Posts tagged Google

Google Nexus Player: Like Chromecast, but bigger – is it better?

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Google already has a gadget in the streaming video sphere: Chromecast. But the company’s new $99 Nexus Player and Remote is aimed to offer viewers something extra than just a physical remote.

First, let’s review what was already in the market.

Chromecast is a cheap $39 dongle that plugs into a TV’s HDMI slot, and can stream everything from Netflix to what’s open on your desktop web browser.

The Nexus Player, meanwhile, looks like a small, 12-centimetre flying saucer that is connected to any TV with an HDMI cable.

The Player packs impressive 802.11 ac MIMO connectivity, meaning that your home network will never be the reason video stutters or playback fails. Few devices support that standard, and chances are it’s faster than the speeds your own router can support.

Usually, some people would prefer a hard-wired Ethernet port over WiFi for video devices, but 802.11 ac is just as good without the messy cables.

Inside there’s a 1.8 Ghz quad-core Intel Atom processor, 1 GB of RAM and 8 GB of built-in storage. The device runs Android TV, a version of Google’s mobile operating system optimized for the big screen.

A big draw for some users is the possibility to use the Player as a gaming console with the $39 Gamepad (available separately). I didn’t have a chance to try this out, but the hardware inside the Player coupled with the Gamepad suggests the two could work well for gamers.

Otherwise, it’s hard to screw up a streaming stick or a simple set-top box these days, and the Nexus Player doesn’t disappoint here.
Streaming video to the TV from a variety of sources is easy, whether it’s from YouTube, Netflix, Google’s Play store or your own media stash using Plex.

Just use the remote to navigate to what it is you’d like to watch, and the video is piped through to your big screen. The remote also has a built-in microphone, in which case you can just tell the Player what it is you’d like to watch.

The interface is a lot more user-friendly than it is with the Chromecast, and the performance is much more reliable.

The app selection could be broader, but that’s likely to improve over time. It would also be nice if the Player had a USB port or card reader so you could play content from storage devices directly.

For some, the Nexus Player will be an ideal device to get because of its gaming potential. For others, the device is a Chromecast on steroids. Either way, it does what it’s designed to do well

Review: The size is right with HTC’s Nexus 9

nexus9This holiday season, there are tablets for almost every price range and size. The newest entrant, the Nexus 9, offers users a pure tablet experience with no gimmicks.

The screen measures in just a tick short of the nine inches implied in its name (it is 8.9” to be exact). For the most part, the screen displays colours well and the brightness is good for most reading situations. The sharpness was quite good.

I found a bit of LED backlight ‘bleed’ when viewing particularly dark images, which can be distracting during gaming or when watching dark video. It’s possible this was due to my review unit being an early model.

Size-wise, the Nexus 9 is smaller than the iPad Air but is convenient enough to easily toss in a small bag for commuting or travelling.

Audiophiles, take note here. Front-facing stereo speakers means you hear the best of whatever sound is playing – not the people behind you.

HTC actually builds the Nexus 9 – and you can tell with the tablet’s quality feel. It has a smooth plastic backing and overall solid construction. Like HTC phones, the Nexus 9 is one of the best-designed tablets out there, and it’s a shame the company’s products don’t get more attention for sharp styling.

The camera 8 MP rear-facing and 1.3 MP front-facing cameras proved adequate for regular photography, but struggle in situations with dark lighting or fast motion. This isn’t the tablet to get for impressive photos, but really, few tablets excel in this area.

Inside sits a Tegra K1 2.3 Ghz dual-core 64-bit processor. True, on paper it’s no quad-core behemoth. But I found the Nexus 9 fluid and responsive for a variety of tasks, including gaming and just basic web browsing.

This likely helps battery life, as the tablet appeared to last for about three days with average use.

Another area where the Nexus 9 really stood out was in the connectivity department. The tablet has 802.11ac WiFi transmitters, which let it take full advantage of my equally fast router for quicker file transfers and great streaming performance. It’s a huge and noticeable step up from most tablets.

