Introduction and Design
In case you have not heard by now, Pixel is the re-imagining of the Nexus phone concept by Google; a fully stock version of the Android experience on custom, Google-authorized hardware - and with the promise of the latest OS updates as they are released. So how does the hardware stack up? We are late into the life of the Pixel by now, and this is more of a long-term review as I have had the smaller version of the phone on hand for some weeks now. As a result I can offer my candid view of the less-covered of the two Pixel handsets (most reviews center around the Pixel XL), and its performance.
There was always a certain cachet to owning a Nexus phone, and you could rest assured that you would be running the latest version of Android before anyone on operator-controlled hardware. The Nexus phones were sold primarily by Google, unlocked, with operator/retail availability at times during their run. Things took a turn when Google opted to offer a carrier-branded version of the Nexus 6 back in November of 2014, along with their usual unlocked Google Play store offering. But this departure was not just an issue of branding, as the price jumped to a full $649; the off-contract cost of premium handsets such as Apple’s iPhone. How could Google hope to compete in a space dominated by Apple and Samsung phones purchased by and large with operator subsidies and installment plans? They did not compete, of course, and the Nexus 6 flopped.
Pixel, coming after the Huawei-manufactured Nexus 6p and LG-manufactured Nexus 5X, drops the “Nexus” branding while continuing the tradition of a reference Android experience - and the more recent tradition of premium pricing. As we have seen in the months since its release, the Pixel did not put much of a dent into the Apple/Samsung dominated handset market. But even during the budget-friendly Nexus era, which offered a compelling mix of day-one Android OS update availability and inexpensive, unlocked hardware (think Nexus 4 at $299 and Nexus 5 at $349), Google's own phones were never mainstream. Still, in keeping with iPhone and Galaxy flagships $649 nets you a Pixel, which also launched through Verizon in an exclusive operator deal. Of course a larger version of the Pixel exists, and I would be remiss if I did not mention the Pixel XL. Unfortunately I would also be remiss if I didn't mention that stock for the XL has been quite low with availability constantly in question.
The Pixel is hard to distinguish from an iPhone 7 from a distance (other than the home button)
|Google Pixel Specifications|
|Display||5.0-inch 1080x1920 AMOLED|
|SoC||Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 (MSM8996)|
|CPU Cores||2x 2.15 GHz Kryo
2x 1.60 GHz Kryo
|GPU Cores||Adreno 530|
|Storage||32 / 128 GB|
|Network||Snapdragon X12 LTE|
|Dimensions||143.8 x 69.5 x 8.5 mm, 143 g|
Subject: Graphics Cards, Mobile | May 17, 2017 - 02:30 PM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: snapdragon 835, snapdragon, qualcomm, google io 2017, google, daydream
During the Google I/O keynote, Google and Qualcomm announced a partnership to create a reference design for a standalone Daydream VR headset using Snapdragon 835 to enable the ecosystem of partners to have deliverable hardware in consumers’ hands by the end of 2017. The time line is aggressive, impressively so, thanks in large part to the previous work Qualcomm had done with the Snapdragon-based VR reference design we first saw in September 2016. At the time the Qualcomm platform was powered by the Snapdragon 820. Since then, Qualcomm has updated the design to integrate the Snapdragon 835 processor and platform, improving performance and efficiency along the way.
Google has now taken the reference platform and made some modifications to integrate Daydream support and will offer it to partners to show case what a standalone, untethered VR solution can do. Even though Google Daydream has been shipping in the form of slot-in phones with a “dummy” headset, integrating the whole package into a dedicate device offers several advantages.
First, I expected the free standalone units to have better performance than the phones used as a slot-in solution. With the ability to tune the device to higher thermal limits, Qualcomm and Google will be able to ramp up the clocks on the GPU and SoC to get optimal performance. And, because there is more room for a larger battery on the headset design, there should be an advantage in battery life along with the increase in performance.
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 VR Reference Device
It is also likely that the device will have better thermal properties than those using high smartphones today. In other words, with more space, there should be more area for cooling and thus the unit shouldn’t be as warm on the consumers face.
I would assume as well that the standalone units will have improved hardware over the smartphone iterations. That means better gyros, cameras, sensors, etc. that could lead to improved capability for the hardware in this form. Better hardware, tighter and more focused integration and better software support should mean lower latency and better VR gaming across the board. Assuming everything is implemented as it should.
The only major change that Google has made to this reference platform is the move away from Qualcomm’s 6DOF technology (6 degrees of freedom, allowing you to move in real space and have all necessary tracking done on the headset itself) and to Google calls WorldSense. Based on the Google Project Tango technology, this is the one area I have questions about going forward. I have used three different Tango enabled devices thus far with long-term personal testing and can say that while the possibilities for it were astounding, the implementations had been…slow. For VR that 100% cannot be the case. I don’t yet know how different its integration is from what Qualcomm had done previously, but hopefully Google will leverage the work Qualcomm has already done with its platform.
