Here’s what it’s like to use a watch as a phone
No one wants the smartwatch category to succeed more than I do. As a kid, I dreamed of enjoying TV on my watch, or video calling “HQ” (or more likely, my mum), just like Penny in Inspector Gadget. Most smartwatches offer a taste of this experience, but not the whole enchilada. Enter Neptune Pine. It’s a smartwatch by the loosest definition: it’s a small Android phone in a wrist-strap. Whatever you want to call it, it’ll do both of the above things, and more. It’s also a genuine Kickstarter success story — like, one, where the product came out and everything! It might not be the first smartwatch/phone mash-up, and it’s (definitely) not the last. But, it’s one of the more ambitious takes on the idea I’ve seen. I spent seven days with it (and no other phone) to see how my dream stands up to the reality — and whether a watch could ever replace your trusty mobile. The galleries tell much of the story, so be sure to jump in when you see them.
I’m not joking when I say it’s a small phone. It has a 2.4-inch (320 x 240) display, has a micro-SIM slot, runs Android (JellyBean), comes with 512MB of RAM (plus 16- or 32GB of storage) has front and rear cameras and, well, pretty much everything you’d expect from a phone (GPS, apps, headphone jack etcetera). It’s a chunky device — pretty much what you’d expect a wrist-phone to look like. It’s also undoubtedly bigger than any watch I have ever used. By some margin. Dive in to the gallery to see for yourself.
If the form factor isn’t an issue for you (the strap comes with two choices: like it, or lump it), there’s the software to consider. Most smartwatches come with a custom user interface (until Android Wear showed up). Neptune’s plumped for stock Android, just as you already know it. While the screen size is uncommon these days, the resolution isn’t wacky (HTC’s Wildfire, for example, was/is 320 x 240), so theoretically most apps should work. How well is something of a case by case journey of discovery. But, if you’re wondering what Facebooking, tweeting or dialling a number from your wrist would be like, you’ll see in the gallery below. In short, with a bit of work, the Pine can feel just like
your a regular Android. But, not without some important caveats. This raises the question: If a proprietary interface can’t win people over, and stock Android has challenges, where to do watch-phones go from here?
Let’s tackle the (other) elephant in the room. The biggest barrier for wearables is how they look and feel — a nut that’s yet to be cracked, despite best efforts. This shouldn’t be a surprise though, given that, well, you’re wearing these things. The Neptune Pine is big, chunky, and a bit uncomfortable if worn for long periods. It also has no style customization options (at time of writing), and, well, it’s fairly ugly. Like babies, though, some parents (owners) will love it regardless — but it’s definitely high on the dorky scale. I’m okay with it, but others, many others, won’t be. Of course, that might not be a problem if the user experience is delightful. Sadly, that’s not quite how I’d describe it. The lack of Google services/Play store out of the box means it requires some noodling to get it just how you want it. For those mainstream consumers who could see past the exterior, the Play hurdle is likely enough to turn them off. Then there are the small idiosyncrasies, like having to take it out of the strap (which can be a clumsy task) if you want to take a picture — so no impulse snaps we’re afraid.
The minor gripes continue. The headphone experience is only worth thinking about if you’re using a Bluetooth set. I think it’s nice to have the option of a 3.5mm line out for a number of reasons, but practical headphone use isn’t one of them. Put on some headphones now, and tuck the cable under a watch — you’ll soon see what I mean. More pressing (no pun intended), are the issues with the display. The touch detection is frustrating. Typing is possible, but quite often it can feel like you’re drunk, as you mash the tiny keys and the wrong letters or options respond. It’s serviceable, but it’s not perfect — SwiftKey works, and improves the experience somewhat. But input is a fundamental that companies will need to figure out. It can also be a little uncomfortable holding your wrist in the right position for typing/watching video. This is exacerbated by the fact the Pine’s screen has fairly poor viewing angles. Worse, is that if worn on the left wrist (for most right-handers), it’s that angle you’ll be viewing from that suffers most. The last of the bad news is that the battery life is just okay enough to see you through a day. But it’s usually a close call. Displays, input and battery-life: none of them new challenges for smartwatches.
There are positives though. Using apps like Skype, maps, and fitness loggers is, dare I say it, an improvement on the experience you often get on a phone. Voice calls do work, and still feel kinda “fun” or futuristic. You’ll definitely want to have a hands-free ready, but it’s not a bad experience. It’s also a good general purpose media player. While you wouldn’t want to watch a film on a smartwatch, it can make a great mp3/music player, and there’s definitely a novelty factor to watching YouTube videos on one (that, plus Skype, satisfies my childhood dreams!).
