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Posts from the ‘Software’ Category

14
Dec

Photoshop is ready to put your MacBook Pro Touch Bar to work


When Apple replaced the physical function keys on the new MacBook Pro with a swipe-friendly Touch Bar, the company touted its ability to make edits with apps like Final Cut Pro and Photoshop a breeze. While the new laptop has been available for a few weeks now, today Adobe announced that its flagship photo-editing app is ready to play nice with the machine.

As part of an update to Photoshop that’s available now, Adobe’s custom support for the OLED touch panel means you’ll be able to use that space above the keyboard to help with adjustments to your image and design files. The company says in addition to giving you quick access to tools, it’s also handy for providing a contextual next step based on the task you’ve just completed. In other words, the app will display the item you’re likely to need next to keep your workflow moving along.

Adobe also says that the Touch Bar makes adjustments that can be cumbersome with a keyboard or mouse a bit more comfy. It’s easy to see how any behaviors that employ sliders would benefit from the integration. Touch Bar functionality inside Photoshop is divided into three sections: Layer Properties, Brushes and Favorites.

The Layer Properties tab will give you access to things like blend modes, scrubbing through the file’s history, placing Smart Objects, clipping layers and more. For Brushes, a slider allows you to adjust color, size, hardness, opacity and flow with just a finger and a swipe. Last but not least, Favorites brings the items that you use most to the Touch Bar so you can get at them quickly. Tools like full screen mode and flipping the canvas horizontal or vertical are examples of the options here.

Adobe explains that it will “continue to evolve” Touch Bar support, so perhaps we’ll see even more features down the road. For now, you can get started with what’s already here by updating to the latest version of Photoshop via Updates from the Help menu inside the app. When you need a break from work, Doom and a piano are waiting for you.

Source: Adobe

13
Dec

Vainglory – MOBA should stand for Multiplayer Online Battle Awesomeness (App Review)


When you think of a first-class gaming experience, mobile gaming is not usually what comes to mind. There have been quite a few really fantastic mobile games, but most are just for a quick gaming session, with very few offerings for the serious gamer. If you’re into serious gaming or eSports, you’re probably going to be on a powerful PC or console. Vainglory looks to change the face of mobile gaming with a massively multiplayer experience and an up-and-coming eSport focus. Does it’s gameplay live up to its ambition? Let’s take a look.

Developer: Super Evil Megacorp
Cost: Free with in-app purchases
Download: Play Store, iOS

Overview

Vainglory is a MOBA, which stands for Multiplayer Online Battle Arena. The basic idea is there are two teams made up of three players each, and each team is trying to destroy the others base. To do this, they need to travel down a center lane and destroy giant turret guns protecting the enemy’s base.  There is a constant stream of minions pouring out of each base that will do little more than distract the enemy. It takes teamwork, quick thinking, and powerful hero skills to win the battle.

vainglorygameplay

Setup

Vainglory is a big game with lots of moving parts and many things to learn before you can just jump in. To help with the otherwise steep learning curve, the game walks you through several tutorial missions that cover everything from basic movements and maneuvers, several different special abilities, unlocking heroes, and some light strategy to help you win. All of this takes about an hour, but it’s worth your time to really understand all of the things going on in battle, as they can get quite fast-paced.

To really get the most out of the game, you need to create a profile to be able to access all the features and events. At the time of this writing, there’s a tournament coming up where you could win an iPhone 7, so we’re not just talking about in-game currency or a unique character, but actual real life prizes. There’s also an active community, friends list, and even an eSport league, so when it asks if you want to register, do it.

Gameplay 

 

Some of the many, many characters available from the huge rosterSome of the many, many characters available from the huge roster

The gameplay is solid and really easy once you’ve learned how to play. There are around 30 different heroes to choose from, each with multiple unique abilities, so playing around with all of them is key to discovering which characters skills fit your play style. I’m partial to Saw and his giant minigun, but there are quick run-and-gun characters, sword wielders who get up close and personal, and even little mage dragons who look like they came right out of Digimon. No matter your playstyle, there’s something for everyone. Each week there are new free-to-try heroes, which can be unlocked through collecting in-game objects or can be purchased through in-app purchases, so if there’s someone you really like, you can have them available, but for me personally, I enjoy playing with all of the different character types and trying them out for the week. If during that time there is a character that you especially like, you can purchase them for 10% off their regular price, which is a great system.

Depending on your match type, each round could take anywhere from 5 minutes up to 30+ minutes. At the start of each round, you have a small amount of money to buy one piece of equipment with, but as you mow down minions and enemy heroes, you’ll gradually gain both gold and experience. Gold can be use at your base or as item shops on the battlefield to purchase new equipment that will increase your attack, defense, speed, or grant new abilities, such as short speed bursts. Experience allows you to upgrade abilities and unlock new abilities for the round. Each round starts you off with little equipment and gold, allowing you to rebuild in different ways depending on what is needed for the round. If a certain enemy is resilient to your first ability but crumbles against your second, you can tailor your build during that game to boost the damage and level of your second ability. There’s also gameplay modes that will start your character at level 4 with a good sum of gold from the start so you can jump right into the action.

