ZTE’s crowd-sourced smartphone is in trouble

The ZTE Hawkeye was hailed as a fantastic new direction for the mobile industry as the Chinese firm paraded its innovative, fan-designed phone in front of the media at CES 2017. Thing is, all is not well in the ZTE fan camp. 

Cooked up under ZTE’s Project CSX, which gave fans the opportunity to design and pitch their ideal smartphone to the manufacturer with one winning design getting built, the Hawkeye was born with eye-tracking tech and an adhesive back which can stick to any surface. 

Thing is, fans invested in the project thought they’d be getting a flagship smartphone, but it turns out ZTE has put the two key features into a more mid-range offering – leading to mass disappointment. 

The ZTE Hawkeye is currently listed as having a 5.5-inch Full HD display, Snapdragon 625 chipset, 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, 3,000mAh battery, fingerprint scanner, dual rear cameras (13MP+12MP) and an 8MP front snapper. 

Among the top grumbles are the mid-range chipset, relatively small battery size and lack of network band support for many carriers and countries.

One change only

Stuck with the $199 price point on the Kickstarter campaign, ZTE can’t give the handset a total spec overhaul, so it’s instead committed to upgrading one aspect of the phone. 

To decide what gets upgraded it’s given its community the choice of a Snapdragon 835 chipset, a larger 3,500mAh battery, stock Android or ‘other’ with voters able to leave comments on what they’d like. 

At the moment the Snapdragon 835 is winning, although several comments are calling for 4GB of RAM, a smaller screen and more internal storage. 

Head to the Kickstarter page for the ZTE Hawkeye and the scale of the trouble is clear to see. It’s nowhere near its $500,000, having raised just under $35,000 at time of writing from 182 backers in just 19 days. 

With 26 days left of the campaign it looks unlikely to reach its “all or nothing” funding goal.

Via PhoneArena

Mass Effect: Andromeda release date, news and rumors

Updated: Good news for Origin Access and EA Access subscribers – BioWare has confirmed in a tweet that you’ll get access to your 10 hour trial of the game on March 16, five days before the US release of the game and a week before the UK release.

Like with other Access trials, your progress will transfer over to the full version of the game so you’ll be able to make a good chunk of progress before everyone else. 

Original article continues below…

Mass Effect: Andromeda, the fourth installment in BioWare’s hugely popular sci-fi role-playing franchise, is one of the most highly anticipated games of 2017. The vast ‘open galaxy’ adventure promises to take fans on an exciting new adventure across unexplored worlds with fresh characters.

Cut to the chase

  • What is it? The fourth game in BioWare’s sci-fi RPG Mass Effect franchise
  • When’s it out? March 21 in North America and March 23 in Europe
  • What systems is it coming out for? Xbox One, PC, PS4, and PS4 Pro
  • What will it cost? Pre-order prices start at £49.99

Andromeda was officially revealed to be under development at E3 2015, where fans were treated to some early concept footage, and we’ve been eagerly awaiting more solid information on the game for a while now.

The game was originally slated for a 2016 release but was delayed to early 2017 instead, with BioWare stating that it needed more time to make sure it could deliver “everything the game can and should be”.

Following the game’s delay, EA released a trailer at E3 2016 which didn’t give much away in terms of story but did show that the game will have some impressive visuals. 

Andromeda will be released on PS4, Xbox One and PC. It was also revealed in September that the game would also run 4K on Sony’s new PS4 Pro system. 

BioWare general manager Aaryn Flynn has also confirmed that the game will support HDR on Xbox One S, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 4 Pro. As far as PC is concerned, he has confirmed that it will support HDR but wasn’t able to say whether it would be HDR10 or Dolby Vision. 

What’s the story?

In its feature Game Informer has cast some light on the Mass Effect: Andromeda’s back story, which has been summarised on NeoGAF.

The Andromeda Initiative was set up as a multi-species, civilian missions which would send scientists, explorers and colonists to the distant Andromeda Galaxy where they would settle. The overall goal was for these explorers to establish a permanent base in the galaxy and create a reliable route between it and the Milky Way Galaxy so that the many species involved could travel between the galaxies and transport resources.

Each species embarking on the mission travelled on its own ark captained by its own pathfinder, with 4 arks in total.

From what we understand, these events take place before the Reaper invasion and those travelling on the arks towards Andromeda have no idea of the events taking place in the Milky Way Galaxy after they depart as they’re deep in cryosleep. 

The game begins with humanity’s ark, Hyperion, becoming separated from the rest and getting trapped in a dangerous location faced with a frightening enemy called the Kett. 

Events lead to the protagonist, Sara or Scott Ryder depending on the player’s choice, becoming the pathfinder of their ark and responsible for the safety of those on board. 

Being dubbed “the new pathfinder” in the game’s cinematic trailer, it seems the main storyline will revolve around the player taking charge of navigating this hostile and unfamiliar galaxy in order to lead their crew to safety or find the other arks. No doubt they will be faced with many difficult choices in the process.

There’s a sense of desperation and urgency in the trailer which will give the series a completely different tone. With a whole new galaxy, ship, and the competent Commander Shepherd gone, Andromeda will certainly stand far apart from the rest of the games in the series as a fresh and complete story. 

Combat and customisation

We know the story is supposed to be different from the rest of the games in the Mass Effect series, but how will the gameplay differ? Apparently there will be some similarities but some big changes to contend with. 

The biggest change is the abandonment of the class system which is being replaced by a Skill Tree. This will allow players to access abilities from all classes though they’ll absolutely still be able to specialise which is encouraged through specialisation bonuses.

As far as combat is concerned, it’s not just guns anymore; players will be able to wield melee items such as swords and hammers and even use their jetpack to give their approach to combat more variety.

