Sony Xperia XA2 review: Sony is now serious about mid-range

The Sony Xperia XA2 is the latest in a long line of Sony phones I’ve reviewed since joining Alphr and, in looking it up for this article, that includes a couple I don’t even remember holding. The weird string of numbers and letters, the familiar angular shape, the reliable (but often overpriced) devices and the inevitable conclusion that “it’s alright, but you’re probably better off buying the cheaper/better X, Y or Z” mean that few have stood out.
Th XA2, however, is the first Sony device since the charming Xperia Z5 Compact that I’ve actually kept using for a while after the review has been filed and published. It’s a nippy, smart-looking phone and, unusually for a mid-range Sony device, entirely reasonably priced.
This feels like Sony taking the midrange market seriously and, given how competitive things are at the top end right now, where the company ert_main_wide_image/public/2018/02/chart2.png?itok=6vi9_3sv” alt=””/>

That puts Sony in uncharted waters: being the value option in a smartphone league table, seemingly striking the right balance between price and performance.
Still, this isn’t the phone for you if you want to play the latest intensive mobile games. While the likes of Words with Friends and Candy Crush Saga will perform without any hiccups, you’ll find it struggles with Asphalt or Modern Combat 5. Likewise, performance is fine with normal use, but try and multitask too much and things will take a hit. But again: what do you expect for a £300 smartphone?

There is, however, one small blot on the Xperia XA2’s copybook: it has an awful lot of nonsense installed by default. To be clear, none of this is compulsory and it can all be uninstalled but the company must know that bundling both Kobo and Amazon Kindle on the phone by default is overkill and that a few notifications of offers from Xperia Lounge is all anybody can really take before killing it with fire.
Sony Xperia XA2 review: Camera
Cameras are often the weak spot in mid range cameras, with manufacturers choosing to bamboozle with big megapixel numbers, rather than providing good performance. And an f/2.0 23-megapixel rear snapper might make you think Sony has done the same. Fortunately, this isn’t the case.
The main camera features a 1/2.3in sensor, phase-detect autofocus and a single-colour LED flash and the results are very nice indeed – at least in well-lit, outdoor conditions. As you can see from the picture below, both the wispy cloud and brickwork are picked up with excellent fidelity.
In low light it’s another story, with compression artefacts and chroma noise emerging but, given many phone cameras struggle with these problems to some degree, it’s hardly surprising the Sony Xperia XA2 isn’t flawless here.
As for video, the XA2 is able to record 4K video at up to 30fps but that’s not immediately obvious. Bizarrely, the 4K mode is hived off in the creative modes part of the camera app. That’s the first issue. The next is that you can’t shoot 1080p at 60fps with Sony’s superb SteadyCam image stabilisation enabled. That drops the frame rate to 30fps and the same holds true for HDR recording. Again, fine for most people – especially at this price – but slightly disappointing.
Sony Xperia XA2 review: Verdict
From reviewing many a Xperia phone over the years, I was expecting my conclusion here to be more of the same.
That isn’t the case with the Xperia XA2. For £300, you have a very reasonably-priced handset that barely puts a foot wrong. It looks the part, has a very nice screen and a camera that performs admirably in well-lit conditions.
There’s just a single fly in the ointment: the marginally weaker Honor 7X retails for £30 cheaper and has recently been seen for as little as £240. It also has one of those new-fangled 18:9 screens if that’s important to you.
Still, for me personally, the Xperia XA2 is an excellent smartphone and it’s seriously made me consider Sony when my contract expires in four months’ time. Well done, Sony.

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GammaNow Lets Your PC Mine Overwatch Loot Boxes

Cryptocurrencies are one of the hottest trends in technology right now and there have been countless headlines recently about how lucrative they can be. There are puzzle games that offer a Bitcoin as a reward and even cryptocurrencies based on memes; there seems to be no stopping the cryptocurrency train.

For those who have yet to jump aboard that train, a company called Aura is helping gamers get in on it with its GammaNow service. GammaNow is an app that uses the idle processing power of a PC in order to power the Gamma blockchain network, which pitches itself as an alternative to the Ethereum network (which itself is a rival to Bitcoin). After a computer sits idle for around 20 seconds, GammaNow will kick in and begin to use the processing power to process tasks on the network and in doing so, users will earn Gamma Points.
These points, in turn, can be traded in for Overwatch loot boxes, Hearthstone card packs, and Riot Points (for use in League of Legends) with support for other PC games such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and DOTA 2 to come. 30,000 Gamma Points is equivalent to 24 Overwatch loot boxes, 3500 Riot Points, and 15 Hearthstone card packs (60,000 Gamma Points is worth 51 loot boxes and 40 card packs), though the exact mining time required to earn that much is unclear.