The biggest draw to Vainglory is the fact that the game is centered around multiplayer. There are some bot modes to play but they are just considered practice rounds, and your AI controlled allies can pretty much be forgotten about because they will be off lollygagging about and will not be much help. Connecting to other players and working together to overthrow the other team is the heart and soul of this game, and when you find players that you play well with, the game really shines. A strong team usually consists of characters that can cover each other weaknesses, but I’ve played matches where my teammates and I overwhelmed the other team through sheer force alone. The variety of character you’ll be playing with, both on your team and against, always keeps matches fresh and fun.

battlefield

This game is beautiful. There are brilliant colors everywhere on the battlefield. All around you are lush bushes, pathways that have been trampled by war, and incredible masonry surrounding each base. Character animation is smooth and using abilities is fun with leaps and dives and uppercuts that all transition seamlessly into one another. All the characters have unique looks and multiple costumes.

The Verdict

Vainglory is all the fun of the MOBA games on PC only in a pocket format. The characters are varied and unique, and with a heavy focus on multiplayer and events, there’s always new content to discover. In-app purchases are available but hardly necessary, which is great for those who want things right away and don’t mind paying, but it’s also great too for those on a budget. If you are a fan of MOBAs, action games, or enjoy serious gaming on the go, download this now.

13
Dec

Tinder’s Apple TV app gives you another way to swipe right


If you’ve ever thought that you’d rather browse Tinder profiles on your TV screen rather than swiping on your phone, you’re in luck. The company now has an Apple TV app that will allow you to just that. Thanks to the set-top box and its touch-friendly remote, you can swipe right, left and up while browsing for perspective matches on the biggest screen in your house in HD.

Tinder offers the scenarios where you would want to use a dating app on your TV as being able to take a look when phones aren’t allowed at the table or getting feedback from family. However, it’s probably best to wait until they’re not around to start looking for love, but what do I know. In addition to the swipe controls, Tinder Plus subscribers can also shake the Apple TV remote to rewind. If you’re ready to get started, the app is available for the streaming device now from the App Store.

12
Dec

Nero TuneItUp | Boost & Clean Review


nero tune it up

Established software maker Nero AG has been around for over 20 years–and over those years Nero has made a large variety of unique software. Starting with media software for PCs in the mid-to-late 90s, and eventually moving to mobile platforms, Nero knows how to build smart and stable software.

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Nero’s solution to Android users is Nero TuneItUp Boost & Clean. While the name doesn’t quite roll off the tongue with ease, it does do a good job of explaining what the application offers. This Android app for smartphones and tablets is designed to quickly and effectively free memory and boost battery life. But how well does it work?

The overall look of Nero TuneItUp is clean with basic colors overlaying white tiles. This makes it easy to understand what each tile is used for while navigating about the main screen. I found it to be so simple that almost any basic user should understand the layout of each section.

The overall design leaves a lot to be desiredThe overall design leaves a lot to be desired

The main screen has four options to choose from upon booting the application. Here you can choose to ‘SPEED UP SYSTEM’, ‘CLEAN UP STORAGE’, ‘DELETE TRACES’, or ‘SPEED UP PC’. As you can see, one of these options doesn’t quite belong here. The last option (SPEED UP PC) is essentially an ad, or more appropriately, a link to Nero’s website that allows you to purchase Nero TuneItUp for your PC.

SPEED UP SYSTEM

Upon opening the first selection titled ‘SPEED UP SYSTEM’ you will see the current “processes” that are running on your device. At the top of the screen, Nero TuneItUp will indicate how “limited” your system currently is. What Nero is looking for here is how many applications (or processes) are currently running and how much resources are being used by these applications. At the bottom of the screen, you will see a button that will show ‘SPEED UP SYSTEM (CLOSE ALL PROCESSES)’ followed by the number of processes that will be closed.

Nero TuneItUp will warn you if your speed is severely limited--but is it right?Nero TuneItUp will warn you if your speed is severely limited–but is it right?

Here’s where things get tricky. If you ask Google (the creators of the Android operating system) if you should consistently close processes, they will tell you are only hurting your device in the long run. Closing processes can actually slow down your system and drain your battery. Android, and iOS for that matter, both use algorithms to determine which applications and processes should lie dormant and which ones should remain in memory. If you are stopping processes that may be used in the future, you may just use more time and battery to reload them back into memory. This is counterintuitive and not recommended. So, what else does Nero TuneItUp offer?

CLEAN UP STORAGE

The next tile available on the main screen of TuneItUp is ‘CLEAN UP STORAGE’. Like the previous option, this section of TuneItUp will indicate how “healthy” your device is. Once you open the ‘CLEAN UP STORAGE’ submenu, you will see different options to clean up storage space on your device. Options can include ‘App Data’, ‘Downloads’, and ‘Large Files’, and each option will show approximately how much storage is being used in each category.

Here you can see what is using the most of your storage spaceHere you can see what is using the most of your storage space

A lot of this data that is being used is cache data. If your phone or tablet is low on storage, you can delete cache data off of your device to give you more space for music, apps or videos, etc., but again, it is not recommended to delete cached data. Removing cache data may slow down applications in the future as it is intended to reduce internet fetching of basic information. Regardless, always use caution when deleting data off of your Android device, as recovering lost data can be a little tricky.

DELETE TRACES

So, the final feature of Nero TuneItUp is ‘DELETE TRACES’. Upon opening this menu you will be given a handful of options to clear out history, location and call data. This will not necessarily offer any speed or performance gains, but is more geared towards users that are paranoid about another person or agency accessing identifiable personal data. I can see where some might find these features handy, but I don’t believe most general users will find many benefits in clearing their call histories.