In a gameplay trailer released by BioWare at NVIDIA’s keynote speech during CES 2017, we got a better look at the game’s combat. The footage showed the player battling a hoard of robot foes. 

The combat appears to be fast paced, with the player constantly having to move around an open play area to land hits and dodge attacks. It also shows how players will be able to change their class type mid-battle thanks to the decision to focus on skill tree instead.

It’s also recently been revealed by lead designer Ian S Frazier that players will be able to craft and name their weapons, including melee weapons such as swords and hammers. 

Frazier revealed the information on Twitter. Unfortunately, he didn’t go into details and describe how exactly weapon crafting would work, but it’s a feature that already exists in BioWare’s other RPG series Dragon Age so chances are it will take some inspiration from there. 

Relationships

Forging relationships with companions is one of the most enjoyable aspects of playing a BioWare title and companion loyalty missions are a big part of the way the player is able to actively invest in these relationships and delve into NPC backstories. 

To the disappointment of many these loyalty missions were absent from Mass Effect 3, but they’ll be making a return in Andromeda, though they’ll be slightly more detached from the main storyline than they were previously. That said, there will apparently be more relationship options in Andromeda than any previous Mass Effect Game.

Whereas in Mass Effect 2 the loyalty missions were inexorably tied up with the main plot and could effect the game’s ending, in Mass Effect: Andromeda they’ll be “much more optional” and players will be able to complete them even after the game’s main story ends. 

Apparently the game will feature a host of optional side content that players will be able to explore, including a variety of exploration activities and a mystery surrounding the protagonist’s family. 

Detaching the loyalty missions and side content from the game’s critical path could be a good decision as while it retains these aspects of the series that many players love, it doesn’t force them on players that just aren’t interested. 

We hope, however, that separating these different aspects of the story doesn’t lessen the impact of player choices and their consequences. There is the risk that making players able to access all of these character storylines after the game’s critical path is complete could reduce replayability and result in a more shallow story. 

Perhaps in an attempt to balance this out, decisions will apparently be less clear cut between “good” and “bad”. Say goodbye to the Paragon/Renegade system. Instead each choice the player makes will have pros and cons which should make settling on a choice a more nuanced and difficult process. 

We don’t have any solid details on who exactly the companions will be in Andromeda but BioWare says that interacting with them will involve more dialogue options. 

These dialogue options will also be about more than romance. Some will be interested in long-term romantic relationships, some won’t be interested in romance at all. It’s nice to see BioWare making character relationships about more than reaching a sexy cutscene. 

Exploring

The player’s ship will be called the Tempest. Apparently moving through the ship will not trigger any loading screens which is part of a larger effort to make travelling through the galaxy feel seamless.

Players will select which planet they want to travel to through a Galaxy mini map and though you won’t get to manually pilot the ship, the game will apparently attempt to give you a sense that you’re travelling towards a planet. No doubt this will be achieved through a skippable cut scene.

Once you land on a planet, you’ll jump into a smaller vehicle called the Nomad which is a throwback to the Mako of Mass Effect. Thankfully, the Nomad is a big improvement on the rather volatile Mako. 

All aboard

Mass Effect: Andromeda waves goodbye to the Normandy ship of previous titles and introduces The Tempest. 

In Mass Effect, the player’s ship serves a variety of purposes; it’s where you plan missions, get to know your companions, decide upon your character’s progression, and feel safe and secure from the terrifying galaxy around you.  Since so much happens here, it’s important that gameplay on the ship be as enjoyable as possible – it’s your new home for tens, perhaps hundreds, of hours. 

The Tempest is planned to function much as The Normandy did in previous titles, though it’ll have a few additions that set it apart. 

According to Game Informer, players won’t encounter any loading screens when exploring The Tempest. Players will handle the ship’s navigation from the bridge, looking out into the stars rather than accessing a galaxy map.

The galley will become the place where the players is able to change Ryder’s abilities and skill-point distribution between missions. 

Ryder will have their own personal quarters, the decor of which players will apparently have some control over and they’ll also see small souvenirs and markers of their journey appear here. 

As you’d expect, you’ll also find your crew scattered around the ship performing various activities and, though efforts have been made to make these NPCs look more active than in previous titles, they’re essentially waiting for you to interact with them.

To make walking through the ship a more immersive experience, the view out of the windows will change to reflect the player’s location in the game world. Exploring the game world using The Tempest will also be a more seamless experience and the developers said they’ve made a big effort to reduce load times and make the process of flying to a planet, landing and leaving the ship much smoother. 

You won’t, however, be able to fly the ship yourself at any point. According to the game’s developers, this would just have been too much to include alongside all of the other new features 

Multiplayer

The multiplayer feature of Mass Effect 3 is back in Andromeda, though BioWare says it’s more refined and improved.

According to Game Informer’s recent report, Mass Effect: Andromeda’s multiplayer mode has been designed to feed into the game’s single player mode. How exactly this is going to play out has been left unclear, though we do know that mission funds from the multiplayer campaign will have “tendrils going out into the rest of the campaign.”

The hope is that it will leave players feeling that the two are connected without making them feel forced to play multiplayer to make the most of the game. “If you feel cheated, we’ve done something wrong” said lead designer Ian Frazier.

That sounds like a difficult balance to strike, but BioWare’s plan should work. Apparently, in the single campaign for Andromeda the player will have the ability to send teams of people across the map to complete side missions – perhaps like securing bases or perimeters. If the player would rather do these missions themselves, they can do so in multiplayer mode where they’ll be part of the mission team.

It sounds slightly like how the War Table missions from Dragon Age Inquisition or the assassination contract missions work in Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood. Except this time rather than being restricted to giving out these missions for unseen NPCs to complete over a set amount of play time, players will have the option to jump straight in and do the job themselves. 

