Sunday, April 13, 2014

Lexus NX brings wireless charging for smartphones, turbocharged or hybrid engines to the small crossover space

The Lexus RX series is one of the dominant forces in the midsize luxury crossover market, despite facing competition from the Acura MDX, Cadillac SRX, BMW X3 and more. Toyota's finest are looking to repeat that trend in the emerging compact luxury crossover space, currently populated by the Buick Encore, Mercedes-Benz GLA, BMW X1 and the like.
The design is... unique, but the coolest aspect is the available technology, both in the cabin and under the hood. There's a wireless charging pad, allowing you to charge compatible smartphones without plugging them in, a unique feature for Lexus currently. The infotainment set up is controlled by Lexus' Remote Touch Interface, basically a laptop-style touchpad, and a heads up display, blind spot monitor and adaptive cruise control are all available as options as well.
Power will be provided by one of three engines: a standard direct injection engine that we won't get in the US for the NX200, or the first turbocharged engine from Lexus on the NX200t. You can also step up to the NX300h, with the H signifying a hybrid drivetrain, or the F Sport model which is coming later. These power-saving technologies, combined with the NX's small size, should make this one of the most fuel efficient crossover utility vehicles around.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Major update to Windows 8.1 makes the OS free for devices under 9 inches, brings plenty of other changes

Microsoft's Windows 8 was audacious, introducing the completely new Start Screen and tablet-like Windows apps. It alienated a lot of users though with it's huge changes, and was missing crucial features like display scaling and amusingly enough, an easily accessible off button. Windows 8.1 enhanced quite a few things, listened to user feedback in bringing back the Start Button, tailored the OS to work better on small tablets under 10 inches, and was a free upgrade for existing users.
Now the Redmond-based software giant has announced a relatively big update to 8.1, set to roll out to all existing users on April 8th will herald several huge changes: For the first time, a full version of Windows will actually be free to device manufacturers of devices with screens under 9 inches. This makes it easier for Windows to compete with low cost Android tablets like the excellent Nexus 7, which undercuts the Windows competition by somewhere between $80 and $220 currently despite having similar specs.
Additionally, Microsoft has done a bit of a 180 degree turn and will allow devices without touchscreens to boot to the old-style desktop by default, out of the box. This will essentially allow mouse and keyboard users to never use the Start Screen or new-style Windows apps, though there's also some improvements to both for those very users. The title bar from traditional desktop apps, which makes it easier to grab and resize or close apps with a mouse, will now be part of the Modern UI apps as well, and the desktop taskbar will appear below a Modern app if you hover your mouse to the bottom of the screen for a bit.

There's also finally a shutdown button on the Start Screen for keyboard and mouse users, while everyone will get a new search button in the same place. Desktop-only users will now have music and photo files open in desktop apps instead of the new versions, which is a questionable decision since Windows Media Player and Photo Viewer haven't gotten a major update in quite a while. There's also some enhancements for low cost devices, allowing you to use Windows on machines with just 16GB's of storage and reducing the system image by up to 60%.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Nokia Lumia 630, 930 launch alongside Windows Phone 8.1 with Cortana, virtual buttons

Microsoft's Windows Phone platform is getting a relatively major update to version 8.1, announced at the Build developers conference in San Francisco. The biggest feature is Cortana, the new voice controlled virtual assistant that aims to put the best of Siri and Google Now into one and power it all with Bing and Microsoft services. It provides all the usual conversational search queries, tells you about flight info or appointments, and well trigger events such as reminders when other actions occur. It can be extended by 3rd party apps, and has a virtual notebook that lets you manage what Cortana knows about you, helping with privacy concerns. Plus, it's voiced by actress Jen Taylor who is the voice of the 26th century AI Cortana in the Halo series.
Other then that, theres finally a notification center built into Windows Phone 8.1, and it looks quite sleek. It's just a beta for now, though.
The Start Screen has been redesigned with better background support and a few other UI tweaks, and in a big change Windows Phone will finally support software buttons, allowing cleaner hardware designs with smaller bezels.
Microsoft also announced that it will finally allow developers to make one app with different UI's on Windows Phone and Windows 8, meaning users can purchase an app once and download it on either platform.