The bottom line, though, is that Pine only proves what plenty already suspected — a watch can’t usurp your phone, at least not yet, not permanently. The Pine has enough going for it though that it deserves, and already looks to have, a dedicated fan-base. Android tweakers, tech-savvy folk who can tolerate low-level gripes for a device that does more things, hobby-hackers and lovers of geek-chic (I kinda warmed to the looks of it myself in the end) will get on well with Pine. There are other entrants into this market. Samsung’s new Gear S is definitely a more refined take on the idea (in design at least, but the UI is yet to be proven). Perhaps the hybrid watch/phone will mature into something more practical and public-ready. But that time isn’t now.
Filed under: Cellphones, Wearables, Mobile
Motorola Migrate just got more powerful
The worst part about getting new phones is having to recollect all of your contacts. Well Motorola decided to make that easier. Motorola Migrate is a powerful tool by Motorola that enables users to transfer data from their old phones to their new Motorola handset. Initially, it would only work with your old Android phones, but a update later added compatibility for iPhones. Now in this latest update, you can also transfer your contacts from any Bluetooth enabled device!
This is especially useful because it is doubtful that your none smartphone device could sync your contacts with Google or has a SIM card that would fit into your new Moto phone. Now just about anyone can make sure that they retain all of their contact information when moving to a Motorola device.
With this update, Motorola also introduced a new icon for Migrate along with a new UI that is cleaner and easier to follow.
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IRL: How the University of Michigan failed to cure my jetlag
I’m not complaining about my life, but one of the downsides of international travel is that it’s an in-and-out process. That means I land, scratch together a few hours of fitful sleep and then dive head-first into the breakneck pace of covering a trade show. By the time I’ve adapted to a new time zone, it’s time to pack up and go home. That’s why an app called Entrain from the University of Michigan was such an exciting prospect, since it promised to help my circadian rhythms resume normal operation in record time and hopefully make those first few days a little less painful
The app works by building a model of your body clock, so if you normally wake at 7 AM and go to bed at 10 PM, it’ll start working out the best way to painlessly adjust your sleep cycle. When you schedule a trip to a new country, you can start making tweaks ahead of time. It does this by telling you to spend periods in darkness and light, since it’s these stimuli that affect your ability to regulate your body’s rhythms.
How this works in practice is that if you’re preparing to fly from the UK to the US, you should spend three or four days beforehand with a 10,000-lux lamp pointing at your head overnight. When you then land at the other end of your journey, you need to plunge yourself into darkness just as the day begins. To this day, I can’t work out if I’m meant to be sleeping or just sitting in rooms with a blindfold on my face. The university asks you submit your lighting schedule to the app so it can tweak settings accordingly for the following day.
There are two problems with this approach.
Firstly, the app isn’t particularly well designed, and while I feel bad for kicking sand in the eyes of the graduate students who put this together, it’s not that easy to use. You select “Schedule Travel” for instance, and set a regime, but if you mistakenly go back to the dashboard, you have to reselect and reschedule your travel if you want to go back to your pre-arranged program. Given that it resets the start date of your program at this point, the app was advising me to start training for a trip in October on August 14th. Rather than being able to simply bulk-select which hours you were in “light” and which you were in “darkness,” you have to press each hour slot individually until the correct option comes around, which gets tremendously tiresome.
Then there’s the fact that the sort of people who need to overcome jetlag quickly and efficiently are precisely the sort of people who can’t follow the program because they have jobs. Those “dark” and “light” periods before my flight would have directly flown in the face of my working hours, and I doubt too many other people could legitimately not come into the office because they’re “entraining.” On my last trip to San Francisco, it was lunchtime, and I had to go from the hotel straight to the office. The app, on the other hand, advised me that I should sit in a darkened room for the remainder of the afternoon.
If you’re on holiday — or you have very understanding employers — this app may offer some benefit to your future trips. If you have to work for a living, I’d suggest doing what I did: If you’re able, just take your running clothes to the office and go for a nice long run when you clock out, drink plenty of water and eat dinner at local time. It’s not perfect, but if you don’t have infinite free time, struggling on through the headaches and lethargy is still your best solution.
Filed under: Software
Farewell, IFA 2014
Everything that goes out of fashion, we’re told, will eventually come back, which is why we still have a pair of tight leather pants and some bell-bottom flares stashed in the back of our wardrobe. It’s a similar trend with consumer technology, and this year’s IFA has seen fit to bring back head-mounted VR (last seen in the early ’90s), netbooks (declared dead a in 2011) and digital watches. Of course, it wasn’t just these devices that got unveiled at the show, after all, there was also Samsung’s bent-screen phablet and Kobo’s waterproof e-reader. Still, if you think that you missed out on any of the devices that were announced over the last week, why not check out our gallery for a few of the highlights.
