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Android One - smartphones for consumers in emerging markets

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For many, information and education are unobtainable. However, the internet has provided 'knowledge' to those who need it since its birth. It does not matter who you are - of you have an internet connection you can find out anything you want.

Android's new Android One initiative aims to help people in under-developed countries not only access the internet, but use it to its full potential.

At Mobile World Congress this year, Facebook's Mark Zuckerburg claimed most of the cost of accessing the internet is acquiring a data plan as opposed to an internet enabled device, and people are discouraged as they don't see the need for internet access.

But on the Android official blog, Android names hardware, software and connectivity are the main barriers to access. It aims to combat these by offering the Android One range - a set of smartphones with features such as expandable storage and dual SIM capabilities.

To ensure these devices suit the needs of the emerging markets, they will be made of affordable components from hardware partners Micromax, Karbonn, Spice and MediaTek, and gain regular Android updates from Google. To lower the price of data, those already using an Airtel SIM can download software updates from free in the first 6 months of phone ownership, as well as 200MB worth of Google Play apps.

Indian retailers are already selling the devices at a starting price of 6,399 rupees, and phone manufacturers such as ASUS, HTC and Lenovo have jumped on board.

Android aims to expand the programme into Indonesia, the Philippines and South Asia (Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka) by the end of 2014. 

FIRST LOOK: Motorola's Moto 360 smartwatch

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With Apple's big announcement approaching, there has been much speculation about whether the technology giant will be releasing its own smartwatch.

In the meantime, other innovators are speeding ahead with their version of the latest wearable trend, and Motorola is no exception.

The telecoms company, which was recently bought from Google by Chinese tech firm Lenovo, announced several new products last week, including its flagship Moto G and Moto X smartphone devices and of course, the Moto 360 smartwatch.

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I had a chance to try out the gadget, and apart from the fact it was a little big, I have no complaints. The watch face is touchscreen, and responds to similar swiping commands to smartphone - up for unlocking, left and right for opening and dismissing.

The watch has a choice of several available watch-faces to mirror your mood and is powered by Google. This means the device is Google Now enabled, so you can ask it anything you want, from when historical events took place, to reminding you to pick up some flowers for your parrot.  

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With a built in heart-rate monitor and pedometer for step counting, it also appeals to the health-conscious among us.

Although the device is quite chunky, the large face does make it more usable and easy to read. It comes in two models, with a starting price of £199 and is usable with Android operating systems 4.3 and up.

Specs at a glance:

Moto 306

  • OS: Android Wear
  • Dimensions: 46mm diameter by 11mm high, 49g
  • Battery: Full day use
  • Processor: TI OMAP™ 3
  • Memory: 4GB, 512MB RAM

 

The Moto 360 will be available from October this year, from O2, Tesco, Amazon and John Lewis. Check back to the Inspect-a-gadget soon for a full review.

Google launches new Nexus 5 smartphone with Android KitKat OS

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Google has revealed its new LG-made Nexus 5 smartphone, a lighter, thinner version of the previous Nexus 4. Despite the change in size, the touchscreen itself is actually bigger, and the device runs the new version of the Android operating system, 4.4 KitKat.

The new KitKat OS promises more Google features, including voice searching and the new Hangouts App which allows all of your messages to gather in the same place for easy access. Just say "OK Google" and you can send a text, Google search, play a song, or pretty much do anything you want.

The new Android OS also aims to use less memory on your phone to ensure that more smartphone users with lower-end Android devices can take part.

The handset is sleek and slim, and includes a 5-inch full HD display. It also claims to be the fastest Nexus yet, including 4G/LTE Wi-Fi and enhanced camera lens all for a starting price of £299.

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Image: LG

The Nexus 5 is already available in certain countries on Google Play, and soon it will be available from chosen retailers. Android KitKat comes with the new smartphone, and will soon be available for previous Nexus models and other smartphone devices.

Check back to Inspect-a-gadget at a later date for a hands-on review of the Nexus 5.




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Moto X - could self-design become the new smartphone trendsetter?

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Motorola invented the very first mobile phone in 1973 - these guys have been around the block a few times, so Google's $12.5bn acquisition of the company last year may not have been the most craziest of decisions.

While us techies are crying out for innovation from the smartphone giants - begging for payments, near-field communication, SLR-quality cameras and the next "biggest thing", Google has analysed what a mobile device means to a person today. 

