Google Announces Nexus 6 — and More

Google Announces Nexus 6 — and More

Oct 15, 2014

It’s official: The Nexus 6 is here.

It will be one of the first devices to rock Android 5.0 (yes, it is Lollipop), and will be the biggest Nexus smartphone to date, with a 5.96″ screen that nestles a Quad HD resolution. It looks like the device will continue the Nexus tradition of forgoing external storage, but will have 32GB and 64GB options, and will also come in two colors: white and blue. It’s built by Motorola, so physical similarities to the Moto X (as described by Androidcentral) shouldn’t be too surprising. It’ll reportedly have 3GB RAM, and a quad-core Snapdragon chip. It also packs a massive 3220 mAh battery.

We also hear it will be on all of the major cellular networks, allowing for pre-order towards the end of this month and availability in November. It will be $649 off contract.

The long-rumored HTC-derived Nexus 9 tablet is also set to be released; it has an 8.9″ screen and comes in 16GB and 32GB flavors. Also on deck is the cast-ready Nexus Player Entertainment console.

[Google Press Release and Android Central]

Google Announces Nexus 5, Now Available!

Google Announces Nexus 5, Now Available!

Oct 31, 2013

Put your hands down. Exhale. Relax. Sit down.

The Nexus 5 is here!

Google is mastering the fine art of creating demand and finding ways of meeting it, and the latest iteration of its handheld Nexus line underlines this fact.

The main rumor holds true; like its immediate predecessor the Nexus 4, the 5 is Android OS 4.4 wrapped in LG hardware, and shares a bit of design similarities with the LG G2. Further to the specs, the Nexus 5 will be sporting a manageable 4.95-inch 1080p Gorilla Glass display. Under the hood, it’s CPU is a 2.3 Ghz Snapdragon 800 unit to go with the included 2GB of RAM. Per camera, the front end piece is 1.3MP, and the 8MP in the rear also has “Optical Image Stabilization” which will help with an unsteady picture hand.

Of course, wireless connectivity is as to be expected, with 4G LTE (a notable improvement on the Nexus 4), Bluetooth 4.0, wi-fi (a/b/g/n/ac) and NFC/Android Beam. It will also be able to ditch the wires with regards to replenishing the device’s 2300mAh internal battery, as it comes prepped for wireless charging. Google claims 17 hours of regular talk time and 300 hours of standby time.

And all this goodness comes in under 130g, with stated dimensions of 69.17×137.84×8.59 mm.

Additionally, all major networks bands are supported, and the device will debut in 16 GB ($349) and 32 GB ($399) memory flavors. Black and white finishes are available, and the device can be ordered now from Google Play (though at the time of this article, it looks like the 16 GB Black version is already out of stock).

Not to be lost in all this is the simultaneous debut of KitKat. Android 4.4 has been eagerly expected for a while now, and Google also announced that it will be coming to Nexus 4 handset and both Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 tablets.

Nexus 4 Gets Its Prices Slashed By $100

Nexus 4 Gets Its Prices Slashed By $100

Aug 28, 2013

If you wanted to purchase a great, if a bit dated, tablet, but were stopped by the prices – well, Google gives one more reason to do it. The prices of Nexus 4 got beaten into submission with a steady hand. To be precise, the 8 GB model now costs $199, and 16 GB is $249, which is exactly a $100 drop. Neat! Link to the Google Play store: Nexus 4 on Google Play.

The Hills Are Greener: Google Looking Pretty

The Hills Are Greener: Google Looking Pretty

Feb 25, 2013

Google is a company that is not normally known for design. Particularly compared to Apple, Google and Android are seen as the ugly duckling. However, Google definitely does not deserve this reputation still. While carriers continue to butcher Android for their own designs, the OS has definitely inherited a great look in 4.x, and later versions of 4.2.x have restored the performance quality to devices that have used it. Changes that once seemed foreign now feel natural. Even the decision to make the Nexus 7 compatible with landscape orientations has gone very well for the usability and design of the OS.

But it’s not just Android that’s seeing Google’s forays into designs.

