That Stranger In The Mirror — A beginner’s guide to neuroscience

Neuroscience

Contrary to what some might say, we all have a complex and fascinating brain. It controls your actions, gives you emotions, and defines your personality, but most of us haven’t got the first clue how it works. Neuroscience is a mystery.

Well, now’s your chance to learn what’s going on up there, and it’s pretty cool. Loonycorn has produced a fun and engaging online learning kit to give you a beginner’s guide to neuroscience. It’s called That Stranger In The Mirror and you can save $20 on the signup fee right now.

Over this course, you’ll learn the anatomy of the brain, and how each part interacts to determine behaviors and motivation. Plus, you’ll dive into the psychology behind personality, memory, and much more.

The neuroscience guide at a glance:

  • Access 45 lectures and seven hours of content 24/7.
  • Identify different parts of the brain, and how they correspond to different voices in your head.
  • Understand primary motivations, including complex urges such as desiring fairness and independence.
  • Seek the state of flow, a mental state of intense concentration and joy, brought on by work.
  • Classify personalities into 32 categories using the Big Five Personality Traits.
  • Learn how memory works, and why it is reconstructive and associative.

The learning kit normally retails for $50, but this Christmas it’s on offer at Tech Deals for just $29.99. That gives you lifetime access too, so you can dip in and out at your own convenience.

The deal only runs this week, so don’t spend too long mulling it over. Hit the button below to find it.

The AAPicks team writes about things we think you’ll like, and we may see a share of revenue from any purchases made through affiliate links. To see all our hottest deals, head over to the AAPICKS HUB.


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From better ASMR to live-stream editing, Samsung is using AI for everything at CES

A screenshot from a Samsung video, showing Medeo. Samsung

  • Samsung has revealed eight AI projects that it will be showing off at CES 2019.
  • Four of the projects are related to smartphones in various ways.
  • A smart hearing aid and a live-stream video editor are two of the more impressive projects.

We’re still in the middle of the festive season, but CES is barely two weeks away. Now, Samsung has peeled the curtain back on some AI projects it’ll be revealing at the tech expo.

The Korean company announced that it’ll be showing off eight AI projects from its C-Lab (Creative Lab) initiative. Some of these projects aren’t for mobile, but several are indeed related to smartphones, such as aiMo and MEDEO.

The former application aims to deliver better ASMR sound clips if you’re recording on your smartphone, in conjunction with a cover case (it’s unclear if a special cover is required). Samsung says aiMo delivers better sound directivity, as well as more realistic ASMR sounds, without the need for professional equipment. In fact, the firm says you can get “high quality” results while recording outside too.

Meanwhile, MEDEO is branded as an “instant video making service,” allowing creators to simultaneously shoot and edit live videos. The service uses AI in order to recognize scenes and context, automatically adding video effects, music, and pre-recorded videos to your live stream.

We’ll need to wait and see if this service is a gimmick or genuinely useful, but Samsung says MEDEO is also capable of “one-click video rendering at an expert level that extracts only the core scenes of the saved video.” Hopefully the service isn’t severely limited in terms of the number of video effects and music tracks.

What else is Samsung highlighting?

The third mobile-related project is a hearing assistant called SnailSound. By using an app and earpiece, the service conducts feedback via hearing tests to figure out the user’s desired sounds. From here, it conducts AI-based suppression and amplification in order to boost the desired sounds.

Finally, the last mobile-related AI project by Samsung is a perfume app, called Perfume Blender. It essentially lets users make their own perfume with a “compatible device,” then lets you share the recipe with others via a mobile app. But the app is pretty smart in its own right too.

“When the user takes a photo of their favorite perfumes with the app, it analyzes the common ingredients and recommends fragrance recipes that the user might like,” the Korean company explains. It sounds like you’ll need to buy a potentially expensive machine to actually make your perfume, but it’s an interesting concept anyway.

Editor’s Pick

Another noteworthy project is a virtual advertising service for live-streamers, dubbed Tisplay. This service recognizes a streamer’s clothing, then places ads over them. According to Samsung, the ads look “as if they were actually printed on the clothing.”

Creators can also use the service to add images that are actually relevant to the stream in question. Furthermore, Samsung reckons that this new type of ad is less invasive than mid-video pop-up ads. Then again, who says we won’t see both?

Other noteworthy Samsung AI projects set for CES include an auto-adjusting monitor to help users maintain the correct posture, an “AI desk light,” and an AI-driven news analysis platform. Personally, I’m quite keen to hear results from the ASMR solution, but the SnailSound hearing service has the potential to be a game-changing take on the hearing aid. What would you like to try out? Give us your thoughts in the comments!

NEXT: Honor View 20 hands-on: Are holes better than notches?

First 10 Things To Do With Your New OnePlus 6 and 6T

Just got a OnePlus 6/6T? Here’s how you can get the most out of your new phone.