This should allow players to complete the necessary task of expanding humanity’s presence in the Andromeda galaxy but doesn’t force them to be too involved in the task unless they wish to be. 

BioWare says that playing multiplayer will create advantages for the player in the single campaign, however it’ll have no impact on the game’s final ending. 

The end game

According to Game Informer, Mass Effect: Andromeda’s ending will leave the door open for future games. As for details on the ending itself, fortunately those are sparse but BioWare do say “it’s different than the trilogy” which wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

Pre-orders

Fans of Mass Effect who know without a shadow of a doubt they’re going to purchase the game will likely consider pre-ordering the title, especially since it’s been revealed there will be some neat pre-order bonuses on the Origin Store. 

No matter which edition of the game is purchased, customers who pre-order will receive Deep Space Explorer Armor, a multiplayer booster pack containing five 50% XP boosters, and a bonus skin for the protagonist’s ship, The Nomad.

The standard edition pre-order price is currently listed as £49.99/US $59.99.

Those who pre-order the Deluxe edition for £54.99/US $69.99 will receive the game and the previously mentioned bonuses as well as more outfits and armours, four unique weapons, a pet space monkey that will be your companion, a digital download of the game’s official soundtrack, and the Multiplayer Deluxe Launch Pack which includes more weapons and equipment for you to use on co-op missions.

Then, there’s the Super Deluxe edition. At £69.99/ US$99.99 it’s much more expensive but it’s also much more deluxe as the name suggests. In this edition you’ll get everything previously mentioned and more multiplayer booster packs which will provide one co-op premium pack every week for a period of 20 weeks to help boost player progress.

It seems like the Super Deluxe edition might only really be worth buying for those who plan to be highly invested in the game’s mulitplayer mode. 

N7 celebrations

As November 7 is N7 day (the official Mass Effect celebration day) fans were certain that new Andromeda details would drop. 

EA began teasing announcements on Twitter, posting that we’d learn about the “new characters” and “new worlds” of the game on N7 day:

Adding fuel to the fire, the official Mass Effect Twitter account confirmed that there would be a whole new trailer drop:

As recently as November 1 we were treated to a teaser trailer which involved the Andromeda Initiative, a group tasked with travelling outside the Milky Way galaxy. 

In the trailer a narrator, who was later revealed to be the father of the game’s main character, said “The time has come to prepare ourselves for a future beyond the Milky Way; a future that begins 600 years from where we stand, in a time and a place among unknown stars and unseen dangers.“

The cinematic trailer for the game officially dropped on the BioWare YouTube channel and you can watch it right here:

It’s another cinematic trailer and it doesn’t appear to feature much (if any) gameplay, but the visuals are certainly impressive and it confirms that the player is indeed “the new pathfinder.”

Probably the biggest thing to take from this trailer is that it gives us a glimpse of the main enemy of Andromeda, the Kett. As you’d hope/expect they look threatening and frightening. 

Fans eager to stay on top of the latest announcements are able to sign up to the Andromeda Initiative on the game’s website which states that “Registered recruits will be among the first contacted to receive critical mission information, special training opportunities, and will also be eligible for reward upon program completion.”

  • Thinking of getting a PS4 Pro just for Andromeda? Why not read our PS4 Pro review

Faster charging batteries are possible thanks to in-phone tunnels

You may think the fast charging technology we have from companies like Qualcomm and Samsung right now is fast, but thanks to a recent technology breakthrough even faster charging could be on the horizon.

According to new research published in the Nature Communications journal, the charging speed of the lithium batteries we currently use in everything from phones and laptops to electric vehicles could be improved by adding charged metal atoms to tunnel structures.

By using a mix of structural experiments and computer simulations, research teams at the Universities of Bath and Illinois discovered that by adding charged potassium into the tunnel-like structure of manganese dioxide they could greatly improve a battery’s performance. 

Performance boost

This is because the addition of the positively charged ions improves the electrical conductivity of the batteries, allowing the lithium ions to move faster therefore improving the charge rate of the battery.

According to Professor Saiful Islam from the University of Bath, “understanding this processes is important for the future design and development of battery materials, and could lead to faster charging batteries that will benefit consumer and industry.”

Though we already have faster charging techniques in our smartphones, they aren’t actually the result of improved batteries and instead use carefully controlled current increases which make the most of the battery technology we already have. Unfortunately, it relies on using phones and chargers that have been manufactured to support the technology.

Improving the batteries themselves, if it proved affordable, could make the process of fast charging possible and safer in a wider range batteries, perhaps even the larger lithium batteries that are used in electric vehicles.  

Sonos wants to build home speakers that work with all AI assistants?

Sonos, a US-based tech company best known for its quality wireless home speakers, may jump on the Amazon Echo bandwagon with its own AI-powered solution. Sonos, however, may also be looking at ways to create an all-in-one device that works with more than one AI.

The details are not clear at this point, but a recent memo penned by Sonos’ new CEO Patrick Spence reveals that the company may be developing a smart home speaker that is compatible with all major AI assistants. That means Alexa and Google Assistant currently, and possibly Cortana and a rumored Apple contender further down the line.

Such a move would make sense for Sonos, as the company has already asserted itself as one of the best makers of high-quality wireless speakers for the home. However, with the arrival of Amazon’s Echo line of devices, the recent launch of Google Home, and the upcoming entries by other major players, the company is bound to lose some ground in a market where most contenders can do more than just play music.

Last year, the company announced that users will be able to control all Sonos speakers in their homes through their Amazon Echos, but a dedicated all-in-one may be on Sonos’ mind. A wireless speaker that matches the quality of previous products by the brand and can work with all major AI assistants would be no small feat, but how the company may try to put the latter part of this plan into motion is pure conjecture at this point.