Feel like someone is watching you? Use Nero TuneItUp to erase your tracks!Feel like someone is watching you? Use Nero TuneItUp to erase your tracks!

Nero TuneItUp is an interesting piece of software. No part of it can be highly recommended in use on a regular basis. However, where TuneItUp may come in handy is in a specific use. For example, if you were looking for a large file that you downloaded, Nero TuneItUp could possibly find it in your downloads folder faster than digging through your download history or file system. Or maybe you have a process that is causing stability issues on your device and you want to try to isolate it. The possibilities are there.

Overall, all things work as intended within TuneItUp. The app is fairly bland in design, which is fine but does nothing for the loading speed of each function. I was surprised at how slow some functions took to gather initial data. Once loaded, it was quick to switch between functions but left me unimpressed. Nero’s TuneItUp | Boost & Clean looks to be somewhat of a trojan application designed to push users to use the PC version of TuneItUp. Nero identifies TuneItUp as ad free, which is not entirely true. Save your time and storage space and skip this application, unless you really need it for a quick solution to a small problem.

9
Dec

Google Pixel XL review


Since launching in 2009, the Nexus line has been a loosely collected family of phones from Google. Whereas they may be designed as a series of devices, they have thus far been perceived as one-off models launched roughly once per year.

Initially, the Nexus One was introduced as somewhat of a benchmark device from Google. As the first year or so of Android was off to a slow start, Google was hoping for a quickened pace. In its eyes, phones needed to be at a higher level than where they were. At the rate things were moving it would take forever for Android to hit its stride. Processor speeds, memory, and storage were almost all identical across the smartphone landscape. Google expected more. Enter the HTC-built Nexus One.

nexus_oneThe Nexus One not only moved the needle in terms of hardware, it was also the first to launch with Android 2.1 Eclair. In short, this was the latest in greatest in software and included features such as live wallpapers and speech-to-text.

The Nexus One, for its part, was an interesting gamble for Google mostly because it was sold unlocked and direct to consumers. Sure, there would ultimately be other ways of getting the phone, but this was a bold move for Google. While everyone in the US was content to sign contracts for their phones, Google was going straight at buyers with a $530 price tag.

The years that followed saw Google releasing successors from other manufacturers including Samsung, LG, Huawei, and Motorola. Each would be branded with some form of Nexus classification, but it was not a simple case of adding a new number to each iteration.
Although fanboys and enthusiasts would be able to identify the various Nexus models and their respective specs, the casual buyer often couldn’t. Given that some models would be sold through carriers and others wouldn’t, it was hard to draw a line through them. It didn’t help that the method of selling would vary for every single Nexus device. Simply put, the Nexus line had a hard time gaining real-world attraction.

As service providers began to loosen their grip with contracts, consumers were soon to learn the true cost of phones. Five years ago it would not be uncommon for a flagship phone to be $200 with a two-year plan. Ask a typical consumer how much the phone costs without subsidy and you’d likely get met with blank stares.

With each successive model came different sizes and specifications, and that also meant different prices, too. Whereas launch prices were as low as $299 at one point, they have also been as high as $699.

One common thread among the Nexus phones is that it debuts with a new version of Android. It has so far been the benchmark experience device in Google’s opinion and is designed with the new software features in mind. Not only the freshest build of Android but one that would receive direct and timely updates from Google.

A New Era

If you want the premier Android experience as intended by Google, there’s no way around it; you have to buy a Nexus phone. All of that changed in 2016 when Google introduced a different model and branding convention. October 4, 2016 saw the debut of the Google Pixel and its larger counterpart, the Pixel XL.

google_pixel_xl_03The Pixel, like the Nexus, is the full Android-at-its-very-best smartphone that Google envisions for its customers. But, rather than working in tandem with a hardware partner, Google appears to have exercised more control over the experience. Further, it’s not just Android that consumers get in the Pixel; this is the first smartphone to employ the Google Assistant. A gateway to a much larger world of knowledge and information curation, it’s the same tech that powers its standalone Google Home, too.

Further, the Pixel and Pixel XL are the first phones with certification for the Daydream View VR headset. Thanks to its advanced internal hardware, the handsets feature more accurate sensors, better displays, and stellar processor performance.

In terms of sheer hardware specs, the Pixel and Pixel XL share nearly every component. Save for their display size and battery, both are the same and offer up some of the best smartphone packages to date.

Key features:

  • Operating System: Android 7.1 Nougat
  • Display: 5.0″ or 5.5″ AMOLED
  • Cameras: Rear: 12.3 MP • Front: 8 MP
  • Processors: Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor
  • Memory & Storage: RAM: 4GB | Storage: 32GB & 128GB
  • Dimensions & Weight: Pixel: 5.66 x 2.74 in | Pixel XL: 6.09 x 2.98 in
  • Battery: Pixel: 2,770 mAh | Pixel XL: 3,450 mAh
  • Network: Worldwide network/carrier compatibility
  • Materials: Anodized aluminum | Corning Gorilla Glass 4

Design

Although it looks every bit a “Google” product, the Pixel phones were quietly manufactured with help from HTC. If you’ve paid close attention to what HTC’s recent phones look like, you’ll certainly see traces of the design language. In other words, the aluminum unibody, radius corners, chamfered edges, and premium heft is likely all HTC’s doing.

google_pixel_xl_08The phone itself feels solid in the hand. Really, that’s likely the best word I can use to describe the way it comes across. It’s comfortable to hold, but when using one hand it tends to feel a little top-heavy at points. It could be that my hand’s not as big as it should be; the Pixel feels more natural and easy to use with one hand.