This is the best time to pick up a OnePlus phone. The OnePlus 6 is on sale for just $429, a $100 discount on what was already pretty impressive pricing. If you’re looking for the latest features, however, you’ll have to shell out $549 for the OnePlus 6T, which is still several hundred dollars less than what you’d have to pay for a brand-new Pixel 3.

OnePlus has differentiated itself for its obsessive focus on speed, and both the OnePlus 6 and 6T are two of the fastest phones in the market today. If you’ve just picked up the OnePlus 6/6T or are interested in knowing more about either device, we have you covered. Here’s what you can do to unlock the full potential of your OnePlus phone.

Set up the fingerprint sensor

One of the first things you should do while setting up your phone is configuring biometric authentication. The trusty fingerprint sensor is still the best way to unlock your phone, and the OnePlus 6 has a capacitive sensor at the back that’s one of the fastest in the market. The OnePlus 6T, meanwhile, comes with an optical in-display fingerprint solution that sits underneath the screen.

The in-display sensor isn’t quite as fast as the capacitive sensor on the OnePlus 6, but it has gotten better thanks to a new OxygenOS update. To set up the fingerprint sensor, just head into Settings -> Security & lock screen -> Fingerprint. As the 6T has an in-display solution, you’ll be able to set an animation effect to show when the sensor is active, and set it up so that the activation zone is highlighted when you pick up the phone.

Add your facial data for face unlock

More often than not, you won’t need to use the fingerprint sensor at all because of how good the face unlock is on the OnePlus 6/6T.

If you haven’t set up face unlock during the initial configuration, you’ll be able to do so by heading to Settings -> Security & lock screen -> Face Unlock. It takes just a few seconds to add your face data, and you can also enable face unlock as soon as the screen switches on for seamless authentication.

As the face unlock feature on the OnePlus 6 and 6T lacks an IR camera, there are scenarios where it may not work, particularly if there’s little ambient light. In this instance, you can enable the assistive lighting toggle to light up the screen so that the camera can make out your facial features.

Hide the notch

The notch is one of the most divisive hardware features on 2018, and while the narrower waterdrop version on the OnePlus 6T isn’t as annoying, you’ll want to hide the notch on the OnePlus 6. Doing so is straightforward: navigate to Settings -> Display -> Notch display and select Hide the notch area.

Doing so will set up black bars on either side of the notch, leading to a more seamless look. The status bar icons will still be shown within the black bars, but the cutout itself won’t be as distracting.

Set up the display to your liking

The OnePlus 6 and 6T feature gorgeous AMOLED displays that offer vibrant colors and excellent contrast levels. The default calibration mode is great for most users, but if you want to adjust the color balance, you can choose between sRGB or DCI-P3 modes. There’s also an adaptive mode, or you can also choose a custom color profile.

Use ambient display for incoming notifications

With the OnePlus 6T no longer offering a notification LED, the ambient display is the default way to view incoming notifications. You can set it up so that the screen wakes up for incoming notifications, and you can also have ambient display activate whenever you pick up the device.

Set up the Alert Slider/Do Not Disturb

The Alert Slider continues to be a standout feature on OnePlus phones, and starting this year its position has shifted to the right side of the device, above the power button. Alert Slider now has three modes — Silent, Vibration, and Ring — and you’ll be able to configure each mode based on your preferences.

Alert Slider offers an easy way to toggle between modes, but if you want more granular control, you’ll have to turn to Do Not Disturb. The feature is similar to what you get on Android One. You’ll be able to set up rules to automatically enforce silent mode at a particular time, and configure what notifications show up during this time.

You can set up various rules and select if any calls or messages come through whenever Do Not Disturb is active.

Configure navigation gestures

OnePlus was one of the first manufacturers to offer iOS-style full-screen navigation gestures on OxygenOS. With Google rolling out its own gesture implementation with Pie, OnePlus gives you the option of choosing between the two.

Head to Settings -> Buttons & gestures -> Navigation bar & gestures to set up the navigation mode. If you select Navigation gestures, the nav bar will be hidden entirely, and you’ll have to rely on gestures exclusively to navigate the interface. For instance, you’ll need to swipe up from the bottom center of the screen to access the home screen, swipe up and pause to see the overview menu, and swipe up from the left or right sides of the bottom of the screen to go back.

The Back, Home option switches to the Pie gestures, where you’ll have to swipe up to access the overview menu. The back button shows up when needed, but otherwise it’s hidden away.

Finally, if you don’t want to switch to the newfangled gestures, you can retain the Oreo-style three-button nav bar by selecting Back, Home, Recents.

Do more with screen off gestures

Alongside the navigation gestures, OnePlus also offers system gestures that makes it easier to take screenshots, launch the camera, and more. There’s a nifty three-finger screenshot feature that lets you take a screenshot just by swiping three fingers anywhere on the screen.

You can also flip the device when receiving an incoming call to mute it, or raise the phone to your ear to automatically answer it. There’s also the double tap to wake gesture, which when used with face unlock makes it easier to unlock the phone. You also have the ability to control music playback by drawing the II, >, or < anywhere on the screen with two fingers.

