HTC Asks its Fan Community to Combat Online Criticism, Offers Merchandise in Return

HTC’s latest U11 has been received with mixed reactions by the Android community. With good audio but no headphone jack and a new-ish design that scraps years of HTC’s expertise with metal, many fans and spectators threw quite a bit of skepticism its way.

There are many arguments one could make to discredit or devalue HTC’s new product, from its hardware decisions to its gimmicky “squeezing” features — and HTC knows this, so it found a way to at least combat it on online boards, comments sections and other social battlefields. According to information from their VIP community, presented in a reddit post, HTC has taken to ask its community of fans to duke it out online against dissenters of the phone in what we can only describe as literal shilling.

Image Credit: u/ShadowCodeGaming

Elevate is HTC’s private online community, members-only, for the company’s “top fans” and supporters. To join Elevate, you must request access by emailing HTC, and telling them why you are “HTC’s most passionate fan”. With admission requirements like those, you’d expect HTC Elevate members to be quite dedicated indeed. After all, they are the ones getting the latest product news, opportunities to access exclusive events or partner with HTC, and have direct access to HTC team members. But now, they are asking their users to “mobilize and combat some of the negative things out there about the U11”. As seen in the screenshot above, provided by reddit user u/ShadowCodeGaming, HTC wants users to post regularly in comments sections of blogs and social media, and then report back to Elevate so that they can keep track of the shilling.

Of course, HTC is actually rewarding people who go through that trouble (though, to be honest, if you are in a VIP HTC community, you’d probably do it for free), as they’ll be sending out “swag goodies” here and there to people who participate. The company doesn’t shy away from the implication that it encourages a network of shills, by saying that such actions are “what [elevate members] do best”, and calls it “sharing the good word about all things HTC — fanboy preaching, essentially.

We hope that this operation is limited in scope, and we’ll certainly keep an eye out for Elevate members in our comments sections from now on.

Google Pixel Now With Rs. 13,000 Cashback but Is It Worth It?



  • Pixel is available at an effective starting price of Rs. 44,000
  • However it still isn’t the best value for money
  • It’s worth considering only if you absolutely must have stock Android

The Google Pixel and Pixel XL are now available in India at a steep price cut via Flipkart and other retailers across the country thanks to a cashback offer. Now, this usually means you get your money back for purchases made via credit or debit cards issued by specific banks. But in a refreshing change, the Pixel and Pixel XL purchases made via cash will also be eligible. What this means is that you get a Rs. 13,000 instant discount on the smartphones.

A prominent retailer told Gadgets 360 that the reason why the phone is getting such a big discount is because there’s a lot of unsold inventory in India – a stark contrast to the US where the phones can’t be found. But are the Google Pixel phones worth buying at the new price, nearly seven months after their release?

The Google Pixel and Pixel XL have last year’s tech

At launch the Pixel and Pixel XL were the fastest in their class, toting the then top-of-the-line Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 SoC along with integrated Adreno 530 graphics, 4GB of RAM, and either 32GB or 128GB of internal storage. The Pixel XL has a 5.5-inch 1440×2560 pixels display, while the Pixel has a 5-inch panel at 1080×1920 pixels.

Seven months later, Google’s flagship isn’t really flagship material any more. The Samsung Galaxy S8and S8+ (review) both sport far more processing power, and they’re not alone. Xiaomi had launched the Mi 6 with faster, more efficient internals as well, and OnePlus’s new flagship is said to be around the corner as well.Google Pixel Now With Rs. 13,000 Cashback but Is It Worth It?

At the same time, flagships from brands like LG and Sony, while also sporting last year’s internals have made some interesting strides in camera tech, with the LG G6 sporting a dual camera setup and the Sony Xperia XZs cramming in a Motion Eye camera system, which essentially shrinks the tech found in cameras such as the Cybershot RX10 III, to fit inside a smartphone.

The Google Pixel and Pixel XL look dated

The newest flagships are moving to sleek bezel-less designs, as we saw at the launch of the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+. Google’s own industrial design looked familiar months ago, and it seems plain outdated today. Plus the mix of glass and metal on the back gives it an unfinished, inconsistent feel. All of this results in smartphones that are chunky, and even boring, considering what else is available in the price range today.