Especially the millennials, who are growing up with a smartphone attached to their hands 24/7, the Facebook, SMS and Twitter notifications bleeping out around the clock. These devices are personal.

Smartphones are a fundamental part of their lives.

And it's not just the teenagers, most adults would be completely lost without their phones - just remember how you struggled to find your way around a city the last time your battery went flat.

Technology is at the core of everything we do.

And while Apple and Samsung have been the trendsetters in this space placing their white and black rectangles into the palms of Westerners everywhere, perhaps it's time for the consumer to choose what their phone looks like today?

The Moto X is the design for everybody: "I'd love this device to be the equivalent of the person who walks into the party, and it's not the intimidating person in the corner or the performer, but the one is who is comfortable there," said Jim Wicks, head of design at Motorola.

While only available in the US this summer, the Moto X will offer 2,000 variations to the device in terms of colours, covers, and engravings. And this I think could just be the beginning for design and the smartphone.

The cost of 3D printing has dramatically fallen in the past year, with models predicted to be in the average person's home in the not-so-distant future. We will soon be designing our products and printing spare parts to our machines in our living rooms.

But this will change our attitude to design and manufacturing, creating two issues:

  • If we can design spare parts will we keep our technology for longer by being able to personalise it and fix it when it breaks?
  • Or will it become even more disposable because we can just cobble together a new one at home?


With people becoming more aware about what 3D printing could mean for the industry, it has given way for self-design businesses like Makie Dolls to spring up. Makie Dolls are transforming digital production. The dolls are produced by the customer digitally and the digital model is then manufactured by a 3D printer to the required specifications which can vary to include, hair colour, eye shape, and clothes.

So if the self-design trend is about to kick off, maybe Google has just got their timing right on the launch of this phone.

Or will we continue to become mindless sheep following the crowd forever more?

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HANDS ON: Facebook Graph Search

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Facebook launched its new social search function, called Graph Search, last night, and I have been lucky enough to try out the additions which the company have said are still in beta test mode.

The social network, which boasts one billion members, 240 billion photos and one trillion connections, will enable users to "naturally" search through people, photos, interests and places.

Graph Search will enable users to filter content on Facebook to find out particular things, such as which nearby restaurants their friends have liked or which friends like a certain movie, or to search for photos including selected people.

Facebook will then order answers depending on the number of "likes" or the level of a user's interaction with their chosen person, place or photograph, placing more familiar links at the top of the search results.

Dressed in his statement black zipped-up sweater (for the love of God, you're a millionaire, shell out for a checked shirt at least? No? OK), Zuckerberg stated that while Graph Search is not a web search, like Google, Facebook has partnered with Microsoft's search engine, Bing, to enable users to search the internet when Facebook fails to find an answer.

When I used Graph Search for the first time last night, Facebook provided me with a two minute tour which showed you how to type questions into the search bar. It seemed to personalise the tutorial for me, using "Cardiff University" as an example search term.

However, that's where the personalisation ingenuity stopped, for me at least.

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During the press conference Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, and his cronies were describing different types of searches and how they had enabled Graph Search to recognise natural language. They suggested 'photos I have liked' as a search term to gather all the images you have positively engaged with.

Trying out Graph Search for the first time at about 11pm last night, I forgot the "correct" terminology and typed in 'my favourite photos'. Facebook decided to autocorrect my sentence to 'my favourite girl photos' and presented this page of rather nude women, which may I add, I haven't 'liked'.

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I found another couple of faults, which can only be expected in a beta test version - It seems that my best friend who lives in Bangor, North Wales, lives in Cardiff, because any Cardiff filters I put in she pops straight up.

I can see this going down particularly well with users who wish to check out single men and women. Just type in 'single friends of friends who live in London' and friends of friends who have publicly shared their relationship status will appear as the results. Maybe if everyone everyone knows is taken, Bing will direct you to Match.com?

While the tech industry generally seems underwhelmed with the added functionality, it will be interesting to see how small businesses may be able to explore their customers' likes and dislikes and target advertising at them. For instance if a user has liked a bar, it will be interesting to see if the bar can then go ahead and filter, finding that user to like a particular cocktail or cuisine, then pointing out special offers to them which will in theory be more attractive to the customer.

