All the Social Media Giants Are Becoming the Same

There is no such thing as a new idea. The maxim holds true in Hollywood (honestly, a remake of Mulan?) and in Silicon Valley (“Uber but for X!”), but lately social media companies have taken unoriginality to new levels. Twitter now has Fleets, a rip-off of Instagram Stories, originally copied from Snapchat. Snapchat now has Spotlight, similar to Instagram Reels, brazenly stolen from TikTok. TikTok grew from the ashes of Vine, which was acquired by Twitter, which is now pursuing a concept called Audio Spaces, a carbon copy of Clubhouse.

Does your head hurt? Mine does, as do my thumbs, which now have three times as many platforms to scroll for short-form and ephemeral videos. I am overwhelmed with content and underwhelmed by features—at least until the next big thing comes along, and everyone lunges to copy that.

Companies are always eyeing their competitors to see what works; that’s just market research. But copycatting on social media has led to platforms that look suspiciously similar, with fewer things that set them apart. It’s harder to know what any given platform is for when they all do the same thing. Which major platform has a news feed, disappearing posts, private messaging, and a live broadcasting feature? That would be … all of them. This sickening homogeny of social media even extends to design: every Stories replicant uses those little circles; every TikTok clone uses the swipe-up-to-scroll. The biggest differentiator is that they all call their Xeroxed features by different names, leading to the maddening vocabulary of social media.

For the companies, reproducing the same features and formats is often an attempt to juice engagement. If people spend all of their free time scrolling through TikTok, those are precious hours siphoned from Instagram, or Twitter, or Snapchat—which means less revenue from advertisers. But simply replicating a competitor’s big idea doesn’t always lead to replicating its success. “I would say we’ve never seen a great ‘lift and shift’,” says Nicole Greene, an analyst at the research firm Gartner, where she focuses on social media. When LinkedIn and Skype adopted the Stories format, it didn’t lead to tons more engagement on those platforms—just tons of eyerolls. “The better strategy would be making it even better for your platform,” says Greene, by “tailoring these experiences or optimizing it based on the way their base is engaged.”

For all the grief that Instagram got by lifting Stories from Snapchat in 2016, the format took off with the platform’s homegrown community of influencers. Snapchat had influencers too, but a different kind—DJ Khalid, not Something Navy. On Instagram, Stories enabled thousands of niche creators to interact with their fans in a new way. Today, Instagram Stories are more popular than Snapchat, and the company has added its own flair to the format.

Reels, Instagram’s TikTok ripoff, doesn’t feel quite so distinguished yet. “It’s kind of like a poor man’s version of the real thing,” says Patrick Janelle, an Instagram influencer and the chairman of the American Influencer Council Board of Directors. Janelle makes most of his living on Instagram, where he posts photos of impeccable interiors and high-resolution selfies. He isn’t interested in Reels because he doesn’t make funny little videos to music—and if he did, he says, he would do that on TikTok. “It just doesn’t feel important, as a creator, to have the same format replicated on all of the platforms,” says Janelle. It doesn’t lead to more original creations, either: There are mass amounts of cross-posted content, like TikToks reappearing on Reels, or Instagram Stories repurposed as Fleets.

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Was This Poker Player’s Luck Too Good to Be True?

Two professional poker players face off at a casino in suburban Sacramento. One is a round-faced local dude with a baseball cap pulled down to his eyebrows. The other is a glamorous young sharp from Las Vegas who moonlights as an actress and model.

A single hand that Mike Postle and Marle Cordeiro played that night—September 21, 2019—turned into a controversy that roiled the insular poker world, generating multiple lawsuits, and raising questions about honesty, loyalty, and the unwritten rules of modern poker.

The game was livestreamed to a modest audience of gambling fans, a broadcast that was cohosted by a Sacramento player named Veronica Brill. She had been watching Postle tear through all comers at Stone’s Gambling Hall for months, and Brill had come to believe that Postle’s luck was too good to be real. He often made unorthodox choices as the play unfolded, choices that the prevailing theory of high-end poker considered wrong or stupid or at least suboptimal. And yet he kept winning.

