Features

Features

Do you use mobile payments? [Poll of the Week]

Last week’s poll summary: Out of over 1,800 total votes, 32.3% of our readers said their favorite announcement from CES 2017 was the new ASUS ZenFone AR. 13.3% said they were most excited for Samsung’s Chromebook Plus & Pro, while 11.7% said their favorite announcement was the Faraday Future FF91.

Mobile payments have been around for a pretty long time now, but they didn’t start catching on until the release of Apple Pay and Android Pay a few years ago.

While Google, of course, wants all Android users to use Android Pay, Samsung wants its users to use Samsung Pay, and the same goes for Apple with Apple Pay. And if for some reason you aren’t fully satisfied with those three options, we have access to plenty more mobile payment services to round out the already crowded landscape. Chase Bank and even Walmart have their own proprietary services, for example.

Whichever service you decide to use, though, mobile payments are designed to make your life easier and save you time.

So tell us – do you use mobile payments, or are you still not convinced they save time and effort? Be sure to cast your vote in the poll attached below, and speak up in the comments if you have anything else to add. We look forward to hearing what you have to say!

Next:

Android Pay vs Apple Pay vs Samsung Pay

April 27, 2016

What is the BBC micro:bit – Gary explains

The BBC micro:bit is part of an initiative to get kids coding, primarily in the UK, however its influence is starting to spread world wide. The micro:bit itself is a small credit card sized computer with an ARM Cortex-M0 microprocessor on it, plus a variety of sensors and LEDS. You can program it via MicroPython, JavaScript, a visual blocks editor, or in the C programming language. It is cheap, child friendly and has been given free to every child in year 7 or equivalent across the UK. So regardless of your age, if you find the prospect of learning to code interesting then read on to find out more in my full review of the BBC micro:bit.

History

There is a whole generation of computer scientists, software engineers, coders and hackers who first got into computing due to the home computer revolution of the mid-1980s and early 1990s. Machines such as the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, the Commodore 64 and the BBC Micro became the entry point for whole swathes of young people to learn about computing. Unfortunately as we entered the era of the PC and game consoles the “roll up your sleeves” attitude of the home computer revolution started to fade and in turn universities started to see a drop in the number of applications for computer science related studies.

This decline has been partly addressed by the great work of the Raspberry Pi foundation and now by the work of the Micro:bit foundation. You may have noticed the similarities between the name of the 1980s BBC Micro and the new BBC micro:bit. That is of course intentional. The British Broadcasting Corporation was a major partner in the release and the original BBC Micro and now the corporation is playing a significant role with the launch of the new micro:bit.

The micro:bit

The micro:bit itself measures 4 x 5 cm and includes 25 LEDs, 2 programmable switches, Bluetooth, an accelerometer, a compass, 5 ring type connectors and a 23-pin edge connector. This makes it ideal for not only learning about software but also for learning the fundamentals of electronics. The board can be programmed in a number of different ways including in Python and using JavaScript. The board is actually based on ARM’s mbed OS platform and the various programming environments offer higher level programming access. However the fundamental principle is the same: you write a program, compile it and then flash it onto the board. Once programmed the software on the board remains in the flash memory and will run whenever the board is powered on. This means that you can make standalone projects which just run whenever you power up the micro:bit.

Blocks

Probably the easiest introduction to coding for the micro:bit is using Microsoft’s micro:bit Programming Experience Toolkit (PXT). It supports both block-based coding and JavaScript. If you haven’t seen block-based coding before, the premise is very simple. The programmer uses drag-and-drop to pick blocks from a predefined set and stitch them together to make a program. Maybe picture will help:

What is the BBC micro:bit – Gary explains

On the left is a micro:bit emulator which demonstrates how the program will run on a real micro:bit. On the right is the program. There is a forever loop with two blocks inside of it. The first tells the micro:bit to scroll the message “Android Authority rulez!” and the second tells the micro:bit to pause for 1 second after the message has finished. Then the program will loop back and do it all again.
What is the BBC micro:bit – Gary explains

To add a new block you click on one of the menu items in the middle and then drag the desired block from the palette. The program in the screenshot above is for a very simple dice program (or should I say “die” as it is singular) that will display a random number between 1 and 6 when someone shakes the micro:bit.

There are blocks for controlling the LED matrix including showing strings, numbers and user-defined images. There are also blocks for reading the inputs like the compass and the accelerometer, plus blocks for all the normal programming stuff like conditions, loops, variables and simple arithmetic. On top of all that there are also blocks for controlling the input/output pins and even a way to do peer-to-peer communications using Bluetooth.

When you plug the micro:bit into your PC it will appear as a USB flash drive, called “MICROBIT.” To flash a blocks program onto the micro:bit you hit the download button and then drag-and-drop the resulting “.hex” file onto the MICROBIT drive. The micro:bit will automatically start the flashing process and then reboot when completed.

JavaScript

Microsoft’s micro:bit PXT also doubles as a Javascript editor. All block programs can be shown as JavaScript, in fact the block editor is just a front end to a JavaScript generator. If you modify the JavaScript the IDE will attempt to convert it back to blocks, however if it is too complex it won’t work and you need to continue in JavaScript only.

What is the BBC micro:bit – Gary explains

What this means is that if you are familiar with JavaScript, maybe because you have done some web development or maybe because you have used some of the popular JavaScript frameworks, then you can jump straight into micro:bit programming with little effort. It also means that if you have little or no programming skills then you can start to learn JavaScript using the micro:bit and you can use the blocks editor to help you get started. In either case it is a win-win situation!

Microsoft’s PXT editor isn’t the only way to write JavaScript for the micro:bit, you can also use the Code Kingdoms editor. Similar to Microsoft’s offering you can use blocks and JavaScript and switch between the two.

What is the BBC micro:bit – Gary explains

The only problem with the JavaScript approach is that the frameworks used by the two editors aren’t compatible. For example, to pause for 0.5 seconds under PXT you would use basic.pause(500) but under Code Kingdom’s IDE you need to use wait(500). The same thing applies to all the API calls related to the micro:bit including controlling the LED matrix, reading the button inputs, picking random numbers and even how to respond to events like shake.

This incompatibility will certainly be confusing to anyone just starting out and could cause frustration if an inexperienced user tries to switch from one environment to the other.