Meanwhile, on the hardware front, soon-to-be Microsoft subsidiary Nokia has unveiled their latest three devices. The Lumia 630 and it's near twin the 635 are entry level phones with  4.5" displays, Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 SoC's, 512MB's of RAM and colorful designs. It's also the first Windows Phone with software buttons. The 630 will cost $159 or $169 with two SIM slots, while the 635 is a version headed for T-Mobile US with 4G LTE support for $189. That doesn't compare favorably to the Motorola Moto G, which costs $179 with twice the RAM, a better screen and the better app store and services integration of Android.
The 930, on the other hand, is the new flagship Nokia device, and is essentially a Lumia Icon for the rest of the world. It comes in a lovely shade of green, orange, silver or black, and while it's rather thick and heavy, it's quite nice looking. There's a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 and 2GB's of RAM under the hood, as well as a 20MP Pureview camera and a 5" 1920x1080p display. It'll cost the equivalent of $599 but is not headed for the US.

Amazon fireTV is a set top box with voice search, streaming media, and games

Amazon is finally jumping into the home theater space themselves. Their Instant Video service has been offered on set top boxes, smart TV's and game consoles for ages, but up till now you couldn't buy an actual Amazon box for your TV.
Well, with the new fireTV(yes, that's the correct capitalization) that all changes. It is a small box with HDMI and optical out ports powered by a quad core processor and 2GB's of RAM, making the fireTV much snappier then the Roku or Apple TV alternatives. It'll serve up Amazon Instant Video, Netflix, Hulu, Youtube, MLB, NBA, and more. Music is coming next month, with Amazon MP3, iHeartRadio and Pandora to begin with. This being Amazon, there is of course IMDB integration to provide enhanced info about the content you're watching, and a version of Xray from the Kindle Fire tablets; It'll overlay lyrics over music or actor/director information over a movie, or show you a map of Westeros if you're watching Game of Thrones. Search is done via voice - but very cleverly. Instead of making you shout across your room like on the Xbox or many smart TV's, there's a mic right on the simple 7 button remote, which means this should do a better job then usual.
Similarly to Roku, but in a nice differentiator over Apple TV, there are games. These won't be console quality titles like Halo or anything, but rather enhanced versions of games you would normally play on your phone. You can use the standard remote, a remote app on a tablet, or the $39 Fire game controller, which looks quite a bit like an Xbox controller with media control buttons along the bottom. Amazon Game Studios will be making their own games, including one called Sev Zero that is a scifi first person shooter with multiplayer. Minecraft(also with coop mode) and Asphalt 8 were among the titles demonstrated from 3rd party studios.
What there does not seem to be is any form of device mirroring a lá the Google Chromecast or Apple TV with Airplay. Yes, you can use an Android tablet as a remote control, but that's about it.

Want one? The Fire TV will cost $99, matching the Apple TV and Roku 3 exactly, while the $35 Google Chromecast and $500 Microsoft Xbox One bookend the opposite ends of the living room spectrum.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Rdio, Crackle now support the Google Chromecast

Rdio is one of the more popular subscription music streaming services, and up till now there has been no Chromecast support; That was a major thorn in the side of Google's mobile-to-home theater mirroring initiative that has now been solved with an update to the Rdio apps.
Crackle, the video streaming service, has also added Chromecast support this week, further enhancing the content selection for the little $35 HDMI stick.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Oculus VR completes the startup dream: Facebook bought them for $2 billion, but they'll stay independent

Crowd funded indie success story Oculus VR had their Kickstarter just a little over 2 years ago, and raised over 100 million in venture capital funding a year ago to pursue their dream of making virtual reality a legitimate industry. Today, Facebook announced that they will purchase Oculus for $400 million in cash and $1.6 million in Facebook stock. According to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg,  "Oculus's mission is to enable you to experience the impossible. Their technology opens up the possibility of completely new kinds of experiences. Immersive gaming will be the first, and Oculus already has big plans here that won't be changing and we hope to accelerate."
Their mission will expand beyond gaming, with Zuckerburg explaining that  "We're going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences. Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face — just by putting on goggles in your home."
According to John Carmack of Doom-creating fame, who left his job as CEO of his own company, ID Software, to become the CTO of Oculus last year,
Meanwhile the Vice President of Product at Oculus stated that their partnership will allow their most far out plans to become close to possible.

