A decent Pixel XL leather case — with a fatal flaw

It looks good. It feels good. It's got a handy li…

Read more: A decent Pixel XL leather case — with a fatal flaw

Google is ready to spend a billion dollars to give the Pixel a curved display

Google is looking to better compete with Samsung by partnering with LG on displays.

Google is ready to spend close to $1 billion — around $880 million at today's exchange rate — to LG Display to produce curved OLED panels for its next Pixel phones, according to Korea's Electronic Times (via Reuters).

The report says that LG has not approved the offer just yet, but the move is an indicator that Google understands it needs to follow Samsung, LG and presumably other OEMs in producing thinner, more flexible OLED panels to maximize the screen space of its next Pixels while keeping overall device footprint down.

While the original Pixels use OLED panels, which are ideal for virtual reality and optimized for the Daydream platform, the phones, available in 5-inch and 5.5-inch variants, have been criticized for their bezels above and below the display, making their overall size much larger than other devices with the same usable screen real estate.…

Read more: Google is ready to spend a billion dollars to give the Pixel a curved display

Samsung Gear 360 (2017) initial review: Improvements all around

As early hardware and unfinished software goes, this is actually pretty good.

Samsung stopped in the middle of its big Galaxy S8 unveil to hand out a new Gear 360 to the crowd. With that camera came instructions to have fun capturing the world around us in a new way, and while 360-degree cameras aren't new to me it's still exciting to see what Samsung has in store for the next Gear 360. Here's what I have to say after using this camera for the last week.

For starters, I want to make sure it is clear this is in no way a full review of this camera. The Gear 360 (2017) was delivered in a little cardboard box with no instruction manual, lens protection, or even a charging cable. The only thing I got in the box, besides the camera, was a QR code to download a beta version of the Gear 360 app for handling this new camera. This is hardware given to me before retail packaging with unfinished software, so none of my opinions are final and very little about the overall experience is set in stone.

That having been said, I've had a lot of fun with this camera so far.

Samsung has traded the sphere design for something more like a stick, but instead of a rounded rectangle body we get a nice round body with plenty of grip. The single button on the side of the body is easy to find and press without looking, with the power and menu buttons out of the way up near the lenses. This keeps you from accidentally hitting any buttons, so you can quickly grab the camera and capture with confidence.

It's smaller than last year's version, but the 2017 Gear 360 is still pretty chunky.

Just above that single button is a display, and like the previous version of this camera it's easy enough to read in direct sunlight that you don't need to grab you phone when you're supposed to be enjoying the moment. Through this display you can see how much storage you have left, read to you in photos or video time remaining, and an icon with text for the shooting mode you are currently on. Tapping the menu button on the side of the camera will allow you to cycle through Photo, Video, Time Lapse, HDR Landscape, and Looping Video.

While the Gear 360 has stepped away from the orb shape with all of the computer bits in between the lenses, it's still a little chunkier than most other 360-degree cameras. This camera is more pocketable than its predecessor, but still a little on the awkward side. Ricoh, LG, and Insta360 all have less physical space between the two fisheye lenses that work together to take a photo. The farther apart the lenses are, the more work software has to do to make the sphere seamless. In its current state, the sphere created by the Gear 360 is far from seamless.

The blurry line splitting the two halves of the sphere appear in every photo, but are most apparent when using the HDR photo mode shown in the above image — which is a shame, because it otherwise does a great job addressing the biggest problem with 360-degree cameras in difficult lighting. On most consumer 360-degree cameras, this photo would have been completely blown out on one half of the sphere due to the sunlight.

Samsung's HDR Landscape handled it much better, though it takes significantly longer to take these photos when compared to the normal button press. As the name suggests, this mode is only really useful if you're taking photos of a landscape with little or no movement. You're also going to want a tripod or something to keep the camera steady.

You have a lot more flexibility when it comes to shooting video on the Gear 360, but only if you use the app to set things up the way you want. The Gear 360 app lets you choose between 4K video at 24fps and 720p video at 120fps, with a number of options in between. These options are incredibly important for a number of reasons, but VR is the most important. By offering 360-degree video at 60fps or 120fps, you ensure the videos are much easier to watch inside a VR headset.

The Gear 360 does a great job addressing the biggest problem with 360-degree cameras in difficult lighting.

The general rule of thumb here is based on motion: increase your FPS when you increase motion, or you risk nauseating some of the people watching. Samsung doesn't do a great job explaining this anywhere, but the options available are very easy to switch between. What would be especially cool here would be a quick button to send the video you're looking at directly into a Gear VR app for you to quickly view, but right now that's not an option.

Everything you do on this camera is stored initially to the microSD card in the camera. This unit came with a 32GB card from Samsung, which is enough for thousands of photos and hours of 360-degree video. When you're ready to view or share what you've captured, it's time to head to the app on your phone.

The Gear 360 app establishes a Wi-Fi Direct connection with the camera, and lets you either transfer files to your phone or use the app as a remote shutter for the camera. Like the original Gear 360, using Wi-Fi Direct means a faster and more stable connection to the camera than the usual Bluetooth. It also means you're going to drain your battery if you leave the app open for particularly long, which is why there's a notification warning you to turn it off.

