technology

Google Android L 5.0 – The Latest Android Version

A new version of the Android operating system has been in the works at Google for some time, but was finally revealed to the public during the keynote speech at June’s Google I/O conference. Android L is a major departure for the mobile OS, with a completely redesigned interface, more fluid animations, a renewed focus on improving battery life and, for the first time, compatibility with 64-bit processors. It will be released to consumers later this year.
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The Android L 5.0 features a number of significant updates, the most obvious of which is a new look with Google rolling out a new design language called Material Design, which allows developers to create layers within their apps. Android L reportedly has over 5,000 new APIs ticking away behind the scenes, but the most obvious changes will always be the visual ones. The new Material design scheme is set to appear on every Google platform, not just Android, but it will look best on smartphones and tablets. Apparently Google drew inspiration from pens and inks, with every icon and user interface element casting an accurate shadow to give a sense of depth. Everything animates as you touch it, with objects flying into view and tapped icons rippling like puddles.
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Google has also deeply integrated its Android Wear platform with Android L, allowing users unlock smartphones without a pin code if they are wearing a smartwatch. Notifications have also been given a make-over, allowing users respond to notifications directly from the lock screen. Under the hood, Google is also working to improve battery life (Project Volta) and now supports 64-bit chips and promises to improve performance thanks to a move entirely to Android Runtime (ART).
With Google launching the Nexus 4 and Nexus 5 in the month of November in the last two years, we could see Google launch the big Android update for 2014 alongside the Nexus 6 – or even the first Android Silver device.
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Nitro Plus review: A micro SD card with multiple personalities

In the world where it is common to have two-three computing devices, managing important files is often a chore. One way to do it is through cloud storage. For example, you can start writing a report on a laptop, save the half done document in a cloud service like Dropbox, and then open the same document on your phone. But for large files, this doesn’t work very well, especially in India where internet connectivity is poor and data charges are exorbitantly expensive.

So, how do you take care of important files across devices?

A Strontium microSD card offers a solution. Part of the Nitro range of the cards, Strontium Nitro Plus microSD card comes with two adapters – a pen drive adapter and a SD card adapter. If it works well, this microSD card could be a handy tool that can allow transfer of files between several devices seamless. But does it work well? We tell you…

Technical details and actual speed

The Nitro Plus UHS-1 (here UHS stands for Ultra High Speed, which is a connectivity standard for high-performance SD cards) comes in three storage – 16GB, 32GB and 64GB — options. The specifications for all three are same except the available storage. All three also have the same pen drive and SD card adapters.
Strontium claims that all Nitro Plus cards are water proof, temperature proof, magnet proof and X-ray proof.
We tested the 64GB Nitro Plus UHS-1 card. One important bit to note here is that Nitor Plus cards are SDXC cards so make sure your phone or tablet is compatible with them before you buy one. Most of the high-end smartphones and tablets should handle SDXC cards easily but some low end devices may not read these cards.

64GB Nitro Plus UHS-1 is rated for speed of up to 80MB per second for Read and 60MB/s for write. These are impressive numbers though there are faster cards available in the market. To see how well Nitro Plus performs in the actual devices, we used CrystalMark and A1 SD card Bench. We tested the card in all three configurations – in pen drive adapter, in a SD card adapter and as a microSD card.

