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17
May

Moto G and Moto G Plus: It’s bigger, but it’s still a bargain


Lenovo has announced the Moto G for 2016, an updated handset that sticks to those original G aims – being uncompromisingly affordable – but taking this mid-range darling in a new direction. The Moto G is going big. 

This time there are two handsets, a pair of Gs for you to ponder over. They are practically identical, differentiated only by a different rear camera and the addition of a fingerprint scanner on the Plus – and a £30 price difference.

That leaves us scratching our heads. The regular Moto G lacks the appeal of the more fully-featured model, and will anyone really struggle to scrape together the additional tens of pounds they’ll need for the Plus? 

We’ve had our grubby mitts all over Motorola’s latest Androids.

Moto G and Moto G Plus design

The Moto G has changed for 2016, pushing its dimensions out in support of that 5.5-inch display. In many ways, this is Motorola (or Lenovo) keeping up with the Joneses and offering a handset with a competitive size of display, but at the same time, it’s no long the cute but punchy phone the Moto G once was.

But despite moving to a new body that’s 153 x 76.6 x 7.9-9.8mm and 155g, the new Moto G and Moto G Plus carry the hallmarks of Moto design. This is especially evident in the way that this phone is constructed, with a polycarbonate back that clips onto the rear of the phone.

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That leaves the metal frame at the edges, giving a more premium touch point when gripping the phone. That was true of devices like the Moto X and the Motorola-built Nexus 6 too and it results in a phone that’s still nice to grip. There’s still that soft curve over the top where the 3.5mm headphone jack sits, instantly recognisable from any number of previous Moto devices.

Although the phone has grown, it still feels nice enough in the hand. There’s no avoiding the fact that this is a full half an inch bigger on the display than the 2015 model, but for those wanting to go big without breaking the bank, that will be a welcome sight. Some might rue the loss of a more compact but capable phone, however, and that’s something the Moto G was known for. 

The Moto G and Moto G Plus will offer customisation through Moto Maker and you’ll be able to switch those back covers for an instant colour refresh. Again, that was one of the Moto G’s features when the original launched and it’s good to see those fun options retained. The core colour options are white and black. 

For those wondering what the visual difference is between the Moto G and the Moto G Plus, it’s purely in the camera on the rear and the fingerprint scanner. Otherwise, these phones are identical in design and feel.

As for water proofing, the Moto G is protected with P2i coating. This is a water repellent designed to stop water damaging the components if it comes into content with the phone and has been used my Motorola for a number of years.

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Moto G display and hardware

The new Moto G and Moto G Plus sport a 5.5-inch display with a Full HD resolution. Those 1920 x 1080 pixels result in a pixel density of 401ppi. That’s perhaps a little on the low side when compared to flagship devices like the Samsung Galaxy S7 or HTC 10, but in daily use it’s apt for a display of this size.

The display, from what we’ve seen so far, is nice and vibrant and capable of producing some good punchy colours. We’ve not had the chance to test the display outdoors, so it’s difficult to make a definitive judgement on its performance however. 

Sitting at the heart of the Moto G (2016) is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 chipset. This is an octo-core chipset from Qualcomm’s mid-range. It will be pared with 2GB of RAM, although Motorola is saying that there will be 3 and 4GB options, depending on the model you choose. 

Likewise, when it comes to storage, 16GB will be standard, but there will be a 32 and 64GB options, although all these options may vary by markets. In all likelihood, you’ll get more options through Moto Maker, if it’s offered in your region: we suspect that retailer versions will be 2GB/16GB. 

The hardware puts this phone firmly in the mid-range, but from what we’ve experienced of devices like this over the past year, that’s no bad thing. Mid-range phones now pack so much power that they pretty much do everything. Sure, they might not handle the latest 3D games, or offer 4K video capture, in the way that the flagship models do, but in daily tasks, the Moto G and Moto G Plus are likely to be slick and fast. 

From the time we’ve spent with these new handsets we can’t fully gauge the full performance, but will do in a full review shortly. The Moto G Plus also offers a fingerprint scanner for additional security. Again, we’ve not had the chance to test it’s performance, but we’d be reluctant to buy a smartphone without a fingerprint scanner in 2016.

