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Michael James Williams

Michael is a writer, editor, and web developer. He is the editor for Android.AppStorm and Activetuts+, and writes AS3 game development tutorials on his blog. You can find him on Twitter, too: @MichaelJW.

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Today, Amazon is holding a press conference. We’re not entirely sure what’s going to be announced, but rumour has it that the company is planning on showing off at least one new Kindle Fire tablet, possibly two (7-inch and 10-inch), and maybe even an Android-powered “Kindle phone”. (We may also see a new e-ink Kindle, but presumably that wouldn’t be running Android.)

Okay, the phone doesn’t seem too likely, but now that Google has released the Nexus 7 it’d be a smart move for Amazon to release an update to their budget Android tablet. As I said at the time, “the presenters made it very clear – without ever actually saying the word ‘Amazon’ – that the Nexus 7 is going after the Kindle Fire market. They spent a long time talking about the Google Play Store, emphasising that it sells movies, books, and songs, not just apps and games.”

Living in the UK, I’ve never even seen a Kindle Fire – they’re only sold in the USA – but I found it interesting to read the opinions of others. Many review sites criticized the device for having a poor build quality and confusing UI (compared to the iPad), but I noticed that many actual people said that they loved it, or that their non-techie friends and relatives (who didn’t want to shell out for an iPad) loved it.

I expect great things from a second Kindle Fire. Google and ASUS have proven that it’s possible to produce a high quality Android tablet at a budget price, and Amazon have proven that once they’ve shown a piece of hardware has a place in the market, they can make it truly great by iterating on it. The first generation e-ink Kindle was pretty ugly, but popular; the second was a great improvement; and the third nailed it. I have one myself. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a good buy.

It’s Humble Android Bundle time again! Set your own price for a selection of great indie games you can play on Windows, Mac, Linux, and (of course) Android.

I can never resist these bundles — usually I wait till the last minute, but this time I made it easier on myself and grabbed it the day it came out.

To help make your decision simpler, we’ve reviewed each of the nine games in the Bundle:

To make your decision even simpler: if you like games, go and buy the Bundle quickly – it’ll only be available for a few more hours!

I don’t know any Android enthusiasts who prefer HTC Sense, Samsung TouchWiz, or any other third-party UI over stock Android and Holo. Most people I know either buy Nexus, or root their device and install CyanogenMod. But then, I’m in an unusual position, surrounded as I am by Android tech writers — perhaps that’s not the case for everyone.

Still, I have to wonder why manufacturers continue to insist on using these skins. I know, I know, it helps with branding and to differentiate their Androids from all the other Androids – but with the dozens of devices out there, I’m surprised that the only top-of-the-line stock devices (hardware-wise) are in the Nexus line.

So this week’s question is a simple one: if a manufacturer did make a decent device running stock Android, without it being a Nexus device, would you consider buying it? Yes or no only — elaborate in the comments if you like.

One of the first apps I ever bought for my first Android phone was Gentle Alarm – an excellent alarm clock app that I still use today.

I love the pre-alarm that plays (quietly) half an hour before the real alarm goes off, in case I’m almost awake. I love the ability to pick different playlists for my main alarm and pre-alarm. I love the mental arithmetic puzzles it makes me solve before I can turn it off (I’m getting pretty fast now). I love that I can adjust the next day’s alarm time with a couple of taps, without it having a permanent effect.

But I know other people prize other features of their alarm clocks. Matthew Higgins likes his alarm to record and analyse his sleep patterns. Ruairi likes his alarm to have a beautiful design. And many just like their alarm to make a noise at a set time in the morning — nothing more.

What about you?

I’ve been using Google+’s Hangouts in my browser for a while, mainly to watch YouTube clips with a friend. Today, I finally attended one with my phone – and it was great! Excellent streaming and sound quality, both ways, with multiple people, over 3G. I was really impressed.

(Okay, there was one small niggle: I couldn’t get it to output the sound to my Bluetooth earphones. Apparently this is a rare bug that has been fixed for most people – lucky old me.)

The interface is integrated nicely with Android as well: when you get invited to a Hangout, the phone rings as if you’re getting a call, and you can see what you’ll look like to the other members (via your camera) before you accept.

Have you used your phone or tablet for a Hangout yet?

Those of you with a Nexus device (or one of the few other phones and tablets with an official Jelly Bean update or unofficial ROM) have surely already tried out Google Now. What do you think of it?

