The prefix "cyber-" is now a handy way of denoting words to do with the internet - from cybercrime, cyberbullying and cybersecurity to improbable activities such as cybersnogging. It followed an eventful path to reach its modern meaning,
In ancient Greek kubernao meant "steer a ship" and kubernetes was a steersman. Homer tells how the gods smote Odysseus's ship, so that the toppling mast crushed the steersman's head (kuberneteo kephalen).
The normal Latin transliteration of kubernetes gives us "cybernetes" - though practical seafaring Romans worried less about the rules and turned kubernao into guberno, from which we get "govern".
Plato used "kubernetika" to mean skill in steering, and in the 1940s the American mathematician, Norbert Wiener, derived from it "cybernetics" to mean "control and communication theory, whether in the machine or in the animal". In the popular imagination the term cybernetics and therefore cyber- became associated especially with humanoid robots, or similar controlled creatures such as the Cybermen, who first appeared in Doctor Who in 1966.
Cyber- words became a popular theme to do with robots or near-robots, including Dr Who's enemies the cybermen In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1978) the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation calls a robot "Your Plastic Pal Who's Fun To Be With".
The progression from ancient helmsman to comic robot is clear enough and the common theme is control. But how did cyber- go on to its present association with the internet?
The link is the term "cyberspace" - the virtual electronic world in which we explore, play, learn and share information. Theoreticians of cyberspace such as Howard Rheingold acknowledge that the word comes from the science fiction writing of William Gibson, particularly his 1984 novel Neuromancer.
Its hero longs to return to the online world from which he has been banished, and the book lyrically describes virtual reality folding "through a dozen impossible angles, tumbling away into cyberspace like an origami crane".
But Gibson's account of how he coined the term cyberspace contains a lesson for anyone who reads too much into the derivations of words.
He tells how he needed a "really hot name" for the arena in which his stories would be set, and cyberspace "sounded like it meant something or it might mean something, but as I stared at it, my whole delight was that I knew it meant absolutely nothing".
If he had fancied instead something like "infosphere" or "digiworld", our terminology might be very different.
Home Secretary Theresa May has defended controversial new surveillance powers as MPs debated them for the first time. The Investigatory Powers Bill will force the storage of internet browsing records for 12 months and authorise the bulk collection of personal data.
Mrs May said the measures were needed to keep the public safe and would uphold "both privacy and security". Labour and the SNP said they backed the bill in principle but would withdraw support without substantial changes. Labour's stance was branded "gutless" by the Lib Dems, who oppose the legislation.
The bill's second reading - where it was backed by 281 votes to 15 - gave MPs their first chance to debate it in the House of Commons. It represented an early step in a long parliamentary process which will see the details of the measures scrutinised at greater length over the coming months.
Rocky road ahead for surveillance bill
Surveillance bill: What's changed?
Shadow home secretary Andy Burnham said Labour would work constructively with Mrs May to get the legislation through Parliament but that "substantial changes" were needed to ensure the right balance "between collective security and individual privacy in the digital age". Labour abstained at second reading and will be seeking amendments including a specific "presumption of privacy".
Andy Burnham says he is not giving the home office a 'blank cheque' "We need new legislation but this bill is not yet good enough," he said. "Simply to block this legislation would, in my view, be irresponsible. It would leave the police and security services in limbo... We must give them the tools to do the job." The proposals have already been significantly amended after a draft bill last year was heavily criticised by three parliamentary committees.
The government may be forced to give further ground if it is to get the law on to the statute book by the end of the year as it wants, although it is not expected to meet significant resistance until the bill reaches report stage and then goes to the House of Lords.
'Bulk powers' Mr Burnham called for the use of surveillance powers to be limited to more serious investigations and for greater clarity on who can use them.
He said he did not see why agencies such as the Gambling Commission or the Food Standards Agency should have access to people's internet records, and said he would be calling on Mrs May to "severely reduce" the list of agencies who would get the new powers.
He also called for an independent review of "bulk powers" - the sweeping up of vast quantities of internet data and the collection of personal information from databases by the security services.
"I want a bill that helps the authorities do their job but protects ordinary people from intrusion and abuse from those in positions of power," he added.
The IP Bill seeks to place new obligations on telecoms companiesImage copyrightThinkstock Image caption
The IP Bill seeks to place new obligations on telecoms companies
Mrs May has said Britain's spies must continue to be allowed to hack into foreign computer networks, under so-called "bulk equipment interference warrants", as this was "a key operational requirement for GCHQ".