This one is self-explanatory. With pen drive adapter this is the speed we got from Nitro Plus UHS-1. It is respectable but we feel that lack of USB 3.0 connector in the USB adapter is disappointing. But if we discount the lack of the faster connector, the card itself seems capable. It achieves speed that is better than the speed most of the USB 2.0 pen drives offer.
But about performance as a SD card and microSD card?
As SD card, Nitro Plus offers fantastic performance. Even though the 4K writes and reads are on the lower side, as a general purpose storage device this should do well. As microSD card too, Nitro Plus is fantastic. Though again 4K write is slightly lower than what we would have preferred.
Does it help manage files better?
The answer to this question depends on what devices you use and for what purpose. If all you deal with are some PDF and word files, you can always use a cloud storage service to share them between devices. But if you work with photos and videos a lot, Nitro Plus helps. In our use, we found that the card was really useful for transferring multimedia files between our camera and computer. Even when dealing with thousands of photos taking gigabytes of space, it was fast, functional and reliable.
At the same time, it is a pretty nifty tool when you want to share videos you have shot on your phone with your friends. The ability to take it out of the phone and plug into a laptop or desktop makes it a handy tool.
That said, there is a cost to all the convenience that Nitro Plus offers. The card costs Rs 1,449 for 16GB version, Rs 2,688 for 32GB version and Rs 5,379 for 64GB. A normal 16GB Class 10 microSD card costs around Rs 500 and while that will be slower than Nitro Plus, the difference in day-to-day usage is not going to be much.
The real value of Nitro Plus is the speed it offers (particularly important for DSLR cameras) and in the utility it offers through the adapters. But this value also something that only a user can ascertain. As far as performance (and features) of Nitro Plus is concerned, it is definitely above average and worth the asking price.

Asus ZenFone 5 first impressions: Does Moto G finally have competition?

Motorola’s Moto G has been a runaway hit in the Indian market, fast becoming the smartphone to beat for all handsets in the price bracket of Rs 10,000 and Rs 20,000. Taiwanese manufacturer Asus is set to launch its ZenFone 5 smartphone in India, and though the company is not ready to reveal its price yet, it is likely that the phone will cost between Rs 15,000 and Rs 20,000 (going by the specifications). If that happens, ZenPhone 5 could well be the phone that challenges supremacy of Moto G in this segment.

We have been using ZenFone 5 as our go-to device for the past couple of days and though it’s too early for a full review, here are our first impressions:

Design and display
Asus ZenFone 5 has an under-stated look, with the company opting largely for plastic construction with only a bit of metal. The smartphone’s body is made of plastic that does not seem cheap, but does not set it apart from the competition either. The plastic feels soft to the touch, but only ever so slightly.

In the front, just below the screen you will see a metallic strip featuring concentric semi-circles, taking up less than a centimeter of space on the front panel. Though this strip is not too bold, it certainly adds a little flair to the design character, which the device doesn’t seem to have otherwise.

ZenFone 5 is characterized by curves which make it easy to hold with one as well as two hands. The smartphone feels solid, but also weighs nearly 150 gram, which is quite heavy by modern standards.

One design flaw that this smartphone suffers from is the big bezels. All around the screen are wide bezels which make ZenPhone 5 unnecessarily large. Shaving them off would have made it a little easier to slip the handset in the pocket. The Home, Back and Task Switcher buttons have not been given on the screen as well, thus adding to its size.

Asus ZenFone 5 sports a 5-inch display with 720p resolution. The screen’s colour reproduction is balanced, delivering accurate and balanced colours in most scenarios. Being an IPS panel, it offers good viewing angles, ensuring that colours do not wash out when viewed from the sides. Pixilation is not noticeable either.

Hardware
Asus ZenFone 5 comes across pretty well-equipped when it comes to the hardware. The smartphone has the Intel Atom Z2560 dual-core processor running at 1.6GHz; it features Hyperthreading technology, meaning that it can act as a quad-core CPU when too many processes are running.

However, at Computex 2014 in June, Asus announced a ZenFone 5 with the same features but running on a 1.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 400 chip, which also powers Moto G. It is not yet clear if Asus will launch it in India at all or not and at what price point.

READ ALSO: Moto E review: A smartphone for masses

The original ZenFone 5, unveiled at Consumer Electronics Show 2014 in January, came with a 2GHz Intel Atom Z2580 dual-core processor, but this model was soon scrapped and replaced by the Intel Atom Z2560 one.

ZenPhone 5 being launched in India by Asus on July 9 comes with 2GB RAM, 8GB internal storage and microSD card support up to 64GB. Connectivity options are standard: 2G, 3G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0 and microUSB 2.0. The smartphone also sports an 8MP camera flanked by LED flash on the back, and a 2MP camera in front. It has a non-removable 2,110mAh battery.