MicroPython

Python is a very popular high-level programming language that is often used to teach programming as it is simpler than languages like C and C++. MicroPython is a lean version of Python specifically designed to run on microcontrollers (like the ARM Cortex-M0 on the micro:bit).

There are several ways to code in Python on the micro:bit. One is to use the web-based IDE on the official micro:bit website, another is to use an offline editor like Mu. Mu is itself written in Python and works on Windows, OS X, Linux and Raspberry Pi. It is designed specifically for the micro:bit and also includes a built-in flash tool. Like the blocks editors and the JavaScript implementations, MicroPython for the micro:bit includes an API for controlling the hardware like the LED matrix and reading the inputs like the buttons.

What is the BBC micro:bit – Gary explains

C

mbed OS is ARM’s open source microcontroller development platform. It allows developers to build microcontroller based solutions using C and C++. The platform also includes everything you need to build IoT products and has a full networking stack along with support for Bluetooth. The micro:bit is in fact a mbed OS product, so while it is designed to be used by the higher level programming languages like JavaScript and Python, you can in fact program it via mbed in C and C++.What is the BBC micro:bit – Gary explains
To program a micro:bit from mbed you first need to add the board to your setup and then import the micro:bit library into your project. From there you have access to some very low level classes and functions which provide a similar API to that of JavaScript and MicroPython. In fact if you study the mbed OS API you will see lots of similarities between what is available in the higher level languages and what is provided in the support library.

The screenshot above shows how to write the dice program in C++. As you can see it is a little longer than say the JavaScript version as you need to do more setup and handle things at a slightly lower level. This probably isn’t the best place for beginners to learn about the micro:bit. However if you have some C/C++ experience then this is a great way to explore the nitty-gritty of the platform.

Wrap-up

There is no doubt that the micro:bit is a excellent learning tool. It takes a different approach than the Raspberry Pi (which is also an excellent way to get into programming) since it doesn’t need a keyboard, mouse or monitor to use it. However you will need access to a PC for the coding and flashing. Well, actually that isn’t strictly true. It is possible to program the micro:bit from a smartphone or tablet. There are micro:bit apps available for Android and iOS. These apps basically take the place of the PC for the flashing process, which is done over Bluetooth rather than over a USB cable. However the programming environment offered within the app are actually just links to the online web environments.

The aim of the micro:bit is to encourage creativity in terms of software and hardware among young people and it certainly does just that. My kids are keen to play around with the micro:bit (now that the review is done) and I think that because the LED matrix is simpler to program than say sprites in a game on something like the Raspberry Pi then entry point is lower (which is a good thing).

If you are thinking about getting a young person a present which might actually be educational rather than just provide amusement, then you should certainly think about the micro:bit.

Buy the micro:bit

Crowdfunding project of the week: Ekster convenient wallet can be tracked

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We had to skip last week’s “Crowdfunding project of the week” due to the CES madness, but we are back and ready to look for the hottest tech showcased in web sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Shall we get started?

Other featured projects:

Ever lost your wallet? It has to be be one of the worse feelings. Not only is your money there, but it is also home to your driver license, IDs, credit/debit cards and other crucial belongings. Arguably the coolest feature in the Ekster 2.0 wallet is the fact that it can be easily tracked with Tile Smart Location Technology.

The wallet will sync with your smartphone via Bluetooth. If it happens to be misplaced, the user can easily find its last seen location in a map. This is updated by you or any other Tile user who happens to get close enough to the wallet. And if the user is within close range to the lost wallet, it is even possible to make it ring.

Crowdfunding project of the week: Ekster convenient wallet can be tracked

But what about battery life? Is this yet another thing we will have to plug in every night? Not really, as it is solar-powered. Plus, Tile is not a resource hog. The Ekster wallet only requires 3.5 hours of solar charge time to last a full month!

This product been very well thought out; its tracking feature is but a portion of the reasons to be excited. Your cards can be ejected with the push of a button, making it simple to pay anywhere. These also come with RFID blocking to keep the thieves away. And most importantly, they are good-looking products made of premium leather, have plenty of storage compartments and offer a slim profile.

Interested? There are two versions to be had – the Parliament and Senate. The main difference is in size and storage capacity. The Senate is smaller, minimalist and more affordable, while the Parliament offers more for a slightly higher price. These are prices at $79 and $99, relatively. You can also pay less by getting the versions without the tracker.

Who is signing up?!

Check out the Ekster on Indiegogo

Google Pixel XL International Giveaway!

Welcome to the Sunday Giveaway, the place where we giveaway a new Android phone or tablet each and every Sunday!

A big congratulations to last week’s winners of the Umi Z Smartphone Giveaway: Kamarul A. (Brunei), Sam H. (India), Emmanuel P. (France).

This week we are giving away a brand new Pixel XL Smartphone!

The Pixel XL features a vibrant 5.5-inch QuadHD AMOLED display alongside a Snapdragon 821 processor, 4GB of RAM, a 3,450 mAh battery and an all-new 12MP Pixel XL camera with phase detection and laser autofocus. The standout feature is Google Assistant, a new incredibly-clever AI assistant that also powers Google Home. To see how the Pixel XL compares to flagships new and old, check out the Pixel XL vs Galaxy Note 7 and best Google Pixel XL cases!

Enter giveaway
Google Pixel XL International Giveaway!

More Giveaways

Winners Gallery


Terms & Conditions

  • The giveaway is an international giveaway (Except when we can not ship to your Country.)
  • If we can not ship to your country, you will be compensated with an online gift card of equal MSRP value to the prize.
  • We are not responsible for lost shipments.
  • We are not responsible if your giveaway prize malfunctions.
  • You must be age of majority in your Country of residence.
  • We are not responsible for any duties or import fees that you may incur.
  • Only 1 entry per person, do not enter multiple email addresses. We will verify all winners and if we detect multiple email addresses by the same person you will not be eligible to win.
  • We reserve all rights to make any changes to this giveaway.
  • This giveaway is operated by AndroidAuthority.
  • The prize will ship when it is available to purchase.

Which Android manufacturer updates its phones the fastest?

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Many of you will have visited Android Authority‘s Marshmallow and Nougat update trackers to see if and when your phone would get the latest Android updates. With all major Android OEMs now having updated at least one device to Android 7.0 or above, we can finally tally the results to see which Android OEM updated their phones the fastest in 2016.

