The last smartphone to feature an optical zoom camera was Samsung's Galaxy K Zoom, but we didn't like it -- no thanks to its inconsistent camera performance plus poor battery life (the bulky body didn't help either). Merely hours away from South Korea, Taiwan-based ASUS decided to have a go at making its own optical zoom-enabled smartphone, which ended up being its surprise announcement at this year's CES: the Lumia 1020 ZenFone Zoom. What we've been told so far is that this $399 device is the world's thinnest smartphone that packs a 3x optical zoom camera, and there's more: It's actually a 13-megapixel f/2.0 imager with optical image stabilization, precise laser autofocus (as used by the LG G3), full manual mode and dual-color LED flash.

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Let's face it: With its curvaceous body, low-res screen, self-healing tendencies and lousy camera, the original LG G Flex was a mixed bag if there ever was one. When it came time to craft the inevitable sequel, though, the Korean tech giant agonized over customer feedback for months to figure out what went awry and what was really important to people. The end result of all that brainstorming is the LG G Flex 2, and it shows -- it's dramatically better than the original in just about every way that matters.

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Sony SmartWatch 3 review: dull design, but great for runners

This here is the Sony SmartWatch 3. That might make it sound like it's the third iteration in a line of gadgets, but really, it's the first. That's because even though this is Sony's third smartwatch (fourth if you count the Sony Ericsson LiveView), it's actually Sony's first that comes with Android Wear. Both the original SmartWatch and the SmartWatch 2 ran Sony's own proprietary platform, which, while Android-friendly, didn't have nearly the same reach as Google's Android Wear. It's great that Sony has finally seen the light, but the SmartWatch 3 has arrived remarkably late to the party, letting rivals like Motorola, LG and Samsung gain ground. On the other hand, the SmartWatch 3 is currently the only Android Wear option with a built-in GPS radio, allowing for more precise workout tracking. Which, as it turns out, could be enough to help Sony stand apart from the pack.

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ASUS at CES 2011

The spotlight doesn't often fall on the lesser-known Chinese-speaking (both mainland and Taiwanese) companies that set up booth space each January at CES. But if you do pay close attention to their yearly reveals, you'll often find some of the show's more interesting gadgets. Brands like ASUS and Lenovo (among many others) have a knack for either inventing new device categories or pushing the limits of existing formulas. They virtually define the landscape for hybrid PCs, and they're often willing to stretch the boundaries of smartphones, wearables and TVs. In anticipation of the coming CES, we attempt to gauge just what each of these major Chinese-language players will bring to Las Vegas in 2015. But first, let's indulge in a little history lesson.

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Exactly 30 years ago today, two men made history by completing the first mobile phone call in the UK. As everyone celebrated the opening seconds of 1985, Michael Harrison, the son of former Vodafone chairman Sir Ernest Harrison, rang his father from Parliament Square in London. The call was supposed to be a surprise; Michael had snuck away from his family's New Year's Eve party in Surrey and driven up to the capital earlier that evening.

In his possession was the Transportable Vodafone VT1, a cumbersome 5kg block with carry handle, antenna and tethered receiver. One of the network's technicians punched in the correct number and passed Michael the handset, as a curious crowd tried to work out who the minor celebrity was and exactly what he was doing. The call connected after just a few rings (perhaps it wasn't such a surprise for Sir Ernest Harrison) and the pair chatted briefly: "Hi Dad, it's Mike. Happy New Year. This is the first ever call on a UK mobile network."

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My dad called me up a few weeks ago saying he wanted to get mom a tablet for Christmas, one that might be good enough to replace the laptop she hated. It wasn't the hardware causing angst; it was the software: Windows 8. She's pretty comfortable with technology, but migrating from the familiar world of Windows' past was tricky and she wasn't alone -- I didn't find it easy either. While no tablet could completely replace a laptop, for general internet use, it's all she really needed.

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US-IT-COMPUTER-CES

Long before Transformers director Michael Bay choked onstage at Samsung's lavish CES 2014 press conference, the Korean company was just another electronics outfit begging for attention. But after decades at CES, Samsung is now the undisputed king of the show. Its blowout media events are the largest and most difficult to get into. Samsung Electronics CEO BK Yoon is kicking off the show next month by hosting the prestigious opening keynote. And it's one of the few tech giants left standing at CES, as Microsoft and others abandon it. Samsung's glorious rise mirrors its ascent in the mobile industry, and it's also yet another example of the company's oft-repeated formula for success: Time, money and perseverance lead to victory.

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ASUS ZenWatch review: subtle and stylish, with a few shortcomings

The war for your wrist isn't going to wind down any time soon: We've already seen the industry's biggest players take a stab (in some cases, multiple ones) at perfecting their wearables. ASUS isn't quite as prominent as other names on that list, but that just makes its $200 ZenWatch all the more interesting The Taiwanese company -- probably best known for its quirky phone-tablet hybrids -- has put together an inaugural smartwatch that's dripping with style. In fact, it's the first smartwatch I've worn that's ever attracted random compliments from passersby (in two countries, no less), not to mention the first one that didn't make me feel like a complete nerd while wearing it. Alas, it takes more than just a sweet face to make a smartwatch worth owning.

