Archive for the 'Android' Category



HTC’s new One is a beautiful beast, a speed demon — but its camera stinks (review)

Saturday 12 April 2014 @ 6:00 am
HTC’s new One is a beautiful beast, a speed demon — but its camera stinks (review)
Image Credit: Devindra Hardawar/VentureBeat

HTC fans have an underdog complex.

Before Samsung’s Galaxy series became so prominent, HTC was the top Android manufacturer in the world. Last year’s One phone was a reminder of those heady days.

But even though HTC claimed the One was its best-selling phone ever, it wasn’t enough to turn around the company’s dire financials.

So here we are with the new One, which improves upon last year’s flagship phone in just about every way. It features a bigger screen, a significantly faster processor, and an improved all-metal case. (At this point, this seems to be the common refrain for all new gadget reviews.)

And as I mentioned in my interview with HTC’s design leads, it’s the company’s most important phone to date.

It’s also a phone I’ve been looking forward to for some time. Last year’s One was the first Android handset that felt as well-made as Apple’s iPhone to me — so much that at the time, I ended up dumping it in favor of HTC’s device.

I found a lot to like about the new One after spending a week with it, but I was also constantly reminded of things that I wished HTC improved on more. It’s ultimately a solid upgrade over last year’s model, but it may not be the massive improvement HTC needs.

The good: Still the best-designed Android phone

In my initial hands-on with the new One, I called it the Cadillac of smartphones. That characterization seems even more apt now that I’ve spent some time with it. It’s big, shiny, and bold, like a classic Cadillac — but it’s definitely not a style that appeals to everyone.

HTC doubled down on its metal unibody design from last year. Now the phone’s metal case wraps all the way around, whereas last year’s One had a bit of plastic on its sides. The new One is now also better contoured to fit the curves of your hand, and the new polished metal case gives it a luxurious feel. But while the metal case does a good job of protecting the rear and sides of the phone, the One’s front bezel is unfortunately more prone to nicks and scratches (more on that below).

HTC One M8 hands-on 7

Thanks to its 5-inch screen, HTC also had to make the new One slightly taller than last year’s model. It’s not a big change, but for some, it may make the new One difficult to hold with a single hand. (Then again, the new Samsung Galaxy S5 is around the same height, so consumers may just have to get used to bigger phones this year.)

The bigger screen is noticeably brighter than its predecessor, though you don’t always get access to the larger display area. This time around, HTC implemented the Android menu buttons via software, and not through permanent capacitive buttons. That means the Android keys appear and disappear depending on what you’re doing, and in some cases they end up using precious screen space. Still, moving to software Android keys brings HTC in line with most other Android phone makers (and it’s something Google has been pushing for a while).

At this point, it seems like it’s a given that the new One, like most other new smartphones, is a speed demon. It’s powered by Qualcomm’s newest quad-core chip, the Snapdragon 801, and 2GB of RAM. It feels noticeably zippier than last year’s One, especially when it comes to loading up hefty apps and games. But you’d be forgiven for not seeing a huge speed difference between the new One and any of last year’s quad-core Android phones. We’re long past the point of diminishing returns for smartphone processor speeds.

HTC One M8 hands-on 5

HTC also made some big upgrades to the One’s Blinkfeed, a defining feature of its Sense software that displays news and social media updates right on your Android home screen. HTC has finally opened up the Blinkfeed to third-party developers (something that was promised last year), and it has also redesigned the feature to focus more on large photos and headlines.

I liked Blinkfeed a lot with last year’s One, and this latest version is even more convenient for glancing at news. (HTC will also make its new Sense software available to owners of the previous One.)

Among other updates, I also appreciated the new Boomsound stereo speakers, which are louder and more detailed than last year’s version. HTC has also implemented a few new useful gestures, including the capability to double-tap the screen to unlock the phone, and swipe gestures from the sides to get directly to the Blinkfeed or your last open app.

Intriguing new camera features

Unlike every other smartphone on the market, the new One sports two camera sensors on its rear. One houses the 4-megapixel “Ultrapixel” camera we saw last year, which makes up for its low resolution with larger pixels for low-light photography.