Zuckerberg kept a quite tight-lipped on using Graph Search for business, avoiding questions, but answering in regards to existing sponsored advertisements on Facebook:

"You build good businesses over time, by people wanting to use something," said Zuckerberg. "Sponsored ads extend quite nicely to Graph Search, but there is nothing new for this."

I predict that Facebook users will not mind the inclusion of Graph Search in general. It's not a redesign of the site, which is when users usually get up in arms about scandalous changes to their ever-so-familiar pages... for about two days. 

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The search bar will feature at the top of Facebook on the blue bar, with the home button moved over to the right. Facebook users do like complaining though, so they might kick up a bit of a fuss, until they realise the power of the Graph Search functionality to increase stalking by 600%.

Still in beta, Graph Search will be rolled out to a "very small audience" from 16 January. The company will collect feedback from users before rolling out to a wider audience. Graph Search will also go through tests before being available on mobile devices.

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On the seventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me... a Nexus 7 tablet

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MicroScope's Alex Scroxton takes the improved 16GB Google Nexus 7, widely seen as the tablet to beat in the 7 inch form factor space, for a test swipe.

With a couple of weeks remaining until the big day, Christmas 2012 looks like being the year of the 7 inch tablet, with offerings from Amazon, Apple and Google, among others, vying to be the belle of the ball. I took Google's 16GB Nexus 7 - widely regarded as the one to beat in the 7 inch space - out for a spin to find out what all the fuss is about.

First things first, physically speaking this is a nice gadget. It feels well put together and definitely better quality than its £159 price point would suggest, clearly Google's OEM partner Asus has put some work into this baby.

The power button and volume controls are tucked away discretely on the side while its micro USB slot, 3.5mm headphone jack and speaker are down at the bottom. The whole is backed with a dimpled, sealed plastic back, which is pleasant to hold, doesn't show up fingerprints, and gives you the impression that the thing could take a couple of knocks if it needed to, although I didn't test that out...

The seven inch screen with 1280 x 800 resolution is a pleasure to look at in most conditions, and of superior quality to some more expensive tablet options. Video played smoothly and looked great.

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Under the bonnet an nVidia Tegra 3 quad-core processor and a gig of RAM once again gives the Nexus 7 comparable oomph to something much more expensive. In short, it's quick and slick.

However it's not all sunshine, lollipops and rainbows; the lack of a microSD card slot will be a drawback if you want to beef up the storage capacity, and although Google is really pushing its cloud storage options with the Nexus 7, limited connectivity options on the basic 16GB model mean that when on the move you can't actually get at anything unless you plug into someone else's Wi-Fi or use your smartphone as a portable hotspot. This could get very expensive very quickly unless, like me, you are lucky enough to have an all-you-can-eat contract, so for a mobile worker the Nexus 7 might not be the one.

Speaking of the Wi-Fi, the Nexus 7 does occasionally have difficulty connecting to a network. On a two hour train ride to Birmingham it resolutely refused to have anything to do with my phone's  Wi-Fi, although this feature worked fine later on, and when I got to my destination - a castle in Shropshire if you were wondering - it struggled, although that may have been more down to the thick, 17th century stone walls than any failing on the Nexus 7's part. It turns out Oliver Cromwell didn't foresee mobile computing. Who knew?

The other issue on my snag list was with the 1.2MP top-mounted, front-facing camera, which is disappointing as a camera and really-badly designed for video chats - using Skype in landscape mode I had to hold the tablet at an awkward angle.

Setting up the Nexus 7 was a breeze. It was up and running in seconds flat and after I had tapped in my Google account details off it went and got me every app I use on my Samsung Galaxy and applied a sneaky Android OS update into the bargain! This turned out to be a blessing only up to a point, for as much as I appreciated having immediate access to Facebook, Twitter and so on, a week later I'm still finding and deleting some of T-Mobile's bloatware. You should also note that app availability for the Nexus 7 on 4.1 Jelly Bean is not yet great, and I was forced to give up, among other things, the BBC iPlayer.

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That said the Tegra in the tank means that the overall user experience can't be beat; with the majority of apps working quickly and smoothly and some, such as YouTube, seeming tailor made for the Nexus 7.

All-in-all, the Nexus 7 is a perfectly cromulent tablet and more than holds its own in the increasingly crowded 7 inch space. Would I buy one in a BYOD splurge? Probably not; for business use the 3G-enabled big brother will serve you better when Wi-Fi can't be found, but for personal use you could be paying much, much more for much, much worse.

