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9
Feb

IRL: Motorola Droid Mini


Welcome to IRL, an ongoing feature where we talk about the gadgets, apps and toys we’re using in real life and take a second look at products that already got the formal review treatment.

IRL: Motorola Droid Mini

After a quiet first half of the year, Motorola finished off 2013 by releasing a staggering five devices. Three of them were sold under Verizon’s exclusive Droid brand, and here’s the crazy part: aside from differences in battery life and screen size, they were exactly alike. We reviewed the two higher-end models, known as the Ultra and the Maxx, but we now want to return our attention to the smallest of the three, the Droid Mini. This 4.3-inch device came out a few months ago, but it’s aging quite well, having recently received an update to Android 4.4 KitKat. Also, it’s now free on-contract, so it’s definitely worth a closer look, especially compared to the Galaxy S4 mini which costs $50 with the usual two-year agreement.

The Mini is perhaps the most compelling of the three Droid devices in that it’s smaller than its bigger siblings, but just as good. Indeed, what it lacks in battery size it makes up for in other specs: much like the Moto X and the other Droids, the Mini takes advantage of an X8 system-on-a-chip with a dual-core 1.7GHz processor, 2GB of RAM, a 720p TFT display (which promises a pixel density of 342 ppi), a 10-megapixel rear camera, 16GB of internal storage, wireless charging, NFC, Bluetooth 4.0+LE, dual-band WiFi with 802.11ac and — as of December 19th — KitKat, the latest version of Android.

Is it the device of everyone’s dreams? Not really, but it does a fantastic job of delivering solid performance in a small and inexpensive package — a difficult feat, it seems, now that phone makers are turning more of their attention to handsets with large screens. Just like the Ultra, the Mini sports a layer of woven DuPont Kevlar fiber locked into place by resin and covered by a plastic casing. At 121.3 x 61.3 x 8.9 mm (4.78 x 2.41 x 0.35 in), the Droid Mini is thinner, narrower and shorter than the HTC One mini, and nearly the same exact dimensions as the Galaxy S4 mini (albeit, Moto’s version is a tad shorter). However, it’s also heavier than those other two phones at 4.59 ounces (versus 4.3 and 3.77).

The Mini almost gets lost in my hands, but it’s a perfect size for those of you who don’t want anything larger than five inches. The plastic casing feels a bit cheap, with creaky spots and a slick finish that picks up fingerprints. Needless to say, I would’ve rather seen Motorola simply do away with it altogether, like it did on the Maxx. Still, that doesn’t seem to make the phone any less durable.

Even though this is a Verizon-branded smartphone, Motorola outfitted the Mini with enough radio frequencies to be useful in other parts of the world. In addition to having Verizon-specific LTE, it offers quad-band HSPA+ (850/900/1900/2100), quad-band GSM/EDGE and the requisite CDMA/EVDO bands for use in North America. And because the phone’s unlocked, you’ll be able to stick in an AT&T nano-SIM and get HSPA+ data. I’d love to see more LTE support on the Mini, but that’s the only major complaint I have here.

In general, the Mini offers an experience consistent with the Droid Ultra and Droid Maxx thanks to the large similarity in its specs and user interface. One area in which the Mini completely differs from its siblings, however, is the display. Whereas the Ultra and Maxx both feature AMOLED panels, the LED screen on the Mini is brighter and less color saturated. And thanks primarily to the fact that it uses the same pixel count in a smaller display, it’s actually the sharpest-looking of the three Droids.

It’s worth repeating that the Droid Mini is now running Android 4.4, the latest version of Google’s mobile OS. This is a big deal, because Verizon devices using custom OEM user interfaces often don’t get upgrades to the newest installment of Android, and if they do, it can take a while. But here we have the Droid Mini, whose update came through pretty quick. Along with the usual KitKat features, Verizon also threw in enhancements to the phone’s image quality (better color and less noise), along with Fitbit support and a new version of Droid Zap, Moto’s multimedia-sharing feature. And let’s not forget Moto Assist, a contextual app that automates tasks based on things like your location, scenario, calendar appointment and even speed.