As HTC design guy Drew Bamford told us last month, “It’s actually a new module with the same number of pixels [4MP] and the same size of pixels, but with new firmware that will give you better results.”

The second, smaller sensor captures depth data, which opens up new features like the ability to readjust the focus of a picture after you’ve taken it. Other depth-enabled effects can highlight the foreground subject in a photo, as well as turn a photo into a trippy, 3D-like experience (allowing you to tilt the camera to view different angles of a photo).

I was able to make some so-so pictures look truly gorgeous after tweaking their focus settings. If you’ve ever dreamed of being able to re-create a DSLR’s shallow focus with your smartphone, the One has got you covered.

HTC also packed in a new 5-megapixel front-facing camera in the One, which makes it an ideal selfie machine.

Unfortunately, I wish HTC worked as hard to improve the One’s core camera sensor as it did to utilize the new depth sensor.

Below, check out a few samples from the One’s camera. Click the photos for full-sized versions.

The bad: Core camera issues remain

HTC made a big deal about its Ultrapixel camera last year, which seemed like a breath of sanity in the megapixel race. But while it lived up to the company’s claims for low-light photo quality, last year’s One had trouble matching the sharpness of competing cameras. The Ultrapixel camera was particularly disappointing in brightly lit scenes, where those big pixels tended to bring in too much light and blow out the photo.

Strangely, most of those issues remain with the new One’s camera. Even though HTC is using a different sensor part, the 4MP Ultrapixel camera is pretty much the same as last year. (Does it make any sense to have a front-facing camera that actually has a higher image resolution than the rear camera?)

As you can see in the gallery above, the new One still blows out images when there’s too much light, and complex scenes with trees don’t look as detailed as photos from the iPhone 5S and other smartphones.

The company was aware of the criticisms of last year’s camera, but it still thinks the Ultrapixel method is the best balance for most photos.

As Bamford told us in an interview during the One’s launch, “What we’re trying to do is solve for the most frequent use cases. A lot of people are taking photos indoors in dim lighting, and we really want to optimize for that.”

Yes, the new One is once again a champion at low-light photos. But at this point, it seems unfair to force consumers between that and sharp daylight photos. Given the quality of images we’re seeing from the iPhone 5S and all of Nokia’s “PureView” camera smartphones, the One’s core camera quality is inexcusable.

Another issue worth mentioning: The One’s front bezel clearly isn’t as strong as the rest of its metallic case. I dropped the phone once on a wooden floor, and I immediately notice some slight chipping on the top of the bezel (below).

The One's front bezel started chipping after just one fall

Above: The One’s front bezel started chipping after just one fall

Image Credit: Devindra Hardaar/VentureBeat

The verdict: A decent upgrade that doesn’t go far enough

It’s a shame that HTC gets so much right with the One, but a widely known issue from last year continues to haunt it.

The new One remains one of the better Android phones on the market, especially if you can stomach the slightly lower photo quality, I’m just disappointed it’s not a phone I can recommend without any hesitation. That’s especially disheartening given just how much HTC needs this phone to succeed.

The company is also pursuing a new marketing strategy this year, so perhaps the One’s camera issues won’t keep consumers away. Then again, HTC’s new ads (starring actor Gary Oldman) are all focused on “asking the Internet” about the One’s superiority — that’s not exactly a smart suggestion when most of the Internet is complaining about the camera.


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Google Strengthens Android App Security With Continuous Post-Install Scans

Thursday 10 April 2014 @ 9:00 am
Google is making a change to its Android security systems today that is meant to ensure that users who install apps from outside of the Google Play store are a bit safer from malicious apps. Currently, Android users can have Google scan their apps for malicious code at the time of installation. Going forward, Google will expand this program with a more service-based system that will… Read More



Apple Puts iOS 7 Adoption At 87% As iOS 6 And Older Fade To Black

Monday 7 April 2014 @ 1:22 pm
Apple has just released updating figures around iOS version adoption as measured by its own tracking of app usage, and iOS 7 and up now accounts for 87 percent of all iOS devices by that measurement, with iOS 6 making up 11 percent and older versions accounting for just 2 percent of the total picture. That’s a very thoroughly homogenous mix, given the comparable Android numbers;… Read More



