Cortana arrives on the Android platform

Cortana-image-3-576x1024Apple has Siri, Google has, well…Ok Google — a less clever name, but it works well enough. Then there’s Microsoft, which has Cortana. It began life on Windows Phone, but then it spread to the new Windows 10. Now it spreads further, expanding on Google territory with a beta version for Android phones and tablets.

So which service do you want to use? I installed Cortana on an LG G4 and it worked flawlessly, though it requires a bit of setup. It will ask a series of questions, though they are easy to answer.

Microsoft claims “The Cortana app can do most of the things Cortana does on your PC or on a Windows phone. With the app, you can manage your hectic lifestyle by setting and getting reminders, searching the web on-the-go, tracking important information such as flight details as well as starting and completing tasks across all of your devices”.

This open beta also improves on the closed one that previously existed. You can now set Cortana as your destination when you press the Home button.

“You will also see a few differences between what Cortana can do today in her “native” environment (Windows) and in the app on Android. For example toggling settings, opening apps or invoking Cortana hands-free by saying “Hey Cortana” are only available on Windows for now. As with all betas, we are continually improving the experience and will incorporate feedback along the way”, Microsoft claims.

You can grab the app here. It’s not compatible with all devices, though, so pay attention.

Android Wear smatwatches get new interactive faces

Android LogoOn the heels of today’s Pebble Time update, Google will not be outdone. The search giant is continuing to try and improve on its Android Wear line of smartwatches. LG, Motorola and others have leaped into this market and Apple is there now as well.

One of the big things is watchfaces. They can be handy, especially when they show current temperature and conditions as Pebble does.

Now Google is rolling out a new line of them, bringing all sorts of features to your wrist. “Today, we’re launching interactive watch faces, making it easier (and more fun) to stay connected, right from your wrist. Now, with just a tap, your watch face can change its design, reveal more information, or even launch a specific app”.

The new updates are coming now. Google states “Today’s updates are rolling out to all Android Wear watches in the coming weeks. So pick your favorite watch face, or pair up with your favorite person, and start wearing what you want”.

So which smartwatch, if any, will you choose? I’m personally using Pebble, but considering a possible change to either upgrade, or switch altogether.

OnePlus 2 Unboxing

Never SettleMy personal phone has been the OnePlus One for nearly a year and I’ve liked it a great deal. In terms of performance, screen, storage and price, it’s hard to beat. I was never a great fan of the styling, particularly regarding the flat metal trim round the screen, so when I saw the OnePlus 2 had really upped the design, I was in straightaway for an early invite…

…and the new 2 arrived a few hours ago. I restrained myself enough to take a few unboxing photos as I went for GNC readers tech gratification.

Unlike the original One, which came in a flat slip case, the 2 comes in a more traditional shoebox style case. OnePlus has stuck with the vibrant red.

OnePlus 2 in box in wrap

Let’s whip the shrink wrap off.

OnePlus 2 in box

Opening the box reveals the OnePlus 2 itself.

OnePlus 2 box open

Taking the phone out, there’s a “Getting Started” guide underneath and below that is the charger (UK model) and the flat USB cable.

OnePlus 2 under tray

Looking more closely at the USB cable, it’s fully reversible with USB A on one end and new-fangled USB C on the other.

PICT4632

A few gratuitous close ups. Here’s the rear camera.

OnePlus 2 Rear Camera

The Alert Slide. Best idea ever. Hold on, didn’t the Palm Treo 650 have one of these?

OnePlus 2 side

The fingerprint sensor and the USB C port at the bottom of the phone.

OnePlus 2 USB C

Top of the phone and the audio jack socket.

OnePlus 2 Top

I bought a case too. I really wanted a yellow one but it was out-of-stock. :-(

OnePlus 2 Case

The cases replace the rear cover using OnePlus’ StyleSwap feature. The case and rear covers have little clips that click into the back of the phone. Anyone who had a Nexus 10 and genuine flip cover with recognise the way it works. It’s neat and means that rear covers don’t add any bulk and cases become an integral part of the phone. You can also see the dual SIM carrier.

