Tuesday, February 21, 2017

This Chrome extension blocks audio and video autoplay on any website, especially Facebook

To the dismay of netizens across the world, last week Facebook announced plans to start autoplaying audio on videos as you scroll through your timeline. But fret no more as there’s an app that can block all the independent cacophony – on Facebook and everywhere else.

Available for Chrome and Opera, ‘Disable HTML5 Autoplay’ is a nifty browser extension that lets you block automatic audio and video before it has even started playing. In addition to Chrome and Opera, creator Eloston says the plugin is slated to also land on Firefox in the near future.

What’s particularly nifty about the extension is that it works on Facebook as well as any other website that runs videos automatically. Anytime Disable HTML5 Autoplay prevents a video from playing, it indicates this in the upper right corner of your browser, where the rest of your extensions reside.

For those who want to enable audio and video autoplay on certain pages or websites, the extension comes with a handy ‘Mode Rules List’ that lets you do just that. While it isn’t as straightforward as using a standard ‘whitelist’ option, it does provide an equivalent functionality. Here are some instructions on how to use it.

While the extension has been around since last year, the recent introduction of autoplay video with sound in Facebook and a heap of other websites has made it ever more relevant.

In case you’re curious to have a look at the code for Disable HTML5 Autoplay, Eloston has open-sourced the extension on GitHub. Head to this repository for more details.

Stop the autoplay madness and get the extension from the Chrome Web Store here.

Buy Snap's (formerly Snapchat) Spectacles online now instead of chasing a big yellow vending machine

Snap is now selling Spectacles online in the United States. The funky $129 Snapchat sunglasses with a built-in camera were announced in the fall, and for a while they were pretty hard to get, but the company has now closed up the pop-up shop in New York City. It’s also putting the traveling vending machines on hold — though Snap says the “Snapbots” will still show up in “surprising” locations in the future. Customers are limited to six Spectacles purchases per household when ordering via the web.

It’s not a surprising move — Snap let loose that it wanted to “significantly broaden the distribution of Spectacles” when it filed for an IPO a few weeks ago — but it is basically a necessary one. While the Snapbots were an exciting experience, it couldn’t have been cheap to truck them around the country. And once the novelty (and scarcity) of Spectacles wore off, the NYC pop-up shop started to look awfully empty.

Spectacles probably aren’t going to make Snap a ton of money, even now that they’re available online. But every little bit will help.

Samsung Galaxy S8 leaks confirms no front facing physical buttons and a massive screen

While there has been little shortage in leaks and rumors surrounding the Galaxy S8 from Samsung, actual photos have been somewhat limited. That all changed yesterday, though, with an account on Twitter posting up four pictures of what appear to be the 2017 flagship.

From this set of photos we can gather quite a bit of intel, something we can’t always say. First up, in the photo that has the device’s display lit, we can see an actual on-screen button on the bottom of the front. So, yes, on-screen buttons on the Galaxy S8. Hype.

Also concerning the display, we can see that an always-on option is available, seen in a couple of these photos. This feature is not new to the Galaxy S line by any means, but it does look to be coming back on the S8.

Moving along, on the top frontside, get a load of the sensors and camera(s?). Flanking the top speaker are six holes, all filled of different gizmos. Does this confirm that Samsung will equip the Galaxy S8 with an iris scanner? Technically, no, but considering the company probably has thousands of modules sitting around from the Galaxy Note 7, it does seem likely. We also have to note that the top frontside aligns pretty well with what the Galaxy Note 7 featured.

The last bit of detail I can see concerns the display. Looking it over, it seems quite clear that the Galaxy S8 could feature rounded corners, just like the LG G6. Samsung is no stranger to this curved display design, so it should be interesting to hear its possible explanation as to why they are just now wanting to implement this change.

Naturally, this photo dump doesn’t include a shot of the backside, meaning we are still curious about the exact positioning of the fingerprint reader. I'm still pretty nervous about it.

<- top of device / bottom of device ->

Look over the photos, then share your thoughts below.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The reasoning why the four major cell carriers came back to unlimited data plans

It’s been a weird week in the world of major cell providers. After years of moving away from offering unlimited plans after the rise of data-hungry smartphones, Verizon announced out of the blue on Sunday that it would be offering a new unlimited plan to customers again. T-Mobile, who had previously led the way by removing tiered data back in January, updated its own unlimited plan to match. The move was followed by Sprint and AT&T by the end of the week.

Verizon’s unexpected move in offering unlimited data — for the first time since discontinuing the plan back in 2011 — seems to be the factor that caused the rest of the carriers to follow suit. But the question remains: why? Verizon has famously spent the past several years doing everything in its power to limit and raise prices on the last few grandfathered unlimited plans. It even recently ran a TV ad campaign arguing that unlimited data plans were costly and cause consumers to pay for data they’d never use.

So what prompted this about-face that offers not just its first real unlimited plan in over half a decade, but one with prices and perks so generous that T-Mobile, Sprint, and (to a lesser extent) AT&T spent the week scrambling to match it?