And back to Mark Zuckerburg: "Virtual reality was once the dream of science fiction. But the internet was also once a dream, and so were computers and smartphones. The future is coming and we have a chance to build it together. I can't wait to start working with the whole team at Oculus to bring this future to the world, and to unlock new worlds for all of us. "

NVidia brings Portal to Android, will release a Tegra K1-based dev board

Valve's pivotal scifi puzzler Portal is one of the most innovative games of the last few years, and is even used in schools for educational purposes now. It's also a full PC game, yet graphics company NVidia has announced that it is working with Valve to bring it to Android. Initially, it'll only be available on the NVidia Shield, a gaming handheld with a built in controller, powerful Tegra 4 SoC, and 5" 1080p screen, but NVidia says it'll also eventually work on any other sufficiently powerful Android phone or tablet.
Meanwhile, NVidia has also launched the Netson TK1, which is a development board along the lines of the Raspberry Pi or Odroid, but with a far, far more powerful processor. It also has built in Wifi, Bluetooth and a 64GB SSD. NVidia is targeting it mainly at automotive entertainment system makers.

HTC One 2014 is beautiful, has 40% more battery life, microSD, and a still horrible camera

The HTC One was one of my top 4 smartphones last year, and my favorite for the first half of the year. Today, the struggling Taiwanese company unveiled the new HTC One(codenamed the M8, ) and it fixes almost every issue that last year's model had. Will it be enough to keep the company in the black and maybe even wrest a bit of marketshare away from Samsung? Only time will tell, and marketing might be the biggest issue, but they're certainly starting with a solid product.
First off, the design. Last year's One was pretty beautiful, and this one(pun intended) continues the trend. It's a slightly more rounded, enlarged aluminum and glass rectangle in your choice of silver, gun metal or gold, and it's both durable and good looking. What it is not is small: There's still the front facing stereo speakers and a black bar with the company's logo around the display, which has expanded to a 5" 1920x1080p IPS LCD. Speaking of those speakers, last year's were the best in any smartphone, and these are supposedly 25% louder and sound better, while dropping the Beats Audio branding.

Internally, the One M8 is powered by a brand new Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 2.3 GHz quad core processor, with LTE, a 4MP rear camera and a 5MP front web cam. Yes, you read that right, HTC's keeping the controversial 4 "Ultrapixel"(marketing speak for larger pixels) camera that has great low light capability but doesn't take amazing pictures ever. There is, however a second lens and sensor that lets you refocus shots after you've taken them and add depth to pictures.
On the more impressive side, the One M8 will have 40% better battery life then last year's One, and that's without counting the impressive Battery Saving Mode which throttles performance and turns off all unnecessary features to extend your battery immensely. They also fit in a microSD card slot this time around, allowing you to expand the built in 32GB's of storage with up to 128GB's extra.

As for software, HTC started off with Android 4.4.2 KitKat, then added their new Sense 6(or Sixth Sense) skin which brings built in FitBit fitness tracking functionality, a redesigned interface, a new version of their Blinkfeed magazine-like homescreen widget, and lots of camera features. You can now edit the Zoe short videos to have a soundtrack and there's a lot of new filters. Plus, the TV remote feature(complete with built in IR blaster) has returned, and you can now turn on the screen directly to Blinkfeed, the camera or the homescreen with gestures instead of using the power button.
If you're like me and would prefer stock Android or the capability to put your own ROMs on the phone there will be both Google Play Edition and developer models of the One M8.

But perhaps my favorite part of all is the Dot View case, which provides protection but also shows you your notifications and the weather on a retro-stylish dot matrix cover, and you can even use the phone's touchscreen through the case.
The One version 2 will be available on 230 carriers in over 100 countries, with AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile and US Cellular all launching it today in the US. That's right, you can buy one right now if you're so inclined. It'll run you between $199 and $249 on contract depending on carrier, or $649 unlocked.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Assassin's Creed moves to the French Revolution with new trailer for Unity