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Moto G and Moto G Plus battery

The Moto G and the Moto G Plus battery is 3000mAh, which sounds fairly generous for a phone of this spec. It should offer all-day battery life without too much of a problem. 

Better still, the new Moto G supports quick charging. When paired with the right type of charger, that will see you getting 6 hours of use from 15 minutes on the charger. Now here comes perhaps the killer difference between these devices: you get the TurboPower charger in the box of the Moto G Plus, but you don’t get it in with the regular Moto G.

Unless you happen to have a TubroPower charger already, then that’s probably a tempting feature that will see you paying for the more advanced handset, as quick charging is a definite advantage.

Again, we’ve not tested the Moto G battery performance in the real world yet, so will update when we can judge its full performance.

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Moto G and Moto G Plus software

For those who like Android the Moto G is a safe place. The Moto G launches on Android 6.0 Marshmallow and it is mostly free from bloat and additions. We love that Android is left unfettered: Motorola is calling this Moto Pure, and it means it’s free from skins, apps and services you probably don’t want. Compare it to a Lenovo phone, for example, and we think it’s a much superior experience.

This software goes as far as offering things like the System Tuner UI (if you know where to find it), which some – like HTC – block access to.

While much of what the Moto G is offering is pure Android, there are a few enhancements from Motorola. These very much follow the lines of Moto’s previous additions to its E, G and X handsets, although as Android has got more sophisticated, Moto has needed to offer less. 

There’s the camera app – which we’ll talk about later – as well as a range of gestures. These gestures will let you do things like flip to silence the phone, or make a chopping action with the phone to turn the torch on. Then you have display option to give you ambient notifications, a long-time Moto favourite.

And that’s about it: it’s Moto Pure and simple, and that’s one of the appeals of the Moto G.

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Moto G and Moto G Plus cameras

There’s a difference in the cameras between the regular Moto G and the G Plus. The Plus version carries a 16-megapixel camera, supported by laser autofocus in addition to phase detection autofocus. The normal G only has a 13-megapixel camera. 

Both cameras have a f/2.0 aperture, but the message here is that the Plus offers better low-light photography, as well as faster focusing. In the time we’ve spent with the new Moto G, this isn’t something we’ve had a chance to fully test, but when taking simultaneous shots, we found the Moto G Plus to offer better results in the conditions we were in. It’s anecdotal for now, but we’ll be sure to fully test the camera when we review both handsets.

Outside of the sensor, both Moto Gs offer a range of features through the Moto camera app. This offers an intuitive layout and we found it fast and easy to launch and use. There’s a menu that swipes out from the left (only in portrait however), to tweak the settings, as well as a pro mode for those who want a little more control.

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The pro mode offers control over things like the shutter speed and the ISO, although we found it only going down to 1/5 sec for exposure time. Compare this to the 2 second exposure offered by HTC, or longer exposures offered by Samsung, and it might not be as flexible as those rivals. However, we’ve still got plenty of exploring to do to fully evaluate its performance. 

The front camera is 5-megapixels on both, and it offers a selfie flash, where the display will illuminate to give you better results in low light conditions. 

First Impressions

The new Moto G and Moto G Plus hangs on to many of the characteristics of the previous Moto G phones, importantly it’s still good value for money. However, there’s a general creep in price and size that some might not like: this could be a 5-inch device that’s cheaper than the £169 starting price offered here.

We’re also left scratching our heads over the two different models. With such a small price difference (£30), we’re wondering whether the standard Moto G really needs to exist. The Moto G Plus is going to be the better model and the one we’re more immediately drawn to. 

We like the new Moto G. It looks like a good, affordable, Android handset that will probably suit plenty of users who want a capable everyday smartphone free from bloat. But this doesn’t quite have the cutesy feel to it that the Moto G originally offered, and that’s a shame. 

The Moto G will be available from early-June for £169. The Moto G Plus will be available from mid-June for £199. We will bring you a full review as soon as we can.

