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Tag: Android

Archos Helium 4G Smartphones at CES

Posted by Andrew at 5:39 PM on January 2, 2014

Archos Helium SmartphoneArchos today entered the 4G and LTE smartphone market with the announcement of its new Helium range of sub-$250 smartphones. French company Archos has a long history with Android tablets and smartphones and the Helium 45 and 50 join the Platinum, Titanium and Oxygen lines. The new phones will run Android 4.3 Jelly Bean out the box with an expected upgrade to 4.4 KitKat. Both phones will have full access to the Google Play store.

Spec-wise, both phones are powered by a 1.4 GHz quad core Qualcomm Cortex A7 processor with 1 GB of RAM. The 45 has a smaller IPS screen at 4.5″ (854 x 480) and only 4GB of internal storage, with the bigger Helium 50 sporting a 5″ 1280 x 720 HD screen and  8 GB. Usefully, there’s a micro SD slot to expand the storage if needed. Other features are as expected in this price range – rear-facing cameras are 5 MP and 8 MP with VGA and 2 MP front-facing cameras on the 45 and 50 respectively. The VGA-spec is a little disappointing.

In terms of 4G and LTE, the radios support 800 / 1800 / 2100 / 2600 MHz frequencies with LTE cat 4 150 Mbps / 50 Mbps.

The smartphone has revolutionized the way consumers access information, giving them the ability to instantly view, connect and share ideas regardless of location and time,” says Loïc Poirier, CEO of Archos. “The Archos Helium 4G smartphones will once again change consumers’ mindsets by making the best possible technology affordable.

Overall, the Helium 45 and 50 look like good value entrants into the 4G smartphone market priced at a penny under $250 and $200. If you are interested in knowing more, visit Archos’ complete selection of smartphones, tablets and connected devices on display at CES 2014 in Central Hall Booth 9844.

Google Play makes its favorite songs of 2013 free today

Posted by Alan at 7:57 AM on January 1, 2014

google play twitter accountBefore going any further, I want to wish all of the GNC readers a happy New Year! To celebrate, many services are holding sales and even offering free options on this first day of 2014.

If you are an Android user, or simply a customer of Google Music, then you’ll want to head into the Play store today. The search giant has, not only unveiled its favorite 20 songs of the year that has passed, but is willing to give them away. Every single tune on the list is completely free today.

Songs include tracks CHVRCHES, Kanye West, Arcade Fire Bob Marley (not exactly new this past year) and many others. Aside from the music, the company also offers a few deals of apps and other items, but you’ll need to take advantage of the deals today, so don’t hesitate.

Philips Hue Chrome App

Posted by Andrew at 7:00 AM on December 29, 2013

Hue Personal Wireless LightingWhile researching the Philips Hue Android apps, I discovered that currently there is a single Hue app for Chrome. It’s called Hueful and while it’s fairly basic, it deserves a mention as (a) it’s the only app on Chrome but (b) it shows that Chrome can support this kind of hardware-oriented app. Previously I would have discounted Chrome from being an option but Hueful works fine on my Chromebook.

Hueful isn’t a very advanced Hue app, being limited to setting colours of selected lamps and colour cycling. Sometimes lamps need to be told twice to take on a setting but they usually get there in the end.

Hueful

 

Hueful is free from the Chrome store.

Philips Hue Android Apps

Posted by Andrew at 6:14 PM on December 28, 2013

Hue Personal Wireless LightingLast week, I had a first look at the Hue “Personal Wireless Lighting” kit from Philips. As I mentioned in the review, Philips has opened up the lighting system to developers via an API and this week, I’ll take a look at some of the apps available, both from 3rd party developers. As you’d expect, they run the gamut from “could do with more work” all the way through to “brilliant” but broadly fall into two categories, firstly those that are primarily concerned with setting the colour of the lights, and secondly those that do more interesting things. This review covers the apps that are currently available from Google Play and there are many similar apps available for iOS.