Spence’s memo mentions things like “bias to action” and “more product innovation.” It also makes mention of how the company will have to “partner and compete with global leaders like Amazon, Google, and (likely) Apple.” Although this sets nothing in stone at this point, it is an interesting insight into Sonos’ plans for the future. Read Spence’s memo in its entirety below:

Team,
I am humbled and honored by the opportunity to serve as your CEO. I joined Sonos four and half years ago for two reasons:

First, I was a passionate Sonos customer – it changed the way my family and I enjoy music around our home. It was awesome to see my friends sharing their favorite musical memories around our dining room table and to see my two kids dancing their hearts out in the kitchen. Our company matters because music matters, and bringing that into more homes matters more than ever.

The second reason I joined was because of the people. The first person I met was John, and he was even more wonderful than the product. And then I got to meet the talented team and was blown away. Every day I leave work inspired by the passion and ideas I see from all of you. My passion for why we’re here, for what we build, and my love for all of you has only grown over that time. For these reasons, taking on the CEO role is incredibly exciting, and I’m all in.

I’d like thank John for his leadership in bringing Sonos from an idea to a company of more than 1,300 people that has filled millions of homes with music. He’s done it by leading with clear mission and strong set of values. He has taught us what is possible when all of us show up every day ready to pursue our mission and carry out those values. John is a special entrepreneur, and one of the most selfless and high integrity people I know. We will build on this great foundation and relentlessly pursue the mission he set the company on fifteen years ago.

With the full arrival of streaming, the advent of voice, and the promise of the connected home, we are at a pivotal and defining moment – this is our time. The next few years will define our future as we step into the big leagues – partnering and competing with global leaders like Amazon, Google and (likely) Apple. It requires new thinking and a different pace than we had in our first fifteen years.

We know that life at home requires the support of a variety of services since each family member has their own preferences. We have already proven the ability to do this in an elegant and reliable way with music services. We are going to do the same with voice services, bringing all the services that matter to every home. This, combined with our strength and breadth in music streaming services, our commitment to building a software platform that partners can easily build on, our variety of awesome products that fit every room (vs. a one-size-fits-all approach), and sound quality that makes music come alive unlike anyone else, sets us up for a strong future.

We must challenge ourselves to stay ahead of the curve. Being great doesn’t always require being first, but when it comes to the home music experience, we must be the pioneer. More companies are jumping into our space because they see the big opportunity ahead. What got us here won’t alone get us through the next phase. Given this, there are two important areas we need to evolve:

First, we must have a bias towards action. You are all talented and bring diverse perspectives. You have ideas. Please share them freely – especially before they’re “perfect.” Take a risk and share them with others. Listen to the new ideas of your colleagues with the goal of learning about what could be, and help them make them better. Apply yourself to putting ideas into action and being nimble enough to adjust along the way. The pace in which we do this must be faster than the rate of change in the world, and the world is getting a lot faster.

Second, we must innovate boldly. When Sonos began, it was all about product innovation– and while we need more product innovation and pace than ever, we also need to expand our innovative thinking to the way we market to customers, the way we sell to customers, and the way we service customers. We need to be bold about where we believe the world should go, and then we need to lead it there.

I’m fired up to go after the opportunity in front of us, and bring the joy of Sonos to millions of new homes. I look forward to doing it together with all of you.

Best, Patrick

The best free PC backup software 2017

The best free PC backup software

Regular backups are an essential part of PC housekeeping, but one that’s easy to ignore or forget. Windows includes its own backup tools, but they’re not all in one convenient place, their scheduling options are limited, and they don’t offer encryption or optimization. For hassle-free backups, it’s worth installing a third-party program.

Before we begin, it’s worth understanding the different types of backups. An image is an exact copy of an entire drive or partition, including all installed programs and system files. If you need to reinstall Windows, you can boot from the image file and avoid having to reinstall all your programs and reconfigure your Windows settings. Note that you can’t use an image to restore your system on a different PC.

Images are very large and take a long time to create, so you won’t want to make one every day. For everyday backups, you’ll only want to copy the most important data on your PC – your documents, photos and music, for example. There are several types of regular backup:

  • Full backup: a copy of all selected data.
  • Differential backup: a copy of the data that has changed or been added since the last full backup.
  • Incremental backup: a copy of the data that has changed since the last backup, whether that was full backup or incremental.

Each differential backup will be larger than the last, but to restore your system you’ll only need the full backup and the latest differential one. Incremental backup files are smaller, but to restore your system you’ll need your full backup as well as all subsequent incremental ones, which takes longer.

With that in mind, here’s our pick of the best free backup software available to download today.

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Easeus Todo Backup Free

Easeus Todo Backup Free wraps a powerful toolkit in an amazingly straightforward interface. It’s hard to believe it’s free

1. Easeus Todo Backup Free

Download Easeus Todo Backup Free
The best free backup software – a perfect balance of automatic protection and manual control
Easeus Todo Backup Free is a full backup suite offering both imaging (with optional creation of a Linux-based boot disc) and file backup (full, differential or incremental). It’s intuitively designed and packed with advanced features, making it our backup software of choice.
When you start Easeus Todo Backup Free, its Smart Backup function kicks into gear, immediately backing up your Documents directory, the favorites from your web browser and any files on your desktop. It makes a full backup once a week by default, with differential backups every half an hour if changes are detected. It’s an ingenious feature that immediately takes some of the hassle out of protecting your data, and you can customize it later to back up other files if you like.
It’s easy to make and schedule your own custom file backups too (full, differential or incremental). Easeus has included some brilliant extra options, such as the ability to run a backup immediately on startup if one was missed while your PC was powered off, and wake it from sleep if necessary.
Full system images are easy to create, and can be encrypted for extra security. You can choose a compression level (high compression takes longer, but uses less space) and split the image into chunks rather than one huge file. The Image Reserve option lets you choose when old images should be deleted or merged – another very helpful function that helps conserve drive space.
There’s also a superb drive-cloning tool with optional SSD optimization – brilliant if you’re planning an upgrade.
Easeus Todo Backup Free has a couple of limitations compared to the paid-for version: backups can’t be triggered by events like logoff and shutdown, and the software won’t back up and restore Outlook emails. In all other respects it’s superb, and is our number one choice for protecting your system.
Download here: Easeus Todo Backup Free