In Brill’s mind, the possibility had to be considered: Was Postle cheating? As she watched him make yet another strange decision against Cordeiro that night, Brill couldn’t hold her tongue. “It doesn’t make sense,” she told the livestream audience. “It’s like he knows. It doesn’t make sense. It’s weird.”

Writer Brendan Koerner became obsessed with this story, not because it provided neat lessons about right and wrong, cheating and honesty, but precisely because it revealed how the real lives of people like Postle and Brill can collide in unexpected and utterly ambiguous ways. Was Postle cheating? If so, how was he pulling it off? Or did Brill have something against him? In this week’s Get WIRED podcast we explore these questions and take a few side trips to learn about RFID chips, poker law, and old Westerns.

How to Listen

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Ride-Hail Companies Are Making Life Harder for Scooters

Robotaxis don’t exist yet. Some experts suspect they won’t circulate widely for another decade. But earlier this month, the state of California adopted new rules governing how ride-hail services without a driver behind the wheel might work.

There are separate rules for autonomous vehicles with safety drivers, and those without. But operators of both types of services will have to hand over lots of information to the government: data on where robotaxi riders are picked up and dropped off; how many miles the vehicles travel; whether the vehicles are powered by gas or electricity; whether rides are available in underserved communities; and a safety plan, which Californians will be able to comment on.

The rules contrast sharply with the first-of-their kind ride-hail rules that the state adopted in 2013. Then, the debate du jour was more, “What the heck is this Lyft and Uber business, and will it survive a battle with the taxi industry?” than “How will these business models change the world?” Now, everyone takes transportation regulation more seriously—and jockeys to weigh in.

If you’re wondering why a utilities agency gets to determine how an autonomous vehicle taxi ride works, know that it is pretty weird. The agency, created early in the 20th century to oversee gas and electric companies, now regulates telecommunications, railroads, and privately owned transportation services, like limos, tours buses, and ferries. Historically, taxis have been the domain of city rule-makers. Then came ride-hail. In 2013, amid disputes about what ride-hail was, and how long these upstart companies would last, California regulators heeded company lobbyists and crafted rules for companies like Uber and Lyft.

The ride-hail companies seized on that decision, and their lobbyists pushed it as a model elsewhere. Today, more than 40 state legislatures have passed mostly industry-friendly laws regulating ride-hail—and stripping cities of the power to oversee the services or set their own rules.

Over time, many city officials came to see those laws as a bad deal. Ride-hail services weren’t just disrupting a stagnant taxi industry. They took some people off transit. They clogged up streets, especially in busy downtowns. Even if, as the companies theorized, more people gave up their personal cars, ride-hail contributed to a spike in total vehicle miles traveled. (Turns out drivers need to travel between fares.) Yet there was little local leaders could do about it. Allowing state agencies to make the calls on ride-hail “unempowered cities,” says Marla Westervelt, a transportation policy analyst who worked at both LA Metro and the scooter-share company Bird. “It set the framework for all the fights we’re having now. It was the original sin.”

Look closely at the conversations—and disputes—that crop up around transportation and technology, and you’ll see the ghosts of those original policy decisions, and an attempt by authorities to reel back power that’s been lost. Cities, especially big ones like San Francisco, Chicago, Washington, DC, and Los Angeles, have gotten more assertive about overseeing transportation companies—especially transportation companies that pull into town with California license plates and a pile of venture capital funding. (Chicago and DC were among the first to tax ride-hail trips to subsidize public transit.) For those cities, the questions are: How can we point this private business towards a public good? And how can we eke out enough power over them to do that?

Micromobility companies—the folks who flooded your block with shared electric scooters and bikes a few years back—have borne the brunt of this new approach. Part of the reason is practical: Cities generally have authority over their sidewalks in a way that they don’t over ride-hail vehicles. After the first, and sometimes unannounced, introductions of scooters on streets led to public backlash, many city governments chose a new approach: They slowed everything down.

“We want to know, ‘What is the role [of scooters] in the transportation network? Are people really using them to joyride? Are they taking the place of walking and bike trips? Or are they really taking the place of driving trips?” says Tilly Chang, the executive director of San Francisco’s county transportation authority, which monitors the city’s congestion.