The Assassin's Creed saga has a hopelessly tangled and confusing storyline at this point, but last year's Black Flag was still one of my favorite games that year, and Ubisoft does open world period games like few others. That's why the new trailer for Assassin's Creed: Unity is intriguing. It's the first member of the series to be designed exclusively for the new generation of gaming(Xbox One, Playstation 4 and current PC's) and thus has some truly beautiful graphics. Even on an Xbox 360, Black Flag had some beautiful scenes, but without the constraints of having to develop for those old last generation consoles, it looks like Unity will be even better.
And the period looks interesting; After taking on Italy, America and the Caribbean, among other arenas, Ubisoft is jumping to France during the revolution, complete with guillotines and a new Assassin wearing a blue robe.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Google Chromecast, Play Music, Play Movies go international

Google's Chromecast is a great deal at $35 for what it does(mirror videos, music or entire browser tabs on your TV from your phone/tablet/laptop.) But it's so far only been available in the US. Today, Google's exporting it to 11 other countries, including "Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the UK."
Meanwhile, their $10 a month Spotify-like Play Music All Access is expanding to Greece, Norway, Slovakia and Sweden. The Play Music store and 20,000 song free cloud locker will also be available. 
And finally, Google Play Movies & TV is launching in 39 new countries, the complete list of which you can read here.

Sony Project Morpheus takes on the Oculus Rift with 1080p virtual reality display, awesome name

Sony has dabbled in head worn displays for years, but they've always been hilariously expensive, heavy, uncomfortable and not designed for gaming or virtual presence applications. The Oculus Rift was a crowdfunding success story and convinced industry legend John Carmack to leave his own company for an advisory role because it is focused on VR, even the dev kit was hundreds of dollars less, and it is somewhat more comfortable to wear.
Sony is firing back today with the wonderfully named Project Morpheus(not a  release moniker, sadly) which will work with the Playstation 4 and provide games, virtual tourism experiences, telepresence for meetings and much more. It'll work with the Playstation Camera and Playstation Move for natural motion control, features a 1080p display with a 90 degree field of view, and currently connects via USB and HDMI but will hopefully be wireless. PC compatibility is also definitely a possibility, and it looks like it'll be friendly towards indie game/experience developers.

LG G Watch is a square Android Wear smartwatch

The Moto 360 may be the star of the Android Wear announcement day party, but the LG G Watch seems like a relatively solid offering as well. It'll have all of the same software functionality, but a more traditional(for an LCD) square screen. This, combined with the plastic casing, unfortunately makes it far less beautiful to my eyes, but for some it might not be.
It'll be available early next quarter for an unknown price.

Motorola 360: An Android Wear-powered watch with a circular display, beautiful design

Google's new Android Wear OS looks fabulous, but it's no use without great devices to run it on. There's a lot coming, and if the Moto 360 is an indication to go by, that's a good thing. The 360 is the first smartwatch with a circular display, allowing it to look like a normal, beautiful watch when it's showing the analog watch face.

But of course it can do so much more; Read the Android Wear article for details, but notifications, directions, Google searches, media control and more are all part of the software. It's coming this summer, and while pricing and exact specs are vague, Motorola has said that "all the core components are all new."

Google Android Wear: An OS for watches, with predictive notifications, fitness and searching

Smart watches aren't a particularly new concept; Microsoft was experimenting with them more then 10 years ago, there have been various other companies working on them ever since them, and between Kickstarter-darling Pebble, industry giants Samsung & Sony, and old school watch makers, there's been a surge in the idea. In fact, watches that show you notifications, sync with your phone and maybe even make calls have dominated discussion at the last two years of the Consumer Electronics Show and Mobile World Congress, the two biggest tech trade shows. But all the options have had major failings, and almost everyone has been waiting for Apple, Google or Microsoft to announce their approach.
Well, one of the big three just has. Google suddenly unveiled Android Wear today, a new OS that is designed for small screen wearable devices and is designed around three main pillars: Notifications, fitness and natural interactions/search.