The Chromebook Pixel seems to be one big foray for Google into this market: what they’re trying is to sell a sleek, stlyish, device with high-end features but a low-end OS at a price that may appeal to those curious about the MacBook Pro and its Retina Display, but that don’t need or want all the features, or want a touchscreen along with their laptop. It’s a curious mix of both the Chrome OS objective of lower-priced computing, but while still delivering a high-end experience.

Where Google is going to really need to focus their efforts on style and design is going to be with Google Glass. Functionality will be part of it, but the issue right now is that the technology seems so alien. Granted, it’s not in a consumer-ready state but it’s getting very close to being there, possibly by year’s end. So, if it does manage to get to that point, it will require that the device be something more than just a strange visor, it will eventually need to reach a point where the technology can integrate with familiar vision equipment, and be something that people can feel like they can use without getting weird looks. Granted, some people will like that, but mass-market acceptance will require that. Talking with eyeglass makers like Warby Parker is a fantastic start.

That, and a mass-market-friendly price point. If it can link up to Android devices as well, then it could be a master of synergy.

The thing that Google can’t forget is that form still follows function. So while the NExus 4 might look nice with its glass back, when a phone’s screen can reportedly break just from normal heat, and can slip off of even slightly angled surfaces (And break) then perhaps a reminder needs to be issued that it’s not always about design. Make good functional products THEN make them look good.

The Hills Are Greener: There’s No Such Thing as an “iPhone Killer”

The Hills Are Greener: There’s No Such Thing as an “iPhone Killer”

Dec 31, 2012

Well, it took a bit longer than expected, but it seems like Google is finally going to use their Motorola acquisition to actually make a standout phone for themselves, the “X Phone.” Or whatever the next Nexus device will be called.

The immediate speculation swirling around is that this is finally Google’s “iPhone Killer.” You know, like the other Nexus devices that were iPhone killers. I don’t think that anything at this point will be an iPhone killer. It just isn’t going to happen.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Zombies

I think the most immediate analogue for the iOS vs. Android battle is like Halo versus Call of Duty. Halo is more of an exclusive club – it’s popular, and very much so, but its audience will have a built-in limitation because it’s only trying to get to so many people, Xbox owners. Call of Duty, by its nature of being a multiplatform game, has bigger success, even standing firm on Halo’s home turf. But the point is that both are doing extremely well. Thre’s room for both.

Halo is a particularly apt comparison, because the term “Halo Killer” has been frequently bandied about, particularly in the days of the original Xbox. Everyone thought they had the game to replace Halo, to crush it outright, to be that much more superior than it, and what happened? Call of Duty kept at it, and started to succeed and become extremely popular on its own merits. Halo hasn’t been “killed” yet, it’s still a major success, but it’s not alone. Same goes with the Mario games: no one ever really killed it.

I think it’s the same situation with iOS and Android. If there is an iPhone Killer, it will be time, people getting disinterested, more so than a sexy new device coming around and overtaking it. Apple in particular has a history of being whittled down over time, rather than outright slain. That might be what happens with Android: it will just grow so large, like Windows did, that it dwarfs iPhone. In particular, its advantage in having a growing international market with tons of low-cost devices is a huge help in the platform’s dominance. But there’s no reason why one has to kill the other. There will be no iPhone killer because such a thing as people want to deem it does not exist.

The Hills Are Greener: Do We Really Need Another New Android Version?

The Hills Are Greener: Do We Really Need Another New Android Version?

Oct 22, 2012

Google’s got an event that’s happening on October 29th to reveal…something. The timing would indicate that it’s some kind of new Nexus device, and two are rumored in particular: an LG Nexus 4, and a 10" Nexus tablet from Samsung. New hardware is new hardware and we’ll have a report on it after the event. But there may also be a new version of Android released, version 4.2. Now, it appears as if this will be a minor update from Jelly Bean, but I find this immediate release somewhat problematic if true.

Part of me believes that Google needs to focus quite squarely on not fragmenting the Android userbase. Keeping major features in maybe a yearly milestone release like how iOS releases new versions would help keep things under relative control, as opposed to the chaos that seems to generally accompany new version releases, where the Nexus devies get it right away, and then everyone in the Android manufacturing sphere takes their sweet time releasing their update – if they ever make it in the first place. It’s a mess, and another software version won’t help it.