She told MPs that bulk powers had played a significant role in every major counter-terrorism investigation over the past decade, including seven terror plots foiled in the past 18 months, and in responding to the bulk of cyber attacks against UK interests. Operational requests for such information, she said, would have to be approved by a judge as well as the minister responsible under a regime of "robust and consistent safeguards".
But Conservative MP Owen Paterson, a former Northern Ireland secretary, said elected politicians accountable to Parliament and the public should be exclusively responsible for granting warrants.
The SNP said they were in favour of "targeted surveillance" but many of the powers being sought were of "dubious legality". "We will work with others to try and amend the bill extensively," Joanna Cherry, the party's home affairs spokeswoman, said. "If the bill is not amended to our satisfaction, we reserve the right to vote it down at a later stage."
The Lib Dems blocked Mrs May's previous attempt to legislate in this area, which was dubbed "the snoopers' charter", when they were part of the coalition government.
Speaking in the debate, former leader Nick Clegg said the bill was an improvement on previous proposals but was "not in a fit state" - telling MPs that it was still predicated on a "dragnet approach" to data retention and the powers it sought to grant were "formidable and capable of misuse". "The implications of this are very big indeed," he said. "It is that the government believes as a matter of principle that every innocent act of communication online must leave a trace for future possible interrogation by the state. No other country in the world feels the need to do this apart from Russia."
UKIP MEP Steven Woolfe told the BBC's Daily Politics he was "deeply concerned" by the Investigatory Powers Bill, saying it "could put us into an extreme position of monitoring our citizens".
Edward Snowden, the former CIA analyst turned surveillance whistleblower, said he was closely following Tuesday's debate. He tweeted: "Britons, note how your MPs vote today on IPBill. A vote in favour, or abstention, is a vote against you. "
And Amnesty International warned that "wide-ranging snooping powers" were being rushed through parliament at "break-neck speed".
Police employees have been hacking the Police National Computer to unlawfully retain suspects' biometric data, it has emerged.
The manipulation of the national IT system has come in response to public demands to restrict the length of pre-charge bail, the Biometrics Commissioner has suggested.
In his 122-page annual report (PDF), the commissioner noted that it had become “not uncommon” for the police to release suspects in ongoing investigations without officially placing them on bail, as the forces “clearly feel under pressure” to meet the Home Office's guidance to bring charges within 28 days of an initial arrest.
Police databases are set up to automatically delete the biometrics data of people who are released without being put on bail. In some cases in which investigations are ongoing, although suspects have been released from custody, the police have taken to manipulating their systems to subvert the automatic deletion process – and in three situations, the commissioner believed this to be unlawful.
Many police forces have custody IT systems, which are synchronised with the Police National Computer (PNC), the UK's centralised collection of databases accessible to a broad range of law enforcement and investigatory authorities in the country.
When a police force releases an arrestee without placing them on police bail, their custody IT systems will either close or cancel that arrestee's bail record. This automatically generates a No Further Action (NFA) entry on the PNC, for which the automated procedure is to quickly delete the arrestee's biometric records from the relevant national databases, although there is a procedure for retaining that data, even in situations when the arrestee has no previous convictions.
The commissioner wrote that the automatic deletion “will happen even in circumstances where no decision has actually been made about the case and the arrestee has specifically been told that he or she remains under investigation.”
In his annual report, he stated:
Over the past few months I have become aware of a number of cases where biometric material has been lost – or at risk of loss – as result of this problem and I have little doubt but that there have been numerous other cases in which, by this route, unnecessary (and probably unnoticed) deletions have been triggered unwittingly by forces. Breaking the law to uphold it Not all of such information is being lost, however. Some forces are savvy to the issue and have hacked the PNC in different ways to avoid the deletion of suspects' biometric data, despite those suspects not being on police bail.
Explaining these hacks, the commissioner noted that some forces “manipulate the interface between the force custody system and the PNC so as to ensure that the closure of the custody record does not automatically update the relevant PNC record as NFA,” while others “allow the custody record automatically to update the PNC with an NFA disposal but then immediately manually amend that PNC disposal so as to remove the NFA disposal and to show the case as still pending.”