Then there are the customizable gestures — these let you launch launch the camera, record a video, toggle the flashlight, or open an app by drawing a symbol on the screen. For instance, you can draw an O when the screen is off to turn on the flashlight, or launch the camera by drawing a V on the screen.

There are five such gestures available to customize, and they offer a convenient way to launch an app or access the camera with the screen off. You can also launch the camera with a double press of the power button. You can get started with the gestures by heading to Settings -> Buttons & gestures -> Quick gestures.

Customize the home screen

By default, the Shelf sits to the left of the home screen, offering easy access to recent contacts, weather information, and frequently used apps. You can also add widgets to the Shelf, easily jot down memos, and see the amount of data used and storage left.

Tap the + button located at the bottom right corner to add widgets to the Shelf and tailor it to your preferences. If you’re not going to use the Shelf, you can disable it from the home screen settings. Long press anywhere on the home screen to pull up the settings, select Home Settings, and switch the Shelf toggle to off. You’ll also be able to customize other home screen options, such as adding app icons, notification dots, double tap to lock, choosing an icon pack, and adjusting the home screen grid layout.

OxygenOS also comes with a variety of theme options. You can choose between the light or dark themes, or select the colorful option to choose your own accent colors.

Use Night Mode and Reading Mode effectively

My favorite OxygenOS feature is Reading Mode. The mode switches the screen to monochrome, making it ideal for reading text. You can select Reading Mode to kick in automatically for a specific app, like Amazon Kindle, or enable it manually. There’s also the option of disabling peek notifications for distraction-free reading.

Night Mode is a blue light filter that can be configured to turn on automatically at a specific time. As is the case with most phones, you can adjust the intensity of the filter, and select it to kick in from sunset to sunrise.

Bonus for McLaren Edition: Use the AR feature

If you’ve picked up the OnePlus 6T McLaren Edition, there’s a bonus feature that’s very cool. Just launch the AR mode from the Shelf, and point your phone at the “Salute to Speed” booklet included in the box. It’ll play videos, serve up additional information on both companies, and offer interesting nuggets on the collaboration.

How to set up your new Pixel phone

So, you just got a new Pixel phone. Awesome! Google’s Pixel devices are among the best money can buy, and now that you own one, you’re probably eager to get it set up so you can start using it. Here’s a step-by-step guide of what to expect during that initial set up process.

Products used in this guide

How to set up your new Pixel phone

  1. Tap the blue Start button near the bottom right.
  2. Tap the Wi-Fi network you want to use (or use your mobile network instead).
  3. Enter your Wi-Fi password.

  4. Your Pixel will check for any available updates.
  5. If you want to copy apps & data, tap Next at the bottom right (check out our other guide for a closer look at how this is done).
  6. For this guide, we’re tapping the Don’t copy option.

  7. Type in your Google account email and password.
  8. Tap the I agree button.

  9. Have Google Fi? you’ll see a welcome screen for the service.
  10. Tap the Accept button to agree to the available Google services.
  11. Tap I accept to agree to Google’s “additional legal terms.”

  12. Tap Next to set up the fingerprint sensor with Pixel Imprint.
  13. Enter a security PIN and tap Next.
  14. Re-enter your PIN to confirm it.

  15. Follow the prompts to register your fingerprint.
  16. Tap Next after your fingerprint is added.

  17. Tap Continue on the next page.
  18. Tap I Agree for the Assistant Voice Match feature.
  19. Follow the prompts to set it up.

  20. Tap Finish.
  21. Tap Next to set up the squeeze feature for Google Assistant.

  22. Adjust the squeeze level to your liking and then tap Next.
  23. Tap Turn on to enable the always-on display.
  24. Tap any of the options you want on the “Anything else?” page. Otherwise, tap No thanks at the bottom left.

  25. Tap All set on the next page.

That’s it! You’ve now successfully set up your new Pixel phone. Congrats!

Our top equipment picks

Small and mighty

Google Pixel 3

$799 at Google Store

Google’s best phone yet.

The Pixel 3 is small, mighty, and one of the best Android phones you can buy. It’s definitely not cheap, but it delivers fast performance, wireless charging, and the best smartphone camera to-date.

Xiaomi Black Shark review: A blast for your buck

Gaming smartphones had a breakthrough in 2018, with multiple renowned companies in the field launching their super-powered handsets. These include the Asus ROG Phone, Razer Phone 2, and today’s review subject, the Xiaomi Black Shark.

Check out the Asus ROG Phone vs. Razer Phone 2 vs. Xiaomi Black Shark to see how the three phones differ. Today we’re focusing on the Xiaomi Black Shark.

This is the most affordable gaming handset of the three, starting at 2,999 yuan (~$434). Xiaomi’s tendency is to bust through industry doors with no regards of the competition, offering top-notch specs, great design, and plenty of features, while undercutting prices by far. Let’s see how well the Xiaomi Black Shark follows this trend.