A lot of what makes the Nexus 9 unique is the operating system, Android 5.0 Lollipop. Compared to previous versions of Android, this one is faster than ever, streamlined and more efficient on a device’s hardware.

There are still some apps, however, that are not perfectly optimized for tablets and/or this device, and the scaled-up versions of phone apps don’t look great. At the time of testing, the BBC News app was one example.It’s likely this will improve as more app developers adapt.

Pricing starts at $429 for the 16 GB model. It’s not a bargain, but it provides users with a pure Google Android experience and fast hardware in a solid package.

Rating: 8/10

Toshiba Chromebook or Asus Chromebox – which is better?

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So-called Chromebooks and Chromeboxes are simple, lightweight computers that run Google’s Chrome operating system. In essence, it’s the company’s Chrome web browser, as a whole computer ecosystem.

I’ve had a chance to try out two Chrome-based devices: Toshiba’s Chromebook and the Chromebox from Asus.

The Toshiba laptop costs $349.99 while the barebones Asus goes for about $199,

With both devices, there isn’t a lot of on-board storage space because the idea is that the bulk of your stuff – from music to pictures to documents – is stored in the cloud.

One downside to this is that you’ll need an active Internet connection to access and make changes to these files.

But on the other hand, your stuff is accessible no matter where you go, and its always backed up. (No more nightmares of dead portable hard drives).

With both the Chromebook and Chromebox, boot up is virtually instant, like using a tablet or turning on a light switch. The same goes for putting these devices to sleep.

So, think you’re able to live almost completely in the cloud? In a world where almost everything is done through the Google Chrome web browser (and available Chrome apps?)

Toshiba Chromebook:

The laptop feels like a poor man’s MacBook Air. Painted silver, it’s plasticky and much more inexpensive, because you’re pretty much just getting a keyboard and a screen with a few chips in between.

A 1.4 Ghz Intel Celeron processor powers this guy, coupled with 2GB of DDR RAM and 16 GB of on-board storage in the form of a solid state drive (SSD).

The 13.3-inch LED screen does an average job of displaying content. There’s no blurriness or lack of vibrancy, although it’s not a memorable screen.

But, there is an HDMI port so you can easily plug this into a dedicated monitor or a big-screen TV to watch videos or enjoy more screen real estate.

This Chromebook also has an SD card slot for importing pictures and other types of files. Two USB 3.0 ports provide for more off-board storage.

Generally, the Toshiba was quick and nimble whether you’re watching a TV show or writing emails. Battery life is quite good too – it lasted for almost five days of pre- and post-work surfing.

Asus Chromebox:

About the size of a sandwich or two slices of toast, this device is more of a replacement for your desktop than it is a portable computer. Just like the Toshiba Chromebook, it has only a 1.4 Ghz processor and 2 GB of RAM along with 16 GB of on-board storage.

But it makes up for it with a heaping of plugs to keep you connected: four USB 3.0 ports, HDMI, DisplayPort (4K video, anyone?) Ethernet, SD card reader, microphone/headphones, etc.

While the Chromebox doesn’t ship with a screen, keyboard and mouse, the latter two are fairly affordable accessories you can pick up or reuse from a previous computer.

Chromebox_AsusThe enthusiast community is also finding creative ways to use this computer without actually running Google’s operating system, such as with XBMC, for example.

The model I tested initially crashed and would be in a reboot loop when I would log in with my Google account, but worked fine when using a different account. Performing a factory reset eventually solved my problem, which seemed to be a disappointment for a computer system that’s traditionally as easy to set up as it is to lace up Velcro shoes.

Whether you’re considering the Toshiba Chromebook or the Asus Chromebox, both devices offer an affordable way to get online and complete basic tasks for not a whole lot of money. But if you need to run Mac or Windows-specific applications, then skim over these two devices.