Flip the phone over and there’s no mistaking the Pixel or Pixel XL for any other phone. Sure, it’s definitely more than a wee bit iPhone-ish on the front, but many models can be accused of the same. The rear, though, has roughly two-thirds of it covered in aluminum while the top third is glass backed with a plastic insert. The glass, for its part, allows for slightly more grip than the rest of the body. The trade-off by going this route, though, is that it picks up micro scuffs and fingerprints; it can be cracked much easier than aluminum.

The fingerprint sensor sits in the middle of the glass panel and in a spot that feels natural when you hold the phone. It’s the same area that the Nexus 6P has its scanner and right about where the LG G series puts its power and volume buttons. In the weeks I’ve used the phone I’ve become very comfortable with where it’s located. Moreover, I appreciate the subtle Pixel Imprint feature which allows for a quick swipe to check notifications.

pixel_xl_fingerprint

One of the pain points of having a rear fingerprint scanner is that it’s not all that easy to press to wake it up. You have to pick the phone up entirely to press it on the rear and look at the display. Just as I was putting this review together I learned that a software update will bring a couple of new “Moves” to the Pixel, one of which being tapping the display to wake the phone. Problem solved – if only in theory.

The rear camera on the Pixel and Pixel XL sits flush with the glass in the top left corner of the phones. You’ll find a circular dual-LED flash off to the left though it does have an ever slight raised chrome ring. On the right of the camera are the rangefinder for laser autofocus and microphone.

The SIM tray is located on the left edge of the phone while the right side houses the volume rocker and power button. The buttons provide excellent tactile feedback and a clear click when pressed. The power button has a textured design to it making it easily identifiable when blindly fumbling for it.

pixel_xl_silver_rear

The Pixel and Pixel XL come with a 3.5mm headphone jack which located on the top edge of the phones. Along the opposite edge, the USB Type-C port and down-facing speaker are found. The charging port, it should be noted, supports USB 3.0 protocols.

In broad terms, the Pixel XL is a rather boring looking phone, if not for the back. The Quite Black model we have might as well be called Slate Grey because that’s essentially the color. The Very Silver, for its part, is more of a white. There’s nothing that we specifically found wrong with the phone, but we’ve seen far sexier designs.

Display

The Pixel has a 5.0-inch AMOLED display with a resolution of 1920 x 1080 while the larger Pixel XL packs a 5.5-inch 2560 x 1440 AMOLED display. At five inches and above we expect a flagship phone to have this resolution and we were glad to see Google deliver here. Going lower resolution, even on the Pixel, would bring the cost down, but it would also muddy the overall experience and confuse consumers. Is this a premium device or not? Why doesn’t the screen look as nice as other models? Sticking with the 2560 x 1440 stuff sends a more clear signal.

While brighter (about 400 nits) than what we saw in the Nexus 6P, its direct predecessor, the Pixel XL’s peak brightness comes in lower than some other counterparts. Some LG and Samsung screens, for instance, can get much brighter. And, because Google doesn’t have a boost mode that activates under automatic settings, it stays put. We would love to see something that kicks the brightness up to around 600 nits or higher, especially with its price tag.

google_pixel_xl_08

Because it’s an AMOLED display, you get excellent black levels and a seemingly endless set of color contrasts. It might not be all that recognizable on its own, but put the Pixel XL up to a phone with an LCD screen and the distinction is almost night and day, if not black and grey. Color accuracy is also great in this phone, though we would like some user-defined settings for warmth.

Camera

Much has been said in the press and by Google about the camera experience on the Pixel and Pixel XL. As it turns out, it’s deserved fanfare; the camera quality is better than all comers, though its app could use some help.

The Pixel phones employ a 1/2.3″ Sony IMX378 Exmor RS sensor which takes pictures at 12.3-megapixels in a 4:3 aspect ratio. And, because it offers a larger 1.55µm pixel, it leads to better dynamic range with more light in each pixel. Further, the IMX378 sensor is special in that it includes support for phase detect autofocus (PDAF). Toss in the laser and contrast autofocus and you’re looking at improved accuracy and speed in scenes with good lighting.

pixel_xl_camera_silver

The HDR+ processing is terrific in that it combines multiple fast exposures to create a single image. Other phones, by comparison, tend to combine two different exposure levels. This can often lead to slower speeds in taking higher quality pictures. This is not so with the Pixel line. Pictures are taken and compiled quickly; it’s on by default.

Google says these phones don’t have any shutter lag when using HDR+ and we found this to be mostly accurate. It’s not until you start to snap a successive group of photos that you see it slow to roughly one photo per second, perhaps a smidge faster. Generally speaking, the camera can blow through pictures in most light settings, capturing pictures as good, if not better, than other phones.

The Pixels inherit their front-facing cameras from the Nexus 6P, an 8-megapixel Sony IMX179 Exmor R sensor with 1.4µm pixels and an f/2.4 lens. The Pixels do not have a dedicated LED flash for selfies; and there’s no screen flashing feature with the default app either.