Google recently extended its family of Nexus devices to include "small, medium and large". The existing Nexus 7 tablet now comes with 16GB or 32GB of storage as well as offering a version with mobile connectivity. The 7 inch tablet is also joined by the Nexus 4 smartphone and the larger tablet, the Nexus 10.

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Stuff Awards: What you need to know

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Stuff-Magazine_t1.jpgTechnology and gadget magazine, Stuff hosted it's annual awards evening last week and I was lucky enough to attend.

There was lots of networking, staring at mildly famous people, grabbing as many canapés as I could carry and even a little bit of note taking.

The Samsung Galaxy S3 made the biggest impression, after it was crowned both the smartphone of the year and the gadget of the year.

Yes, that's right, it fought off competition from the iPhone 5. Speaking of Apple, it took home the computer of the year award for its new retina display Mac book Pro. For some reason an Apple rep wasn't in attendance to collect the award, with some (me) speculating that they must have used new Apple Maps to try and find the venue.

Smartphone app of the year went to the cycling and running buddy, Strava. Cloud app of the year went to the BBC for iPlayer and its news app, clearly boosted by its coverage of the Olympics.

Sticking with apps, tablet app of the year was awarded to Sky Sports as it continues to grow in popularity in the mobile sector.

Google also had a good night, taking home four awards, two of which were for tablet of the year thanks to the Nexus 7 and the most wanted future gadget gong, awarded to its Project Glass concept.

Not too much I'd disagree with from the night and I'm not just saying that because they fed me chocolate mousse. Honest.

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You can find the full list of winners and further info here

Google extends its Nexus family

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Hurricane Sandy may have prevented Google's press conference in New York from making a big announcement today, but the company has released product details on its official blog

Google has announced three new Nexus devices available in "small, medium and large". 

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The devices include a smartphone as well as a 7 and a 10 inch tablet, all of which run Android 4.2.

Nexus 4 smartphone.

This smart cookie comes with a quad-core processor and... wait for it... wireless charging! Just like the Nokia Lumia 920, you can place the device on charging plates to easily recharge, I'm quite excited at that prospect of this taking off in upcoming phone launches.

Again, like the Lumia, the 4.7 inch (320 ppi) display encourages using your phone for photography with Google applications such as Photo Sphere.

Nexus 7 tablet

The improved Nexus 7 tablet now comes with 16GB or 32GB of storage as well as offering a version with mobile connectivity. No 4G to be seen here, the 3G connectivity will be available from Three in the UK. 

The new Nexus 10

This new addition to the Google family, claims to be the "highest resolution tablet on the planet at 2560-by-1600 (300ppi), that's over 4 million pixels." Also available in 16 and 32GB, it has nine hours of video playback and 500 hours of standby time. 

The Android 4.2 operating system allows multiple users to switch from the lockscreen. With business users taking their personal devices into the office more and more, there is a potential keep different profiles for home and work use. 

Interestingly this 10 inch tablet, is the same price as Apple's 7 inch iPad mini ($399).

The Wi-Fi version of the Nexus 7 is available in the UK from today, while the 3G version as well as the Nexus 4 and Nexus 10 will be available from mid-November

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Inspect-a-Bond-Gadget: Sony Xperia T smartphone

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xperia2.pngIt's not bomb-proof, it doesn't have a miniscule gun that pops out like a Swiss Army Knife and it won't mix you up the perfect vodka martini - shaken not stirred of course. And will it help you attract a beautiful lady...? Errr probably not. Not to say it isn't a very nice looking smartphone, but come on, us girls, even the geekiest ones, don't fall for the bulging outline shape of a smartphone in a man's pocket.

The Sony Xperia T, is the new Sony flagship smartphone device running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich with a 1.5GHz dual-core processor and 1GB of RAM.

Sony has spent what we can only guess is an extortionate amount of money on product placement, to pop this beauty in the hands of another beauty, Daniel Craig, in the newest James Bond film, Skyfall, which was released in cinemas last Friday.

Just so you can get excited and say you have 007's phone.

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So what did I think of the specs?