Notifications: Essentially, an Android Wear device will provide Google Now on your wrist. If you aren't familiar with Google's amazing predictive information assistant, it shows you info such as your appointments, your correspondence, tracking data for packages, flight or traffic delays, and local events or locations without you even asking. Plus, on the watch it will give you all your phone notifications. As demonstrated in the above video, it'll even give you warnings of high numbers of jellyfish if it detects from your calendar and GPS location that you're about to go surfing.
Fitness: It'll work similarly to many other fitness wristbands on the market, tracking your distance, calorie, speed and time info as you run or cycle. You can even get Google Maps Navigation directions on your wrist, which will hopefully reduce the number of people walking in to stop signs while staring at their phone.
Search, natural interaction & multiscreen capabilities: This one is rather broad, but you can use the "Ok Google" voice command to trigger a contextual voice search with all the normal location, personalization and Knowledge Graph aspects of mobile searches. Plus, all of the interaction with your Android Wear watch will happen via voice or touch, with Google's best in class voice recognition engine on board. You can also use the OK Google command to control music playback on your phone, or play a video on your tablet on your TV with Chromecast. Plus, as Google expands into in car entertainment and home automation Android Wear will be part of those ecosystems.

As for devices, Motorola and LG have announced two watches due this summer, with Google promising that ASUS, HTC, Samsung, Fossil and more are also on board. If you're a developer, you can download a beta SDK today to tailor your Android app's notifications for Android Wear. We'll probably learn a lot more at Google I/O this June, by which point there will be some apps optimized for Android Wear.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Razer updates Blade gaming laptops with NVidia GTX 800 series GPU's, better battery life, & 3200x1800 screens

Razer's lineup of Blade laptops are a unique take on gaming PC's: They're thin, light, absolutely gorgeous, made out of high quality materials, and come with solid state storage for performance despite it's capacity and price disadvantages. Starting at $2199, the new Razer Blade 14" has an amazing 3200x1800 IPS multitouch display(also unique for a gaming laptop,) an NVidia Geforce GTX 870M with 3GB's of GDDR5, an Intel Core i7 quad core processor, 8GB's of RAM and a 128GB SSD. Plus there's WiFi 802.11ac, and a backlit keyboard.
The new 17" version gets the new graphics card and a few other small upgrades, but retains the 1920x1080p display of the old model, which is disappointing.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Apple, Vevo partner to stream Coldplay, Willie Nelson and more from South By Southwest

Apple's iTunes Music Festival has been around for a few years at this point, but this year it's going to be a bit different. They're partnering with Internet-friendly-MTV-replacement Vevo to stream through Vevo's iOS, Apple TV and web apps as well as iTunes itself.
The festival begins tonight with a performances from Coldplay & Imagine Dragons, and continues throughout the week with such highlights as Keith Urban, Kendrick Lamar, Pitbull and Willie Nelson.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Newegg offers Google ASUS Nexus 7 for $143

Google's standard setter for 7" tablets, the ASUS-made Nexus 7, normally retails for $229. But if you're willing to put up with a refurbished model, online retailer Newegg is offering the 2013 model 1920x1080p, Qualcomm S600-powered 16GB Nexus 7 for $193 with a $50 mail in rebate, reducing the price to just $143. That's quite a deal, and a similar sale is available on the 32GB model, with a reduced price tag of $244 or $194.99 after the mail in rebate.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Samsung Chromebook 2 has a plastic case molded to look like leather, better specs, and a higher price

The original Samsung Chromebook Series 3 provided an almost perfect blend of low price, good enough performance, and decent if unoriginal design. Today, they've unveiled the Chromebook 2, which majorly boosts the internals, introduces a controversial new design, and raises the price somewhat.
While the original was a plain plastic 11" laptop for $249, the Chromebook 2 has either 11 or 13 inch screens and has a weird case that is molded to look like leather, complete with fake stitching, but is not actually artificial leather - it's just plastic with a leathery texture. And the 11" model now costs $319, but you get twice the RAM at 4GB's, a faster 1.9GHz octacore Samsung Exynos processor, and the same 1366x768 display. Where it really gets interesting though is the battery life: at a rated 8 hours, this is nearly at the level of the Macbook Air, and like the Air it's under 3/4 of an inch thick and weighs even less at 2.43 pounds. It'll come in black and white with HDMi, 1 USB 3.0 and 1 USB 2.0 port and a microSD card reader.
The new 13" model meanwhile retains the same ports, RAM and thickness but bumps the battery life up to 8.5 hours despite a 2.1GHz version of the Exynos Octa and a much nicer 1920x1080p display. It's also slightly heavier at 3.09 pounds and will come in grey for $399 when both models launch in April.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Motorola plans to reenter the smartwatch market this year, and the next Moto X is coming in late summer