Software
This is where things get interesting. Nearly every major Android smartphone maker attempts to distinguish itself from the rest with a customized version of the software – but most fail. However, Asus, despite its rather limited experience with smartphones, has done a pretty good job of creating a custom Android launcher that is functional, unobtrusive and easy on the eyes.

Asus claims that it has made over 200 changes to the core Android 4.3 (Jelly Bean) software with its ZenUI. Though we haven’t had time to explore them all, whatever we have seen has left us pleased.

Much like HTC’s Sense UI, the Asus custom skin brings shortcuts to the lock screen so that you can open the apps that you use the most, without unlocking the device. It also shows time, weather and calendar events on the lock screen.

While you swipe downwards to open the Notifications Bar, a swipe from the left side of the screen opens your notifications whereas the swipe from the right opens all the toggles, just like it happens in tablets nowadays. Flashlight, Memory Booster, Calculator and Quick Memo are permanent in the toggles menu, but you can choose the remaining toggles that show up in Notifications from Settings.

Another feature worth mentioning here is Easy Mode, which lets you choose and control those apps you may use most frequently. Much like the similar feature by Samsung, Sony and HTC, Asus ZenPhone 5 shows common apps like Dialler, Contacts, Camera etc by default, but also lets you set which other apps can be opened in this mode.

Via Settings, you can enable ZenFone 5 to open the camera by clicking the Volume Down key twice when the screen is turned off. You can also take screenshots by just tapping the Task Switcher haptic key twice.

Also worth mentioning is the design of the icons you see in several Asus apps. The icons are flat and minimalist, making the screen appear uncluttered even if it has several apps and widgets.

Of course, all this doesn’t mean that Asus, like other manufacturers, hasn’t preloaded its own set of apps in ZenFone 5. Along with Google apps, the Taiwanese manufacturer has put several apps on the device, and not all are useful.

READ ALSO: Xolo Q1011 with Android KitKat launched at Rs 9,999

Those worth mentioning are AudioWizard and Splendid. The former, as the name suggest, lets you control the phone’s audio profile depending upon the functions you are performing. There are six modes in this app, namely Speech, Music, Recording, Movie, Gaming and Power Saving.

Splendid enables you to control the colour reproduction on the display, allowing you to make it richer or colder.

Asus has said that it will update ZenFone 5 to Android 4.4 (KitKat) in coming weeks, but there is no word on an upgrade to Android L release.

Performance
We have been fairly impressed by the software, hardware, design and display quality of Asus ZenFone 5. But what about the performance in everyday usage? ZenFone 5 did not fail us during the two days we have used it, delivering consistent performance without a single glitch.

What’s more surprising is that the Intel-powered smartphone delivered a user experience that was as good, if not better, than that of its Qualcomm-powered counterparts. Apps opened quickly and switching between them was smooth. With 2GB RAM at its disposal, the smartphone did not give any ‘out of memory’ error as well.

The smartphone performs well as a gaming machine too, but resource-hungry games feel a little slow to start. The Power VR GX544MP2 GPU renders rich graphics without a hitch. The games we tried, Real Racing 3 and Dead Trigger 2, played smoothly and there were no frame drops.

In benchmark tests, Asus ZenFone 5 gave pretty good results. In fact, its scores were right up there with those of Google Nexus 4 in most tests we used, and decidedly better than that of Moto G.

READ ALSO: Asus to launch Android Wear smartwatch in September: Report

Call quality on both sim cards, in our experience, has been fine, but nothing to write home about. Wi-Fi and 3G networks too worked smoothly in all environments.

As a multimedia device, however, Asus ZenFone 5 is not good. Though the display is great and all video formats play easily, the sound is just not enough. It is not loud enough, and thus makes playing songs or videos a poor experience. Due to the low sound output, using this smartphone in loudspeaker mode is also useless.

One problem we faced while handling the device is that the haptic keys are not backlit. Therefore, using it in the dark is a little difficult.

Camera
The camera of ZenFone 5 is a big disappointment. Though Asus has used an 8MP camera with LED flash and added several software features, the image quality it delivers is poor.

