Friday, 14 February 2014

Google Releases New Tools For Game Developers: 2D Physics Library And Play Games Plugin For Unity


Today, in a post on the Android Developers Blog, Google announced two new tools that might be of interest to quite a few of the game developers out there. Among the releases is a new open-source 2D physics library called LiquidFun and a Unity plugin for adding Google Play Games support. These releases coincide with the news of additional game categories coming to the Play Store in February, which we covered earlier today.
LiquidFun is a rigid-body physics library that does particularly well with fluid mechanics. It's based on Box2D, a popular open-source 2D physics engine written in C++ that has found its way onto quite a few platforms and spawned a few similar engines over the years. Like Box2D, LiquidFun is highly portable and already has support and sample code for Android, Linux, OS X, and Windows.
For the Unity developers in the audience, you can be pretty excited for the new Google Play Games plugin. In this first release, the plugin adds access to the Google Play Games API for sign-in, achievements, leaderboards, and cloud saves. Both Android and iOS are already supported, and this code is also open-source. Given the popularity of Unity, this should lead to a significant uptake in the number of games sporting the Play Games badge.
If you're interested in using either of these tools, start up your IDEs and check out either projects' github repositories for more details!

Black 32 GB Nexus 5 Back In Stock At US Google Play Store, Shipping In 1-2 Days [Updated]

imageFollowing on the heels of the white 32 GB Nexus 5, the black 32 GB version is now in stock on the US Google Play Store, leaving the warehouse in 1-2 days. If you weren't able to get your hands on a black 32 GB Nexus 5 originally, now's your chance. If you're in the market for a new phone, the Nexus 5 is certainly an attractive option with its hefty hardware specs and comparatively low price. In case you need a refresher, here's what $399 buys for you:
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 clocked at 2.26 GHz
  • 2 GB of RAM
  • 32 GB of storage
  • 8 megapixel rear camera / 1.3 megapixel front camera
  • 4.95" 1920x1080 display (445 ppi) full HD display
  • Unlockable bootloader
  • Android 4.4/KitKat with updates direct from Google
  • Carrier-unlocked and compatible with AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint.
Since the darling of Android power users is yours for the picking, this would probably be a good time to read our Nexus 5 review, as well. Get them while they're hot!
Update 12/11/13 7:54pm PT: The Play Store already shows "Leaves warehouse by December 13, 2013." You guys are quick.
Source: Google Play

Plants Vs. Zombies 2 Gets A Massive Update With Turbo Mode, A New World, Gigantic Zombies, And No More Stars Or Gates

2013-10-23 22.57.31
Plants vs. Zombies 2 came out a few weeks ago with a lot of new gameplay mechanics and some in-app purchases. I didn't have a serious issue with most of the monetization in the game, but Pop Cap has just pushed an update that adds a ton of features and does away with a big chunk of the in-app purchase features.
For whatever reason, Pop Cap included a somewhat vague changelog that doesn't fully explain how huge the changes are. Here's what it has to say:
  • We've upgraded the map to make game progression quicker and easier.
  • It's simpler to know how much you've done, where you're going, and what loot you'll get along the way.
  • You can invite your friends and send ‘em gifts.
  • Use the Turbo button to speed up your planting – and speed up the zombies.
  • Be warned: when we were upgrading the map, somebody let in the Gargantuars.
Let's start with that map – when they said "upgraded" they meant "completely scrapped the old one." All the gates in the original maps are gone and there are no more keys. The new maps are completely linear and you can access everything without farming keys or paying money. If you had unused keys saved up, the game will automatically award you coins for them. The stars that control access to new worlds are also gone – when you finish all the stages, you move on to the next world.
 2013-12-12 03.56.26
Left: Old map, Right: New map
While the new maps are much simpler, you will have gaps in the levels if you've played through any of the game. This is because the designers had to integrate all the gated off sections of the maps into a single path. That means some things you unlocked before might need to be earned again, and it might be harder this time. See, some of those side tracks were really difficult, and now you have to go through each stage to advance. The jury's still out on whether or not this was a good idea.
There's also some legitimately new stuff, like the turbo button. Press this to speed up time and get through the boring opening minute of gameplay. Then there are the Gargantuars. These behemoths show up in each world via special levels. As you might be able to gather, they're giant zombies. They look like this:
2013-12-12 03.49.48
There is also a fourth world now, which comes after the wild west one. It's silhouetted in the map selector with a bunch of question marks, but it's pretty obviously a futuristic scifi thing. Neat. Still want more? Okay, it has a winter-themed icon now too.
2013-12-12 04.14.07
2013-12-12 03.43.10 2013-12-12 03.44.46
Just to be clear, this is still a free-to-play game – there is a store with extra coins, power ups, and plants. While it's more straightforward to unlock things, the addition of the Gargantuars and single path might be rough at times.
Plants vs. Zombies™ 2
Plants vs. Zombies™ 2
87,838 ratings
by Electronic Arts Inc
1,000,000 - 5,000,000 downloads