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The Race To Crack Battery Recycling—Before It’s Too Late

Every day, millions of lithium-ion batteries roll off the line at Tesla’s Gigafactory in Sparks, Nevada. These cells, produced on site by Panasonic, are destined to be bundled together by the thousands in the battery packs of new Teslas. But not all the batteries are cut out for a life on the road. Panasonic ships truckloads of cells that don’t pass their qualification tests to a facility in Carson City, about a half hour’s drive south. This is the home of Redwood Materials, a small company founded in 2017 with an ambition to become the anti-Gigafactory, a place where batteries are cooked down into raw materials that will serve as the grist for new cells.

Redwood is part of a wave of new startups racing to solve a problem that doesn’t really exist yet: How to recycle the mountains of batteries from electric vehicles that are past their prime. Over the past decade, the world’s lithium-ion production capacity has increased tenfold to meet the growing demand for EVs. Now vehicles from that first production wave are just beginning to reach the end of their lifespan. This marks the beginning of a tsunami of spent batteries, which will only get worse as more electric cars hit the road. The International Energy Agency predicts an 800 percent increase in the number of EVs over the next decade, each car packed with thousands of cells. The dirty secret of the EV revolution is that it created an e-waste timebomb—and cracking lithium-ion recycling is the only way to defuse it.

Redwood’s CEO and founder J. B. Straubel understands the problem better than most. After all, he played a significant role in creating it. Straubel is cofounder and, until last year, was the CTO at Tesla, a company he joined when it was possible to count all of its employees on one hand. During his time there, the company grew from a scrappy startup peddling sports cars to the most valuable auto manufacturer on the planet. Along the way, Tesla also became one of the world’s largest battery producers. But the way Straubel sees it, those batteries aren’t really a problem. “The major opportunity is to think of this material for reuse and recovery,” he says. “With all these batteries in circulation, it just seems super obvious that eventually we’re going to build a remanufacturing ecosystem.”

There are two main ways to deactivate lithium-ion batteries. The most common technique, called pyrometallurgy, involves burning them to remove unwanted organic materials and plastics. This method leaves the recycler with just a fraction of the original material—typically just the copper from current collectors and nickel or cobalt from the cathode. A common pyro method, called smelting, uses a furnace powered with fossil fuels, which isn’t great for the environment, and it loses a lot of aluminum and lithium in the process. But it is simple, and smelting factories that currently exist to process ore from the mining industry are already able to handle batteries. Of the small fraction of lithium-ion batteries that are recycled in the US—just 5 percent of all spent cells—most of them end up in a smelting furnace.

The other approach is called hydrometallurgy. A common form of this technique, called leaching, involves soaking lithium-ion cells in strong acids to dissolve the metals into a solution. More materials, including lithium, can be recovered this way. But leaching comes with its own challenges. Recyclers must preprocess the cells to remove unwanted plastic casings and drain the charge on the battery, which increases cost and complexity. It’s part of the reason why spent lithium-ion batteries have been treated as waste ever since the first commercial cells hit the market in the early 1990s. It was often several times cheaper to mine new material, especially lithium, than recover it with leaching.

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The Absolute Best Black Friday Deals Online This Weekend

Specs: Intel Core i7 CPU, 8 GB RAM, 512 GB SSD

This laptop might not look flashy, but it’s solid, and WIRED reviewer Scott Gilbertson likes the keyboard a lot. It isn’t the most powerful editing or gaming machine, but if you aren’t looking to do anything too CPU-heavy, it’s a safe bet.

Asus Chromebook Flip C434 for $479 ($91 off)

Amazon

Specs: Intel Core M3 CPU, 4 GB RAM, 64 GB SSD

This is our favorite Chromebook. It strikes a good balance between price, power, and features. The 2-in-1 design allows for a tablet mode when you’re watching movies (or using Android apps), but you can simply stick to the traditional laptop mode too. The screen is sharp compared with other Chromebooks, and the battery lasts all day.

Home Office Deals

Standing desk

Fully Jarvis

Photograph: Fully 

We rounded up even more deals on work from home gear here.

Fully Jarvis Bamboo Standing Desk (30×24) for $475 ($44 off)

Fully

Many of us at WIRED love this standing desk. It’s easy to adjust the height, and if you don’t mind paying for them, you can choose from several options to customize the desk further. If you’re tired of sitting all day while working from home, this is a good way to sneak in some more activity.