In Auto mode, the lighter parts in photos are overexposed, while dark areas are underexposed. Colours in daylight photos are accurate, but white balance is a little off. Lowlight photos, however, come out pretty great and show a little less noise compared to rival smartphones.

On the software side, Asus has added a number of camera tools for the user. Want better selifes and make yourself prettier in them? Or want to add depth to the image? Want to make a GIF from your phone? ZenFone does it all and then some. However, not all features work well. In particular, the option of adding depth artificially does not deliver the desired results.

Our thoughts
If you are looking for a smartphone under Rs 20,000, then Asus ZenFone 5 is a device you could consider. As a package, it is reasonably good and ticks more boxes than most other rivals.

The elegant software, smooth performance, solid body and vibrant screen definitely tilt the balance in its favour. Battery life so far has been good, but we will not give a verdict on that until our full review of the smartphone.

Nevertheless, Asus ZenFone 5 is sure to make Motorola sit up and take notice; after all, Moto G may finally have competition. If Asus is serious about pushing its smartphones in the Indian market, right-pricing ZenPhone 5 may well be the first part of that strategy

Install Android L preview on your Nexus 5 and Nexus 7

Google has released the factory images of the Android “L” preview, which it unveiled on Wednesday at Google I/O. The Android “L” software developer kit (SDK) is available for download right now and can be installed on a Nexus 5 or Nexus 7.

The SDK can be had from Google’s developer website. The company provides detailed instructions on how to install it.

Google calls it the “biggest update in the history of Android”. It offers a raft of user interface enhancements with a key focus on a new “Material Design” philosophy, which spans not only Android but also Chrome OS and Google’s web apps.

The L release offers more than 5,000 new APIs and has a number of improvements including synced notifications across Android and Chrome OS, actionable notifications, a battery life saver, and a new 64-bit runtime environment that Google calls ART replacing the long standing Dalvik environment.

Also, there is support for USB audio, enterprise security, Bluetooth 4.1, a burst mode camera, personal unlocking and improved text rendering amongst others.

Alongside this, the L release ties in deeply with new versions of Android which are meant for devices of different sizes and use cases. These include Android Wear for wearables, Android Auto for car infotainment systems, and Android TV for large televisions and set top boxes.   

Watching Google’s Many Arms

One way to think of Google is as an extremely helpful, all-knowing, hyper-intelligent executive assistant. Already, it can remind you about your flight, open up your boarding pass when you get to the airport and offer you driving directions to your hotel when you land.

If what the company showed off at an event for developers on Wednesday is a true vision of our future, Google’s software will soon reach ever further into our lives, sitting on just about every other device you encounter. The software will be available to help you look up any bit of idle curiosity or accomplish any task, anytime you desire.

It’s an extremely far-reaching agenda — and that may be the company’s problem. For a company whose future depends on people voluntarily handing over their information in return for handy online services, Google’s very ambitions may now stand as its biggest hurdle. Is Google, in its globe-spanning reach, trying to do so much that it risks becoming creepy instead of helpful — the assistant who got too powerful and knows too much?

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Credit Stuart Goldenberg
“I think technology is changing people’s lives a lot, and we’re feeling it,” Larry Page, Google’s co-founder and chief executive, said in an interview at the event in San Francisco on Wednesday.

Mr. Page described Android and Chrome, the company’s mobile operating system and web browser, as a kind of glue that will connect all of the devices we will use in the future. “We’ve been talking about a multiscreen world for a long time,” Mr. Page said. “I think you see it culminating in something that’s a great experience across lots of different kinds of devices, from the watch to the TV to the laptop to the tablet to the phone.”

But Mr. Page conceded that the novelty and scope of these devices might breed worries among users. “Everyone can tell that their lives are going to be affected, but we don’t quite know how yet, because we’re not using these things — and because of that there’s a lot of uncertainty,” he said.

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Google has lately become a punching bag in what looks like an emerging resistance against the tech industry. In San Francisco, where the technology sector is contributing to rising real estate prices and creeping inequality, the Internet-equipped luxury shuttle buses Google uses to transport its employees have become a target for local protesters. The company has also become the face of technology’s reckless intrusion into our social lives. Google Glass, its tech-enabled eyeglasses, is a frequent butt of jokes on late-night television. In response to a European court ruling on the so-called right to be forgotten, Google has received a flood of requests from users asking the service to delist them from its index.