GammaNow is currently in beta but Aura confirms plans to add support for a second GPU (to allow users to continue using their primary GPU for gaming). The company also vows to make tweaks and changes based on the feedback from GammaNow beta users, including feedback on which new rewards users would like to see offered in the GammaNow marketplace.

Unsurprisingly, GammaNow is already proving to be incredibly popular. As of the time of writing, the app’s website states that it has paused sign-ups due to a “sudden influx of users” and encourages potential users to sign up to its waitlist instead.
While the world of cryptocurrency can seem incredibly complicated, many gamers are probably enjoying the simplicity of the app and the fact that it is free to get involved. The notice from Aura confirming that GammaNow will always be free and that the company hates microtransactions may have also increased the appeal to jaded gamers.

GammaNow is not the only app banking on gamers’ interest in cryptocurrencies, with other examples including the game Reality Clash which pitches itself as Pokemon GO with guns. These are unlikely to be the last crypto/gaming initiatives either so those with a huge interest in the scene have a lot of opportunities to get involved.

Source: Forbes, GammaNow

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Tamron Tease New Lens for CP+ 2018

Mac users, Macphun’s all-in-one photo editor Luminar 2018 is out now and available for just $69£64 for new users, with big discounts for upgrading users. We rated Luminar as “Highly Recommended“. Visit the Luminar web site to try it for free.
Use coupon code “PHOTOBLOG” to save another $10£9 on Luminar.

Download Luminar & Try Free »

Windows users, Macphun’s all-in-one photo editor Luminar 2018 is out now and available for just $69£64 for new users, with big discounts for upgrading users. We rated Luminar as “Highly Recommended“. Visit the Luminar web site to try it for free.
Use coupon code “PHOTOBLOG” to save another $10£9 on Luminar.

Download Luminar & Try Free »

Ahead of next month’s CP+ photo show, Tamron Japan have released a teaser for a new lens on their Instagram channel. There aren’t any further details yet about the new optic, so stay tuned…

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Samsung Galaxy S8: how to stop bootloops after the Oreo update

Following a beta testing period of a few weeks, Samsung started rolling out Android 8.0 Oreo with Samsung Experience 9.0 for the Galaxy S8 and S8+ earlier this month. The update was stopped just a few days later. We now know Samsung put the brakes on the update due to a number of users reporting bootloop issues. An update to fix the problem is in development, but if you’ve already installed the faulty Oreo update and you’re experiencing bootloops, here are a few tips and tricks to solve the problem.

What’s happening to your phone? Bootloops are when your phone gets stuck restarting over and over again. You’ll know it’s happening when you see your phone manufacturer’s logo on the screen and then the Android system starts to load, and then all of a sudden if fails to start up properly and the boot process begins again and again until the phone’s battery dies.
So, you’re trapped in a bootloop. What now?
Normally, one might call up customer support and describe the problem. Then they might tell you to send them your smartphone or bring it to the nearest service center. That’s a pain, and it might be unnecessary if you use the following tips. Android has its own built-in way of solving these issues called Recovery Mode, and we’ll show you step-by-step how to take advantage of it here.
Note: Sometimes bootloops can prevent you from entering Recovery Mode. Don’t worry, there’s a way around this. If you’re unable to turn your device off, which is the first step of both of the processes we detail below, just let it bootloop until the battery dies. Leave the phone powered off, and then plug it in. Once it has some juice, you’ll be able to get it to enter Recovery Mode by following the steps below.
Clear the cache with Android’s Recovery Mode
Android smartphones have their own Recovery Mode, which allows you to perform a select few basic functions like clearing the cache partition. To enter recovery mode, follow these steps:

Turn off the phone
First press the Bixby button then the Volume Up button simultaneously and hold both down
Then also press the Power button and hold it
Hold down all three buttons together until “Samsung Galaxy S8” or “Samsung Galaxy S8+” appears on the screen
Then let go of all the buttons
The screen will say “Installing system update” for a few seconds
After that, it will say “No command” for a few more seconds before it enters Android Recovery Mode
Once that happens, use the Volume Up and Down keys to navigate to “Wipe cache partition”
Select and confirm this option with the Power button, then your smartphone will reboot

If this doesn’t work, then you can move on to the next option below, which can also be found in the Recovery Mode.