Google dropped Nougat on August 22 and the LG V20 was the first device to arrive running Android 7.0 out of the box. The Pixel phones arrived with Android 7.1 at launch, but almost all other phones had to be updated to Nougat. So who was fastest and who stumbled?

See also:

Android Nougat review: New features explained

October 21, 2016

LG: 78 days

LG took just 78 days to update the LG G5 to Nougat, doing so in South Korea on November 8. Less than two weeks later and the Sprint LG G5 was also among the first U.S. carrier devices to get the Nougat update, arriving on November 20. Nougat arrived for the first Canadian G5, on the Rogers network, one month later on December 20.

LG also handled the Marshmallow update well, taking less than two months to get its first Marshmallow update out to the Sprint LG G4. Based on these two examples, if you want the best combo of OEM and carrier in 2017, at least where update speed is concerned, it’d be worth your while to consider the Sprint LG G6.

Which Android manufacturer updates its phones the fastest?

Motorola: 88 days

Motorola’s stock-like interface has never taken too long to update and the bump to Nougat was no exception. Verizon Moto Z and Moto Z Force owners were treated to Nougat on November 18, two days earlier than LG and taking just 88 days in total. Canadian Moto Z’s got updated two days later on November 20.

HTC: 95 days

HTC has made some pretty bold statements about updates in the past, some of which were probably more hassle than they were worth. But with the Nougat update, HTC just quietly delivered. Unlocked HTC 10 owners got the update on November 25 and One M9 owners a few days later on December 5. HTC got the Nougat update out 95 days after Google released it.

Sony: 99 days

Sony just managed to scrape in under the 100-day threshold when it got the Nougat update out for the Xperia X Performance on November 29. The Xperia XZ started getting the update the very next day and the Xperia X and X Compact received the update on December 16.

Which Android manufacturer updates its phones the fastest?

Xiaomi: 126 days

Almost an entire month later and Xiaomi dropped the Chinese version of the MIUI 8 ROM for the Mi 5 on December 26, 126 days after Google. Xiaomi joined the Nougat beta party in 2016, indicating the company is getting serious about rolling out timely and stable updates.

OnePlus: 131 days

OnePlus met its promised obligations for a 2016 Nougat update by a matter of hours, dropping a Nougat beta for the OnePlus 3T on the same day as the stable release started rolling for the OnePlus 3 and OnePlus 3T. That day was December 31, the last of the year and 131 days after Google released Nougat. Both the OnePlus 3 and OnePlus 3T will now share an update cycle.

Samsung: 143 days

Samsung had a tough year and its update performance wasn’t much better. Taking 143 days to get the final version of Nougat out for the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge – which only happened a couple of days ago on January 12 – Samsung clearly still has some work to do where update speed is concerned. Of course, Samsung also has a product portfolio far larger than everyone else on this list, but it also has exponentially larger resources at hand.

Huawei: sidelined

Huawei still hasn’t rolled out a final Android Nougat update to any of its devices, but it did launch the Mate 9 a couple of months ago with Nougat out of the box. That said, it’s likely to be the last of all OEMs to get the update out to the first of its phones. The first Honor device, the Honor 8, is scheduled to be updated on January 18.

Which Android manufacturer updates its phones the fastest?

Conclusions

Looking at the listed OEMs’ update response rate, it’s pretty clear that if timely updates are important to you then you should consider LG, Motorola, HTC and Sony first, all of which managed to get their first updates out in less than 100 days.

Of course, getting one update out is only part of the story. Not all Android fans own a company’s flagship phone, so looking at how well each OEM supports its older flagships, mid-rangers and entry-level devices is also important (we’ll do so when more Nougat updates roll out). You carrier will also affect how quickly your phone gets updated.

The quality of an update is also critical – we’ve all suffered through a rushed update job that causes more problems than it resolves. So being first doesn’t mean much if the update itself is rubbish. Then there’s security patches and bloatware to consider, and carrier additions and customer support can all affect satisfaction levels where update timelines are concerned. No one is perfect, but some are better than others.

Which company do you trust the most where updates are concerned? Does speed trump stability?

Power draining apps: what’s happening and what can you do about it

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Facebook and Messenger’s recent battery draining issue might have caught a lot of users off-guard, but the company isn’t the only one to have released app versions that chug down too much juice. In fact, it appears that the problem was quite a simple mistake for a developer to make and one that could affect any number of apps. Here’s a closer look at what happened, why, and what you can do if you notice similar problems in the future.

When it comes to Facebook’s power drain the other day, it turns out that a server-side triggered update was causing the app to use additional CPU cycles while also running the CPU at a higher frequency than normal. Of course, using up extra processing power and/or running the CPU at a higher frequency increases the power consumed by your handset, draining your battery faster and even causing it to heat up. Fortunately it was pretty simply for the company to fix, but they haven’t exactly told us what went wrong.

Leading causes of battery drain

What’s interesting about this case is that the power drain was occurring even when users weren’t spending time in the main Facebook and Messenger apps. This is because these app types regularly update in the background, pulling your phone out of sleep and therefore consuming more power. Usually, this is done efficiently by using as little CPU power as possible, but processor power consumption could be kicked into overdrive by misusing Android PowerManager’s WakeLock feature, ignoring default battery optimization settings, or simply accidentally making a high demanding task loop run in the background when it shouldn’t.

PowerManager and WakeLocks are particularly interesting features for developers, as it allows them to gain greater control over the power state of a device, but this obviously requires careful management. A PARTIAL_WAKE_LOCK is most likely to be used for prolonged background updates, as it leaves the screen and keyboard off but the CPU on. However, not releasing a partial wake lock will keep the CPU on, thus consuming more power when the phone should be idle.

Power draining apps: what’s happening and what can you do about it

It’s also possible that Facebook and Messenger were simply repeatedly requesting data to send to its servers, keeping phones in a high CPU use state. As well as increased processor usage, an overactive background task could begin draining power through repeatedly storing or recalling information from RAM. It’s not as instinctive as understanding CPU power drain, but memory, especially fast RAM, is also a notable battery consumer and reducing the amount of time spent transferring and retrieving bits of data helps your battery to last longer. Furthermore, a memory leak or very high RAM usage can slow down the performance of your devices just like a maxed out CPU can. Closing and refreshing an app is a good way to free up some memory, but it’s not a fix for broken programming.

We don’t know exactly what happened in the case of Facebook, but an awful lot of apps run update tasks periodically in the background, and getting this wrong can lead to exactly the sort of battery drain issues that many users witnessed.