In some cases, forces have allowed “the custody record automatically to update the PNC with an NFA disposal but then immediately add a ‘Biometrics Commissioner’ or other ‘marker’ to the PNC record to ensure that the biometrics are retained.”
The “Biometrics Commissioner” marker, also known as a UZ marker, informs the PNC not to delete the data held as it may be being referred to the commissioner, for purposes such as getting a National Security Determination to extend the length of time that the data may be held.
There have been “numerous instances of the inappropriate use of a UZ marker,” however. The commissioner reported “a recent instance in relation to a police force which had for some months had three UZ markers present on the PNC in circumstances where no application had been made or notified to me.”
Although these markers have now been removed after numerous prompts to the force concerned, it seems almost certain that the relevant biometrics were being held unlawfully through much of that period. While acknowledging that police are, in many of these instances, “feeling the pressure” to reduce the length of time in which suspects are held on police bail, the commissioner did not explicitly refer to reforms that the Home Secretary announced last year. Largely in response to protracted investigations such as Operation Yewtree, the Home Office waved around a statutory expectation that pre-charge bail would last less than 28 days.
At the time, Home Secretary Theresa May said: “It is simply not acceptable for individuals to spend months and in some cases years on pre-charge bail, with no system of review, only for charges never to be brought against them.”
The commissioner stated he had “repeatedly raised this 'no bail' problem with Home Office officials and others” and called for “appropriate guidance” to be issued regarding “the propriety/acceptability of releasing arrestees otherwise than on bail in circumstances where they are still under investigation.” ®
Minecraft is to become a testing ground for artificial intelligence experiments.
Microsoft, owner of the popular video game, revealed that computer scientists and amateurs will be able to evaluate and develop AI software using its virtual landscapes from July.
The company says Minecraft is more "sophisticated" than existing AI research simulations and cheaper to use than building a robot.
One expert said it had great potential.
"This is the state-of-the-art," said Prof Jose Hernandez-Orallo from the Technical University of Valencia, one of a small group of academics given early access to the software.
"At this moment there is nothing comparable, and this is just in its beginnings, so I see many possibilities for it."
To take advantage of the offer, users will need to install AIX - a software platform that hooks into Minecraft and allows the artificial intelligence code to control a character and get feedback about the consequences of its actions.
AIX will be open source, meaning the only cost involved will be that of buying a standard licence for the game.
The experiments will run on the researchers' own computers and be "roped off" from normal players. However, in time the aim is to allow people to interact with the code.
"People build amazing structures that do amazing things in Minecraft, and this allows experimenters to put in tasks that will stretch AI technology beyond its current capacity," explained Katja Hofmann, who leads the project at Microsoft Research's Cambridge lab in the UK.
"But eventually, we will be able to scale this up further to include tasks that allow AI agents to learn to collaborate with humans and support them in a creative manner.
"This provides a way to take AI from where it is today up to human-level intelligence, which is where we want to be, in several decades time."
Improving AI software by getting it to play video games has been done before. But Microsoft suggests the open-ended nature of Minecraft makes it particularly useful because of the huge variety of situations it can simulate from first-person perspectives.
"It allows you to have 'embodied AI'," explained Matthew Johnson, the principal software engineer working on AIX.
"So, rather than have a situation where the AI sees an avatar of itself, it can actually be inside, looking out through the eyes of something that is living in the world.
"We think this is an essential part of building this kind of general intelligence."
Microsoft expects one of the most popular types of research will be reinforcement learning, in which an AI agent learns how best to carry out a task via a mix of experimentation and use of prior knowledge, rather than being told what to do.
This process was recently used by Google's AlphaGo program. Last week, it triumphed against one of the best ever players of the board game Go after having played thousands of games against itself to discover new strategies.
While that was a specialised task, Microsoft suggests Minecraft provides a way for AI to learn a wide range of concepts.
"Experimenters could design a task with features such as lava, which might be very dangerous for the agent, and then evaluate how quickly it can learn to interpret the environment," Ms Hofmann told the BBC.
"But the platform is also open to more general AI research, for example how to make agents integrate language and vision.
"We see this as a stepping stone to technology that will eventually be applied to robotics, but that we can first explore in a safer environment that we completely control and is very cheap to run."
Although AI specialists may get the most out of the platform, Microsoft stresses that AIX will also support simple programs that children can create, and the firm has promised to provide a range of teaching materials.
"We want people of all skills and ages to get involved," said Mr Johnson.