When your Galaxy S8 or S8+ is stuck in a bootloop after updating to Oreo, Recovery Mode can help. / © AndroidPIT

Wipe data and restore factory settings with Recovery Mode
Before recommending this step, we would usually recommend backing up your data. But, if your phone is trapped in a bootloop, then you’re unfortunately too late to do that. Doing this will remove all your data from your phone’s internal storage.

Turn off the phone
First press the Bixby button then the Volume Up button simultaneously and hold both down
Then also press the Power button and hold it
Hold down all three buttons together until “Samsung Galaxy S8” or “Samsung Galaxy S8+” appears on the screen
Then let go of all the buttons
The screen will say “Installing system update” for a few seconds
After that, it will say “No command” for a few more seconds before it enters Android Recovery Mode
Once that happens, use the Volume Up and Down keys to navigate to “Wipe Data / factory reset”
Select this option with the Power button
After it warns you that it will wipe the phone, select “Yes” with the Volume buttons and press the Power button to confirm
The phone will then restart

You should be out of the bootloop after following the above process. Although you’ll have to set everything up again from scratch, at least you’ll still have a usable Galaxy S8 or S8+. If the bootloop problem persists nevertheless, you should contact Samsung.
Did these tips work for you? If you’re having other issues with your Galaxy, leave a comment below so the AndroidPIT community can help.

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Wikipedia’s free-to-access program for developing countries is being sunset

A half-dozen years after launching Wikipedia Zero, The Wikimedia Foundation is sunsetting the program. Announced in 2012, it was the result of partnerships with mobile carriers, designed to waive the cost of accessing the free encyclopedia in developing countries, where data fees presented a barrier to accessing the site’s seemingly bottomless well of information.
The Foundation says it provided free access to more than 800 million people, through 97 carrier partnerships in 72 countries over the course of the program’s life. Still, it cites “low awareness of Wikipedia outside of North America and Europe” as a key factor in its decision to discontinue the program. Changes in mobile data costs are also a factor here — Wikimedia says interest in and adoption of the Zero program have both dropped sharply since 2016.
As such, no additional partnerships will be formed this year, and those still in existence will be allowed to expire. Meantime, the organization says it’s exploring more ways to service the developing world, including campaigns designed to raise awareness of Wikipedia’s missions in various countries. In a blog post, the Foundation mentions on-going partnerships in Iraq and Nigeria.
“These successes have given us several ideas for where we may take our partnership work next,” it writes, “and over the coming year, we will explore other ways we can leverage the findings from our research and the Wikipedia Zero program to direct future work with partners.”

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FIFA 19: release date, rumours and formats

Enjoying FIFA 18? Of course, you are – and yet you wouldn’t be here if there wasn’t a tiny bit of you already thinking ahead to the next instalment. FIFA 19’s release date is still some way away, but we’re beginning to get a few details.
While information about FIFA 19 is pretty thin on the ground at the moment, we’ll continue updating this page as we get more information. Here’s what we know about FIFA 19 so far.
FIFA 19: Features
You may think there’s only so much you can tweak a game where the rules of the sport it’s based on have barely shifted in over 100 years. That’s true to a degree, but EA usually has an innovative trick up their sleeves beyond just a squad numbers and kits update.
You can be pretty confident that The Journey will return for a third season – and it’ll probably star Alex Hunter or one of the other bit-part players who have made their name in the first two seasons. A bit of a shame, given how many other interesting stories there are to tell in the world of football, but you can’t blame EA for persisting with a winning formula.

EA has recently spurred talk that there may not even be a FIFA 19, as the series migrates to a subscription service that’s updated each season for subscribers. It’s something not entirely untested, with the Madden mobile game being updated for the last three years.
EA CEO Andrew Wilson first floated this idea in an interview with Bloomberg, saying: “There’s a world where it gets easier and easier to move that code around — where we may not have to do an annual release. We can really think about those games as a 365-day, live service.” While he doesn’t namecheck FIFA directly, some are speculating that FIFA 19 might be the perfect vehicle for this.
I’m dubious, personally. When FIFA still prints money, I don’t see EA taking a gamble and moving to subscription just yet. The company did release the Euro 2012 game as DLC for FIFA 12, and given World Cup 2014 then became a standalone release, you suspect it didn’t do as well as they’d hoped. Plus, of course, to switch to subscription you still need a base game – and it can’t be FIFA 18, so one way or another FIFA 19 is coming this year…
FIFA 19: Formats
That FIFA 18 will appear on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC is a no-brainer. The good news is that after a five-year hiatus away from Nintendo, FIFA 18 made its debut on the Switch. With the Switch continuing to sell like hotcakes, it’s hard to imagine a world where FIFA 19 doesn’t make the leap to the handheld-hybrid.

