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Sports fans often say that their team could pull itself out of a losing streak if only it’d play that exciting but untested, kid who’s usually consigned to the bench. Gadgets fans sing a similar hymn about BlackBerry, opining that it would have remained relevant if it’d adopted Android to run on its phones. Now, several years too late, we’re going to see what the long-deposed world champion can do with the world’s most popular operating system. The result is the Priv, a premium Android smartphone-cum-hail-Mary that’s offering two things other companies can’t: Privilege and Privacy. It’s also packing a slide-out physical keyboard, a 5.4-inch curved display and, naturally, the company’s famous security software. But the device has something else that we’ve not seen in a BlackBerry phone since the launch of the Q10: the expectation that the device might actually be worth buying.
For physical keyboard devotees, there’s not much choice in the smartphone world right now, but BlackBerry does a decent job with the Priv. The high price will deter fair-weather buyers, but if you can’t stand typing on glass, this is your only option.
BlackBerry’s focus on business customers meant that the firm devoted all of its energies toward making austere smartphones look sexy. Unfortunately, its designers fell into something of a rut, knocking out devices from a rote list that included a matte black body with silver buttons and little little. The adoption of a sliding, physical keyboard has forced those atrophied creative muscles to spring into life, and that can only be a good thing. That’s because the Priv is probably the best-looking BlackBerry device that has ever been made. Yes, the matte black and silver buttons are still there, but the phone’s curved screen adds a much-needed dose of humanity. Then there’s the way that it feels in the hand, since the 9.4mm thickness makes it a heifer compared to the 7mm-thick Galaxy S6 Edge. BlackBerry, however, cannily tapered the edges of the phone to mirror the display, making it feel a lot thinner than it actually is.
“The Priv is probably the best-looking BlackBerry device ever.”
BlackBerry’s legendary reputation for making devices that feel as if they can take a beating remains intact, too. I had expected the Priv to feel flimsy given that sliders, by definition, have several more points of mechanical failure compared to a regular bar smartphone. It may be made of two separate parts, but I couldn’t find any bend or flex in my review unit — at least at the limits I was prepared to try and twist it. The Priv has a woven glass fiber back and a Gorilla Glass 4 display coating, so I’m expecting it to last well beyond the two years that most people’s phone contracts run to.
“The phone’s slightly curved screen adds a much-needed dash of humanity.”
Starting with the front of the device, you’ll see the BlackBerry logo nestled below the earpiece, ambient light sensor, forward-facing camera and notification light. Just beneath that is the 5.43-inch screen, while in the chin of the device you’ll find the forward-facing speaker array and primary microphone. On the top side you’ll find the microSD slot that can accept cards up to 2TB, as well as the SIM tray — the opposite end houses the micro-USB 2.0 port. You’ll find the sleep/wake button on the left hand side, with the trio of volume and mute buttons on the opposite edge.
The phone stands 147mm tall au naturel, but if you slide out the keyboard, that measurement increases to 184mm. If you weren’t looking too closely at the publicity stills, you might have missed that the Priv’s keyboard isn’t the fretted sort you’ll find on the company’s other handsets. Instead, it’s a custom affair that, like the BlackBerry Passport, is also capable of recognizing simple gestures. Each key is tightly spaced and if, like me, you have fat fingers, it’ll take a while to get your eye in, but there’s a surprising amount of travel given its size. Like the Passport, if a word hits the autocomplete suggestion bar, a hard swipe up on the keyboard will add it to your message.
I don’t think that it’s unfair to say that BlackBerry really only has two strengths anymore: its mobile keyboard know-how and its device security. Why, then, did it not give some serious consideration to just cramming in a Classic keyboard into this device? I mean, this variation is generally fine and after some practice, you’ll be using it like it’s 2008 all over again, it’s just a shame, you know?
Display and sound
BlackBerry saw fit to equip the Priv with a 5.43-inch plastic AMOLED display with a 2,560 x 1,440 resolution and a pixel density of 540 ppi. That puts it just behind the Galaxy S6 Edge (577 ppi) and just ahead of the LG G4 (538 ppi). Using AMOLED means brighter, warmer colors and enables BlackBerry to add a slight curve to the Priv’s display, at the expense of accurate color reproduction. Then again, if you’re buying a BlackBerry phone, surely you’re not clamoring for a faithful and accurate representation of a true color landscape, right? Suffice it to say, if you’re watching a 1080p movie on this thing, you’ll find high-definition videos look stunning with deep blacks and vivid colors.