Filed under: Samsung, Sony, ASUS, Google, LG
Apple Filling Out Flyover City Tours Ahead of iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite Launches [iOS Blog]
One of the new mapping features included in iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite is Flyover city tours, which leverages the existing Flyover imagery to provide users with an automated aerial tour of landmarks in a given city. When the feature first appeared early in the iOS 8 beta testing process, only a handful of cities were supported, and while the number of available tours remains small, Apple has added several dozen more cities over time.
Apple currently documents 90 cities, parks, and landmarks where the standard Flyover feature is available. Of these 90 locations where users can view interactive 3D maps, 40 currently have the automated Flyover tours enabled under iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite.
Apple’s list of Flyover locations with current Flyover tour cities boxed in green
As with the Flyover feature itself, the list of cities with Flyover tour support is an eclectic one, ranging from major cities such as London, Paris, and New York to smaller areas such as Cheyenne, Wyoming and Linköping, Sweden, home of the C3 Technologies, the company whose technology was leveraged for Flyover after Apple acquired it several years ago.
During the beta testing period for iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite, Apple has also tweaked the means of identifying locations with Flyover tours enabled, making them easier to find. Initially, cities with the feature available were identifiable only by the text of the city name being in yellow rather than the standard white in Hybrid view. Apple has since tweaked the display to instead identify Flyover tour cities with a small “3D” icon instead of the standard dot used to mark location.
iOS 8 had been expected to see a number of significant mapping improvements, but the service was all but ignored during Apple’s overview of the upcoming operating system at its Worldwide Developer Conference in June. Apple’s maps team has reportedly been suffering from issues related to internal politics and the departure of a number of key members. The issues appear to have slowed the team’s progress, and thus larger mapping improvements originally slated for iOS 8 may instead be pushed back to a later update such as a future iOS 8.1.
Inhabitat’s Week in Green: plastic bag ban, solar briefcase and gold in the sand
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.
It’s been a bright summer for solar energy — Samoa just cut the ribbon on the largest solar array in the South Pacific, and even Saudi Arabia — the country with one of the largest oil reserves in the world — is investing heavily in photovoltaic technology. We also showcased an awesome energy-generating briefcase that lets you carry solar power everywhere you go! In other renewable energy news, Seoul, Korea, is planning to install new hydro-powered charging stations so that residents can keep their mobile devices charged. The city will install mini hydroelectric turbines embedded in the Cheonggyecheon River, which runs through the capital’s downtown. And a town in Denmark just unveiled an amazing Energy Tower that transforms trash into electricity!
Speaking of waste, Swedish officials recently announced that the country now recycles or reuses 99 percent of its trash. Lawmakers in California just passed the country’s first statewide ban on plastic bags. The ban could go into effect as soon as January 1, 2015. Meanwhile, 19-year-old Boyan Slat is currently raising funds for his ocean cleanup array — a device that could rid the seas of plastic pollution. So far, the project has raised $1.6 million, and it has just a few days left to hit its $2 million funding goal. And the famous yarn bomber Olek caused a bit of a stir — not the good kind — when she performed one of her “interventions” earlier this month on Jason deCaires Taylor’s famous underwater sculptures in Cancun. Mexican authorities contend that the yarn may have damaged some endangered species.
Volkswagen just announced the pricing details for the e-Golf electric car, its first EV to be offered in the United States, this week. The car will start at $36,265 before any state or federal subsidies when it arrives in November. In other green transportation developments, San Francisco is poised to get its first raised bikeway next year. The development will include permeable pavement, two new plazas and a protected bike path that is separated from both the street and the sidewalk. In England, the UK’s Airports Commission rejected Foster + Partners’ plans for a new international airport in England’s Thames Estuary. And elsewhere in the Thames, a gigantic, larger-than-life hippo has been spotted basking in the sun!
School’s in session — and Inhabitat just launched two contests to help students prepare for a green academic year! High school or college students can win a brand-new bike or a solar-powered backpack, and parents can win $100 in green school supplies for their kids. In other news, a German artist buried $16,000 worth of gold in a sandy beach in England. The artist, Michael Sailstorfer, expects people to flock to the beach to dig it up. “Some people will get lucky; some people will not get lucky — and that’s life.” Meanwhile, an artist in Brooklyn hooked himself up to a CNC machine to draw a self-portrait using his own blood. “By creating a self-portrait, the work references other culturally symbolic ideas to do with narcissism and inward thinking — the essence of the ‘selfie,’ which is clearly having its moment,” Ted Lawson said. And just for fun, we shared the latest in juice-making technology: using underwater shockwaves to liquefy the insides of veggies so you can pop in a straw and take a sip!
More Photos and Videos of Claimed Working iPhone 6 Devices Surface
Following yesterday’s leak of what appeared to be a working 4.7-inch iPhone 6, passions have run high between those who believe the device to be genuine and those who believe it to be a fake or a clone. Commenters in our forums naturally scrutinized the images and videos looking for inconsistencies and have found a few, including longer hands on the Clock app icon, an “upside down” color gradient on the Music app icon, while others argue the complete package of features shown would almost certainly not be able to faked to the degree seen.