What to do about battery drain

The first port of call when you suspect that your phone’s battery is draining quicker than it should is to scope out what’s actually consuming the most battery. You don’t need a dedicated app to do this, although many are available, you can simply head on into Settings > Battery > Battery Usage. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and you can see exactly which apps and services have been consuming the most battery. It’s not strange to see Android OS, Display, and even Facebook appearing near the top, but if you can see that an individual app is consuming 20 percent or more of your battery, especially when it’s left mostly running in the background, then there’s definitely a problem.

The next step is to see if you can quickly fix the problem by restarting the app. After all, it could be a simple bug. This is also super simple, just open up the running app list, usually the bottom rightmost button, and swipe away the culprit. Then simply enter the app again and check back to see if the problem persists. Failing that, going into Settings > Apps, selecting the app and clicking Force Stop will cause the background task to stop as well.

Power draining apps: what’s happening and what can you do about it

If there’s still an issue then it’s likely something wrong with the app itself. An obvious solution is to uninstall the app and find an alternative, if available. But that might be a bit drastic if you really want to use the app or if it’s a social network like Facebook. It is possible to disable most apps from running in the background until the developer can update it and fix the problem. To do this, you can use an app like Greenify, even without root, to “hibernate” apps that would usually run in the background. It’s simply enough to use, just select the battery draining app and then force a manual hibernation. You can also setup automatic routines with rooted handsets or unrooted models that meet certain criteria. Once the developer fixed the problem, you can set the app to go back to normal operations.

Power draining apps: what’s happening and what can you do about it

We should note that Android is very good at handling these background tasks these days, especially thanks to the introduction of Doze. So if you are experiencing battery issues, it’s most likely a rogue app to blame. Hopefully this guide has given you an idea about why these problems can happen and what to do about them. Do you have any of your own battery saving tips to share?

A look at the billion-install club: the most installed apps

A few times per year, the folks in Mountain View let us know a rough idea how many Android apps have been downloaded and installed on phones and tablets around the world. At last count, the number was in excess of 65 billion app installs in the year leading up to Google I/O 2016 – but we’re here to look at a select few, the apps that have made it to the 1 billion install mark.

With an estimated 1.4 billion active Android users globally, it is actually fairly impressive that these few apps have cracked the 1 billion install mark. This billionaire’s club wouldn’t be there without you, so let’s dive in and make sure you’ve got them all installed.

What constitutes an install?

First and foremost, the following numbers are a collective total of all installs on all devices. This is limited to apps that come from, or updated from the Google Play Store. This number is not limited to the total number of individual users that have installed an app – if you are like most of us here at Android Authority, you’ve had several Android devices over the years, each one counts as a unique install of the apps you choose.

A look at the billion-install club: the most installed apps

However, each install only counts once per device. Uninstalling an app and then installing it again on the same device still only counts as a single install.

When you look at it this way, those 1.4 billion active users account for far more devices over the years. We won’t guess how many Android devices have been active across the years, but I can tell you I’ve had more than 20 myself, not including review units, thus I count for at least 20 installs of Gmail and so much more.

It is also very important that we mention you do not have to actively head to the Google Play Store and select these apps for install. When you turn on your brand new Android device, each of those pre-installed apps count toward the global total.

A look at the billion-install club: the most installed apps

To this end, it should be no surprise whatsoever that the first app to reach 1 billion installs was Google Play Services, an app that lives on practically every Android device around. You may consider this to be cheating. While it would be wrong of us to disagree with that opinion, we’re going to side with Google on this one, if the app is on a device, it should count as an install.

Taking it to the next level, something we are not going to discuss in-depth today, a more realistic count to help identify apps of value would be app usage stats, instead of simple install numbers.

History of 1 billion installs

A look at the billion-install club: the most installed apps

It all began back in 2014, several Google apps cracked into the club, with Facebook joining the group before the year ran out.

2015 expanded the list by another dozen apps. Then in 2016, just one app, that’s right, one app hit the 1 billion installs milestone this past year.

November 2016 marked the summit of a different peak, Google Chrome crossed the 2 billion installs mark.

A look at the billion-install club: the most installed apps

Before we actually share the list, let’s cover one glaring observation. All of the 19 apps that have more than 1 billion installs are from just two companies, Google and Facebook. Most of the apps from Google, as we mentioned above, should not be a surprise, as they come pre-installed on most every Android device on the market.

To be clear, Facebook may currently own their four apps on the list, but that was not always the case, they may have purchased one or two of the now top apps. Those purchases were not cheap, either, does anyone remember the multi-billion dollar purchase of WhatsApp Messenger?

Enough about that, let’s see what the biggest apps in the world are. For the sake of ease, let’s put these in order of when they hit that magic mark. It all started back in January of 2014…

Google Play Services (January 2014)

A look at the billion-install club: the most installed apps

Sometimes the most important app on your device is the most boring of them all, and that is absolutely true of the very first app to ever hit 1 billion installs, Google Play Services. In its current form, Google Play Services is an absolute core application for the Android experience – at least for Google’s Android experience.

Bottom line, the majority of Google’s apps and services rely on Google Play Services to function on your Android device. If you have the Google Play Store or any other Google app on your device, there’s a good chance you are one of the billions of us with this app installed.

Install Google Play Services now

Gmail (May 2014)

Another unsurprising app on this list, it is highly unlikely that you have a Google account that is not an active Gmail address as well. This is not to say that you use Gmail as your communications tool, but looking at the numbers, there is a good chance that you do.

As one of the best web based email services around, the mobile application provides nearly all the same bells and whistles, just hidden in an easy to use interface on your mobile device.

Install Gmail now

Google Maps (May 2014)

A look at the billion-install club: the most installed apps

For many, there is no better tool to identify a route, look up the best place to go for pancakes or simply explore the globe than Google Maps. Serving multiple functions, including navigation on the road, Google Maps comes pre-installed on many devices, and is then installed freely by those that do not have it already.

Install Maps now

YouTube (July 2014)

A look at the billion-install club: the most installed apps

The top online video streaming service offers up a top of the line mobile app, YouTube is not only a highly installed application, it’s also highly utilized. Creators and consumers alike put the YouTube app for Android to work on a daily basis.