Unlike, say, the Android app launcher you’ll find on Samsung’s Note Edge, BlackBerry hasn’t seen fit to do much with the sloping sides of its curved screen. The only really worthwhile use, so far, is that when the display is off and charging, a green power indicator bar runs up the right-hand curve. It’s rather sweet, since it creeps towards the top of the device the fuller your battery gets. Again, not a groundbreaking piece of work, but it’s a cute touch from a company that’s rarely known for such fripperies.
Audio-wise, the bottom of the chin is given over to a short, but wide speaker hidden behind a band of laser-drilled holes. It’s no HTC BoomSound (what is?) but the setup is clear enough to provide mono sound for a whole room. In one of my weirder tests, I put the device under two pillows at the other end of my home office and found that the sound, while muffled, was still enough to kick off an impromptu dance party.
There’s some good / bad news for BlackBerry 10 devotees whose muscle memory means that they insta-swipe right to get to the BlackBerry hub. It may be on the device, but it’s been removed from its normal resting place on the left of the home screen. In its place, however, is the Productivity Hub, a breakdown of your schedule and any important messages that can be accessed by pulling a small white tab on the left-sided curve of the screen.
The Priv uses a slightly customized version of Android 5.1.1 (Lollipop), although the biggest changes are all under the hood. In order to make the operating system secure enough for BlackBerry to slap its logo on it, the firm had to add a cryptographic key at the hardware level, harden the Linux kernel and create the Dtek security app to monitor user activity. If you’re curious about Lollipop, please point your browsers to our review from a year ago, although the company has confirmed to us that a Marshmallow update is in the works and should be made available within the next six months.
The rest of the most noticeable changes are cosmetic rather than functional, like the inclusion of the BlackBerry splat on an icon to highlight when you have an unread notification. Aping BlackBerry 10’s design, the default home screen is no longer at the center of a carousel, but on the left-most pane, forcing you to push additional shortcuts further out to the right. In addition, the app tray is now one continuously scrolling-selection, because if you swipe to the side, you’ll be given access to customizable widgets and shortcuts.
BlackBerry is clearly preaching to the choir here, ditching some of Android’s more unique navigation features to impose its own system. It’s personal preference, but I think that it’s more elegant, and I’m one of a minority that backs Huawei’s controversial decision to eliminate the app tray from its own versions of Android. I’m also sure that this move is likely to rankle Android devotees, and it’s weird how you get such easy access to widget options and shortcuts at the expense of a more easily-navigable app tray.
As mentioned, the other big addition is Dtek, the company’s security suite that sits on top of Android and nannies you into making sure your device is difficult to hack and steal. When I was setting up the device, I skipped the option to add a security pin, and Dtek quickly started nagging me to change that situation. After a while, I gave in, and wanted to see if it could tell I was being deliberately lax by choosing 1234 as my code. Unfortunately, the app didn’t push back, and with the addition of that one code, my security level went from being “weak” to “excellent.”
BlackBerry has never really been too fussed with smartphone imaging, with the Passport being the first of its devices to even get a double-digit camera sensor. As if to overcompensate, the Priv comes with an 18-megapixel Schneider-Kreuznach-certified imaging sensor. In addition, the firm is throwing the usual bundle of features that high-end smartphones get in order to claim that they can operate on equal footing with a DSLR. In this case, that means optical image stabilization (OIS), phase-detect auto focus and the ability to record 4K video at 30fps as well as the software-based live image filters we’ve already seen in older BlackBerry 10 devices. The front-facer, meanwhile, is a garden-variety 2-megapixel affair with 720p video capture and 2x digital zoom that can do panoramic selfies, should you need it.
Paw through the sample images and you should be reasonably impressed at the quality of pictures this device can produce. I say “can” because there’s no guarantee that the image that you see pop up on that AMOLED screen is the one you’re going to find when viewing it on alternative display. In addition, there can be some inconsistency in the color between two shots taken at exactly the same location. Take a look at the last two shots in this gallery (the shot of the railway lines) and you’ll see a pair of images snapped one after the other. Except one has a blueish tint and the other has more faithful reproduction.
“Claims of it being able to replace your DSLR are, as usual, bull.”
The pictures taken at night (during a particularly foggy week) are a little nosier than I’d prefer, but a little tweaking of the on-screen exposure wheel can improve that slightly. There’s at least a few shots in near pitch-darkness (in the woods close to my home) that I was expecting not to come out at all that had some measure of detail in them. Overall, while any claims of it being able to replace your DSLR are, as usual, bull, it’s not a bad camera to have in your pocket.