Fortunately, not only will your user experience be the same regardless of which Droid you buy, but the performance will be the same as well. The Mini features Motorola’s X8 architecture, which consists of a dual-core 1.7GHz Snapdragon S4 Pro CPU, Adreno 320 GPU, 2GB of RAM and two cores reserved for natural language processing and contextual computing. Active notifications and touchless control work just as well here as the Moto X and the other Droids, and I experienced very few hiccups and frame skips when gaming and multitasking.

SONY DSC

The Droid Mini’s 2,000mAh battery is naturally smaller than on the other Droids. As such, don’t expect it to last more than a day with moderate use. In our video rundown test, the Droid Mini made it through six hours and 45 minutes before needing a recharge, which was just short of the GS4 mini’s results — a bit of a shock, since the Droid’s battery is technically a hair larger. I can’t suggest that you put the phone through a lot of gaming, multitasking and other processor-intensive activities without keeping a car charger or external battery pack near you at some point during your day, but I’m confident you’ll be OK in most scenarios (read: you should have enough juice to get you through the work day).

The Droid Mini may not grab as much attention as the Moto X or the Droid Maxx, but it’s a compelling device for those of you who don’t want to go with a big smartphone, or would simply rather not pay anything for the hardware. Its Verizon branding certainly limits its appeal, since it’s officially only available on one carrier (even though it’s unlocked to GSM SIMs), but if you’re a Big Red customer or a frequent international traveler, it’s not a bad deal for $350 at full retail or free with a two-year contract. The Galaxy S4 mini is also $350 off contract, but agreeing to two years of your life with Verizon will cost $50; for that money you’re getting a worse display, smaller battery, slower GPU, less internal storage (although Samsung at least offers microSD compatibility) and slightly lower camera resolution. All told, this is a great phone if you want a smaller screen and solid specs but can’t afford to pay a flagship price.

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9
Feb

Flappy Bird no longer available from the App Store or Google Play


Oh no! We sure hope you were able to download Flappy Bird before its imminent extinction. Because, as promised, developer Dong Nguyen has officially removed the insanely popular game from both the App Store and Google Play. There’s no need to shed tears if you’ve already installed it, since you can still play it and continue to frustrate over how terribly low your scores are. Even so, it’s a little sad to see Flappy Bird go — especially given that there are probably some people (like this editor’s mom) who never got to experience it. Who knows, maybe it’ll make a triumphant comeback one day.

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Via: MacRumors

9
Feb

‘Flappy Bird’ Removed from App Store by Developer


099621_largerAs promised, Dong Nguyen, the developer of Flappy Bird, has removed the popular game from the App Store. Flappy Bird has been the number one downloaded free app on Apple’s App Store for almost a month. The game was generating $50,000/day in revenue from in-app ads.

Nguyen had previously expressed frustration at the attention he has received since the sudden popularity of his game. In a tweet last week he said “Please give me peace.”, and yesterday, he announced that the game would be removed from the App Store today.

The removal appears to be propagating, but in several locations, Flappy Bird no longer shows up in search, developer’s app listing, and Top Free games.

flappybird

In subsequent tweets, he said the removal was not due to legal reasons and that he was not interested in selling the game.

If you already have downloaded the game, you can still play it even though its been removed from the App Store.

    



9
Feb

Verizon waiving activation fees, offering smartphone trade-in deals for a limited time


Is The UnCarrier to blame for Verizon and AT&T running different promotions lately? Perhaps. But regardless of who’s to blame thank for this, the stiff competition between US carriers is a great thing for you, the consumer. The latest ones come by way of Verizon, which recently kicked off a couple of limited-time deals in hopes of luring customers in. For starters, Verizon’s offering a $100 in-house gift card for any smartphone “in good working condition appraised for less than $100,” though you could get up to $300 for a more valuable handset. Additionally, Verizon’s also waving its $35 activation fees on new lines during the next few days — which, when combined with the recycling promo, could end up saving you a good amount of cash. The trade-in offer will be running through March 31st, while the other is set to be valid until February 17th.

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Via: Android Central

Source: Verizon

9
Feb

Inhabitat’s Week in Green: floating cities, vegetable synthesizer and a syringe that seals gunshot wounds


Each week our friends at Inhabitat recap the week’s most interesting green developments and clean tech news for us — it’s the Week in Green.