CyanogenMod 11 Nightlies Now Available For The LG G Pad 8.3, But Don't Try Flashing It On The Google Play Edition Yet

Would you look at that. Just one day after the Google Play Edition of LG's G Pad 8.3 went on sale, the CyanogenMod team gets an Android 4.4 build out for the standard retail version. A new CyanogenMod 11 nightly is available for the "L
G V500."
g pad 83
But if you're planning on flashing this to your shiny new Google Play Edition tablet, you should hold off. CyanogenMod team member Ricardo Cerqueira says that the retail V500 build won't work on the G Pad 8.3 GPE, model number V510. The team will need to modify the installation procedure in order to get everything squared away, though I doubt it will take them long.
CM 11, based on the AOSP Android 4.4 code, is only a couple of weeks old itself. It hasn't made it to the full list of devices officially supported by the custom ROM, though all the Nexus devices currently being updated in AOSP have been given more stable M builds. Buyers of the new Google Play Edition of the Sony Xperia Z Ultra will be happy to know that CyanogenMod already supports the retail version of that phone, though it's still on CyanogenMod 10.2 (Android 4.3). The GPE Z Ultra will probably need the same modifications.
You can download the one G Pad 8.3 build on CyanogenMod's download page, though of course you'll need a custom recovery like ClockworkMod or TWRP to flash it. Remember that if you want access to the Google Play Store and other Google services, you'll also need to flash the separate Gapps package.
Source: Get.CM

Google Search App Update (v3.1.24) Fixes Overlapping Icons On Tablets And Changes The Settings Icon [APK Download]


Heads up, Android users: there's a Google Search update that just landed in the Play Store. Google's tendency for staged rollouts means that some of you might not get an automatic update for a few days, but as usual, we've got the APK download below. There are a few noticeable visible changes in the integrated Google Experience Launcher, but that's about it as far as new features go. This is an incremental update after the massive 3.1.8 update from last month.

What's New?

