I’m still excited to see HTC’s successor to the One

by Evan Selleck - Contributing Editor

It hasn’t been a secret that HTC’s One is one of my favorite devices of 2013. Right out of the gate, ever since I took it out of the box and started playing with it, the device impressed me on just about every level. We all know that HTC has created plenty of great devices in the past, some of the best even, but the One brought the company to a whole new level. The one saw not only the introduction of one of the best devices on the market, but probably the best designed Android-based handset to date. The One was the hardware that Android had been waiting for. And, as you can see from our Smartphone Rankings, the One won plenty of hearts across the board as it still sits nicely at the top of the lists.
Yes, the One is an impressive device, even if it managed to be the first device in the wave of handsets that would crash onto 2013 like a tidal wave. Being first in the mobile market has a lot of value, especially if you can manage to do it a few months in advance than the competition. After all, if you’re the only high-end device on the market that’s not a phone from the previous year, that’s a pretty good reason to consider your product over any other. However, at the same time, it may mean you get left behind pretty quickly in the specifications department, as every other product out there launches with newer –maybe better– technology.
That’s essentially what happened with the One. Inside the One rests a Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 quad-core processor clocked at 1.7GHz. You’ll also find 2GB of RAM. In comparison, (most versions of) Samsung’s Galaxy S 4 and (most versions of the) Galaxy Note 3, along with LG’s G2 and Nexus 5 all boast a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor, clocked in a wide range above 2GHz. Additionally, the Note 3 offers 3GB of RAM, while the Nexus 5, Galaxy S 4 and G2 will give you a similar 2GB of RAM.
It’s tricky to be first, especially in the Android market. Technology improves so quickly that it can be hard to stay in the picture as new devices are launched throughout the year.
HTC managed to stay in the eye of the people, though, even as Samsung, LG, Motorola and Apple released their own handsets. They did so with new colors for their impressive device, but those colors were usually shackled to a specific exclusive deal or carrier, so there’s a good chance that most of those colors never saw the hands of people who would have loved to own them. We also saw HTC launch a “mini” version of the One, as well as a “maxx” option, too, to flesh out the family lineup and offer plenty of options for consumers.
Now that 2013 is over and done with, it’s time to start looking at what’s next, and thankfully we’ve got a brand new report focused on some possible One successor specifications. Right now, the device is being called the M8, which fits, because the One’s codename was the M7. So, the M8′s still a rumor right now as HTC hasn’t announced anything, but that hasn’t stopped some leaked specs from making their way onto the ‘net. If you looked over them yesterday and didn’t get all that excited, I don’t think I’d blame you.
If you missed it: The M8 is rumored to boast a 5-inch 1080p HD display, with 2GB of RAM under the hood and a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 to power things along. There’s supposedly a 2.1MP camera on the front of the device, and we’ll find another UltraPixel camera on the back. It’s also said to be running Android 4.4 KitKat out of the box, and it’ll boast a new-and-improved Sense UI, bumping it up to version 6.0.
So far, that’s all that’s running the course for rumored specs. First, it’s not surprising that HTC would boost the display size up to five inches. This honestly makes the most sense. And, while the 4 UltraPixel camera may not have won as many people over as HTC hoped, that doesn’t mean they won’t stop using UltraPixel for their camera marketing. Indeed, I would expect them to bump it up to 8UP, rather than keeping it at the 4. (Sadly, if they do keep the 4 UltraPixel camera, I honestly wouldn’t be too shocked.) The 2GB of RAM shouldn’t be a deal-breaker, but we’ll probably see more devices launch with 3GB of RAM this year, so it could be a shortcoming for the M8.
Then we get to the processor. There’s no denying that specifications play a big part in Android’s success across the globe. Even people who probably don’t care what their phone is running still check out the specs and compare them to the competition. Which camera has more megapixels? Which processor has a bigger number next to the number of cores? These same folks probably never actually look at benchmark tests, but you can bet that most of them love bigger numbers where bigger numbers might matter. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800 processor is a great chipset, and companies love it. But, it is a chipset from last year. Qualcomm has a Snapdragon 805 in the process, and we could see it launch in devices late 2014 — right around the time for the Galaxy Note 4, LG’s successor to the G2, and maybe even the next Nexus.
Again, newer flagship devices leaving those first to the scene behind, in terms of newer technology.
It shouldn’t matter, though. Just as many people said in 2013, it doesn’t matter if the newer flagships launch with better/newer technology under the hood, because the HTC One doesn’t stop being a great device with its own suite of great specs. That will be the case with the M8, too. Personally, I think it could have stayed at the 4.7-inch screen size, but at five inches it should still be comfortable. Especially if the One keeps with the same design cue as its predecessor. Overall, while some folks may not be all that impressed with these rumored specs, I can say I’m still pretty excited to see what HTC has in store for us. Besides, they’re still just rumors. HTC could surprise all of us with some really impressive hardware across the board.
What do you think of the rumored specifications for HTC’s M8? Are you still excited about the device, or do you think HTC’s train towards success will be derailed with the One’s successor? Let me know!

iPhone 5s Review: 100 Days with Apple’s New iPhone

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The iPhone 5s remains one of the best smartphones available 100 days after its release and is still a top choice for many of the Gotta Be Mobile team members even after the Nexus 5 release and it remains a top seller even as consumers turn their eyes to theSamsung Galaxy S5 and iPhone 6.

Since the release Apple delivered several new iOS 7 updates and is already working on the iOS 7.1 release while hackers opened up the iPhone to a host of iOS 7 jailbreak apps and tweaks with the release of evasi0n7.

100 days seems like a short amount of time for many iPhone owners, but it is 1/3rd of the way to a new iPhone release based on earlier Apple launches and quite a long time in the smartphone world.

During the last 100 days the iPhone 5s served as my primary smartphone, though it shares double duty with whatever my favorite Android smartphone of the month is, and I do find myself gravitating towards the larger screens on the Galaxy Note 3 and Nexus 5.

OVERALL PERFORMANCE

The iPhone 5s remains a solid performer and I notice small speed enhancements even with an upgrade from the iPhone 5, which was no slouch itself. The Apple A7 64-bit processor leads to faster app launches and a very responsive iOS 7 experience — at least after patched some of the bugs which caused random rebooting.

 

The iPhone 5s remains a great phone 100 days after it's release as we roll into 2014.

The iPhone 5s remains a great phone 100 days after it’s release as we roll into 2014.

 

I don’t experience any sluggishness while using the iPhone 5s on iO S7.0.4 or on the betas for Apple’s upcoming software release. One of the best performance features is the ability to quickly flick the camera open, focus and take a photo without waiting on the camera app like I did while using my wife’s iPhone 4s on IOS 7 or while using the Nexus 5.

The iPhone 5s is thin and light which makes it easy to carry in a pocket without noticing it is there and to hold for extended periods of surfing Reddit or reading a book on the Kindle App.

One major change for me is using the iPhone 5s without a case. I may look back and regret this if I drop my iPhone in the coming months, but after using an iPhone with a case on it for the past several years it feels great to use an iPhone without a case. I still put on a waterproof case from time to time or a semi rugged case when I am working in the yard for added protection and I often use a wallet case or a iPhone 5s battery case if I am going on a trip, but for day-to-day use I am no longer carrying my iPhone 5s in a case. I carry most of my Android phones without cases unless I am reviewing one, so I figure it is time to fully enjoy Apple’s design.