Even after a Rs. 13,000 price drop, the Google Pixel and Pixel XL are still expensive

Speaking of the price range, the Google Pixel carries a maximum retail price of Rs. 57,000 for the 32GB storage variant; if you want more storage, you’re going to have to put down Rs. 66,000. The Pixel XL Rs. 67,000 and Rs. 76,000, for the 32GB and 128GB models respectively.

The cashback offer means the Google Pixel will be available at an effective starting price of Rs. 44,000, which isn’t too bad. But most flagships with comparable specs have gotten deeper price cuts at the time of writing.

These include the LG G5 (Rs. 31,600), HTC 10 (Rs. 37,600), and the Sony Xperia XZs (Rs. 38,468), while the likes of the OnePlus 3T were cheaper than the Pixel and Pixel XL from launch itself, and continue to be cheaper even now.

Seven months after launch, some of the Google Pixel and Pixel XL’s biggest problems haven’t been fixed

In the smartphone world, seven months is a lifetime. Despite touting a best in class camera, its lens flare issue is yet to be resolved. In addition to this, Bluetooth pairing is still inconsistent and batteries in some units are prone to early shutdown. Don’t expect Google to be supportive either with some suggesting that after sales service, at least in India isn’t quite capable of fixing all issues.

For all of these reasons, it’s hard to justify a Google Pixel or Pixel XL today, even after the price cut. The only reason could be knowing that you’ll get the latest versions of Android ahead of everyone else – at least until October 2018. If that’s enough of a reason for you to spend at least Rs. 44,000, then your choice is pretty simple; for everyone else, the Pixel phones need to go the extra mile to get us on board.


Amazon’s Fire TV Stick is here, but the Indian Apps Just Don’t Seem Ready



  • Amazon has finally launched the Fire TV Stick in India
  • The launch was accompanied by a large number of Indian apps
  • Most of these offer a poor experience on the television screen

On Wednesday, Amazon launched its Fire TV Stick in India, priced at Rs. 3,999 (there’s a Rs. 499 cashback for Prime members), which means that for the first time since the launch of Amazon Prime Video in India four months ago in December, there’s an easy way to get your content on to the television screen. Of course, that’s not all the Fire TV Stick does – you can install apps for Netflix, Hotstar, Gaana, Eros Now, DittoTV, and others, though, at 8GB, storage space is a little limited on the Fire TV Stick.

Although you could import a Fire TV or Fire TV Stick to India before this, there were limitations. For one, there were almost no Indian apps available, so if you wanted to watch the IPL on Hotstar, for example, then you were out of luck.

And of course, Amazon’s own Prime Video wasn’t supported. What’s more, the service wasn’t available on other devices that support it internationally, such as game consoles. Yes, you could AirPlay it onto an Apple TV if you have an iOS device, but not many people in India live wholly inside Apple’s ecosystem. With the official launch of the Fire TV Stick in India, that’s changed, and you can now queue up an episode of The Man in the High Castle without having to use your phone to force it to launch, but most of the new Indian apps leave a lot to be desired.

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amazon fire tv stick story

Poor design not optimised for televisions
The Fire TV stick is great if you’re a Prime Video subscriber who also uses Netflix and YouTube. These are easily our favourite services on the platform, because of how aesthetically pleasing and simple to use they are.

On the other hand, out of the various Indian applications that we tried after the announcement on Wednesday, only Gaana’s music stream app seems like one that doesn’t need a complete overhaul. The app’s fairly basic, but the search works fine, the different UI elements are at least clearly readable, and the UI is easy to navigate with the Fire TV remote. Meanwhile one of the worst experiences was while using Hotstar.

On one hand, given Hotstar’s catalogue and relatively reasonable pricing, we’re happy to see it as a Fire TV app. On the other hand, the UI is practically an incitement to violence. Scrolling through is not smooth, the focus seems to get ‘stuck’ at times when you’re nearing the edges of the screen, requiring one or sometimes even two extra keypresses to continue to scroll, and there are times when it’s is even more inconsistent.

hotstar tv ui hotstar

Sometimes, for example, you’re trying to scroll down the list of categories on the home screen, and the focus will jump up to the categories bar on the top of the screen, so you’re now on the Sports tab. Tapping the left or right keys at this point is fine, but tap down again, and you’re back to scrolling through the list you were on.