Google is claiming that consumers will have hardware based on this reference design in 2017 but no pricing has been shared with me yet. I wouldn’t expect it to be inexpensive though – we are talking about all the hardware that goes into a flagship smartphone plus a little extra for the VR goodness. We’ll see how aggressive Google wants its partners to be and if it is willing to absorb any of the upfront costs with subsidy.
Let me know if this is the direction you hope to see VR move – away from tethered PC-based solutions and into the world of standalone units.
YouTube Tries Everything
Back in March, Google-owned YouTube announced a new live TV streaming service called YouTube TV to compete with the likes of Sling, DirecTV Now, PlayStation Vue, and upcoming offerings from Hulu, Amazon, and others. All these services aim to deliver curated bundles of channels aimed at cord cutters that run over the top of customer’s internet only connections as replacements for or in addition to cable television subscriptions. YouTube TV is the latest entrant to this market with the service only available in seven test markets currently, but it is off to a good start with a decent selection of content and features including both broadcast and cable channels, on demand media, and live and DVR viewing options. A responsive user interface and generous number of family sharing options (six account logins and three simultaneous streams) will need to be balanced by the requirement to watch ads (even on some DVR’ed shows) and the $35 per month cost.
YouTube TV was launched in 5 cities with more on the way. Fortunately, I am lucky enough to live close enough to Chicago to be in-market and could test out Google’s streaming TV service. While not a full review, the following are my first impressions of YouTube TV.
Setup / Sign Up
YouTube TV is available with a one month free trail, after which you will be charged $35 a month. Sign up is a simple affair and can be started by going to tv.youtube.com or clicking the YouTube TV link from “hamburger” menu on YouTube. If you are on a mobile device, YouTube TV uses a separate app than the default YouTube app and weighs in at 9.11 MB for the Android version. The sign up process is very simple. After verifying your location, the following screens show you the channels available in your market and gives you the option of adding Showtime ($11) and/or Fox Soccer ($15) for additional monthly fees. After that, you are prompted for a payment method that can be the one already linked to your Google account and used for app purchases and other subscriptions. As far as the free trial, I was not charged anything and there was no hold on my account for the $35. I like that Google makes it easy to see exactly how many days you have left on your trial and when you will be charged if you do not cancel. Further, the cancel link is not buried away and is intuitively found by clicking your account photo in the upper right > Personal > Membership. Google is doing things right here. After signup, a tour is offered to show you the various features, but you can skip this if you want to get right to it.
In my specific market, I have the following channels. When I first started testing some of the channels were not available, and were just added today. I hope to see more networks added, and if Google can manage that YouTube TV and it’s $35/month price are going to shape up to be a great deal.
- ABC 7, CBS 2, Fox 32, NBC 5, ESPN, CSN, CSN Plus, FS1, CW, USA, FX, Free Form, NBC SN, ESPN 2, FS2, Disney, E!, Bravo, Oxygen, BTN, SEC ESPN Network, ESPN News, CBS Sports, FXX, Syfy, Disney Junior, Disney XD, MSNBC, Fox News, CNBC, Fox Business, National Geographic, FXM, Sprout, Universal, Nat Geo Wild, Chiller, NBC Golf, YouTube Red Originals
- Plus: AMC, BBC America, IFC, Sundance TV, We TV, Telemundo, and NBC Universal (just added).
- Optional Add-Ons: Showtime and Fox Soccer.
I tested YouTube TV out on my Windows PCs and an Android phone. You can also watch YouTube TV on iOS devices, and on your TV using an Android TVs and Chromecasts (At time of writing, Google will send you a free Chromecast after your first month). (See here for a full list of supported devices.) There are currently no Roku or Apple TV apps.
Each YouTube TV account can share out the subscription to 6 total logins where each household member gets their own login and DVR library. Up to three people can be streaming TV at the same time. While out and about, I noticed that YouTube TV required me to turn on location services in order to use the app. Looking further into it, the YouTube TV FAQ states that you will need to verify your location in order to stream live TV and will only be able to stream live TV if you are physically in the markets where YouTube TV has launched. You can watch your DVR shows anywhere in the US. However, if you are traveling internationally you will not be able to use YouTube TV at all (I’m not sure if VPNs will get around this or if YouTube TV blocks this like Netflix does). Users will need to login from their home market at least once every 3 months to keep their account active and able to stream content (every month for MLB content).
YouTube TV verifying location in Chrome (left) and on the android app (right).