17
May

Amazon gives Alexa more control of your Fire TV


Amazon’s virtual assistant was already hard at work helping with tasks via its Echo speakers and Fire TV, but now Alexa is getting more control of your television. The online retailer announced today that Alexa can handle more requests on its streaming gadgets, including launching apps, playing selections from Amazon video and add-on subscriptions (HBO Go, Starz, Showtime, SeeSo) and browsing local movie times. Fire TV already offered voice search and Alexa has been available on those devices as well, but this update expands the virtual assistant’s workload.

Alexa can also search local business listings and play Kindle books that are equipped with speech-to-text features. What’s more, Fire TV is gaining the ability to play YouTube videos in 4K, so long as the device is connected to a compatible UHD display. Amazon says Alexa’s new chores and the other features will arrive on the streaming gear “in the coming weeks” via an over-the-air update.

Source: Amazon (Business Wire)

17
May

UK government sets new target for superfast broadband rollout


The government has today committed to a new target in its state-subsidised broadband program, aiming to deliver “superfast” internet to 97 percent of homes and businesses before the end of 2019. As The Telegraph reports, this means another half a million underserved premises should expect connections of at least 24 Mbps as part of the new plan. This is in addition to meeting the current goal of getting lines to 95 percent of the UK by the end of next year, with 90 percent already covered.

The government has been under pressure to confirm a wider rollout due to the apparent success of the Broadband Delivery UK initiative thus far. As an incentive to extend broadband infrastructure into harder-to-reach areas, BT was awarded over £1 billion in subsidies. This was based on the presumption that one in five households would sign up for a superfast connection when it became available. Demand has far exceeded expectations, though, causing BT to return more than £250 million to the Treasury. It’s this loose change that’ll be reinvested to meet the 97 percent target.

Commitments like this need to be taken with a pinch of salt, even if the funds are there. Way back in 2009, UK-wide access to 2 Mbps broadband was supposed to be in place by 2012 (though this was proposed by a previous government). Only just before the new year did a 2 Mbps “guarantee” become a reality. Similarly, the goalposts set by the Broadband Delivery UK program have been moved several times over the years, due to various delays.

The government has also been taking flak for backtracking on a plan to make a minimum 10 Mbps connection a legal right, which it has been championing for some time. This was preemptively diluted earlier this month, and it now looks like communities will have to “request” this level of access and may have to contribute to the cost of delivery. Today’s commitment should leave fewer people in that position, but now it’s up to BT to help the government fulfill its promise.

BT no doubt welcomes the challenge. Last September, the company’s CEO talked up progress towards the government’s targets, and said the bar could be set even higher given the better-than-expected uptake of superfast connections. BT also pledged £6 billion to improve broadband and LTE coverage in its most recent financials, all of which should reassure Ofcom it made the right call not to carve out Openreach. In the lead-up to the decision, several broadband rivals said a split was necessary to ensure continued investment in infrastructure, particularly fibre connections.

Source: The Telegraph

17
May

The ‘smoothing beautifier’ will make your 3D prints less ugly


Sculpteo, the Paris-based company that does cloud-based 3D printing for consumers and companies like Staples, has launched a process that results in more finished-looking objects. Called the “smoothing beautifier,” it is used on objects printed by laser sintering, otherwise known as additive manufacturing. Normally, the plastic-based powders result in a rough finish on prototyped objects (or little statues of yourself). However, the new technique, which is applied after printing, provides a “perfectly smooth and shiny finish,” according to the company.

Sculpteo says that it uses a “mix of physical and chemical” processes, though it wouldn’t elaborate more on the patented system. It appears to be similar to acetone or alcohol smoothing techniques used on extruded objects produced by home 3D printers, however. It’s now available in beta, so if you have something to print that needs the extra treatment, you can order it on the company’s site. Just keep in mind that it’ll add extra cost (and several days) to your project.

17
May

IBM’s optical storage is 50 times faster than flash


Flash storage is too slow for your device’s main memory, but RAM is expensive and volatile. Thanks to a breakthrough from IBM, phase-change memory (PCM) might one day replace them both. The crystal-based storage has been used in optical disks and other tech for at least 15 years, but the technology has been limited by the cost and storage density — cells are either “on” or “off.” However, IBM researchers have figured out how to save 3-bits of data per cell, dramatically increasing the capacity of the original tech.