Install YouTube now

Facebook (September 2014)

A look at the billion-install club: the most installed apps

The social media giant, Facebook, marked the first non-Google application to 1 billion installs with their default social media app. Facebook is one of those social networks that is near unfathomable how large and popular it is, with millions of active daily users. Share, create, consume all that is Facebook all on your Android device.

Install Facebook now

Google Search (December 2014)

A look at the billion-install club: the most installed apps

I must admit that this was my only big surprise on this list, I would have thought that the tool attached to the service that made Google a company in the first place, would have been the first app to 1 billion installs.

Without a doubt, Google Search is used on almost every Android device on the planet in one manner or another, but the actual Google Search app may not be the tool of choice. At least not with Google Now and Assistant taking over.

Install Google now

Google+ (January 2015)

A look at the billion-install club: the most installed apps

Beginning its existence as a web based social media platform, the expansion to Android has helped spur several changes to the platform itself over the years. Offering a more controlled and often long form social platform Google was eager to out-do Facebook in the social media world – Google+ remains a popular network, and the current set of tools in the Android app offer nearly all required to keep you connected to your circles on the go.

Install Google+ now

WhatsApp Messenger (March 2015)

A look at the billion-install club: the most installed apps

On their upward swing as a very popular messaging service, WhatsApp was purchased by Facebook in early 2014. A year later, the app for Android broke the billion install threshold. While many took to social media for basic communications, the emergence of more than a few great messaging services marked a shift from the more expensive SMS messaging tools.

WhatsApp certainly proves that there is room in nearly any saturated segment to change things up a bit.

Install WhatsApp now

Google Text-to-Speech (March 2015)

A look at the billion-install club: the most installed apps

As the default text engine in your Android device, Google Text-to-Speech is the back-end tool that reads aloud everything from your Maps navigation to your favorite book or everything, if you have the accessibility tools enabled.

This is a great example of an app that performs a task many of us may have thought was just built-into the operating system. Well, that’s what pre-installed apps on Android are all about, essentially building them into the phone, but giving a way to update them on an individual basis instead of needing a new OS.

Install Google Text-to-Speech now

Google Play Books (June 2015)

A look at the billion-install club: the most installed apps

It started with the Kindle – at least we will give it credit for now – e-books became a thing and Google was eager to get their extensive catalog of expired copyright books onto mobile devices. Google Play Books became the delivery method of choice, later adding purchasable books through the Google Play Store.

Once again, we are looking at an app that is usually pre-installed on phones and tablets, but we’d like to believe that many of you are avid readers, at least readers of Android enthusiast websites, obviously.

Install Google Play Books now

Messenger (June 2015)

A look at the billion-install club: the most installed apps

Facebook returns to our list with their messaging service, Messenger. Often called Facebook Messenger to avoid confusion, Facebook knew that people liked to chat, and the app that made ‘chat heads’ popular scored Facebook another billion installs.

Install Facebook Messenger now

Google Hangouts (June 2015)

A look at the billion-install club: the most installed apps

Did someone say chat? Sure, Google Hangouts can do that, but what if we add in voice and video conferencing, would that increase your usage of the service? Another billion installs says that at least a few of us use the service. Text chat that integrates across mobile and your PC, plus saves the chat logs into your Gmail, then voice and video tools to put up to 10 people face to face all sounds good to me.

My personal favorite communication tool, if I must be honest, Hangouts has long been more than just a chat client to me, it was there to bridge the gap when my wife and I lived apart for a bit, while we worked on my immigration. Giving us one tool to communicate all day in many different ways was about as good as living apart can be. Thank you Google.

Install Google Hangouts now

Google Chrome (June 2015)

A look at the billion-install club: the most installed apps

The web, seriously, do I need to say anything here? Google’s web browser made it to one billion devices, and I’m sure it’ll get to many more before it runs out of steam. Admitting that there are many great browsers available for Android, Chrome remains the only one on the list, so far. (It’s early 2017 now, let’s see if the rest of the year changes that.)

Install Google Chrome now

Google Play Games (August 2015)

Video games on your mobile device experienced a huge usability bump when Google rolled out a way to share your progress, compete with friends, record your gameplay and, most important for many, enjoy cloud saved game progress so you can play across devices. You probably have Google Play Games installed, and you probably know how it works better than I do, but if not, you might be missing out.

Install Google Play Games

Google Play Music (August 2015)

A look at the billion-install club: the most installed apps

It has been said that the adage ‘music tames the savage beast’ is why I listen to so much music, or why I am so tame, either way works for me. Google Play Music has been my music player of choice on Android since I found a way to install it before it was even available in Canada. I moved to where it is available and have not looked back.

For me, Google Play Music is where I store my personal music collection, but there is the streaming side of it that I have not partaken as yet. Whether you take the time to upload your collection or just stream from the massive library Google has on hand, Google Play Music is likely installed on your device.

Install Google Play Music now

Google Play Newsstand (August 2015)

A look at the billion-install club: the most installed apps

When Google expanded the Google Play Store and added multiple side apps, magazines and news needed a home, enter Google Play Newsstand. As a pre-installed app on many devices, there are plenty of ways to use the service, for free or to consume paid content. Whether replacing Flipboard or just reading the latest issue of Retro Gamer, Newsstand is your Android access to a load of great content.

Install Google Play Newsstand now

Google Play Movies & TV (September 2015)

A look at the billion-install club: the most installed apps

Netflix, Hulu, Amazon streaming and YouTube. Sure, there are other ways and places to consume video on your mobile device, but Google Play Movies & TV is the app that likely came pre-installed on your device anyway. Stream your shows or download for offline viewing, if you’ve acquired it through the Google Play Store, this is the app you use to watch it.

Install Google Play Movies & TV now

Google Drive (October 2015)

Here, hold this for me. For many of us, Google Drive represented a solid cloud storage platform for our files. Add in the ability to make and create office documents and this powerful tool became a crucial part of many people’s workflow.

Please remember that your paid Google Drive storage space can be used to store more photos in Google Photos, or save more attachments in Gmail.

Install Google Drive now

Instagram (August 2016)

A look at the billion-install club: the most installed apps

Another billion dollar idea took off in 2012, Facebook purchased a budding social platform which took over four years to both find its way to Android then reach a billion installs through the Google Play Store.

Instagram is the leading example of the old days where developers created apps for iOS first, us Android users despised this approach, and we hope that a billion installs later we proved that we’re a powerful group. Instagram is a powerful image sharing platform, famous for having crazy filters and cultivating the selfie craze.