Xiaomi Black Shark review: Design & build quality

back of xiaomi black shark with retail box

Like any gaming product worth its salt, the Xiaomi Black Shark design is bold and shameless. You will know it the minute you lay eyes on it. The device is black with green metal accents, and glass parts along the back. Housed in the rear you can also find the dual cameras (12MP and 20MP), LED flash, Black Shark branding, and a light-up logo surrounded by a textured design.

Around the edges there is another green metal outline, as well as the power and volume buttons along the right, the Shark Space toggle in the left (more on this in the software section), a USB Type-C port towards the lower edge, and the bottom speaker grills.






The front of the device takes a more traditional black slab approach, though. It has a notification light, a 20MP front-facing camera, and a fingerprint reader in the bottom bezel. The reader also works as a home button, and though you can’t see them, two capacitive buttons to its left and right work as the back and overview buttons, accordingly.

The Xiaomi Black Shark will turn heads and satisfy that gamer need to own flashy tech.

Edgar Cervantes

This device will turn heads and satisfy that gamer need to own flashy tech. The logo in the back lights up with notifications, which I find pretty darn awesome. Though it is made mostly of plastic and glass, it is the best-built device of the big three gaming handsets.

The Black Shark’s sturdy grippy surface and back recessions will give you a secure grip while gaming. I wish Xiaomi had followed the norm with thinner bezels along the front, but this is a gaming handset. You don’t necessarily expect it to be small or thin. Instead, the Xiaomi Black Shark is solid, unique, and comfortable to hold (at least as much as a rectangular smartphone can be).


Xiaomi Black Shark review: Display

The Xiaomi Black Shark sports a 5.99-inch IPS LCD panel with a 2,160 x 1,080 resolution and an 18:9 screen ratio. IPS LCD displays are known for great color accuracy, but the same can’t be said about the Xiaomi Black Shark’s screen. It is very saturated and the blacks are super deep, making the experience seem more like an AMOLED one.

xiaomi black shark display

You should look elsewhere if you prioritize accuracy.

Edgar Cervantes

In our testing we found even the “Natural Mode” calibration’s color temperature goes up to 8778k, while the ideal one is 6500k. Average color error is also sky high at 7.1 Delta E 2000. This would make it the screen with the second highest average color error we have tested. You should look elsewhere if you prioritize accuracy.

The screen gets pretty bright at almost 560 nits, though. While colors are not that accurate, the image looks good for gaming, with exaggerated colors and deep blacks. The display pops, which further immerses you into the game.


Xiaomi Black Shark review: Performance & hardware

Gaming products are all about performance. The Xiaomi Black Shark certainly doesn’t disappoint on paper. Its specs include a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor, up to 8GB of RAM (6GB if you go for the 64GB storage version), and an Adreno 630 GPU.

The Xiaomi Black Shark is fast, smooth, and will present very few hiccups. The same can be said about any high-end device, though.

Edgar Cervantes

This is a powerful device. It is fast, smooth, and had very few hiccups. The same can be said about many high-end devices, though. The Xiaomi Black Shark has other elements to entice gamers.

For starters, an “Extreme Mode” can be turned on while gaming to bring the processor to higher speeds and take better advantage of the phone’s resources. In addition, you can easily clean the RAM to liberate memory. There is a difference when turning it on, but it is minimal. Loading times shorten by like a second or two. Smoothness seems basically equal, at least to the naked eye.

Needless to say Xiaomi’s liquid cooling didn’t seem to work wonders.

Edgar Cervantes

Gaming can make a device really hot, which in turn affects performance. The Xiaomi Black Shark uses a unique liquid cooling system the company claims will reduce temperature by 8 degrees Celsius when compared to traditional all-copper.

This cooling system might get you all hyped up because liquid cooling is the fanciest method for PCs, but it doesn’t quite work the same in this smartphone. The small amount of liquid will start evaporating as its chamber gets hotter, travel to cooler areas, and turn into liquid again.

xiaomi black shark cooling system

This allows for better cooling at first, but eventually the chamber will get too hot for the system to work. I managed to cross that point often and the phone got uncomfortably hot. Needless to say it didn’t seem to work wonders.

Those looking for accessories can also enjoy the included gamepad, but it only attaches to one side and has a joystick, as well as two shoulder buttons. It is a nice addition, but I don’t like that it is single-sided. Those looking for something better now have another option.

xiaomi black shark gamepad

The company recently announced the Xiaomi Gamepad 2.0, which has extensions to both sides of the phone. The Gamepad 2.0 features a joystick and D-pad on the left side and a touchpad and ABXY buttons on the right side. Both sides feature a trigger button and a triangle-shaped button near the bottom.

All of the buttons are mappable too, giving you a little more flexibility in various games.


Xiaomi Black Shark review: Specs

Display 5.99-inch IPS-LCD
2160×1080 resolution
403 PPI
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 845
GPU Adreno 630
RAM 6GB / 8GB
Storage 64GB / 128GB
MicroSD No
Camera Rear: Dual 12MP / 20MP cameras

Front: 20MP camera

Battery 4000 mAh
Fingerprint scanner Yes
Headphone jack No
Software Android 8.1.0 Oreo
Dimensions 161.6 x 75.4 x 9.3mm
Weight 190 grams
Colors Black, gray, and royal blue


Xiaomi Black Shark review: Camera

xiaomi black shark camera

All photos shown in this review are compressed and reduced. Pixel peepers can always check out this Google Drive folder to see the full, uncompressed photos. 