Hopefully, the large install base will encourage EA to make it a full conversion this time. Last year’s, good as it was, was missing The Journey thanks to using a different engine – the same reason the PS3 and Xbox 360 editions missed out.
Speaking of which, FIFA 18 did appear on Xbox 360 and PS3. I wouldn’t be surprised if they pulled the same trick again, but the series must be approaching its final years on last generation hardware.
FIFA 19: Release date

Nobody knows the FIFA 19 release date for sure yet, but we can hazard a pretty good guess. Here are the release dates of the last decade’s worth of FIFA games:

























Notice a pattern forming? Yep, it’ll be out in September 2017. October at a push, but almost certainly September – and typically EA Access members get access a few days before everyone else, so it may be worth looking into subscribing.
This is a page in progress, and we’ll update it with more information about FIFA 19 as we get it.
Images: Hector Alejandro, Marco Verch and Christopher Johnson used under Creative Commons

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The Google app has a screenshot editing feature in beta

The Google app is now rolling out a built-in screenshot editor with beta version 7.21, starting last Friday, which will give users better sharing and editing tools, as spotted by 9to5Google. The screenshot editor also works in Chrome custom tabs. You can enroll in the beta through the Google Play Store.
The editor can be toggled on by heading into the Google app settings, under Accounts & Privacy and finding the “Edit and share screenshots” toggle at the bottom of the list. Then every time you take a screenshot in the Google app or a Chrome custom tab, a panel will slide up, letting you preview, edit, or share the image to other apps. You can also crop the screenshot and draw on it.
Stock Android and Pixel phone users are likely to benefit from this feature, as it makes editing screenshots a bit easier than the standard Android option.

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Austin Dillon gets tattoo on his butt after winning Daytona 500

The NASCAR driver now has “Daytona 500 champ” tattooed on his posterior.
How else would you celebrate winning the Daytona 500 than getting a tattoo on your butt? That was Austin Dillon’s thinking as he did just that mere hours after winning NASCAR’s biggest race.
Dillon and some Richard Childress Racing crew members got tattoos Sunday night following Dillon’s dramatic Daytona 500 win. It is unclear where the crew members placed their new tattoos, but the 27-year-old driver decided to get “Daytona 500 champ” inked on his posterior.
“It’s a pretty cool looking tattoo. You’ll never be able to see it; (my wife) is probably the only one who can see it for a while,” Dillon said, via , at the Daytona 500 champion’s breakfast on Monday.
Dillon won the Daytona 500 after contact with race-leader Aric Almirola on the final lap. Almirola attempted to block a charging Dillon, but when he moved up the track to cut off the No. 3 car, Dillon never slowed and Almirola connected with Dillon’s front bumper. That sent Almirola crashing into the backstretch wall while Dillon went on to take the checkered flag.
“I did what I had to do there at the end,” Dillon. “We had a run and I stayed in the gas. It is what it is here at Daytona.”

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Barry Bennell branded ‘sheer evil’ as he is sentenced to 31 years | UK news

Judge describes former youth football coach as ‘devil incarnate’ for child sexual abuse

Barry Bennell was described as a predatory and determined paedophile.
Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

Barry Bennell was branded a “monster” by one of his victims as the former football coach was sentenced to 31 years for the abuse of 12 young players.
Sentencing Bennell to 30 years in custody, with one year on licence, for dozens of offences committed over more than a decade, the judge, Clement Goldstone, described the 64-year-old as “sheer evil”.
“To those boys you appeared as a god … in reality, you were the devil incarnate. You stole their childhood and their innocence to satisfy your own perversions.”

Victims cried “yes” while Bennell – facing his victims for the first time having appeared via video link during his five-week trial – looked at the floor and nodded as the sentence was read out. Some members of the public began to applaud as he was sent down, but they were stopped by the judge.
The catalogue of sexual abuse revealed during his trial has prompted another 86 people to make complaints against the former Manchester City and Crewe Alexandra youth team coach.
The judge said it would be a matter for the police and Crown Prosecution Service to decide whether another trial was in the public interest, noting that Bennell “may well die in prison”.
Earlier, the judge said that Bennell had left a “trail of psychological devastation”. Described by the prosecution at Liverpool crown court as an “industrial-scale child molester” and a “predatory and determined paedophile”, Bennell watched from the dock as people he had raped and abused as children, now in their 40s and 50s, read out impact statements detailing how his crimes had affected their lives.
Victims in court included Gary Cliffe, Steve Walters, Micky Fallon, Chris Unsworth and Andy Woodward.

