Technology

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The Latest Highlights & Trends in Tech

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Nextbit launches the gorgeous, crowd-funded Robin phone

Kicking off a rather phone-heavy week in tech news, Nextbit has launched a new crowd-funded Android phone, which uses integrated cloud storage. The Robin was designed by Scott Croyle, former senior vice president of design and user experience at HTC, who joined Nextbit co-founders Tom Moss and Mike Chan, both of whom formerly worked at Android. The phone is launching to market following a successful Kickstarter campaign, which saw the team raise more than $1.3 million (£900,000) to fund the project. It has a 5.2” screen and fingerprint-activated power button, and is available on pre-order at a price of $399 (£279) and comes with 32GB of phone storage and 100GB of cloud storage.

We started with a rectangle. The simplicity of the shape inspired us, and we built Robin from there”

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Croyle said of the phone's design: “We started with a rectangle. The simplicity of the shape inspired us, and we built Robin from there. Clean lines, paired circles, eye-catching colours. Texture that feels great in your hand. Everything about the design is carefully planned to create harmony and balance, front and back, right and left, top and bottom. Square sides make Robin easy to grip while gently rounded edges give it comfort in hand. Robin’s weight is balanced so it always stays centred in your palm.” Croyle, who led the design, previously worked on the HTC One M7 and M8 phones. He joined Nextbit as chief design and product officer in 2014.

Aston Martin set to release an Electric Car

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Aston Martin is teaming up with Faraday Future and technology company LeEco produce an electric version of the Rapide S, a car that was announced last year with the promise of 800 horsepower and a 200-mile range. The “RapidE” is currently planned for release sometime in 2018. Faraday, a Chinese-backed electric car company, showed off its own impressive model earlier this year. The FFZero1 concept car looked bonkers, but it also promised a semi-modular design that allowed nearly any car body to be laid over it. With that kind of swish technology, things certainly go well for the brand most commonly associated with extreme wealth and James Bond.

The Week in Apple

Another busy week in Apple land. The company unveiled their new Trade Up programme for US markets, which gives people the option of trading in their old iPhone and paying a monthly fee that's cheaper than the company's ongoing iPhone upgrade plan. You simple decide to upgrade from your iPhone 6 to the iPhone 6S, and the resulting monthly payment ends up being about $15 for 24 months. Or, if you're going from the iPhone 4 to the 128 GB iPhone 6S Plus, you'll end up paying roughly $35/month. There are no exact prices available for how the trade-up will work, but you'll basically be paying around $15 if you're going from one iPhone to the one that directly succeeded it. Interestingly enough, Apple's new program is also open to Android and Windows phones, and if you don't want to trade in your current device for an iPhone, there's the option to ask for credit as well. Credit for iPhones varies by models and size, while Apple will offer up to $300 for Android and Windows devices.

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It was reported earlier this month that iPhones repaired by anyone but Apple were being bricked by the company's iOS 9 update. This week, the company has supplied not only a fix, but an apology as well. The updated version of iOS 9.2.1 will restore phones previously rendered useless by Error 53. If your device was bricked by Error 53, Apple has provided instructions on how to update. This fix, however, won't restore Touch ID for devices repaired anywhere but Apple, because apparently, allowing Touch ID to work without an official Apple repair centre both verifying that it is legitimate and recalibrating the cable to work with your iPhone’s Secure Enclave is a huge potential security risk. So it seems that iff you're iPhone is on the fritz and you're interested in keeping Touch ID functionality, you're going to have to bite the bullet and take it into your local Apple store.

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In other Apple news, the Cupertino-based company is going against the FBI's order to create a backdoor for the iPhone. The order is part of an ongoing investigation regarding an act of terrorism in San Bernardino, California, in December. Using the All Writs Act of 1789 to justify its actions, the government is demanding Apple create a new operating system in which certain security measures are bypassed, and passwords can be entered electronically, making it easier to unlock an iPhone. According to Apple CEO Tim Cook, which would give the FBI the ability to “Reach into anyone's device to capture their data.” He added: “The government could extend this breach of privacy and demand that Apple build surveillance software to intercept your messages, access your health records or financial data, track your location, or even access your phone's microphone or camera without your knowledge.” The news took gained further social media traction when the ever-giving human joke that is Donald Trump tweeted a damning spiel towards Apple, reportedly claiming that he would never use another Apple product. He neglected to realise that Twitter clearly stated he tweeted this message from his iPhone. Classic Trump.