Hue Limited Edition, Colorful, Light Control, Speedy Hue and LampShade are all variants on the “set the colour of the lights”. All offer grouping of lamps into sets and the saving of colour combinations into favourites or presets. Here are a few screenshots, showing the main screens from each. As you’ll see, they pretty much do the same thing in different ways.

Hue Limited Edition

Hue Limited Edition

Colorful

Colorful

Speedy Hue

Speedy Hue

LampShade

LampShade

Light Control

Light Control

All worked as advertised, but I found that in this instance, less was often more. If I wanted to run an app with favourites or presets, I tended to use the Philips Hue app to set all the lights at once. However to quickly set the colour of a single light, I used Hue Limited Edition, rather than anything else. Light Control came a close second and Speedy Hue gets an honourable mention for the inclusion of a scheduler which will turn the lights on and off at specified times.

Speaking of alarms, Hue Alarm Clock takes waking up to the next level. Instead of an incessant beeping, Alarm Clock gently fades in a colour of your choice to wake you from your slumber. The screenshot is from the limited free version, not the paid version which has more options.

Hue Alarm Clock

There are two apps which purport to support voice recognition, and like “Star Trek”, you too can walk into a room and say, “Lights!” and the illumination comes up. Hue Talk takes an almost canned approach to the voice recognition with the user able to predefine the voice commands for  around 20 features, from turning all the lights on, turning the lights up and down, and changing the colour. The suggested voice commands are memorable phrases, such as “Yellow Submarine” and “Purple Rain” turning the lights the respective colours. You can change the commands to whatever you prefer so there’s no real intelligence here but it works well.

Hue Talk

On the other hand, SpeechHue, looks like it supports natural language but I could never get the app to work in the way that I imagined it should work. Some of the comments in the Google Play store say that it’s good once you work it out. Sorry, if I need to work out how the app works, it’s failed. Zero stars.

SpeechHue

LampShade and Colorful (after paid upgrades) work with NFC to set the lights. In theory, each room could have an NFC tag (or tags) such that when the tag is swiped by the smartphone, the app sets the lights just for that room or mood. It’s a neat idea but I wasn’t able to test the NFC features as I don’t have any NFC tags. I’ve ordered so I may report back later.

I’ve been saving the best until last and we come to apps from IJS Design who make the best Hue apps on Android bar none. Currently, there are four IJS apps, of which three – Christmas, Halloween and Fireworks – link holidays into Hue. So for the Christmas app, which includes New Year too, you get sound effects linked into Hue colour changes and effects. Think of it as a soundboard with lights. The apps also have moods which are longer music pieces with light effects and are more atmospheric, which are especially good when the sound is passed through a hifi.

Hue Christmas

Huey New Year

And finally, IJS Design’s Hue Disco is the single best Hue app on the market (IMHO). Simply, you play music on your hifi, place your smartphone or tablet nearby and Hue Disco changes the colour of the Hue lights in time to the track. There’s loads of adjustment possible, including microphone sensitivity, transition speed, brightness, colour temperature and strobe effects. For something more subtle, there’s Mood Control which cycles the lights on themed colours, such as sunrise or Christmas. All-in-all, totally brilliant and money well spent.

Hue Disco

A screenshot can’t show what it’s like in action, so here’s a video showing Hue Disco in action. You really can have a disco in your front room and it’s fantastic when paired with a music service like Spotify. I’ve been playing Christmas tracks non-stop.

That summarises the state of the Android Hue app space which appears to be growing healthily and similar apps are available for Apple devices. For me, the keeper apps are Hue Limited Edition and Hue Disco with Hue Talk close behind needing a bit of polishing. Have fun.

Philips Hue Personal Wireless Lighting Review

Posted by Andrew at 12:51 AM on December 16, 2013

Kevin Ashton coined the phrase “The Internet of Things” back in 1999, but a decade later most of the on-line gadgets in my house are still recognisable as being technology. My fridge is still a fridge, my front door still needs a key and my house doesn’t talk to me.

