As useful as the mobile Gmail client can be, it hasn’t always stacked up well against third-party apps with special tricks up their sleeves. If features that Geek.com spotted in a test version of Gmail for Android make the cut, though, you may have more reasons to stick with Google’s official app. The experimental software lets you snooze messages until you’re ready to deal with them — if you’d rather not look at a bill until the day it’s due, you can. Alternately, you can pin email to make sure an important conversation stays on top. Finance, Purchases and Travel tabs have also slipped into the interface alongside more familiar sections. There’s no guarantee that any of the new features will survive the testing process, but at least some of them should be useful enough to reach a publicly available version of Gmail.
When critics become creators, the results can vary wildly, but the work always requires attention. Former TUAW (full disclosure: one of our sister sites) scribe Michael Grothaus is the latest, having developed a calorie-counting scale that’s helped him lose 67 pounds in the last year. SITU is a smart scale that calculates the nutritional value of the food you’re about to eat. Simply place an item on the balance, connect your iPad over Bluetooth and tell the companion app what the food is and Situ will tell you everything you need to know about what’s inside.
The former Apple employee has always struggled with his weight, but things reached a head after a long dining session at Cupertino’s employee-only dining hall — adding that he “didn’t want to die of a heart attack at 40.” Grothaus (pictured, before and after he began using SITU) also believes that the platform is useful for diabetics who need to control their sugar intake and athletes who need to ensure that they’re getting the right balance of nutrition. Like so many inventions nowadays, SITU is launching on Kickstarter, where a £50 ($87) pledge will earn you one of the scales, and while it’s iPad-only for now, there are plans to bring it to Android smartphones and tablets as well as Windows Phone.
T-Mobile on Wednesday confirmed changes to its Advantage Program which offers employer discounts on rate plans. After hearing from its user base and existing clients, the Uncarrier has decided to grandfather customers into the program. Instead of dumping everyone outright, those who already enjoy discounts because of their employer will get to keep them.
Everyone enrolled in the Advantage Program or who applied to enroll before April 1st will be able to keep a rate plan discount as long as they work at a participating employer and remain on a qualifying plan. All of our Simple Choice plans currently qualify. We will be asking that customers participate in a simple annual online employer verification. That’s it.
Going forward, anyone who works for an employer that qualifies for the Advantage Program will earn $25 credit toward an upgrade or purchase.
The post T-Mobile adjusts Advantage Program employer discount policy appeared first on AndroidGuys.
Microsoft today announced Windows Phone 8.1, which comes equipped with the company’s digital assistant, Cortana. In development for several years, Cortana is Microsoft’s answer to Siri and Google Now, the digital assistants from Apple and Google.
Cortana is named for an AI character in the popular Halo video game series and as in the game, the assistant is voiced by actress Jen Taylor. Given a distinctly female personality, she is powered by Microsoft’s search engine, Bing, and is designed to learn about users by asking questions and monitoring user activity, interacting through both text and speech.
According to an extensive piece on Cortana from The Verge, Microsoft designed the feature based on real personal assistants, giving Cortana a “Notebook” to work from. The Notebook can be described as a settings page, allowing users to designate what Cortana can track. In her Notebook, Cortana stores information like personal interests, relationships with people, frequently visited places, appointment dates, quiet hours, and more.
“It’s her view of you, but clearly you can just snatch it from her at any time and say ‘That’s not right, I don’t want you to know this’ or ‘I’m not comfortable with you reading my email,’” explains Ash. “So you have complete control over what she knows and she’s transparent about it.”
Entries in the Notebook are stored in the cloud, and you can share contact information with it, as well as your interests, home and work locations, and more. The notion of Cortana acting as a personal assistant with a notebook— as opposed to a creepy stalker — has been drilled into the team from the beginning, they say.