As for the actual camera app, I like it but don’t necessarily love it. There’s something to be said about the simplicity that comes with the default app, but we do occasionally want for more. With that said, the out of box app experience is easy to figure out and allows for quick hopping to and from the different modes.

The camera app doesn’t complicate itself with too many options or previews of different filters and effects. If that’s the sort of thing you are into, download a standalone app and use it. I was almost always pleased with the UI and settings presented in the app. Given we’re often quick to see something we want to capture, it’s nice to open it up and have it ready to roll on HDR.

A key benefit to owning a Pixel or Pixel is the lifetime cloud storage of your photos — at original resolution. If you’re like me, you could have dozens of pictures almost every other day. Sprinkle in some 1080p or 4k quality video and you could be using up a pretty sizable amount of storage. Google will house these for you at no cost and without downgrading the quality. This is a big plus for photo lovers.

Software

The Pixel and Pixel XL are powered by the latest version of Android in 7.1 Nougat. Moreover, it’s a “stock” version of Android meaning it doesn’t come with any preloaded carrier apps and services; there’s no customization done to the platform by the phone maker, either. In short, this is the best in Android coupled with the best in Google hardware.

As someone who is fond of the custom launcher in Nova Prime, I am often quick to replace the interface that comes with phones. This is not to suggest that there’s anything particularly wrong with the various models and software builds. Rather, it’s more of a me picking up exactly where I left off by exporting and importing settings. For what it’s worth, I always leave the defaults alone before forming an opinion or publishing a review.

pixel_xl_silver_google

After spending some weeks with the Pixel XL, I am still using the stock release of Android 7.1. I find it to be very cohesive and much more clean and intuitive than previous builds. And, when you have the hardware that comes with this phone, it zips right along.

In addition to slight updates and tweaks to the standard feel and functions of Android, the Pixel comes with a couple of other modifications. First up is the Pixel Launcher, which is more or less an evolution of the Google Now launcher experience.

A simple swipe to the right of your screen brings up a list of Google Now cards based around the user’s preferences and account settings. This is one of those things that simply gets smarter the more you use it. Swipe to this screen and you’ll have a list of recommended news articles, sports updates, weather, and more.

pixel_xl_software

While it might feel natural to swipe from the G logo and bar on the top left, it’s not required. You can swipe from anywhere on the main panel. By tapping the G it opens up a search bar for doing your typical Google searches for both online and in-phone.

Accessing the app drawer is much easier in this version of Android as it’s not tied to a particular icon. Instead, things function more like a shade allowing you to swipe up from anywhere in the bottom row of icons. This took some getting used to as I’ve been programmed and conditioned by years of looking for a singular icon.

Upon opening the app drawer, users see all of the icons listed in an alphabetical order. The most popular apps used, however, get their own row at the very top. So, once you’ve had the phone for a few days and settled into routines, you can swipe up from the bottom and find your commonly used apps and games at the very top.

Long-pressing app icons on the home screen or in the app drawer is pretty now as it operates differently than in the past. As somewhat of a cross between a multifunction widget and an Apple 3D Touch, icons can now be used to access common shortcuts.

pixel_long_press

Long press on the Gmail icon and it offers up a shortcut to directly compose an email. Doing so on Google Keep brings up “New audio note”, “New photo note”, “New list”, and “New note”.  Results will vary across the different Google apps and their actual usefulness can be debated. I liked having some of them, though, as it alleviates an extra press or two in getting to where I wanted in select apps.

Another key addition to the Android experience here is the inclusion of Google Assistant. This is not so much of a new technology but more of an evolution of things already started by Google Now. Tapping into the Google Knowledge Graph, it’s really smart stuff that only promises to get better. If you are the kind of person who likes to use Google with voice searches or commands, you’ll love Google Assistant.

Using Google on phones up until now has been more of a question and answer process. With Assistant, however, it becomes less mechanical. By that I mean you don’t have to necessary think of the best way(s) to ask a question. Simply talk to it or ask it in a way that feels natural to you. Sure, there are still limitations and tricks to getting certain things to work properly, but you’ll have no trouble figuring it out. Google Assistant is more conversational in nature and it’s a whole lot smarter than you might think.

pixel_assistant

 

It’s worth noting that while Google Assistant is exclusive to the Pixel and Pixel XL, it’s only temporary. Looking down the road it ought to roll out to other phones, especially the Nexus line.

The Android 7.1 experience is smart, easy to use, and, I suspect, quite simple to master. Thanks to software migration and settings tools, it should be a breeze to switch from Apple or transfer from another device.

Is it perfect? No. There are still minor quibbles. Circular icons are great, Google, but you didn’t make it uniform all pre-installed apps; Allo and Duo, for example, have their own shape. Install a couple more titles from the Play Store and suddenly you look like you have a half-finished icon theme in place. If there’s one thing that might get me to jump back over to Nova Prime, it’s the inconsistent look in the app drawer. Minor stuff, yes, I know.

Performance

What else do you expect? The Pixel XL is able to handle anything you throw at it. The hardware makes sure you can keep up with multiple things at a time and jumping from task to task is never an issue.

You can check other sites and sources for benchmark reports, but they’ll likely just be technical ways of saying the Pixel XL is among the best in phones today. Whether it be managing emails and messages or playing a brand new game, the phone didn’t slow for me.