On one hand, I can understand this was probably necessary in order for YouTube TV to negotiate a licensing deal, and their terms do seem pretty fair. I will have to do more testing on this as I wasn’t able to stream from the DVR without turning on location services on my Android – I can chalk this up to growing pains though and it may already be fixed.
Features & First Impressions
YouTube TV has an interface that is perhaps best described as a slimmed down YouTube that takes cues from Netflix (things like the horizontal scrolling of shows in categories). The main interface is broken down into three sections: Library, Home, and Live with the first screen you see when logging in being Home. You navigate by scrolling and clicking, and by pulling the menus up from the bottom while streaming TV like YouTube.
Subject: General Tech | May 10, 2017 - 04:44 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: fuschia, google, Android, iot
Fuchsia is still a work in progress which has been available on Github for a while now but we haven't really seen a demonstration of it in action. A Texan enthusiast has been working on creating one and you can take a peek at it in this video over at The Register. The tiny OS is design to run on almost anything, from smart light bulbs to phone and even full sized computers. It is based on BSD with additional resources developed at MIT and will be backwards compatible with current Android libraries.
"When Fuchsia broke cover last August, we noted the project's ambition. The presence of a compositor indicated it was capable of running on more than lightbulbs and routers, although the tiny new Magenta kernel also allows it go there too."
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- Nvidia GTC: A first look at Nvidia's new campus @ The Inquirer
- It's 2017 and Windows PCs are being owned by EPS files, webpages @ The Register
- Windows 10 Now On 500 Million Devices, Up By 200 Million in a Year @ Slashdot
- Persirai: Mirai-a-like malware is your latest IoT security worry @ The Inquirer
Back in February we took a quick initial look at the eero Home Wi-Fi System, one of several new entrants in the burgeoning Mesh Networking industry. Like its competitors, eero's goal is to increase home Wi-Fi performance and coverage by switching from a system based upon a powerful standalone router to one which utilizes multiple lower power wireless base stations positioned throughout a home.
The idea is that these multiple wireless access points, which are configured to communicate with each other automatically via proprietary software, can not only increase the range of your home Wi-Fi network, but also reduce the burden of our ever-increasing number of wireless devices on any one single access point.
There are a number of mesh Wi-Fi systems already available from both established networking companies as well as industry newcomers, with more set for release this year. We don't have every system ready to test just yet, but join us as we take a look at three popular options to see if mesh networking performance lives up to the hype.
Subject: Mobile | March 30, 2017 - 12:37 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: google, Android, android o
A couple of sites have downloaded the upcoming Android preview and walked through the new features that they found. Google, themselves, published a “what’s changed” video (embed below) to their Android Developers channel, which is mostly about the specific API changes, rather than UI and feature differences.
The first couple of minutes was dominated by new limitations on background applications, increasing the privacy and decreasing the battery impact of apps that are not currently focused. “Notification Channel” interests me personally, because it allows apps to categorize notifications, which users can block individually. While good apps should have that sort of control in their own settings already, a unified implementation in the OS is welcome (if it can limit how many applications I need to outright block everything from).
As for the third-party previewers, Ars Technica has a pretty in-depth look, with screenshots for most differences (often side-by-side with the Nougat equivalent). For a second opinion, Paul Thurrott also has a brief overview with a handful of screenshots.
We should learn a lot more at Google I/O in mid-May.
As I mentioned last week, my ZTE Axon 7 has just received Android 7.0 Nougat, which also unlocked Google Daydream VR. I wasn’t able to pick up Google’s VR headset at the time, but now I can, so I did, and I spent a couple of hours messing around with it.
First, I have to say I am very glad that Google made one headset (and controller) that works with all Daydream-compatible phones. That wasn’t entirely clear when I ordered my Axon 7 last summer, and I feared it would lead to a lot of waiting for my OEM to release a specific headset that may or may not be as good as any another vendor’s, especially sight unseen. I don’t really know how they properly align the screens, across all possible phones and accounting for user-error, but it seems to accept my phone perfectly without really any fiddling. Maybe it’s a simpler problem than I am envisioning, but, either way, the one viewer works with my ZTE Axon 7 -- it’s not just for the Pixel.
My second point is that the phone gets very hot, very quick. I’m sure ZTE knows about this, and the phone is designed around it, but it doesn’t just get warm, it borders on hot-to-the-touch at times. To be safe, I’m removing the case each time I insert it into the Daydream View, although the device seems to work either way. The battery does drain quickly, relative to other workloads, but a single, hour-or-so VR sitting took about 25% off (~75% remaining). Despite the heat and the quick battery drain, you will probably be done with a VR sitting before the device is, so I consider those aspects to be all-around positive.