Cortana is a core function of Windows 8.1, replacing the existing search function. Like Siri she can schedule reminders, but Cortana’s functionality is somewhat more powerful, allowing reminders to be tied to people and locations. For example, Cortana can be asked to give a reminder to discuss a certain topic when calling a contact, with that reminder popping up when a call is placed.
The digital assistant also offers a daily summary of information, similar to what can be found in Apple’s own Notification Center. Cortana lists upcoming appointments, reminders, weather information, and more. She can, with permission, track user email to pull out information like airline reservations.
Like Siri, Cortana has a personality. She has witty responses for certain questions, such as “Who is your father?” to which she replies, “Technically speaking, that’d be Bill Gates. No big deal.” Displayed as a circle on a phone screen, she’s also able to express 16 different emotions.
While Siri has not been opened up to developers, Microsoft is releasing a third-party SDK. Cortana will integrate with services like Hulu, Twitter, Facebook, allowing people to use voice commands to launch television shows or send a tweet.
Cortana remains in the beta stages, as there are bugs with the software that still need to be worked out. Windows 8.1 will launch in late April or early May, but Cortana will only be available in the United States for the time being.
Microsoft also announced that it is making Windows licenses free for mobile phones and tablets that have screens of less than nine inches, putting it on par with Google’s Android, which is offered to device manufacturers for free.
It looks like it is going to be another awesome Google app update Wednesday. Last week was pretty uneventful, but today is looking pretty good so far. The first app we see with a new update is Google Keep. Today’s update brings it up from v2.1.01 up to v2.2.05.
With the new number advancement comes some new features. The Play Store lists some battery life and data usage improvements, optimization for high res screen and bug fixes. That might be old though. When you update and open the app up though, you are greeted with a small list of improvements.
Back at the end of January we offered up our thoughts in a review of the Misfit Shine wearable fitness tracking device. It does its job, but the Android version of the app was lacking quite a bit compared to the iOS version. Since the review there have been a number of small updates that fixed a few bugs and made the app sync with the device much faster and more consistently. Up until late last night, the app hadn’t seen much functionality or changes to the UI.
Lastnights update brought quite a few things to table that may, or ma not have been a deciding factor in you buying one. The first major change with the app is a complete UI overhaul. Take a look at the previous UI look.
You can see a huge improvement, not just in how it looks, but also in the information that you are presented with. You can see a bar graph now that will show you when you were most active and corresponding to when you were sleeping. On the Sleep side you can see the times where you were in your deepest sleep and the times you were moving about.
In addition to the added information that is actually quite useful, there are also a number of new settings to adjust. One being your target sleep goal for the night. The biggest setting change, in my opinion, is one that solves my biggest irritation with the Misfit Shine. It can automatically detect when you are sleeping vs having to ALWAYS triple tap the device to let it know you are trying to go to bed.
The update is live for everyone in the Play Store. If you have a Shine and put it away, you should pull it back out and give it another chance. For anyone else who might be interested in picking up a Shine, you can do so through Amazon for $99.99 in black, grey, gold or blue. There used to be red one too, but we aren’t seeing listed anymore.
Stacking the new device up against the Roku 3, Apple TV, and Google Chromecast
So the Amazon FireTV is out, available, and already shipping. The $99 device lands in a space currently occupied by Apple TV, Roku, and, to a degree, the Chromecast. Each of these devices features their own unique hardware and software experience, yet there’s overlap across the board. Seriously, what device doesn’t have Netflix and Hulu Plus these days?
In an age when more and more people are trying to cut the cord, these are the types of products that make it easier. Which of these is the best, you ask? Well, that depends on your needs.
In terms of pricing, the clear winner today is the Google Chromecast. At only $35 it’s roughly one-third the price of the Apple TV and FireTV. On the flip-side, it’s currently limited in capabilities. While we certainly love the direction Google is headed with the device, it simply doesn’t have the library of apps and services. Yet. Check back in a year, however, and we’re likely to see a completely different experience.