Install Instagram now

I suspect you found this list fairly predictable, in fact, I wonder if there are any apps on this list that are not on your Android phone and/or tablet.

What’s next?

A look at the billion-install club: the most installed apps

There are a handful of apps we expect will jump to the 1 billion install club relatively soon. Particularly, and somewhat boringly, Google’s various apps that have been split out of the Android OS itself. Android System Web View is a solid example, an app that is only recently split out, but is, or will be, on all Google flavored Android devices moving forward. That same idea goes for Google Now Launcher, the Homescreen app found by default on an ever growing list of phones – or did the Pixel Launcher take over?!?

Google Photos is my personal favorite that I’d like to see succeed. Especially now that it’s almost as powerful as the old Picasa used to be for sharing and multi-user access.

Android Pay, Google Daydream, Google Messenger, Android Auto, GBoard – Google Keyboard, Android Wear, Google Street View, Google Calculator, Google Clock, Google VR Services, Google Phone and Google Contacts are all possible candidates for the 1 billion install club under Google’s app restructuring.

Funnily enough, the Google Play Store is not yet at 1 billion installs, the app that provides access to all other apps should get there soon. Of course it used to be the Android Market, so we’ll forgive it for now.

A look at the billion-install club: the most installed apps

Outside of Google’s domain, Snapchat, Twitter, Pandora, Netflix and various weather apps have some potential to reach 1 billion, eventually. It’s possible the slew of games that come and go will see a few that stick, there are certainly a few franchises that have multiple games that have exceeded 1 billion combined, Angry Birds, anyone? Maybe Minecraft.

I leave off posing the question to you, what app will be next to make it to 1 billion installs on Android?

What is Android Things? – Gary explains

Recently Google announced its new Internet of Things initiative based on Android, the aptly named Android Things. It was back in May 2015 that Google announced Project Brillo as its IoT operating system, but having looked at the feedback it received from developers about Brillo, Google decided to ditch it and create Android Things. By adding Android to the name, Google is emphasizing that developers are able to use familiar Android SDKs, APIs and services including the Google Cloud Platform.

Android Things is only a preview at the moment and there is much to be done, however enough of the final operating system is working so that developers can start creating Android Things based projects.

Hardware

Android Things supports three boards: the Intel Edison, the NXP Pico i.MX6UL and the Raspberry Pi 3. Support is coming for the Intel Joule and the NXP Argon i.MX6UL. The first thing you will notice is that these boards use a mixture of Intel and ARM based CPUs and that both 32-bits and 64-bits are supported. The minimum amount of RAM is 512MB and all the boards support Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

Android uses the Linux kernel at its core and Linux is a full multi-tasking operating system with virtual memory support. This means that Android Things needs a processor that supports virtual memory, in other words a processor with a full MMU. For ARM processors this means something from the Cortex-A range and not a microcontroller from the Cortex-M range. The reason I mention this is that there are lots of IoT products that use microcontrollers and therefore have less memory, less flash storage, use less power, and use less complex operating systems. By opting to use Android and Linux then Google aiming at a particular segment of the IoT market and is automatically excluding itself from the other segments. Whether this is the right decision remains to be seen.

The most popular board of the currently supported three is the Raspberry Pi. It is cheap, well known and easy to acquire. I also happen to have one (or maybe more) floating around here so I took Android Things for a spin using my Pi!

Booting

The first step is to download the correct Android Things image for your board. For the Pi that means downloading the .img file (which is wrapped up in a .zip file) and writing it to a microSD card. Then you insert the card into the Pi, connect up the monitor (via HDMI) and then connect the power.

Android Things takes about 90 seconds to boot on the Pi 3. First you are shown some boot information (as text) in a similar vain to Linux booting, this is replaced after a few seconds with an Android Things loading screen which shows three pulsating dots (to show that it is working). Finally this is replaced by an Android Thing splash screen, which tells you about the status of the Ethernet and Wi-Fi connections and little else.

What is Android Things? – Gary explains

A minute and a half is quite a long time for an IoT device to boot, I can imagine lots of scenarios were such a long boot time could lead people to think something is broken, especially it the product doesn’t include a display of any kind. Having said that, the level of complexity (and hopefully the abilities) of products based on Android Things will be similar to that of mobile devices rather than “simpler” microcontroller based systems.

Connecting

The next step is to connect to the Pi. This is done over Ethernet. Plug in an Ethernet cable that is connected to the same network as your development PC and then use adb to connect. You can download adb as a standalone kit directly from Google.

The Raspberry Pi will multicast the hostname “Android.local” so you can connect to the board using the following command:

adb connect Android.local

What is Android Things? – Gary explains

Once the connection is established the splash screen will change to reflect the new status. It is also possible to connect via Wi-Fi, but to do so you first need to connect via Ethernet. To connect your board to Wi-Fi use the following command:

adb shell am startservice \
 -n com.google.wifisetup/.WifiSetupService \
 -a WifiSetupService.Connect \
 -e ssid <Network_SSID> \
 -e passphrase <Network_Passcode>

If you are connecting to an open Wi-Fi connection then you don’t need to use the passphrase argument. You can check the connection by looking at the splash screen or using adb shell ping 8.8.8.8 to verify that the board can connect to the Internet.

The good news is that the board remembers the Wi-Fi connection details, which means that after the initial set up you can connect via Wi-Fi without using Ethernet.

Developing

Before you begin building Android Things you need to update your SDK tools to version 24 or higher, as well as update your SDK with Android 7.0 (API 24) or higher. Likewise, Android Things apps must target Android 7.0 (API level 24) or higher.

At the moment the Android Things APIs aren’t part of the Android SDK, so you need to declare the Things Support Library dependency in your app by adding the dependency artifact to your app-level build.gradle file:

dependencies {
 ...
 provided 'com.google.android.things:androidthings:0.1-devpreview'
}

Also you need to add the Things shared library entry to your app’s manifest file:

<application ...>
<uses-library android:name="com.google.android.things"/>
...
</application>

Every Android Things app must declare an activity in its manifest as the main entry point after the device boots. The intent filter must contain the following attributes:

  • Action: ACTION_MAIN
  • Category: CATEGORY_DEFAULT
  • Category: IOT_LAUNCHER

For ease of development, this same activity should include a CATEGORY_LAUNCHER intent filter so Android Studio can launch it as the default activity when deploying or debugging. Google has some example code on its Create an Android Things Project page.