Motorola may not have had any new devices to unveil at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, but they still had a round table discussion that revealed quite a few interesting tidbits.
Perhaps most exciting is the news that they plan to return to the now-burgeoning smartwatch industry that they attempted to help pioneer many years ago. Their last attempt was something of a failure, but it was innovative; If they can bring the same attention to detail, brilliant design and well thought out software that their Moto X and Moto G smartphones have they may be a front runner in the wearable wars.
In more immediate news, the company is finally bringing the Moto Maker website that lets you design your own Moto X to the United Kingdom, with other locals in Europe and Mexico coming soon.
And finally, they teased the launch period of their next flagship smartphone: The successor to the Moto X will arrive in late summer of this year.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Samsung Galaxy Gear Fit is a fitness tracker with a unique curved display

The Samsung Gear smartwatches try to do too much, and end up being heavy, ugly, and not very long lasting in terms of battery as a result. But Samsung has another trick up its sleeve: The Gear Fit, which utilizes a 1.4" curved display to tremendous effect, allowing Samsung to produce a wristband only slightly larger then the Fitbit or other normal fitness tracker, while offering far more information. As well as tracking your runs, weight training and sleep like most fitness bands, the screen lets it display your notifications from your smartphone, and control music playback. Yet since the display is smaller, it's running considerably less functions, and it has no camera or microphone, unlike the Gear 2, it will last 3 to 4 days and is actually not bad looking.
Additionally, it's water proof up to 3 feet, has interchangeable wristbands, comes in black, white or mocha grey and even a heart rate sensor just like the Galaxy S5. It'll launch on April 11th, but there's as of yet no word on the two crucial aspects of price and what devices it will be compatible with.

Samsung's Galaxy S5 revitalizes the flagship phone from the world's largest manufacturer

The Samsung Galaxy S line has never been the best looking phone, or the best built, or even usually the best specced. But it's available on nearly every carrier in the world, has a good blend of features, and is marketed more heavily then almost any other device, leading to the Galaxy S4 selling well over 40 million units. So how do you update that formula? By not changing many of the variables.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 is almost identical to the S4 physically; It's got a new, dimpled back that feels better then the slick, slimy plastic of the old model but still isn't comparable to the iPhone, Sony Z2 or HTC One's metal or the higher quality polycarbonate of the Motorola Moto X and Nokia Lumia phones. From the front, it looks the same, though the screen is now a 5.1" 1080p Super AMOLED panel. Integrated into the physical home button is a fingerprint scanner a lá the Apple iPhone 5S, though in this case you can use it to authenticate Paypal purchases through the web browser. On the back, below the camera, is a new heart rate monitor which will read your pulse if you put your finger on it for 5 seconds. And maybe best of all, there S5 is water resistant(up to 3 feet, for an IP57 certification,) which should make it more durable then the last model, though Sony's have been water proof for years and the Moto X is somewhat water resistant.

Internally, there's a new 2.5GHz quad core processor, a 20% larger battery, and a 16MP camera with real time HDR. Oddly for Samsung, usually the spec champ, there's only 2GB's of RAM as opposed to 3GB's in the Sony Zperia Z2, LG G Pro 2 and Samsung's own  Galaxy Note III. There's also a microUSB 3.0 port, making this I believe only the 2nd phone with such a connector.

As for software, there's Android 4.2.2 KitKat with Samsung's usual over the top, horrific Touchwiz UI and ridiculous amount of bundled apps. There's a refreshed camera app, a new S Health app that works with the heart rate sensor, Samsung's Siri clone in the form of S Voice, and much, much more.
The S5 will be released April 11th on every major carrier, and will come in black, white, blue or gold, for an as yet unknown price.

Sony's Xperia Z2, Xperia Z2 Tablet are unbelievably beautiful, waterproof and quite powerful

Sony's mobile efforts of late have been a mixed bag. They look amazing, and are plenty competent internally, but often have mediocre screens and cameras - especially odd considering Sony's amazing TV and stand alone camera divisions. That seems set to change today, with the launch of the new flagship Xperia Z2 and Z2 Tablet devices.