OnePlus 2 StyleSwap

Finally, here’s the OnePlus 2 snug in its new case, ready for setup.

OnePlus 2 in case

That’s it for now. I’m still loading all my apps and getting it configured the way I like it. I’ve still to get my SIM card swapped to a nano SIM too. Early impressions are good, especially in terms of the styling. Fingerprint sensor is pretty cool.

Disclosure – this was a personal purchase though the early invite was enabled by OnePlus’ PR team.

Second Helpings with the OnePlus 2

Never SettleI’ll have to be honest….this morning’s OnePlus 2 launch event at 3 am was waaayyyy too early to entice me out of my bed when the alarm clock started ringing. I gave it a thump and went back to sleep. Sorry OnePlus but “Never Settle” doesn’t work at 3 in the morning. Still, I reviewed the launch with the help of the VR app and have to give that experience the full thumbs up. The VR part is good if you have Google Cardboard or similar, but even to have a 2D “in the audience” experience at a major launch event was fun and the Android app worked well – there was no faffing about finding the webpage and checking whether the PC has the right plugins. Major win as far as I’m concerned and something that should be taken on for other launch events.

OnePlus 2

With regard to the OnePlus 2 itself, things are much as expected for a flagship phone – 64-bit Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor paired with 4GB of LPDDR4 RAM and 64GB storage, though later in the year, there will be a cheaper version with 3GB RAM and 16GB storage. No change in the screen as far as I can tell, with a 5.5″ IPS LCD screen which is excellent in the One. Battery is up from 3100 mAh in the One to 3300 mAh in the 2.

Of course the big change is the inclusion of a fingerprint reader which will quickly unlock the OnePlus 2 with a finger press. Difficult to say how well it will work until I get hold of a 2 but I’m expecting it to be good and useful. The other new feature is the USB C port which is hard to get overly excited about. Yes, reversibility is handy and the flat cable tangle-free but wireless charging would have been even better.

OnePlus 2 USB C

The camera has been given a boost with the addition of an advanced Optical Image Stabilization system and rear-mounted laser focussing which sharpens the camera in microseconds. Sweet. As we knew beforehand, there are dual SIM slots for world-travellers and data hogs.

OnePlus 2 Rear Covers

For styling, the press release says, “Unified by a resilient, lightweight aluminium and magnesium alloy frame and stainless steel accents, the OnePlus 2’s sleek, minimalistic design marries durability and class with an unrivalled premium feel.” Translation – it’s got metal edges, looks cool and expensive.

Size-wise, the 2 is slightly smaller but fatter and a tad heavier this time round by 13g (like you’d notice). There’s going to be a selection of StyleSwap backs available from the original Sandstone Black and Bamboo to the new Kevlar, Black Apricot and Rosewood.

Lollipop-based (5.1) OxygenOS replaces CyanogenOS in the OnePlus 2 and continues the customisations seen in the One, including gestures and themes. There are some new features, including a dark mode for use at night, custom LED notifications and greater app permission control.

If you like what you see, how much is the 2 going to cost and when will it be available? The former is easy: the 64GB version will be GB£289, EU€399 and US$389, which frankly is a bargain. I’ll be ordering one as soon as I can, which brings us to the latter. As with the One, the 2 is going to be sold via invites but assuming you get an invite by hook or by crook, you’ll be able to order from 11 August with delivery around 3 weeks later.

OnePlus 2 Experience

To whet your appetite further, fans can visit one of nine pop up experience centres located around the world on 31 July to sign up for an invite and be one of the first in the world to see the OnePlus 2. Get in line.