Sometimes, pressing the back button will take you to the categories bar. At other times, it will ask you if you want to exit Hotstar. Accurately scrubbing is next to impossible, and there are no subtitles available.


A clear lack of testing
We tried out a number of other apps – having used an imported Fire TV for a couple of years we’ve got a fair amount of exposure to how apps can and should look on the device.

What we found was that just about every other app had some issues. For example, although Hotstar was definitely the worst experience, DittoTV also suffered from poor navigation, and felt more like something that was designed for mobile displays – and touchscreens.

Eros Now was the best looking app, but there were a couple of major shortcomings that keep us from wholeheartedly praising it. For one, there’s no search function in the application, which is pretty much unforgivable. Secondly, the content is a little too small to read easily on the screen. It looks like you should either be watching it on a big, 70-inch display, or you should be sitting just two feet away from the television.

eros now ui eros now

This led to – for example – looking at the Rangeela poster thinking, “this doesn’t look like I remember”, and on loading you realise it’s actually the poster for Rangeeley. In that case, it wasn’t just the title text under the poster that was too small to be seen – that’s the case with every entry on Eros Now – but also the text on the poster itself. Finally, a minor quibble – in the settings the first option is select languages. The only choice in there is ‘All languages’, which makes us wonder why the option was added at all.

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Things will get better
The good thing about all of this is that apps can and likely will be updated, and get better. And unlike the Apple TV, which is expensive and – according to completely unofficial estimates – doesn’t have a wide install base in India, Amazon’s offering is relatively cheap. Add in the fact that it’s the ‘official’ – and for many, the only – way to watch Amazon Prime Video on your TV, and Prime Video itself is a service that’s pretty reasonably priced, you can see a number of people being interested in the Fire TV Stick.

And if there are users, then the developers will also be motivated to improve their offerings and provide better solutions. What’s surprising though is why Amazon, which has been in this business for some time now, didn’t work more closely with the developers to ensure that the first experience people have with its hardware doesn’t have these kinds of issues.


Instagram launches mobile web sharing to pursue global growth


Instagram wants to be the photo app for the whole world, even if you can’t or won’t download it. In pursuit of international growth where networks are slow and data is expensive, Instagram has given its mobile website a massive upgrade that adds core features of the main app, including photo sharing and a lightweight version of the Explore tab.

You can now post photos from Instagram’s mobile website

Until now, users could could only browse, Like, follow, search, and see notifications on the stripped-down mobile web site and desktop site. There’s still no posting from the desktop site. But in March Instagram began adding sharing from mobile web, and the Explore tab is rolling out there now. The features missing on mobile web are video uploads, filters, Stories, and Direct Messaging.

Spotted by Matt Navarra, we asked Instagram about the new mobile web features. The company tells TechCrunch, “ (accessed from mobile) is a web experience optimized for mobile phones. It’s designed to help people have a fuller experience on Instagram no matter what device or network they are on.”

The mobile web launch ties in with Instagram’s global growth strategy aimed at the 80% of its users outside the US. Other product updates in this vein include web sign-up, a better on-boarding flow for low-end Android users, and the recent addition of offline functionality. These helped Instagram speed through the 700 million monthly user mark. It added its last 100 million in just 4 months after averaging 9 months per 100 million users for several years.

Many users in the developing world may not have a fast enough cellular network to conveniently download Instagram’s app. Their phones don’t always have enough storage to download it without sacrificing other apps or content. And the data cost of downloading the app can be prohibitive.

With the exanded mobile web version, users can skip the app download’s wait time, data costs, and storage needs while still getting the basic functionality. The launch begs the question of whether Instagram will release an Instagram Lite version of its native app, like the data transfer-minimizing Facebook Lite app that has reached 200 million users, and the new Messenger Lite app.

Instagram mobile web now lets you post and check out a lightweight version of the Explore tab

For now, though, mobile web could help Instagram stay a step ahead of its top competitor, Snapchat. Since Snapchat is so video-heavy, and Snap Inc hasn’t prioritized building for lower-monetizing international markets and Android users, its app doesn’t work as well in the developing world. Snap has left the door open for Instagram to become the defacto visual communication app for these countries. Instagram has exploited that with its Snapchat Stories clone, which at 200 million daily actives has more users than Snapchat’s whole app.