My iPhone 5s runs on Verizon 4G LTE and does so pretty well. I’ve written off using 4G LTE in my neighborhood as Verizon’s coverage is not up to par but for the most part the 4G LTE signal is good outside of this 3-4 block radius. One complaint is that the iPhone sometimes will stick on 3G until I toggle Airplane mode, after which it will connect to 4G LTE with a full signal.

BATTERY LIFE

The iPhone 5s battery life is good overall, but I find myself recharging more often than I have in the past thanks to a dramatic increase in the amount of time I spend talking on the phone.

On a typical day after spending an hour to an hour and a half on phone calls and with normal use around my office while connected to WiFi the battery may drop as low as 30-40% remaining by 5 PM. Today after talking for quite a while the iPhone hit 27% by 2PM. Luckily I can charge up after my calls so this is not a major issue. When traveling I always carry a backup battery or use a Mophie iPhone 5s battery case to make sure my battery lasts.

IPHONE 5S PROBLEMS

While the iOS 7.0.4 update solved many of the random reboot problems for users, a Gotta Be Mobile team member still experiences the soft reboot issue which can cause audio and video to drop out while the phone shows an Apple logo. This can lead to issues with phone calls and with hangouts. Other team members report the reboot problem occurring at least once a day.

 

There are still some iPhone 5s problems on iOS 7.

There are still some iPhone 5s problems on iOS 7.

 

Some of the iPhone apps still crash on iOS 7 on the iPhone 5s. Messages and Settings are the worst offenders with crashes coming for seemingly no reason. Thankfully re-opening the app tends to fix the problem.

IPHONE 5S FEATURES I LOVE

There are several iPhone 5s features the I love. These are features that I cannot find on other smartphones or that I don’t find mixed with the same overall user experience as the iPhone 5s.

CAMERA

The iPhone 5s camera is simply stunning. Thanks to the software algorithms, a nice sensor and the new dual flash it takes some of the best photos of all of my devices. While it isn’t going to replace my Nikon D5200 DSLR I haven’t touched my Sony point and shoot in months.

 

The iPhone 5s camera and dual LED flash is a favorite feature.

The iPhone 5s camera and dual LED flash is a favorite feature.

 

I also really enjoy the Slow Motion feature. Though I use it less often now than when I first got the phone there are still many times when shooting in slow motion is a perfect option. While I typically carry two smartphones with me on a daily basis I trust the iPhone 5s to focus and take a great photo without requiring extra taps and time. I shoot many of my Gotta Be Mobile review videos and some of the photos on the iPhone 5s as it saves me a lot of time in editing and uploading, and I will use it more than my DSLR at CES 2014 this month.

DESIGN

The design of the iPhone 5s remains one of the biggest selling points. This thin, light and premium feeling smartphone is one the competition continually tries to meet and beat.

The HTC One delivered a very similar premium feel and the Moto X’s customizable back which is soft yet solid also comes close, but at the end of the day the iPhone 5s is a winner.

 

The iPhone 5s design is one of my favorite features.

The iPhone 5s design is one of my favorite features.

 

I bought the white iPhone 5s to avoid some of the easy scratching that I experienced on the black iPhone 5. So far with mixed case and case-free use I am not seeing any scratches and a Gotta Be Mobile team member with the Black iPhone 5s reports that his device is scratch free even with removing and re-inserting in a case many times since buying it 100 days ago.

APPS

One of the other things I really like about the iPhone 5s is the access to quality apps that work more reliably than they do on my Android devices. Apps like iFruit, a companion app for GTA 5 arrived on iPhone before the game even hit store shelves, but the Android version didn’t land until I was almost done with the game. Many apps are still coming to iPhone first, though the good news for Android users is that the length of time between apps is shortening.

 

The iPhone 5s brings access to quality apps.

The iPhone 5s brings access to quality apps.

 

The other thing I like about the iPhone 5s and apps is that the app quality is still often better on the iPhone than it is on Android. Alien Blue is a reddit app that still beats the best Android reddit apps I’ve tried. The NFL Sunday Ticket App routinely crashes on my various Android devices, but it has yet to crash on my iPhone 5s, even while streaming most of a Miami Dolphins game. Once Again there is hope for great looking and performing apps on Android with Robird delivering an amazing user experience that is nearly as good as Tweetbot.

IOS 7

When the iOS 7 update launched a vocal contingent of users complained about the new look, new feature setup and some features disappearing, but overall iOS 7 does a better job of putting the settings and info I want within a tap on the iPhone.

 

The new look of iOS 7 and fast access to information and controls is a big benefit for iPhone 5s users.

The new look of iOS 7 and fast access to information and controls is a big benefit for iPhone 5s users.

 

I’m still not using the iOS 7 jailbreak on my iPhone 5s, but the fact that it arrived and there are a growing number of iOS 7 compatible Cydia apps and tweaks also helps solidify my enjoyment of iOS 7 and the future of the software on the iPhone 5s.

IPHONE 5 FEATURES I WISH I COULD LOVE

For all I love about the iPhone 5s there are three things that I wish I could love more, but they don’t fulfill my needs as much as they used to or don’t perform reliably enough for me.

THE SMALL SCREEN

The iPhone 5s features the same 4-inch Retina display as the iPhone 5, and it is a very nice looking display with pixels packed so tight you can’t see the individual pixels in text. Photos and videos look very good on the Phone 5s display, but I wish the screen was larger.

 

The iPhone 5s screen looks good, but the size is limiting.

The iPhone 5s screen looks good, but the size is limiting.

 

The Nexus 5 and the Galaxy S4 both offer significantly more screen real estate for watching Netflix, reading books and surfing the web. I was OK with the iPhone 5s screen size when I bought it, but I find myself using my Android phones more to read and to watch Netflix when I go to the gym, which makes me wish for an iPhone 6 with a bigger screen.

A 4.7-inch to 5-inch iPhone 6 display would fill this need for me and wouldn’t necessarily make the iPhone 6 much larger.

SIRI & DICTATION

I use, or attempt to use Siri quite often and I am respectful of the limits to what Siri can do in regards to tasks and commands to follow. What continues to frustrate me is the amount of times Siri and Dictation time out. Unlike Android devices the iPhone 5s sends Siri and Dictation requests to the cloud, and with that comes unreliability.

 

It would be great if Apple improved the reliability of Siri and Dictation.

It would be great if Apple improved the reliability of Siri and Dictation.

 

I can handle that when I want Siri to perform a web search, but to often Siri can’t schedule a meeting, send a text or even call a contact because of a cloud issue. Too many frustrations lead to me skipping Siri more and more often. And I was a heavy Siri user. The same goes for dictation which will often sit at a spinning symbol until I give up.

Hopefully Apple adds an offline dictation option and supports simple offline command support for performing actions with local content like calling a contact.

