How Dark Mode Can Extend Battery Life on OLED Phones

Did you know your phone might last longer if you use apps with darker interfaces? It’s true! Well, sometimes—it’s complicated. It depends on the technology in your screen, and whether or not your phone’s software takes advantage of it. 

It’s All About The OLED

It’s obvious that brighter screens use more electricity, and manually lowering the brightness is a good way to get more battery life out of any mobile device. But that’s only part of the equation. For the most part, phone screens use two different kinds of technology for their screen panels: LCD (liquid crystal display) and OLED (organic light-emitting diode).

LCD screens have been around for a long, long time, and have been the primary technology for electronic displays of all kinds ever since the switch from big, boxy CRT monitors and TVs in the late 90s and early 2000s. Today’s LCD screens use a light-emitting diode (a tiny, electrically-powered light) to shine light through a colored grid of pixels, each one containing red, green, and blue cells. This combination of technology is called LED-LCD, or sometimes just “LED screen” for short. That makes the next bit a little confusing.

An organic LED (OLED) uses a building process that combines both the pixel grid and the backlight into a single element: each pixel is emitting its own light. There are a lot of advantages to this, including superior contrast ratios, more vivid color saturation, and better efficiency. But for our purposes, the big draw is that if a pixel on an OLED screen is displaying a completely black color, it’s actually turned off—that portion of the screen isn’t drawing electricity at all. That’s a huge improvement over a more old-fashioned LCD (and LED-LCD), which needs to power the entire screen no matter what image it’s displaying.

A close-up of the RGB matrix on an OLED screen.

Phone manufacturers know this, and they’ve started to take advantage of it. Motorola got the trend started with its Moto X back in 2012. The phone used an “always on” display mode to show notifications, a clock, and a battery meter, with small white text on an otherwise black screen. The always-on screen used a tiny amount of electricity in this mode, less than 1% an hour, thanks to the power advantages of dark interfaces on an OLED panel. Similar always-on display notification tools are now common on Android phones.

How Much Battery Life Can Dark Interfaces Save?

Having a nearly all-black screen can save a ton of battery life. But of course, using a conventional app means that a good portion of the screen is displaying text or images, and OLEDs don’t have significant power savings unless the pixel they’re showing is completely black. So how much power can you save?

More than you might think. Google explored this question as it was developing a darker look for Android in general and its own apps in particular. According to a presentation Google made to developers at its conference, the new dark mode in YouTube can save between 15% and 60% of battery life versus the typical white-backed user interface, depending on the overall brightness setting of the screen.

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Discord Steps Up to Epic and Steam Game Stores with a 90/10 Developer Split

Recently Fortnite publisher Epic made a splash in the world of PC gaming by introducing its own game store, with a competitive 88% share of profits going to developers. Now Discord is going one better with an even more generous split.

Discord is best known as a game-focused chat and VOIP app, but the company has been selling indie games on its own digital storefront for a few months as well. The company announced today on its blog that, beginning next year, the store will give a full 90% of the price of games directly to developers. That beats Steam’s 70/30 split by a huge margin and steals the thunder from Epic, which has been wooing independent and mid-sized developers to its newer store at a steady pace.

Discord was forthright in its announcement, saying that it needs only 10% of a game’s price to cover operating costs…an implicit condemnation of Steam’s more profitable pricing model.

So, we asked ourselves a few more questions. Why does it cost 30% to distribute games? Is this the only reason developers are building their own stores and launchers to distribute games?

Turns out, it does not cost 30% to distribute games in 2018. After doing some research, we discovered that we can build amazing developer tools, run them, and give developers the majority of the revenue share.

With hundreds of millions of gamers already using Discord’s communication tools instead of many PC games’ built-in chat systems and growing use in more general communications applications, the company is well set up to gain a huge audience right away. That’s the same approach Epic is taking: Fortnite is its Trojan horse, allowing it to add a game store to software that’s already on a huge amount of gamer desktops.

2019 is shaping up to be a knock-down, drag-out price war to woo publishers and developers to the most lucrative storefront. Steam is still in the lead by an order of magnitude, but they’ll need to offer more money or see some of their biggest clients wander to friendlier alternatives.

Source: Discord via The Verge  

NVIDIA Updates the SHIELD with Amazon Music, Quick Settings, and 5.1 YouTube Audio

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At this point in the SHIELD’s lifespan, NVIDIA could give master classes in product support. The Android-based streaming gadget has had only a minor hardware revision but has seen dozens of notable software and feature updates. The latest one started rolling out yesterday.

SHIELD’s Software Experience version 7.2 adds one major app, Amazon Music. That’s likely only to matter for users who are already invested into the Amazon Prime media system, and considering that the SHIELD also has access to Prime Video, that should be more than a few of them. Amazon Prime offers a base selection of streaming music and radio tools, while the “Unlimited” upgrade adds 50 million tracks for $7.99 a month, or ten bucks a month if you’re not a Prime member.

