HTC’s flagship Android phones haven’t always had great cameras, but the company has turned that around these past few years, Currently, three HTC-build phones are sitting at the top of DxOMark’s mobile camera leader board – with the HTC U11 … Read More

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The Samsung Chromebook Plus has been around for a while, having been announced at CES and released shortly after. The higher-end, professional-aimed Samsung Chromebook Pro, which was delayed from the original launch window, is finally coming to stores May 28.

The Chromebook Pro is the best Chromebook Samsung has ever built, and it comes with a 360-degree hinge, a 12.3″ 2400×1600 touchscreen display, an included pen and Google Play Store apps, which will be on the stable channel rather than the beta channel most Chromebooks are currently using apps on.

Andrew reviewed a pre-production Chromebook Pro in the spring while Google Play apps were in beta, and it will be interesting to see how things have changed since that early look. The Samsung Chromebook Pro will be available at Best Buy, Amazon, Samsung’s website, and the Shop Samsung app.

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Android Go isn’t a big deal, and that makes it an incredibly powerful and meaningful change for Android users everywhere.

You may know this well-known idiom: fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. Such a phrase can be applied to many circumstances, but it also works in the context of Google’s salvo into the world of unifying the experience of budget smartphones, Android One.

One is the loneliest number

Android One was unveiled in 2014 as a way for hardware manufacturers to spend less time building custom software, and assigning expensive engineers to update that software, by putting the onus on Google to keep those phones updated. But Android One floundered soon after its launch, since the Indian companies Google partnered with on the project didn’t put nearly as much marketing muscle behind those phones as the ones they could profitably customize to their hearts’ content.

By the time Google fixed Android One’s biggest problems, its partners were recreating its best features for less money.

And while Google rectified the problem a year later with the second generation of Android One devices, by that time the likes of Xiaomi, Vivo, Oppo and Lenovo were mimicking the positive aspects of Google’s enterprise while simultaneously undercutting them on the hardware, leaving Android One to flounder. It had some success in countries like Turkey, Japan, Indonesia and Portugal, but by the end of 2016 it was clear Google’s partners were on the verge of abandoning their low-cost Android One strategy. Google learned that, especially in the low-end smartphone space, hardware vendors want Android, not Google’s Android, spurned by the very companies it wooed just a couple years earlier.

Along comes Go

Now we’re hearing about Android Go, and how it’s also going to revolutionize the Android experience for people who are just about to buy their first smartphone, or have limited budgets in developing regions where their phone is perhaps their only computer. And while we’ve heard this before, Google’s latest salvo for “the next billion” actually makes a lot of sense. Here’s how it breaks down:

  • Android O and beyond will be optimized for devices with 1GB of RAM and under. These days, that’s a number that often gets derided as too little, especially for a memory-hungry OS like Android, but the foundations have been in place since Project Svelte debuted back in 2012 with Jelly Bean. Google is taking things even further by separating parts of the operating system that can be pared down. At this point, Android — Google’s Android — is as lean as it’s ever been, and with advancements in battery optimization and app caching, Android O should run well on almost any piece of hardware.
  • Google is optimizing its own apps — YouTube, Gboard, Chrome — to use as little mobile data as possible. Chrome will use its Data Saver feature by default. YouTube will preview videos before using expensive mobile bandwidth. And Gboard, Google’s excellent virtual keyboard, has been updated to support multiple languages and transliteration.
  • When a device ships with Android Go, Google Play will automatically populate apps that have been “lightened” — YouTube Go, Facebook Lite — to use less data. Apps installed on the phone will also remain in a compressed state and the OS won’t continually ask for “updates,” potentially saving battery life. That doesn’t mean that the Play Store will be limited, though: while Google will highlight lightweight apps on the Play Store’s home page, the entire app catalog will be available to download.

All of these together will allow Google to make any phone, not just those from manufacturers it partners with, to work really well on limited memory without necessarily forcing those vendors to use a “stock” version of Android that may not allow for its well-regarded customizations. Yes, in certain countries, customized versions of Android are preferred to what we know as vanilla Android.