Google steps inside Apple’s home with updated Google Search app

GoogleNowIt’s no secret that Apple doesn’t really love Google.

The launch of Apple’s own Maps app was an effort to get people to use a new native iOS mapping app rather than the Google-based map tool.

That project didn’t work out so well, and it even forced Apple to make a public apology online.

Now, Google is rolling out a new feature – Google Now – to iPhones and iPads with the latest update to the Google Search app.

With this move, Google is making itself comfy inside everyone’s iOS device.

Heck – the app is so convenient and it’ll feel so comfortable that Google could even be putting up its feet on the coffee table in Apple’s mobile homes.

For starters, Google Search is nothing new. It’s just an extension of the search everyone is used to on laptops and desktops…on your smartphone.

One new feature in the app is voice-activated search, a feature similar to Apple’s Siri digital assistant.

While the Google Search app can’t send a text message for you because it’s not deeply integrated with iOS, the voice dictated search is quick and responsive to most commands.

But then, there’s Google Now. This feature presents ‘cards’ of relevant information, before you even ask for it.

What’s the weather like? It’ll show you a card with local weather as you get ready in the morning. How long will it take you to get home? It’ll show you a card with traffic and travel information before you leave work – and the creepy thing is that you don’t need to actually tell the app where you live or where you work (or how you get there). It just figures that out like a creepy ex-girlfriend trying to stalk you.

Whether you think the app is creepy or convenient is up to you. But most of the time, it seems convenient.

Did you get the updated Google Search app? Do you think Google Now is creepy or convenient?

 

New Google Chromebooks have Canadian connection, now available here

Samsung's Google Chromebook is now for sale in Canada.

Samsung’s Google Chromebook is now for sale in Canada.

Google announced that its Chromebooks are now finally available in Canada – and there’s a Canadian connection to the device’s development.

Chromebooks are relatively affordable laptops that run the Chrome operating system – a beefed up environment of Google’s popular web browser.

When you think about it, almost everything you do on a computer these days is…on the web. From checking your email to stalking friends on Facebook, a web browser seems like the perfect portal.

So the Chromebook is essentially a laptop that connects to the Internet and lets you surf the web. That doesn’t sound impressive, but then consider the price tag.

Read more

Google offering discounts to celebrate Play store’s birthday

Google’s app and media marketplace is celebrating its first birthday – and the tech giant is offering several deals to mark the occasion.

And, they’ve released some numbers that hint at how successful their Android mobile ecosystem has become.

Google Play is the company’s equivalent to Apple’s popular App Store – both offer apps (obviously), magazines, movies, books, TV shows, etc.

I’ll get to the types of discounts in a moment, but first: just how popular is Android?

Very popular, the numbers suggest.

 There are more than 700,000 apps in the Google Play store, collectively leading to 25 billion app downloads.

Google says more than 500 million Android devices have been activated around the world, and 1.3 million are activated each day.

The birthday was March 6, but that isn’t stopping Google from offering you some deals in the Google Play marketplace.

For example, Google is offering 99 cent movie rentals and 50 per cent off certain magazine subscriptions.

With more exciting Android devices coming down the pipe – such as the Samsung Galaxy S4 – it’s likely that these numbers will only go up as Android gets in the hands of more people.

Do you have – or want – an Android phone? What do you think of it and the apps?

 

Review: Sony Internet Player with Google TV a welcome addition to the living room

One of the greatest features of Sony’s Google TV player is the remote control

For years we’ve heard how the Internet is going to revolutionize TV, and we’ll be able to watch web content straight on our TV without any fuss.

That,for the most part, has been false. Getting the Internet to look and work well on a gigantic screen has been a challenge, one that perhaps Apple hasn’t yet mastered.

So it was with cautious optimism that I fired up Sony’s new Internet player powered by Google TV, technically known as the NSZ-GS7.

The device can play everything form .AVI to .MKV video files, and browse the Internet on the web.

Read more.

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