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Comodo BackUp

Comodo BackUp is a superb backup tool, though some of its brilliant options are hidden away in odd places

2. Comodo BackUp

Download Comodo BackUp
A powerful backup suite with some ingenious hidden extras and a free sample of cloud storage
Comodo BackUp’s main draw is its flexibility – you can store your backups on local or network-attached drives, an FTP server or the company’s own Comodo Cloud server. The free edition comes with 10GB online storage which is free for 90 days.
If you fancy keeping the cloud storage, prices start at US$7.99 (about £6, AU$11) per month for 100GB once the trial is over. The software itself is completely free if you’re happy to store your data locally, though.
Creating a full drive image and emergency rescue media is a simple process, though it’s strange that this feature is accessed via the Settings menu rather than the dashboard.
You’ll need the Windows Automated Installation Kit to make an image, so make sure you’ve installed it first, but once that’s done the process is effortless. It’s strange that Comodo BackUp doesn’t come with this tool already included, and that it doesn’t run with admin privileges by default (essential for creating system backups).

Comodo BackUp offers full, differential and incremental backups of files, directories, partitions and drives. It doesn’t automatically suggest particular file types or locations to back up, instead letting you take your pick from files and directories, disks and partitions, registry files and registry entries. It’s fine for users who know precisely what they should keep, but not the most intuitive system for new users.

Backups can be scheduled for regular intervals and, like Easeus Todo Backup Free, Comodo BackUp lets you choose what should happen if it misses a backup. There’s also support for file compression and splitting, encryption and email notifications. Interestingly, there’s also a hidden tool that lets you scan for junk and malware before backing up – presumably a little add-on originating from Comodo’s Internet Security suite.

Comodo BackUp uses Windows’ Volume Shadow Copy function to make backups while files are in use, enabling it to run quietly in the background. It’s undoubtedly a powerful backup tool packed with useful functions for protecting your data, but its slightly awkward interface and lack of guidance for new users put it just behind Easeus.

Download here: Comodo Backup

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AOMEI Backupper Standard

With AOMEI Backupper Standard, drive images and file backups are incredibly straightforward – and restoring them is just as simple

3. AOMEI Backupper Standard

Download AOMEI Backupper Standard
AOMEI offers a wizard-based system for creating images and file backups. Good for beginners
AOMEI Backupper Standard includes a simple wizard that makes creating images straightforward, even for complete beginners. It suggests which drives to back up and where to store the resulting image – whether it’s a local drive, an optical disc or network attached storage. Give the image a name (ideally including the date) so you can find it easily later, create a schedule so the process is repeated at regular intervals, and click ‘Start backup’.
This can take a long time, depending on the amount of data on your drive, so the option to shut down the PC automatically once it’s complete it a thoughtful touch. You can then restore your system from within Windows, or by booting from the image.
For day-to-day backups, AOMEI Backupper Standard lets you save whole partitions or selected directories, with a simple drop-down menu enabling you choose between full, differential or incremental backups. Again, these can be scheduled to take place at regular intervals, making it a simple set-and-forget affair.
The process is incredibly straightforward, and there are also a few handy extras including password-protection and encryption to secure your data, but not as many as you’ll find in Easeus and Comodo’s backup software.
Download here: AOMEI Backupper Standard

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Personal Backup

Personal Backup was created by just one programmer, and the depth of control it provides is amazing

4. Personal Backup

Download Personal Backup
This tiny backup program doesn’t offer imaging, but is ideal for off-site backups of important files
One-man project Personal Backup is small and easy to use, but only creates regular data backups – not images. As an indie passion-project it lacks the gloss of its commercially-driven competitors, but is nevertheless great for saving copies of your most important data.
Personal Backup offers both a straightforward wizard and manual options for more advanced users. The wizard begins by asking you to select a destination for the backups. This can be local or network-attached storage, or an FTP server. The latter option is ideal for off-site backups.
Next, you’re prompted to select the data to be backed up, whether it should be compressed, and whether to apply encryption. It’s advisable to select the option to verify your completed backups. Backups can be scheduled to take place daily, weekly, or when an event is triggered (such as logon or shutdown).
The advanced tool is where things get really interesting – you can create a desktop shortcut for a backup task, enabling you to run it with a simple double-click whenever you like, decide which file types should be compressed, set filters so only files containing a certain string are backed up, and decide whether backups are full, incremental or differential. The restore options are equally detailed; you can select the type of files to be overwritten or kept, whether to keep file permissions intact, and the age of files to be restored.
Download here: Personal Backup

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Genie Timeline Free

Genie Timeline Free takes the stress out of the vital process of backing up your data, and its optional iOS app is a nice extra touch

5. Genie Timeline Free

Download Genie Timeline Free
A simple file backup tool that’s fine for novice users, but lacks more advanced options
If you’re a little daunted by the prospect of making your own backups, Genie Timeline Free is as user-friendly as they come. Its wizard (there’s no manual mode for fine-tuning your backups) takes you by the hand, suggesting the drive to be used for storage and making a folder for you automatically, then showing you various file types that can be stored (emails, pictures, videos, documents, music and the contents of your desktop are selected by default).
Sneakily, Genie Timeline Free lists drive images among the file types it can back up, but you can only create them using the premium version of the software. Compression and encryption are also unavailable unless you open your wallet, which pushes this otherwise great backup tool down to fifth place.
Genie Timeline Free backs up your files quietly in the background – an unobtrusive approach that’s welcome, but wouldn’t be possible if it was creating an image. It’s not mentioned in the interface, but all backups are incremental, making them as fast as possible.
The restore tool is similarly straightforward – simply select the backed-up files to restore, choose where to restore them to (and whether to overwrite existing files with the same name) and click ‘OK’.
Uniquely, Genie Timeline Free has its own iOS app, which provides status updates on your scheduled backups. It would be handy to be able to start backups manually via the app as well, but it’s a welcome addition for those of an anxious disposition, and a modern alternative to the email notifications offered by some other backup tools.