To store PCM data on a Blu-ray disk, you apply a high current to amorphous (non-crystalline) glass materials, transforming them into a more conductive crystale form. To read it back, you apply a lower voltage to measure conductivity — when it’s high, the state is “1,” and when it’s low, it’s “0.” By heating up the materials, more states can be stored, but the problem is that the crystals can “drift” depending on the ambient temperature. IBM’s team figured out how to track and encode those variations, allowing them to reliably read 3-bits of data per cell long after it was written.

That suddenly makes PCM a lot more interesting — its speed is currently much better than flash, but the costs are as high as RAM thanks to the low density. “Reaching 3 bits per cell is a significant milestone because at this density the cost of PCM will be significantly less than DRAM and closer to flash,” says Dr. Haris Pozidis from IBM Research. With the discovery, phase-change memory could become feasible for more than just optical disks.

For instance, PCM memory could be used in conjunction with flash to create an extremely fast cache for a cell phone. “A mobile phone’s operating system could be stored in PCM, enabling the phone to launch in a few seconds,” according to the researchers. It could also replace regular SSDs for time-critical applications, because PCM memory can read data in less than 1 microsecond, compared to 70 microseconds for flash. RAM is still much faster, of course, but in certain applications, PCM could work as “universal” storage and replace both RAM and flash memory.

The research still needs to be developed commercially, and has to compete with other promising tech like memristors and resistive RAM. IBM thinks that it’s more than feasible, however, and sees it as the perfect storage medium for Watson-like artificial intelligence apps.

Source: IBM Research

17
May

WatchESPN brings live and on-demand sports to Android TV


ESPN’s streaming app is already available on a number of streaming gadgets and mobile devices, and now you can watch it on Android TV. WatchESPN’s live and on-demand content is now available on Sony 4K HDR Ultra HD TVs, Sharp Aquos Android TV, Nexus Player, Nvidia Shield and Razer Forge TV. The company says that the app will makes its way to Philips and RCA devices “at a later date.” If you’ll recall, WatchESPN was already available on Google’s Chromecast streaming dongle.

Of course, you’ll need a cable subscription in order to stream the library of sports content, so you may need to temper your expectations. Despite rumors of a standalone NBA streaming service, Disney’s CEO Bob Iger said the company wouldn’t rush the offering early last year. Disney/ABC Television Group says that this ESPN app is the first of its Android TV offerings and that others are “coming soon.”

Source: ESPN

17
May

BitTorrent launches a live video streaming platform


BitTorrent has launched a TV, mobile and desktop app that broadcasts live events, and true to BT’s nature, it uses peer-to-peer technology. The product, aptly named “Live,” livestreams sports matches, news and other types of programming by the company’s broadcasting partners. Due to the tech’s nature, video quality becomes better as more people tune in — BT says the platform allows large audiences to view live videos with sub 10-second latency. Live went into beta a few years ago, and this version is a complete rewrite that applies everything the company learned from its initial release.

The app is free to download and comes with free programming anybody can access, including channels that broadcast electro festivals, MMA and boxing, various ball games, current affairs and tech news. A BT spokesperson told us that it’s not a social streaming app “at this stage,” so you can’t use it for your own broadcasts like Periscope. You’ll eventually have plenty of channels to choose from, though, since the company is adding ad-supported and paid (either subscription- or pay-per-view based) tiers in the future. Live for Apple TV will land on iTunes sometime this week, while the iOS, Android and Mac OS X versions will come out in June.

Source: BitTorrent

17
May

Engadget giveaway: Win a Jamstik+ smart guitar courtesy of Zivix!


If you’ve always wanted to learn guitar, but never seemed to make it past the first few bars of ‘Stairway to Heaven’, this week’s giveaway could be of help. The Jamstik+ is a Bluetooth-connectable instrument that boasts real strings and frets, and works alongside the company’s app to help train first timers and provide portable freedom for impromptu jam sessions. The fretboard includes infrared sensors to gauge your finger placement, which allows the app’s virtual tutor to track your progress in real time. There’s also an arcade mode to add a gaming angle to the learning process. Until recently, the experience was limited to Mac and iOS, but now you can download the app for verified devices running Android 6.0. To help celebrate this launch, Zivix has given us a pair of Jamstik+ smart guitars and carrying cases for two lucky winners. All you need to do is head to the Rafflecopter widget below for up to three chances at winning. If you’re looking to pick one up now, just use the code “androidweek30” for $30 off.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