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How thin is too thin? Well, the Chinese smartphone makers are always pushing their limits on this end. Following Gionee's 5.1mm Elife S5.1 and Oppo's 4.85mm R5, today Vivo has set a new record with its X5Max, a 4.75mm-thick Android phone that still manages to pack a number of notable features. The slim aluminum mid-frame houses a vibrant 5.5-inch 1080p Super AMOLED screen, a 1.7mm-thick logic board and a 5-megapixel f/2.4 front camera. Flip to the back and you'll find a 13-megapixel f/2.0 main camera -- the inevitable bulge that goes beyond the phone's official thickness by almost 2mm -- and a loudspeaker towards the bottom. On the whole, the phone feels surprisingly light (Vivo has yet to list the official weight) but also solid and well-made.

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Crafting and selling a smartphone is hard. Crafting and selling a smartphone while legions of titans and upstart ankle biters do the same? Well, that's just infinitely harder. You'd think it would be the newcomers struggling the most as they try to carve out their niche in a too-crowded market, but these days, it's often the big guys, the juggernauts that need the most help finding their footing. Just take a look at the news: Representatives for both Sony and Samsung recently said their respective companies would be slashing the number of smartphone models they churn out, all in hopes that more sweet, sweet cash will eventually fall into their laps.

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YotaPhone was inarguably one of the quirkiest smartphones released last year, with not one, but two displays. This curious marriage of LCD and E Ink was certainly a manufacturing achievement, but limited uses for the secondary screen meant it simply couldn't live up to its potential. Undeterred, Yota Devices announced earlier this year it was cooking up a sequel, and today it's ready to launch the new and improved YotaPhone 2. Its fresh design, high-end specs and bigger, higher-resolution displays are welcome upgrades, but most importantly, a thorough overhaul of the handset's software means you can now make full use of the low-power E Ink screen, which has also been granted touch functionality for this generation.

I've spent a fair amount of time with the device, and have to say that it's the most interesting smartphone I've ever used. Like its predecessor, the YotaPhone 2 is still very much a niche proposition with narrow mainstream appeal. That being said, Yota Devices has more or less achieved what it set out to do last year: Make a handset with an E Ink display that has several, legitimate use cases. Whether these will actually tempt you into picking one up is another matter, but the second screen is no longer an oddity; it's an asset.

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Samsung Gear S review: an ambitious and painfully flawed smartwatch

Samsung's wearables strategy seems to be: "Throw everything at a wall and see what sticks." In a little over 12 months, the electronics giant has launched six -- yes, six -- different smartwatches, each with its own unique personality. The latest is the Samsung Gear S, and its particular claim to fame might be the most ambitious yet: It's the first Gear watch that lets you make and receive calls from your wrist, no phone required. Yep, the Gear S actually has a 3G modem inside it, along with WiFi, Bluetooth and GPS radios. It's basically a watch that's also a phone. You can even respond to emails using a tiny onscreen keyboard. But, at $350 a pop, can it replace your phone? And more importantly, would you want it to?

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Black Friday shopping in 2013

Yes, it's once more time for Black Friday -- that beloved (and sometimes dreaded) day when you can brave crowded stores in hopes of scoring deals on gadgets that would otherwise be out of your reach. But who's offering the sweetest bargains? Never fear: we've rounded up some of the better sales you'll find on or around November 28th, including some pretty hefty discounts on 4K TVs, game consoles and phones. Check out the gallery bellow to browse by store and see which shops are worth visiting, and let your fellow shoppers know if you've spotted any other great offers in the comments.

[Image credit: Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images]

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HTC RE Camera review: a fun personal shooter with room to grow

My father's camcorder was a common sight on childhood vacations. Trips to Mount Rainier, the Oregon Coast, Disneyland, skiing, weddings -- you name it, there's video evidence of my siblings and I enjoying time together. I'm lucky to have grown up in an era where this technology was available, but today these memories can be captured more easily and with less sophisticated (read: less expensive) equipment. We have quick and easy access to cameras at a moment's notice, thanks to smartphones and tablets, and now another form factor is starting to gain momentum: personal cameras. With the exception of the GoPro, this genre is now seeing an influx of small, hand-held devices that are small enough to put in your pocket or bag and can still take decent photos and videos.

HTC is one of the companies rushing to get into this space with the RE camera (pronounced "Ree"), an awkwardly named gadget that's shaped like a tube, packs a 16-megapixel camera and 1080p HD video capture and features cross-platform support so Android and iOS users alike can take advantage of it. Can this tiny camera take the place of my father's camcorder? What else is it good for? And is it worth paying $200 even if you already have a smartphone camera? Keep Reading to find out.

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