TOUCH ID

The iPhone 5s brings Touch ID a fingerprint reader built into the home button. When Touch ID works it is an awesome way to unlock the iPhone, but when it doesn’t I end up frustrated and wasting time.

 

Touch ID is nice, but not reliable enough in my personal use.

Touch ID is nice, but not reliable enough in my personal use.

 

For the first month and a half Touch ID worked great, but after Winter hit and did a number on my hands Touch ID became less reliable. It still works from time to time and it is slightly better when I retrained the service, but overall I still end up entering a pass code more often than not.

Currently Touch ID only works as an App Store password if you’ve also entered your password recently, which means unless I am buying a new app every day I rarely get to use Touch ID for purchases in the App Store. Hopefully Apple tweaks the software and removes this restriction in iOS 7.1 or a future update.

FINAL THOUGHTS ON USING THE IPHONE 5S FOR 100 DAYS

The iPhone 5s remains one of the best smartphones out there and thanks to many deals users who are at the end of a contract can upgrade for as little as $125 for the 16GB model.

I would upgrade from the iPhone 5 again, but it is not an upgrade every iPhone 5 owner needs to make, especially with attention turning to the iPhone 6. iPhone 4S owners like my wife definitely notice the increased speed and camera capabilities, making it a very worthwhile upgrade.

I still recommend the iPhone 5s for many users, but with the competition delivering great smartphones with ever improving designs and growth in the quality and quantity of Android apps there is a reason to consider Android before buying the iPhone 5s, even for the longtime iPhone user.

As the iPhone 5s ages into 2014 Apple will need to work hard to keep users interested, especially with rumors of the Samsung Galaxy S5 and HTC Two arriving in early 2014.

full story: http://www.gottabemobile.com/2014/01/02/iphone-5s-review-2014/

Review: Google Glass Explorer Edition 2.0

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Gizmag reviews the Google Glass Explorer Edition 2.0

When Google first told us about Glass back in 2012, it was very much an unattainable product of the future. Hell, it even had a futuristic-sounding name: Project Glass. Yet here we are, less than two years later, and countless folks have plunked down a cool US$1,500 for the Explorer version of Google’s smart glasses. That future may still be in beta, but it’s here nonetheless. Join Gizmag, as we review the Google Glass Explorer Edition 2.0.

The most important thing to keep in mind here is that the Google Glass Explorer Edition is very much a beta product. Google could make huge changes to the final retail version, and this review could ultimately mean very little when it comes to that mass-market edition (expected sometime this year). Of course we’ll still speculate and imagine what the future looks like for Glass, but the only question we can really answer here is whether we recommend snagging an invite and plunking down for the Explorer Edition.

The short answer to that? You probably only want to become an Explorer if you’re a developer or an eager early adopter with plenty of money. But this beta version of Glass does hold a lot of exciting possibilities, as well as a few concerns and some rough edges. If nothing else, it raises some fascinating questions about the future – not just for Glass, but for all of us.

Hardware

Front of Google Glass

Even if you’ve never used Glass, there’s a good chance you’re already familiar with its look. It has an asymmetrical design, with the device’s processor, memory, and other internal hardware housed in a curved plastic bar that hugs the right side of your face. A thinner visor-like portion of the bar wraps around your head to hold everything in place, and it pancakes into another thicker section behind your right ear (where Glass’ battery lives). Two nose pads protrude from wires to prop Glass up.

There’s a micro-USB port on the bottom of the main body, sitting just in front of your right ear. That’s where you charge Glass (more on that later), and also where you plug in optional earbud accessories.

At first Google required Glass Explorers to have an in-person meeting with a Google rep to fit the device to their faces. We skipped that part (Google now gives you the option of having it shipped to your doorstep) and I didn’t have any problems fitting it to my face or my schnoz. I found the nose pad wires to have a great blend of rigidity and flexibility, as you can bend them when you want to, but they stay pretty firmly in place once you find your sweet spot.

Glass is pretty light and comfortable to wear

The front visor that fits Glass to your face also has some bend to it. You can squeeze it and flex it back without feeling like your $1,500 investment is going to snap in two. It applies enough pressure to stay firmly on my head, but doesn’t feel like my melon is being squeezed in a vice grip. It’s understandable if you’d want to treat such an expensive device gingerly, but, overall, Glass feels very durable.

Of course we haven’t yet mentioned the most important part of Glass. Protruding from its main body on the front right side of your face is a small, rectangular, glass prism. You know: the glass. That’s your display, and once you adjust Glass’ fit to your head, the mostly-transparent screen should sit just above your right eye’s field of vision.

The right side of Glass’ body (that thick bar) doubles as a trackpad. There are two main ways to control Glass: with your voice, and by swiping and tapping on that trackpad. It can also respond to the angle of your head (via accelerometer and gyroscope) and the tracking of your right eye (via an infrared sensor), but voice and the trackpad are your primary means of navigating the Google Glass UI.

Glass' right side is used as a trackpad

Glass not only gives you visual feedback on that display, but it also gives you audio feedback. If you aren’t using any accessories, then that happens through a bone conduction transducer that sits above (and a little behind) your right ear. That little transducer sends vibrations through your skull, but I find the sensation similar to having a little speaker sitting near my right ear. The only difference is that other people nearby won’t hear much out of it. You can adjust Glass’ volume in its settings, and if there’s too much background noise, covering your right ear should help you to better hear the bone conduction audio.

The 2nd version of the Explorer Edition that we’ve been using also includes a separate mono earbud accessory that plugs into its micro-USB port to deliver better sound. Glass Explorers also have the option of buying a pair of wired stereo earbuds for $85. For my taste, though, Glass already looks geeky enough without adding a wired earpiece to it, so I’ve been satisfied using the built-in bone conduction for audio.

The current Explorer Edition includes a separate shade accessory, that turns it into a pai...

The current version of Glass also includes an “Active Shade,” which essentially turns it into a high-tech pair of sunglasses. At first, I found it a little cumbersome trying to finagle the shade on and off every time I went out during bright daylight (Google’s oversimplified instructional diagram didn’t help), but I can now get it on and off pretty quickly and easily. Glass also includes a micro-fiber travel pouch, which has a harder shell at the bottom to help protect the most critical parts of the device.

Prescription frames aren’t compatible with Glass just yet (at least not without a bunch of renegade dismantling and reassembling of your $1,500 investment). But Google has partnered with Rochester Optical for clip-on prescription lenses that we expect to hear more about next week at CES.

Pairing and UI

Glass' default home screen, with time and 'OK Glass' prompt

Like most of the early smartwatches, Glass isn’t a smartphone replacement. It’s more of a smartphone accessory, requiring a phone’s Bluetooth connection for on-the-go-data (it can also connect directly to a Wi-Fi network). Right now Android phones work better with Glass than iPhones, as Apple’s restrictions prevent the MyGlass companion app from letting you send or receive SMS through Glass.

The Google Glass UI itself is based off of the ‘cards’ concept that anyone who’s used Google Now on Android or iOS devices should be familiar with. Simplicity and glanceability are the keys here, so each card is usually composed of some fairly large text splashed onto a black background. When you’re reading conversation threads, you’ll also see pictures of you and your pal stacked on the left side of the card.