But then, here’s the other thought: what if their strategy toward preventing fragmentation is actually to release more Nexus devices? Instead of getting to a situation where phones are getting updates to OS versions a year late, months after the next version was announced, and right before another new version comes out, why not instead create an ecosystem where more devices are getting timely updates? By making more Nexus devices, they can make sure more devices are running the newer versions of Android when they are released – or at least relatively around that time – and reduce the number of devices that are out there cluttering up the landscape.

Of course, the real solution would be to work with manufacturers and carriers to push new updates out the door in a timely manner, possibly by getting them the next version ahead of time. iOS may be all controlled by Apple, but their strategy of announcing features and releasing betas to developers several months before its official launch helps to create an envrionment of preparedness for the next version. That just does not exist yet on Android, where it seems like versions are dropped upon the market with no warning.

Or maybe critics, pundits, and users need to accept that Android is a platform where the latest and greatest software version may never come to our current devices, and the most reliable way to upgrade? Buy a new device. Or buy a Nexus. Given the bottleneck that updates go through, it may be the best way to do things, unfortunately.

The Hills Are Greener: A Rekindled Love Affair With Android

The Hills Are Greener: A Rekindled Love Affair With Android

Aug 20, 2012

My love affair with Android has been rekindled thanks to Jelly Bean. I have it installed on three different devices: the Nexus 7, the Motorola Xoom, and even a custom ROM on my Samsung Captivate. I find myself almost at a point where I could all but realistically dump iOS. Everything I want to do is doable on Android. Even games feel more playable on Android now thanks to the improvements of the OS and the capable hardware in the Nexus 7.

In a way, Android hardware is starting to shove Apple’s around. Right now, the iPhone 4S has 512 MB of RAM – the Nexus 7 and last year’s Galaxy Nexus have 1 GB. The Galaxy S III has 2 GB. I talked to a developer recently who said that the 512 MB of RAM was starting to be a hindrance to game developers wanting to push the capabilities of mobile gaming. While a new iPhone (and likely, a new iPod touch as well) are likely to be announced in the next month or two, the RAM alone may be lacking compared to that Galaxy S III and other phones that get announced very soon. The processor capabilitye of the A5X may be beefier than some recent chips, but it’s still a few months old given the tech in the iPad 3. But there’s a good chance that the iPhone 5 won’t be the most powerful phone out there.

Software-wise, iOS 6 has useful new features, but it also seems like the OS has remained somewhat stagnant since iOS 4. Yes, the Twitter/Facebook integration is useful, the notification bar aped from Android helped as well, but the OS is really not seeming all that different. The layout of apps in folders is identical, there’s still no widgets, and multitasking is still extremely limited. Meanwhile, Google is not only bringing Jelly Bean up to the general smoothness of iOS, but Google Now is something that has the potential to be more useful on a regular basis with automatically-generated information from searches. Even just the OS is set up better to enjoy games and regular apps with Project Butter.

Given the hardware and software improvements, I can say that Android is quickly becoming something that could possibly surpass iOS. I find myself liking using my Android devices more than my iOS devices, and this is a welcome change. iOS is a good OS, and Android may still not be as casual-friendly, with more technical details revealed to the user, but it’s showing some real potential.

The Hills Are Greener: Apples, Oranges, and Software Updates

The Hills Are Greener: Apples, Oranges, and Software Updates

Aug 13, 2012

There’s a common complaint about Android that often comes from the mouths of iOS fans: Android phones are so out of date! Well, they are right. The fact that most Android phones are still running Gingerbread, rather than Ice Cream Sandwich or Jelly Bean, is like shooting fish in a barrel for Android critics.

What needs to be considered with Android OS updates is this: it would be a technical disaster for Google to ensure that devices won’t just explode when a new update comes along. If Google was purely responsible for all devices getting Android updates in a timely manner, they couldn’t win:they would likely have to make updates release less often, or each increment would be less advanced than it is currently. The laissez-faire attitude of “we’re pushing it out, the manufacturers and carriers will release it whenever” is almost superior.