 

Busy Week in Mobile Phones

It’s going to be a busy week in the mobile phone space with both OnePlus and Motorola expected to announce new Android models. OnePlus hasn’t exactly been quiet in the run up to the event and Motorola’s suffered a few leaks in the process. Either way, it’s going to be fun to see what’s on offer before Google and Apple produce their annual refreshes later in the year. Nokia might be re-entering the smartphone market too but their latest announcement is shrouded in mystery.

ThOnePlus Logoe OnePlus 2 will follow on from the successful One, though with OnePlus stoking the rumour mill, it’s still hard to know fact from fiction. What has been confirmed is that it will have a fingerprint reader, 4GB RAM, a Snapdragon 810 processor, USB C connector and cost less than US$450. Some suggest that there might be more than one version of the 2 inbound, but if there is OnePlus haven’t mentioned so far.

Motorola M LogoOn the Motorola side, the teases us with “Your relationship is about to change” signed, “XGX Moto”. I think we can expect new Moto X and Moto G models and as Motorola tends to go with evolution rather than revolution, they’ll probably be much like last year’s, only better. Some have suggested that the two Xs might mean two models, but I think it’s just supposed to be “XOX” for hugs and kisses.

Nokia LogoFinally, Nokia might be re-entering the mobile phone space. There’s a VIP press conference in Los Angeles but no-one knows for sure whether it’s a mobile phone, tablet or a virtual reality headset. The invites featured “Nowhere” and “Now here” which led to much speculation with nothing concrete to go on. We’ll just have to see.

The OnePlus 2 announcement is at 7 pm PT on 27 July which is a very early 3 am UK time. Motorola have a far more reasonable 9 am ET on 28 July which equates to 2 pm here in the UK. Keep ’em peeled.

 

The 80’s are Back with the Commodore Branded Smartphone

Commodore LogoNot long ago, I covered the somewhat troubling story of a school system that’s using a vintage Commodore Amiga computer to run its HVAC system. And in the summer of 2015, I figured that’d be the end to any Commodore-related news for now. That’s why I was surprised to discover that there will soon be a new smartphone branded with the Commodore logo.

It’s worth noting that this new device has no direct ties to the Commodore computer company we all remember from twenty (or more) years ago. This “new” Commodore is headed by a group that managed to secure the Commodore trademark in the UK. And most importantly, along with that trademark, they’re able to use the classic Commodore logo. Hence, the world’s first-ever Commodore smartphone.

The new PET phone will run the Android operating system and it’ll feature a 5.5-inch IPS 1920×1080 pixel resolution display made of Gorilla Glass 3 along with a 1.7 GHz Mediatek 64-bit octa-core processor with ARM Mali T760 GPU, 16 GB RAM, a 3000 mAh battery and a 3-megapixel camera using a Sony sensor with a bright f/2.0 aperture, creating images up to 4096×2304 pixels, and videos up to 1080p HD.

While the phone itself is packed with modern hardware and software, it can still serve up some real feelings of nostalgia. The Commodore PET will ship with customized versions of the VICE C64 emulator and the Uae4All2-SDL Amiga emulator, allowing users to play all of those classic Commodore games right there on the phone.

The Commodore PET smartphone is expected to retail for around $300. It will be released first in Europe with other territories (including the U.S.) to come later.

Ingress comes to Android Wear

Ingress LogoI started playing Ingress earlier this year. I’m still pretty new to the game and I can’t say I’ve made an awful lot of progress. Ingress is an augmented reality game where players choose factions and then battle for control of portals that exist in the real world. Once a new portal becomes available, players from the two factions (either Enlightened or Resistance) can hack the portal and try to ultimately take control of it. As factions continue to claim more portals, they can then link those portals to eventually take control of larger areas.

Traditionally, Ingress could only be played using either Android or iOS apps running on smartphones or tablets. But now, Ingress is available on Android Wear devices. Now it’ll be easier than ever for players to locate portals and interact with them, as the Ingress interface will be readily available on devices like wristwatches, sparing the need to remove a pocketed phone or having to pull a tablet out of a backpack or bag.