Download here: Genie Timeline Free

See all free backup software available to download on TechRadar

Samsung Galaxy S6’s Android 7.0 Nougat update certified ahead of roll-out

As we look ahead to the oft-rumored Galaxy S8, Samsung’s older flagship smartphones are still getting some love on the firmware front. A few days back, Sammy confirmed that a slew of its handsets from yesteryear will soon be treated to Google’s Android 7.0 Nougat, including the Galaxy Note 5, S6 family, A3, A8 and a few of the firm’s tablets. Whilst we still don’t have a concrete idea of when the roll-out will begin, new info indicates that the Galaxy S6, at least, is edging smoothly towards the end user. 

We know that the aforementioned fleet of devices will begin to see Nougat “within the first half of this year,” as per the previous official tidbit from Samsung. This is unfortunately quite vague, but with the standard model of the Galaxy S6 (SM-G920) having recently been certified on Nougat by the Wi-Fi Alliance — one of those official bodies required to provide a nod of approval in these circumstances — the wheels are very much in motion.

Last year, the Marshmallow bundle began to reach the Galaxy S6 line in mid-February. While Android updates are seldom straightforward, those still rocking the S6, S6 edge or S6 edge+ will be hoping that Samsung can repeat that feat and have Nougat ready during the next few weeks. We’ll be keeping a close eye on proceedings, so stay tuned. 

LG G6 rumor review: design, specs, features, everything we know so far

1. Design
2. Display
3. Hardware
4. Cameras & iris scanner
5. Software and features (New!)
6. Price and release date

Design

Non-modular G6
Numerous sources, including various South Korean publications, have claimed that LG will be dropping the whole modular thing it experimented with on the G5 and opt for a more traditional design instead. The various reports on the matter cite multiple reasons for this suggested change, including low sales of the G5, troubled production yield due to the phone’s complicated modular build, as well as big shifts in the executive circles responsible for the development of the G5.
Whether the company will drop modules entirely for its upcoming flagship is up for debate, but it does make a lot of sense and ties up with other rumors regarding the phone’s design. 

Non-removable battery that won’t overheat

Some reports claim that the G6 won’t have a user-replaceable battery, which is somewhat in line with the rumors suggesting that the phone will have a non-modular build. However, other sources, most notably the Korean Herald, suggest that the LG G6 may retain the removable battery aspect from the G5 and the more recent non-modular V20 for “safety” purposes, vaguely referencing the Note 7 debacle. An interesting point, although we don’t really see the removable battery as an adequate precautionary measure against malfunctions. Furthermore, if modular design is really a no-go for the G6, LG may have a much better reason to keep the battery sealed in. This brings us to our next point.

LG has announced that, in order to prevent the battery on the G6 from overheating, it will employ a copper heat pipe cooling system that will drive heat away from the battery. According to the company, G6’s battery won’t overheat even at temperatures of up to 150 degrees Celsius. LG says that it is testing the battery for the new flagship at temperatures 15% higher than U.S. and European standards, in order to ensure their resistance to heat.

Waterproofing

One of the most widely cited possible reasons for dropping the removable battery aspect is some sort of advanced waterproofing technique. While Samsung uses waterproof tape around the displays of its Galaxy phones, LG is said to be looking at an adhesive-based waterproofing method similar to what Apple did with the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. Although we’ve seen water-resistant phones with removable batteries, such as the Galaxy S5, LG may be working on a way to make its future flagship devices even more resistant to the elements, and a sealed battery could definitely help.

Body

The LG G5 sported a unibody aluminum build coated with primer to conceal the seams between the casing and antenna slits. It wasn’t received with standing ovations by fans and we weren’t amazed either. However, LG may be looking to spice things up for the G6 with some sort of a high-gloss back. Some reports suggest that the casing could be made of glass, while others claim that LG is more likely to use some sort of metal polishing technique, similar to what Apple did with the Jet Black iPhone 7 models, to achieve a high level gloss without compromising sturdiness.

A recently leaked image of a case by an unknown manufacturer gave us the first (alleged) glimpse at the G6, highlighting two horizontally aligned cameras with the flash in between, as well as a fingerprint scanner underneath. The image is in line with previous rumors that the G6 won’t be too different from the G5 and V20, as far as the setup of sensors on the back goes. Unfortunately, no openings for ports or buttons are visible on the case, so we can’t say anything about their placement at this point.
However, we also got a new 360-degree video showcasing a 3D render of the LG G6, allegedly based on CAD drawings of the phone. The render shows a non-modular device with a flat screen, supporting the majority of rumors claiming that LG will ditch modularity in favor of a more traditional design, and keep away from the oh-so-trendy curved displays. Notorious tipster OnLeaks, who released the video above, claims the fingerprint scanner on the back of the G6 will also double as a power button, hence the lack of such on either side of the device.