On paper, the Pixel XL does match up nicely with other flagships. But, it’s worth noting that it does have come with hardware that closely resembles devices that were launched some three to six months earlier, if not more. Does that matter to you?

pixel_w_daydream

If you’re the type who wants the most cutting edge hardware available, this is just on the very end of things, if not a little on the inside. But, with CES and Mobile World Congress coming up in the next few months, we’re bound to see even more bleeding edge tech soon.

Performance is always going to get better with phones, but sometimes it’s only marginal; other times improvements are so minute that you may not detect them. Suffice it to say, I am somewhere between a casual user and a heavy, demanding user. And, if you’re reading this review, I suspect you use your phones for as much, if not less, than I do. You aren’t going to go wrong with the Pixel XL’s performance.

I’ve been more than impressed with the battery life of the Pixel XL. Moreover, the speed at which it charges is incredible. I really appreciate that if I have to plug into a wall charger, it’s not for long. The claims of getting seven hours of usage from a 15-minute charge? I wish I could say.

Because I am able to get to a charger most of the day, I don’t ever find myself with seven-hour gaps. Whether it’s ten minutes on the way home from work, or on the counter while eating dinner, I find my phone is always well above half full. I don’t even bat an eye if I forget to charge at night. I know that I’ll be just fine when I wake up and then a few minutes on a charger is going to keep me running all day.

Conclusion

With prices that start at $650, the Pixel is a few hundred dollars more than other models with similar hardware. Head-to-head, though, it’s not fair, particularly if you care about specification bullet points. Look deeper, though, and you’ll find that the software and extra features help bring the value up.

The unlimited Google Photos storage, for me, is peace of mind that I have trouble quantifying. The more I use the Pixel XL, I suspect, the more I will rely on it for my needs.

I am not the sort of person who needs tech support or often runs into trouble with setting up or using my phone. But, for those who do, the tech support that comes with the Pixel and Pixel is fantastic.

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I would love to have seen the inclusion of a microSD expansion card slot; a waterproof coating would be a bonus, too. There’s a pretty sizable jump in cost going from 32GB of space to 128GB. And, for good reason, we’re talking literally four times the storage.

Can you get away with 32GB? Easily. It’s not like we’re dealing with 16GB any longer. Music is cloud-based, files are generally small and hosted in the cloud, too. Photos and videos are where the real draw on storage comes. Even then, the phone can prompt you when you’re getting low on space, letting you free up locally stored stuff and pushing back on the cloud for access.

Where things might get iffy for some is in the area of playing large games with tons of graphics and hefty storage requirements. But, again, if you’re looking to me for the review, you haven’t made your mind up. Those who know exactly what they need have already figured out which phone is right for them and it likely includes a microSD slot.

The Pixel and Pixel XL are priced just below the top dollar phones yet still come in higher than what’s available with a little bit of homework. Sure, you can get away with a $400 phone that’s close in terms of hardware, but at what cost? What sort of warranty or tech support do you get? What about software updates? Has that brand you’ve barely heard of done enough in the way of patches and maintenance releases to convince you to take a risk?

Enthusiasts can complain all they want about how Google should be sticking with software updates for more than two years for its flagship phones. If Apple can do it for three and four years for its devices, Google could surely do the same, right? Eh, I wouldn’t be as quick to say that. I think that, generally, Google has done a great job of rolling out regular releases with bug fixes, and minor and major updates.

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Most people that I’ve run into hold onto their phones for about two years or so. That’s over the last eight years of keeping an eye on what my friends, colleagues, and other data tell me. Not only that, but I know very few casual users who know of new major Android releases and what they bring about.

With each major release of a flagship model, I am often asked what the difference is from the previous model and whether it matters to them. As time goes, it gets a little harder to convince people that they need the newest in Android. What they need are the bug fixes and security updates. The rest, by and large, is more of a want or unnecessary adjustment. In the Nexus, and now with the Pixel, line of phones, Google is terrific at supporting with the necessary bits.

Another key reason to consider the Pixel XL is that it works with any of the major carriers. This is flexibility and freedom that doesn’t come with many devices. So, if you’re considering switching to another provider down the road, this is a phone you can take with you. And, if you’ve purchased outright or already paid off the phone, you can hop from prepaid carrier to MVNO to tier-one service operator without concern. That doesn’t come from too many phones, particularly those with this level of hardware.

The Pixel XL isn’t the sexiest phone on the market, nor is it the most power-packed. What it is, however, is a perfect blend of excellent software, services, and hardware. It’s more of an every man phone than previous Nexus models. Given it’s being sold at Verizon and not solely in a direct manner, I feel like Google recognizes this, too. To that end, it’s a great choice for those of you who have become reliant on the Samsung and other OEM’s way of life.

9
Dec

Cave Jumpers: Surprisingly fun but without replay value (review)


There’s an ever-increasing list of really small, but fun games in the Play Store. Some of them are interesting, and some, unfortunately, are not. Fortunately, Cave Jumpers fall into the first category, thanks to a simple but interesting gameplay that combines several elements to make one really fun experience. However, the replay value aspect of the game is almost absent.

Developer: Oneironautics
Price: Free

Overview

cave jumpers reviewAvoid the spikes and get the fuel containers and you’ll be fine.

Since there is no Google Play Games integration, there’s no setup needed. You can start playing as soon as the main screen appears. You’ll control a green blob and your mission is to climb as high as you can. For this, the main character is equipped with a jetpack, and you can control its activation by tapping the screen.