The tricky thing about combining your search and homescreen apps is that now you've got two new things to maintain. A few Nexus tablet users discovered this after updating to Android 4.4 and finding that the fancy new homescreen had a few issues, notably that the icons and integrated search bar will overlap. The latest update to Search in the Play Store moves the search function to a more subtle icon on the left edge.
Old on the left, new on the right.
Other changes include slightly larger icons on the homescreen, at least for some devices, and the "Settings" icon that appears after a long-press on an empty region of the homescreen has been modified to one gear instead of two. It's more in line with the adjusted aesthetic in KitKat.
Screenshot_2013-12-11-17-10-22 Screenshot_2013-12-11-16-56-55
Our indefatigable teardown team has noticed a few changes in the strings.xml file, most of which look like they're associated with the contact recognition feature. This allows Google Now to more easily associate voice commands with contact names for calls, texts, and the like.
<string name="contact_opt_in_learn_more_url"></string>;
<string name="contact_upload_for_communication_actions_title">Contact recognition</string>
<string name="contact_upload_for_communication_actions_desc">"Let Google use your device contacts to understand who you're trying to reach"</string>
<string name="contact_opt_in_header_opted_in">"Contact recognition enabled Touch the mic to get started"</string>
<string name="contact_opt_in_up_arrow">↑</string>
<string name="contact_opt_in_header_not_opted_in">Improve contact recognition</string>
<string name="contact_opt_in_prompt">To complete this voice action, Google needs to use your device contacts. &lt;font color=#4285f4>Learn more&lt;/font></string>
<string name="contact_opt_in_no">No, maybe later</string>
<string name="contact_opt_in_yes">"YES, I'M IN"</string>
This feature has been around for a while, so there aren't any new technical capabilities on display. Contact recognition is on by default in the US, so we're guessing that these additions describe a pop-up menu that's only enabled in certain regions where local privacy law requires it. See this page in Google Now support for details (those settings aren't visible to US users). The opt-in features may not even be enabled yet, but there are many more mentions throughout the underpinnings of the updated app.
Update: commenter Jooyoung Hong has seen the info above in the form of a new Google Now card. He's in the United States, so I guess that dashes our regional theory. Thanks, Jooyoung!
These seem to be the only major changes in the app, but we're combing through the rest of the code. We'll let you know if we find anything juicy.


The APK is signed by Google and upgrades your existing app. The cryptographic signature guarantees that the file is safe to install and was not tampered with in any way. Rather than wait for Google to push this download to your devices, which can take days, download and install it just like any other APK.
File name:
Version: Android 4.1+
MD5: 33f99ddd60a112ee5be0337d02d64927
Thanks, @TheNewsHQ and Steven Zeck!

Google+ Expands Sign-In Options And Adds Support For Requesting Permissions As Needed

incr_auth_blog1The presence of Google+ is definitely growing as it continues to become a significant part of how we interact with many of Google's services. Early this year, the social network branched out to become a sign-in solution for virtually any kind of app or website. With an announcement yesterday, Google+ is now set up to accept sign-ins from Google Apps users and accounts without an actual Google+ profile. If that weren't good enough, the permission system has been greatly improved to support "incremental auth," which allows apps and websites to request only vital permissions to begin using them, and then ask for new permissions once the user is logged in.
The incremental auth feature is particularly great because it reduces the number of permissions a user has to hand over before getting started with an app. This means you might be initially asked for as little as an email address or basic profile information, but once inside, the app can prompt you for greater access when it's needed. If used correctly, this should help to give users more context about how a permission would be used, like a music service asking to check your YouTube history to determine what you listen to.
Of course, developers will have to choose to implement incremental auth, so we may be waiting a while for it to become common place. However, It's likely users will learn to be wary of apps that ask for too much up front, which should help to motivate lazy or opportunistic developers to adjust. Additionally, competitors like Facebook will probably feel some pressure to offer similar capabilities to reduce up-front requirements and generally appease privacy concerns. Now if we could just add this to the Android permission system...<hint> <hint>
In a move that should also make some users happy, Google+ Sign-in can now accept almost any Google account. Those with Google Apps accounts or anybody who has resisted creating a Google+ profile are now able to use those accounts to access apps and sites through the standard sign-in mechanism. Naturally, if there is no attached Google+ profile or if it's a Google Apps for Business account with disabled social features, a number of apps and sites will probably still turn you away. Regardless, this can be useful for anything that simply needs the login token and basic info.
To ease the adoption of Google+ Sign-in, the developer portal includes simple migration instructions to help transition from OpenID v2 or OAuth 2.0. With the latest update, Google+ can also be configured to enable compliance with the OpenID Connect protocol, which allows users without a Google account to sign in with other compatible providers.
This announcement brings a more flexible set of sign-in options for Google+ and should lead to a more trustworthy experience for anybody concerned with privacy. Overall, it sounds like pretty good news for everybody.
Thanks, David Jones!

