Google Play Store v4.0 for Android leaks, bringing italicised text to Holo

Google Play 4.0

Kellex over at Droid-Life has obtained what is purported to be build 4.0.16 of the Google Play Store for Android, and this gives us our best hint yet of how Matias Duarte and company are planning to take Android’s design with the expected release of Android 5.0, codenamed Key Lime Pie, at Google I/O. In the 6 minute video below, Kellex shows off the functional parts of the new store (with many pages such as the home page not yet working with the new design) but what is evident is that the new version of the Holo design language is set to be a lot lighter and colourful than the black and blue introduced with Ice Cream Sandwich in October 2011, with italicised Roboto Light being used in headings for the first time. Contrary to Google Keep, a note-taking service that the company officially launched today with an overdose of yellow, responses to the new look seem overwhelmingly positive, and we will wait with baited breath to see what further UI overhauls Google may announce for Android, now under the reigns of Chrome and Apps head Sundar Pichai, at I/O in May.

Source Droid-Life

Advertisements

HTC One X review

After declining sales and being criticised for releasing too many handsets into the market, the new One series from HTC represents a much needed refresh of their strategy. What once used to be a floundering attempt to satisfy the demands of the many carriers has been diluted to this, a trio of phones to carry them headfirst into 2012. The One X, however, is even more than that. This sits on the top of the tree as a superphone with specs that raise the bar for future Android devices to come. It also debuts with HTC’s refresh of their Sense skin, layered on top of Android 4.0.3, fresh from Mountain View. Alas, we must ask the question – is it really as good as it seems? Read on to find out.

Unboxing

Video Review

Hardware

To say that this phone is good looking is an understatement. The phone is genuinely beautiful and is a breath of fresh air compared to the dull black slabs that most companies are churning out these days. The amount of detail and care put into this design definitely shows in the product. The glass covering the screen curves over the sides, blending in with the sleek polycarbonate body. The One X is made of a similar material to Nokia’s Lumia 800 and 900, albeit a little less textured. It is 8.9mm thick, which, while chunky for a flagship phone on paper, certainly doesn’t feel it. The phone feels comfortable in the hand despite its 4.7″ display, and is in reality not much larger than most 4.3″ devices such as its baby brother, the wafer-thin One S. The bezel is minimal, and you really feel like you are actually touching the content on the screen thanks to the laminated panel. The only slight annoyance I have is that I do struggle to reach the top left and bottom left hand corners without adjusting my grip on the phone. It has a curved profile reminiscent of the Galaxy Nexus, with the top and bottom gently tapering upwards. It is worth noting that the camera lens protrudes just enough to give the speakers a megaphone effect when placed on a table.

The sides are fairly minimal, with the left holding an MHL (MicroUSB/HD Video out) port and a volume rocker on the right, which is conveniently placed where your thumb grips it during normal usage. It has a nice amount of travel and you can use it while it is in your pocket. On the top there is a power button, 3.5mm headphone jack and a microSIM tray. On the bottom there is one of the two microphones (the other being just next to the headphone jack) and three capacitive buttons which cause some concern that I shall get into later. A notable omission is a camera button – a little strange considering that the camera is HTC’s major advertising point with the phone. However, the care and attention to detail that HTC employed when designing this product is apparent is the notification LED. While it is not RGB, it is integrated into the drilled holes for the earpiece, which was a very interesting idea, and it works. The LED is completely invisible when not in use, and bright enough to be visible in any light when notifying you. As a whole, the design of the phone immediately strikes you as HTC. It seems like they have perfected their design language, with none of the failings of the myriad of phones that came before, although it isn’t without fault. The black international model which I acquired picked up grease really easily, and as of the time of writing I have not been able to remove it. I would recommend picking up a case if you are considering this phone, despite what HTC says. Another thing that I have noticed is that the micro-holes for the earpiece, while aesthetically pleasing, could easily pick up dust, blocking it up.