The next billion

This is a platitude that we hear all the time: there are seven and a half billion people in the world, and with two billion active Android devices, there are hundreds of millions of others in countries like India, Indonesia, Brazil, Turkey, Philippines and Cambodia, to name a few, that, frankly, don’t have good experiences when they spend $50 to $100 on an Android device.

Android Go is about more than controlling software updates. It’s about making Android leaner and more efficient for everyone.

But Android Go isn’t about Google controlling updates, nor is it about offering a separate version of Android that needs to be maintained and continually optimized year over year. As we’ve learned since Android debuted, Google has a tendency to debut and support features for a brief time only to abandon them completely for something shinier. To put Android Go in a position to succeed, Google made the inspired decision to merely integrate it into its general Android plan. It is so simple, so uninteresting that it has a much better chance of success.

That’s because, by default, when a company builds a phone with 1GB of RAM or less, Android Go will just be the default state; the lighter configuration of Google’s first party apps will be installed, and the version of the Google Play Store users see will automatically highlight low-bandwidth apps.

But the end result will be an Android experience that will seamlessly cause fewer performance hiccups, and fewer accidental data cap overages. It may also improve the reputation of low-cost devices since, even though they are getting better over the years, there is still a stigma around using a phone with low memory.

For the rest

Android O will integrate a number of memory and battery usage improvements into its core, available to phones with 1GB and 6GB of RAM alike. That’s the beauty of the enterprise — it just works.

If OnePlus or Samsung can’t make Android smooth with 4GB of 6GB of RAM, it’s clear that there’s more work to be done.

But we’ve heard this before, and RAM usage continues to dog Android’s reputation. Companies like OnePlus and Samsung have been accused of poor memory management, despite outfitting their flagships with plenty of memory. From errant apps to poor governor management, Google can only do so much to make Android a smooth and problem-free experience. Once the code is in the hands of external vendors, all bets are off.

So once again, Google is just trying to make things a little bit better for everyone. Android is already pretty good at scaling, but it could always be better. Usually when we talk about scaling, though, we talk about it scaling up — for better screens, faster CPUs and more powerful GPUs — not down. In 2017, when it’s pretty easy to nab a great phone for $300, it makes sense that Google is optimizing the experience for the increasingly important $100 phone so that one day, when phones are $10, we’ll look back on this move and consider it a turning point.

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Take a photo tour with us through Google’s spectacular, outdoor developer conference.

Google I/O isn’t all developer talks and coding sessions. Well, the majority of it certainly is, but it’s also a festival speckled with things to see and photograph-worthy shrubbery.

The conference takes place at an outdoor venue in the heart of the Silicon Valley, where it’s cool in the mornings and blazing hot in the afternoon. But this year, Google moved most of what’s worth seeing inside into air conditioned tents. The result makes it a tiny bit harder to find some of the technologies on display, but the pay off is a cooled room where you can easily relax while bonding over what’s new with Google.

Welcome to Google I/O 2017.

The Shoreline Amphitheater, where Google I/O is now held annually, is next-door to Google headquarters and a wildlife reserve. Typically just barren festival grounds, this year Google seems to have added more common areas for people to sit and congregate.

Google is offering a fun scavenger hunt around the I/O fairgrounds. Tap your phone to an NFC terminal four times throughout the week and you can take home one of these Android Pay figurines.

There are two tents devoted just to Android Experiments. The one on the right is called Home Screen Arcade, which lets you play a game of Space Invaders (left) on your Home screen. The one on the right is called Giorgio Cam, and it lets you make a melody by snapping different pictures. It uses Machine Learning to figure out what the object it and then turns those labels into lyrics of a song.

Feel like sending a postcard? You can from Google I/O! Grab one of these and drop it in the mailbox to send to a friend.