Performance and battery life
In recent years, BlackBerry excused itself from the spec wars, preferring instead to rely upon outdated chipsets to run inside its smartphones. Part of that was because BB10 wasn’t particularly resource-hungry and, you know, because it had to cut costs somewhere. By comparison, the Priv has been created with a “spare no expense” mantra that’s worthy of the fictional creator of Jurassic Park, John Hammond. The device has a 1.8GHz dual-core 64-bit Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 chip paired with 3GB RAM and 32GB of built-in storage.
It’s important to remember that while BlackBerry produces smartphones, it’s never made a pure Android device before. As such, the device’s staggeringly quick real-world performance is worthy of comment, given that it’s produced it from a standing start. Naturally, this is partly due to the sledgehammer that is the chip-and-RAM combo here, but BlackBerry has clearly done some work behind the scenes as well. I much prefer to compare the real-world performance of the device, too, because if you went by its benchmarks alone, you’d think that the Priv was about as fast as an agricultural vehicle.
Sony Xperia Z5
Google Nexus 6P
HTC One A9
Samsung Galaxy S6
3DMark IS Unlimited
GFXBench 3.0 1080p Manhattan Offscreen (fps)
You see, at the time that I was reviewing the BlackBerry Priv, I was also testing Sony’s Xperia Z5, and had assumed that the latter would probably stand ahead of the former in the real world. As such, I did some side-by-side loading tests to see which of the pair could crank demanding apps like Asphalt 8 and Dead Trigger 2 the fastest. As it turned out, both devices managed to load levels within a second of each other — Sony winning the first heat, the Priv returning the favor in the second, and so forth. It’s an unscientific test, sure, but you can rest assured that this device can stand side-by-side with the big boys.
One thing that BlackBerry 10 phones have historically struggled with is call quality, and the firm’s much-hyped Paratek Adaptive aerial technology never really amounted to much. The company claims that the Priv is even more call-friendly, since it packs in 11 antennas inside its svelte frame. As such, I had a few long, romantic chats with my fellow Engadget editors on Three’s network here in the UK. As far as they were concerned, my audio was tinny and somehow choked-off, as if the full gamut of my speech was being erased from the chat by the phone’s secondary, sound-canceling microphones.
The Priv ships with a non-removable, 3,410mAh battery, which is more capacious than both the Galaxy Note 5 (3,000mAh) and the S6 Edge (2,600mAh). Despite this massive battery, the company only rated it for 22 hours of mixed use which, to me, felt a little suspect. In my experience of reviewing BlackBerry phones, you can normally divide that figure in half and get close to what it’s going to get in test conditions. Thankfully here, I was surprised. In our standard rundown test, we loop a HD video with brightness set to 50 percent and the Priv managed to last 12 hours and 23 minutes.
If I’m honest, that surprised me, since it never seemed to be capable of lasting that long during my day-to-day use. For instance, the day I received the handset, I charged it fully and then began the setup process, which took about an hour. Unfortunately, just an hour of use managed to eat away 20 percent of the device’s battery life, so while video playback will do for the duration of most long-haul flights, you’ll struggle to achieve similar results day to day.
At this point it’s probably safe to say that BlackBerry doesn’t have a lot of competition, since no other major firm produces an Android smartphone with a keyboard. The only reasonably new device that comes close to the Priv’s hardware would be a Galaxy S6 Edge paired with one of the Korean firm’s bolt-on keyboards.
If you’re looking for a secure Android phone, meanwhile, the only other mainstream alternative would be a Samsung Knox device — again, leading you back to the Galaxy S6 Edge (amongst others). The only other device that readily comes to mind is Silent Circle’s BlackPhone 2, which makes similar claims to be able to protect your privacy.
Otherwise, the field of competition is pretty barren, and if you’re just looking for a physical keyboard, the only other option is BlackBerry 10 devices. Right now you have a choice of two: the wide-framed Passport or the Classic, both of which come with the firm’s trademark frets.
BlackBerry is probably done as a phone manufacturer, and John Chen has pledged to shut down the division if it doesn’t turn a profit by 2016. That’s not going to be possible, not through any fault of BlackBerry, but because almost no Android manufacturer seems to be able to turn a decent profit on smartphones these days. As much as it makes sense that BlackBerry could, or should, have adopted Android four years ago, there’s no guarantee that it would have prolonged its life much beyond now anyway.
The BlackBerry Priv, then, is one part hail Mary and one part fan service, and that $699 price tag is going to scare off fair-weather customers. Despite spending this time with the BlackBerry Priv, I’m still not sure if that’s a good thing or not, because there are plenty of things that I like about it. I like how it looks, how it feels and how well-built it is. The tweaks to Android are sensible too, regardless of how you feel about BlackBerry Hub.