Your job is to travel through the cave as long as possible. Your character only moves sideways, so in order to progress, you have to fly upwards with said jetpack.

However, there are spikes along the cave walls, and touching them will immediately kill you. You can also die by refusing to fly and just letting your character drop way too low.

The jetpack has a limited amount on gas though, so you also have to collect fuel containers to refuel it. Run out of it, an it’s game over. The containers fly upward too, so it’s tricky to get them sometimes because you have to propel your character very high in the viewport, risking finding a spike just a moment after and being unable to do something about it.

Each second you play and don’t die will yield coins. This coins can be used for buying new characters, which are basically similar versions of the character you start with. I didn’t notice any difference in the way the game behaved when using a different character.

You can also change the fuel containers’ shape into very interesting stuff, such as a banana, a heart and a glass of beer.

You can also upload your highest score to a global leaderboard (if you are proud of it). The game will prompt you for a nickname, and after that, your name will be written for eternity on it. Congrats to “sieeet tak zjebac” who, at the time of writing, has the highest score worldwide, with 127 points.

General Impressions

cave jumpers reviewYou can unlock new characters, share your prowesses on Facebook or start a new game.

I thought that this would be another run-of-the-mill endless game, but actually the game’s different elements combined make for a very fun game in short periods of time. Timing your moves to avoid the random spikes while having to pay attention to the fuel indicator is more entertaining than it sounds.

The problem with this game, as with almost all endless games, is that it has little replay value. The game tries to increase replayability by offering different characters and fuel containers, but since they all behave the same, there’s almost no point in collecting them.

Graphics

All of the sprites in ths game try to convey a feeling of cartoony paper elements painted with crayons. Be it the main character, the fuel containers you have to pick, or other supporting art (like the settings button and the font), they all follow the same theme. I must say that it does a good job at that. You will definitely not find anything fancy or ground-breaking, but it’s good to have some cohesion between different elements.

Sound

The game features no background music. The only sounds that the game will produce are when you tap the screen to propel your character, when you get the fuel containers, or when you die. Just as the graphics, they’re nothing special, and the one fired when propelling gets a bit annoying after a while. I feel like they’re there for the sake of having sound, but they don’t do a good job in adding some real value to the game.

Options

cave jumpers reviewThere are very few options to choose from.

There are only three options in the game, and two of them are toggles: one is for the sounds and the other for controlling if the game will give you hints. In a really weird UI decision, these toggles can be acted upon by touching the label, and not the checkmark.

The other option lets you reset all of the game’s data. This probably acts the same as going to the Settings screen and erase the data through Android. I can’t understand why would someone want to delete the little progress you can make in this game, but there it is anyways.

One thing to note: there is no Google Play Games integraton. The option to submit high scores uses the developer’s own integraton, not its Google counterpart.

Conclusion

Cave Jumpers combine a couple of different elements to make a fun little game that can get very entertaining. However, since the game has so little elements to keep you coming back for more, it’s hard to recommend if you’re looking for a game to play in the long term. If you want to play in short bursts, though, then this game is a good time-killer.

Download Cave Jumpers from the Google Play Store.

9
Dec

There’s a tiny piano app for the MacBook Pro Touch Bar


Apple has showed off a number of uses for the newfangled MacBook Pro Touch Bar, including DJ and other music making controls. It also plays Doom, which is quite handy. When you need to do your best Elton John impression, there’s an app that can help with that. Appropriately named Touch Bar Piano, the software brings 128 different instruments to that touch panel above the laptop’s keyboard.

If you don’t happen to own the latest model, the free polyphonic piano app “does nothing useful on other Macs,” according to its developer Graham Parks. In addition to piano sounds, there’s a smattering of strings, drums, voices and more for you to make noise with using the tiny display. If you’re still a bit skeptical about the whole thing, you can see the app in action down below.

Via: FACT, Ask.Audio

Source: Touch Bar Piano

8
Dec

Two Mountains One Goat: Some quick, bleating fun (Review)


Flappy Bird paved the way for one-tap control games. It’s simplistic, fast paced gameplay kept people coming back for more with goals that were obtainable yet difficult enough to that you had to keep trying before you could succeed. Taking it’s cues from Flappy Bird, Two Mountains One Goat is a game with a very similar style, but will it’s tweaked gameplay hold it’s own? Let’s take a look.

  • Developer: Commander Prompt
  • Price:  Free/$1.14 ad-free
  • Download: iOS, Google Play

Gameplay

Two Mountains jumpGetting started with the game is quick an easy. Connect to Google Play Games if you want Achievements and Leaderboard functionality, then hit the big start button. Your goat starts off at the bottom of screen with two mountain walls going up both sides of the screen. When you tap, your goat jumps from the right wall to the left or vice versa, gaining altitude with each leap. Your first few jumps are pretty straight forward. Then the birds start.

Oh, the birds. These birds have it in for your poor goat. Some hover in the middle of the screen and might trip you up if you’re not focused, but can usually be avoided. Some move slowly back and forth and again can be pretty easily maneuvered around. Then there are some that move so quick it seems nearly impossible to make it past.

It’s at this point that these games get fun if you’re up for the challenge. There’s no greater feeling than when you successfully time it and make it past that one bird that moves at lightning speed… but that high is quickly squashed when the next bird is equally as fast and you jump right into it. It’s that small victory of making it past your nemesis bird that drives you to hit play again and try to beat you score because that fourth bird isn’t going to stand in your way again!