There are plenty of areas to sit and relax and grab a beverage — water, Coke, or other — under the shade of a tree or an awning in between sessions or just to escape the oppressive mid-afternoon sun. In case you didn’t realize, it’s very hot in Mountain View.

And then when you’re about to go back to work, you can grab a beverage at the Google Assistant-powered Mocktail kiosk, which will whip up a flavorful fruit drink for you.

There are more photos to come! We’ll be updating this throughout the week.

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Android O and 2 Billion users is big news, but the real story from I/O 2017 is how everything will become a vessel for Google Assistant and the artificial intelligence that powers it.

Google Assistant looks and feels like the natural successor to Google Now. In a way it is, but it’s also so much more. At Google I/O 2017 we saw that Google Assistant is it’s own platform, and one that might be bigger than anything else Google has built.

The front end for Assistant can be in your phone, or your TV or and appliance on your coffee table or in a cardboard box from an electronic hobbyist magazine. While that might be the way to interact with Assistant, the service itself lives and breathes in the cloud running on Google’s crazy new TensorFlow-powered Google Cloud TPUs.

Photo courtesy Google

Assistant first came to our phones inside the Allo app. We had seen the demo ot Google I/O 2016, but at first it was a little disappointing. That’s changed, and here we are a year later with a very smart Assistant that can run anywhere with an internet connection and a Python (development language) interpreter. It’s also branched out into Google Lens, Google Photos, Google Job Search and Tango and Google Play Protect and just about anywhere that a computer’s special blend of logic can work out how, why or where. All of this is tied together into an AI, and it’s Google’s newest platform.

It also has the chance to be Google’s most important and biggest platform, and eventually encompass and devour everything else the company has to offer. We already heard how Google’s neural network was programmed so that it could build it’s own and better neural network, so the functions and features are all there. Everything Google does could benefit from some smarter machinery, and the machinery is ready. Soon we’ll have assistant in our Gmail.

Google literally announced the end of the world. Neural nets that build better neural nets. #IO17

— Jerry @ I/O 🛴 (@gbhil) May 17, 2017

The most visual, and therefore most exciting, news is in Google Lens. It’s definitely the sleeper hit from I/O 2017, and something that will continue to develop until it becomes part of the everyday experience. The service that can use the power of the cloud to log you onto a Wi-Fi network or tell you about the flower that you’re seeing. We’re looking forwards to seeing Google Lens, but we’re also looking forwards to what Google Lens learns for the next thing.

And that’s what we really saw at I/O 17; the future. Google I/O has slowly moved away from announcements of shiny things and become more about what those things can do, and how it makes a difference. The things we buy that use it will come and go, but what we saw at Google I/O is the start of what’s next.

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For starters, LG’s next flagship will probably use an OLED screen.

At the Google I/O 2017 keynote presentation, Google let slip (well, it was surely intentional) an important clue about an unannounced Android phone. In addition to confirming that the Galaxy S8 and S8+ will get Daydream support via a software update later this year, Google’s Clay Bavor told attendees that LG’s next flagship phone would also be Daydream ready.

Since we’ve already seen the flagship LG G6 this year, that sure sounds a lot like the LG V20‘s successor.

What’s interesting about this proclamation about Daydream support is that the spec currently requires an AMOLED display, because LCDs have so far lacked the super-low latency required for a smooth, comfortable VR experience. This would be a first for LG, which has in the past relied exclusively on IPS LCD panels in its top-end devices. So either there’s been some breakthrough in LCD panel latency we don’t yet know about, or (more likely) the LG V30 will go with OLED, which has a proven track record in both VR headsets and VR-enabled phones.

AMOLED has a proven track record in both VR headsets and VR-enabled phones.

LG has invested billions in OLED production over the past year, and has previously dabbled in using flexible OLED with the G Flex series. LG Display division has also been rumored to be supplying panels for both the next-gen iPhone and Google’s upcoming Pixel 2 phones. The time might be right, then, for LG’s mobile division to consider OLED for its next big-screened handset — a phone which would likely go up against Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8.