Watch Maker Android USA's Smartwatch Now Available On Touch Of Modern For $199, 'Half Off'

Last month we told you about Android USA (that's an American company that makes wristwatches, and has nothing to do with the Android OS or Google) preparing their own branded smartwatch, which may or may not also run Android. Well Android's smartwatch is now available on the designer deal site Touch Of Modern, and it's already 50% off. Sort of.
See, Android USA still isn't technically selling the smartwatch on its own yet - all five colors of the watch are still in the pre-order stage on Android's web store, so Touch Of Modern is technically the exclusive retailer at the moment. I say technically because the deal site doesn't use a conventional shipping model, and it'll be 3-4 weeks before the watches actually go out to customers. (All watches will ship when the initial "sale" ends on December 16th.) If you want to order one, you'll also need a Touch Of Modern account - the site is one of those newfangled invite-only stores, but they seem to let just about everyone in via the standard signup page.
Then there's the price. If you look on Android USA's pre-order pages, the "Smart Watch GTS" has a retail price of $400 - higher even than Samsung's Galaxy Gear, double the price of Sony's Smart Watch 2, and not quite three times the price of the Pebble. Touch Of Modern is selling the "SmartWatch™" (really?) for $199, technically half off the MSRP, though the store lists that figure at $375. It's currently available in red, purple, or orange with a matching leather strap.
And we still know very little about the watch and its capabilities. The Touch Of Modern listings mention a pedometer, voice memos, calculator, standard watchy stuff like a clock and calendar, and four-day battery while in "sleep mode," and the promotional videos show multiple watch faces, music control, call accept/reject and speakerphone capabilities. But we still don't know what operating system it's running, any of its internal hardware aside from a TFT screen, or if it needs any special smartphone hardware like Bluetooth 4.0. It seems like Android USA is hoping to sell this thing on its merits as a watch and not as an electronic device. The description says that the watch is 1.3cm thick, which is chunky even by the rather expansive standards of smartwatches. There is an app available - it's on Android USA's site as a direct APK download, with a side-load necessary to get it working.
All told, Android is asking its potential customers to take a lot on faith for $199, and a lot more for $400, if the phone is ever actually sold at that price. I'd say that Sony's color watch or Pebble's e-paper alternative are better picks, if only because you know what you're getting.

Sonic The Hedgehog 2 Lands On Android With A New Level, Playable Knuckles, Online Multiplayer, And More

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December 25th, 1993. A fresh-faced and (mostly) innocent little boy wakes up and rushes through his breakfast to make sure he beats his little sister to the Christmas tree. Underneath he finds four gifts: a Sega Genesis game console, RBI Baseball, Disney's Aladdin, and Sonic The Hedgehog 2. Twenty years later, that boy, no longer little and considerably less innocent, can relive countless wasted hours on a 5-inch phone screen. Sonic 2 is now in the Play Store.
 unnamed (40)
Sonic 2 was a big deal when it launched back in the early nineties - aside from being the first sequel to the smash hit original, it introduced bigger platforming levels with more unique elements, the now-ubiquitous Spin Dash attack, and a playable second character. Miles "Tails" Prower (it took me more than a decade to see the pun) could be played separately, but if the player chose to play as Sonic he would follow along as a limited AI character, trailing Sonic and usually dying in hilarious ways. The basic structure of the original game is preserved, including challenging bosses, fantastic music, and of course, levels tuned for speed.
unnamed (37) unnamed (38)
The Android version of Sonic The Hedgehog 2 comes from Christian Whitehead, whose excellent work on the Sonic CD and original Sonic Android ports did not go unnoticed. This remastered version of the game includes improved graphics and audio for modern hardware, a new Boss Attack mode, two-player versus mode, achievements, and leaderboards via Google Play Games, and a playable Knuckles (from Sonic 3 and onward). Players will also have access to the Hidden Palace Zone stage, a new level that was shelved during Sonic 2's original development. Best of all, you can now find a save option in the spanking new menu, which should alleviate lingering fears of a power outage erasing your paused game.
Sonic The Hedgehog 2 is $2.99 in the Play Store, and it's compatible with devices running Android 2.3 and up.
Via Joystiq
Sonic The Hedgehog 2
Sonic The Hedgehog 2
6,441 ratings
by SEGA of America
100,000 - 500,000 downloads

