Mihaita Bamburic

Xiaomi is the third-largest smartphone maker

Xiaomi Mi 4

For a manufacturer that has only been selling smartphones for a couple of years now, Xiaomi is doing better than expected. The Chinese company, founded in 2012, became the third-largest smartphone vendor in Q3 2013, surpassing the likes of Lenovo, LG and Huawei. Xiaomi is also closing in fast on Apple, which has enjoyed a comfortable lead, in volumes, over its immediate competition.

Xiaomi's shipments have increased by 211.3 percent year-over-year, to 17.3 million units in the past quarter from just 5.6 million units in Q3 2013. That is more than eight times higher than the market average, of 25.2 percent. Meanwhile, Apple's shipments only grew by a mere 16.1 percent, which is well below the market average, to 39.3 million units from 33.8 million units.

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Microsoft introduces Band smart activity tracker, Health platform

Microsoft Band

Microsoft is getting into the wearables business, but not with a smartwatch as the rumors have suggested for more than a week. The software giant is actually approaching this market with a smart activity tracker called Band, and a dedicated platform called Health.

Like the rumored smartwatch, which could have competed with Android Wear devices and Apple Watch, Band works on all three major mobile platforms, Android, iOS and Windows Phone. It is designed for both fitness junkies as well as average folks who wish to keep track of their daily activity.

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Europeans love iPhone 6, 6 Plus not so much

Apple iPhone 6 Plus

Europeans are a conservative bunch when it comes to the form factor of their beloved iPhones, as most of those who purchase one of Apple's new handsets opt for the smaller model. In fact, iPhone 6 is so popular among consumers on the old continent that it outsells the iPhone 6 Plus phablet by a whopping five to one.

The difference in sales is to be expected, given that phablets are still somewhat part of a niche today, and the majority of those who buy iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus -- that would be existing iPhone users -- are more accustomed to less intimidating dimensions, like those of iPhone 6. However, Apple is right to jump on the phablet bandwagon, considering how big of a role such devices are expected to play in smartphone sales just a few years down the road, and the hit iPhone's market share is taking from Android handsets.

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Oppo R5 is the thinnest smartphone around at only 4.85mm thick

Oppo R5 thin

No one can deny that making handsets thinner and thinner is a persistent trend in the mobile device market. Rarely do we see a new, prominent smartphone or tablet being thicker than its predecessor. Manufacturers love to be able to tout during announcements and in ads just how insanely slim their new products are, like this is a feature that us, consumers, are dying to get. (Sadly, sometimes that may be the only thing that such handsets have got going for them.)

Still, if you are one of those who prefer insanely-thin smartphones, Oppo has just the thing for you. The Chinese manufacturer just unveiled "the slimmest phone in the world", called R5, measuring just 4.85 mm thick. To give you an idea of just how thin it is, it shames Apple's new iPhone 6, which comes in at 6.9 mm thick.

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Apple Watch's Achilles' heel is short battery life

Apple Watch

One of the main reasons why smartwatches are a tough sell today is battery life. Consumers expect them to work for a very long period of time on a single charge when, in reality, they only last for a day or two. It is no surprise then that, coupled with other issues related to the user experience, most people could not care less about them.

Not even the long-awaited Apple Watch looks like it will be able to match our expectations. When Tim Cook unveiled the device last month he left out details regarding battery life, which we took as a sign that we should not get our hopes up. A statement that Apple's CEO just made at the WSJ.D conference confirms our concerns.

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Windows 10 will offer Mac-like trackpad gestures

Man Laptop Dark

Anyone who has ever used a modern-day Mac will tell you that Apple gets its trackpads right. Sure, they look nice and feel great to the touch, but, most importantly, they are also properly supported in OS X. It offers myriad gestures to help users navigate as efficiently as if they were using a mouse. In fact, the trackpad is designed to feel like an integral part of the system, not as a bolt-on, as there are lots of things that can be done faster with it, like locating a window or opening the notifications panel.

The same cannot be said about Windows PC trackpads. They truly feel like bolt-ons. And it is not because they are poorly put together, but rather because the drivers never seem to be good enough to reveal the trackpads' true potential. Microsoft, however, wants to change that in Windows 10, as the upcoming operating system will support Mac-like trackpad gestures. Finally.

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OnePlus One goes up for pre-order -- no invite needed

OnePlus_One_800x450_contentfullwidth

OnePlus One has attracted lots of attention from the media and consumers without even being generally available, as virtually every other flagship smartphone is today. Many have chosen to play by the company's rules, asking and waiting for the invites which give them the option to purchase the device. It's a pretty unusual way of selling and buying smartphones, but it seems to have only boosted One's appeal.

If you have not yet had the chance to buy One, you should know that today OnePlus is making it generally available to pre-order, as it temporarily drops its invite-only system to get One in the hands of more consumers.

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LG introduces its first in-house mobile processor, powers G3 Screen phablet

LG Nuclun

The mobile device market is extremely diverse judging by the number of companies which sell smartphones and tablets today. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of vendors worldwide. On the other hand, when it comes to mobile processors, there are only a handful of companies which make them. Of those, even fewer are also handset vendors and even fewer still are well known by the average consumers: Apple and Samsung.