As for internals, it is safe to say that this is one of the most powerful phones on the market. The international One X has a quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 clocked at 1.5GHz which is no slouch at all. It also has a gigabyte of RAM, which is par for the flagship course. These big numbers certainly show up in the benchmark scores below. Despite Nvidia’s graphical prowess, gaming performance does not live up to expectations. I have a feeling that it has something to do with the lack of RAM, or maybe the fact that that the processor is driving 921,600 pixels, but the effect is noticable. Games do seem to settle down after maybe 5 minutes of gameplay, but it is still unnerving. Another thing that I noted was that the area in between the camera and volume rocker can get really hot, but the heat was isolated to just that place, most likely due to the positioning of the processor. Speaking of the processor, the presence Tegra processor inside allows access to the Tegra Zone suite of games. These are games that are ‘optimised’ for the Tegra processor with better graphics and more effects, and you really can tell the difference. There are two major omissions when it comes to the One X in terms of hardware, namely being the lack of expandable storage and removable battery, but having a replaceable back would weaken the structural integrity of the phone, so we can give HTC a pass there.

Benchmarks

Quadrant – 4602
Vellamo – 1854
Antutu – 9795
Nenamark 2 – 54.7fps

Display

The 1280 x 720 SuperLCD 2 display on this phone may be the best display I have ever seen on a phone, with vibrant colours and sharp text. With a pixel density of 312 pixels per inch, the panel is not quite as dense as the 342ppi displays found in HTC’s own Rezound and Sony’s Xperia S, but it is well into the area  of over 300ppi referred to by Apple as ‘Retina territory’, meanng that individual pixels cannot be distinguished by the human eye. It also lacks the PenTile subpixel arrangement infamously found on many other flagship phones such as Samsung’s Galaxy S III and Nexus, thus ensuring a higher-quality display free of jagged edges and fuzz. One of the reasons that phone manufacturers give in favour of using AMOLED in their phones is that it is thinner than LCD and allows for slimmer profiles, but HTC’s SLCD2 has shown that LCD technology is catching up, although it still remains more power-hungry than AMOLED panels.

Software

The One X comes with Android 4.0, the (second) latest operating system from Google, but the presence of HTC Sense 4 is the most intriguing software tweak. Sense has been criticized a lot in the past for its superfluous animations, flamboyant graphics, and purely idiotic design concepts made for a subpar user experience. Users have yearned for a toned down or stock Android experience, with less of the idiotism of days past. HTC says they took this into consideration when designing Sense 4, but did they do enough? Short answer, sort of.

Sense has definitely been toned down. The over the top weather animations have gone. The person who made the stupid decision of having a permanent ‘personalize’ button on the dock has been fired. It’s just generally been cleaned up, but it isn’t enough. The icons look like they were designed by a 4 year old, being full of white accents and just looking dated. The recent apps list is a waste of space, with the switcher taking up the entire screen, and is also more challenging to use than the stock multitasking menu. The notion that lockscreen shortcuts can only be the icons you have in your dock is just plain stupid, because I don’t need a camera in my dock, but I certainly do on my lockscreen. The widgets look like they were designed in the 90s, with stupid gradients that make me want to throw the phone in a river. The keyboard has arrow buttons, which are completely useless and render the keyboard almost impossible to type on. Finally, I said in the hardware section that the capacitive buttons had a problem. Sticking to the Android 4.0 guidelines, there is no menu button but this means that legacy apps need to display an annoying black bar underneath any app that isn’t optimized for ICS. I would have much preferred software buttons or a menu button instead of a multitasking key, similar to the setup on the Samsung Galaxy S III.

I will admit that Sense does have its perks, 25GB of free Dropbox space being one, but the performance of the phone is what matters, and Sense simply won’t do. I promptly refused to use Sense and flashed a build of Android 4.1 Jelly Bean onto it. This seemed to speed things up a lot, but please note that this does void your warranty.

Camera

The camera on this phone is the second best phone camera I have used after that of the iPhone 4S. The 8MP rear shooter takes bright and vivid photos with little to no blurring and an instant shutter. This is because of what HTC calls ImageSense. What this means is that there is an extra chip inside the phone just for processing images and video. This and a dual shutter mean that the One X can take pictures and video at the same time. It also gifts the One X with astoundingly fast picture taking to the point where the phone actually sounds like a machine gun when in burst mode. The camera software on this phone is second to none. It lets you take awesome pictures, is well thought out, and gives you a nice range of effects to choose from. Low light pictures weren’t great, so you’ll need to use a flash, and sometimes photos get blurred really easily. You can view a gallery of pictures here.