Google Updates Zagat With A New Tablet UI, More Locations, Street View Integration, And More

People didn't always hate Zagat, but Google's new vision for the iconic restaurant review guide has not been widely accepted. The service became free, but Google also revamped it and limited the number of cities it tracked. The new update makes some tweaks to the app and expands the supported cities, but it's probably not going to do much to improve the app's 2.4 star rating.
1  34 5
Here's the changelog for the new update:
  • Great new layout for tablets
  • Many more locations, including New Jersey, Miami, Houston, Long Island
  • Easy access to Zagat ratings and reviews, right from the home screen
  • Shopping and Hotel ratings and reviews
  • Google Street View panoramas
  • Numerous bug fixes and improvements
6 7 8
9 10 11
The update reportedly makes much better use of Google Maps on tablets, but there are some tweaks for phones too. The Street View integration includes panoramas of the inside of the establishment, if available. There are still some gaps in the data provided by the new Zagat, but it's getting better with each update.
1,209 ratings
by Google Inc.
100,000 - 500,000 downloads

C Spire's Galaxy S III Gets Android 4.3 And Galaxy Gear Support Via OTA Update To Software Version L710WWAMK4


Galaxy S4s running on the C Spire Wireless network started receiving OTA updates to Android 4.3 a week ago, bringing the devices up to the latest version of Jelly Bean. Now Samsung's older flagship is having its day in the sun. C Spire customers with Galaxy S IIIs are now getting the Galaxy Gear compatibility that has been rolling out to Samsung's high-end devices since the launch of the Galaxy Note 3.
Aside from Android 4.3 and Galaxy Gear Compatibility, users are looking at speed improvements and general enhancements distributed across Samsung's assortment of pre-installed apps.
What's new:
  • Galaxy Gear Compatibility
  • Premium Suite Features
  • PEN. UP
  • Group Play 2.5
  • Multi-Window (Note 3 Version)
  • Camera - Sound & Shot
  • Group Messaging
  • Samsung Link Preload
  • New Easy Mode
  • Samsung Apps
These features are rolling out under build number L710WWAMK4. If it hasn't yet hit your device, just give it a bit. It's on its way.
Source: Samsung