For some, a camera can make or break a phone. Many deem it the most important factor in a smartphone. The Xiaomi Black Shark is not for the mobile photographers among you. That is not to say it can’t take some great photos, though. It is a high-end 2018 phone, after all.

Let me tell you right off the bat the Xiaomi Black Shark is not for the mobile photographers among you.

Edgar Cervantes

Daylight




In daylight we get pretty good detail, exposure, and contrast, but the camera fails in some ways. That lame watermark is on by default, so if you are not careful you might end up with some unwanted publicity in your otherwise beautiful shots. I always leave stock settings alone for testing purposes, so I didn’t turn it off — make sure you do!

The dynamic range is also lackluster. Highlights are fine, but a tremendous amount of light is lost in the shadows. Look under the bushes, and you will see a deep darkness. The clock also looks way too under-exposed, even though I set the exposure and focus point to it.

HDR


HDR brings out the shadows more, but the results are still underwhelming compared to HDR in the best smartphone cameras. At least there is a way to improve dynamic range, though!

Color


Colors are bright and vibrant as long as they catch the right light. The Coronado sign looked much more saturated in real life, but the environment was a bit darker, as the sun began to set on the other side of the building. Turn to a well-lit store with crocheted dolls and things look much more lively. We do still wish contrast was on the higher side, though.

Lowlight


The shots are well exposed, but we can’t say the Xiaomi Black Shark is great at taking photos in the dark. In both images you can easily tell the shots have been over-softened too much, which results in loss of detail. Not to mention the phone struggles to get white balance right, especially in the first picture.

Portrait mode


Portrait mode shots suffer from the same shortcomings as other shots, but I was impressed at how well the camera outlines us to create the bokeh effect. This is something most smartphone cameras miss.

We were both outlined as close to perfect as these phones get, and I happen to like how gradual the bokeh is. This means closer objects look clearer than the farther ones. You can better appreciate this in the second image, where the cannon starts to blur out slowly, as well as the grass.


Xiaomi Black Shark review: Software

Fans of the pure Google experience will love this phone. The UI looks just like that of a Pixel smartphone. Xiaomi didn’t even add its own apps. All its customization options are in the Settings app. The phone’s software really is as clean as it gets.



There are gaming options to be had, though. When in a game you can slide down on the fingerprint reader (in landscape mode) and the Game Dock will slide down from the top, overlaying the game interface. From here you can change gamepad settings, turn Wi-Fi on or off, activate the NoIncall mode, turn NightMode on, and disable the keypad. Hit the more button to turn off notifications, toggle ExtremeMode, clean the RAM, hang up a call, or access more settings.

xiaomi black shark game mode

In addition to the dock, Xiaomi created Shark Space. This mode can be turned on using the physical toggle on the left side of the phone. When activated, the phone will automatically clean the RAM and disable all notifications, calls, and messages, effectively killing all distractions. In addition, the phone will display a clean UI with a list of your games, gamepad settings, gaming stats, and more.

xiaomi black shark shark space

I believe the Xiaomi Black Shark is too simple to be a true gamer’s machine

Edgar Cervantes

Aside from these discrete additions, Xiaomi did a great job keeping this phone as clean as possible. It is a joy to use, but I would also argue a gaming phone needs more gaming features. The Asus ROG Phone, for example, lets you manage device temperature, CPU and RAM usage, light color modifications, cooling modes, presets, and more.

I believe the Xiaomi Black Shark is too simple to be a true gaming machine. Gamers tend to demand more customization and control over their machines.


Xiaomi Black Shark review: Sound quality

The Xiaomi Black Shark sounds good, but it won’t be winning any audio awards. It sounds loud enough to be immersive.

I have to complain about how the phone offers dual speakers but one of them is not front-facing. This is mostly a problem because it’s easy to cover when playing in landscape mode, an orientation nearly every game uses. This results in random muffled sound.


Xiaomi Black Shark review: Battery life

xiaomi black shark speakers and charging port

The Xiaomi Black Shark actually did quite well against our battery tests. When playing video continuously at 200 nits, the device was able to last for 735 minutes (12 hours and 15 minutes) before dying. When continuously loading websites, it went for 820 minutes (13 hours and 40 minutes), which is significantly higher than the average 675 (11 hours and 15 minutes).

It starts to die faster when playing, but I never played enough to really see it go from 100 percent to zer0 percent. I’d say it should average at about four to five hours of straight gaming.