When you wake Glass’ screen (either by tapping the touchpad or lifting your head) you’ll see a simple home screen with the current time and the words “OK Glass” sitting underneath. This is the screen where you activate voice control. The “OK Glass” option will also pop up after receiving a message or taking a picture (so you can easily send or reply).

After you say the magic words ('OK Glass') you have a decent-sized list of options

Rather than home screens full of app icons, like on a smartphone, each Glass card takes up the entire screen. Swipe forward on the trackpad from the main screen, and you’ll scroll to the right through the various cards in your timeline. Each recent action (like a picture you took or a message you sent) will have a card in the timeline, with the most recent ones first. Right now there’s no user-centric (non-developer) way to organize or clear your timeline. Its job is to give you quick access to whatever you’ve recently been using Glass for.

If you scroll backwards on the trackpad from the main screen, then the timeline moves to the left. Here you’ll find the more permanent cards like weather, navigation (if you’re currently navigating), relevant Google Now cards, and settings.

Many timeline cards let you easily share with friends

As you might expect, tapping the trackpad will select a card. For cards like messages or pictures, this will brings up basic options, such as “reply,” “send to,” or “delete.” For threads with several messages, this will let you scroll through the individual messages. Another nice option (also available via voice command) is “read aloud.” That’s especially handy for reading new messages while driving, jogging, or some other situation where you need to keep your eyes ahead of you.

Swiping down on the trackpad is the Glass UI’s equivalent of a back button. Swipe down to back out of an individual card, and again to turn the screen off. You can also set Glass to turn its screen off when you tilt your head up and then back down again.

Look, no hands!

What will the future look like through Glass?

Now that we’ve covered Glass’ basic hardware and software, we can get down to what you really came for. You know, things like what’s it like to use the damn thing? And is there a place in our future for products like Google Glass?

On its simplest level, using Google Glass means having a smartphone-like display that hovers above your right eye’s field of vision. It means receiving audio cues for notifications, or things like navigation or fitness tracking. And it means having 100 percent hands-free access to a solid camera (more on that in a minute), Google search, and messaging.

To me, that hands-free aspect is what separates Glass from other wearable accessories, like smartwatches. Watches will probably be an easier sell to the general public at first (mostly because they don’t make you look like a science fiction character), but Glass lets you do some important smartphone-like tasks with absolutely no touch required. And it should do much more as developers unleash more Glassware apps into the wild.

The Strava Run app serves as a quick and easy pedometer

I personally think it would be a mistake if governments continue to try to ban Google Glass behind the wheel. Because that’s one of the places where it makes the most sense. Of course lawmakers are going to (understandably) worry about the potential for distraction, but the fact is you can do all kinds of things like send messages, read incoming messages, and search for local businesses without even looking at Glass’ display. As long as you use it responsibly, I see it as the safest and easiest way to do things like that while behind the wheel.

The hands-free portion of Glass starts with a nod of your head. If you turn on a “head wake-up” feature in Glass’ settings, then a tilt of your head up to a 30° angle will turn on Glass’ display. At that point, you can say “OK Glass” and follow it with something like “send a message to Suzie”, “take a picture,” “record a video,” “get directions to McDonald’s” or “Google ‘who’s winning the Lakers game.’”

Until Google gives Glass an app store for third-party software, the “OK Glass, Google …” voice command just might be its killer feature. For queries that default to web results, it isn’t particularly useful (you can browse websites on Glass, but it’s far from an ideal experience). But for questions that Google provides a direct answer to – something that’s more and more common these days – it’s an amazing resource to have hovering above your sight line. You can even use it to tap into Google Now features like setting reminders (which you can also receive on Glass) and checking on traffic or the weather forecast.

Again, the key here is that it can all be done 100 percent hands-free. Glass gives you always-on, always-available answers from the world’s biggest search engine, no matter what else you’re doing. And it’s only going to get better with time.

21st century digital boy

Glass doesn't exactly look 'normal' today, but could greater familiarity change that?

The big tradeoff (well, besides that $1,500 price tag) is that, in order to get in on Glass’ awesome hands-free action, you have to wear some gear that’s guaranteed to draw some stares in public. Prepare for some confused, quizzical, gawking looks from strangers you pass. Or if you live in San Francisco, where strangers are much more likely to know what Glass is, prepare to be called a “Glasshole” by the more disapproving sectors of the tech industry.

The experience of wearing Glass in public was the biggest obstacle I had in the early stages of using it. It’s downright distracting having people look at you like you’re some foreign alien object every time you run to the store or grab a bite to eat. Most adults try to conceal their sideways glances, but you can still pick up on the odd looks. Children, who typically have much less of a filter between their thoughts and expressions, will stare unabashedly with jaws hanging open (I actually prefer their honesty).

The more I wore Glass, the less self-conscious I was about having it on in public … not because people stopped staring, mind you, but just because I gave less of a damn. That’s why Google asks for “bold” individuals to join this Explorer program. You’re very much a Google Guinea Pig and an ambassador for the product, and it’s hard to forget that when you wear it in public. And that will probably continue to be the case until Google starts heavily marketing a retail version.

Photography

Glass lets you snap pictures at a moment's notice

Google Glass has a 5-megapixel camera that sits on the front of its main body, to the right of the display prism. The quality of its photos is solid enough, even though it’s easily outdone by basically every high-end smartphone from the last few years.

It isn’t resolution or advanced optics that makes this camera special. Nope, this camera’s secret sauce is how ridiculously quick and easy it is to use. There’s a dedicated camera button sitting on top of the device’s main body (below), which is nice in itself (tap for a still shot and hold down for video). But Glass’ December update takes this speed and ease to a whole new level by letting you wink to take a photo.

There's a dedicated camera button on the top right side

You have to turn it on in Glass’ settings, but the ‘Wink for picture’ option basically guarantees that you’ll never miss a shot, no matter what your hands are doing. Wink your right eye, wait to hear the chime, and you’ll see a picture of whatever you were looking at flash onto Glass’ screen, ready to share. No need to tap any physical buttons, swipe on the touchpad, or utter any voice commands. Just wink and snap.

It can be a little tricky to frame shots with Glass, since the camera’s view isn’t displayed on the screen (the screen does, however, show what you’re recording for a video). After taking enough pics, though, I can usually guess pretty well how the shot will be framed, so this shouldn’t be a huge problem.

Winking to snap a picture is one of Google's more clever additions

After snapping a pic, your instant sharing options are a bit limited. Right now that list includes Google Hangouts, Google+, Facebook, and Twitter. If you’re infused in social media, that may be all you need, but I’d like to see MMS and Gmail attachments eventually added to that list.

You can also set Glass to automatically back up your images to a private folder in your Google+ library. And if you’re really old-fashioned, you can manually copy them to a PC with a USB cable.

Battery life

Glass charges with an included micro-USB cable

Battery life is, far and away, the Explorer Edition’s Achilles’ heel. It drains pretty quickly, usually losing about five to seven percentage points per hour – even with light to moderate use. Make video calls or record videos, and it will drain much quicker than that.

Google advertises “one day of typical use,” and I can usually squeeze a full day out of it. But that’s using it pretty sparingly. If you plan on doing anything that leaves the screen on for extended periods, you’ll probably have to grab a charger before the day is over.