Display

With Apple said to be shifting to OLED tech for its 2017 lineup, Google jumping on the bandwagon with the Pixels, and Samsung using AMOLED displays in pretty much every portable device it makes, LG may be next to join the party. The company already produces OLED displays for its own smartwatches and TVs, as well as the Apple Watch, so an OLED-equipped G6 is a possibility. Furthermore, mobile VR is going to be big next year, and since Google’s guidelines for building a Daydream-ready device require that it has an OLED screen, we may see a lot more Android phone makers adopting the technology.

As far as resolution goes, the LG G6 will either retain the current Quad HD resolution of the G5 and V20, or bump things up a notch. The G6 will be going head-to-head with the Galaxy S8/S8 Edge, which are heavily rumored to pack 4K displays, so LG may very well decide to implement a higher resolution panel in its next flagship.

Curved displays are trendy these days, and may become the norm in next year’s flagships, but a number of reports is suggesting that the LG G6 may come with a regular flat display.

The latest information is decisively pointing toward a flat-screened G6. We were also correct in suggesting that the flagship may pack a slightly higher-res display than its predecessors, as the screen for the G6 has been all but confirmed as capable of producing QHD+ resolutions. It is also going to be in a 9:18 aspect ratio, rather than the traditional 9:16. To learn more about the what’s changed, and how the new aspect ratio will affect you, check out our overview of the display of the LG G6.

Hardware

Not much is known at this point, but the G6 is expected to sport a Snapdragon 835 chip, backed with at least 6- or even 8 GB of RAM, if LG wants to compete with the beefy Galaxy S8 brothers. The G6 will likely feature a USB Type-C port, as well as retain the same 32 GB of expandable, internal memory found on the G5. If the G6 is to be Daydream-ready and sport a 4K screen, then capable hardware is a must.

Audio

LG brought Hi-Fi sound to the G5 with the B&O-branded “Friend” module, while the V20 catered to audiophiles out of the box with its new 32-bit “quad” DAC and B&O in-ear headphones bundled with every unit. Given this, it wouldn’t be too out-there to assume that the G6 will carry some of the audiophiliac DNA of its predecessor. If it’s not a modular phone, meaning it’s functionality cannot be expanded with, say, a dedicated Hi-Fi module, LG may very well decide to launch its next flagship with some serious audio capabilities out of the box. This, however, is just our educated guess which we based on what LG offered on its recent top-end devices.

On a related note, numerous sources agree that the LG G6 will sport a 3.5 mm jack, which is a feature nowadays, so it’s worth mentioning. Although nothing is set in stone at this point, we wouldn’t be too surprised if LG decided to go against the grain with the G6, seeing as how 2016 marked the beginning of the end for everybody’s favorite jack, and a lot of folks seem not too excited about it.

The V20 offered 24-bit lossless audio recording thanks to a three microphone setup. It would be great to see it make a return in next year’s G6.

Cameras & iris scanner

The G5 and V20 sported a clever dual camera setup that may very likely return in the G6 in an improved form. Both the G5 and V20 came with two cameras on their backs – an 8 MP wide angle lens and a 16 MP primary shooter – that worked quite well in combination with LG’s clever camera software.

As for the selfie shooter, the G6 may change things up a bit. We wouldn’t hold our breath for a revolution in front-facing cameras, but rather an evolution. Back in November, word got out that LG is working on an all-in-one iris scanner/front-facing camera module capable of switching between the two functions with the help of an IR light filter.

Although the company has since confirmed that such module has been developed, this doesn’t mean it will be implemented in the G6, or any of LG’s 2017 phones for that matter. Still, numerous reports agree that the G6 will likely feature an iris scanner in some form or another.

Software and misc. features

Given that the V20 was the first smartphone to run Android Nougat out of the box, it’s a pretty safe bet that the LG G6 will run Nougat too. There are also rumors that LG may come out with its own mobile payment service to compete directly with Apple Pay and Samsung Pay. This would suggest that the G6 will have some sort of MST (Magnetic Secure Transmission) technology implemented in it.

First non-Pixel phone with Google Assistant built-in?

The latest rumors suggest that the LG G6 may be the first smartphone to feature Google’s currently Pixel-exclusive Assistant. According to reports by Korean media, LG has turned to Google in an attempt to convince the search giant to allow it to put its AI on the next flagship smartphone. Google and LG have been long-time partners, with the latter having three Nexus devices under its belt — the Nexus 4, Nexus 5, and Nexus 5X — so it doesn’t sound all that surprising that the South Korean tech giant may have approached the Big G with such a proposition. However, industry sources claim, LG may also turn to Amazon and opt to integrate Alexa in the LG G6 instead. Lg is currently using the wits of Amazon’s AI assistant in some of its new smart home appliances.

Price and release date

If the G5 is anything to go by, then LG will likely aim for a February reveal with the G6, probably at (or around) MWC 2017. Let’s take a quick look at the announcement/launch “schedule” for previous G-series phones:

  • LG G2 – Announced August 2013; released September 2013
  • LG G3 – Announced May 2014; released June 2014
  • LG G4 – Announced April 2015; released May 2015
  • LG G5 – Announced February 2016; released April 2016
  • LG G6 – Expected announcement February 2017; expected release March – April 2017

Although there is no clear pattern to these dates, it is obvious that each year LG has been pushing the reveal more toward the beginning of the year. We would say the G6 will likely be announced at MWC in February and a launch in March or April, at the latest. If LG wants to stand a chance against the Galaxy S8, it wouldn’t be a good idea to postpone the launch beyond April, as Samsung’s next flagships are expected to be revealed in February and hit the shelves the following month (as usual).

The latest rumors are suggesting March 10 as a release for the LG G6. As for the official unveiling? That’s tipped to happen on February 26, the Sunday before MWC starts.

The LG G5 launched at around $650 back in April, and the G6 will likely retain the same price tag. It may be a bit more expensive, depending on how big of a leap forward it it is compared to the G5, but we wouldn’t bet on anything cheaper than $650 or more expensive than $700. LG has always priced its flagship devices lower than Samsung, and it’s highly unlikely that the G6 will be a deviation from this trend.