That was the situation until a couple of weeks when I received a Philips Hue “Personal Wireless Lighting” kit which lets me control the colour of light bulbs from my smartphone, both in the house and from outside across the internet. That’s the Internet of Things.

I can imagine that a number of GNC readers are going, “Huh? Why would I want to control the colour of my lightbulbs from my smartphone?” Until you see in action, you can’t believe how much fun and how cool it really is. Not only can you turn your house lights on as you drive up the road, you can co-ordinate the lighting with your mood or your decor. Want a Christmassy green and red? Not a problem. We’ll see exactly how it works a little later on.

So let’s take a quick look at what’s in the box of Philips Hue in more detail.

Philips Hue Box Exterior

Opening it up reveals two of the three main components, the wireless bridge and the bulbs themselves.

Philips Vue Interior

The bridge connects to your network via an ethernet cable and communicates with the light bulbs using Zigbee.

Hue Bridge

The bulbs are standard ES bulbs and there are GU10 and GR30 (SES) variants available as well. There doesn’t seem to be any bayonet cap versions (BC) so if you only have BC light fittings you might have to get some converters.

Hue Light Bulb

Setting up the system is very easy. Screw the bulbs into the lights. Connect the Hue bridge to the network with the ethernet cable and plug in the power adaptor. Load the Hue app onto your Android or iOS smartphone or tablet. Job done. It’s that straightforward. The first time the app runs, it looks for the Hue bridge on the network and once it’s found, you authorise the app to access Hue by pressing the button in the middle of the bridge. It’s a layer of security that stops unauthorised people or apps from accessing the Hue.

The Hue app lets you control all the lights connected to your bridge mainly via “scenes” which act as presets for each light’s colour settings. Here’s the main screen. Each mini photograph is a preset for a number of lights and it can be just one or all three.

Main Screen

Typically the settings are based on colours picked out from the picture associated with the scene. The screenshot below shows that lamp 1 will be orange and lamp 2 will be magenta.

Colour Scenes

It’s all a bit abstract until you see it in action, so here’s a short video of my controlling one lamp using a series of the scenes to run through some colour changes. It was filmed with my smartphone, so don’t expect too much! Remember too, that this is just one light  and try to imagine all three lights working together to colour a single room.

Philips have opened up Hue to developers and are steadily building an ecosystem around both their products and other apps developed by third parties. If you are already have a Philips TV with Ambilight, Hue can further enhance the experience with additional colour lighting. Light strips and Philip’s Living Colors Bloom can take the lighting effects beyond lights and lamps.

There’s a solid community behind Hue with people contributing their own scenes and I’ll be taking a look at some of the 3rd party apps in a follow up post next week, along with a further look at the main Hue app.

Philips Hue is available from the Apple Store and the starter kit used here costs a little under £180, which isn’t cheap, but compared with the costs of some of the custom solutions in this space, it’s a bargain. Note that although it’s sold through the Apple Store, it works with both iOS and Android devices.

Finally, Philips are running a Facebook competition to come up with inspirational ways of using Hue, if you want to win some Hue goodies.

Thanks to Philips for the loan of the Hue starter kit.

BeyondPod gets a major update, comes to Chromecast

Posted by Alan at 7:26 AM on December 13, 2013

Earlier this week we learned of a major update to Chromecast, bringing support for ten new apps to the little Google HDMI stick. Now those updates are trickling out to the included services, with support hitting Android podcast app BeyondPod today. This update may feature Chromecast support, but there is more than just that included.

Users will also receive better support for devices running Android 4.4 (KitKat),  an easier way to play the audio portion of video feeds — just use Menu > More > Play Videos as Audio, support for Portuguese and Brazilian translations, improved episode handling and numerous bug fixes.

beyondpod-menu

BeyondPod is free from the Google Play store, though there is a premium version, as well. There is also a separate app that is designed to support 7 and 10 inch tablets. Now you can ‘cast’ the GeekNewsCentral podcast right to your TV, as well as taking it with you on your travels.