All eyes turned to Russia last week as the Winter Olympics kicked off in Sochi. The opening ceremony took place in the Fisht Olympic Stadium, a venue designed by Populous that was inspired by Fabergé eggs. But despite promises that this year’s games would be zero-waste, environmental groups have countered that the event won’t live up to its green claims. In other green design news, Paris is planning to turn abandoned underground metro stations into restaurants, auditoriums and even underground swimming pools. In London, a series of impressive origami-inspired pavilions popped up in Canary Wharf. In Abu Dhabi, Inhabitat obtained some exclusive photographs of the Al Bahr Towers, which are cooled with the world’s largest computerized façade. A new study suggests that white roofs are actually more effective at fighting climate change than green roofs, but planning for climate change will require more than just a coat of white paint. Some prominent thinkers are suggesting that as ocean levels rise, we will be forced to build floating cities — or at the very least, buildings that are better adapted to water.

Swedish furniture maker IKEA is branching out beyond low-cost furniture; the company just launched a program to bring solar-powered light to more than 10 million refugees around the world — more than half of them children. In other green energy news, the company Rawlemon just unveiled a smaller version of its amazing solar energy-concentrating globe that can be used to charge mobile devices. The architecture firm Perkins+Will is proposing to build a large green-roofed apartment building in Philadelphia that would double as a power plant. The building would contain a trash incinerator, which would be used to power the building. And a team of Japanese scientists has developed a tiny fuel cell that can transform cockroaches into a self-powered wireless sensor network that could be used to help locate disaster victims.

In green transportation news, Empire Cycles recently unveiled the world’s first 3D-printed titanium bike frame, which boasts extraordinary strength, but is also super light. Elio Motors rolled out its funky new P4, a three-wheeled vehicle with two seats that gets up to 84MPG and only costs $6,800. And for those who prefer to leave their cars behind when traveling around the US, the American Intercity Bus Riders Association recently released a map that shows how to travel using Amtrak, Greyhound and other services.

Prosthetic hands will never be able to perfectly replace the real thing, but they’re getting closer. A team of Italian and Swiss scientists has developed the first artificial hand that restores a sense of touch to patients with a missing limb. Also on the medical innovation front, the Oregon-based company Revmedx recently developed a small syringe that can seal gunshot wounds in just 15 seconds. In the “don’t play with your food” department, London-based designers Dentaku have produced a tiny synthesizer that can be used to create instruments from fruits and vegetables. And Inhabitat’s Managing Editor Mike Chino explains how Chairish’s new iPhone app can be used to sell a classic midcentury modern chair.

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9
Feb

Chess and the Automaton Endgame


Welcome to Time Machines, where we offer up a selection of mechanical oddities, milestone gadgets and unique inventions to test out your tech-history skills.

Machines may need to start a union. After all, various deep thinkers have been busy for more than a century dreaming up ways to impart human-like thought processes and capabilities into them, just so they can do more of our work. Familiar names in the annals of computing’s history such as Charles Babbage and Alan Turing may stand out, but wedged between those figures on the historical timeline is the perhaps lesser-known Spanish inventor and engineer Leonardo Torres Quevedo. Of his many inventions, one of the most unique is “El Ajedrecista” (The Chess Player), which he presented to the Parisian public in 1914. It was a chess-playing automaton, programmed to stand against a human opponent and respond accordingly to any move they made. It knew if someone was trying to cheat, and took pride in moving its own playing pieces around the board. Most of all, it reveled in announcing a victory against its human taskmasters when it inevitably won the game.

Torres Quevedo was born in the north of Spain in 1852 and by the age of 24, he had graduated school with a degree in civil engineering. According to Harry Henderson’s A to Z of Computer Scientists, he seemed to have little interest in the field and was lucky enough to receive an inheritance from a distant relative, allowing him to pursue a range of interests with a certain degree of leisure. Instead of falling into the trap of entitlement and hipsterdom, however, he followed a path that led to mathematics and mechanical inventions.