It is tough to make a splash in the mobile processor market, as top players such as Qualcomm and Apple are so far ahead in the game that it is very difficult for a new player to catch up and compete on equal footing with the leaders. LG, however, is not afraid to give it a try, as it just unveiled its first in-house mobile processor. And the South Korean maker is not wasting any time as it has already put it to use in its new G3 Screen phablet.

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Microsoft ditches Nokia brand for Windows Phones

Microsoft Lumia

Microsoft officially announced today that the Nokia branding will not be used in conjunction with its future Windows Phones. The software giant will sell its upcoming smartphones as Microsoft Lumias. However, it will continue to make use of Nokia's name for dumb phones.

The tech media may act surprised, but, in fact, we have known that this was bound to happen for more than a year. In early-September 2013, when the sale of Nokia's Devices & Services to Microsoft was announced, the terms revealed that the software giant would eventually have to drop the Nokia branding.

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Microsoft launches lockscreen apps for Android, Windows Phone

Next_Lock_Screen_01_Large

Microsoft app launches are usually predictable. Most are offerings which aim to get us hooked on the software giant's most-prominent products, like Office, OneDrive, Outlook.com and Xbox. But, every once in a while, Microsoft does something out of the ordinary, like it wants to tell the world that, much like startups, it too is capable of intriguing and exciting things.

After launching a lovely keyboard for Android Wear, Microsoft just released a whole bunch of apps for Android, iOS and Windows Phone, made by an in-house team of "hackers, makers, artists, tinkerers, musicians, inventors" called Microsoft Garage. The most interesting offerings are Torque, which my colleague Brian Fagioli just covered, and two lockscreen apps, for Android and Windows Phone.

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Samsung teases Android 5.0 Lollipop for Galaxy Note 4, but don't get your hopes up

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 Android 5.0 Lollipop

With Android 5.0 Lollipop yet to be released, some manufacturers have already revealed their upgrade plans for the latest version of the mobile operating system, effectively setting a high bar for the rest of the pack. You can thank HTC, Motorola and Sony for doing so last week. In fact, HTC and Motorola consistently rank among the first in this regard, and when it comes to rolling out those software updates to their customers' devices as well.

Not to be outdone by its far-distant competition, top maker Samsung wants us to know that it too has some upgrade plans for Android 5.0 Lollipop. But, instead of actually showing them, it has posted a rather lame teaser on Twitter, regarding Galaxy Note 4. Pundits have fallen for it, writing that the much-awaited software update is fast-approaching. Really?

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Nokia's HERE beta availability extends beyond Samsung Galaxy smartphones

HERE Android Hand

HERE's upcoming availability for Samsung Galaxy smartphones was announced in late-August, and, at first, it appeared to be an exclusive launch. But, shortly after, Nokia's arm revealed that the app would actually be made available for every compatible Android smartphone "later this year".

HERE launched in beta for Samsung Galaxy smartphones only two weeks ago. For a first public release, the amount of features available is rather impressive, even for someone like me who is used to the fully-featured HERE suite on Windows Phone. And, now, everyone with an Android smartphone running any of the three Jelly Bean iterations or newer can also test what HERE has to offer (as long as the device has 1 GB of RAM or more), as the app's availability is extending beyond Galaxy smartphones.

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How to switch from iOS to Android, according to Google

Samsung Android Galaxy S5 iPhone 5s Apple iOS

With Android 5.0 Lollipop, Nexus 6 and Nexus 9 on the horizon, as well as some great Android devices already on the market, some of you may be thinking about ditching iOS for Android. It is unquestionably a big decision, so you may want to ensure that the switch from an iPhone or iPad will be as painless as possible.

To help with the switch, Google has prepared a nifty guide that explains how you can migrate your data from iOS to Android, tackling key areas such as multimedia content, contacts, email, messaging and, of course, apps. You may recall that Apple posted a similar guide last month, detailing to would-be customers the steps they need to take to move from Android handsets to iPhones. Google now looks to simply be returning the favor.

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Flagship Samsung Galaxy devices fit for classified US government use

Saluting Flag USA Soldier Man

Samsung today announces that flagship Galaxy smartphones and tablets are now approved by the US government for complete classified use within its agencies. The handsets have received the stamp of approval in no small part due to the security features made available by the built-in KNOX suite.

The announcement comes less than six months after Samsung revealed that a smaller number of its other KNOX-toting Galaxy devices have received the green light from the US Department of Defense, to be used on unclassified defense networks.

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Gmail for Android may support more email providers

cloud email

On Android, setting up email services other than Gmail involves using the built-in Email app or heading over to Google Play to install dedicated clients. But it looks like users may soon get another option, as Google will likely offer support for more email providers, like Outlook.com and Yahoo Mail, in its upcoming Gmail 5.0 app.

This appears to be Google's way of ensuring that Android users will finally be able to enjoy a consistent email experience no matter what device they may use or what customizations and apps the operating system features. It is a welcome change, and one that is long overdue.

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