As for the YouTube app, I’m glad that the virtual screen for standard video can be adjusted in pretty much any way. You can make it bigger or smaller with the track pad, pull it in any direction with motion controls, and adjust whether it’s flat or curved (so all points are equidistant) in the settings. If you want to lay on your back in bed and watch movies “on the ceiling”, then you can... and without holding the phone over your face while your arms go numb.
Yes, I’m speaking from experience.
As for games? Eh... about the only thing that caught my eye is maybe “Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes”. I’m pleasantly surprised it’s there, but it’s about the only thing that is. I knew there wasn’t a whole lot of apps, and that’s fine for me, but you probably shouldn’t get too excited outside of video.
Also, it’d be nice to see Google Chrome in VR. Get on that, Google! A virtual void would make a good place to keep my many, many tabs. It will apparently support WebVR content very soon, but in a “browse, click the Daydream button, mount it in the View, and put it on your head, then undo all that when you’re done” sort of way. It’d be nice to just... stay in the headset to browse.
Anywho, I have it, and those are my thoughts. It’s early, but it seems to work pretty well. I haven’t tried an Oculus Rift or an HTC Vive yet, though, so I can’t make any comparisons there.
Subject: Mobile | February 8, 2017 - 07:26 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: zte, axon 7, google, nougat, Android, android 7.0
Well that was quick. About two weeks ago, we reported on ZTE Mobile Deutschland’s Facebook post that said Android 7.0 would miss January, but arrive some time in Q1. For North America, that apparently means the second week of February, because my device was just notified, about an hour ago, that A2017UV1.1.0B15 was available for over-the-air update. It just finished installing.
In my case, I needed to hold the on button a few times to get the phone to boot into the second stage of installation, but ZTE mentions it in the pre-install notes, so that’s good. Then, when the phone moved on to the new lock screen, my fingerprint reader didn’t work until after I typed in the lock screen password. I’m not sure why the phone didn’t accept the fingerprint reader until after I successfully logged in, especially since it used the fingerprints on file from Android 6.0, I didn’t need to set it up again, but it’s a small inconvenience. Just don’t perform the update if you can’t access your password manager and you don’t remember the unlock code off the top of your head.
While I don’t have a Daydream VR headset, I’ll probably pick one up soon and give it a test. The Daydream app is installed on the device, though, so you can finally enjoy Android-based VR content if you pick one up.
If your phone hasn’t alerted you yet, find your unlock password and check for updates in the settings app.
Subject: General Tech | January 27, 2017 - 03:55 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: webgl, webgl2, firefox, chrome, google, mozilla, Opera
After quite a bit of anticipation, both Mozilla and Google have just shipped compatible implementations of WebGL 2. This feature was unlocked to the public in Firefox 51 and Chrome 56 for the desktop, both released this week, while Opera will push it out to desktop and mobile on their next version, Opera 43. Microsoft currently has the API “under consideration” for Edge.
As we’ve highlighted in the past, this new version of the graphics API pushes the platform up to OpenGL ES 3.0, with a few exceptions that are typically made for security reasons. This update allows quite a few new features like off-screen render targets, which is useful for deferred rendering. The shading language is also significantly larger, and can now operate natively on integer types and 3D textures.
WebGL 2.0 does not include compute shaders, however, which is a bit unfortunate. That said, it is (at least last I checked) a highly-requested feature and the browser vendors are interested in providing it.
Subject: General Tech, Mobile | January 20, 2017 - 07:39 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: google, chromecast ultra, chromecast
One of the disadvantages of the ZTE Axon 7, which a lot of other phones share, is that you cannot directly connect it to a TV over HDMI via MHL. Granted, it’s a good screen and great speakers, so I can just pass the device around, but sometimes you want to show a video (or something) on the TV. As such, I was looking around at the Chromecast, but I heard a bunch of complaints that ranged from low frame rate to frequent stutters in some apps.
Then Google announced the Chromecast Ultra, which launched in November. I put my email address on the official waiting list and... haven’t heard a thing since. I also haven’t seen it in many stores. I then found out that the local Best Buy Mobile kiosk had it (yet the full store a few blocks away somehow did not???) Interestingly, when I arrived, they had several of them, and on sale for $20 off, too.
Upon bringing it home, it had a little difficulty connecting to my WiFi router. (The 5 GHz band was a little weak at that location.) Once that was resolved, though, it was a very pleasant experience. It played 1080p60 video from YouTube without any trouble, even switching to the correct input automatically with HDMI CEC (although I needed to manually change it back to the digital TV box when I was done).
I don’t have a 4K or HDR TV, though, so I cannot test its more advanced features. Sorry!