Court artist of Bennell appearing at Liverpool crown court. Photograph: Elizabeth Cook/PA

Bennell appeared in the dock wearing a light-blue sweatshirt, grey jogging bottoms and blacktrainers. For the most part his head was bowed and there were only a few moments when he raised his eyes to look at the former players as they spoke about their childhood horrors.
At one point Cliffe, a former Manchester City junior who was abused hundreds of times, including on the pitch at Maine Road, approached the dock in an attempt to force Bennell to make eye contact. “Why?” Cliffe asked before taking his seat again.

The victims told the court they had suffered from depression, anxiety, panic attacks, flashbacks and nightmares. Some were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and had had relationship issues; others had turned to drink and drugs and been suicidal.
Bennell has previously served two other prison sentences in England, as well as one in the US, and was found guilty last week of 50 offences relating to 12 junior players, aged eight to 14, between 1979 and 1990.
Bennell, who had a seven-year association with Manchester City and worked for Crewe for roughly the same amount of time, had admitted seven charges and the jury found him guilty of the other 43 offences.
One victim told the court: “I did not want it, did not ask for it and did not enjoy it. I was a child, and between the ages of 10 to 13 that monster decided it was fun for him to use me as a sex toy, someone that he could get his kicks from. He took my innocence, my virginity and my football career. He preyed on his victims, groomed us while grooming our parents.

Barry Bennell: unmasking of football paedophile who ruined young lives – video explainer

“People may wonder why I never told my parents, but after the pain and suffering, but more importantly the guilt, they have felt over the past 12 months I can now see why. My dad finds it very difficult to think that that he was taking me to play football, and become the footballer that I always wanted to be, when for three years he was taking me to hell.”

Another former player said: “Even though it’s over it’s not over because it will always be in my head. No one should have to go through what that man put us through.”
Eleanor Laws, defending Bennell, said her client had twice had cancer and needed operations to remove tumours from his tongue. He was now in remission but was the subject of an “onerous” feeding regime that meant he had to be fed via a tube eight times a day.
To audible disquiet from the public gallery, she said he was on strong painkillers and anti-anxiety medication and had undertaken a “number of treatment programmes” during his previous prison sentences.

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Why the Texans are moving on from Brian Cushing after 9 seasons

Cushing served two PED suspensions in his career. Now Houston turns inside linebacking duties over to Zach Cunningham.
Brian Cushing was a staple of the Texans’ emergence from expansion also-ran to NFL playoff regular, but his veteran presence wasn’t enough to justify his $8.8 million salary cap hit. Houston is expected to cut him, just months after missing the bulk of 2017 due to a violation of the NFL’s performance enhancing drugs policy, according to the Houston Chronicle’s John McClain.
“It’s all good,” Cushing said Sunday night in a text message to McClain. “It’s part of the business.”
Cushing suffered his second PED suspension last fall, paving the way for his replacement and showcasing how the Texans’ defense can perform without him. 2017 second-round pick Zach Cunningham performed well in his stead, making 82 tackles and helping tie together a defense ravaged by injuries and absences last fall.
Now Cunningham will be called down to hold down the middle of the field in Houston as Cushing prepares for the next phase of his career. The veteran linebacker will have to prove he can still operate at a high level despite his history of PED violations and significant injuries.
What’s next for the Texans?
Cushing has been a useful part of the Texans’ dominant defense, though hardly its most important piece. Houston struggled in 2017 thanks to the absence of several players, but losing the veteran middle linebacker was one area where the team didn’t lose much value. Cunningham, a former All-American at Vanderbilt, is a growing presence in the middle. In 2018, he’ll be bolstered by the returns of stars like J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus.
Saving $7.6 million in cap space will also help the team surround second-year quarterback Deshaun Watson with weapons on the other side of the ball. Watson looked like a shoo-in for offensive rookie of the year honors before tearing his ACL early in the season, and a successful comeback will be much easier if he’s got more than just DeAndre Hopkins to take the pressure from his shoulders. Cushing’s vacated contract will give the team some extra flexibility in its pending rebuild.
What’s next for Cushing?
Cushing will turn 31 this summer and has plenty to prove when it comes to his next contract. While he’s avoided the injuries that derailed the middle portion of his career, his most recent PED suspension raises questions about his viability. A third positive test will all but end his career — it would include a mandated suspension of at least two years.
He hadn’t been especially impressive in 2017 even before suffering the league’s wrath. Cushing made five starts but only recorded 16 tackles. While he may be valuable for his leadership as a savvy veteran, his days as a high-level starter may be finished.
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