While the app works well enough in its beta form, it only works on modern Samsung phones and no update is going to fix that. Which is a bummer, because while you don't need a Samsung phone to take pictures you need the app in order to stitch the two halves together to make a sphere. To make things even weirder, there's eventually going to be an iOS version of the app, so in relatively short order there will be more iPhones able to use Samsung's camera than Android phones. There's also a YouTube live streaming feature in the app, but it only works on Android 7.0 or greater and in its current form isn't particularly stable.

As it stands right now, there's a lot to like about the Gear 360. The camera is easy to use, the software offers a lot of useful new features, and the battery will get you at least four hours of fairly constant use. It's small enough to be reasonably portable as long as you have something to protect the lenses, and it just plain looks nice. Assuming Samsung is working on making the stitching a little smoother while we wait for release details that are a little more specific than "sometime in April or May" this will be a great camera to use just about anywhere.

See at Samsung…

Read more: Samsung Gear 360 (2017) initial review: Improvements all around

ZTE Quartz is an affordable Android Wear smartwatch with 3G and a huge battery

The maker of budget smartphones begins its foray into the wearables market with the biggest battery in Android Wear.

ZTE isn't quite known for its wearables because it hasn't really offered any — at least, not any running Android Wear. The company is hoping to turn that around now that smartwatches and wearables have become a veritable thing in the mobile industry, and companies of all sorts are investing in their own devices in this space, ZTE has committed to trying its hand.

ZTE's first smartwatch is the Quartz. It runs Android Wear 2.0 and features 3G connectivity, and it's nearly as polished and preened as some of the pricier fashion smartwatches available. Its main appeal, however, is its price point. When the watch launches on April 21, you can buy it at T-Mobile for $199.

See at T-Mobile

Bang for the buck, but with compromises

The ZTE Quartz isn't a bells and whistles kind of Android Wear smartwatch. It's barebones packed into a pretty well-crafted metal chassis. It's up to speed with all its specifications, too, as it runs on the same Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100 processor and 768MB of memory as the LG Watch Sport. It has 4GB of onboard storage for Google Play Music playlists on the go, as well as a built-in speaker for speakerphone, GPS, and a barometer. It's also IP67-rated for water resistant, too, and features removable watch bands — which is appreciated, considering the default silicone watch band that comes with the Quartz is stylistically limiting.

The ZTE Quartz isn't a bells and whistles kind of Android Wear smartwatch.

There is only one button the Quartz: a ridged crown located on the left upper corner of the device. It doesn't spin and scroll like the LG Watch Style's, but it is placed on a part of the chassis that's easier to access when wearing the watch.

The Quartz's most alluring feature its is comparatively huge 500mAh battery. If a long-lasting Android Wear smartwatch is on your wish list, but you don't want to spend too much, you'll want to give this particular wearable a look over. ZTE says the Quartz can last up to 36 hours, which is just enough to make it back home for a charge after a rowdy night on the town.

ZTE's first major smartwatch is lacking a few marquee features, though that's the compromise for its cheaper price. To keep its thickness at a minimum — for reference, it's 0.3mm thicker than the LG Watch Sport — ZTE left out a heart-rate monitor and an NFC chip, which would have enabled Android Pay. And though it's compatible with GSM networks, the Quartz is limited to 3G connectivity.

The Quartz also charges on an antiquated MicroUSB-connected dock. This decision was likely made in an effort to keep the overall cost of the Quartz as affordable as possible, but it feels like a stumble backward as the rest of the industry is moving forward with USB Type-C. It's certainly not a deal breaker, but it is an annoyance.

Coming soon

A pretty basic smartwatch.

ZTE has made its business on affordable smartphones, and now it's hedging its bets on smartwatches. The wearables market may have slowed down a bit in sales, but ZTE's is hoping its connected watch will attract any early adopters in search for a cheap entry point. For $199, the Quartz offers 3G connectivity on your wrist through T-Mobile, a longer battery life than its competitors, and a relatively abbreviated design chassis that's malleable enough for anyone to style.

The ZTE Quartz is on sale exclusively at T-Mobile on April 21. You can pre-order it starting April 14. And in the meantime, we have a review in the works, so stay tuned.…

Read more: ZTE Quartz is an affordable Android Wear smartwatch with 3G and a huge battery

Get a two-year subscription to one of the leading VPN services for only $51

Online privacy is slowly but surely eroding, and it doesn't seem like the general public has much of a say in the matter. Some people don't mind having their activity spied on and sold for profit, but others would like to keep their matters to themselves, no matter how innocent they are.

How is it possible to protect some bit of online privacy? With a VPN! It acts as a sort of encrypted tunnel that masks your internet activity. While there are many free VPN services out there, you have no idea who is controlling the server, and thus can't trust them. You might have to pay, but paid VPN services are always better.

Right now, Android Central Digital Offers has a deal on a two-year subscription to Private Internet Access, one of the best VPN services in the world. Instead of paying $166, you'll pay only $60. That's 64% off the regular price. What's more, you can use the code PIA15 at checkout to get an additional 15% off, bringing the total price down to $50.96.

Private Internet Access VPN does not log any user information, it blocks ads, trackers, and malware, and you can use it on up to five devices at once. There is no limit to bandwidth, and transfer speeds are always fast.…

Read more: Get a two-year subscription to one of the leading VPN services for only $51