The other thing is that Android is not structured like iOS is. It is meant to be run on millions of different hardware permutations. It’s impressive that with major updates that happen every 9–12 months that so many devices can get them. Google has to find ways to make the core functionality of Android compatible with many different pieces of hardware, not just a few Iike Apple does. And really, consider that Google is in fact pushing out software updates for their Nexus devices at rapid speed, as pretty much any Nexus device sans the Nexus One has gotten an official Jelly Bean release already.

As well, Apple is intentionally holding back iOS 6 from the iPod touch 3rd generation and the original iPad, which are each on par with the iPhone 3GS and 4th generation iPod touch respectively. The latter devices are still on sale, the former are not. Apple fans in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

Also, is this necessarily Google’s fault? Google offers the OS for free. They make the effort to release Android versions in a timely manner. Small teams of custom ROM creators can make updates for phones. Why aren’t we blaming those who actually should be taking the blame – the manufacturers and the carriers who hold up updates.

What Google should be criticized to with Android OS releases is the seeming lack of lead time. Google releases the source around when they release their OS on to various devices, so there’s always going to be a delay for vendors to get it ready, at least on a theoretical basis. Also consider the delays that the carriers bring in. Apple announces their new iOS a few months ahead of time to allow for developers to get apps ready. I’m not criticizing either stance. Google tries to get their OS ready when they want to release it, and Apple has theirs.

Trying to compare the ability of a vertically-integrated hardware and software vendor to get their updates out on time versus one that makes software first and hardware second is like comparing apples to oranges. They are two different companies with two different strucured operating systems, and the OS update criticism needs to be framed in different respects.

Nexus 7 Hardware Review

Nexus 7 Hardware Review

Jul 30, 2012

Google’s first Nexus tablet, the Nexus 7, was long-rumored and much-anticipated by this writer and many others. I went crazy waiting for an early-evening UPS delivery of my Nexus 7. Now it’s here, and let me just say: this device is a well-built piece of hardware, with software that really starts to justify the Android project’s existence. Google and Asus have a device that they should be proud of, and is a fantastic 7″ tablet choice.

First off, yes, opening the box is a pain. Be ready with a good knife or sharp scissors to cut the black tape the keeps the box closed. In the box is the Nexus 7, a charger with micro-USB cable, and a product safety guide. It’s Apple-style minimalistic packaging, though everything is black rather than Apple’s traditional white. Taking it out of the box, the Nexus 7 feels absolutely amazing to hold. It’s thanks to the rubberized back that it just feels so comfortable, that it practically melts into the hand.

While it has magnets for “Smart Cover” functionality, the only other way to unlock the Nexus 7 is to use the button on the upper right side of the device. This does lead to some fumbling around when picking it up, as it’s easy to reach for a button that isn’t there. While I don’t want to root for a company to go under, RIM needs to sell their touch bezel technology from the BlackBerry Playbook to other manufacturers, if only because it would be fantastic to unlock face-button-less devices like this one.

The screen is absolutely beautiful: it has a higher pixel density than the iPad 2, and it absolutely shows. Colors are vibrant, and everything looks crystal clear. Though, the screen does seem very saturated; having it on too bright causes some eyestrain, while reducing it can make it too dim but still very “bright” – auto-brightness seems to favor making the screen very dark. As well, there appears to be a glitch either in software or hardware that causes parts of the touchscreen to randomly become unresponsive. Locking and unlocking fixes it.

Battery life is about 7 hours, give or take depending on what’s being used with the device. Given that the 7“ size affords a smaller battery than 10” tablets, it is a solid feat, and there’s no need to be paranoid about being near a charger at all times like with many Android phones. By default, the device disables wifi when the screen is off; I recommend going to the Settings and at least enabling wifi to be on when the device is charging, so that notifications can still come in.

With the Nexus 7’s limited storage options, the question has been this: is it worth going for the 8GB or 16GB version? I have to say the 16GB is the better choice, as there’s really only 5.92 GB to work with on the 8 GB version that I got, and it does feel rather limiting. The lack of an SD slot is a real shame. There’s no HDMI output at all, either. However, a USB OTG cable will work for mice, keyboards, and other USB accessories.