Battery life is the biggest concern in the beta version of Glass

If you spend much time during your day sitting at a computer, you can always grab a cable and juice Glass up through your PC’s USB port while still wearing it. Unless you’re alone, though, this is only going to ramp up the potential for stares. “Oh, look, it’s the office/family/neighborhood cyborg recharging himself.”

I’d be surprised if the retail version of Glass didn’t make great strides with battery life. At least I’d hope so, or else Google may have a huge commercial dud on its hands. But, in the Explorer Edition, battery life is something you pretty much always have to keep in the back (if not the front) of your mind.

Retail wish list

Glass on top of its (Explorer Edition) packaging

Battery life is easily the biggest thing we think Google needs to improve before launching Glass to the public. But what else would be on our wish list?

Well, an app store of some kind would be a big plus. Though you can technically sideload apps downloaded from around the web, your main way to install apps now is through Google’s MyGlass companion app for Android and iOS. There’s a solid mix of applications there from Google and third-parties alike, with apps from companies like Evernote, Path, New York Times, CNN, and IFTTT. But it’s still relatively limited. In 2014, when customers buy an expensive mobile device, they expect to have some kind of app store. I imagine Google realizes that, and will launch one alongside Glass’ retail version.

If Google can somehow make Glass look a bit subtler, that would obviously be a huge plus. I’m not sure if the company can shrink Glass’ footprint andextend its battery life all at once (at least this soon), but anything to reduce the geek factor for your average Joe or Jane is going to help its chances.

Of course pricing is the biggest question mark. Google has said that the shipping version will go for less than the Explorer Edition’s $1,500 price tag. But how much lower? We just don’t know, and maybe Google doesn’t yet either. If they can get it down to $350 or so, they might have an instant hit on their hands. Push it above $500, and it’s a tougher sell to the general public. $1,000 or higher, and Google’s basically painting itself into a corner with the same early adopters who are beta-testing it today.

Why Glass?

That glass prism is your display, and where the magic happens

Prospects of commercial success aside, there’s already a lot that I love about Google Glass today. Once you take some of these basic smartphone-like features (messaging, Google, photos, navigation, and so on), make them completely hands-free, and plop them in your field of vision, you quickly realize it’s the most intimate form of computing around. That might not sound like a big deal, but you quickly get used to it.

On an intellectual level, you understand that Google Glass is a tech product that you place on your head that lets you perform these tasks. But on an experience level, these things start to feel like they’re extensions of you. As I’ve said this before, it’s similar to wearing a pair of contact lenses. After a while, contacts make you feel like you actually have 20/20 vision. Likewise, Glass makes you feel like the internet and these smartphone-like features are actually a part of you.

Is that disturbing or amazing? I can see both sides, but so far I think it’s a pretty cool experience. Glass takes many of the things you already do with your smartphone and, well, it kinda integrates them into you. It’s a removable part of you, mind you, but it’s intimate enough that I miss it – almost feel naked – when I take it off.

Google has probably made Glass about as attractive as a 2014 face-computer can be ... for ...

As we said at the top, this isn’t about coming to conclusions or reaching verdicts about the future of Google Glass. But what we can say is that Glass is most definitely a product to keep a close eye on. You probably knew that without hearing it from us, but that’s our take nonetheless.

As Google evolves Glass (and app developers work their magic on it), I think it has the potential to alter our daily lives on at least the same level as smartphones and tablets have. But there are also some huge question marks standing in between today’s Explorer Edition and that potentialworld-changing product of tomorrow.

So, as we supposedly approach Glass’ retail release, it’s now wait-and-see time. What will Google’s engineers and designers come up with? Can they minimize its head-turning appearance – or at least make it more socially acceptable as it is now? Can they improve its battery life by 50 percent or more? Can they do all of this and squeeze it into, say, the $300-500 price range? That’s a tall order, but we’ll see.

Unless you’re an eager early adopter with lots of cash lying around, it’s probably best to hold off on the Google Glass Explorer Edition. But we’d recommend paying very close attention to Glass when it finally ships to the public. It’s far from a guaranteed commercial success, but it is practically guaranteed to be one of the boldest and most forward-thinking products you’ve ever used.

If you are that bold and eager early adopter that Google is seeking (and you live in the US), then you can sign up for an Explorer invite at the product page below.

Product page: Google Glass

full story: http://www.gizmag.com/google-glass-review/30300/

 

Facebook, Google, Yahoo all being sued over message scanning

by Joshua Brustein

Computer servers like these at a Google data center in Mayes County, Okla., process lots of e-mails and other data from people. Photo: Connie Zhou, Associated Press

Computer servers like these at a Google data center in Mayes County, Okla., process lots of e-mails and other data from people. Photo: Connie Zhou, Associated Press

The right of technology companies to read the personal communication of their users is set to get a good run in the courts this year. Last week, two Facebook users filed a class-action lawsuit against the social network, claiming that it violates state and federal law by mining information from their private messages for advertising purposes.

Facebook isn’t the only Silicon Valley company facing heat on this issue. Google and Yahoo each face separate lawsuits filed last year over their practice of scanning the content of e-mails.

All three cases are proceeding in the federal district court for the Northern District of California, which covers Silicon Valley.

Confusion over what is private on Facebook has caused controversy for years. The lawsuit filed last week argues that the company is essentially lying to its users by describing certain messages as private, then scanning URLs contained in private messages and using them to build profiles about their Web activity.

The complaint charges that this is a particularly pernicious form of snooping, because the things people reveal in private messages are exactly what they don’t want distributed widely.

As evidence, the complaint cites two studies by security researchers. One, conducted over the summer by Swiss security firm High-Tech Bridge, set up a series of secret URLs and sent them through private messages on 50 Web services. It found that Facebook, Google and Twitter opened them.

Many Web services scan links for spam, and Marsel Nizamutdinov, chief research officer at High-Tech Bridge, acknowledged that the firm couldn’t tell whether anything more was going on.

An earlier study, conducted in 2012 by security researcher Ashkan Soltani, showed that when a URL was sent via private message, it registered as two “likes” on the external webpage if the page was coded to communicate with Facebook.

A representative for Facebook said that the lawsuit is without merit and that the company will defend itself but needs to examine the specific allegations before responding to them directly.

If it is collecting URLs from private messages, Facebook would hardly face a major crisis were it forced to stop. That would probably be a bigger issue for Google and Yahoo. Not only is there little question as to whether those companies scan users’ communications for advertising purposes; doing so is a major reason they offer free e-mail.

full story: http://www.sfgate.com/technology/article/Facebook-Google-Yahoo-all-being-sued-over-5114587.php

White House has plans to prevent another Healthcare.gov

By Carl Franzen

Photo

In the wake of the glitch-ridden launch of the US government’s online health insurance marketplace, the Obama Administration is reportedly considering loosening the requirements for hiring federal tech workers and establishing a special agency to oversee future tech projects, according to The Wall Street Journal. No final plan has been crafted, but several broad new efforts are being considered, including giving government agencies such as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services — the agency responsible for the error-prone Healthcare.gov website — the ability to engage in “direct hiring” of software developers.