Prof Jose Hernandez-Orallo commended the idea.
"Kids could create agents in a world they are already fascinated with, and play with them," he said.
"This could boost young people's interest in artificial intelligence, and we expect that in the next 10 to 20 years we are going to need more people working in the area."
Well this doesn't happen every day: Amazon has announced a 'critical' software for the Kindle which, unless downloaded by a certain date, will render your e-reader essentially unusable.
Customers will need to update the software on their Kindles by 22 March or risk losing access to all of Amazon's Kindle services including the book store and being able to update wirelessly over WiFi.
According to Amazon these are the devices that will need the emergency software update:
Kindle 1st Generation (2007) Kindle 2nd Generation (2009) Kindle DX 2nd Generation (2009) Kindle Keyboard 3rd Generation (2010) Kindle 4th Generation (2011) Kindle 5th Generation (2012) Kindle Touch 4th Generation (2011) Kindle Paperwhite 5th Generation (2012) Amazon hasn't revealed why the update is so essential but it will almost certainly be grounded in security.
Here's how to update your Kindle:
Plug your Kindle in to charge during the update. Connect to Wi-Fi. From the Home screen of your Kindle, select Menu or tap the Menu icon. Then choose Sync and Check for Items. The update will begin automatically. Leave your Kindle connected to both power and Wi-Fi overnight, or until the update is complete. Now that's all over and done with, sit back, relax and bask in the knowledge that your Kindle is safe.
"I see you have your computer linked to the telephone line, can you tell us how you did that?"
Those are the words of a Thames TV host back in 1984 explaining the first steps needed to send an email before most people even knew what email was. Even for long-time Internet users, the imagery in the video is pretty amazing.
The video, posted just a couple of weeks ago, shows a bespectacled early Paleolithic era nerd firing up massive modem (a Minor Miracles WS2000) to connect his microcomputer computer to the Prestel network. But first, he has to get a phone connection going using, what else, a huge rotary telephone.
Yes, kiddies, that's what super geeks had to through to send email back in the olden days of the Internet in the '80s.
After the connection is made, the user logs into a service called Micronet 800, which provided tech-related news and information, software downloads, as well as other services like bulletin boards and early versions of the personal homepage.
Soon after, another user demonstrates how to send an email, which the host receives and then, quaintly, explains how the message can also be printed out.
Watching the first user labor to dial the seven digits to make the connection should make us all grateful that nowadays you can initiate a link to the Internet via something as simple as a voice command when querying Siri or Alexa.
All that to say, yes, we are all spoiled Internet users. So the next time it takes an extra 10 seconds to download that Candy Crush update, have a little patience before smashing your smartphone in anger.
It took a lot to get us to this point, be thankful.
Have something to add to this story? Share it in the comments.
LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner is taking one for the team and forgoing his $14 million stock bonus to give it back to his employees.
The move is sure to boost morale among employees after the company's stock value took a drubbing following its earnings report in February. The stock, which had been trading around $192, fell more than 40% to $108 in the aftermath. It's since increased to $119.
Re/code's Kurt Wagner was the first to spot the move after the company failed to file a compensation form to the US Securities and Exchange Commission for Weiner. A company representative later confirmed that the LinkedIn CEO had put the stock back into the employee equity pool.
"Jeff decided to ask the Compensation Committee to forgo his annual equity grant, and to instead put those shares back in the pool for LinkedIn employees," the representative said.
The company confirmed that this was the first time Weiner has given up his shares.
Since the stock crash, Weiner has been trying to rally his employees into believing in LinkedIn's mission and that the stock market will once again value the social network for professionals highly.
At a company all-hands meeting, released by LinkedIn, Weiner argued that the company hasn't changed before or after the crash and that, one day, the valuation will catch up:
We are the same company we were the day before our earnings announcement. I'm the same CEO I was the day before our earnings announcement. You're the same team you were the day before our earnings announcement. And most importantly, we have the same mission, vision, and sense of purpose in terms of our ability to create economic opportunity. None of that has changed. It hasn't changed one iota.
Weiner is not the first tech CEO to have followed this playbook. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey gave away one-third of his ownership stake, or 1% of the company, back to employees in October following a round of layoffs.
Liz Wessel says she's always been the type of person who has no shame in reaching out to someone, whether or not she knows them.