But then there’s that slightly lackluster keyboard, which isn’t bad, but isn’t as glorious as what you’d expect from a BlackBerry device. Since a physical input mechanism is the phone’s raison d’etre, surely the company would have been better off just cramming a full-sized one in, somehow? After all, if you’ve gone to the trouble of cleaving the phone in two and building a, frankly killer, sliding mechanism, better to go the whole hog, right?
I guess the final test is to ask myself if I could, with a straight face, recommend this to my friends and loved ones. The only person who I know would like this is the one that scours eBay whenever his Motorola Pro+ breaks, which it does, frequently. The fact that a company in 2015 is making a pretty decent Android smartphone with a keyboard deserves plenty of praise, because people do still crave them. I just can’t imagine anyone who has become inured to using an on-screen keyboard will consider dropping seven hundred big ones to go back to how it was.
It’s been two years since Apple announced its plot to put your iPhone’s core features inside the dash of your car, but only now is its CarPlay software becoming available in lots of new models. In brief, CarPlay allows you to connect your trusty iOS device to a vehicle’s infotainment system to make things like texts, maps and music accessible from the console. Sure, the goal is to provide an easier way to use your phone on the road, but it also nixes the distraction of swiping through screens on the phone itself. To put CarPlay through its paces, I hit the highway for a 7.5-hour road trip in a 2016 Camaro SS, a model that’ll arrive soon at your local dealer. From Philadelphia to Raleigh, North Carolina, I used it to navigate, find food and stream in-car entertainment along the way. This first version of Apple’s software for the car is certainly useful, but as I found, there’s room for improvement.
While CarPlay does a lot to minimize distractions while you drive, we’d like it even better if Google Maps were supported, and if you could use voice commands to control third-party apps.
What is CarPlay?
If you missed the chatter surrounding Apple’s in-car project, here’s a brief refresher. CarPlay makes the items you use most on your phone accessible through the vehicle’s built-in touchscreen infotainment system. This means that your contacts, text messages, music streaming, podcasts and, of course, calls are all available without having to pick up your handset. What’s more, the phone and text options are voice-controlled by default to further cut down on the would-be distractions. Apple’s software doesn’t replace the infotainment setup that comes with your car, though. Instead, it adds the option to the existing kit, with the stock features always just a few taps away. If your phone is plugged in when you start the vehicle, however, CarPlay will load over the standard system.
Chevrolet isn’t the only manufacturer that’s putting CarPlay inside some of its vehicles — Honda, Cadiallac, Audi, Jeep, Ford, Subaru and others plan to offer it — but Chevy is one of the first to market. If you’re not ready to buy a new car, aftermarket systems from Alpine, Kenwood and Pioneer can bring the software to your current ride at a fraction of the cost. Of course, CarPlay itself is completely free to use; you just need a vehicle or stereo deck that’s equipped to handle it.
When you first settle into the driver’s seat, you have to plug your iPhone in using a Lightning cable and one of the car’s USB jacks. After saying “yes” to the push notification asking for the okay to launch CarPlay, you’re up and running. That’s really it in terms of setup. There’s no app you have to download or a switch you have to flip in the phone’s settings. You simply plug it in and it works. I’ve reviewed Bluetooth speakers that took longer and were way more complicated to get working. If you’re familiar with the iPhone, you can easily use CarPlay without having to learn how it works or how to set it up. And yes, Apple and automakers are working toward nixing the required cable, but chances are if you get behind the wheel of a CarPlay-equipped vehicle anytime soon, you’ll want to make sure you have that accessory handy so you can connect.
Let’s start at the home screen. It’s here where you’ll see options for making calls, sending texts, finding directions and playing those all-important road trip tunes. As I’ve already mentioned, you can head back into the car’s proprietary system at any time, but as long as your iPhone is connected, CarPlay will appear as a menu item when you need to return. In addition to the calling and texting tools, there are shortcuts to Apple Maps, Apple Music, podcasts, audiobooks and whatever’s currently playing over the speakers. If you have CarPlay-compatible apps on your phone (Spotify, in my case), those will appear here as well. As for third-party apps, big names include Audible, Audiobooks.com, CBS News, iHeartRadio, MLB At Bat, Overcast, Pandora, Rdio, Spotify and Stitcher. Don’t expect to employ Google Maps, though, as Apple’s navigation software is the only option. Yeah, I was bummed about that, too. To be fair, Apple Maps is far better than it used to be, but it’s still not as good as Google’s navigation software — in my opinion, anyway.