How To Activate An LTE Nexus 7 On Verizon Wireless


When Google announced the next-generation Nexus 7 back in July, the Android enthusiast community rejoiced at the fact that the LTE model, while working on AT&T and T-Mobile as expected, also worked on Verizon Wireless. This was an enormous step forward in the mobile universe because Verizon has the largest network in the United States and, at the time of release, had more LTE coverage than AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint combined. The issue was, however, that up until that point Verizon would never allow “outside” or “unlocked” devices onto their network.
For background, when Verizon purchased their 700 MHz spectrum during a 2008 FCC auction – the spectrum they used to roll out LTE on their network – one of the stipulations they were forced to agree to was to allow any device onto their network, so long as the device was capable of using that spectrum. Because Verizon only uses that 700 MHz spectrum for LTE, they only have to allow unlocked devices on the LTE portion of their network. They will not, and do not have to, allow unlocked devices on their legacy CDMA2000 network. Prior to the Nexus 7 launch, no manufacturer had ever tried to release a carrier-free unlocked device that worked on Verizon LTE. Because of that, no one was able to properly test whether Verizon was prepared to allow unlocked LTE devices. Google’s hope was clearly to change that by equipping the second-generation Nexus 7 with Verizon LTE compatibility.
Early adopters found out quickly that Verizon was completely unprepared to allow unlocked devices onto their network. If you already had Verizon service, swapping your existing activated SIM card into your Nexus 7 would work with no problem whatsoever. The issue came when you needed to activate a brand new line of service or needed to get a new SIM card for your existing line (for instance if you had a Xoom which took a full-size SIM, but wanted to replace it with a Nexus 7, which takes a micro SIM). Here we are 5 months post-launch and this is still a problem. It is the goal of this article to give you all the information you need to successfully activate a Nexus 7 on a new line of service with Verizon Wireless if you choose to.
What’s the problem?
Every time you bring your own device and want to set up a new line of service or need a new SIM card for your existing line, your carrier will ask you for your device’s IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identifier) number. Every carrier does this, not just Verizon. They do this for several reasons:
  1. To make sure that the device isn’t blacklisted due to it being lost or stolen.
  2. To ensure that the device is compatible with their network.
Each carrier keeps their own database of IMEI number ranges for devices that are known to work with their network. This is the crux of the problem with the Nexus 7 on Verizon. Because Verizon does not actually sell it, they do not have its IMEI number ranges in their database. The only way for a manufacturer, in this case Asus, to get their device listed in Verizon’s IMEI database is to go through a network certification process, by which Verizon certifies that the device will work on their network. Currently, Google and Asus are going through this certification process for the Nexus 7, but there’s no indication of when it will be complete. In the meantime Verizon will not issue a SIM card to you because they don’t recognize the IMEI number of your Nexus 7.
What will happen if I walk into a Verizon store with a Nexus 7 and attempt to get a data plan and SIM card?
Generally, this is what will happen:
  1. The store representative will set you up with your new tablet data plan.
  2. The rep will get a SIM card and ask you for the IMEI number of your tablet.
  3. You will read off the IMEI number of your tablet.
  4. The rep will inform you that the IMEI number is showing as invalid, and will tell you that the device cannot be activated.
  5. You walk away pissed off, and immediately go to your closest AT&T or T-Mobile store, who will happily activate your device for you in 5 minutes.
I really want Verizon service, though! Is there anything that can be done until Google and Asus finish the certification process?
You are in luck, my friends. There is a very simple way of getting around the IMEI checks and getting your tablet activated easily. Unfortunately, it’ll be very difficult to do it at a Verizon store unless you get the rare representative who knows of the Nexus 7 and knows what to do to get it activated. Fortunately, reps like this do exist. I experienced it personally, and others have reported success from reps here and there. For most of you, though, this won’t be the case. Here’s what you need to do:
  1. Go into a Verizon store and find a floor model tablet. It can be pretty much any tablet other than an iPad. I recommend any Galaxy Tab device.
  2. Go into the tablet’s settings, go to “About Tablet”, then “Status." Scroll down until you find the IMEI number. Take a note of it, take a picture of it, whatever you have to do.
  3. Go to Verizon’s website and set up a new line of service. When you are asked for the IMEI number of your device, enter the IMEI number from the floor model tablet. This will pass the “is this certified for Verizon’s network” test.
  4. Pick your plan and complete the signup process.
  5. Verizon will send you a SIM card via FedEx.
  6. Once you get the SIM card, go to the online activation system and enter the SIM card ID from the SIM card that they sent you, and enter the IMEI number of the floor model.
  7. After completing the rest of the online activation process, put the SIM card into your Nexus 7 and reboot it.
  8. When it comes back up, wait a minute or two, and you should be up and running with Verizon service!
Isn’t this dishonest? What happens if someone buys that floor model tablet down the road? Will they be able to activate it?
This is a complete non-issue. IMEI numbers are used for two things; they are used to check if the device is stolen and they are matched against Verizon’s database to make sure the device is “certified.” The minute you put that SIM card into your Nexus 7, the IMEI number associated with your SIM card changes from the floor model’s IMEI number to the actual IMEI number of your Nexus 7. This can be verified by installing the My Verizon app on your tablet, then going into the app and noting that your device shows up as “Non-VZW Device.”
At this stage, the floor model’s IMEI number is completely unattached from your SIM card and free to be activated by whoever might end up with that floor model down the road. Remember further up the article when I said that there are Verizon store reps here and there who can get around the IMEI fiasco and activate your Nexus 7 for you? These are the exact steps they perform as well.
Are there any “gotchas” or anything that might not work quite right?
Unfortunately, yes. Since Verizon’s system still isn’t fully set up to handle users with devices which they don’t sell, you will encounter issues if you ever need to reset your My Verizon password or change your plan. The reasons for this are as follows:
  • My Verizon: Normally when you reset your password on a My Verizon account for a tablet line, it will email you with instructions. Because the Nexus 7 is a “non-VZW device,” the system instead assumes you have a phone, and will attempt to send a text message to your tablet’s phone number. You will never receive this text message because the Nexus 7 does not have SMS capabilities. Instead, you’ll most likely have to call Verizon customer service or visit a Verizon store and have them help you.
  • Changing your plan: You won’t be able to change your plan online because, again, the Nexus 7 is a “non-VZW device.” The system has no idea what type of device you have, therefore it has no idea what types of plans to offer you. This is something else you’ll have to have Verizon customer service or a Verizon store rep help you with.
In addition to these, always keep in mind that Verizon only has to allow unlocked devices on the LTE portion of their network. The Nexus 7 does not include any CDMA2000 capabilities, thus it cannot fall back to 3G or 1X data. In practical terms, that means if you leave Verizon's LTE coverage area, you will not have data on your tablet. That said, when you consider that 95% of Verizon's network is LTE at this point, this shouldn't be a problem for most people.
In closing, I do believe this is the best solution if you need to get your Nexus 7 activated on a new line of service with Verizon. Once Google and Asus complete the certification process, all of this will be a complete moot point because Verizon will have the Nexus 7′s IMEI numbers in their database. Until then, though, it’s important for you to understand that you CAN activate your Nexus 7 on Verizon if you are willing to think outside the box. Sure, some features like the ones outlined above will be a bit fussy, but that’s the price we pay for living in the gray world and bending the rules