Xiaomi Black Shark review: Price and conclusion

Two versions of the Xiaomi Black Shark are available. It starts at just 2,999 yuan (about $434) for the version with 6GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage. You can upgrade to the iteration with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage for 3,499 yuan (about $508).

back of xiaomi black shark on retail box

Gamers looking for the most bang for their buck need look nowhere else. Hell, even non-gamers will probably find this phone an amazing deal considering the specs. However, there is one huge caveat — Xiaomi devices aren’t exactly easy to come by for most of us.

Sure, it isn’t exactly the best gaming phone out there, but…

Edgar Cervantes

For starters, it is not available in the U.S. Only select markets can get Xiaomi devices directly. The rest of us need to import them. The value Xiaomi offers makes it hard for supply to keep up, too. If you can get your hands on one, the performance and capabilities make the Xiaomi Black Shark a steal.

It has the specs to handle all the games you need, and Extreme Mode offers that boost many of you will enjoy. Sure, it isn’t exactly the best gaming phone out there, but it is plenty capable and carries a significantly lower price tag than its direct competitors.

This is also a pretty cool device to use as a daily driver for the times you don’t want to game — if there are any.

Some Xiaomi Mi A1 users wake up to the gift of Pie (others get just coal)

Tis the season to be jolly, Xiaomi Mi A1 users. Well, for some of you.

Xiaomi is now pushing out the Android 9 Pie update to the Mi A1. The 2017 Android One phone was long overdue to get the new software, what with Android One’s promise of speedy updates.

In early December, one user reported getting the Android 9 Pie beta to their Mi A1. Days later, an apparently stable update landed on more devices from around the world. Unfortunately, the OTA created severe problems with LTE connectivity for some users, and Xiaomi did a terrible job of explaining what’s going on.

On December 20, Xiaomi announced (via Gadgets 360) that a new Android 9 build is rolling out to users. The new firmware is called PKQ1.180917.001 (V10.0.2.0.PDHMIFK) and is apparently a full release, rather than a beta.

The main new features in the release are support for FM radio, adaptive battery and brightness, and recommended apps based on user actions.

Now for the bad news: while many users on Reddit report receiving the update with no issues, others complained about missing LTE bands. Furthermore, according to several redditors, Xiaomi appears to have halted the rollout again. We’re reached out to confirm what’s going on.

Give your device a fresh look with the new Action Launcher 38 (Update: Out of beta)

Update, December 25: Three weeks after Action Launcher v.38 was released in beta, users of the stable version can now enjoy the same features. Get it on the action at the button below.

Original post, December 4: The end of November also means the end of (most of) this year’s major phone releases. But what’s left for those of us who can’t upgrade to the latest offerings from Google, Samsung, LG, and the like? Are we to merely wait another year with the same outdated hardware and stale old software? Thanks to a new beta from Action Launcher, that doesn’t have to be so. In the spirit of Android, your device can feel new again with more settings and better theme customization options, all wrapped in sweet Android 9.0 Pie style.

Action Launcher’s last major update was midyear, adding desktop shortcuts that make use of the long-press UI. With the latest beta version of Action Launcher, the settings app has been redesigned with a focus on usability. Options are now grouped “logically” and include display previews and tips to help you out.

Editor’s Pick

There’s also a search box within the settings so you don’t have to dig as long to find what you’re looking for. The launcher has always excelled thanks to its theme system, known as Quicktheme, which matches the home screen with your wallpaper. Now it’s even better with new granular settings such as the ability to change the background color of folders and Shutters.

Version 38 of Action Launcher is a visual revamp above all else, but there are a few new functional parts, such as infinite scrolling for the dock and home screens. There’s also an option to disable the dock and of course the quintessential bug fixes and improvements as detailed in the changelog.

Here at Android Authority, we’ve routinely ranked Action Launcher as one of our favorites, profiling it in October as one of the 15 best Android launcher apps. While version 38 is still in beta and all associated risks apply, you can opt in to try it out via Google Play.

Update: Pocophone F1 is getting a new Armoured version with 6GB of RAM

Xiaomi Pocophone F1.

Update, December 25, 2018: As anticipated, the surprise launch from Pocophone is a new version of the F1. Joining the original Armoured Edition version with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, the new version features the same Kevlar finish, but with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. The new version will sell for 23,999 rupees in India, via Mi.com and Flipkart; sales start December 26.

It’s not clear whether the new Armoured version of the F1 will be released in other markets. Seeing that the global Pocophone Twitter account had nothing to say about the new model, don’t get your hopes too high.

Original post, December 24, 2018: Pocophone (aka Poco in India) has taken the world by storm this year. The Xiaomi offshoot ranked first in our recent reader survey about the best new smartphone brands of 2018, by a huge margin. That’s largely on the strength of its high-powered debut device, the Pocophone F1, which is almost unbeatable in its price range.

Now Pocophone is ready to unveil something new. Check out the teaser:

We don’t know yet what this #NewPOCO thing is, but don’t get your hopes high for a Pocophone F2. The F1 is too early in its lifecycle to get a successor. Plus, Pocophone will probably want to wait for the new Snapdragon 855 to become available before it pushes out another cheap powerhouse.