Staples Hyken Mesh Task Chair for $150 ($80 off)

Staples, Amazon ($170, $50 off)

Ask WIRED reviews editor Jeffrey Van Camp which budget-conscious chair you should get, and this is what he’ll recommend. It’s comfortable and supportive, and a good chair can make a big difference when you’re sitting at your computer all day.

LG 34-Inch Ultrawide Full HD Monitor for $330 ($50 off)

Amazon, Best Buy, Adorama

WIRED’s Jeffrey Van Camp uses and likes this LG monitor. It has HDMI and DisplayPort inputs, a sharp pixel resolution, and a quick response time. If you tend to have way too many tabs open, ultrawide monitors are the way to go—they can simultaneously display two full-size browser windows side by side.

Aukey KM-G12 Keyboard for $40 ($25 off)

Amazon (Click the Coupon Button)

The best budget mechanical keyboard is cheaper than ever before. Seriously, this is a steal. Be sure to click on the coupon, then an additional discount will be applied at checkout, bringing the price down to $40.

pAukey HD Webcamp

Aukey HD Webcam

Photograph: Amazon

Aukey HD Webcam for $30 ($20 off)

Amazon

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Burn Off That Turkey With These Black Friday Fitness Deals

Women’s: Backcountry, Moosejaw

Sweaty underwear is a surefire way to drag down your hike from enjoyable escape to soul-sucking drudgery. Damp cloth chafes, which can rub your skin raw, and when it’s cold outside the sweat will chill out. Swap out your everyday cotton undies for a pair of quick-drying, sweat-wicking synthetics.

Solo Stove Bonfire for $230 ($110 off)

Solo Stove

Solo Stoves are more efficient wood-burners than traditional campfires, emitting less smoke and leaving less ash behind. We reviewed a similar version recently if you want to learn more, but the Bonfire is much more portable. Just toss it in the truck and take it wherever you plan on pitching camp for the night.

An even smaller and lighter version, the Solo Stove Lite, is available for $70 ($20 off). It’s great for cooking dinner or just boiling water. The company is running a BOGO offer on the Lite, so if you buy one you can gift another to your hiking buddy for free. Stoves like the larger Titan and larger-still Campfire are also on sale and have the same BOGO free offer.

Solo Stove Grill Ultimate Bundle for $550 ($225 off)

Solo Stove

If you’re less concerned with moving quickly to cover ground and just want to go car camping, the charcoal-fed Ultimate Grill is big enough to cook for everyone. The Ultimate Bundle comes with two stands of different heights, a grill cover, grilling tools, starter nuggets (for starting the fire), charcoal briquettes, and a carry case.

Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket for $139 ($60 off)

Women’s: BackcountryMen’s: Backcountry, Dick’s Sporting Goods

You’ll rarely hike in a puffy jacket—they’re just too warm. These are best for when you’re stopped to eat a meal or stepping out of your tent at night to tighten the guylines. The Nano Puff is a lightweight, compact synthetic-insulation jacket that’s plenty warm enough for subfreezing temps.

Climbing Gear Deals

women's climbing harness

Photograph: Backcountry

If you can’t wait to climb, then don’t wait. I learned in 40-degree rain on granite slab, and I swear it taught me balance and poise better than if I had learned on toasty, dry rocks in the summer.

Black Diamond Solution Harness for $56 ($19 off)

Backcountry, Moosejaw

This is enough harness for any sport climbing route, outdoors or indoors at a climbing gym. It’s what I use, because it’s well padded and easy to adjust, so you won’t mind spending a full day at the climbing gym in your harness. There’s a women’s version, too.

Petzl Grigri Belay Device for $82 ($28 off)

Backcountry, Moosejaw

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You Really Should Peek at These Black Friday TV Deals

Vizio’s first-ever OLED is also the cheapest new OLED we’ve ever seen, with a shocking $400 discount right now. It’s one of the best-looking TVs we’ve seen all year, with fantastic black levels and HDMI 2.1 ports that mean you’ll get up to 120 Hz at 4K resolution with consoles like the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X—the same performance you’d get with the LG CX we list next, but without the added benefits of the Nvidia G-Sync that television has.