 

Currently, federal agencies are required to sift through multiple job candidates for tech hires and give preference to veterans, among other requirements. They also have up to 80 days to make a decision, but the White House wants to speed that process up. The White House is also said to be evaluating the idea of having government tech workers “rotate through private-sector companies.” But as The Journal notes, there are other labor issues ingrained in the federal tech workforce that may make it difficult to attract private-sector talent even if any of these proposals go into effect, including more sporadic funding, an older employee base, and the perception that the workplace culture doesn’t support innovative tech ideas. But given how poorly Healthcare.gov performed at first, it’s understandable why the White House would be looking at options outside the current system.

Texas library offers glimpse of bookless future

Associated Press

Patrons at BiblioTech in San Antonio use computers. The Bexar County public library is the first in the nation that does not have any books, but e-readers can be loaded up and checked out. Photo: Eric Gay, Associated Press

San Antonio –

Texas has seen the future of the public library, and it looks a lot like an Apple Store: Rows of glossy iMacs beckon; iPads mounted on a tangerine-colored bar invite readers; and hundreds of other tablets stand ready for checkout to anyone with a borrowing card.

Even the librarians imitate Apple’s dress code, wearing matching shirts and that standard of geek-chic, the hoodie. But this $2.3 million library might be most notable for what it does not have – any actual books.

That makes Bexar County’s BiblioTech the nation’s only bookless public library, a distinction that has attracted scores of digital bookworms, plus emissaries from as far away as Hong Kong who want to learn about the idea and possibly take it home.

“I told our people that you need to take a look at this. This is the future,” said Mary Graham, vice president of South Carolina’s Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce. “If you’re going to be building new library facilities, this is what you need to be doing.”

Making history

All-digital libraries have been on college campuses for years. But the county, which runs no other libraries, made history when it decided to open BiblioTech. It is the first bookless public library system in the country, according to information gathered by the American Library Association.

Similar proposals in other communities have been met with doubts. Newport Beach (Orange County) floated the concept of a bookless branch in 2011 until a backlash put stacks back in the plan. Nearly a decade earlier in Arizona, the Tucson-Pima library system opened an all-digital branch, but residents who said they wanted books ultimately got their way.

Graham toured BiblioTech in the fall and is pushing Charleston leaders for a bond measure in 2014 to fund a similar concept, right down to the same hip aesthetic reminiscent of Apple.

Except Apple Stores aren’t usually found in parts of town like this. BiblioTech is on the city’s economically depressed South Side and shares an old strip mall with a Bexar County government building. On a recent afternoon, one confused couple walked into the library looking for the justice of the peace.

San Antonio is the nation’s seventh-largest city but ranks 60th in literacy, according to census figures. In the early 2000s, community leaders in BiblioTech’s neighborhood of low-income apartments and thrift stores railed about not even having a nearby bookstore, saidLaura Cole, BiblioTech’s project coordinator. A decade later, Cole said, most families in the area still don’t have Wi-Fi.

“How do you advance literacy with so few resources available?” she said.

Economical space

Residents are taking advantage now. The library is on pace to surpass 100,000 visitors in its first year. Finding an open iMac among the four dozen at BiblioTech is often difficult after the nearby high school lets out, and about half of the facility’s e-readers are checked out at any given time, each loaded with up to five books. One of BiblioTech’s regulars is a man teaching himself Mandarin.

Head librarian Ashley Elkholf came from a traditional Wisconsin high school library and recalled the scourges of her old job: items put on the wrong shelf and hopelessly lost in the stacks, pages thoughtlessly ripped out of books, and items that went unreturned by patrons who were unfazed by measly fines and lax enforcement.

But in the nearly four months since BiblioTech opened, Elkholf has yet to lend out one of her pricey tablets and never see it again. The space is also more economical than traditional libraries despite the technology: BiblioTech purchases its 10,000-title digital collection for the same price as physical copies, but the county saved millions on architecture because the building’s design didn’t need to accommodate printed books.

“If you have bookshelves, you have to structure the building so it can hold all of that weight,” Elkholf said. “Books are heavy, if you’ve ever had one fall on your foot.”

‘It hurts my eyes’

Up the road in Austin, the city is building a downtown library to open in 2016 at a cost of $120 million. Even a smaller traditional public library that recently opened in nearby suburban Kyle cost that city about $1 million more than BiblioTech.

On her first visit, 19-year-old Abigail Reyes was only looking for a quiet space to study for an algebra exam. But she got a quick tutorial from a librarian on how to search for digital books and check out tablets before plopping down on a row of sleek couches.

“I kind of miss the books,” Reyes said. “I don’t like being on the tablets and stuff like that. It hurts my eyes.”

Across the room, Rosemary Caballeo tried shopping for health insurance on a set of computers reserved for enrollment in the Affordable Care Act. Her restless 2-year-old ran around and pawed at a row of keyboards. The little girl shrieked loudly, shattering the main room’s quiet. She was soon whisked outside by her father.

After all, it’s still a library.

full story: http://www.sfgate.com/technology/article/Texas-library-offers-glimpse-of-bookless-future-5114588.php

Xbox One exclusively debuts FX animated series ‘Chozen’ for some cable customers

BY RICHARD LAWLER

Now that Eastbound & Down is over, the creative team behind that show is launching a new animated series on FX called Chozen. Microsoft has snagged an exclusive for the premiere episode, so owners of the Xbox One can load up their FXNow app January 6th and watch a week before it airs on TV. We don’t expect the cable companies to be too upset though, since, like the Fox Sports Go NFL Playoffs streaming setup you’ll need a subscription with participating TV providers to actually view the episode. AT&T U-Verse, Comcast, Cablevision, Suddenlink and WOW are all on the list, while everyone else will have to wait until the 13th when it comes on after a new episode of Archer.

This could be a sign of the growing relationship between Microsoft and traditional TV providers, or it could just be Fox snagging some extra promotion before its new show hits. The title character Chozen is a fresh-out-of-prison gay white rapper voiced by SNL’s Bobby Moynihan, taking on the music industry, while other characters are voiced by the likes of Method Man, Hannibal Buress, Michael Peña, and Nick Swardson. Either way, we’ll see how close the two sides are after Microsoft debuts its own original content later this year.

SOURCE: Xbox Wire

full story: http://www.engadget.com/2014/01/04/xbox-one-exclusively-debuts-fx-animated-series-chozen-for-some/

Yota Phone Review: The Android Smartphone From Russia With Two Screens

by Ewan Spence

The Yota Phone (Picture: Ewan Spence)

Last year at CES, Russian manufacturer Yota demonstrated a prototype smartphone with two 4.3 inch displays, an LCD screen on one side and an e-Ink screen on the reverse. Now in production and available to buy in a number of European territories, how does a dual-core dual-screened Android device cope in the real world? Surprisingly well is the answer, even though there is some room for improvement.

Let’s start with the underlying hardware. Compared to some of the flagship and high-end Android devices launched in 2013, the Yota Phone is decidedly mid-range. The Dual-Core 1.7 GHz Krait CPU has the speed and capability to run Android comfortably, but the handset doesn’t stretch the specs in the current market. It’s nice to see it comes with 2 GB of RAM, and when it was announced at CES 2013 these were cutting-edge specs, but the Android world has moved on since then.