According to Ishan Agarwal, Pocophone may actually be teasing new color versions of the F1. You may know Agarwal from some recent high-profile leaks, like the mystery new OnePlus or the McLaren 6T before it. He thinks – though he doesn’t claim to know for sure – that Pocophone will bring the Kevlar finish down to the lower-end versions of the F1, as well as release new gradient colors at the same price as the existing ones.

There’s a chance Pocophone will surprise us with a brand-new device, but it doesn’t make much sense to do it on Christmas day.

It’s also possible we’ll just get a software update. Pocophone previously said it would try to update the F1 with HD Netflix support by the end of the year.

Read next: The best Android phones of December 2018

In related Xiaomi news, the Pocophone mothership just launched yet another affordable device today. The Xiaomi Mi Play features mid-range specs and stylish looks for the equivalent of $160. Read more about it here.

Last-second gift bailout! These discounted gift cards are available now

Everyone loves gift card deals. It’s like free money.

Ok… so, you forgot. You procrastinated. You pushed it off until the last minute, and now the last minute is here and you’ve got nothing. It’s fine. We understand. Christmas is a busy time and sometimes things get past you. It’s not the end of the world, and we might just be able to help you out.

You’re probably not going to be able to get anything shipped to you in time at this point, but lucky for you there are things you can buy that don’t require shipping. Mostly we’re talking about Digital Gifts in the form of gift cards, subscriptions, and more. Not only are these available now, they are all on sale! These are the best last-minute digital gift deals you can get right now:

20% off

$100 iTunes gift card

You can get gift cards at a discount and emailed to you. We have seen several iTunes deals in the last week or two, but 20% off is as good as it gets. This deal comes through PayPal’s Digital Gifts store on eBay.

$80 at eBay

App Cash

Google Play gift card

Use the code GOOGLE with a Google Play gift card worth $50 or more and you’ll save $5 off the price. The deal is emailed to you as a redemption code. We don’t see a whole lot of Google Play gift card deals, so any chance to save is a good one.

$45 at Amazon

Pick your favorite

Gift Card Mall Holiday Sale

I feel like this is the moment the domain “giftcardmall.com” has been waiting for all year. And here it is. You can save 10% at GameStop, 15% at Panera Bread, or pick one of the other hundred restaurants and businesses with gift card sales in this promotion. So many savings and so many choices.

See at Gift Card Mall

Yummy

The Cheesecake Factory $25 gift card

While not quite a discount on the gift card itself, this deal is as good as gold if you’re looking for cheesecake. Buy a $25 gift card that is delivered to your email within minutes, and you’ll also be able to grab a free slice in the new year.

$25 at The Cheesecake Factory

Music, apps, games, and more

iTunes Gift Card

For a limited time, Walmart is offering $50 iTunes gift cards on sale for only $40. iTunes gift card discounts aren’t all that rare, but taking 20% off is better than we regularly see and is basically free many to spend in the App and iTunes Stores. This deal is for a digital gift card which will be shipped to your email, usually immediately after purchase.

$40 at Walmart

Digital TV

Veronica Mars, The Office, and other TV shows

Get a new tablet or computer for Christmas? Have a fancy new display that needs some media on it to look its best? Buy one of your favorite TV shows digitally from iTunes while they are on sale.

As low as $20 on iTunes

Showtime

HD Concerts and Documentaries

Forget binge-watching some old 90s sitcom. Binge watch the best of The Boss for as little as $1 per concert. Great gift for the music lovers in your life.

$0.99 at Amazon

Keep Gaming

Xbox Game Pass 12-month subscription

The Game Pass is one of the best deals in gaming – even without a discount. One little subscription gets you access to hundreds of games, including recent releases, that Microsoft is always adding to. This deal gets you $50 off a yearly subscription.

$69.99 at Amazon

Buy some new movies

Amazon $50 iTunes gift card

Amazon refuses to be on the outside looking in with iTunes gift cards. Use the code APP750 to get 15% off this digital card.

$42.50 on Amazon

More ways to save

Buy 1, get 1 20% off iTunes

Yes, that’s three iTunes gift card deals in a row, but each one offers you something a little different. For example, this deal from Target gives you a chance to buy smaller denominations instead of $50 or $100 and still save. Plus, since it’s buy 1, get 1 20% off, you can get yourself a little something something. Yay Christmas.

See at Target

For the Bookworms

Kindle Unlimited subscription

Read all you want. As much as you can. Do it all at a discount. There are actually two sales here. .You can get a full year discounted by $40 or try it for three months at just $1. Either way, it’s a bargain for millions of books.

$80.31 at Amazon

Players Gonna Play

One Month Xbox Live Gold

Give the gift of pwning some n00bs. Microsoft has one month of Xbox Live Gold for just $1 for new members. Just getting a brand new Xbox, this is a great way to jump into the multiplayer scene. Plus, Xbox Live gives away free games every month.

$1 at Microsoft

Customize It

Amazon Gift Card Holiday Sale

We’ve seen iTunes and Google Play deals from Amazon, but there are dozens more available right now. Get discounts to your favorite movie theater or ice cream shop with custom promo codes for every one.