The Xperia Z2 takes last year's Z1, which again had an excellent design and a relatively unique waterproofing feature, but a subpar display and camera, and ups the ante. The display is now a 5.2" 1920x1080p panel with something called Live Color LEDs, which gives it the most accurate, broad spectrum of colors in any mobile device. So, screen = fixed. Meanwhile, they've also upgraded the internals with Qualcomm's new Snapdragon 801 2.3GHz quad core processor, 3GB's of RAM, a larger 3200mAh battery, and 4K video recording with a 20MP camera. It's all there to power the latest version of Android, 4.4 KitKat, with Sony's light custom skin, and the device will come in black, white or
purple this March.

The Xperia Z2 Tablet is essentially an enlarged Z2 phone. And just as last year's Tablet Z was one of the best 10" Android slates, the same seems set to happen this year. It's a simply incredible 6.9mm thick, far thinner then Apple's iPad Air or last year's Sony Tablet Z, the current two champs in that regard. Yet they somehow managed to keep the waterproofing of the original, as well as the large 6000mAh battery, and enhance the specs. It has the same Snapdragon 801, 3GB's of RAM, and Android 4.4 KitKat, though in this case the cameras are an 8MP rear shooter and a 2MP webcam. There's also a Bluetooth keyboard case and full compatibility with the Dualshock 3 game controller. They even included a noise canceling in the box, something that's quite uncommon. Again, it's coming this March in black or white.

Nokia X: Not one, but three Android phones in the ultimate power move before a Microsoft acquisition

Nokia may be weeks or a few months away from becoming a division of Microsoft, but today they unveiled 3 Android phones at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Of course, there aren't normal Android devices: The Nokia X, X+ and XL have Lumia-like colorful polycarbonate shells, super low price tags and a forked version of Android 4.1 with Nokia's own interface and apps. In fact, there's no Google Play Store, or any of the normal Google apps like Gmail, Calendar, Youtube or Maps. Instead, there's a very Windows Phone-esque tile interface and preloaded OneDrive, Here Maps, Bing Search, Outlook Mail, and Skype. Sadly, all of this customization means that they're on a very old version of Android that's missing the major performance improvements for low end hardware that later versions such as KitKat bring.  Thus, even in comparison to other equally low end phones, the Nokia X lineup will be slow and laggy. It makes quite a lot more sense to go with Nokia's own Lumia 520, running Windows Phone 8 which works well on slow devices, or save up for $180, near-stock KitKat powered Motorola Moto G.

But if you're convinced by Nokia's brand or design, how much will you have to pay for an X phone? The base model Nokia X costs €89 with a 1GHz dual core processor, 4GB's of storage, 512MB's of RAM and a 3MP camera, and will be coming to South America, Asia and Eastern Europe. The €99 Nokia X+ has 768MB's of RAM and an included 4GB microSD card,  and will be coming to Europe as well. The Nokia XL, meanwhile, has the same basic specs but goes with a 5" display, a 5MP camera and a 2MP webcam.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Samsung Gear 2 line drops Android, Galaxy branding in favor of Tizen

Samsung's original Galaxy Gear smartwatch was audacious. It could make calls, Dick Tracy-style, ran full Android, had 3rd party apps, a large touchscreen and could even do video conferencing. It was also gigantic, heavy, hideously ugly, extremely expensive, didn't have exchangeable wristbands, only worked with the Samsung Note 3 and S4 at launch, and worst of all for a watch, couldn't last more than a day or two on one charge.
Samsung has managed to fix some of those problems with the new Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo: They're both slightly smaller and lighter, especially the Neo which loses the camera in exchange for a smaller design. They also now support 3rd party wristbands, have a standalone music player app that works with Bluetooth headphones and doesn't require your phone to be on, and should now work with "all Samsung smartphones." That's still rather limited in comparison with Sony's Smartwatch 2 which works with all Android devices, or the Pebble, which works with iPhones as well.
Strangely, they've gotten rid of Android on both Gear 2 models, and they now run Samsung's in house Tizen OS, which means none of the apps from the previous Gear will be compatible.