ZTE on Hawkeye: “We acknowledge our mistake”

The ZTE Hawkeye, previously known as Project CSX, was born in an unorthodox way, and its entire existence so far had little in common with how the mobile industry normally works today. The phone was created by asking the general public to submit their ideas, and out of all submissions, the most peculiar one won. Therefore, the Hawkeye features an adhesive back panel, that allows it to stick to any surface, and eye-tracking software for hands-free use.

After the winning project was selected, ZTE made a prototype that it showcased at CES this month, and launched a …

ZTE on Hawkeye: “We acknowledge our mistake”

The ZTE Hawkeye, previously known as Project CSX, was born in an unorthodox way, and its entire existence so far had little in common with how the mobile industry normally works today. The phone was created by asking the general public to submit their ideas, and out of all submissions, the most peculiar one won. Therefore, the Hawkeye features an adhesive back panel, that allows it to stick to any surface, and eye-tracking software for hands-free use.

After the winning project was selected, ZTE made a prototype that it showcased at CES this month, and launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the phone. However, this is where things turned south. People wanted a revolutionary smartphone, and such a device would come with all the bells and whistles of the mobile industry, such as Snapdragon 835, massive amounts of RAM, and so on. But according to the official specifications by ZTE, its new device was nothing more than a mid-ranger that you can stick to a wall and control with your eyes.

Needless to say, people were not happy with what was offered by ZTE. And the Kickstarter campaign for Hawkeye stalled. At the time of writing this article, less than 7% of ZTE’s goal for the device has been funded by merely 182 backers. And with 26 days to go, things are not looking good for Project CSX. So, in a desperate attempt to save its new device, ZTE is turning to its users once more.

In a blog post on ZTE’s website, the company says that it acknowledges its mistake. “[W]hen the Eye-Tracking, Sticky phone went on to win Project CSX, we lost sight of what many of you submitted and voted upon as competing submissions,” wrote Jeff Yee, VP Technology Planning and Partnerships at ZTE. Yee continued by saying that the company realized that introducing the adhesive, hands-free concept on a mid-ranger was not a good move. “It was our mistake,” he wrote.

However, considering the nature of Kickstarter, it would be hard for ZTE to deliver a much better product. While the product itself can be changed, the initial price of $199 can’t, due to how Kickstarter works. Therefore, ZTE would not be able to deliver a flagship-specced handset without going in the red. The best it can do, would be to upgrade whatever it can while staying in the same budget. And in the spirit of the entire Project CSX, ZTE has created a poll to help it choose what to beef up.

The poll is open to members of the Z-Community, so anyone with a profile can vote. At the time of writing, only 85 people have done so, though. And it appears that the main problem users have with the specs is the CPU, as 47% of the votes call for a replacement of the Snapdragon 625 with the brand new 835. The other votes are distributed as follows:

  • Swap the 3,000 mAh battery for a 3,500 mAh. (11%)
  • The OS would be Stock Android with added software for eye tracking. (13%)
  • Other. (29%)

The “other” option asks people to leave a comment under the poll, and if we’re to judge by what users are writing, the second most-requested upgrade is more RAM.

By what we’re seeing with the poll and the Kickstarter campaign, Hawkeye’s future doesn’t look so bright. It appears that there just isn’t enough interest in ZTE’s new device, or in the brand in general. And quite honestly, with phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S8 and iPhone 8 on the horizon, we can’t really blame anyone for taking a pass on Project CSX and its mid-range specs.

J.P. Morgan sees a 90% chance of T-Mobile getting bought out within five years

U.S. banking and securities house J.P. Morgan sees some consolidation upcoming in the wireless industry. One carrier that J.P. Morgan sees as being a near certainty (90%) to be purchased some time in the next five years is T-Mobile. The company was already the subject of a deal in 2011 with AT&T, but the latter had to call it off after U.S. regulators promised to turn down the transaction. With the deal scuttled, T-Mobile received spectrum and cash from AT&T as the break-up fee. That loot helped turn T-Mobile from an also ran, into what is arguably the most influential U.S. wireless operator.

According to Morgan, Sprint could have T-Mobile in its cross-hairs. The nation’s fourth largest carrier is always on the list of possible T-Mobile buyers. Regulators put the kibosh on a possible Sprint and T-Mobile tie-up in 2014; since then, T-Mobile leaped over Sprint to become the third largest carrier in the states. According to J.P. Morgan analyst Philip Cusick, there is now a 35% chance that Sprint and T-Mobile hook up. That is up from just 10% in September. Cusick says that if a deal is announced between T-Mobile and Sprint, there is a 70% chance of regulatory approval.

Besides Sprint, there have been persistent rumors about a cable company buying T-Mobile. It would be an expensive, but strategic play for a cable or satellite provider looking to jump right into the industry. Dish is one name that has been bandied about.

Still, Sprint parent SoftBank has promised to increase its investments in the U.S., which could increase the likelihood of a Sprint purchase of T-Mobile. Sprint is 80% owned by SoftBank, while 65% of T-Mobile is owned by German wireless giant Deutsche Telekom. The latter’s CEO, Tim Hoettges, said in November that he wasn’t “in the mood” to sell T-Mobile. The executive said that he was waiting for a change in the U.S. regulatory environment under President Trump.

“We believe that parents Softbank and Deutsche Telekom have increased their preference for a tie-up in the last six months and that the value of about $5 billion of annual synergies is enough to smooth over most disagreements on relative value.”-Philip Cusick, analyst, J.P. Morgan

Meanwhile, someone has been buying T-Mobile shares. The stock has risen from $47 to $59 since August.

source: Reuters