The interface choice was a curious one: the launcher and virtual buttons are based on the phone interface, not the tablet one, so there’s still the Android phone status bar at top, and just the back, home, and app-switching virtual buttons at the bottom. However, Gmail uses the tablet interface, and other apps seem to kind of pick and choose just which interface they wish to use.

Because the 7" screen is so big for a phone yet too small for a tablet, it leads to some awkwardness as it isn’t as easy to tap anywhere on the screen as it is with a phone. However, with 1280 resolutions becoming more standardized with phones like the Galaxy Nexus and Galaxy S III, this does mean that apps will work well enough on the 1280×800 screen, even if made for smaller phones. Many tablet-optimized apps aren’t ready for the Nexus 7, though. As well, many EA games are oddly not available for the Nexus 7 yet.

The default Jelly Bean homescreen launcher only works in portrait orientation. That choice seems designed to encourage using the Nexus 7 in portrait. While I prefer to use 10“ tablets in landscape, I like using this in portrait. Typing is easier in portrait, as the keyboard is very comfortable to use with one’s thumbs; it’s about as wide as a standard ~4” Android phone is in landscape. However, leaving a landscape app to see the device automatically shift to portrait is jarring. It feels like there should be a better way to handle this.

Sure, there are third-party launchers, but since the stock Jelly Bean experience is otherwise so clean and effective, why mess with perfection? With rooting, it’s possible to lower the PPI to something that will enable the tablet interface, and this is something power users might want to consider. I like leaving my device as pure as possible, though.

Jelly Bean is a fantastic OS, though it is mainly just advances on the foundation set down by Ice Cream Sandwich. Regardless, it absolutely shines on the Nexus 7. Google Now is useful for tracking weather, seeing sports results, and getting information based on one’s latest Google searches. It’s possible to access Google Now from anywhere by sliding upward from the Home button, and searches can be started by saying “Google” instead of tapping the microphone button on this screen. What’s creepy is that other Google searches will cause elements to appear in Google Now, even if they were made on other devices, not necessarily the Nexus 7. I started getting scores for Miami Marlins games after making a couple of searches about their GM, and after searching for AT&T once, I suddenly had directions to an AT&T store waiting for me. It is somewhat unsettling, though unwanted cards can be easily cleared.

Chrome is the default browser on the Nexus 7; the classic Android browser is now dead. Chrome is incredibly speedy and has many of the same options as the desktop version, though managing a large number of tabs is problematic, especially in portrait mode. WordPress still doesn’t quite work properly in the browser, which is just annoying.

The Nexus 7 camera is foward-facing only and isn’t perfect as there’s definitely visible noise in shots. This camera is clearly designed for video chatting, and maybe Instagram self-shots.

The Jelly Bean keyboard is Google’s best keyboard yet, and it’s great to use in portrait. Landscape is a different story, however. There’s only a full-size interface available, and it’s just awkward to use. It’s not thumb-friendly. It’s too small for proper two-handed operation either from an angle or from directly above, and the virtual buttons at the bottom mean trying to rest hands on the bottom of the device just doesn’t work out all that well.

Now, thumb keyboards do exist for Android, such as Thumb Keyboard and SwiftKey Tablet X, but the problem is that both lose the smoothness and great autocorrection that the Jelly Bean keyboard has. It’s a tradeoff that isn’t really worth making, except perhaps on a case-by-case basis, when typing in landscape for a long period of time. But even then I’d rather just type in portrait because it’s thumb-friendly anyway. This is something for Google to consider in Key Lime Pie, or whatever they call the next Android version.

The Nexus 7 is packing some powerful hardware under the hood to make the Android experience top-notch here. Thanks to Jelly Bean’s “Project Butter”, the Tegra 3 chip, and the plentiful 1 GB of RAM, this is an absurdly smooth Android experience. The sluggishness and lag that typically happen on an Android device is gone! Games, even ones like Dead Trigger which take full advantage of the hardware, run exceptionally well. This is the dream of Android tablets: a comfortable yet capable device, that can play pretty much any game on Earth. Everything I’ve tested runs well on the Nexus 7. Even the official Android Twitter app works well. I’m impressed. Well, everything except for the Facebook app, but that’s a terrible app any way.