Graphics

Screenshot_20161123-164014-1-300x300.pngI swear Bird #4 has it out for me.

Similar to games like Flappy Bird, Two Mountains has a retro, pixel look to it which doesn’t get old as you watch your cute little goat leap from wall to wall or plummet to his death for the hundredth time. The beautiful mountain scenery helps make this game even prettier. Animations are smooth and beautifully simplistic.

Longevity

The game is a lot fun. If you’re someone who’s driven by trying to beat your best score, then you may love this game for a long time. Likewise, if you can get a group of friends to download it, then competing with them on the leaderboard may provide some fun too. Just on its own, however, once you’ve played about 10 rounds, it does start to get stale. There is only one game mode and nothing to unlock apart from achievement. I find myself opening it up to tap a few quick rounds while waiting around at the bus stop or if I’m in a long line at a store, so it’s a great time waster, but it lacks depth beyond this.

Conclusion

Two Mountains One Goat is a pretty solid game, with its cute pixel graphics, easy one-tap controls, and fast gameplay. It’s best played in short burst or if you have a few buddies who you can compete against on the leaderboards. If you’re someone who likes to play a game for a minute or two just to pass time throughout your day and you like games that will challenge your muscle memory like Flappy Bird, then Two Mountains One Goat is for you.

8
Dec

Adobe Lightroom update makes edits easier on desktop and iOS


Adobe brought true RAW file edits to Lightroom mobile for iOS a while back and now the company is updating the interface to make photo tweaks easier while you’re on the go. First, Adobe redesigned the edit view to make it friendlier for one-hand use. This includes a slider-based UI for making adjustments and putting the tools you use most often, like showing the before and after images, where you you can get at them quickly and with one hand.

Lightroom mobile for iOS also now displays the entire image while you’re editing so you don’t have to use a second hand to zoom out or move around a photo. Adobe also expanded the info section in the mobile app so you can add in details like titles, captions and copyright from your phone. Lastly, iOS users are now privy to the professional capture mode that arrived on Android this summer. That mode enables manual controls for Lightroom’s in-app camera. The company says it spoke with Lightroom mobile users of all skill levels to assess what needed to be changed and this update to iOS version 2.6 is the first to include that feedback.

For Lightroom on the desktop, Adobe added a new Reference View to the Develop Module. This side-by-side look at photos should help when you’re trying to make multiple files look visually consistent. For example, if you have a group of photos for your Christmas card and you want to make sure they all have a similar look, this feature will lend a hand there. Adobe says it also made some changes “under the hood” to improve overall performance for Lightroom.

Updates to both the iOS and desktop versions of Lightroom are now available for download via the App Store and the Creative Cloud app on your computer.

7
Dec

Grate Shopping Guide left me hungry (Review)


Overview:

Grate is a shopping assistant app where you can scan product barcodes and have reviews and information shown to you along with Amazon reviews.

Developer: Botond Kopacz

Cost: Free

Impressions:

Grate Shopping Guide is advertised as a handy shopping guide for you to use while food shopping. Simply scan the product barcode and up will pop a collection of reviews from users and Amazon about the product, letting you know how it is and if you should buy it. A handy app to have, especially if you may be shopping for something unfamiliar, so Grate is worth the download, right? I’d have to say definitely not right now.

My experience with Grate has been frustrating, to say the least, with the app crashing consistently and most of the features not working properly. The barcode scan works well, when it doesn’t force close the app, and brings up the correct item that I was scanning, but that’s about it. The settings don’t seem to open, and the other features like search also don’t work. Essentially, in it’s current state, the app is simply a barcode reader.

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Grate is supposed to bring up both user reviews and, if applicable, Amazon reviews of the product you scan but neither come up. I suppose that part of the issue with that is that the user reviews are reliant on people actually using the app and reviewing the products. The Amazon reviews, on the other hand, just don’t show. I’ve checked the food I’ve scanned and all of them have reviews available on Amazon, so it must be an app-side issue.

Functionality-wise, Grate isn’t great either. The app consistently crashes after scanning, and won’t work until you close it completely and restart it. I get a few good scans before it fails each time. Nothing else in the app seems to work at all, settings and the individual tabs don’t work at all, just bringing me back to a blank screen. The only things that work are the sharing and review tabs for the app itself. Also, the camera interface isn’t fantastic as it lacks any focus or zoom features to help you get the barcode in frame better. I will say that the app can quickly decipher even poorly framed barcodes, or upside down ones as well, it took only a second or two to get the product page up. Overall, the app is just kind of broken.

I do have some positive things to say about Grate, however. Visuals in the app are nice, with material design and a nice, clean look. Also, the app is quick and responsive when I got it to actually work. There are also no ads to be seen, which is excellent for a free app. I do wish Grate offered a “shopping list” feature where you can save the items you scanned in a list, or make a list of products and let you search for them in the app’s review section.

Conclusion:

Conceptually, I like the idea of what Grate offers. It could potentially be pretty useful for people concerned about the products they buy, and could also be a handy shopping list app that also provides handy information about the goods on your list. Unfortunately it just doesn’t work much at all right now, and should be avoided until the developer has had a chance to address the issues in the app and make it functional again.

Download Grate Shopping Guide from the Google Play Store

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