Other goodies in the update include the latest round of Android security updates, 5.1 audio support for the Android TV YouTube app, and user-customizable Quick Settings on the home screen (a handy feature if you’re tired of diving into the grid-based settings menu). The SHIELD also has access to Microsoft’s SMBv3 protocol when accessing files on a remote computer or network-attached storage. This software update will also spread the integrated Google Assistant support to users in Canada, Germany, and Spain.

The SHIELD TV received significant discounts over Black Friday, but the sales seem to be making a curtain call. Most major US retailers will be selling the standard package, the “Gaming Edition” (with controller) and the “Smart Home Edition” (with SmartThings Link) for $30 off the retail price starting on December 24th. Canadian customers can take $40 CAD off, too.

The software update should be available to all users now.

The Best Toy Drones For Under $50

So you’d like to buy a drone for your kids for the holidays… but drones are fragile (and expensive). Those two qualities don’t combine well with kids of any age. What’s a parent to do?

Luckily, these flying gadgets are so ubiquitous that they can be had for a song, at least compared to much more powerful and capable consumer drones. Sure, they’re more like a modern take on an RC car than an actual flying robot—but since your kids would smash a real drone into a thousand pieces after a minute or two, it’s probably a prudent move to go cheap.

We’ve selected the best option for standard drones and one equipped with a camera,  plus a faster “racing” drone for older kids. If you’re worried about someone getting hurt, there’s also a super-light option with a completely enclosed rotor design. Check them out below.

Best Overall Drone Under $50: Holy Stone HS210 ($50)

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If your aim is to get your recipient into drones as a hobby without spending much money, this model from the well-regarded Holy Stone line is ideal. It comes with an included physical controller, unlike many models that rely on less precise phone control apps, and has no less than three batteries included for longer play sessions.

Sturdy plastic rotor rings and a lightweight should protect it in inevitable crashes, and a position hold function and an easy steering mode help beginner operators come to grips with typical drone controls.

Best Camera Drone: Hubsan X4 H107C ($30)

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For those who prefer the photography angle of drones, this Hubsan model includes a 720p video camera in a package under thirty bucks. At that low of a price, you don’t get remote camera controls: you’ll have to press the record button on the drone, begin your flight, and then press it again when you’re done to finish the recording on the MicroSD card.

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Steam And Epic Are In A Game Store Battle, And Players Win

For the last decade and change, Valve’s Steam has been the de facto standard for digital games on the PC. Want a game? Install Steam and download it. New launchers have risen to challenge Steam lately, but none have been so well-positioned to put up a fight as Epic.

There are a few different factors that can enable Epic to transition from a notable developer to a digital sales powerhouse. One, it already has an in with a massive amount of PC players via Fortnite. Two, players are getting tired of Valve’s lackadaisical attitude to its platform, and they’re finally ready (if not happy) to embrace a more fractured collection. And three, Epic is coming out swinging with a deal that partnering developers can’t refuse.

Fortnite Is Epic’s Trojan Horse

Steam began as an online platform for Valve’s multiplayer games like Counter-Strike. Initially, users didn’t appreciate the software running in the background and its baked-in DRM. Those are two things that are still annoying users to this day, at least on everything except Steam, since it’s proven to be reasonably easy and unobtrusive. Valve sold digital copies of its own games on Steam’s integrated store but didn’t begin accepting games from third parties until 2005, a couple of years after the platform began. Profits for digital games were much, much higher than retail sales, thanks to lower overhead and no need to share the money with retailers—third-party developer and publisher partners paid Valve instead.

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The Orange Box introduced millions of PC gamers to Steam.

Things took off in 2007 with the release of The Orange Box. The omnibus game bundle included the much-anticipated Half-Life 2: Episode 2, the instant classic singleplayer puzzle game Portal, and the surprise smash hit Team Fortress 2. Players could download The Orange Box digitally directly from Steam, but at the time conventional retail sales were still king, and Valve took advantage of that. Steam was installed along with retail copies of The Orange Box enabling its DRM and online multiplayer management, introducing millions of new players to the convenience of having your games tied to an online account instead of a physical disc.

The rest, as they say, is history. Steam became the dominant platform for PC gaming, digital or otherwise. Most of the new games you buy even at retail will activate via Valve’s system. Steam makes tens of billions of dollars a year in digital sales, and Steam activation codes are available from dozens of third-party resellers. Thousands of developers and publishers, from world-striding colossi like Ubisoft and Square-Enix to the smallest one-person teams, use it. It’s the Amazon of PC gaming. Valve is barely a developer anymore: they’re the de facto publisher and distribution platform for a huge portion of the industry.

If you want to complete, you need your own Orange Box, your own “killer app” to use an antiquated phrase. And if such an app exists, it’s Fortnite. Initially a fairly tame Minecraft-zombie shooter mashup, Epic pivoted the game’s focus following the success of indie hit Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds. They introduced a free-to-play Battle Royale mode, and while not the first or last of its kind, it’s become the dominant game on PCs, consoles, and even mobile.

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