Even at its keynote event on Wednesday, an affair largely geared toward programmers who are fans of Google, was interrupted by protesters. One blamed some of the firm’s executives for evicting local tenants, while another claimed that Google’s recent robotics acquisitions made it dangerous. “You all work for a totalitarian company that builds robots that kill people!” he yelled before being escorted out by security.

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Mr. Page, who was joined in the interview by Sundar Pichai, the executive in charge of Google’s Android and Chrome software projects, did not seem overly bothered by the outbursts. “We’re in San Francisco, so we expect that,” Mr. Page said of the protests. “There’s a rich history of protest in San Francisco.”

Mr. Pichai pointed out that the company had introduced initiatives to improve its relationship with city residents. This year, it gave $600,000 to the city to bring free Wi-Fi service to San Francisco parks. “I think in some ways it’s good that there’s an open debate about it and I think we needed it,” Mr. Pichai said. “There’s been a lot of growth and the area is trying to adapt to that growth and that has been a concern.”

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“Everyone can tell that their lives are going to be affected, but we don’t quite know how yet,” says Google’s chief, Larry Page. Credit Jeff Chiu/Associated Press
More broadly, Mr. Page argued that people’s instinctive reactions to new technologies were often negative. Once we see the utility in the new stuff, we often realize that it isn’t as scary as we once thought — and soon may realize we can’t live without it. “In the early days of Street View, this was a huge issue, but it’s not really a huge issue now,” Mr. Page said of the company’s project to send a fleet of cars across the globe to snap photographs of public roadways. “People understand it now and it’s very useful,” he said. “And it doesn’t really change your privacy that much. A lot of these things are like that.”

Many of Google’s new services will improve how our computers work by combining personal data and information gathered from sensors to create what the company called “context aware” experiences.

“Today, computing mainly automates things for you, but when we connect all these things, you can truly start assisting people in a more meaningful way,” Mr. Pichai said. He suggested a way for Android on people’s smartphones to interact with Android in their cars. “If I go and pick up my kids, it would be good for my car to be aware that my kids have entered the car and change the music to something that’s appropriate for them,” Mr. Pichai said.

“Or look at the unlocking that we showed,” Mr. Page said, referring to a system in which your computer detects that your watch is nearby, then lets you start using it without typing in a passcode. “It just makes a lot of sense,” Mr. Page said. “That’s a big hassle today.”

If these features sound small to you, it may be because Google is in the early stages of exploring the benefits we will get from combining many different devices into a single, hyperaware computing system. It is certainly not alone in that effort, either. The “Internet of Things” has become the latest annoying catchphrase in the industry, and Apple is widely expected to enter the fray soon with a smartwatch.

But Google may be in the best position to make sense of the chaotic, thing-filled Internet. Because Google makes software for a variety of devices, and because it gives that code to third-party manufacturers free, it is uniquely well-suited to integrate many kinds of devices made by many different kinds of companies. What is more, for “context aware” computing to become truly useful, our devices must deeply understand our context — and that necessarily involves collecting, analyzing and acting on boatloads of information about each of us and the world around us. Google excels at that.

Perhaps more important, only Google has Mr. Page — and he is completely undaunted by the resistance these technologies may engender. “For me, I’m so excited about the possibilities to improve things for people, my worry would be the opposite,” he said. “We get so worried about these things that we don’t get the benefits.”

He pointed to health care, where regulations make collecting and analyzing data very difficult, even if that data is analyzed anonymously. “Right now we don’t data-mine health care data. If we did we’d probably save 100,000 lives next year,” he said.

Saving those lives would be a big benefit. But there’s no doubt that it would also come at a loss of privacy that some might consider too great.

GoogleIO2014: Google Fit to rival Apple’s HealtKit

Google unveiled a fitness tracking platform “Google Fit” on Wednesday to help users of its Android mobile software collate and keep track of health and fitness data on smartwatches and other mobile devices.