Various Prices at Amazon

You don’t have to be out looking for gifts for other people. Treat yo self while you’re here. Or check back tomorrow when you find a new smartphone or laptop under the tree and need a way to fill those storage banks.

Why you (and your family) should be using 2FA and a password manager

Keep you and your loved ones safe and secure.

So much of what we do every day, day in and day out, is either done online or has a record kept online. Things like your email or a shopping website are obvious, but your bank, mortgage holder, health insurance provider and more are also online companies even if that’s not how we interact with them. There is a pretty complete fingerprint of your life stored where plenty of other people can (and often do) look for it.

So what should we do about it? That’s easy — use a good password for everything, make sure you don’t use the same password in more than one place, and secure things with a second step anytime you can.

You can’t remember all those passwords

Don’t feel bad because nobody else can, either. A good password simply means one that someone else who is really good at figuring this stuff out isn’t likely to be able to use. That means they aren’t something you are going to be remembering, especially when there are more than a few of them. That’s where a password manager comes in.

Best password manager for Android

A password manager is like a safe that holds all your passwords and gives the right one to the right place when it’s needed once it’s sure you really asked for it. Enter all your account information into it and then all you need to remember is one good secure password that’s used as your OK to let it share its data with another app or website. Now there is only one thing to remember and it gives you more secure access to everything else!

Remembering one good password is something we can all do.

There are a lot of good ways to manage passwords. A recipe box filled with index cards that sits on your desk is one way, but a good app from a trusted company does a better job and offers more features. Most have a way to keep a backup copy of your password database in case you lose your phone or it gets stolen, as well as extras like a place to store credit card info or secure notes. The best secondary feature you’ll find is a password generator that can create a good password, then put it in the database and be ready to serve it to the right place so you never have to worry about keeping track of it.

Password managers work great on your Chromebook, too!

The first thing a person who gets your password is going to do is to try to use it everywhere. That’s why it’s important to never reuse passwords at more than one place because when someone breaks into the servers at Target, or Adobe, or Yahoo! or anywhere else and gets your username and password, you certainly don’t want to let them run up your credit card by buying things at Amazon. You just can’t remember all those passwords.

The convenience and security a proper password manager offers are better than anything you can do to manage things yourself and it’s more secure, too. If you’re not using one, stop right now and set one up — then help make sure the rest of your family is doing the same thing.

A password is a key to the door and 2FA is the drawbridge over the moat

I forget who said it, but 2FA (two-factor authentication) has been described this way. Imagine a castle with attackers at the gate. It has a very strong door (the password) but also has another deterrent in the form of a drawbridge that’s lifted so nobody can get over a moat filled with medieval monsters of some sort. 2FA is that drawbridge and it only gets lowered when you tell it to lower.

In non-technical terms, 2FA is simply a second way to prove your identity before access to digital data is given. You prove your identity using two of these three things:

  • Something you know (a password)
  • Something you have (a code from an app or text message)
  • Something you are (your fingerprint)

How to set up two-factor authentication on your Google account

Most of us have used it in one form or another even if we didn’t know it. The three-digit number on the back of your Visa card is an example of something you have; ideally, you only know it if you have the card there in front of you which means you have your wallet which means you are probably the person whose name is on the front. A more complicated method that’s just as simple to understand: when you log into your computer at work the server checks to see if you swiped your employee ID to get into the building before it starts showing you any company data.

2FA for our online accounts is (thankfully) much more simple that an authentication server at work thanks to our smartphone. Using an Authenticator app you are given a short code to enter along with a password. Having this code means that you have your phone and your password — two of the three things. And as long as your Authenticator app is protected with a good password as mentioned above, only you can use it.

Two-factor authentication: What you need to know

This sounds like a lot more hassle than it really is because your phone is also secured and can be trusted. Most places that offer 2FA also allow you to say you trust the device you’re using to access it and you can bypass the step once you’ve proven your identity. As long as you have a good password on your phone and the company that makes it doesn’t allow someone unlimited tries to guess that password, you’re pretty safe.

One extra layer of security is never a bad thing!

But trying to access the same account from another device, whether it be another phone or a computer, means you’ll need to enter the 2FA code. This means you can get on Twitter or Facebook (or Amazon or your bank’s website) from your phone easily but I can’t get in from my phone or computer without having your 2FA code, which only comes to your phone. Following? It’s a great big circle of trust that doesn’t allow anyone else in it.

Google wants you to upgrade to (its) better two-factor authentication

How to install and set up Authy for two-factor authentication on your Android

Be safe, be secure

Look, we know that most of us aren’t high-profile targets with people focused on hacking into our lives. Those people have extra steps they can take, but we don’t need those. But we are all potential victims of chance when it comes to phishing attacks or corporate database breaches. Not using a password manager and 2FA whenever it’s offered is crazy.

Don’t be a victim. And don’t let the people closest to you be one, either. Use a good password manager and two-factor authentication for everything, all the time!