If you’re the type of user who needs the most powerful and physically capable products on the market then the Amazon FireTV emerges as the front-runner. Not that the others are necessarily slouches, but Amazon’s device is the only one with a quad-core processor and 2GB RAM. Toss in the dual-band/dual-antenna (MIMO) Wi-Fi capability, Dolby Digital Surround, and Optical audio output and you’ve got clear advantages.
It doesn’t hurt that Amazon’s solution comes after everyone else has been on the market for at least a few months. Things could get muddier over the course of 2014 as competition debuts new products with better specifications.
While there’s definitely a group of buyers whose primary concern is hardware, the average consumer cares more about how it looks, works, and feels. Roku has been in the game for a few years now and seems to have nailed down the simplicity of channels. Apple faithful will have no problem navigating around the Apple TV thanks to its familiar user interface. The Chromecast is unique in that each app stands alone with but a button tap to extend the experience. Amazon, for its part, really keeps things clean and clutter free with the Kindle Fire tablets so we should expect the same for their set-top box.
If you’re looking for something to stream you favorite movies and TV shows you can’t go wrong with any of these devices. With the exception of HBO Go, the Amazon Fire TV stands toe-to-toe with the others in the space of major service providers. Over time we expect the Google Chromecast spaces to fill in as developers add in support for the media player. In the interim, however, you’ll have to do a little bit of homework if your favorite service is not one of the big ones.
In terms of sheer content, Roku has the most “channels” today. The Kindle Fire TV would come in second followed by Apple and then Google. That is, of course, if you look at it today. Again, we have high hopes for the Chromecast and the various developers.
One key area where the Amazon Fire TV stands alone is in gaming. None of the other three can boast the ability to play games, especially with a dedicated (optional $40) controller. Sure, the Chromecast is already getting games and Roku has titles, but it’s nothing like what Amazon can do. If Amazon is able to attract developers for the Fire TV like they have for the Appstore then they’ll get further out in front. With features that “kill” the Android-powered OUYA gaming console, it could be a real “game changer” in the home.
Think of how many games we play are casual or mobile and then consider that the FireTV can tap into that market. Everyone has played Angry Birds, Candy Crush Saga, and Flappy Bird type games. Not everyone wants to spend $400 for a console in the living room. Your mom would likely jump at the chance to play some of her favorite games on a TV with a controller. She might not be the type to buy a PlayStation 4 or even a Wii U, but she might be the type to jump from Netflix to a game. We’re just hoping that Amazon’s list of supported apps and games grows quickly.
Which one is right for you? As a site dedicated to Android and Google, it’s only natural for us to trumpet the Chromecast and its $35 sticker. I’ve never owned an Apple device myself so I have no allegiance to their ecosystem. I’ve owned a Roku for the last few years and find it to be a faithful experience. I’ve also owned various Kindle Fire and Kindle Fire HD(X) products and appreciate Amazon’s approach.
Except for the Roku, the other products are content delivery systems for three of the biggest players in the tech space. Amazon, Apple, and Google have been battling it out in various areas for the better part of a decade and it’s only going to get more competitive. Each aims to lock the other out wherever applicable; all three are the best at what they do.
I’ve already placed an order for the Amazon FireTV because I think it fits well in a family household environment. My son will love that he can play Minecraft on yet another device and I’ll be glad to tap into my Amazon Prime account on yet another TV. I’m falling more in love with my Chromecast by the week and think that’s only going to continue. Because of its low price I am confidently able to recommend this to all of my friends and family members. It was a no-brainer at launch and it’s more compelling with each app. I don’t even think it’s on the same level as the other three products. I say buy one no matter what.
Turning my attention to the three $100 devices, I have to give the nod to Amazon. I’ve enjoyed watching them over the last few years as they keep pushing forward with great hardware and user experience. Developers love their tools and services and their Appstore grows quickly. I am confident that they are fully invested the future of the set-top box and cord cutter era. What’s more, an additional $40 will put this thing into an entirely different area. If this is what we get at launch then imagine what happens by the end of the year.