Battery Life & Radio

The battery life of this phone ties into the software section. With Sense, the battery is rubbish. An hour of YouTube and 15 minutes of Dead Trigger brought me down to 50%. That might not seem that bad, but with Sense taken off and replaced by a CyanogenMod ROM I could do the same thing and only lose 20%.

The cellular radio is simply average. I got signal where most other phones get signal, however I did note that the WiFi usually displayed 1 bar lower than on other devices. I don’t know if this has something to do with the way that signal is displayed or an actual discrepancy in the WiFi, but it’s there nonetheless.

Conclusion

All things considered, the One X is a solid flagship. It is the epitome of what HTC has learned from a year of failed designs, however the phone faces some stiff opposition from Samsung’s Galaxy S III. As for which one to buy, my answer would be whichever suits you best. If you need expandable storage and a removable battery and can live with the Pentile AMOLED display, then the Galaxy S III may be your best option, but if you desire design then go with the One X. You can’t go wrong with either.

Introducing Digixav 4.0 Ginkgo

Hello there,

We’re over 7 months old now, and things have changed. It’s not just me any more, and I have been joined by many fantastic writers in the quest to get tech news out on the interweb. We’re getting more hits each day than we ever expected, and we’ve had readers from over 100 countries around the globe.

Today, I am pleased to unveil Digixav 4.0 (aka Ginkgo) and a new wordmark/logo-type thing.

We were on the hunt for a new theme after being accepted into the WordAds program, but then I discovered Oxygen. It doesn’t support ads yet, but I think you’ll agree that it looks awesome and has a slider that changes automatically. We also used the magic of the Ubuntu font to make the site look even better, and new menus make it easier to navigate the site than ever before. Bearing in mind that this is a work-in-progress, you may notice a few widget and CSS changes, but we think that Ginkgo is the best version of Digixav yet, and we hope you do too.

Thanks for sticking with us,
Xavier

Samsung announces Galaxy event for May 3rd in London

GS3

Samsung has announced an event scheduled to take place on May 3rd in London, where it is widely speculated that the Galaxy S III will make its debut. The official invite, pictured above, states that visitors will be able to meet the new Galaxy, but the question remains as to where this new device will fit into Samsung’s Android lineup. The Galaxy S III is rumoured to come with a quad-core Exynos chipset with integrated support for 4G LTE networks, similar to that found in the refreshed Meizu MX, support for the S Pen that comes with the Galaxy Note range and a 4.65″ Super AMOLED Plus display of 1280 x 720 resolution. The ‘Plus’ denotes that the display would have a standard RGB subpixel arrangement, compared to the Pentile RGBG layout on devices such as Samsung’s own Galaxy Nexus. As with any major event invite, Samsung’s invitation has set the theorists into action, with some suggesting that the blobs of liquid refer to a curvaceous design or display, while the brushed blue surface could be code for a colourful brushed metal finish. Vlad Savov of The Verge even came across a Korean commercial for the Galaxy Note, which you can see below, in which the protagonist excitedly makes an appointment for May 3rd, and the numbers 5 and 3 flash around quite a bit, although this could be just a simple reference to the 5.3″ Super AMOLED display on the device that has pioneered the phablet industry.

What do you expect from the event? Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to check back on the day to get the news fresh from London.

The sorry state of Android updates

With Samsung’s announcement that Galaxy S II owners will not in fact be getting their Ice Cream Sandwich updates today as previously stated by one of their websites, the age-old discussion regarding Android updates, skinning and fragmentation has returned to the fore. Android 4.0, codenamed Ice Cream Sandwich and referred to as ICS, was confirmed on way back on October 15th of last year, the same day that this very website launched, yet now, almost 5 months later, only a small handful of devices from major manufacturers have either launched with or been updated to Google’s latest and greatest operating system. Why is this the case, and what can be done to help the situation?

Take a look at this graphic, taken from the Android website, which shows the versions of Android which have accessed the Android Market Google Play in the two weeks leading up to March 5th.

Just 1.6% of Android devices are running the latest version of the software. A comprehensive list of devices that have either shipped with or been officially updated to Ice Cream Sandwich is below. Please note that this does not include devices that have been announced but not shipped.