As for other LG V30 features, all we have to go on at this point is (somewhat) informed speculation. A large screen size is a good bet, as is a G6-like 18:9 aspect ratio. It’s also likely LG would launch its own Daydream headset with the V30, whichever display technology it ends up using, rather than send potential sales to Google or some other headset maker. We’d also bet on a Snapdragon 835 and a significant RAM upgrade, giving the V30 an edge on the G6, and bringing LG’s top-end handset in line with Samsung, HTC, OnePlus and others.

Whatever form the V30 takes when it eventually materializes, Google’s announcement offers a rare early clue as to what’s coming. Stay tuned in the months ahead for more V30 info as it lands.

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The Android O Beta isn’t going to kill your Daydream sessions.

Good news, developers and bleeding edge enthusiasts! If you’re planning to enroll your Google Pixel to the Beta Program for Android O, the Daydream app and its connected experiences are still available to you. There have been similar previews in the past that disabled access to VR services out of concern for performance issues, but clearly Google feels confident Daydream performance hasn’t been negatively impacted which is great.

That having been said, be careful. Betas are often very unfinished, and there are a lot of things that could negatively impact Daydream as you explore this new version of Android.

Read more at VR Heads!

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Google just took the lead with a 2-hour keynote address.

Google I/O 2017 marked a massive improvement in Google Home’s capabilities, the importance of which should not be underestimated. With less than a 30 minute slice of the two-hour long keynote address, Google rolled out fresh Google Home features that improve daily functionality of the connected speaker and completely change the possibilities for both requesting and receiving information from it.

Amazon should take note.

Adding push information

It becomes harder and harder to ignore Google Home’s presence.

In what may have initially come across as a small development, Google made an important change to the way Google Home works by introducing what it calls “proactive notifications.” Up to now, Google Home was always listening and waiting for your input — now, it can pulse its lights to let you know it has something to tell you. When you notice the lights, simply say “hey google, what’s up?” and it will give you the timely information that you’ll hopefully find useful. Google says what it pushes will be limited to only the most important information, and if done correctly it can be extremely useful.

This is a huge change to the way you’re expected to interact with Google Home, and has the potential to dramatically increase use by the average Home owner. By proactively pushing useful information, it becomes harder and harder to ignore Google Home’s presence, which creates a loop of using Home more often.

Calling without a catch

One large feature that caught everyone’s eyes in the wake of Amazon’s recent Echo announcements was free calling from Google Home. You can now simply ask Google Home to call any of your contacts, so long as they have a phone number associated with their contact entry in your Google account. This critically bests the Echo in that it actually dials a phone number — you can call any mobile or landline, rather than dialing someone else’s Google Home or phone via the Home app. The outgoing calls from Home can even be masked to look like they’re coming from your phone, which makes the experience 100% seamless for the person on the other end.

Call any number at any time — no strings attached.

An important function that really makes voice calling effective is Google’s recent implementation of multi-user functionality based on voice recognition. If you say “call mom” it’s going to dial your mom … and if your spouse says the same query it’s going to call their mother instead. A decidedly personal experience that just makes sense, but is a difficult technological problem to solve.

An entirely new interface paradigm

Google Home can respond on your phone or TV, too.

The final part of the latest Google Home announcements has less to do with Home itself and more with how it fits into your entire life. Now Google Home is no longer operating in a silo — it’s simply the contact point for your voice, and can then give you information on other devices. Google Home can now send content to your phone or TV when applicable, whether that means sending Google Maps directions to your phone when you ask or playing a YouTube video on your nearby TV.

You could easily see this as a direct shot across the bow of the new Amazon Echo Show, which made the important jump to using a screen in addition to voice so that it can always offer you information no matter your query. Google Home and Google Assistant’s strength over Amazon here is that Google has potential for deeper integration with more of your screens. Chromecast and Android TV give more options for your big screens and multi-room audio, while Google Assistant being built into just about every Android phone offers a deep hook in billions of devices.