  • Entries are handled through the Rafflecopter widget above. Comments are no longer accepted as valid methods of entry. You may enter without any obligation to social media accounts, though we may offer them as opportunities for extra entries. Your email address is required so we can get in touch with you if you win, but it will not be given to third parties.
  • Contest is open to all residents of the 50 States, the District of Columbia, and Canada (excluding Quebec), 18 or older! Sorry, we don’t make this rule (we hate excluding anyone), so direct your anger at our lawyers and contest laws if you have to be mad.
  • Winners will be chosen randomly. Two (2) winners will each receive one (1) Jamstik+ SmartGuitar and carrying case.
  • If you are chosen, you will be notified by email. Winners must respond within three days of being contacted. If you do not respond within that period, another winner will be chosen. Make sure that the account you use to enter the contest includes your real name and a contact email. We do not track any of this information for marketing or third-party purposes.
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  • Entries can be submitted until May 18th at 11:59PM ET. Good luck!
17
May

Self-driving car pioneers bring their smarts to trucking


One of the minds at the heart of Google’s self-driving car project has decided that his future lies beyond the search engine. Anthony Levandowski has teamed up with other big names in the world of automotive intelligence to launch a new startup called Otto. Unlike his former initiative, Otto is an attempt to build a system for some of the largest trucks that haul freight up and down our highways. Rather than forcing truck makers to overhaul their vehicles, the Otto platform will be an aftermarket kit that can simply be installed on existing big rigs.

Autonomous cars are difficult because of the various technical and regulatory hurdles that hamper testing. Otto is hoping to slim down the problem by focusing the self-driving tech on highways, leaving a human operator to handle the difficult stuff like the back roads. As soon as the driver hits the freeway, they can engage the autopilot and spend the next half hour working on their version of the great American novel.

Otto’s founders have enough experience in navigation technology to make rivals like Google, Tesla and Uber slightly nervous. The aforementioned Levandowski started out at 510 Systems building self-driving cars before Google purchased it in 2011. Lior Ron, meanwhile, has previously led Google’s mapping division for three years and, after that, worked at Motorola.

The idea of retrofitting a self-driving system onto existing vehicles with off-the-shelf components is also being adopted by Comma.ai. That’s the platform being engineered by George “Geohot” Hotz that recently earned $3.1 million in backing from one of Silicon Valley’s biggest venture capital funds. With Otto’s arrival, it looks as if there’s yet one more contender in the forthcoming mass-brawl over autonomous vehicles.

Via: The Verge

Source: New York Times

17
May

Brain testing app will help diagnose mental health issues


Savonix is a company that claims to take the “analog processes” of cognitive assessment into the digital age. The firm is launching an iOS and Android app that, for the next six weeks, will let anyone examine their own mental ability. Users will have to undergo a series of tests that test the limits of their ability, from smart thinking through to emotional control. Whereas previously these tests would have been worked out on pen-and-paper under the supervision of a stern looking psychologist, now it’s open to anyone. After the open beta closes and all of the kinks have been worked out, the app will become exclusively available to users who license the app through “healthcare organizations.”

I put myself forward as a test subject, spending 40 minutes in a quiet room going through the various examinations. If you’ve ever played Brain Age / Dr. Kawashima’s Brain Training on the Nintendo DS, you’ll be familiar with the territory here. If you’re not, then it’s a series of 12 cognition tests, ranging from remembering a list of words to drawing a picture from memory. There are also more advance examinations, such as the Iowa Gambling Task through to spotting someone’s perceived emotion from a still image of their face.

The test is reasonably simple to complete and to do so in the comfortable surroundings of your own home helps. The instructions are unthreatening and, on the most part, easy to understand, although a bug in the app robbed me of my practice run for one of the sections. As a tool to make general conclusions in a quick, easy and cheap manner for mental health professionals, it seems like something of a no brainer. Just be warned: if you don’t have a psychological condition that needs attention, don’t be offended if you get called average.

Source: Savonix (App Store), Savonix (Google Play), Savonix

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