Wessel is the CEO and cofounder of WayUp, a site used by hundreds of thousands of college students to find jobs at places like Microsoft, Uber, The New York Times, Disney, and Google — where Wessel previously worked.
Part of the reason she started WayUp with cofounder JJ Fliegelman was to combat nepotism, she explains, "so it should make sense that I don't really care about whether I have connections to a person."
"In college, my best cold email was to Roelof Botha, one of the top venture capitalists in the world," she recalls. "He was a role model of mine, and I emailed him asking what he thought that I should do after I graduate in order to best position myself to one day start my own company: take a job offer at Google, or take a job offer at a venture capital fund. He told me the former, and the rest was history," she explains. "It's because of that first cold email that I have since always encouraged friends and colleagues to cold email people."
Wessel says she and Fliegelman started their company when they were just 24 and 25 years old. "We had a combined four years of full-time work experience, so there were often times that employees would ask us questions that we couldn't answer, or would ask us for advice that we didn't want to get wrong," she says. "So, we started encouraging the team to cold email people who would better know the answer. One of our company values is 'Be a master at your craft, but know you're not the master.' So, I always encourage my team to cold email the actual 'masters' in their respective fields."
During a trip to California in early 2015, Wessel says she challenged her entire team to take advantage of the fact that they were surrounded by some of the greatest minds in tech. "I told everyone to cold email one expert in Silicon Valley who they normally wouldn't have the guts to email, and who they wouldn't be able to meet in New York City, where we're based."
Wessel led by example. She emailed her biggest role model with a very personalized message, asking for 15 minutes of her time. "The email was sent at 2 a.m. on a Monday, and at 8 a.m. I got a response: She invited me to come to dinner at her house the next night," says Wessel. "This is a woman who probably gets more cold emails than 99% of the executives in the world, yet here she was, responding to me."
The rest of the team followed suit. And it worked.
Nikki Schlecker, the leader of WayUp's Brand team, for example, cold emailed Guy Kawasaki. The famous marketing exec, who was one of Apple's early employees, not only agreed to grab coffee with Schlecker, but also live streamed the entire meeting.
"I 'dare' my employees to do this because, in the past year and a half, I have learned more than I ever thought possible, and I want to make sure my employees are learning just as much," explains Wessel. "As corny as it may sound, if you're not learning, you're not growing."
Another reason she does this: She strongly believes everyone should have at least one mentor — and cold emailing someone you admire is a great way to develop that type of relationship with them.
"Having a good mentor can keep you humble and motivated," she says. "Furthermore, it will help you learn more than reading a textbook or watching a how-to video. Nothing matters more to me than learning from great people, and when you're having a conversation with someone whose opinion you trust and value, and whose work you admire, it can help outline what success means to you, and the goals that you are working towards."
Wondering how to go about cold emailing your idol? Wessel shared a few tips:
Make the message personal. Do you have anything in common? Say what it is. Keep the email short and sweet. If the person is busy, they won't want to (or have time to) read an essay. Say what you want to get out of the meeting, and let it be something small. "I'd like to pick your brain," or "I'd love to get your advice on something" are appropriate asks. Never, ever ask for a job in this first email! Have an eye-catching subject line. Make yourself sound interesting enough so that the person wants to meet with you. Thank them for their time and consideration. "If you have someone in your field who inspires you to learn and understand how they got to where they are today, it helps you create that mountain top of your own," Wessel concludes.
Destinations on Google lets you explore cities and book flights
Google is trying to make planning vacations less of a hassle. To do that, it's launching a new feature today called Destinations on Google that's meant to help you figure out where to go, when to go, and what to do there; it'll also help you get cheap flights and hotels.
GOOGLE GENERATES POSSIBLE ITINERARIES BASED ON ITS TRAVEL DATA
Destinations on Google isn't a new website. Instead, you'll stumble upon it during mobile searches for travel deals and advice. If you search "European vacations," you'll be presented with a grid of major cities, what it'll cost to get to them, and the best weeks to go. Search for travel to a specific country or city, and you'll see an option to open up Google's new "travel guide." Regardless of which way you get to it, these searches will lead you into Google's new Destinations feature, which is where you'll find more info on the location and details on the cost of getting and staying there.