Third of Desktops Still On Windows XP

Posted by Andrew at 11:09 AM on December 2, 2013

Microsoft Windows LogoThe team at Net Market Share have released their statistics for November and shockingly, over 30% of desktop Internet users are still using Windows XP. The 12-year old OS will lose all support from Microsoft in four month’s time, after which XP machines will not receive any further security updates and will become vulnerable to newly discovered exploits. XP’s market share is dropping, albeit slowly, with about 8% loss in the last year, but it’s clear that there is still going to be a large XP presence on the Internet come April 2014.

Windows 7 desktops make up the bulk of browsers with over 46% and the total for Windows 8.x clocks in at a little under 10%. Windows 8.1 only accounted for 2.6% which isn’t entirely unsurprising given that it was only released in mid-October. Here’s the top 5 desktop OS, courtesy of Net Market Share.

  1. Windows 7: 46.64%
  2. Windows XP: 31.22%
  3. Windows 8: 6.66%
  4. Windows Vista: 3.57%
  5. Windows 8.1: 2.64%

On the tablet and smartphone front, iOS and Android are pretty much the only shows in town, with 55% and 34% respectively. All the other OSes scored less then 5%, with Symbian still showing 3%. Windows Phone is at 0.67% but it is up from 0.50% in October. Blackberry continues to fall, down to 1.65% from 2.55% the previous month.

Here’s the top 5 mobile OS.

  1. iOS: 55.17%
  2. Android: 33.89%
  3. Java ME: 4.49%
  4. Symbian: 3.12%
  5. BlackBerry: 1.65%

If I read the accompanying information, these figures are gathered from approx 160 million visitors per month from Net Market Share’s network of clients and customers so it should be a fair reflection of the real world. There’s more detail here.

Is Cyber Monday also Nexus 10 Day?

Posted by Alan at 1:54 AM on December 2, 2013

Android LogoRumors of a new Nexus 10 tablet began way back in June when Google released the new seven-inch version of the tablet. Subsequently, the current ten-inch model went out of stock in October, never to return and adding momentum to the rumor mill. We thought it may come with the Nexus 5, then there were stories of a November 22nd release date.

The latest word is a Cyber Monday announcement, though admittedly this doesn’t seem to have much traction. It was reported by Phone Arena and failed to generate any real attention. “Unfortunately, there is nothing concrete about this rumor, and it still leaves a couple big questions hanging over the new tablet, like what the specs may be”, the report reads. Yes, that doesn’t sound very credible.

But then, curiously, Android Central, which does get good information had a rather interesting post from its editor later in the evening that began “I should really know better than to actually say ‘I think I’m done traveling for the year’ out loud. Because here I find myself, in Palo Alto, Calif., once again. In the same hotel, actually, that I stayed at for Google’s Honeycomb event back in 2011″. Nickinson went on to point out that he couldn’t yet say why he was there, but we’d find out in a few weeks.

This can obviously go several ways. One, it has nothing to do with the Nexus 10. Two, Google is showing off something under NDA and plans to release the new Nexus while it just happens to have the reporters all gathered. Or, three, it’s the Nexus 10, but it isn’t ready yet for release. Which do you think it is?

Plantronics Voyager Legend Bluetooth Headset Review

Posted by Andrew at 6:04 PM on November 30, 2013

I’ve been a user of Plantronics’ Bluetooth headsets for many years, starting with the Explorer 320 and more recently the Voyager Pro. I’ve always liked them because I found them a good fit on my ears but they’re trouble-free and easy-to-use with no problems pairing on a wide range of phones. More recently, I’ve taken receipt of a Voyager Legend and, so far, it’s living up to its name.

On review here is the full Voyager Legend UC package which comes with the headset itself, Bluetooth adaptor, desktop charging stand and charging case. This is the complete outfit for those in the office and on the go, aimed at those who use both mobile phones and IP-based communications, such as Microsoft’s Lync or Skype. This is the Microsoft version with an alternative version supporting Avaya, Cisco and IBM services. The Legend can manage two Bluetooth connections simultaneously so calls coming in from both routes can be answered on the headset and speaking from experience, this is very handy.