While the app icons are just a tap away on the car’s touchscreen, the options and content that CarPlay actually pipes in are quite limited. Normally, this would be a bad thing, but I found it’s another feature that cuts down on distractions. Sure, you have to pre-plan a bit if you don’t want to choose from the top 10 podcasts from iTunes or listen to a Spotify playlist you’ve already saved. But it keeps you from perusing menus when you should be paying attention to the road. Want to search that Carrie Underwood album from a few years ago? You’ll have to pick up your phone to do it. After you stop the car, of course. The whole system is quite speedy overall, and I only noticed CarPlay struggle to fetch content when I was in a spot with limited 4G coverage.
The options to make a call or send a text are voice-driven by default with the help of Siri. In fact, Apple’s virtual assistant is here to lend a hand with a number of things, but best of all, perhaps, is the ability to call home or respond to a text without having to type with one hand and drive with the other. Don’t expect to dictate email responses or browse the feed of your go-to messaging or social apps, though. CarPlay won’t pull in that content, and that’s probably for the best.
Speaking of texts, when you get one, a notification pops up at the top of the touchscreen. Tapping on it will alert Siri and the virtual assistant will offer to read the message. Should you so choose, you can respond by speaking your message intended for the sender. Siri repeats what you said so you can catch any errors. Pretty standard stuff if you’re familiar with iOS. It took me a bit to get the hang of it since I drive an older car that lacks fancy voice controls, but once I began to speak clearly and loudly, I didn’t have any further issues. Also, CarPlay won’t display the actual text messages, so you won’t be tempted to glance down and read them yourself. In any case, because this is Siri we’re talking about, this feature is useful for sending short quips, but you’ll likely want to avoid any lengthy back and forth.
From the home screen you can also ask Siri to do things like look up directions. Sure, you can type in an address manually — either on the car’s display or by picking up your phone — but a simple “Hey Siri” also does the trick. Again, it’s way less distracting while the car is in motion. Once you ask it to find you a route, it usually offers more than one option for you to choose from. Just tap the one you want and you’re off. To get back to the home screen to play some music or to update your significant other on your arrival time, you just hit the familiar-looking circle home button in the bottom-left corner.
In fact, holding the home button or pressing the voice control button on the steering wheel will poke the virtual assistant to handle a number of tasks like playing music or grabbing the weather forecast. Siri doesn’t dip into third-party apps, though, so you’re on your own when it comes to finding the Spotify playlist or Pandora station you’re looking for. To keep you from swiping through a bunch of menus or tapping the back arrow a few times, there’s a handy Maps icon in the top left for easy access.
If you’ve spent time in a car that has a touchscreen infotainment system, you know that the user interface is typically pretty awful, design-wise. While CarPlay wraps the in-car system with its clean aesthetics and typography, the usability isn’t as good as it could be. The tabbed menus and limited scrolling that I mentioned before force you to jump from app to app a bit. Those limitations can also cause you to spend more time than you should looking for the Spotify playlist you’re after. Here’s what I mean: I have over 20 playlists saved on the streaming service, but when I scroll through them, CarPlay only shows the first 10 or so. Looking for something at the bottom of your list? It won’t be that easy to access. Basically, this looks a lot better than the default interface and limits your access to apps on your phone, but sometimes the simplicity can become its own distraction.
While the limited access to content and the lack of third-party messaging apps are a bit frustrating, I can understand the reasons for trying to keep distractions to a minimum. CarPlay puts the stuff I tend to use most while driving on the dash and within reach. This means I can play some Big Grams on Spotify or send a text without so much as looking at my phone. In fact, I didn’t pick up my 6s once while the car was on the highway from Philly until I pulled into my driveway in central North Carolina. I didn’t have a reason to reach for it unless I was stopping to get out. Sure, the software could still create a distraction for those who spend too much time futzing with it, just like a phone or anything else you might have on you. For me, though, it was a safer way to interact with my handset on a solo road trip. Despite a few quibbles with the design and overall usability, CarPlay is still a better way to interact with your phone from the driver’s seat than having it in your hand.
We’ve seen Swiss daredevil Yves Rossy (aka Jetman) fly his carbon fiber jet wing over Rio, and above Dubai with his protege Jetman Vince Reffet. The latest video from the fearless aviators sees Rossy and Reffet share the skies with something a little bigger — an Emirates A380 airliner. Once again, the flight takes place over the Palm Jumeirah and Dubai skylines. We can only imagine the duo gives the A380 pilot constant heart palpitations as they deftly manoeuvre around the plane (y’know, with its jet intakes and all that).