It has a 4.6inch display, weighs a light 139g and is only 9.4mm thick. My first impression was that this seemed like a very masculine phone, being almost 10mm wider than the generic smartphone (based on the iPhone 4S), even my very long fingers had a bit of difficulty stretching around this device

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The impressive 13MP camera also shoots HD video and with 16GB of internal memory, and an option to expand using a microSD up to 32GB, that should keep even provide Bond-style sleuths with enough memory to capture evidence.

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Snap-happy on Oxford Street


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It's very clean looking with no physical buttons on the phone screen, with a scalloped back panel which feels very secure to hold. It's available in black or white, but I much prefer the black, surely a more classic look, Bond would approve of?

With no physical buttons on the screen, it has a smooth, classy feel, but did disorientate me when using features such as the camera as the home "button" disappears and I find it difficult to escape the confinements of camera app. 

Quite a few apps are readily-installed on the device, such as Facebook, Chrome, Amazon, YouTube, NeoReader, unfortunately I couldn't seem to delete the unwanted ones which then cluttered up folders.

Battery has up to 450 h (2G) / Up to 410 h (3G) stand-by, up to 7 h (2G) / up to 7 h (3G) talk time, and up to 16 hours music playback. Pick it up for a smooth £449.00, or free on a the Vodafone Red Business plan with unlimited minutes and texts and 2GB of data for £35 month


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Apple launches the iPad "fun-size" (mini)

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Last night at an event in California, Apple revealed a 7.9in tablet, the iPad mini, which fits in the hand.

The newest device to join the Apple ranks is 7.1mm thick, weighs just over 300g, (around half the weight of a standard 9.7in iPad), yet it only two inches smaller.

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No retina screen to be seen here though, as the mini has a 1024 x 768 pixel display, which is the same as the iPad 2. And before I get any stroppy comments I should point out that the mini does have 31 extra pixels per inch (163 ppi) than the iPad 2 (132 ppi), but doesn't come anywhere near the newer versions of the iPad with 264 ppi. 

It also shares the iPad 2's dual core A5 chip and 10 hours battery life, but unlike the iPad 2 however, it requires a nano sim and the lighting adapter for charging, just like Apple's new iPhone 5.

It does however, also have 4G capabilities, allowing it to run on EE's 4G network in the UK. Along with a new-new iPad (4) which was announced last night, which will also be 4G-enabled.

So it does just seem like a shrunken down iPad at first glance, but the thing that baffles me is that it isn't even a shrunken down new iPad. It's a shrunken down version of what we can now call old technology, the iPad 2 plus 4G and a couple of extra pixels. However Phil Schiller said last night that it is an "entirely new design", so I will reserve judgement until I get my hands on one to review.

Price points

You can preorder the device online from Friday 26th October, and it goes on sale from November 2nd. Prices start at £269 for a Wi-Fi only 16GB version, and £369 for 16GB with Wi-Fi and mobile capabilities. The 64GB iPad mini with Wi-Fi and mobile capabilities will set you back £529.

Christmas competition

And at that rather hefty price point, will Apple be able to beat off the Christmas competition?

Amazon Kindle Fire: 7 inch, Wi-Fi only at £159 16GB/ £199 32GB released on Friday.

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Google Nexus 7: 7 inch, Wi-Fi only at £159 8GB / £189 16GB

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More than £100 cheaper than the standard iPad mini, will consumers avoid the Apple logo brainwashing and try out some other "mini" tablet brands? With Amazon's existing infrastructure of media products, and success with its Kindle sales, I expect this to be a strong contender this quarter.

Even the Microsoft Surface tablet, which will be released along with the new Windows 8 operating system on Friday, could be a contender. Could Microsoft's assault on the tablet market alter the playing field, and change the way businesses use tablet computers? Its own Surface tablet running Windows 8 RT will cost £399 for 32GB.

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"Fun-size" final thoughts

7.9in touchscreen compared to 9.7in touchscreen, we're only talking two inches smaller. It's like a handbag size magazine, conveniently fits in your bag. But if your favourite magazine wasn't at the newsagent in the smaller size, you would just pick up your normal magazine, surely? 

Additionally, the standard iPad at 9.7in is already a good size for productivity and watching video, if you reduce the screen by two inches surely you are just making it more difficult to perform tasks? Perhaps Apple should have invested their time, money and efforts in making the 9.7in feather-light and more innovative? 

Apple used to be the leaders in technology, but here it is having to play catch up and follow in the footsteps of Google and Amazon for fear of missing out on a mini market opportunity.


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