Most Destination pages have two tabs. The first is meant to help you explore that location with a description, photos, and videos from around the web. Much more usefully, it also includes itineraries. One of the toughest parts of travel is nailing down exactly how long to spend in each place and where to bounce between, so Google is trying to answer that with a mixture of editorially created and algorithmically generated guides.
google destinations-news-google Images credit: Google. At launch, 201 cities will have curated itineraries available — often more than one per location. London, for example, has itineraries for three days of a three-day trip and another itinerary for seeing its literary sights. If you haven't actually made up your mind on which cities to stop in, a country's Destination page will offer several algorithmically generated itineraries based on where Google Maps has detected people traveling and how long it sees them staying there for. The overall goal, says Radhika Malpani, Google Travel's engineering director, is to "let people explore when they don't know when and where they want to go." The itineraries should be pretty useful for that (one option in Greece closely matched the final leg of a trip I took a couple years ago), but there are some limitations; Google can't, for instance, tell you how to book transportation from one place to another.
DESTINATIONS IS ONLY AVAILABLE ON MOBILE
Destination pages' other tab is where Google will help you book your travel and stay. It's handy, but it isn't much more than what Google Flights and hotel search can do now. It essentially combines the two services to present you with a single price for your trip. Like Google Flights, it'll show you the cheapest dates to travel, so that you can better plan when you want depart. Unfortunately, you still have to book every flight and hotel individually through that specific company's website — so even if you like one of Google's itineraries enough to follow it day by day, you'll have to book each flight and hotel on its own.
There's one other oddity to Destinations. While you're probably used to researching vacations and booking flights on the desktop, Google has designed its new product exclusively for mobile — as in, next to none of this will show up in a desktop search. That could change in the future, but Google says it wanted to specifically design this as a mobile product, since it's seeing big increases in travel search there; half of Google Flights searches happen on mobile, as do 60 percent of "destination information" searches. Those figures are only growing, which explains why Google prioritized your phone.
Don’t be disappointed when you look at Samsung’s newest phone.
At first glance, the Galaxy S7 looks almost exactly like the phone Samsung gave us last year, except for the rounded back and slightly larger display on the curved-screen “Edge” model.
Here’s the real story with the Galaxy S7.
Samsung made huge, significant improvements to all the stuff you really care about. It’s water resistant. It has a bigger battery that charges quickly. It has a memory card slot so you can expand the storage. A lot of the clunkiness has been stripped out of the software. It has the best camera ever put on a smartphone.
And, like last year, the Galaxy S7 is more beautiful and unique looking than the iPhone.
What else could you want from a phone?
Aside from the qualms I have with Android phones in general (more on that later), the Galaxy S7 is about as perfect as a phone can get. It starts around $690 and the curved-screen Edge model starts around $790, but pricing will vary depending on your carrier. You can pre-order it now and it’ll be in stores on March 11.
Design and hardware It’s an amazing feat of engineering that Samsung was able to build a phone this beautiful, yet this functional. Even though it has an all metal and glass design, Samsung figured out how to make the Galaxy S7 waterproof for up to 30 minutes under a meter of water, without needing to seal the charging port with a plug like on other water resistant phones. If you’re scratching your head over how Samsung out-engineered Apple on that one, you’re not alone. But it works. It’s the kind of feature that should be standard on all premium phones.
Don't be afraid if the Galaxy S7 gets wet.
I tested the Edge version of the S7, which has a larger, 5.5-inch screen than the standard version. That’s the same size as the screen on the iPhone 6s Plus (the phone I normally use), but Samsung’s design is much more svelte and easier to hold than Apple’s unwieldy phone. When I carry my iPhone 6s Plus in my pocket, it feels like I have a slab of metal stabbing into my hip. The S7 Edge is barely noticeable.
The curved screen doesn’t do much more than look pretty and give you the illusion there aren’t any borders around the display. Samsung did include a slide-over menu that has shortcuts to your favorite apps, contacts, and news bulletins, but I never found that feature very useful. It’s best to just switch it off.
If you’re going to get the Galaxy S7, you might as well spend the extra $100 and get the Edge. It’s that good.
You can charge the Galaxy S7 wirelessly.
The battery is impressive too. While last year’s Galaxy model could barely make it a day on a charge, the S7’s battery lasted well over a day for me. Plus, you can charge the phone using a standard wireless charger, which is handy if you want to keep one at your desk and top up during the day. It also has a wired quick-charging feature, which charges your battery a few times faster than normal.
The latter feature is probably the most important. I woke up the other day and realized I forgot to charge my phone overnight and I was at a dangerously low 35%. So I plugged the S7 into the quick charger while I got ready. I was at 85% by the time I left for work less than an hour later. Perfect.