Plantronics Legend Box

The Voyager Legend UC comes in a plain box but opening it up reveals a wealth of accessories and adaptors, including UK and continental plug adaptors plus various USB connectors and chargers.

Plantronics Legend Inside Box

Here’s the charging case with the USB Bluetooth adaptor and the Voyager Legend itself. The Bluetooth adaptor is half the size of the previous generation that came with the Voyager Pro.

Plantronics Legend Charging Case

As might be guessed from the name, this is a charging case and the case has a built-in rechargeable battery which charges the Legend when it is in the case. In the photo below, you can see the contacts in the case on the right. It’s a clever idea, especially when on extended travel as you don’t need to lug around chargers – the case itself recharges via a micro-USB connection.

Charging Contacts

Of course, the desktop dock provides a convenient place to keep the Legend and charge it at the same time. There’s a magnetic catch to snap the headset in place.

Plantronics Legend Headset and Dock

Plantronics Legend in Dock

In use I find the Legend very comfortable to wear and I almost use it almost exclusively to answer my calls at my desk, whether the call comes through on my mobile or my desk phone. The headset is stylish enough to wear without feeling self-conscious, though I tend to take it off when I’m away from my desk. The Legend has three earpiece sizes in the box to accommodate different ears and can be worn on either the left or the right ear.

The Legend has some great features, such as auto answer, which detects when the headset is lifted from the dock and answers the call automatically. The Legend accepts voice commands, letting you put the headset into pairing mode, answer or decline calls and check battery level with ease. There are hardware controls on the headset for on/off, volume up/down, accept call and a multi-function button which does a couple of different things.

The talk time is rated at 7 hours and I never had any trouble with the battery running down unexpectedly. The charging case extends this even further with two full recharges from the case taking the total call time to 21 hours. Call quality is excellent, with callers sounding clear and natural, and most people don’t realise that I’m on a Bluetooth headset. The Legend also supports A2DP, which is handy if you want to listen to music or podcasts, albeit with one ear.

Plantronics have an Android smartphone app which, amongst other things, can help you track down where you last used the headset via GPS. It’s a neat idea but I found the app didn’t always play nicely with other GPS-using apps as the Plantronics app would turn off the GPS after getting a lock. The other app would than flail around looking for a signal lock. I submitted a bug report to Plantronics so hopefully they’ll get that fixed soon as it’s very irritating when playing Ingress.

There’s no two ways about it, the Plantronics Voyager Legend UC is a brilliant headset which I’m sure will do me for years – it has both the features and the construction to last. It’s definitely a premium product and it doesn’t come cheap: the RRP is over £150 but you can find it online for less than £100 including the carry case. However, it’s worth it if you want to to use a hands-free headset on an extended basis both at the desk and on the go.

The Voyager Legend UC was provided by Plantronics for review.

Get the KitKat experience with KK Launcher

Posted by Alan at 4:30 AM on November 25, 2013

It’s been almost a month since Google unleashed the Nexus 5, featuring Android 4.4 KitKat. Since then, customers have scrambled to find ways of getting the mobile OS, or at least the experience of it, onto their current phones. As Geek News Central explained previously, all of the APK files can be downloaded and installed, though there a few tricks to getting Google Experience Launcher working. If you are feeling geeky, you can also unlock and root your phone, then install the ROM.

Now a new launcher from the folks at XDA Developers can bring the experience with a simple Launcher app. “KK Launcher offers a variety of customization options like setting up desktop text size, hiding the search bar, and modifying icon scale. The functionality can be expanded because this launcher supports icon themes designed for other launchers such as Apex, Go, Nova, and ADW”.

You can download the new launcher free from the Google Play store. The performance is pretty amazing. Scrolling is smooth, and transitions are handled quickly.

kk launcher