Android

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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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

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.

6 ways Google will be part of your life in 2015

5 ways Google will be part of your life in 2015

1. Google, already the go-to search engine and the maker of world’s most popular mobile software, may become a bigger part of your life by next year. The company detailed five projects at I/O 2014 conference, that indicate its desire to move beyond your phone and PC’s screen and enter your household with more touchpoints. Here are five ways you could be using Google and Android more 2015 onwards.

2. Android Wear

Google can be on your wrist with Android Wear smartwatches as early as today if you happen to order one online in the US. You may soon find yourself talking to your wrist to answer your queries, find stuff on the internet and look for directions. Just say what you want it to do or what you need to know and it will do the same.

3. Android TV

Google wants to be part of your living room and Android TV is the route it is taking. You can get Android TV on your television screen via set-top boxes, smartTVs and even video game consoles. It will use Google Now extensively to track your content consumption and give recommendations based on that. Android TV apps will be announced later this year, Google said, while TVs with Android integration will be in the market in 2015.
 
4. Android Auto
 
Not only will Google be part of your home, it will be around even when you are in your car. You can pair your car and smartphone using Android Auto, the company’s “contextually aware” in-car solution that provides you with maps and turn-by-turn navigation. You can control the music using the car’s dash, while calls and SMSs can be received to or sent via voice commands. You will be able to drive an Android Auto-equipped car as early as 2014-end. No names yet, though.
 
5. Google Fit
 
Google’s health-focussed service — Fit — may become a regular feature of your life by next year, especially if you are too conscious of fitness. This platform will help you get the complete picture on your health and fitness by compiling the data across various apps. Google Fit will also give better recommendations based on the data and fitness levels.
 
6. Android one
 
Android One

It’s likely that you have a smartphone, but the billions who don’t right now will soon find that a smartphone is well within their reach even at shoestring budgets. Android One will help budget phone manufacturers create a reference framework to develop smartphones without spending extra time or money. The software will be stock Android and Google will roll out the updates, but manufacturers will be allowed to add extra apps to set themselves apart.

Google to unveil new Android version, wearables at I/O 2014

wearable gadgets and so-called smart home devices are just some of the innovations Google is likely to show off at its two-day developer conference, which begins Wednesday in San Francisco.

In recent years, the conference has focused on smartphones and tablets, but this year Google’s Android operating system is expected to stretch into cars, homes and smartwatches.

Pacific Crest analyst Evan Wilson believes Google will unveil a new version of its Android operating system – possibly called Lollipop – with a “heavy focus” on extensions for smartwatches and smart home devices.

“We think Google will directly counter Apple’s recent announcements of health products (Apple HealthKit) and home automation (Apple HomeKit),” Wilson wrote in a note to investors.

Google’s I/O event comes at a time of transition for the company, which makes most of its money from advertising thanks to its status as the world’s leader in online search. The company is trying to adjust to an ongoing shift to smartphones and tablet computers from desktop and laptop PCs. Though mobile advertising is growing rapidly, advertising aimed at PC users still generates more money.

At the same time, Google is angling to stay at the forefront of innovation by taking gambles on new, sometimes unproven technologies that take years to pay off, if at all. Driverless cars, Google Glass, smartwatches and thinking thermostats are just some of its more far-off bets.

On the home front, Google’s Nest Labs, which makes network-connected thermostats and smoke detectors – announced earlier this week that it has created a program that allows outside developers, from tiny startups to large companies such as Whirlpool and Mercedes-Benz, to fashion software and “new experiences” for its products.

Integration with Mercedes-Benz, for example, might mean that a car can notify a Nest thermostat when it’s getting close to home, so the device can have the home’s temperature adjusted to the driver’s liking before he or she arrives.

Nest’s founder, Tony Fadell, is an Apple veteran who helped design the iPod and the iPhone. Google bought the company earlier this year for $3.2 billion.

Opening the Nest platform to outside developers will allow Google to move into the emerging market for connected, smart home devices. Experts expect that this so-called “Internet of Things” phenomenon will change the way people use technology in much the same way that smartphones have changed life since the introduction of Apple’s iPhone seven years ago.

Google is also likely to unveil some advances in wearable technology. In March, Google released “Android Wear,” a version of its operating system tailored to computerized wristwatches and other wearable devices. Although there are already several smartwatches on the market, the devices are more popular with gadget geeks and fitness fanatics than regular consumers. But Google could help change that with Android Wear. Android, after all, is already the world’s most popular smartphone operating system.

Google may also have news about Glass, including when the company might launch a new and perhaps less expensive version of the $1,500 Internet-connected eyewear. Google will likely have to lower the price if it wants Glass to reach a broader audience. But that’s just one hurdle. Convincing people that the gadget is useful, rather than creepy, is another one.