The upcoming USB 3.1 specification, an update to USB 3.0 that provides a throughput of up to 10 Gbit/s, also includes a new “Type C” connector, which is reversible much like Apple’s Lightning cable.
Announced in December [PDF], the reversible design was said to be smaller in size, similar to existing Micro USB plugs. While no cables are available yet, the USB Implementers Forum (via CNET) has released renderings showing what the cable might look like.
The reversible design, which looks a lot like a Lightning cable, aims to replace USB and Micro USB with one cable that can be used from either direction. The USB prong is 8.3 x 2.5mm, which is much smaller than standard USB ports but larger than Micro USB.
At the current point in time, the cable’s design has yet to be finalized, which means a final product could look somewhat different. The specification is expected to be finished in July of 2014.
Mounting and organizing options for heavy duty Mac Pro users continue to grow since the new machine’s launch at the end of last year, with Sonnet now announcing a new rack mount enclosure capable of holding two Mac Pros. The new enclosure is an additional option to go along with the enclosure and expansion chassis the company announced last week.
This time, the Sonnet Rack Mac Pro allows users to rack mount one or two Mac Pro machines in a 4U space. The unit includes a front panel power button with USB 3.0 port for each machine, plus a second USB 3.0 port, a Gigabit Ethernet port, and an HDMI connector on the back of the rack for each Mac Pro.
There are no rear Thunderbolt ports because, Sonnet says, there are no panel-mount Thunderbolt connectors available. There is, however, room inside the rack for Thunderbolt cables to be attached, and the company says it is “fairly easy” to directly connect Thunderbolt cables and they can be secured to the Mac Pro so they can not be accidentally unplugged.
The Rack Mac Pro also supports the mounting of Thunderbolt to Fibre Channel adapters like the Promise San Link2.
Pricing is expected to be $599 to rack mount a single Mac Pro, with an add-on to mount a second Mac Pro available for $299. Availability is likely to come in June alongside the previously announced combination enclosure and expansion chassis.
The rumors and speculation surrounding Amazon and their set-top box are finally coming true today as Amazon announces the Fire TV. I am certainly glad it didn’t turn out to be called the FireTube as a patent file suggested.
The $99 black box offers a bang for the buck it sounds like. It measures in at 4.5 x 4.5 x 0.7 inches and weighs 9.9 ounces. On the rear you find a power port, HDMI out, Optical Audio, Ethernet and USB. Internally you get a Qualcomm Krait 300 quad-core processor at 1.7Ghz paired with a Qualcomm Adreno 320 GPU. You also have 2GB of LPDDR2 RAM and 8GB of internal storage.
On the connection side of things it offers up Dual-Band, Dual- Antenna Wi-Fi and supports 802.11a/b/g/n. It also offers up Bluetooth 4.0 connection with HID, HFP 1.6 and SPP profiles.
The homescreen is fairly reminiscent of the Kindle Fire look. The Fire TV comes loaded with a number of apps like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Instant.
“Tiny box, huge specs, tons of content, incredible price—people are going to love Fire TV,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com Founder and CEO. “Voice search that actually works means no more typing on an alphabet grid. Our exclusive new ASAP feature predicts the shows you’ll want to watch and gets them ready to stream instantly. And our open approach gives you not just Amazon Instant Video and Prime Instant Video, but also Netflix, Hulu Plus, and more. On Fire TV you can watch Alpha House and House of Cards.”
To top things off, the Fire TV also plays nicely with your Kindle tablet allowing you mirror/cast content from it to the Fire TV box. Not to mention the added option of a gaming controller. Amazon says there will be over 1,000 free titles to get your hand on to play with the Amazon Fire Game Controller (which is $39.99), but they are also going to give you 1,000 Amazon coins to encourage you to buy some too. All the games have been tweaked specifically to be played with the controller through the Fire TV. I think the biggest struggle that will offer end users is the small 8GB of storage, which I can only assume is smaller due to the OS.