Eventually, as mobile networks and cheap Android phones improve, Instagram might be able to squeeze more revenue out of developing markets. And until then, global growth drives the network effect that keeps people locked into Instagram.

As social networks hit saturation in top western markets, they must rethink how to make their apps work better elsewhere. Even if they’re far away and compute differently than we do, these users can’t be ignored.


Snapchat launches Bitmoji widget chat shortcuts for your home screen

Snapchat is doubling down on private messaging as Instagram and Facebook Messenger clone and steal usage from its Stories feature.

Now you can instantly start chatting with your best friends on Snapchat. Instead of digging a chat thread out of Snapchat, users can select their favorite friends, create Bitmoji widgets for them with their personalized avatars and click them from their iOS Today screen or Android home screen to launch straight into a chat with that friend. A Snap spokesperson confirmed the feature launch to TechCrunch.

Snapchat first started testing this last week in Android beta but today it rolls out to everyone thanks to an iOS and Android app update. Snap acquired Bitmoji in March 2016 for $64.2 million to allow you to make avatars that look like you and send them as stickers in Snapchat.

To add Bitmoji widgets on iOS, swipe right from your home screen to the Today screen where you see your existing widgets. Scroll down to “Edit,” add Snapchat and your “Snapchat Best Friends” (based on your interaction) who have created personalized Bitmoji avatars for themselves will automatically appear as widgets on the home screen. Tapping the widgets launches a chat with them. On Android, you tap and hold on an empty part of your home page, select “Widgets,” choose Snapchat and choose up to four friends to make into home screen widgets.

While Facebook might be throwing all its might behind cloning Snapchat Stories, it hasn’t so aggressively copied the disappearing messages that Snapchat started with. By redoubling its efforts in chat, Snap could entrench itself as the most casual, low-pressure way to talk with friends since all messages delete themselves by default.

As Messenger’s bots lose steam, Facebook pushes menus over chat

Facebook’s Messenger bots may not be having the impact the social network desired. Just yesterday, online retailer Everlane, one of the launch partners for the bot platform, announced it was ditching Messenger for customer notifications and returning to email. Following this, Facebook today announced an upgraded Messenger Platform, which introduces a new way for users to interact with bots: via simple persistent menus, including those without the option to chat with the bot at all.

One of the problems with Facebook’s bots is that it’s often unclear how to get started. The directory of bots in Messenger wasn’t initially available and now only reveals itself when you start a search in the app. And it hasn’t always been obvious how to get a bot talking, once added, or how to navigate back and forth through a bot’s many sections.

The Messenger platform update today tackles this latter problem, by offering an alternative to the more limited – and sometimes confusing – systems that were previously available.

Instead of forcing users to talk with a bot, developers can choose to create a persistent menu that allows for multiple, nested items as a better way of displaying all the bots’ capabilities in a simple interface.


The new persistent menus are limited to three items at the top-level, and its sub-menus are now limited to five. Before, if users wanted to engage with a menu like this, they often had to engage in conversations with the bot to discover the various sections and items.

Now, Facebook suggests to developers that they “consider stripping such exchanges down and cutting to the chase by putting the most important features in your menu.

For example, a retailer’s bot might offer menu options that let you “go shopping,” “ask questions,” or “send messages.” If you clicked into the shopping section, the menu could update with a list of items to drill down into, like tops, bottoms, shoes and accessories.

Along with webviews – like, the product page for the shirt you want to buy, for example – the new experience feels more like navigating a mobile website within Messenger, instead of using a bot.


Also new is that developers can now choose to hide the composer screen, and forgo allowing customers to have a conversational experience in the bot entirely.

I guess we can’t call them chatbots anymore?

The question this leads to, of course, is whether or not any of this is necessary. If Facebook’s bots become more like mobile sites, what’s the point of using them in Messenger at all?


It feels like Facebook is going the wrong direction here. Messenger seems poised to be the company’s breakout platform for voice-based computing and voice-powered virtual assistants, but the company hasn’t put much focus on those emerging technologies.

While it acquired voice and natural language startup in 2015, it hasn’t done much publicly with voice computing, beyond testing having Facebook turn voice clips into text during chat sessions.