During the 1890s, he worked on creating machines that could solve algebraic equations, one of which he demonstrated to the French Association for the Advancement of Science in 1895. Around the turn of the century, he patented a semirigid dirigible design, which was employed by the French and English armies during World War I. He even developed a remote control device called the Telekine, which began as a way to trigger mechanical processes through a wireless telegraph, but grew into a concept for controlling machines (from dirigibles to torpedoes) in a bid to save the lives of human operators. His growing savvy with electro-mechanical devices and radio waves made him a contemporary of other like-minded inventors, such as Guglielmo Marconi, Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison, and even earned him a government subsidy to help open a mechanical laboratory in Madrid.

As Torres Quevedo’s research continued, it soon began to veer wholeheartedly into the realm of “thinking” machines. By 1912, his exploration led to “El Ajedrecista,” a machine that could carry out complex processes similar to the way a human could. His chess-playing automaton made its first major public debut in Paris in 1914. It was pitted against a single human competitor and played within the confines of a chess endgame called KRK, short for “King and Rook versus King.” This first version of the machine was built on an upright panel, with a vertically mounted playing surface and game pieces that jacked into the chess grid like an operator’s switchboard. A human player could place their King within a limited range of pre-determined starting points, while the machine’s King and Rook consistently started from the same position. El Ajedrecista had been programmed by Torres Quevedo to surmise the location of its opponent’s King and followed a system of conditional rules in order to make its moves.

Not only was El Ajedrecista making judgment calls each time its turn came, but it also used mechanical arms to move each of its own pieces around the game board. If the opponent attempted an illegal move, one of three bulbs would light up, halting gameplay until a correct move was made. After three wrong moves, the machine would shut down in disgust, refusing to continue — similar to the anti-cheat tactics of a pinball machine (Tilt!). A hard reset would be required for gameplay to begin again, hopefully with everyone playing by the rules this time around.

Gonzalo Torres Quevedo (son of Leonardo) displays the second version of El Ajedrecista.

In 1920, Torres Quevedo built a second version of the chess automaton. This model had a more approachable horizontal playing surface and its inner workings were tucked away inside a wooden enclosure. This automaton used the same essential programming to play a KRK endgame as the first version, but this time its pieces were controlled by electromagnets. The game board consisted of a smooth playing surface, with metal plates under each square so that it could detect the location of the game pieces. Mechanical arms could control the position of the metal-based pieces by moving the magnet around underneath the game board.

According to George Atkinson’s Chess and Machine Intuition, each time the machine’s Rook made a move pushing the human opponent’s King closer to the edge (and end of the game), a small phonograph played the phrase “jaque al rey” (check to the King). When the machine got the opponent’s King into the final game-ending position, the voice repeated the phrase, this time adding a triumphant “mate.” And due to Torres Quevedo’s skilled programming and mechanical know-how, it did this consistently.

Around 1914, Torres Quevedo released a paper entitled Essays on Automatics, which refers to the work of mid-1800s inventor and mathematician Charles Babbage. Building on Babbage’s Analytical Engine (a Victorian-era computing device), Torres Quevedo discusses his own ideas for a “universal automaton.” One that could be programmed to do complex human tasks and make decisions based on conditional data in the same manner as processing IF and THEN statements. His chess game was simply a way of testing his ideas for complex thought processes in machines, in a way, an early indulgence in the field of artificial intelligence. In 1951, Gonzalo Torres Quevedo (Leonardo’s son), who had been alongside his father in developing the Ajedrecista’s second version, displayed the machine at the Cybernetic Congress in Paris. He even demonstrated the device to Norbert Wiener, a well-known figure in the history of machine intelligence.

Torres Quevedo may not be as popularly recognized as Babbage or Turing for conceptual work in the area of computing, but his forward-thinking ideas and inventions did make an impact on the world — his cable car invention still shuttles tourists across Niagara Falls. Indeed, El Ajedrecista could be considered the first computer game ever built and the Jeopardy appearance of IBM’s Watson computer in 2011 could be its modern incarnation. Let’s just hope Torres Quevedo’s chess player doesn’t cross over to the dark side; it would be unnerving to hear a race of robots deliver the phrase “checkmate” right before terminating you. (In an Arnold Schwarzenegger voice, of course.)