As insane as the stunt may look, it was, of course, carefully choreographed. Cruising at just 4,000 feet (“just” for the plane, that’s pretty high for flying people) the trio flew in two holding patterns while a fourth object in the sky (the film crew in a helicopter) kept distance 1,000 feet above. The A380 couldn’t be more different from the jet wings worn by the pilots though. The Emirates craft pumps out 70,000 pounds of thrust per engine with a max speed of 490 knots, making the wearable-wing’s 88 pounds and 170 knots seem like a mild breeze in comparison.
Trying to save a few bucks by purchasing offbrand cables? We’ve all done it — but there’s something you should know about new USB Type-C connectors popping up on cellphones (Nexus, OnePlus), laptops (Macbook, Pixel), tablets (Pixel C) and even Apple TV. The reason why they can charge so many devices, is their ability to transmit currents up to 3A, which could be 50 to 100 percent more electricity than older standards. That’s why Google engineer Benson Leung has been putting various USB-C cables sold on Amazon to the test. He worked on both of Google’s recent Pixel devices that use the new cable to charge, and found that many of the cables advertised as Type-C aren’t actually suited for use with the laptop. They might not be wired properly to charge a laptop, or they don’t accurately identify the power source — something that could damage your laptop, USB hub or charger.
As for why this is such a big issue, Leung told me that “every new plug, connector and cable now has to be certified to be 3A compatible.” That’s fine, and when everything plugged is USB-C but when you mix up cables with a C connector on one end, and older A or B connector on the other, adapters and legacy cables should use lower 1.5A or 2.4A charging. Not all of them do, which can cause problems since the charger on that end might not be rated for 3A charging.
For an example of how companies can fail to meet the standard, check out this review of a TechMatte USB-C to MicroUSB adapter:
Specifically, these adapters do not charge the Chromebook Pixel 2015 because the adapters leave the C-C lines floating, where the specification requires a Rp pullup to Vbus to identify the cable as a legacy adapter or cable.
Please see the document named “USB Type-C Specification Release 1.1.pdf”
section 184.108.40.206.4 for a description of why the Rp pullup is necessary.
Please also see Section 4.11 and the following note :
1. For Rp when implemented in the USB Type-C plug on a USB Type-C to USB 3.1 Standard-A Cable
Assembly, a USB Type-C to USB 2.0 Standard-A Cable Assembly, a USB Type-C to USB 2.0 Micro-B
Receptacle Adapter Assembly or a USB Type-C captive cable connected to a USB host, a value of 56 k’
± 5% shall be used, in order to provide tolerance to IR drop on V BUS and GND in the cable assembly.
In other words, since you are creating a USB Type-C plug to a USB 2.0 Micro-B receptacle assembly, you must use a resistor of value 56k’ as a pullup to Vbus. This cable does not do this.
Please let me know if there is any more information I can provide about why these adapters are problematic.
If you are a consumer looking for a cable that is compatible with Pixel, do not use this one.
So what can you do? (Other than keep an eye out for reviews by “LaughingMan” on Amazon.) Leung has posted instructions that can help Pixel owners test the specifications of USB Type-C cables they’ve connected to the laptop, but that only helps after a purchase. Companies like FREiEQ, Belkin and iOrange have all produced cables that Leung found passed his tests. Beyond that, he advises that your best bet for now is to buy first party cables from the likes of Google and Apple.
Earlier this year, Pebble released two new smartwatches: The Time and the Time Steel. Both feature color e-ink displays, an updated “Timeline” interface, support for voice replies, and a new accessory port that promises to increase the watch’s functionality over time through third-party “smart straps.” But two watches wasn’t enough for Pebble. In September, the company unveiled yet another new model: the Pebble Time Round. As its name suggests, it’s basically just a circular version of the Time, and will be available in stores starting November 8th for $249. It’s also thinner, lighter and the strap comes in both 14mm and 20mm widths, making it ideal for smaller wrists. But with this more fashionable look comes a couple of concessions: it has much shorter battery life than its predecessors and isn’t nearly as water-resistant. The Time Round is, without a doubt, the best-looking device the company has ever put out, but those tradeoffs lessen its value considerably.