The handset comes in just one storage memory configuration (32 GB) and unfortunately there is no SD card expansion port. Given 16 GB feels a bit tight on Android handsets today, the 32 GB option should be good for the life of the handset, and with smart use of cloud based services for storage and streaming it should suffice for the majority of use cases.

International wise this is a 4G handset focused on Europe, with the key LTE  (800/1800/2600 MHz), UMTS (900/1800/2100 MHz) and 3G bands (900/1800/1900 MHz) all covered. The current configuration would struggle frequency-wise in the US market but if the handset was to appear in the future I’m sure that a US configuration would be supplied. For now, the focus is rightly on Yota’s home and European markets – adding in US frequencies right now would simply drive the manufacturing cost up for little return.

The handset is a mono block design, and in this case that phrase is incredibly appropriate. Apart from a slight tapering at the top-rear of the handset, the Yota Phone is black, rectangular, blocky, and angular.With a glass front to the LCD, and the familiar feel of e-Ink on the rear, the only real scope for flair is in the banding around the device. Yota have went with a black plastic edging broken by the Micro USB charging and connectivity port and microphone on the base, volume keys on the left hand side, and a headphone jack and SIM tray on the top.

There is a power button, but you’ll probably need to hunt for it. It’s actually the SIM card tray pulling double duty. A SIM ejection tool will free it for your card, and the rest of the time pressing it in with your finger will turn the main screen on and off. It’s nice touch and shows that Yota are thinking about design, but I suspect that forcing the two screens into the chassis has left them little room to do anything artistic.

That’s fine, sometimes I like my phone to be masculine and brutish.

Because all of this design is to accommodate the two screens, and I suspect the technical challenges that Yota has had to overcome are legion. Take one issue around thermal control – most smartphones will use the rear of the handset to bleed out any excess heat from the chips. That option is  available to Yota but the heat needs to be distributed equally over the area because of the temperature-sensitive nature of an e-Ink screen. It’s easy to say ‘two-screens’ but to build it is another matter.

RSS Feeds on the Yota Phone (Picture: Ewan Spence)

Does it work and is it worth it? That’s the two questions to ask about the Yota Phone, because without the second screen we have a workmanlike Android 4.2.2 device coupled with a 1280×780 LCD screen. Quite frankly there are a lot of devices out there which match those parts of the specifications. The device is also more expensive than the major specifications suggest at €499. I suspect this is down to the extra cost of the e_ink screen, and the smaller volumes that Yota will be building.

In my time so far with the Yota Phone, the answer is yes. By virtue of being e-Ink, the second screen is always on, drawing very little power, and Yota’s customizations of Android and their own apps which use the screen prove the concept works. With just the e-Ink screen I’ve been able to navigate around Edinburgh, check my diary and upcoming appointments, follow my favourite websites via RSS, read a number of eBooks, control the playback of music on my smartphone, and naturally see what the time is. All without powering up the battery hungry LCD screen on my smartphone.

The easiest way to think about the e-Ink screen implementation is that it is related but subservient to the main interactions on your smartphone. To set up one of Yota’s applications on the e-Ink screen you need to ‘send it to the back’ from the LCD screen.

Right now I’ve not been able to find any third-party applications that directly interact with the e-Ink screen, but that doesn’t mean they cannot be used. The most flexible feature of the handset (in my mind) is the ‘two finger  swipe’ down from the top bezel of the screen (Yota calls this the ‘twin swipe shot’). This takes a screenshot and pushes it onto the e-Ink display. Information such as hotel reservations in Booking.com’s apps, boarding passed from British Airway’s Android App, or some info you need to have to hand from a web page can be easily blitted to the e-Ink screen, and you can swipe through the images on the back screen with a swipe of your finger.

There is occasionally an issue with the different resolution 1280×780 on the LCD, and exactly half that on the e-Ink display, at 640×360) making some text ‘fuzzy’ but I was happy to see that QR codes and the like were accurately copied and the e-Ink version could easily be scanned by another device. That’s important for boarding cards and travel passes.

The Twin Swipe Shots is part of Yota’s Notepad application, one of a number of Yota developed apps that naturally make best use of the e-Ink screen. After Notepad most people are probably going to turn to the Wallpaper application, which lets you set up images and widgets to appear on the e-Ink screen. There are a number of high contrast black and white images built-in, but the application will happily read in other images and allow you to crop them to the right size to act as wallpapers. You can also add widgets such as a clock, a status bar of information, or the next alarm due, as widgets on these images – or you can go with a black or white background for a clear view of the widgets.

British AIrways flight info copied to the Yota Phone’s e-Ink screen (Picture: Ewan Spence)

The three other major e-Ink applications pull double duty and also run on the LCD screen as well as having a significant presence on the rear of the Yota. MapsWithMe is your mapping application, using data from the OpenStreetMap project. While you need to buy the pro version via Google Play to allow you to search the map and bookmark destinations, this free version allows you to locate yourself and see your surroundings. it also allows maps to be downloaded for offline use. Inside the settings you can set the update frequency for the e_ink display, from a manual refresh down to every 15 seconds.

Organiser is the calendar application and will allow you to see you online calendars (including your Google Calendars) over the day/month/year views. The Yota notepad app is also integrated here, so dated notes show up in the organiser view. You also have a new calendar type called ‘Counter’ which counts down to a specific event. These countdowns can be show full screen on the e-Ink display, or you can set up Organiser to show you a ‘screen per day’ view of your Calendar.

Finally, Bookmate provides the functionality that I suspect the majority of people looking at the Yota’s second screen would expect to see… an eBook reader. Bookmate is a cloud based online book store and library. Currently the all-you-can-read subscription service is only available for Russian users, but everyone else can use the free parts of the service, which includes text from sources such as Project Gutenberg, or you can upload your own eBooks (using the FB2 or ePub file format) to the service and have them synced to your Bookmate application on your Yota Phone (iOS and generic Android versions of this app are also available).

Side profile of the Yota Phone (Picture: Ewan Spence)

All of these e-Ink based apps work, and give you a good experience on the e-Ink screen. It is vitally important you not only follow the tutorial when you first switch on the device but also take time to read through the online manual to discover how all the apps actually work, because I wouldn’t class them as intuitive. While the Yota Phone remains an smartphone for power users and early adopters this should not be a huge problem, when the handset reaches the general consumer the first thirty minutes with the Yota handset can feel frustrating and awkward as you get to grips with how to work with the two screens on the smartphone.

One of the ideas of the Yota Phone is to reduce the drain on the battery by using the e-Ink screen instead of the LCD screen for many tasks. Certainly a quick check for the time, looking at an incoming notification, and looking over your favored RSS feeds, can all be done on the e-Ink screen, but these tend to lead to a desire for more information, and you’re back with the standard Android interface on the LCD. It does help, but the 1800 mAh struggles to get through a full day of work and into the evening. I’d like to see a few more hours of general use out of the handset, and a second generation device with a more advanced processor that the Snapdragon S4 Pro should take care of that issue. Right now, Yota Phone users should be aware that battery capacity is one of the weak points of the design.