The simple answer is competition. T-Mobile, for all its underdog nipping at Verizon’s heels, is slowly catching up to Verizon — while it still doesn’t have nearly the customer base, T-Mobile is at the very least putting up a fight with Verizon when it comes to coverage, speed, and reliability.

“Verizon’s perceived network advantage is no longer strong enough to keep its best customers on unattractive rate plans and it was forced to respond,” reports BTIG analyst Walter Piecyk, which, along with T-Mobile announcing a record porting ratio against Verizon in Q1 2017, may explain Verizon’s sudden change in attitude.

That’s supported by T-Mobile’s own reports — the company specifically noted that porting rates from all other carriers have improved since it started only offering unlimited plans with taxes and fees included in the plan price on January 22nd. Last quarter, T-Mobile also gained around 1.2 million new subscribers, nearly doubling Verizon’s 591,000 new customers. Verizon has also experienced a decline in wireless revenue every quarter in 2016 when compared to the numbers from 2015, while T-Mobile saw year-over-year growth in the same time period.

After Verizon dropped the news, everything else was reactionary. The company announced an unlimited plan to better keep up with T-Mobile, which is generally viewed as more consumer-friendly and increasingly competitive. Less than 24 hours later, T-Mobile upgrades its own unlimited plan to match Verizon’s, and adds HD video streaming and 10GB of LTE tethering along with a limited-time discount. Sprint, which previously offered a more restrictive unlimited plan similar to T-Mobile, adds similar tethering and HD video features, with an even cheaper deal (albeit a temporary one) to try and stand out from the crowd.

Comparing the plans by feature, Verizon and T-Mobile have roughly the same offerings — unlimited, full-speed data on everything, including HD video and 10GB of LTE tethering backed by unlimited 3G speeds. T-Mobile was quick to one-up Verizon in a few ways: it de-prioritizes data after 28GB are consumed compared to Verizon’s 22GB soft cap, and currently is the cheaper plan at $70 for a single line, $100 for two, and $160 for four lines (including all taxes and fees). Verizon, on the other hand, charges $80 for one line, $140 for two, and $180 for four.

Sprint’s is a watered-down version of that: unlimited data, but game streaming is capped at 8Mbps speeds. While music tops out at 1.5Mbps, the plan does offer HD video. Once you’ve used up your 10GB of LTE tethering, Sprint bumps down to 2G speeds, not 3G. Still, it’s currently the cheapest, starting at limited-time promotion of $50 per month (plus taxes and fees) alongside an even more spectacular deal that gets five lines for $95 (plus taxes and fees) per month. Both of those prices will only last until March 31st, 2018, after which they go up.

As for AT&T? It seems it’s not keen on playing the game. The company previously only offered a $100 per month (plus taxes and fees) unlimited plan, but only to DirecTV customers. Following the announcement of improved unlimited plans from other major carriers this week, AT&T made that unlimited plan open to everyone, but it’s still the most expensive and least featured of all the four major carriers. It looks as if AT&T is simply trying to maintain an appearance of feature parity to keep their existing customer base satisfied.

And on a purely speculative note, it’s possible the shift to unlimited plans now could be a savvy move by carriers as the future 5G transition somewhere down the line begins. By offering unlimited 4G internet now, carriers can get the loyalty and service of new customers with plans that in all likelihood won’t transfer over to the new, faster standard. But given that any kind of usable, consumer 5G is still years away, this isn’t really anything more than an interesting observation for now.

Looking at this past week, one thing is clear: competition is good for consumers — at least on the surface level. When forced to operate in an actual, open market where consumers have access to multiple services and can choose between them, companies are forced to improve their services they offer. It’s a lesson that we can only hope one day trickles to wired internet as well.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Unlimited Data in 2017: Verizon vs AT&T vs T-Mobile vs Sprint

So it’s 2017 and unlimited data is officially back at all of the major US carriers. (Don’t even try to tell me that you saw this coming.) It seemed like just days ago we were paying a hundred dollars for 2GB and 4GB of data and having our grandfathered unlimited data plans ripped from our cold, crusty, fingers with the shadiest of moves. But hey, we’re not about to complain that we can all get back on unlimited data for some decent prices. 

As you know, T-Mobile kicked off this new unlimited wave a few months ago with T-Mobile ONE before Sprint jumped in with their own take. Both plans had some pretty major issues out of the gate, a couple of which T-Mobile has attempted to address. And then, this weekend, Verizon said, “We’re bringing unlimited back!” Their plan, as it turns out, was more or less a better implementation than what T-Mobile and Sprint had done, so those two have now copied Verizon’s idea in a matter of days. Finally, AT&T decided it couldn’t be left out, so it has announced that it will remove a single requirement from its lesser-known unlimited plan to make itself competitive in this new age.

There is a lot to consume concerning the four offerings from these carriers, so we decided that we would attempt to put together a simple chart that lays out the basics. Below, we attempt to breakdown the pricing in simple terms and even layout some of the asterisks of each feature. Keep in mind that we didn’t factor in network, as that is for you to decide.

Have fun.