Thin, lightweight design
Color e-paper is easy to read under bright light
Potential for third-party "smart straps"
Reduced battery life
Less water-resistant than previous models
Expensive for what it is
The Pebble Time Round is without doubt the most elegant smartwatch Pebble has ever made. It’s slim, lightweight and fits smaller wrists well. Unfortunately, that fashionable design comes at a cost: It has far shorter battery life than previous Pebbles and you can no longer go swimming with it. Seeing as how you can get a more feature-rich watch for around the same price, we mainly recommend the Time Round for people who care more about style than substance.
One of the first things I noticed about the Pebble Time Round is that it looks and feels almost exactly like a regular watch. Even though I liked the style of the Time and Time Steel, their square faces and somewhat thick chassis still betrayed their smartwatch roots. The Time Round, on the other hand, looks indistinguishable from most other wristwatches. In particular, the 38.5mm diameter watchface combines with those relatively slim straps to make the device ideal for those with smaller wrists. Its slim 7.5mm-thick design, all-metal chassis and smooth beveled edges also help make this feel like a premium device. Speaking of the sort, the default strap is made of leather, which I like, but you can opt for a metal bracelet for $50 more. The device is available in black, silver and rose gold.
Perhaps the biggest downside of the Time Round’s design is that thick bezel surrounding the display. Unfortunately, that’s the case for all of Pebble’s watches because many of Pebble’s apps are only designed for a 1.25-inch screen. Fortunately, the Time Round does offer a few different bezel options — there’s a white one with five-minute markers, for example, and a black one with three-hour markers — to add a bit of style and function to an otherwise empty space.
As for that display, it’s the same color e-paper screen as on the Time and the Time Steel. It’s certainly not as rich or colorful as brighter OLED panels, but it’s still perfectly functional. You can adjust the brightness all the way from “Low” to “Blinding,” and you can also enable the ambient light sensor so that it’ll trigger the backlight only when necessary. E-paper offers a couple of benefits over traditional LCD: The Time Round is much more legible under bright sunlight, and the watchface is always on without having to flick the wrist and activate the screen. But while the Time and Time Steel touts a week or more of battery life thanks to the low power requirements of e-paper, the Time Round is only rated for one or two days of battery life, thereby negating one of e-paper’s biggest advantages.
The rest of the Time Round’s design is similar to the Time and the Time Steel. The button on the left acts as a back and backlight button, while the three buttons on the right are used to navigate through the watch’s interface. You can also map them as quick-launch shortcuts to certain applications if you press and hold down on them. Flip the watch around and you’ll find a couple of charging pins that double as a smart accessory port for third-party “smart straps” that add additional functionality to the watch. For example, you could get a smart strap that adds GPS, a heart rate monitor or even extra battery life. I haven’t had a chance to try them just yet (many of them are still in development), but the idea of a smartwatch getting better over time thanks to extra smartstraps is pretty intriguing.
As with the other Pebble devices, you can also easily swap out the straps of the Time Round with other 14mm or 20mm options. It has a microphone for voice memos and voice replies, an accelerometer, a backlight and a vibrating motor.
While the Time and Time Steel are water-resistant up to 30 meters and can be worn while swimming, the Time Round can not. As Pebble puts it, the Time Round is only “splash-resistant” — you can still get it wet, but it shouldn’t be submerged in water. The company also doesn’t recommend the Time Round be worn in the shower. That might not be a big deal for some, but it could be a dealbreaker if you’re looking for a device to track swim laps.
The software in the Time Round is identical to that of the other Pebble watches, so if you’re already familiar with Pebble’s new Timeline interface, there won’t be anything new here. But just in case you need a brief refresher, I’ll go over the highlights.
The interface we have here essentially arranges all of your events, notifications, reminders and news in chronological order. Pressing the up button will let you look at past notifications, for example, while pressing the down button would offer a peek at future calendar events. The idea here is that you no longer need to open an app to find out desired information. So instead of launching ESPN to find out when the Warriors are playing next, you can just peek into the future to see that the game is scheduled for 7:30pm the next day.
In order to install apps and watchfaces on your Pebble (as well as get any sort of notification), you’ll need to pair the watch with a phone. To do this, simply download the Pebble Time app for Android or iOS and follow the instructions to pair the watch. Not all apps will work with the Time Round right off the bat due to its circular design, but we’re told that there are already 90 compatible apps and over 275 watchfaces, and I suspect that number will grow over time.
Other neat features include a “Quiet Time” function that lets you disable notifications on certain days or at times when you don’t want to be disturbed. You can also set an alarm, enable or disable vibrating alerts, and choose which app you want for activity tracking (you can only enable one fitness app at a time). As for what you can do when you receive an incoming text message notification, that depends on what phone you have. If it’s an iPhone, the most you can do is dismiss the text message. But if you’re on Android, you’re able to respond with either a list of canned responses, an emoji or a dictated voice message. That said, we’re told that Pebble is working on an iOS solution too, so stay tuned for that.