Google Prepares To Launch Android TV (Report)

Saturday 5 April 2014 @ 12:01 pm
Google has plans for another smart TV product, according to a report in The Verge. Apparently this set top box will be less ambitious and easier to use than one of the company's previous initiatives, Google TV. In the words of Google documents that The Verge said it has obtained, "Android TV is an entertainment interface, not a computing platform." Read More



Trial docs show Apple worries cheaper Android ‘phablets’ will hurt iPhone sales

Friday 4 April 2014 @ 2:05 pm
Trial docs show Apple worries cheaper Android ‘phablets’ will hurt iPhone sales
Image Credit: Apple

Apple’s sales team is genuinely concerned that iPhone growth will slow due to the growing number of Android smartphones with larger screens — at least according to recently released internal documents.

The internal Apple documents, which came to light today during round two of the Apple v. Samsung trial, were prepared by a sales team member for a fiscal 2014 offsite meeting.

Specifically, the documents called out the variety of Android devices with screens larger than the iPhone that cost over $300 and others that are under $300. There was also some concern over the large amount of money Android makers are spending to promote and market their devices.

During the trial, Apple Senior VP Phil Schiller did note that he didn’t agree with the sales team’s assessment — suggesting that others on Apple’s leadership team might not be that threatened by the rise of Android handsets.

Via Re/code


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Intel plans new ‘Braswell’ chip for PCs, over 20 Chromebooks

Thursday 3 April 2014 @ 7:23 am
Intel plans new ‘Braswell’ chip for PCs, over 20 Chromebooks

Above: Intel entrance

Image Credit: Flickr: keitamiyoshi

Intel showed off its new processor code-named Braswell today at the second day of its Intel Developer Forum event in China.

Kirk Skaugen, senior vice president at Intel, said that Braswell will be a follow-on to the code-named Bay Trail processor that is now used in laptop-like Chromebooks and sub-$500 Windows computers. Intel said its processors are used in more than 20 Chromebooks, which are based on Google’s Chrome OS.

Braswell is a system-on-a-chip, or SoC, and it is built with a next-generation manufacturing process where the circuits are 14 nanometers apart. A nanometer is a billionth of a meter.

The world’s biggest chip maker also showed off software, including a 64-bit Android kernel. The Android KitKat 4.4 has a 64-bit kernel optimized to run on Intel chips. That will allow developers to more easily create apps that run on future Intel-Android devices. Intel has said it plans to enable dual-boot machines that can run either Windows or Android software.

Skaugen also showed a media box from QVODTechnology. Available later this year, the box uses Intel Bay Trail processors. Intel is also working in a future WiDi-enabled set-top box, or one where you can cast images wirelessly from a laptop to a WiDi-enabled TV.

Intel said that its Sofia 3G mobile-focused product, a dual-chip SoC, will begin shipping in the fourth quarter of this year. Yesterday, Intel announced a $100 million venture fund to invest in smartphone and tablet technologies in China.

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Moto G Has Turned Motorola’s U.K. Fortunes Around, Study Finds

Monday 31 March 2014 @ 3:56 am
Turns out the 'G' in Moto G stands for 'Go!'. Motorola's well-reviewed sub-$200 Android handset has given Motorola an unexpected boost in the U.K. -- a market where the brand had gone into near-total stasis. Read More



Google to Android app developers: Shape up or ship out

Saturday 29 March 2014 @ 11:44 am
Google to Android app developers: Shape up or ship out

Above: Android fighting off evil

Image Credit: Kalexanderson

Google announced some tweaks to its Google Play policies yesterday, aimed at clarifying and clearing up its policies on sexually explicit content, app promotions, and potentially deceptive in-app advertisements.

The announcement, apparently emailed to developers and posted by Philadelphia-based IT pro Anthony Farrior, covers a range of issues. About half of them seem to be aimed at eliminating shady app developer tricks, such as making advertisements look like system dialog boxes or other aspects of an app’s user interface, tracking consumers’ usage or locations without proper permission, or making modifications to the browser on behalf of advertisers or third parties.