Today, you can’t connect the dots between Messenger and its many bots just by speaking. That is, it seems like you should be able to say to Messenger, “what’s the latest from CNN?” or “will it rain today?,” then have the appropriate bot respond. But this is not the case.

Meanwhile, Facebook also toyed around with “M,” a virtual assistant inside Messenger, but this has yet to launch to more than a handful of testers.

None of today’s other Messenger platform updates focus on these technologies, either.

Instead, the larger update to version 1.4 includes things like expanded sharing capabilities that could help bots gain more exposure; tools to better match businesses’ customer lists to Messenger’s user base; a handful of new APIs; improved analytics; and other tweaks and features catering to specific developers’ needs.

Facebook, meanwhile, is quickly becoming one of the largest tech companies without a clear path to the voice computing-powered future, where others like Apple, Google, Amazon, and Samsung are today intensely competing. But with over a billion active Messenger users, Facebook has the luxury of taking the time to figure things out.

Google Home or Amazon Echo may replace your landline soon

After smartphones ousted landlines, their usage is seen diminishing with time, but some companies which have their focus on home speakers might soon change this. According to a report by The Wall Street Journal, Google and Amazon are already considering to add the ability to make and receive voice calls to companies’ through Home and Echo devices respectively.

Domotics gearing up

Companies are already planning to equip technologies in smart home products that would allow users to control lights and other smart appliances, stream music and order groceries online. Seems like in future a single home product would control the entire home? Isn’t it?

Also, the other great thing is that these speakers will help you to charge your phone easy, while your phone sits on charging mode.

Will this work?

However the main question is how would the companies integrate call services through the speakers, nowadays calling services through speakers are provided via Bluetooth. Also, dedicated Voice over IP applications like Hangouts and Duo would require time to provide the application.

But for Amazon, the prospect of pulling off the ‘new call-speakers technology’ is bleak at the moment, as the company has just launched a new app for video conferencing. Reportedly, it is considering multiple approach to this problem, including merging users’ contact information from their paired phone, integrating third-party apps like Skype and perhaps giving your Echo its own number.

For now, we can’t predict what will happen but the thought of having your phone aside on charging while you’re talking to someone through your smart home device seems interesting for the moment. The only concern is how good will it be.

Microsoft Urges US Court to Block Warrant for Emails Held Abroad

Microsoft Corp asked a federal appeals court on Wednesday to block the U.S. government from forcing the company to hand over a customer’s emails stored on an Irish server, warning that the precedent would create a “global free-for-all” that eviscerates personal privacy.

The case, the first in which a U.S. company has challenged a warrant seeking data held abroad, has captured the attention of the technology industry, privacy advocates and news organizations.

The appeal is centred on a search warrant seeking the emails of an individual in Dublin, as part of a drug investigation. The person has not been identified.

Joshua Rosenkranz, a lawyer for Microsoft, warned the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York that upholding the warrant would open the door to other countries using their law enforcement powers to seize the emails of Americans held in the United States.

“We would go crazy if China did this to us,” Rosenkranz said.

But Justin Anderson, a lawyer for the government, said U.S. law enforcement can obtain electronic information held by American companies with a valid warrant, regardless of where the data happens to be stored.

“It’s not a question of ownership,” he said, likening it to seizing account records from a bank. “It’s about custody and control.”

Nearly 100 organizations and individuals filed briefs in support of Microsoft’s position, including tech giants like Apple Inc , Verizon Communications Inc and Cisco Systems Inc and media companies like McClatchy Co and Gannett Co Inc .

The three-judge panel directed tough questions at both sides, giving little indication of how it will eventually rule.

The statute at issue, the Stored Communications Act, was enacted in 1986, decades before providers like Microsoft began building servers abroad to improve speed.

The question is whether the warrant is an “extraterritorial” application of the law, as Microsoft contends, or whether the fact that U.S.-based Microsoft employees can retrieve the data means the statute is being used only within the United States, as the government argues.

“This was a pre-CompuServe, pre-AOL world” when the law was passed, Rosenkranz said, urging the court to leave it to Congress to close what he said was a gap in the law.

Circuit Judge Gerald Lynch agreed that legislative action would be best but noted wryly that Congress does not always act quickly.