Rdio Availability Opens Up To 20 New Countries, Including Israel, South Africa, And Much Of South America

Spotify made news earlier today by lowering its barrier to entry, allowing users to stream music to their phone or tablets for free. Yet it isn't the only music-streaming service in town, and competitor Rdio has expanded access to 20 additional countries. This brings the total number of supported territories up to 51, which this handy map illustrates.
Newly supported countries:
  • Argentina
  • Bolivia
  • Costa Rica
  • Dominican Republic
  • Ecuador
  • El Salvador
  • Guatemala
  • Honduras
  • Hungary
  • Israel
  • Liechtenstein
  • Luxembourg
  • Monaco
  • Nicaragua
  • Panama
  • Paraguay
  • Peru
  • South Africa
  • Uruguay
  • Venezuela
An Android app is offered in the Play Store, and though you're free to give it a go for a limited time, you will need to pony up for a monthly subscription to make extended use of it. So if your country is in the list above, congratulations, you too may now take advantage of the app in the Play Store below.
42,274 ratings
by Rdio
5,000,000 - 10,000,000 downloads

Quick Look: Phiaton Chord MS 530 And Fusion MS 430 Headphones

This holiday season, I have little doubt that over-the-ear headphones will be a big seller. Among those sold, it's hard to deny that the bulk will likely be Beats by Dre, because that's what all the cool kids are wearing. If you're more concerned with what sounds good and is practical over what's "popular," however, Phiaton is a brand to keep an eye on. I've been using the company's two newest offerings, the Bluetooth Chord MS 530 and the compact Fusion MS 430 for the last several weeks, and definitely recommend both for those looking for such a product. Let's take a closer look at both and discuss why.