Of course this is only a big feature if you’re a household that already has Chromecasts or Android TVs — which isn’t necessarily a given — but the potential is there in ways that Amazon can’t yet offer.

Your move, Amazon

With these fresh Google Home features, the ball is back in Amazon’s court to try and step up and match what Google Home is now capable of. Amazon may have a larger, longer-standing install base of Echo devices, with new hardware coming, but Google’s superiority in software and platforms is winning right now.

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Google’s big data advantage might help it surpass the Galaxy S8′s fledgling Bixby feature.

Google Lens was one of the major announcements of the I/O 2017 keynote, as Google revealed the latest step in its visual search journey. This is an endeavor which can be traced back to Google Image Search years ago, and which is a close relative of the AI powering Google Photos’ object and scene recognition.

As a part of Google Assistant, Google Lens has the potential to reach every Android phone or tablet on Marshmallow and up, letting these devices recognize things visually (with a little help from location data) and conjure up information about them. For example, you might be able to identify a certain flower visually, then bring up info on it from Google’s knowledge graph. Or it could scan a restaurant in the real world, and bring up reviews and photos from Google Maps.

Whether it’s through a camera interface in Google Assistant, or after the fact through Google Photos, the strength of Lens — if it works as advertised — will be the accurate identification and the ability to provide useful info based on that. It’s not too much of a stretch to imagine the feature might well be baked into the Google camera app on the next generation of Pixel phones.

Big, BIG data

Like all the best Google solutions, Lens is a product of AI and data.

Like all the best Google solutions, Google Lens is rooted in big data. It’s ideally suited to Google, with its vast reserves of visual information and growing cloud AI infrastructure. Doing this instantly on a smartphone is a step beyond running similar recognition patterns on an uploaded image via Google Image Search, but the principles are the same, and you can easily draw a straight line to Google Lens, starting with Image Search and going through Google Goggles.

Back in 2011, Google Goggles was impressive, futuristic and in the right setting, genuinely impressive. In addition to increased speed, Google Lens goes a step beyond this by not only identifying what it’s looking at, but understanding it and connecting it to other things that Google knows about. It’s easy to see how this might be extended over time, tying visible objects in photos to the information in your Google account.

The potential for Google Lens is only going to grow as Google’s capabilities in AI and big data increase.

At a more advanced level, Google’s VPS (visual positioning system) builds on the foundations of Google Lens on Tango devices to pinpoint specific objects in the device’s field of vision, like items on a store shelf. As mainstream phone cameras improve, and the trend towards multiple lenses in high-end phones continue, there’s every chance VPS could eventually become a standard Lens feature.

What Bixby Vision should have been

The potential for Google Lens is only going to grow as Google’s capabilities in these areas become stronger. And the contrast with one of the Galaxy S8′s most publicized features is pretty stark. Samsung is still a relative newcomer in AI, and that’s reflected in the current weakness of Bixby Vision.

Right now Bixby can help you identify wine (badly), as well as flowers (sometimes) and animals (to varying degrees of success), and products, through Vivino, Pinterest and Amazon respectively. Samsung doesn’t have its own mountain of data to fall back on, and so it has to rely on specific partnerships for various types of objects. What’s more, while Samsung can (and apparently does plan to) bring Bixby to older phones via a software update, Google could conceivably flip the switch through Assistant and open the floodgates to everything running Android 6.0 and up.

Anyone who’s used Bixby Vision can attest that it just doesn’t work very well, and Google Lens seems like a much more elegant implementation. We don’t yet know how well Lens will work in the real world, but if it’s anywhere near as competent as Google Photos’ image identification skills, it’ll be something worth looking forward to.

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Unboxing the HTC U11

17 May 2017

The HTC U11 will be hitting store shelves in Taiwan later this week, so we thought you might be interested in an HTC U11 unboxing video.

Compared to most HTC phone, the U11 has a lot of added accessories inside … Read More

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