What is Android Things? – Gary explains

There are two main types of Android Things app, ones without a display and those with displays. For the latter, you can build apps with the same UI toolkit available to traditional Android applications. However there are some differences, for example Android Things does not include the system status bar or navigation buttons, which means the app has full control over the visual user experience.

Where Android Things differs from normal Android is that it can control peripherals and read sensors. Anything from temperature sensors through LCD displays and on to servo motors can be used by Android Things. This interaction is done via the General Purpose Input Output (GPIO) ports which you find on boards like the Raspberry Pi.

The system service used by Android Things to manage peripheral connections is the PeripheralManagerService. This service handles not only simple GPIO but also interfaces like Pulse Width Modulation (PWM), which is a common method used by servo motors; The Inter-Integrated Circuit (IIC or I2C) bus, often used by sensors, actuators, accelerometers, thermometers, LCD displays, and much more; the Serial Peripheral Interface (SPI), which is used by things like external non-volatile memory and graphical displays; and good old fashion serial ports (UARTs), for use by complex peripherals such as GPS modules and XBee radios.

What is Android Things? – Gary explains

App development should be familiar to anyone with Android Studio experience. The code tree is the same as for a normal Android app using familiar files like AndroidManifest.xml along with Java code and XML files for the layout. Gradle is used to build the projects and Android Studio is able to send the resulting app over the network to your Android Things board.

Since Android Things is a specialized version of Android, only one app runs, the app that has been flashed over to the board. Whenever you boot the board it will start running that app. This is an essential difference between a general mobile device (like a smartphone) and an “embedded” Internet of Things device.

Google has posted a bunch of Android Things sample projects on GitHub including a simple GPIO example, a sample UI, a smart doorbell (that uses a camera along with Firebase) and a weather station.

What is Android Things? – Gary explains

Problems

The key feature of Android Things is that it is based on the normal Android that we know and love. The idea is that Android developers can branch out into IoT and build some interesting products, maybe in conjunction with a mobile app. Or maybe there are existing Android apps that would work well as standalone devices. As a minimum there is lots of code out there that can be reused and repurposed for Android Things.

However this compatibility with Android comes at a cost. The system requirements for Android Things devices are quite high when compared to microcontroller based devices and operating systems like mbed OS. Does my refrigerator really need a quad-core processor and 512MB of RAM?

Of course there are advantages to having such processing power at your finger tips, maybe more computing will occur on the devices (like facial recognition, voice processing and parts of the AI infrastructure). However if these devices end up integrating with the cloud, which they will as they are Internet of Things devices, then there isn’t such a strong case for extra computing power at the point of user interface.

I know that this is a preview, but the issue of device life-cycle doesn’t seem to have been addressed by Google at all. At the moment to configure the Wi-Fi you need to use adb, hopefully Google has something special in mind, maybe even a reference app for handling device deployment or even a generic app which can “talk” to any Android Things device. Which leads to the issue of authentication, something that is non-existent in Android Things at the moment. But as I said, this is a developer preview…

One thing that I found annoying about my time testing Android Things is that the adb connection kept dropping. I would connect, work with Android Studio, upload the app etc. But then after a few minutes the connection would drop, which meant I was constantly using the command line to re-connect to the board. This obviously isn’t a workable solution in the long term and I hope Google sorts it out.

Wrap-up

The technology behind Android Things is well established and well known by developers across the world. Together with access to popular hardware platforms like the Raspberry Pi, Android Things could be a winning formula. However the high level of system requirements and the current lack of deployment infrastructure could mean that other platforms offer more for less.

Ultimately time will be the judge, if IoT device makers opt for Android Things then it will be a huge growth market for Google, not in terms of the actual devices, but in terms of the cloud services that these devices use.

HTC U Ultra: The top features you should know

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Earlier today HTC unveiled latest flagship smartphone, the U Ultra, which represents a whole new chapter for the company. What changes does the U Ultra bring over the HTC 10? Quite a few actually.

First, there’s the obvious change from metal to glass, but that’s only the beginning. The HTC U Ultra also breaks convention from HTC’s past by launching much earlier than the company’s typical flagships. And then there’s the fact the the HTC U series ditches the number-based nomenclature of its predecessors.

It is pretty obvious HTC wants the U Ultra and its mid-range brother, the U Play, to stand out from the HTC we’ve become familiar with over the years. The name change and material switch certainly have our attention, but with so many flagship devices on the market, it’ll need to do a lot more than that to win our affection. With that in mind, let’s jump into a look at the top HTC U Ultra features that you should know.

See also:

HTC U Ultra hands-on: a major change for HTC

14 hours ago

The secondary display

HTC U Ultra: The top features you should know

Along with its main 5.7-inch Quad HD display, the HTC U Ultra also has a secondary display on top that’s just two inches and has a resolution of 160 x 1040. This is similar to the secondary display that can be found on the LG V10 and the LG V20. In the case of HTC’s new phone, the smaller display is designed to show notifications, contacts and more, and certain apps could access the display exclusively.

The 16MP front-facing camera with ‘UltraPixel’ mode

HTC U Ultra: The top features you should know

If you like to take selfies, the HTC U Ultra may be the smartphone for you. It has a 16MP front-facing camera, which means you are getting a sensor in the front that many high-end smartphones put in the back. In addition, the camera can be switched from the normal high resolution mode to what the company is calling UltraPixel mode. UltraPixel mode is supposed to be four times more sensitive to light compared to the normal mode, which should make it great for taking low-light photos.

The rear 12MP camera is no slouch, either.

HTC U Ultra: The top features you should know

The HTC U Ultra’s rear camera is supposed to offer some improvements compared to the one found on the older HTC 10. It has an UltraPixel 2 camera sensor for low-light pictures, along with laser autofocus, phase detection autofocus, optical image stabilization (OIS), a 1.55µm pixel size, and an f/1.8 aperture. All in all, its rear camera is packed with pro features.

See also: HTC 10 review

The audio hardware and features are impressive, but there’s no headphone jack

HTC U Ultra: The top features you should know

HTC has tried to be a leader in offering better audio in its smartphones, and the HTC U Ultra is no different. It adds the company’s trademark BoomSound Hi-Fi speakers, with a tweeter above and a woofer below. It also has four high-sensitivity omnidirectional microphones for better positional sounds when you record or film an event. In addition, it comes with something called HTC USonic, which is supposed to optimize headset audio by sending in sonar-like pulses inside your inner ear.

