a new Google Lock 2018 module called NavStar.
  • The module allows users to customize their navigation bar with new icons and colors.
  • It’s compatible with Samsung devices running Android 8.1 Oreo and up.

Samsung has rolled out NavStar, a new customization module for Good Lock 2018. Samsung delivered the module in a recent update (brought to our attention via XDA Developers), allowing users to make some funky changes to their navigation bar.

Editor’s Pick

NavStar’s main attraction will be the new icons, seeing as they include images like paw prints, ice cream, a piece of cheese, and a cat in a basket. Samsung allows you to replace the existing navigation icons with these adorable icons, as well as add two extra buttons to the nav bar (with additional functions, like opening the camera or web browser).

Samsung Good Lock NavStar module. XDA Developers

Further, NavStar will let users change the bar’s layout, including its color and where the buttons sit.

This all may sound frivolous — particularly the cat in the basket icon — but it’s these kinds of features that can make devices seem that much more personal. Samsung revived Good Lock earlier in 2018 in order to offer Samsung users unprecedented UI customization options (Read more about it here). The South Korean OEM’s developments here are somewhat unique in the Android world — most third-party OEMs don’t offer such customization options — so they’re welcome even if they are of small consequence.

Samsung Good Lock NavStar module. XDA Developers

Now to talk about caveats: Good Lock 2018 is still only compatible with Android 8.1 Oreo and upwards, which means you can’t get this on the Galaxy S9 or S9 Plus for now. It’s also only available in the U.S., U.K., Korea, Singapore, Australia, and Canada.

However, Samsung is rolling out the Pie beta for the S9 and S9 Plus, which means some folks might get access to it soon.

If you happen to be rocking a Samsung device with 8.1 Oreo — such as the Galaxy Note 9 — and live in one of the aforementioned regions, look out for NavStar in the latest version of the Good Lock 2018 Launcher in the Galaxy Apps store.

Call Screen starts slowly rolling out the Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL

  • Google has started rolling out Assistant’s Call Screen feature to the Google Pixel 2 and 2 XL.
  • Call Screen allows Assistant to answer calls on the user’s behalf and record a message for them.
  • It’s available in the U.S. only right now.

It looks like Google has started rolling out Call Screen to the Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. Android Police was tipped-off about the update yesterday before several others in the comments chimed-in to say they’d received it too.

The feature, which launched with the Pixel 3, allows Google Assistant to answer calls on the user’s behalf. Here, Assistant will ask the caller to explain the reason for the call, and that the message will be recorded and passed on. Pixel owners can customize Assistant’s responses, as well as listen in to the call live and answer if they wish to.

This can be particularly useful for dealing with nuisance phone calls; read more about it here.

Editor’s Pick

Google has previously said Call Screening would come to the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL in November, but it didn’t offer a more precise date. The rollout seems to be underway now, but given the sparse confirmations, it could take another few days (or perhaps weeks) to arrive to all users. It’s a U.S.-only feature for now.

Look out for the functionality on your Pixel 2 soon and let us know in the comments if it’s already with you. For everything else you need to know about how the gen-two Pixel stacks up against the latest model, head to our Google Pixel 2 vs Google Pixel 3 comparison.

Google Pixel Slate vs. Google Pixelbook: Which should you buy?

I’ve been an avid Chromebook user since the first models were released,and currently use Google’s Pixelbook full-time for work and play. I know the hardware, the software, and can see past all the hype and high prices of Google’s own Chrome products.

Google Pixelbook

Three-in-one clamshell

$999 at Best Buy

Pros

  • Great display
  • Thin and light
  • 360-degree hinge
  • Backlit keyboard
  • Powerful internals

Cons

  • Expensive
  • No SD card expansion
  • Poor audio quality
  • No fingerprint reader

Google’s Pixelbook is one of the company’s most ambitious products and offers a very unique and stylish look. The display is incredible, and the keyboard and trackpad make it a joy to use. Unfortunately, the price makes it difficult to justify buying.