“We’ll all be holding our breath,” he said with a smile.

The case is In the Matter of a Warrant to Search a Certain E-mail Account Controlled and Maintained by Microsoft Corp, 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 14-2985.

Amazon Jumps Into Restaurant Delivery in Seattle


Online retailer Amazon Inc said on Tuesday it will begin offering its own restaurant delivery service to Prime members in Seattle, marking its first push into an increasingly crowded market for meal delivery known for razor-thin margins.

Amazon customers will be able to order food from dozens of restaurants in the Seattle area using the company’s Prime Now app – with the delivery service coming at no extra charge.

Prime Now, launched last December in New York, promises one and two-hour delivery of tens of thousands of products and the new meal service is another way to add value to Amazon’s $99-a year Prime membership program, a core growth area for the company. Analysts estimate that there are more than 40 million Prime members worldwide.

The e-commerce company has dabbled in restaurant services in the past, allowing customers to order food through its platform Amazon Local, but those deliveries were handled by the merchants themselves.

Amazon’s decision to use its own fleet of drivers to carry out meal deliveries pits it against established players like GrubHub Inc as well as newer rivals like Uber, which has expanded its own meal delivery service in cities like San Francisco and Austin.

Gus Lopez, general manager of Amazon Restaurants, told Reuters customers will be able to order food from restaurants without paying additional service or delivery fees, while restaurants will get access to Amazon’s delivery network. Amazon will take a cut of profits from orders received by partner restaurants.

“We are going to learn a lot from starting in Seattle – an important part of the customer experience is having a range of selection from quality restaurants,” said Lopez. Amazon declined to say when it planned to expand the service to new markets.

Amazon has been hiring staff for a division dedicated to restaurants in Seattle and New York, according to a Reuters search of LinkedIn and company’s job postings. Several open job postings indicated that the company is interested in rapidly expanding meal delivery services across the country.

Amazon said locations mentioned in recent job postings did not necessarily indicate new markets slated for an expansion to restaurant food delivery services.

Prime Now is currently available in 11 markets including Chicago, Atlanta and London.

Microsoft Buys Cloud Computing Security Startup Adallom

Microsoft said Tuesday it bought an Israel-based cyber-security startup specializing in defending programs and content in the cloud, as it expands offerings for the enterprise.

Microsoft did not disclose how much it paid for Adallom, but the website TechCrunch put the purchase price at $250 million.

The acquisition comes as Microsoft responds to the trend toward cloud-based computing, in which data or software is accessed remotely over the Internet.

Microsoft built its revenue selling packaged programs such as its widely used Office software for business or home computers, but the tech giant is shifting to offering that software through cloud-based subscriptions.

Adallom helps customers “protect critical assets across cloud applications,” Microsoft vice president Takeshi Numoto said in a blog post announcing the acquisition.

“With more frequent and advanced cyber-security attacks continuing to make headlines, customer concerns around security remain top of mind. These concerns pose real challenges for IT, who are charged with protecting company data in this rapidly evolving mobile-first, cloud-first world.”

Adallom works with cloud-based applications such as Salesforce, Dropbox and Microsoft’s own Office 365. The three-year-old startup’s technology will be used in other Microsoft offerings as well, such as its Enterprise Mobility Suite and Advanced Threat Analytics.

News of the acquisition came the same day Microsoft announced it is expanding its partnership withDell to widen the array of Windows 10-powered devices and services for businesses.

A strong part of the push centered on Microsoft Surface Pro tablets and accessories, which Dell will start selling in Canada and the United States through an online shop at

More markets will be added early next year, according to the companies.

“Our global enterprise customers have asked us to match the Surface Pro 3 and Windows 10experience with enterprise-grade support and services and our partnerships like this one with Dell will do just that,” Microsoft chief Satya Nadella said in a release.

The Dell partnership kicked off a “Surface Enterprise Initiative,” and Microsoft is out to build on the popularity of its business software to make Surface the preferred tablet for businesses.

The move comes a day ahead of a media event by Apple, widely expected to unveil a new tablet aimed at businesses which could cut into the market for Surface.

Microsoft said this month it will ramp up the business capabilities of its Windows 10 operating system, which was recently released as a free upgrade and powers some 75 million devices.