For gaming, holding the Nexus 7 in landscape is very comfortable, thanks to the rubberized back and light weight. I do enjoy playing games on it, though there is a sort of downside to the 7“ form factor: It’s not as engrossing as the 10” size. A 10“ device lets the user get lost in what’s on their screen, oblivious to the world around them, if they so choose. The 7” size doesn’t really do this. It’s more of just a large handheld screen to use. To get that same sensation, I’d have to hold it uncomfortably close to my face.

That is why I consider the Nexus 7 in many ways to just be a great, very large phone. It’s meant to be used primarily in portrait like a phone, with occasional landscape usage. It does fit in large pockets, though it’s not going to slip in and out. I find it replacing a lot of what my iPad does, and I usually have it on my desk while on my computer, picking it up and checking it while something else is happening on my desktop. It sits in the middle of a phone’s convenience, with a tablet’s large-screen experience, while losing some of the portability of a phone and the productive utility of a tablet.

This is the thing that the Nexus 7 taught me, though: there’s a reason why Google is pushing the Play store on the Nexus 7. There’s a reason why a user’s library is on the main home screen when it is first set up. This is designed for casual use and entertainment more than as a powerful workhorse of a device. It won’t replace my iPad as my favorite tablet to work with; in fact, I typed up this review on my iPad. But, as a way to check email and Twitter, and to play games? It’s perfect. This is the first Android device where I feel like I can play games for real fun, not just as an obligation. Sure, the library of Android games is still problematic (and many games are still just second helpings from iOS) but this is the device that won me over. It also gives me hope that the Ouya might really be able to succeed because this thing is capable.

Do I recommend the Nexus 7? Yes, and I give it a very high recommendation. Do not get this expecting it as a great choice instead of a 10“ tablet like the iPad. Understand the advantages and disadvantages of the 7” size. But for the cost, the hardware is top-notch though lacking in secondary features. This is a fantastic device, and an example of why Google’s Nexus project is so full of possibility. With a device like this, Google can bring together a great hardware and software experience. It’s something that other Android devices have lacked when I’ve used them, and I am absolutely enamored with the Nexus 7.

Google Buys Motorola Mobility; What Do They Want, Though?

Google made a major splash yesterday, announcing that they bought Motorola’s mobile division for over $12.5 billion cash; the deal was announced by Larry Page on Google’s official blog. Analysts from armchairs to Wall Street have been weighing in on the deal and what it could mean for the future of Android. There seem to be three things that Google wants out of this deal.

1. Google wants patents.

Motorola has a lot of patents, being one of the first mobile phone companies. They have about 12,500 patents issued, with about 7,500 pending. There’s been plenty of legal wrangling over patents like these, now Google can safeguard Android even further by having control over these patents, and being able to license these to other Android manufacturers. Google wanting Motorola’s patents initially was one hypothesis laid down toward why Google mae this purchase, before eventually just deciding to buy the whole company.

2. Google wants to make money off of Android.

Google may be making money off of the deep Google integration in Android devices, either from licensing official Google apps and Market access, money from apps sold in the Android Market, and from mobile advertising, but the actual phones themselves are not bringing a lot in quite yet. By purchasing an actual Android phone manufacturer, and one that holds 29% of the US Android smartphone market, they can now make Android a viable financial proposition for themselves. The other handset makers may feel threatened by an official Google handset manufacturer, but Google seems open to at least leaving the option open for handset makers to continue to support Android. It would behoove Google to keep Android on as many devices as possible, as more users of the platform mean greater incentive for developers to support it.

3. Google wants to make a gPhone.

Sure, Google and Andy Rubin can deny that Motorola would be the manufacturer of the next Nexus phone, and that could possibly be true. However, thinking that Google won’t use their Motorola purchase in order to make a ‘pure’ Android experience the most popular devices out there seems foolish. The point of the Nexus devices are to be stock devices, pure Android experiences. They haven’t been the most popular of Android devices, though. Google could use Motorola’s relationship with the carriers to push their pure Android device. They could possibly pare down Motorola’s various devices to a core set of tablets and phones instead of the wide variety of random devices that currently dominate the Android market.