Fit functions similarly to recently introduced services from Apple and Samsung. The tracking and analysis of health information is expected to be a big driver for smartwatches and other sensor-laden devices this year.

GoogleIO2014: Android takes centrestage

Google wants to be everywhere: In your home, your car and even on your wrist.

That vision became increasingly clear at the search giant’s annual conference for software developers Wednesday. The company unveiled plans to expand Android, its mobile operating system, for new categories like wearable computers and automobiles.

The announcements came on the heels of the company’s recent acquisition of Nest Labs, the thermostat maker, for $3.2 billion, which gave Google a speedy entry into internet-connected home appliances.

Google said the latest version of Android for smartphones and tablets, called Android L, would include a new design. Similar to Apple and Microsoft, Google adopted a “flat” design with more vibrant colors and added effects like shadows and animations. For example, when a user taps the screen, a small water ripple appears on the tapped area.

READ ALSO: Google announces Android One to revolutionize low-end smartphones

Android L also includes new features, like smarter authentication and anti-theft software. If a user is wearing a smartwatch paired with the device, he can unlock the phone without entering a passcode; when the watch is removed, the phone will require a passcode again. Google also said Android L, which will be available in the fall, would include a so-called “kill switch” for rendering a device unusable if it were stolen.

Google’s annual software developers’ conference, called Google I/O, has become an important venue for the company to woo app makers to build software for its Android software system, which powers more than 1 billion devices worldwide.

READ ALSO: Next Android version to have better performance, revamped UI

Rallying the troops of app developers is increasingly vital for Google as competition heats up with rivals like Apple and Samsung Electronics, who are also eager to make a shift into the next generation of computing.

Apple recently announced plans to expand its mobile software system, iOS, for home appliances, health-monitoring devices and cars. Samsung, the No. 1 cellphone maker, has released several smartwatches over the past year, and it recently held an event that focused on health-monitoring technology.

Google also shared its ambition to push Android deeper into areas beyond mobile devices, revealing details on Android Wear, a special version of Android tailored for wearable computers like smartwatches, which it introduced earlier this year.

Google said Android Wear was customized to show immediately useful information, like message notifications, the status of a package shipment, or the traffic status for a commute. The smartwatch system is controlled by speaking or by swiping the touch screen.

When a user is traveling, the watch system will continue to bring up relevant contextual information based on his location, like the local bus schedule or the weather, according to David Singleton, an engineering director at Google.

Google said two smartwatches including Android Wear — Samsung’s Gear Live and LG’s G watch — would be available in its online retail store, Play, on Wednesday.

Google announced a version of Android customized for cars, called Android Auto. Google said it streamlined the design of the system to keep people’s eyes off the screen and more on the road. It emphasizes access to maps, phone contacts and playlists, allowing users to easily access those features with the tap of a button or voice control. The car system will pair with a user’s smartphone.

For television, Google announced Android TV. Users can speak voice commands into a smartwatch to search for programs to view and Google will find the programs if they are available for purchase in its online Play store.

Searching “Breaking Bad,” for example, will bring up the show and information like its actors and the movies or shows they starred in. Users can also stream music and games from their tablets and smartphones to Android TV. Google said it had partnered with Sony, Sharp and Asus, and expected products including Android TV to arrive in fall.

Television has been a tough market for Google. Android TV is its fourth attempt to push Android into television, after several approaches failed. One of its earlier attempts included Google TV, which came with a clunky remote and many limitations on what people could watch.

Google has found some success with Chromecast, a stick that plugs into TVs and allows users to stream content from their smartphones or computers to the television. Released last year, Chromecast has been a top seller on Amazon. Google on Wednesday said it had improved Chromecast, allowing any phone to connect to the device without having to be on the same Wi-Fi network.

Google also said it worked hard to improve battery life for Android devices, with a tool called Project Volta. Its presentation of the feature was interrupted by a protester, who stood in front of the stage holding a T-shirt that read, “Develop a conscience.” The protester claimed she was being evicted by a property owner who was a Google employee, before being escorted out by security guards.