Since the original leak, several other claimed iPhone 6 devices have been appearing on Chinese sites, giving the opportunity for even more examination of the possible authenticity. One user on video sharing site MiaoPai who had posted a few brief videos of the device in action that we added in an update to our previous post has continued posting clips, with well over a dozen now available on his page.
In addition, a seven-minute Youku video review of the device has been posted walking through a number of features and giving overall impressions of the device.
Debate about the authenticity of these devices will obviously continue until Tuesday’s official unveiling of the iPhone 6, and readers are welcome to share their thoughts in our discussion forums.
Former GT Employee Appears to Confirm Apple’s Plans for Sapphire Display Covers
While it is commonly taken as a foregone conclusion that the sapphire partnership between Apple and GT Advanced Technologies is focused on iPhone display covers, it bears noting that the two companies have never publicly confirmed what the sapphire will be used for.
Sapphire is already used to protect the camera and Touch ID sensor on recent iPhone models, and the material is also said to be planned for Apple’s rumored iWatch, but the sheer amount of sapphire production apparently involved points to much bigger plans such as iPhone display covers.
Given the lack of confirmation from the two companies, it is interesting that Paul Matthews, a former GT product manager, outright claims on his LinkedIn profile (via TechViking) that he played a key role in convincing Apple to use sapphire for display covers on “mobile devices.”
Worked with GT Advanced Technology to help market and sell the idear [sic] of sapphire as a cover screen for mobile devices to Apple. […]
After marketing and selling the ASF [advanced sapphire furnace] into the LED market targeted mobile screen covers as a market for growth, conducted a focused marketing campaign and developed a cost model across the supply chain that has brought sapphire to Apple’s mobile display
Matthews, who spent three years at GT before leaving in January to join Applied Materials, does not identify the mobile devices in question, but given circulating rumors, the iPhone is the obvious candidate. The iWatch could also be considered in the category of mobile devices, but in general it seems clear from Matthews’ wording that Apple indeed has plans to use sapphire to protect device displays, a much broader use for the material than seen to date.
Alongside GT’s apparently aggressive ramp-up of sapphire production at its new Arizona plant, rumors have indicated Apple had indeed been targeting the iPhone 6 for the launch of sapphire display covers. Analysts have, however, been debating how extensively the material will be used in the lineup’s displays, with most claims ranging from only high-end models to not at all as Apple and GT work to boost production and overcome other hurdles.
(Image: GT sapphire furnace)
Steve Ballmer wrote Windows’ first Blue Screen of Death error message
Whether Microsoft likes it or not, Windows’ Blue Screen of Death error is iconic — it’s the universal sign that something really bad has happened to your software. But who wrote the original message that would grace the screens of sick PCs worldwide? None other than Steve Ballmer, according to company veteran Raymond Chen. The executive (then in charge of the Systems Division) reportedly didn’t like the warning text that engineers first wrote, and took up a challenge to write better material himself. As it turns out, Ballmer did a good enough job that his version made it into the shipping product “pretty much word for word.” The message has long since changed and thankfully appears much less often on modern computers, but it’s fun to think that the owner of the LA Clippers is also responsible for an app crash alert seen by millions of people.
Filed under: Software, Microsoft
Source: The Old New Thing
Fossil and Intel are teaming up to make Android Wear devices
With the smartwatch space heating up, more and more high quality watchmakers are looking to make entry into this space. Fossil, maker of some truly breathtaking watches, is next on that list of interested parties and have just announced a partnership between Fossil and Intel to create Android Wear devices. In fact, Fossil is no stranger to the smartwatch industry; MetaWatch is a Fossil-branded offshoot, albeit one that hasn’t quite reaped the rewards it might have expected. Despite this, it looks like they’re willing to have another go, this time with a different operating system and Intel fanning wind into their sails.
However, it doesn’t look like Fossil and Intel’s ambitions end with wrist wearables. With quotes like this:
“Combining our fashion lifestyle brands with Intel’s expertise in technology, hardware and innovation will position us to be a leader in this segment.” – CEO of Fossil, Kosta Kartsotis
“The combination of Intel’s technology and Fossil Group’s ability to design innovative fashion accessories and to create, market and distribute globally is why we are confident about this initiative.” – VP and GM of Intel New Devices, Mike Bell
It looks like Fossil and Intel are leaving the door open for wearable technologies to be mixed into Fossil’s jewelry and accessories business too. That could be an important innovative differentiation in a market now crowded by wrist wearables, but we’ll see where this partnership goes.
What do you think about Fossil and Intel teaming up to make wearable technology? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
Source: Intel Newsroom via engadget
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