Developers are also prohibited from using SMS to communicate with customers without first getting explicit permission for that.

Developers have 15 days to comply. After that, Google says it will start issuing warnings — or removing noncompliant apps from the store.

The new policies suggest that Google might be taking some steps to tame the “wild West” nature of the Google Play marketplace, which has been far more open-ended that Apple’s iTunes App Store since its inception. Google has long taken a far less restrictive approach regarding which apps it allows into its own store, whereas Apple’s App Store policies are often so restrictive that they have provoked controversy among developers. On the other hand, with such liberal policies, Android apps are much more likely to be riddled with advertising (or outright spam) as well as malware. Google’s new policies are a step toward curbing that problem.

Separately, the FTC earlier this week told VentureBeat that it would begin enforcing new COPPA rules to protect minors from inappropriate advertising and tracking in mobile apps.

It would appear that Google — and the government — are both taking steps to rein in some of the excesses of the mobile advertising and app marketplace.

We’ve reached out to Google for clarification on the new policies, and we’ll update this post if we receive a response.

The summary of changes, according to the email:

  • We’ve updated our content policies to further clarify our stance on sexually explicit material and provide a better experience for our users, including minors
  • We’re introducing the App Promotion policy, which provides guidance on what app promotion tactics are disallowed when promoting your app on Play
  • We’ve introduced a provision that requires you to clearly disclose when an advertised feature in your app’s description requires in-app payment
  • We’ve clarified the System Interference policy to prohibit any browser modifications on behalf of third-parties or advertisements
  • We’ve re-emphasized in the Ads Policy that all advertising behavior must be properly attributed to, or clearly presented in context with the app it came along with
  • We’ve also updated the Spyware section of our Policy Guidelines Help Site to address surveillance or tracking apps. Please take a look at the Google Play Developer Program Policy to see all the changes and make sure your app complies with our updated policies.

 

Hat tip: TechCrunch

 

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Google forces ‘Powered by Android’ branding on new Android phones

Friday 28 March 2014 @ 1:57 pm
Google forces ‘Powered by Android’ branding on new Android phones

Above: Samsung's Galaxy S5 displaying the "Powered by Android" branding upon bootup

Image Credit: Android Central

With just about every Android phone maker tweaking the OS to suit their needs, Google is taking a big symbolic step to remind consumers of its own importance.

Google is now requiring new Android devices to display a “Powered by Android” logo when they boot up in order to access the Google Play store, Geek.com reports. It’s a small but significant move to make Android as much as a household name as Samsung’s Galaxy smartphones.

The branding appears in the boot sequences for the new Samsung Galaxy S5 and HTC One right below their parent company logos. Expect to see the branding everywhere this year.

According to Geek.com, the requirement is now part of Google’s Mobile Services Agreement, which manufacturers need to follow to get access to the precious Google Play app store, as well as Google’s own Android apps. Last month, leaks of the agreement gave us a rare glimpse of Google’s other requirements, which include pre-installing a dozen core Google apps on phones and limiting what sorts of things could appear on the home screen.

Even though Android is open-source, you lose out on Google’s apps and services if you don’t sign up for the Mobile Services Agreement. But that’s still a useful option if you’re prepared to build out your own Android app store and custom apps, as Amazon does for its Kindle Fire tablets.

Just like the “Intel Inside” slogan made mainstream consumers aware of the chip powering their computers, Google wants people to know that the likes of Samsung don’t deserve all of the credit for their beloved smartphones. The move is all about control for Google — over the past few years, Samsung has stuffed its Galaxy S smartphones with so many custom features and software that it’s hard to tell they’re actually running Android.

 

 


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Devices Shipments To Grow 6.9% Globally This Year, Says Gartner, As PC Decline Softens

Thursday 27 March 2014 @ 12:00 am
Analyst Gartner has just put out its latest worldwide devices forecast, predicting a growth rate of 6.9% for shipments of traditional PCs, tablets, ultramobiles and mobile phones this year. That’s up on the 4.8% growth achieved last year. Collectively, 2.5 billion devices are expected to ship in 2014. Phones will make up 1.9 billion of that pie, a 4.9% increase on last year. Growth in phones… Read More



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