The best camera Samsung has leapfrogged the competition with the Galaxy S7 camera. Simply put, it’s the best camera ever put on a smartphone.
It has the widest aperture of any smartphone camera, which means it can pull in more light for better shots in dark settings. But my favorite feature is the quick auto-focus, which lets you take photos faster without having to worry about missing a shot. By comparison, my iPhone feels like it takes an eternity to auto-focus, or I have to deliberately double-tap the screen to get it to focus on what I want. With the Galaxy S7, I just point and shoot without waiting.
Tech Insider’s camera expert Rafi Letzter put the S7 camera through its paces, and it beat the iPhone 6s (our previous choice for best smartphone camera) in just about every way. Check out his camera comparison for even more details.
Software Over the years, my problem with Samsung phones has been that they usually come packed with far too many complicated features and quirks in the software that make it difficult to find what you want to do.
Almost all of that has been stripped out of the Galaxy S7. The software is clean and easy to navigate, and Samsung did a good job at making sure a lot of the junk has either been hidden or removed entirely.
The screen is always on. (You can customize what you see too.)
There is one handy feature Samsung did add though. The lock screen stays on with basic information like the time, date, and incoming notifications, so you don’t need to constantly switch on your phone to see what’s happening. Only part of the screen lights up, so it uses almost none of the battery.
Other than that, the Galaxy S7 feels like any other Android phone. The Galaxy S7 isn’t going to revolutionize the way you use a smartphone, but that’s ok. By now, smartphone innovation has matured to the point where we only see incremental improvements every year, and the Galaxy S7 made significant improvements to all the features that matter.
Virtual reality Ever since I tried an early version of the Oculus Rift in 2012, I’ve had a tough time explaining just how amazing and transformative VR is as a computing platform. While the high-end VR headsets from Oculus and HTC will cost several hundred dollars, Samsung teamed up with Oculus to give you a similar experience for just 99 bucks.
The Gear VR headset turns the S7 into a virtual reality machine, and it’s the most important distinguishing feature Samsung’s Galaxy phones have over other devices. Although the resolution isn’t as crisp as high-end VR headsets, Gear VR is more than worth the extra $99. (You can get one for free if you pre-order the S7 now.)
samsung gear 360 galaxy s7 and gear vrAntonio Villas-Boas/Tech Insider The Samsung Gear VR. Samsung is also making a VR camera called the Gear 360. It's coming soon.
There are already a handful of interesting games and VR videos in the Oculus app store, but many of them are in the experimental phases. VR is a very new platform, and developers are still experimenting.
But boy is it a blast to use. As crazy as it sounds, my favorite VR app so far is Netflix. It puts you in a virtual living room in a snowy cabin in the woods. In front of you is a big-screen TV that runs the standard Netflix app you see on smart TVs or streaming boxes like Apple TV or Roku. You really do get the sense that you’re binge-watching the latest season of “House of Cards” in someone’s exclusive vacation home. Incredible.
Words don’t do the VR experience justice, and Samsung has the best, most accessible VR platform available today. It’s your entry into a whole new world of computing and entertainment. Try it.
The problem with Android phones I just said a bunch of nice things about the Galaxy S7, and I mean every single one of them. The phone is incredible.
But there’s still one thing that keeps me from recommending it over the iPhone, and that’s Apple’s key advantage to the iPhone’s roaring success over the years: iOS. iOS is simply the best smartphone platform. It has the best apps. The best developer support, and the most consistent updates throughout the lifespan of your device.
You can’t say that about Samsung phones. Since Samsung makes a lot of modifications to Android, it can take months to get the latest updates, assuming you get them at all. The newest version of Android came out last fall, and only a small fraction of Samsung phones started getting it this month. (Only Google’s own Nexus phones get updates as soon as they’re available.)
For a lot of people, that may seem like an insignificant complaint, but when security flaws like last year’s major “Stagefright” scare hit Android, or when a hot new app launches only on the iPhone, I can’t feel confident using a smartphone platform that’s always a step or two behind iOS.
Conclusion The Galaxy S7 is Samsung’s best phone yet, and easily a strong contender for the best phone available today. If you want an Android phone and don’t mind spending a lot of cash (you can get a lot of great Android phones for about half the price of the S7), this is the first device you should look at.