[Image credits: La Nature magazine, 1914 (Ajedrecista 1); Josu/Torresquevedo.org (Ajedrecista 2 exhibition)]

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9
Feb

Google Play Newsstand gets a widget, adds mini view for easy reading


The idea behind a magazine or a newspaper is that you will actually sit down and read it — but if you only have time to glance at a few headlines, the latest update to Google Play Newsstand is for you. The content aggregator now features a “mini card” view that compresses each story down to just its headline, expanding to the full story only when tapped. A new widget offers truncated versions of the latest stories too, allowing users to click through a limited set of stories from their device’s home screen. The update also adds new organization features for magazines, additional language support, a smattering of bug fixes and the ability to translate foreign news sources instantly. It’s hardly a visual overhaul, but the the update is certainly a no-brainer for the Google Play news junkie.

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9
Feb

[LEAK] HTC M8 dual camera leaks in candid photo


htc m8 dual cameraI’d like to see this photo get debunked: the media world has been in a bit of a frenzy with all the leaks regarding HTC’s next flagship, the HTC M8, flying left right and centre. One leak in particular appeared to show the unannounced HTC device bearing a dual-sensor camera array with dual flash LEDs, but this was quickly shot down on Twitter by HTC’s own Mark Moons, HTC Director in Benelux (see the “photoshopped” image here). Well, today, there has been another leak, and this one is a little harder to dispell. Courtesy of NoWhereElse, the above photo appears to show the HTC M8 dual camera in all its glory, and sure enough, the flash LEDs in this photo appear to differ from those seen in the “photoshopped” image.

While we should still be taking this leak with a grain of salt, the photo does look pretty genuine given the quality of the photo and the fact that the cameras look quite detailed. We have been hearing for some time now that the HTC M8 is expecting a dual-sensor camera which is meant to give budding photographers greater control of focusing their images, even after taking the photo (for more on the technology involved, see our article explaining it here).

This is probably our most conclusive evidence that the HTC M8 dual camera exists, but what do you think about this leak: do you think it is real? And can you see the benefits of utilizing this dual-camera system? Let us know what you think in the comments.

Source: NoWhereElse

9
Feb

Small World 2 Review: the popular board game finally makes it way onto Android


small world 2 reviewAs board games continue their resurgence into mainstream consciousness, more and more board games are finding their way onto mobile platforms, being expressed as well as they can be on small and big screens. Days of Wonder is one publisher who has only recently joined this effort of bringing its library of games to mobile but looked to be quite successful with its release of Ticket to Ride on both iOS and Android (read our review here). Now they’ve released Small World 2 on mobile as a result of their successful Kickstarter campaign to fund its development, and while it was released for iOS back in September 2012, it’s good to see it finally arrive on Android as well.

small world 2 reviewFans of the board game won’t need much introduction to the concept of the game, but for those of you who haven’t played Small World before, whether in physical or digital forms, the primary objective of the game is resource collection. To start the game, you get to pick a character card which will define your characteristics (for now) i.e. any bonuses and/or restrictions your character has and how many tokens you can place per turn. On your turn, you get to place tokens on designated regions on the board. Depending on what region you have selected, you may be required to use more or less of your tokens if someone is occupying the region or your character card has some effect on the type of region you have selected. In this way, you can take over as many regions as you have tokens, and when you run out for this turn, your turn ends. At this point, you get coins added to your stash, 1 for every region you possess plus any bonuses you have; these coins will serve as scoring at the end of the game, but the game cleverly hides this information from you so that you have to constantly be on guard.

small world 2 reviewAs added strategy, you can “go into decline”; what this means for you is that your character card is essentially disposed of (unless there is a bonus associated with this action) and while you can keep the regions that you currently possess, they’ll only count as one token occupying each region. On your next turn however, you can pick a new character card with all new bonuses, and this can serve as a really good strategy if you are familiar with the types of cards that are in the game.

small world 2 reviewThe game does offer a very short tutorial video which is both thematic and informative, however, it does lack in actual strategic guidance, a fact I realised on my first play through with in-game bots. On that note, the bots’ AI in the game appears to be more than competent and should be quite a challenge for those that understand the game well. Unfortunately, I have yet to win a game, partially from my own inexperience, but also because I haven’t found any sort of difficulty settings for the bots. Perhaps it’s unnecessary, but I found it to be an extremely steep learning curve playing against basically Small World geniuses.