I hate to say it, but I’m a little disappointed — it doesn’t feel ready yet. I was really interested to read Joe’s recent post outlining Google Now, as his experiences don’t match mine.

Part of the issue is that I’m in the UK. I had to fiddle around with the locality settings to switch from the old robot to the new voice in the first place, which was not a good start. And although Google Now understands my asking “When are the Cubs playing?”, showing me a card of the latest scores and giving me updates periodically from then on, it has no idea what I mean by “When is Manchester United playing?”, simply showing me a standard Google search result.

Okay, so it’s not international yet. That’s irritating, but understandable. Unfortunately, other little irritations exist, and they do add up. For instance, setting a reminder is useful, and I find myself doing it a lot: “In 15 minutes, remind me to take the vegetables out of the oven” successfully sets an alarm for fifteen minutes in the future, prompting me to “take the vegetables out of the oven.” Great! But these gradually fill up my stock Alarms list, so that it’s now full of odd times — and there’s no way to select several and delete them all. Plus, a request like “On Tuesday, remind me to do the recycling” brings up an error message, rather than setting an alarm, a calendar appointment, or a Google Task.

There are inconsistencies, too. Most voice actions are given as though talking to a person: “Remind me to X”, “What’s the weather like?”, “Navigate to X”. But “Play music” just loads the Google search results for [play music] (of which the first result is the Play Store listing for, yep, Play Music). To make the phone play music, I have to say, “Listen to music”. And even then it just loads a playlist of songs whose title contains the word “music”!

I could go on, but I won’t. I really like the idea of Google Now; I like the presentation, I like the concept – but it’s not ready yet. In time (and especially when other app developers build on top of it) I think it will be great. But for now, it’s just a novelty that’s more annoying that useful. Do you agree?

Twitter is awesome. Google+ is great for photographs and deep discussions from geeks of all kinds – and it has a fantastic Android app – but Twitter is still the king when it comes to quick bites of info, breadth vs. depth, and commentary on what’s happening right now.

Here’s a collection of Android enthusiasts that I enjoy following on Twitter. I hope you find a few new tweeps to follow, and I hope you’ll share your favourites with me, too!

(more…)

Yesterday, Rita El Khoury wrote a great piece explaining why she thinks 7″ is a wise choice for Google’s flagship tablet — and why a 7″ tablet is a totally different product from a 10″ tablet. Based on my own tablet experiences, I’m inclined to agree.

It feels like there are now four distinct, common sizes for Android devices: the 3″-4″ phone, the 10″ tablet (including tablets with keyboard docks, like the Transformer range), the 7″ tablet (like the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire), and the 5″ phone-tablet hybrid (like the Galaxy Note). Each size has its own benefits and weaknesses.

Which do you prefer? Personally, the Nexus 7 feels about right; it’s small enough to carry around with me, but large enough to be worth using instead of my phone in some cases.

When I got my first Android phone, I went all-out on protecting it: I used a Case-Mate Barely There case, and a decent screen protector. For a short while, I even used a little pouch to carry it around in!

Today, I don’t bother with any of that. I stopped keeping any keys or spare change in the same pocket as my phone and the screen hasn’t got scratched yet. I also (fortunately) have not dropped it – at least, not hard enough to break anything.

I’m considering getting a cover for my Nexus 7, though, as I can see myself wanting to just stuff it in my bag. It’s rumoured that the tablet will support an iPad-style smart cover – although I’m not sure the evidence in the video that started the rumour is particularly compelling.

What about you? Vote in the poll to let us know what you use (you can select more than one option), and leave any horror stories where you wish you had been using a cover in the comments.

OUYA is a new Kickstarter project, and a popular one: it just broke the record for the fastest project to raise over a million dollars, and at the time of writing it’s close to raising $4,000,000.

The product they’re pitching is a $99 Android-powered console which you can plug in to your TV and control with a gamepad. They argue that, as good as PC and mobile gaming can be, the TV is where most people’s best gaming memories are formed, and that console games need to be cheaper to make and cheaper to buy.

It’s an idea that’s clearly resonated with a lot of people – but not everyone. Some argue that this is unnecessary, as an Android tablet can already be plugged into a TV and controlled with a gamepad. Some suspect that this will bring us little in the way of innovation, but lots in the way of big-screen Angry Birds and Farmville clones.

Personally, I don’t think I’ll buy one – I already have a gaming PC – but it’s piqued my interest. What about you?

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