  • Archos G9
  • Asus Eee Pad Transformer
  • Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime
  • HTC Sensation
  • HTC Sensation XE
  • Motorola Xoom
  • Samsung Galaxy Nexus
  • Samsung Nexus S

Firstly, some of the blame has to be placed on Google. The OEMs do not get access to the source code until it is publicly released, with the exemption of the partner making the flagship Nexus device, such as Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus, announced alongside Ice Cream Sandwich at a press conference in Hong Kong last year. While Google should want the Nexus phones to succeed and have an advantage over other handsets on the market at the time of release, I believe that major manufacturers such as HTC, Sony, Samsung and Google’s own subsidiary Motorola should get early access to the source code, so that handsets and devices can get the latest software promptly after it is unleashed upon the world. It is wrong to go into a store at this stage and see just one device, the Galaxy Nexus, sporting up-to-date software.

We must never forget the manufacturers themselves, as they too delay updates for a number of reasons. Firstly, they already have your money and, as such, there is little benefit to them if they spend time and money preparing software updates for phones. This raises a whole load of questions regarding the state of customer service in the 21st century, but those are for another day. An example of this kind of neglect is Samsung, with the Galaxy S. Late last year, the Korean company confirmed that they would not update the phone, the second biggest selling Android device of all time, to Ice Cream Sandwich. Their excuse? TouchWiz and Ice Cream Sandwich can’t live together on the ROM. Why not just get rid of the crappy skin which users hate?

Of course, manufacturers feel that they have to stick their bloated skins on top of Android, and updates get delayed to ensure that this is the case. Take LG for example. At Mobile World Congress 2 weeks ago, they unveiled a host of new Android devices – the Optimus L3, Optimus L5, Optimus L7, Optimus 3D Max, Optimus 4X HD and the Optimus Vu phablet. Of these, half are scheduled to launch with Gingerbread, and only the L7, L5 and 4X HD are guaranteed to have Ice Cream Sandwich. As for the rest, LG issued a vague timeframe for updates of later this year. Considering that they have no plans to update their existing phones until Q2 or even Q3 at the earliest, I wouldn’t hold out much hope of this ever happening. If such an update actually does come, the community will probably have Jelly Bean stable on the handsets. LG’s excuse? A combination of the skin and the fact that they seemingly don’t care about consumers – a statement that can be applied to almost all Android manufacturers. This infographic, made last year by Michael DeGusta of The Understatement, shows just how slow these updates can be, especially compared to iOS.

Across the internet, I have seen people complaining about the update situation, only to be told to buy a Nexus phone and have all their problems solved, but this argument is ridiculously stupid. The beauty of Android is the wide variety of handsets, tailored to suit every need. To be told that, in order to be certain to get the latest software officially, you have to buy a certain device, takes away this beauty. If I wanted that kind of situation, where I no choice in form factor in exchange for a guarantee to get updates, I’d buy an iPhone. Take the Galaxy Nexus, for instance. At 4.65″, it is way too big for me. I think the design is horrible in comparison to some other smartphones, the rear camera is, for such a high-end device, sub-par for the course, and Samsung’s incessant use of flimsy plastics mean that I would never even consider buying one. If I want to get an Android phone with almost a guarantee of an update however, I have no other choice. This is not on.

Even if I were to jump on the Nexus bandwagon, I still wouldn’t be 100% certain of updates. Certain Nexus S owners are still waiting for Google and carriers to push the ICS update to their devices, even though most GSM variants of the phone got the update to 4.0 back in December. We must not forget the Nexus One either. The HTC device was Google’s first flagship and, despite the fact that the Android community can do it, Google has announced that they do not plan to push an ICS update to the handset which is still less than 2 years old.

So, until the day comes where updates are prompt and ensured, I will not buy an Android phone or tablet. I know that there are other ways of getting updates, but manufacturers and carriers should have a duty to ensure that devices are kept up-to-date for at least the standard contract length of 24 months. And finally, before you dismiss this whole post as pure trolling of Android, I am an Android user and I am still waiting for Gingerbread. If HTC doesn’t care about an 18 month old phone, why should I?

Google finally announce Chrome for Android but only 4.0

Ever wondered why the stock Android browser isn’t Chrome? We all certainly have, and now Google have gone and released Chrome Beta for Android. Over time it will become THE Android browser, but for now it is only available for devices running Ice Cream Sandwich. We will try it out when we get our hands on such a device, but for now we will read this review from TechCrunch and enjoy Chrome Beta on PC.

The Poll: What is the best tablet at the moment?