HTC has also decided to join in on the trend in ditching the standard 3.5mm headphone jack with the HTC U Ultra. That means you will either have to hook up a USB Type-C adapter to keep using your old wired headphones, or get a wireless pair. HTC will be offering its own USB Type-C USonic earphones with the phone.

It has its own AI assistant, Sense Companion

HTC U Ultra: The top features you should know

HTC is joining the bandwagon of companies that want to improve your life by adding an AI-driven digital assistant in your smartphone. The HTC U Ultra will support what the company calls Sense Companion. It will learn from your actions and send out notifications and suggestions to help you out in your day, such as a reminder to take an extra battery with your phone if you are going on a longer trip.

Sense Companion will have voice command features that will let you unlock the phone with just your voice. It will also integrate with Google Assistant, the AI that’s available in Google’s Pixel phones. It’s important to note that Sense Companion may not be available with the HTC U Ultra out of  the box when it officially launches, but it will be added in a future update.

The phone has a sleek contoured glass design

HTC U Ultra: The top features you should know

The HTC U Ultra ditches the metallic look of the company’s previous phones for a glass design. The company says the look of the phone was made in a new process so that the colors bond into the glass in multiple layers. The glass is then molded around the sides and edges of the phone. The phone will come in Sapphire Blue, Ice White and Brilliant Black colors, and some parts of the world will also be able to get the phone in a Cosmetic Pink color.

Pre-order now!

The unlocked version of the HTC U Ultra is being sold right now on the company’s website for the price of $749, and will be compatible with AT&T and T-Mobile’s networks. Shipments of the phone are scheduled to begin mid-March. At the moment, there’s no word on if any US wireless carriers will also be selling the phone via their monthly device payment plans, so unlocked is your only option right now.

Pre-order the HTC U Ultra

Next: HTC U Ultra vs the competition: who wins in the hardware battle?

Is the U Ultra what HTC needs right now?

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Just a few weeks ago we asked whether it was time for HTC to come up with a new smartphone design, and it appears that the call was heard with the launch of the new U Ultra. However, a move over to a Samsung Galaxy, LG V20 hybrid was not necessarily what we were asking for. This begs the question, is the U Ultra something wonderful and new from HTC, or just a clone of other company’s innovations?

At a glance, the HTC U Ultra is a compelling flagship offering, with top of the line processing, display, and camera hardware. HTC has also gone into overdrive on the added extras, including Quick Charge, BoomSound speakers, and even making an early leap into the personal assistant space, rivaling the likes of Alexa, Cortana, Siri, and Google Assistant. The only real complaint we’ve seen on the hardware side is the lack of a 3.5mm audio jack. This will be a shame for many and a deal breaker for others, but there are workarounds and HTC clearly views a digital future for audio accessories. As Apple might say, this could be seen as courage.

The HTC U Ultra is a compelling flagship with top of the line processing, display, and camera hardware, and with a myriad of extras.

However that’s probably the only bold statement made by the U Ultra. The handset’s design and selling features only really go to show that HTC is still playing catch up to its competitors, rather than pulling the industry forward on its own terms as it once did. I previously criticized HTC for continuing to build handsets with an outdated and overused design language, and yet here we are with a “new” look that just screams Samsung Galaxy.

Don’t miss: HTC U Ultra hands-on: a major change for HTC

I’m not sure if the look of the HTC U Ultra is deliberately designed to capitalize on the absence of the Galaxy Note 7, but I can’t imagine it working out in HTC’s favour because the design is so close. Consumers may well be interested in Note 7 alternatives this year, but that doesn’t mean they want something that looks the part but differs on features. “Is that a Note 7?” “Oh no, it’s the new HTC U Ultra” is a conversation that I imagine customers would tire of quickly. Not to mention there’s no S-Pen.

Is the U Ultra what HTC needs right now?
Is the U Ultra what HTC needs right now?

The same copycat issue rears its head with many of the U Ultra’s other identifying features too, albeit borrowing from the less well known LG V20 and Pixel XL. For HTC, this is a timing problem more than anything, as I could have bought a V20 last year if I wanted the secondary ticker display, and the Pixel XL if I was keen for a virtual assistant. Remember, the phone won’t actually be hitting the US until March, and I can see little reason to wait.

That said, it would be unfairly harsh to lambast HTC for identifying useful features and wanting to integrate them into its own products, and hopefully do so better than others. After all, phones have borrowed a lot from each other over the years and iterated to produce better features. Lately this includes fingerprint scanners and dual camera setups, and I actually think that the U Ultra’s overall hardware package is certainly the most impressive from the company in a long time.

Also read: HTC U Ultra vs the competition: who wins the hardware battle?

However, the problem for HTC’s latest flagship is that this all comes together to produce a smartphone that doesn’t have any huge firsts to call its own. Instead, it’s more likely to be known as the phone that copied, even if it ends up providing a better overall experience than previous implementations. For me, HTC’s biggest problem at the moment is one of brand recognition. Both in terms of a unique look for the broader public and unique cutting edge features to entice the tech savvy. The U Ultra doesn’t do anything to address this.

The U Ultra certainly offers more for your money than other recent HTC flagships, but is that enough?

To return to a more positive note, the U Ultra addresses my other big complaint about HTC’s recent flagship phones, and that’s the value for money. I would argue that the HTC 10, Bolt and even the One M9 didn’t offer enough to warrant the huge price difference between them and cost effective flagships like the OnePlus 3T or the Honor 7 or 8.

This all changes with the U Ultra, it’s feature packed to the brim with notable extras for music and movie enthusiasts, selfie addicts, and it has lept into the AI market early, which is a trend I’m sure we’ll be hearing much more about this year. This handset certainly sets HTC back on the right path in terms of premium features, but it’s not clear if there’s enough unique about the model to recapture interest in the way that the One M7 and M8 did.

As you can probably tell, I’m quite torn on the U Ultra. On balance though, despite an impressive looking spec sheet, the U Ultra shows HTC to be more of a follower rather than a leader, at least when it comes to hardware. That’s really not where the company needs to be if it wants to turn its smartphone business back around. Where do you stand on HTC’s latest flagship?