The Android Wear version of Ingress is available for download thru the Google Play Store. So get out there and get to hacking those portals! No matter which faction you’re on, Ingress can be a lot of fun and it’s a good way to get some exercise, too.

The Future of Mobile Computing

Mobile devices, specifically large screen smartphones, have made significant inroads into the computing spaces traditionally held by full-sized desktop and laptop computers. This incursion can best be measured by personal usage shifts.

In my own case, I find myself making much less use of my laptop and desktop machines, with my large screen smartphone making up the majority of my usage. At this point, if it were possible I would shift all of my computing usage to my smartphone, but unfortunately I find that the lack of quality software, and not the hardware, is preventing me from making the full shift.

The high end smartphone hardware of today compares quite favorably to traditional desktop and laptop hardware. If I could only run desktop class software applications on my smartphone, I could pretty ditch my traditional machines to an even greater degree than I already have.

The large screen high end smartphone hardware is closer than ever to hitting a peak, where performance improvements are incremental. From my point of view, the only way my phone could be made even more useful would be the addition of genuine desktop class software applications that would allow me to do real work and truly take advantage of the heavy duty hardware that is built in to a very compact package.

The software we’ve had to this point is at best dumbed-down and lacks capability. Apps such as Garage Band and iMovie on iOS and most of their counterparts on Andriod in the Google Play Store are toy apps aimed at seemingly air headed casual users. For example, where is the ability to import from and export to wider varieties of audio and video file types?

I want a real video editor that would allow me to attach my phone to a large screen monitor, keyboard and mouse and do intense video editing. Ditto with a real sound editor that would run on my phone that would be similar to the depth of an application such as Adobe Audition.

Who will develop these more capable smartphone applications? That remains to be seen. At this point the only real differentiators for hardware platforms lies in better software applications.

I personally am willing to pay for desktop class applications that will run on mobile computing platforms. Unfortunately so far they don’t seem to exist.

Motorola UK Summer Sale

Moto Nexus 6Motorola M LogoMotorola are having a fortnight-long summer sale on the Moto X and Nexus 6 smartphones in the UK.

There’s £166 off the Moto X 16GB and 32GB handsets, with prices starting from £229 and £269 respectively, and £80 off  Nexus 6 handsets in Midnight Blue or Cloud White, with prices starting from £399 and £469 for the 32GB and 64GB versions. There’s free postage too.

Certainly that’s the biggest discount I’ve seen on the Moto X in the UK so if you want a new phone for the summer, now’s the time to get it. Don’t forget you can customise the phone so it’s just how you want it. I really liked the Moto X when I reviewed it, but never got my hands on the Nexus 6. Details of the special offers are at Motorola.

Offer runs until midnight on 30 June or while stocks last.

OnePlus One Flash Sales

OnePlus LogoIf you’ve been thinking about picking up a new high-end smartphone, then you might want to take a look at the flash sales this week for the OnePlus One. For one week only, sales will start at 02:00 and 12:00 GMT on alternate days, offering the One at US$249 or GB£179 for the 16 GB version. The 64 GB model is $299 / £219. This is great value for a smartphone with a 5.5″ full HD screen driven by 2.5 GHz quad core CPU.

OnePlus OneThe OnePlus One is my current smartphone which I purchased myself to replace my Nexus 4. I love it – it’s fast with a great screen, loads of storage (as I have the 64 GB version) and excellent battery life. Here’s the full flash sale schedule.

June 1 – 12:00 GMT (8 am EST)
June 2 – 2:00 GMT (10 pm EST -1 day)
June 3 – 12:00 GMT (8 am EST)
June 4 – 2:00 GMT (10 pm EST -1 day)
June 5 – 12:00 GMT (8 am EST)
June 6 – 2:00 GMT (10 pm EST -1 day)
June 7 – 12:00 GMT (8 am EST)