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As if we needed another sign of Xiaomi's skyrocketing growth, the Chinese smartphone maker says it's now the most highly valued technology startup in the world. Yes, it's even worth more than wunderkind Uber. Xiaomi announced that it raised a whopping $1.1 billion from investors, which pegged its valuation at $45 billion, slightly higher than Uber's $40 billion-plus value. For a company that didn't even exist before 2010, Xiaomi is on a roll: It was named the third-largest smartphone maker in the world earlier this year (which honestly makes it hard to think of it as a startup). And it's now focused on expansion efforts in India and Indonesia (scaling back plans to reach 10 more countries this year). It's no wonder why Xiaomi is popular in emerging markets -- its phones offer high-end specs and looks for a fraction of the price of other smartphones. While it has no plans to tackle the US or Europe yet (its next stop is Brazil next year), Xiaomi's unique strategy and massive funding could end up driving down smartphone prices everywhere.

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Whatever you were doing in 2014, there's a good chance you took a picture or two while you were doing it. Thanks to the ever-increasing quality of cameras in our phones, and the popularity of sites like Instagram and Pinterest, images are the de facto currency when it comes to immediate,lucid story telling. We all know the old adage about how many words one picture is worth. As such, we're pleased to bring you 17,000 words' worth of them right here, from some of the more unusual technological happenings that occurred in 2014.

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Can i stay with you while i rent my place on Airbnb?

So you've decided to make some extra money renting out your apartment on Airbnb, only to realize that you need your own place to stay in the meantime. Don't worry, there's a service for that. Welcome to CISWYWIRMPOA? (Can I Stay with You While I Rent My Place on Airbnb?), a site that lets you arrange to stay with another Airbnb host. This "Airbnb for Airbnb" (their words) is largely ad hoc. Once you pair with someone, it's up to you to decide on payments -- the service suggests splitting your rental revenues or offering to host your new friend, but there aren't any firm rules. Yes, it's a bit absurd, but it shows that Airbnb is now big enough that some hosts want their own support network.

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Say hello to Engadget's first-ever Buyer's Guide dedicated to consoles, turbocharged headsets and all things gaming. It's a wide, wide world out there, and choosing the right console and accessories is a daunting task. So whether there's a special gamer in your life, or you're looking to make a few upgrades yourself, we have the top 17 picks right here -- just click the gallery below.

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Interactive apps, multiple theme-tune remixes, constant recommendations, memes or trans-Atlantic and server-collapsing debuts are but mild indicators of Game of Thrones' public success. What's the real measure of a show's popularity? It's how many people pilfer it from the internet. In this regard, our friends in Westeros have no need for a drawbridge, an army or one single drop of wildfire -- its crown as the "most pirated" program continues for the third year running. Torrentfreak estimates the show peaked at over 8 million downloads, nearly double that of the second place series: The Walking Dead. Despite increasing ways to legitimately watch TV online, the number of shows being downloaded suggests there's still an appetite for free -- or an unwillingness to wait for shows to legitimately arrive in your territory. We've got a hunch that waiting isn't something GoT fans are particularly good at.

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The Galaxy Note 4 is already one of Samsung's best smartphones, but a new model focused on maximizing 4G could make it more of a catch. The LTE-A Tri-Band CA Galaxy Note 4 (what a mouthful) can handle three different frequency bands simultaneously and aggregate them into a single, theoretically faster connection. The improved handset, which Samsung says is the first "commercially available" smartphone with such a setup, supports both Category 6 (up to 300 Mbps) and Category 9 (up to 450 Mbps) LTE networks -- but the kicker here is its ability to pick out and jump between the best available bandwidths.

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Bank of England

When you're the central bank in charge of determining interest rates for millions of UK inhabitants, being able to predict economic trends is of paramount importance. To do this, the Bank of England has numerous tools at its disposal, but research often depends on assessing trends from the past. In an attempt to become a little more timely, the Bank has set up a special taskforce that will begin scraping internet searches and social networks like Facebook and Twitter for clues about the state of Britain's economy at any given time.

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Touch ID fingerprint reading on an iPhone 5s

Forget having to lift smudges from a touchscreen to copy someone's fingerprints. According to a Chaos Computer Club presentation, you only need a camera... well, that and a little luck. The hacking association's Jan Krissler recently demonstrated that you can reproduce someone's fingerprint by getting a few good photos of their hand and processing it through off-the-shelf authentication software like VeriFinger. In Kessler's case, he got the German Defense Minister's thumbprint through photos from a press conference.

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Many China-based Gmail users have discovered that they've been unable to access emails since the start of the weekend. According to GreatFire.org, a China-based freedom of speech group, many Gmail web addresses were blocked in China on Friday -- continuing three days later into today. Even Google's Transparency Report, showing real-time traffic to services like Gmail, shows activity plummeted last Friday. According to Reuters, a Singapore-based spokesman for Google said that there was "nothing wrong on our end." Also talking to Reuters, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said she did not know anything about Gmail being blocked, adding that the government remained committed to aiding overseas business:

""China has consistently had a welcoming and supportive attitude towards foreign investors doing legitimate business here. We will, as always, provide an open, transparent and good environment for foreign companies in China."

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Proton rocket launch

The US government has been willing to loosen its grip on satellite data, but what about the info from other countries? Don't worry, that's opening up as well. Russia has declared that the Earth-sensing data it collects from civilian satellites is now available to the public, not just the government -- if you want to track St. Petersburg's urban sprawl, you probably can. Officials are keen to tout the advantages for Russian businesses that rely on maps, but the move should also help anyone who wants a more complete picture of how the world works.

[Image credit: AP Photo]

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