small world 2 reviewA just want to interrupt this review with a disclaimer for everyone who’s here to read this review because they’re a fan of Small World and want to know whether it’s like the board game: Small World 2 is pretty much what you’d want from a mobile version of the Small World board game. I’m not 100% familar with the rules, but it seems like most things have been implemented properly and the games offers a plethora of ways for you to enjoy the game alone, with friends, or with a group of other board game enthusiasts. If that’s your concern, then the only other thing you have to worry about is paying the not-insignificant price of $9.99 on Google Play. Fans of the game will throw money at the game anyway, but that’s just for your reference.

small world 2 reviewJust returning to the ways that you can play the game, you can of course enjoy the game solo in the company of the game’s more than competent bots, or you can play local games, with numbers of players ranging from 2-5, all playing from the same device. For something a little less personal, there are also plenty of multiplayer options including internet online play, playing with your friends, or local play, but on separate devices. As with many of Days of Wonder board games, if you’re wanting to extend your Small World 2 experience, there are also expansions available from within the game for purchase and they will set you back anywhere from $2.99 to $4.99 USD.

small world 2 reviewI reviewed Small World 2 playing on a smartphone, albeit a Samsung Galaxy Note 2, and I found the gameplay experience to be acceptable; there are times that things on the screen, particularly token stack count, that can seem positively tiny. It’s definitely a very busy board as well with lots to keep track of, and I would say that a smaller screened device would not be ideal for playing Small World 2. Likewise, the text and some of the bonuses on the character cards can be difficult to interpret and often the only way to figure out what’s going on is to consult the in-game manual. This obviously isn’t that much of an issue for veteran players, but it’s worth considering if you’re entering the Small World 2 foray.

small world 2 reviewRating: 4/5

Small World 2 is pretty much everything you expected, whether you’ve been following its Kickstarter from the campaign launch or if you’re only discovering it now; for Small World fans and veterans, the entry fee of $9.99 is but a pittance and the game is well made, has plenty of features to cater for you and how you want to play the game. For beginners, the learning curve is steep and the small text size and game icons probably don’t help in that respect, plus the $9.99 price-tag can be a bit off-putting if you’re not going to be sinking many hours into it, but there is a fun game to be had if you’re playing with others or even practicing alone. If you’re interested in picking Small World 2 up, you can find the Play Store links below, or you can visit the Days of Wonder website for more information about all their board games exploits.

Game: Small World 2

Play Store Link

Price: $9.99

9
Feb

Wondering what to play after Flappy Bird gets taken down? We’ve got some Suggestions


what to play after Flappy Bird gets taken downAssuming that Dong Nguyen, creator of virally famous game, Flappy Bird, follows through with his word, Flappy Bird will no longer be available on the Google Play Store. There has been an outpouring of anger, despair, joy but mostly confusion, but addictions need to be satisfied, which leaves us with a question: what to play after Flappy Bird gets taken down? Well, we might just have a few games to suggest that will hit just the right spot.

what to play when flappy bird gets taken downThe first game on our list is called Clumsy Birds, and as you can see from the above screenshot, looks eerily like Flappy Bird, except if anything it looks better with its more current graphics. The game mechanics are literally the same as Flappy Bird; tap to flap, and off you go. Best of all, it’s also free to play, so if you want to try Clumsy Birds out, the Play Store link is below.

Game: Clumsy Birds

Play Store Link

Price: Free

what to play after Flappy Bird gets taken downOur second suggestion is a game called Flappy Wings; no points for guessing where than name came from. Sure enough, Flappy Wings is yet another clone of Flappy Bird and graphically looks a lot closer to the original game. It has, however, already employed some improvements over the original formula including the fact that the pipes change colours every 10 passed and apparently your bird also poops (with sound effects!). Flappy Wings is also a free game and if you want to pick it up, the Play Store link can be found below.

Game: Flappy Wings

Play Store Link

Price: Free

So there you have it: two almost identical clones of Flappy Bird that look like they’re going to be continually updated, at least in the foreseeable future, and should help you get your Flappy Bird fix. Let us know if you try either of these clones and let us know how you find them.

Source: Phones Review

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