A number of e-Ink devices, notably the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite, have increased expectations of what an e-Ink screen should look like, with clear text and high contrast on a screen with a uniform front-light that is comfortable to read over long periods. Which leaves the Yota’s main selling point as a touch disappointing. There is no light on the Yota’s e-Ink screen so you will be at the mercy of the ambient light conditions around you. Yota have not managed to solve the issue of ghosting on e-Ink screen so there are moments when the previous screen displays and selection boxes can influence the current image.

With a tendency to mimic colors using the sixteen available greyscales in practice the crispness that can be achieved by an e-Ink display is lacking. A software tweak to bias the shading towards darker hues may help this, because right now the display feels fuzzy to my eyes. This isn’t helped by the slight taper on the top of the Yota, which curves the top third of the e-Ink screen away from the user’s eye. If you find the right angle to read the bottom two-thirds of the screen, that doesn’t alway carry over to the top third, especially in less than perfect lighting conditions.

Neither is the e-Ink screen touch sensitive. The user interface is controlled by a small touchpad area below the screen giving you five inputs – swipe right, swipe left, swipe right and left, tap, and hold. These are enough to navigate, but you’ll spend a lot of your opening moments with the touchscreen trying to work out how to do something and with no visual guide it is going to take some memorization to make the most of this new view and way of working.

Interestingly, the same swipe system is employed on the LCD side of the phone, again on a small touchscreen area below the screen. While you can set the Android soft-keys to be displayed on the screen, you can duplicate the ‘back/home/task manger’ buttons with the ‘swipe left / swipe right / tap and hold’ moves. This is a nice touch of consistency between the two sides of the device, and it didn’t take me more than an hour of use to turn the soft-key display off.

Yes, the concept works, and it delivers a solid vision of what a dual-screen smartphone can offer. Is it worth it? That’s a trickier question to answer. There is not a significant volume of software available using  the e-Ink display, and while the Twin Swipe Shot app allows you to copy information over, that’s not the same as having an application running on the rear of the smartphone. SDK’s are out there for developers to build applications, but without the demand from users (or support from Yota) I’m not holding my breath for an instant rush of applications. I don’t think that the Yota Phone is ready for the mainstream smartphone user, but there will be a class of smartphone user who are looking for something a bit different that will be attracted to the Yota concept, and there’s just enough here to keep them interested, if they are happy to compromise in some areas.

The obvious use case is eBooks, and while Bookmate is a solution that allows for purchasing and downloading books, as well as using your own eBook files it’s far from being a replacement for a Kindle, Kobo, or Nook e-Ink reader. The mapping application works, but it’s not Google Maps with all the cloud and sync benefits that are on offer; and while reading RSS feeds on the back screen is novel, for any interaction or reading more than a page of an article requires you to flip over to the LCD screen.

There is a market for a handset like this, and I suspect that smartphone fans who enjoy being early adopters and are looking for something a little bit different will enjoy using and owning a Yota Phone. The strength of Android (even in the older 4.2.2. build) means that there are thousands of apps that already run on the main LCD screen,and someone switching to a Yota for the e-Ink capabilities does not have to sacrifice the Android experience to do so. Using a Yota phone does not need you having to give up anything, this is a smartphone that is ‘full blown Android and then a little bit more’.

The Yota Phone feels like a very polished first generation device. Following on from a prototype at CES 2013 (where it won the Best Cell Phone category) Yota have put the hardware into production and on sale that is not just usable, but practical. I’d have no issue in using this Android handset in the sort of situations where handsets such as the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini would be suitable.  Its specifications may not be the top of the line, but this is a handset that works.

Yota have delivered with their first handset and if you do pick it up you;re going to have a solid Android handset that has a delightful twist when you turn it over. Naturally Yota will be working on follow-up devices, but for now they have managed something that many companies would love to do… to take a prototype that captured the media’s attention at CES and bringing it to market during the year.  Simply put, e-Ink and a second screen do work on a smartphone, and Yota have done more than enough to be considered as players in the smartphone marketplace.

full story: http://www.forbes.com/sites/ewanspence/2014/01/04/yota-phone-review-the-android-smartphone-from-russia-with-two-screens/3/

Acer’s new Liquid Z5 smartphone is more expensive than it should be (hands-on)

BY JAMIE RIGG

Acer didn’t just bring a couple of new tablets to Vegas this year, but something to make calls with, too. The latest addition to its Liquid range after the top-spec S2, the Z5 is very much a “value” proposition, as the raw numbers show. We’re looking at a 5-inch, 854 x 480 display, 1.3GHz dual-core Mediatek processor, 512MB of RAM, 4GB of internal storage (expandable via microSD), and a 2,000mAh non-removable battery. For cameras, the Z5 has a modest VGA shooter up front, and a 5-megapixel main affair with a 5-lens array and IR sensor that Acer promises will improve focus and low-light performance, respectively.

The Liquid Z5 isn’t revolutionary in design, but at 8.8mm thick with a plastic unibody, it’s not horribly unattractive. Debuting on the Z5, however, is Acer’s new “Rapid” button, which the firm expects to bring to other devices in the future. It sits conveniently under the camera on the back of the device (just where your forefinger would rest), undoubtedly taking inspiration from LG’s G2 array of rear buttons. Pressing it once unlocks the device, and second prod will send you straight into whatever app or menu you assign it to. A long press boots the camera app. To further differentiate itself from phones of similar specs or price point, Acer has added a couple of software features to the Z5′s Android 4.2 build. These include the company’s answer to multitasking, called “float apps,” and various custom skins, including one that simplifies the whole Android experience for newcomers or dumbphone nostalgics. As is the fashion these days, there are white and grey peek covers to match the handset’s two color options, should you want to accessorize.

Its sub-par internals certainly show, as even unlocking the phone generated a little lag. We wouldn’t consider this a massive issue if the Z5 was priced accordingly, but it’ll retail for around 170 euros ($230) when it launches later this month. It’s not destined for North America, mind, and will initially land in select European markets before heading to Asia, the Middle East and Africa in due course. It’s hard to come away feeling positive about this device. When Motorola’s offering the much more capable Moto G at a similar price point — and we expect direct competition in this ultra-affordable space soon — the Liquid Z5 already feels dead in the water.

Alexis Santos contributed to this report.

full story: http://www.engadget.com/2014/01/04/acer-liquid-z5-hands-on/

Google acquires Bitspin, makes its stylish Android alarm app free to celebrate

BY MAT SMITH 

Bitspin is probably most well known for its swish Timely alarm app on Android, and it seems that Google likes how the Swiss team is doing it, because it’s just acquired them. “For new and existing users, Timely will continue to work like it always has,” noted the Bitspin team in their announcement post, adding that it will continue to “build new products.” The more immediate news, however, is that the premium version of the app, sans banner ads, has gone free in the process. If you like the sound of a Swiss-made (digital) alarm clock, you can give it a try right here.

SOURCE: BitspinTimely (Google Play)

full story: http://www.engadget.com/2014/01/04/google-acquires-bitspin-alarm-app-timely/