Performance and battery life
The Pebble Time Round is a simple smartwatch and as such, isn’t bogged down by the usual litany of menu trees that have been known to plague more complicated wearables. The performance is pretty smooth and I didn’t experience too much lag when scrolling through different pages. The communication between the phone and the watch is pretty snappy too — whatever change I made on my handset was reflected almost instantly on the watch.
It’s the Time Round’s battery life that is its biggest downside. One of Pebble’s most touted features across much of its product line is its long battery life — the Time lasts about a week while the Time Steel squeezes out 10 days before needing a recharge. Not so with the Time Round. In order to create such a thin, lightweight design, Pebble had to cut down the Time Round’s battery life to only two days at most. In my first test, where I used the watch extensively with High brightness, I whittled down the Time Round’s battery life to 20 percent in just under 24 hours. The next day, I lowered the brightness to Medium, and it wasn’t as bad: only about 50 percent after 24 hours.
The Pebble Time Round’s biggest competition might be its own cousins. You can get exactly the same functionality in the Time and the Time Steel for the same price or less — the Time Steel is $249 while the Time is around $199 (The base price of the Time Round is $249). Sure those watches won’t be as thin or light, but the battery life will be much longer and they’ll be much more water-resistant too. Basically, if you’re contemplating which Pebble to get, you have to decide on whether looks and style is worth trading battery life and water-resistance.
Feature-wise, the Time Round doesn’t really compare to other modern smartwatches. It doesn’t have a touch screen or NFC or GPS and is thus not quite as robust as most Android Wear devices. That’s why its $249 pricepoint is a little problematic. For $30 more you can get the upcoming Fossil Q Founder, while for $50 more you can get the latest and greatest Moto 360. Heck, you can even spend way less for a decent Android watch — the ASUS ZenWatch 2 starts at only $149.
And while the other Pebble watches can hold battery life as its big trump card, the Time Round doesn’t have that luxury — it lasts maybe a day or so more than the other Android Wear watches, which isn’t that big of a difference to merit losing all the other features too. Both the LG Watch Urbane and the latest Moto 360 last about a day, while the Samsung Gear S2 eked out about two days before running out of juice. Indeed, the only real advantage the Time Round has over these other Android watches is its slim, lightweight design and the potential for those third-party smart straps.
The Pebble Time Round is the most elegant smartwatch Pebble has ever made. It’s thin, light and comes in widths that would fit even the most slender of wrists. Its circular, all-metal chassis and options for both leather and metal straps make this a device to behold. Yet, Pebble made significant tradeoffs to achieve such a slim design. The reduced two-day battery life is a big blow; worse, it negates one of the few factors that made previous Pebble watches so unique. Designing it to be less water-resistant feels like a misstep as well. That wouldn’t even be such a big deal if the Time Round didn’t cost $249, which puts it in the same price class as more feature-rich Android Wear watches. In the end, the Time Round is really only for those who want a pretty smartwatch regardless of the compromises.
Google is trying to take more control of its Android ecosystem by designing its own chips, according to a report from The Information (subscription). The search giant reportedly spoke with chip manufacturers about building Android device processors with features it covets, like a bigger CPU memory cache, quicker cameras and built-in depth-sensor support. It appears that Google is sick of Android device fragmentation, and feels that current hardware is limiting its ability to bring tech like Project Tango to market. It also wants to standardize Android hardware to better compete in high-end phones with Apple, which has seen record sales with the iPhone 6s.
Since the arrival of the A6 chip, Apple has taken control of its own processor designs. Many industry-watchers believe that accounts for the smoother performance of iPhones and iPads, even though the specs appear inferior to Android devices. Google reportedly believes that if hardware was standardized to its specifications, it would make for more consistent performance, especially with Google apps like Maps and Gmail. It would also allow manufacturers to roll out updates more quickly, keeping the ecosystem fresher and more secure.
Since the arrival of the A6 chip, Apple has taken control of its own processor designs.
All of this info is coming from unnamed sources, so wash it down with some skepticism. It’s not clear which manufacturers Google has been speaking with, or who inside the company could even take on a chip design project. It also seems unlikely that big players like Qualcomm would switch up their chip designs to accommodate Google. It does make sense for Mountain View to shake up its core technology, though, since Android manufacturers like Samsung, HTC, LG and Sony aren’t exactly setting the world on fire.