Fusion MS 430

At $150, the Fusion MS 430 is Phiaton's midrange headphone. I realize that some users may not consider $150 anything close to "midrange," but with options like the $300 Bridge MS 500 and Chord MS 530 (which we'll be taking a look at later), they fall right in the center price-wise.
wm_IMG_20131211_134834 wm_IMG_20131211_134846 wm_IMG_20131211_134905
Stylistically, they look modern and sophisticated. Since they carry the "MS" branding, this means they are part of Phiaton's Moderna line, and the aesthetics fit right in with that. The sides have carbon fiber caps that stand out while keeping a refined look, the porous black and red headband keeps things looking edgy but not over-the-top, and the metal accents tie everything together beautifully. From a purely aesthetic standpoint, the Fusion MS 430 is my favorite of all the Phiaton headphones and earbuds I've reviewed.
While the overall functionality of the headphones isn't anything out of the ordinary, I do appreciate the ambidextrous design – the chord can be moved freely from one side to the other with ease. That's highly convenient.
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When it comes to sound, the Fusion MS 430 is a pretty good set of headphones, but they may be lacking if you like a lot of low end. According to Phiaton, it uses "newly developed 40mm drivers" that "optimize vibration [and] adds extra emphasis on high frequency clarity and improved sound stage." That really sums up how the Fusion sounds – very pronounced mids and highs without an excessive amount of bass. This is actually in stark contrast to the Chord MS 530, which have an overly abundant amount of low end.
Comfort-wise, the Fusion could be better. The headband is decent enough and doesn't hurt the skull, but the undersized earpads get quite uncomfortable after a while. This could change after long-term use, as the headband is likely to stretch out, which should provide a more relaxed fit. On the topic of fit, I found that it was difficult to get good "suction" out of the Fusion, which is likely one of the primary reasons why they're so heavily lacking in bass. Someone with smaller ears (like a tween/teen) may not have the same result, but I definitely had to fiddle with them for a while to get a good fit that didn't destroy the sound.

Chord MS 530

Where the Fusion is Phiaton's new mid-ranger, the Chord is its new high-end Bluetooth set. Acoustically, it's more similar to the Bridge MS 500 than the Fusion, but aesthetically they don't really resemble either.
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Style-wise, the Chord features beefy aluminum arms that hold the speakers in place, with an ultra-soft headband. I absolutely love how this set looks, and the headband padding is freakin' fantastic. It feels great where others fall short, even on my bald dome. That's how to know if a set of headphones is really comfortable – try using them without any "natural" padding (read: hair). This set definitely passes the bald test. The ear pads are large and soft, which makes them very comfortable, even for extended listening sessions. When it comes to fit, feel, and style, the Chord is a great set of headphones.
Functionally, the Chord has all the features one would expect from a set of Bluetooth headphones, along with the option to use 'em wired if the battery dies. Unfortunately the included cable isn't as nice as the one that comes with the Bridge – instead of having a tangle-free cloth coating, it's wrapped in rubber. It still does the job, but doesn't seem as "high end" as what the Bridge ships with.
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On the left speaker there's a noise cancelling toggle and cable jack; the right sports volume controls, play/pause, call and power buttons, and the charging port. All expected stuff. 
Then there's the sound. Where the Fusion focuses on treble and mids, the Chord is all about the low end – there's a ridiculous amount of bass in this set of headphones. If you listen to a lot of bass-heavy music this is definitely the set to consider, though they're definitely not great for every style of music. During my testing, I decided to use both sets of headphones (along with the Bridge, for comparison) on my guitar rig. Since I dialed in my amp's setting myself, I know exactly how it's supposed to sound, which made for super easy comparison between the speakers. As expected, the Fusion was incredibly mid-heavy, which gives a more "open" sound, but the Chord is so bass-heavy it almost made the tone "muddy," especially with lower tunings (Drop A, for those who play). While I realize that not everyone plays guitar, I think that still gives a good idea of what to expect.


It really depends on what you want out of a set of headphones. I wouldn't call either set of these "bad" by any standards, but they're very, very different. If you're looking for something very bass-centric, go for Chord. If you like more open and liberated highs and mids, the Fusion is a good choice. However, if you want a good balance of both, the Bridge is easily the way to go – and still my favorite of the bunch.
That said, there are things to like about each. While I personally think the Bridge sound the best, they're wired. Chord takes care of this by, well, cutting the Chord with Bluetooth. However, they're pretty bulky, and Fusion has a much smaller form factor, making it easier to throw them in a bag. Of course, you're back to a wired set, but if you need something smaller and portable, they're your best bet.