Mozilla shows off plans for $25 FirefoxOS phones, a 7" tablet, and more

The ZTE Open C
Mozilla's emerging markets-targeted FirefoxOS platform just got a major surge of new devices, with quite a few new consumer phones(including one with LTE), a 7" tablet, and plans for a $25 phone.

FirefoxOS Flame
There's also a new set of developer hardware, with the FirefoxOS Flame handset providing a 4.5" display, 1.2GHz dual core Qualcomm processor, and 1GB of RAM with the capability to emulate smaller amounts for testing purposes. There's also the new Via Vixen tablet, a 7" model that also has a 1.2GHz dual core processor, 1GB of RAM and 8GB's of storage, and the
Foxconn InFocus, a 10" tablet with a 1.0GHz quad core processor and 2GB's of RAM.
Alcatel OneTouch Fire E

As for consumer hardware, Alcatel's released a positive storm of new devices including the Fire 7, the first consumer-oriented 7" FxOS tablet, and the Fire C, Fire E and Fire S, which has a quadcore processor and LTE support. ZTE meanwhile has the new Open C with a 4" display and a 1.2GHz processor, and Open Z phones, while Huawei also is jumping into the fray with the Y300.
Perhaps the most interesting device though is a teased $25 smartphone from

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Moto X will remain on a $70 sale till February 22nd

Motorola's latest sale for the excellent Moto X has seen it discounted by $70 to $329 for the 16GB model or $379 for 32GB's or the developer edition model. $25 more will net you one of the beautiful wooden back plates. Originally, said sale was only going to run through Valentine's Day but Motorola has extended February 22nd. This is quite the steal for the device that I liked so much I purchased one for my personal use.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Titanfall beta opens up to all Xbox One users, headed to PC soon

Titanfall is getting a lot of hype as the new Halo or Gears of War, the title that is so good that gamers will buy an Xbox just to be able to play it. With tonight's news, you'll be able to find out for yourself soon: The highly praised beta release, which was originally very limited, will now be available to all Xbox One owners.
In an interesting move, it will later come to Windows and the older Xbox 360 as well, which will certainly expand the games audience, but may cannibalize that very effect I mentioned earlier: People buying the Xbox One to play this game.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

LG G Pro 2 is a 5.9" phablet with almost no new features

LG's G Pro wasn't exactly the top of its phablet category, but it was a solid first effort from LG. They've decided to follow it up with the aptly named G Pro 2, which enlarges the screen to a 5.9" 1080p IPS panel but makes few other notable changes. It's powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800, has 3GB's of RAM, a 13MP camera with optical image stabilization and two very compelling video features: 4K recording support and 120fps slow motion video. It's all powered by Android 4.4 with LG's rather over bearing custom skin, which does have some unique features such as letting you create a virtual smaller screen to increase one handed usability, and Knock Code which allows you to tap the screen in a certain combination to unlock it.
Only the Korean models have been announced so far, but that includes one configuration with LTE Advanced for super fast internet speeds.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

"Transcendence" takes a look at the merger of computers and humans, courtesy of Johnny Depp

Johnny Depp and Inception/The Dark Knight cinematographer Wally Pfister have an upcoming scifi movie that seems poised to be one of the more interesting explorations of merging biological and electronic consciousnesses recently. Depp plays a scientist who is mortally wounded by an anti-tech terrorist, then uploaded into a computer to save his life. So far, so good, but based on the trailer it makes the all-to-common mistake of having the newly formed AI(based on Depp) become violent and try to take over the world, which is beyond cliched and quite annoying at this point.
Still, with Pfister's frequent collaborator Christopher Nolan as executive producer and Morgan Freeman and Kate Mara acting, it looks like it definitely has potential.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

HP Chromebox coming this Spring with Intel Core i7

ASUS launched a Chromebox yesterday, and now Hewlett Packard is firing back with their own Google-powered micro desktop. The crucial difference here is that it will be powered by one of Intel's Haswell Core i7 processors(ASUS will only offer a Core i7 Chromebox outside the US) and come in 3 colors, including a particularly nice teal, white and black. 4 USB 3.0 ports are onboard as well as Displayport and HDMi for dual monitor and 4K support, and it'll all be powered by the latest version of ChromeOS.