Best Picture—LG CX OLED TV for $1,400 ($400 off)

Best Buy, Walmart ($1,648)

LG’s CX OLED is one of the prettiest TVs of 2020, which makes this sale one of the best you’ll find this Black Friday. It’s got a super-low refresh rate option and Nvidia G-Sync for working as a computer monitor, and it’s also one of the few models that can do 4K at 120 frames per second to make video games look even better on next-gen consoles like the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X.

LG BX OLED for $1,197 ($403 off)

Amazon, Target, Walmart ($1,300), Best Buy

If you don’t need the super speedy 120-Hz 4K for gaming, the step down from the LG CX is an astonishing deal this Black Friday. For just under $1,200, you can get very nearly the same image quality as you do with LG’s higher-tiered models, with some of the best contrast on the market.

Image may contain Screen Electronics Monitor Display Lcd Screen Television and TV

Sony A8H

Photograph: Sony 

Sony A8H OLED 65-Inch TV for $1,798 ($500 off)

Best Buy, B&H

WIRED reviewer Jess Grey says this is one of the prettiest TVs she’s ever seen, and I’m inclined to believe her. If you’re after a shockingly beautiful screen to complete your fancy quarantine theater, look no further.

Samsung Q80T 55-Inch TV for $1,048 ($252 off)

Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy

Samsung’s Q80T has smart backlighting and quantum dot (QLED) technology, offering some of the best contrast you’ll find on a non-OLED TV. I also like that it has a central pedestal to stand on, so it will fit on older TV stands that aren’t excessively wide.

Samsung Q60T 50-Inch TV for $498 ($152 off)

Walmart, Best Buy

TVs smaller than 55 inches are not so common these days, but this is a good option for those who need to squeeze a television into a smaller space. It has Samsung’s quantum dot technology for brighter colors, and it comes with a decent smart interface for streaming your favorite channels.

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Early Cyber Monday Deals on Pandemic Supplies

We like these masks so much that we included them in not only our Best Face Masks guide, but also our 2020 Wish List. Buy the size that fits, use the head tie to adjust the fit, and cut off the excess strap for comfort.

Baggu Fabric 3-Mask Set for $24 ($8 off)

Baggu

We also like Baggu’s reusable masks, which were comfortable enough to sleep in when a WIRED staffer’s parent got Covid-19. There are fun designs here, but they’re selling out fast. You’ll see the discount at checkout. Baggu is also having a 25 percent off sale sitewide through Cyber Monday.

Disposable Face Masks for $8 ($22 off)

Amazon

This pack of face masks fell to the same price on Amazon Prime Day. Disposable face masks are not the most environmentally friendly option—we do recommend investing in some reusable masks—but these are lightweight and effective. They’re a good option if you’re prone to dreaded mascne.

Con.Struct Face Mask 6-Pack for $17 ($7 off)

Amazon

We are genuinely shocked by how well made and durable these masks are for the price. Right now, they’re less than $3 per mask, and the double-layered cotton (with a filter pocket) is thick enough to block light and, hopefully, any infectious respiratory particles.

Cleaning and Medical Device Deals

hand sanitizer

Photograph: Olika

Don’t panic—you don’t need to frantically sterilize everything nearby as we did in the spring. Still, it can’t hurt to clean your hands and keep high-traffic areas wiped down. These may help.

Olika Hand Sanitizer Multipacks for $34 ($8 off)

Amazon (click the coupon button)

Amazon will apply additional coupon savings at checkout. If you don’t want to make your own hand sanitizer and you’re tired of vodka-scented mass-produced sanitizer, this deal might be up your alley.

iHealth No-Touch Forehead Thermometer for $24 ($20 off)

Amazon

This thermometer usually costs between $30 and $50. It uses an infrared beam to give a body temperature reading in just one second, so you won’t have to deal with probing under a sick kid’s tongue.

Kinsa QuickCare Smart Thermometer for $20 ($5 off)

Amazon (click the coupon button)

Click the on-page coupon to get this deal. We don’t love that this product requires an app, but if you’re OK with pairing it to your phone and sharing your temperature data, the price is good. The app allows you to track your data over time, so you can see if your temperature is trending higher or lower.