Google Pixel Slate

The new Android tablet

$799 at Best Buy

Pros

  • Great display
  • A true tablet experience
  • Powerful specs
  • Fingerprint reader
  • Ultra-portable

Cons

  • Expensive
  • No SD card expansion
  • Chrome not fully touch-friendly
  • Keyboard folio cover not included

The Pixel Slate is Google’s first Chrome tablet device and the company’s only tablet offering. It uses the latest eighth-generation Intel processors so it’s blazing-fast, but the price and lack of a keyboard cover may be a bit of a turn-off.

Battle of form factors

Google has merged Android apps into Chrome OS and now the company is serious about building a proper Chromebook and Chrome tablet for productivity as well as entertainment. While there are some major benefits the eighth-generation Intel processors bring to the Pixel Slate, essentially the decision between the two comes down to one thing — which form factor do you prefer?

Note: We’re comparing the $799 Intel Core m3 model Pixel Slate with 64GB of storage against the $999 entry-level Pixelbook, since those are the models most people should buy. The Pixel Slate’s eight-generation Intel Core m3 processor offers performance comparable to the Pixelbook’s seventh-generation Intel Core i5. An eighth-generation Core i5 Pixel Slate with 128GB of storage is also available for $999.

Pixelbook Pixel Slate
Display 12.3-inch LCD
2400 x 1600 (235ppi)
10-finger multitouch
12.3-inch “Molecular Display”
3000 x 2000
10-finger multitouch
Processor 7th Generation Intel Core i5 8th Generation Intel Core m3
Memory 8GB 8GB
Storage 128GB 64GB
Fingerprint reader No Yes
Battery 41 Whr
Up to 10 hours of use
48 Whr
Up to 10 hours of use
Connectivity 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi
2×2 MIMO
dual-band 2.4 and 5 GHz
Bluetooth 4.2
802.11 a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi
2×2 MIMO
dual-band 2.4 and 5 GHz
Bluetooth 4.2
Dimensions 11.4 in x 8.7 in x 0.4 in 11.45 in x 7.95 in x 0.27 in
Weight 2.4 lbs 1.6 lbs
Price $999 $799

It’s apparent that a lot of thought went into making the basic experience the same across these two products. That’s good, because you can use them both as a tablet — the Pixelbook has 360-degree hinges and folds over itself — or as a more traditional laptop with the purchase of a Pixel Slate keyboard. Both also fully support the Wacom AES-powered Pixelbook Pen (not included, $99 at Best Buy to use for taking notes, drawing, or communicating with Google Assistant.

What you need to do is decide whether you would rather use a tablet most of the time or a laptop most of the time, because that’s the deciding factor here. The Pixel Slate Keyboard is an additional $199, which isn’t exactly peanuts.

  • The Google Pixelbook as configured plus the Pixelbook Pen is a $1,098 purchase.
  • The Google Pixel Slate as configured plus the Pixelbook Pen plus the Pixel Slate Keyboard is a $1,097 purchase.

Once you make both products comparably featured, the price is a wash — they both cost the same. But the Pixelbook as configured has 128GB of storage versus the Pixel Slate’s 64GB (neither model has an SD card slot), while the Pixel Slate is a far better tablet experience without the keyboard attached and has a fingerprint sensor to make security much more convienent. This makes the product recommendation very easy.

It all comes down to one thing: Do you prefer a tablet or a laptop?

If you prefer a tablet experience, buy the Pixel Slate and the Pixel Slate Keyboard for those times when you have to use it at a desk. If you prefer a laptop experience, buy the Pixelbook and fold it over when you have to use it as a tablet. And if you’ll never use either as a traditional laptop, you’ll save $100 by buying the Pixel Slate without the keyboard. The storage difference can matter if you plan to install large Android apps or Linux programs, but Google Drive and USB-C thumb drives can an offer and endless amount of storage for media or documents.

Google Pixelbook

When you want a laptop

Google’s most ambitious product

$999 at Best Buy

The Pixelbook is expensive and the audio can be disappointing, but its fantastic trackpad and keyboard, beautiful display and elegant look make it one of the nicest laptops you’ll ever use.

Google Pixel Slate

Google’s Android tablet

The Pixel tablet we’ve been waiting for.

$799 at Best Buy

A lot of people have been waiting for a great tablet from Google that they can run all their favorite Android apps on. As a bonus, it’s also a full Chrome desktop, though it’s a little pricey and skimps on the storage.