The Samsung Galaxy S7 looks like more of the same, and that's a good thing

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Samsung's next generation Galaxy phones both debuted this week during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. The Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge look nearly identical to the previous Galaxy S6 line of phones, only with a slightly more rounded look, a smaller camera hump and the inclusion of a microSD card slot. MicroSD storage (yes they are sticking with MicroSD) will be expandable up to 200GB. The headphone jack, speaker, and charging port still remain on the bottom of the phone. Both phones are also both dust and water resistant in much the same manner as the Sony Xperia series. The S7 will feature a 5.1” screen while the large S7 Edge will pack a 5.5” display. The S7 Edge features the same unique curved display that debuted with the S6 Edge, giving users quick access to apps, contacts, and information. Both phones will feature Super AMOLED quad HD displays (2560x1440), which is the same as the previous generation phones. While Sony has a 4K smartphone, most manufacturers are avoiding the battery-hungry screens for now.

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Both phones will feature always-on screen technology, similar to the just announced LG G5. The phones use AMOLED technology which allows only the needed pixels to be illuminated, so active notifications won't have a significant impact on battery life. For the camera, Samsung upgraded both phones with better low-light performing sensors. Samsung achieved this by bumping up the camera's aperture (f1.7) and added bigger pixels on the sensor, similar to HTC's strategy with it's M8 phone. The Samsung Galaxy S7 also features quicker auto focus to ensure you never miss a shot. Battery life will be improved with the new phones too, with the Galaxy S7 getting a 3,000mAh battery and the Galaxy S7 Edge getting 3,600mAh. The new processors in the Galaxy S7 phones boast high performance but will also run cooler by sing a tube that helps keep the phone cool in your hand. The Galaxy S7 and S7 edge will both be available starting March 11. Preorders will begin soon and Samsung is giving those who preorder a Gear VR headset for free. Not a bad deal at all!

3D printed body parts finally a reality!

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3D printing technology has been used to create everything from toys to food, but its potential application in medical science is definitely where the real potential in the technology lies. This weekend, researchers at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine successfully printed living tissue, the first of many important steps towards eventually constructing fully functional human organs. Head researcher Anthony Atala and his team use the Integrated Organ and Printing System (ITOP) to create living tissue capable of naturally integrating into the body. For example, a 3D printed human ear implanted under the skin of a mouse eventually generated its own blood vessels and cartilage. Fascinating stuff.

LG unveil the first mainstream Modular Smartphone

The LG G5 Modular Phone

The leaked images and news stories that LG’s G5 would be a modular smartphone were confirmed this week at the Mobile World Congress. Beyond being able to simply replace the battery (as is the case with all recent LG phones), the cartridge-like system of the G5 allows users to swap in accessories like a Hi-Fi digital to analog converter, camera attachment, and whatever the company cooks up in the future. At launch, you’ll be able to purchase two modular accessories, the LG CAM Plus and LG Hi-Fi Plus with B&O Play.

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The LG G5 features a unibody aluminium body with a fingerprint reader on the back, like the Nexus 6P. LG has moved the volume buttons that used to surround the power button on the back, and has located them to the left side of the phone. Also on the rear of the phone are two cameras; one standard lens and one 135-degree wide angle lens. The wide-angle lens will allow users to capture more of a scene without backing up. On the front, elegant curved glass gives the impression of a bezel-less display, and the 5.3” screen offers quad HD resolution and always-on notifications, meaning you can receive all of your notifications at a glance, without touching the phone. Powering this unique behemoth is the latest chip from Qualcomm, the Snapdragon 820. The processor supports 4K capture and playback and is optimised for VR content, which is fitting considering the company's recently announced LG 360 Cam. The LG G5 also features 4GB of RAM and 32GB of onboard storage with microSD expandable storage up to 2TB.

The revolutionary, flexible smartphone

ReFlex

ReFlex is exactly what it looks and sounds like; a prototype flexible smartphone that can be controlled simply by bending it. The device was made using a 720p LG Display Flexible OLED touch screen, an Android 4.4-powered board, and several bend sensors and haptic feedback motors. According to Roel Vertegaal, director of the Human Media Lab, the company that created this impressive (in theory) device, the haptic feedback allows for eyes-free navigation, making it easier for users to keep track of where they are in a document. The team's prototype was shown at the Conference on Tangible Embedded and Embodied Interaction in The Netherlands last. As for how long we'll have to wait for flexible smartphones, Vertegaal believes they'll be in people's hands within the next five years. So just in time for the iPhone 10!

Benjamin Hiorns is a freelance writer and struggling musician from Kidderminster in the UK.

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