Cleancult Home Cleaning Bundle for $80 ($57 off)

Cleancult

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The Absolute Best Black Friday Deals Online

The very cute Echo Dot Kids Edition comes with some parental controls and a one-year subscription to Amazon Kids+. Alexa can read your kiddo bedtime stories, play age-appropriate music, and more. Keep in mind that the Kids+ subscription automatically renews at $3 per month, so don’t forget to cancel if you’re not interested in paying for it.

Echo Dot for $29 ($21 off)

Amazon

This recently-updated spherical speaker has Alexa built in. Our tester loves it so far, and says it has better sound than previous versions. You can bundle it with a Sengled Smart Bulb for the same price.

Echo Show 5 and Blink Mini Camera for $50 ($30 off)

Amazon

The Echo Show 5 isn’t our favorite gadget, but it’s a good option if you want a small smart display for your kitchen counter or front entryway. You’ll get a mini indoor camera bundled in, too. Alternatively, you may want to check out the bigger Echo Show 8 for $20 more (the camera can be bundled for an additional $5).

a pink round nest mini speaker on white background

Nest Mini

Photograph: Google

Nest Mini for $19 ($30 off)

Target, Walmart

If you, like us, prefer Google Assistant to Amazon’s Alexa, this is a good deal on Google’s smallest smart speaker. Check out our review for more.

Nest Hub for $50 ($40 off)

Target, Walmart, Best Buy

This little hub doesn’t have a camera or great speakers. It’s best suited for entryways to manage your smart home devices or to see upcoming calendar events and reminders. You can also use it to check your security cameras. The Walmart deal includes $20 in Vudu credit if that’s something you want (yes, you can watch movies and shows on this hub, too).

Nest Learning Thermostat for $199 ($50 off)

Amazon, Target, Walmart, Best Buy

Use the Nest app to adjust your home’s temperature remotely or set schedules to avoid paying for unnecessary heating and cooling. Nest learns as you use it—so, for example, it’ll keep your home cooler while you’re asleep and not moving around. Check with your energy provider—you might be able to get a rebate for installing a Nest thermostat.

Headphone and Speaker Deals

Read all our Black Friday Headphone and Speaker picks.

airpods

Apple AirPods Pro

Photograph: Apple

★ Best for iPhone—Apple AirPods Pro for $169 ($80 off)

Amazon, Walmart, Target ($200), Best Buy ($200)

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The Best Black Friday Phone, Tablet, and Watch Deals

Want a stylus with your phone? Samsung makes the best one (nearly the only one). The massive Note 20 Ultra (8/10, WIRED Recommends) has a sprawling 6.9-inch screen, and the S Pen stylus is tucked away for you to pull out for scribbling or marking up documents. It’s one of the most powerful Android phones around with the Snapdragon 865+ processor, and it delivers great battery life, 5G, excellent cameras, and all the bells and whistles you’d want. If you buy it directly from Samsung, you can get a chunk extra off the phone if you trade-in an eligible device.

samsung galaxy phone

Galaxy A71 5G

Photograph: Samsung

Google Pixel 4A for $300 ($50 off)

*Best Buy (Requires Activation), Amazon ($350 Unlocked, But Still a Good Deal)

The Pixel 4A is a good deal if you want a solid phone, don’t care (yet) about 5G network compatibility, and aren’t in need of the Pixel 5’s higher-end specs. In short, it’s all the phone you really need, and that’s why WIRED’s smartphone reviewer extraordinaire Julian Chokkattu gave it a coveted 9/10 in his review. Like with the Pixel 5 deal, you have to activate the phone at the time of purchase on Verizon, AT&T, or Sprint, and Sprint will also give you a total of $150 off if you open a new line.

Samsung Galaxy A71 5G for $500 ($100 off)

Amazon, Best Buy, Samsung

There are better phones, even at this discounted price (like the Google Pixel 4A 5G), but if you want to stick with Samsung, the A71 5G is solid. It runs well, delivers more than a day of battery life, and has perks like expandable storage and a headphone jack. However, it doesn’t have the brightest screen, the cameras aren’t amazing, and there’s no water resistance or wireless charging.

the front and back of the new oneplus 8 phone

OnePlus 8

Photograph: OnePlus

OnePlus8—12 GB Ram and 256 GB Storage—for $570 ($130 off)

B&H, OnePlus ($599

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