Just Picked Up: Google Daydream View

Subject: Mobile | February 16, 2017 - 12:01 PM |
Tagged: zte, VR, google, daydream

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.

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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.

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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.

Source: Google

ZTE Axon 7 Receives OTA Nougat Update

Subject: Mobile | February 9, 2017 - 12:26 AM |
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.

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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.

Source: ZTE

Firefox 51 and Chrome 56 Launch with WebGL 2.0

Subject: General Tech | January 27, 2017 - 08:55 PM |
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.

Just Picked Up: Google Chromecast Ultra

Subject: General Tech, Mobile | January 20, 2017 - 12:39 PM |
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.

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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!

Source: Google

"HTML5 by Default" Rolling in to Chrome Userbase

Subject: General Tech | December 13, 2016 - 07:47 PM |
Tagged: google, chrome, Adobe, flash

Google is about to begin transitioning their users away from Flash, unless they explicitly enable it on a site-by-site basis. This is a step beyond click-to-activate, which refuses to activate the plug-in until the user permits it, that will not even acknowledge the plug-in’s existence unless the user requests it. The difference is that this tells sites to treat the browser as not having Flash, which, for PC Perspective as an example, should load our HTML5 article carousel instead of presenting a click-to-activate Flash one that has an expanding oval transition animation.

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Because changes like these could have side-effects, Google is dipping their toe before jumping in. About 1% of users on the current Chrome 55 (and ~50% of Chrome 56 pre-release users) will have this change flipped on any day now, which contains the outrage if it breaks something popular or, otherwise, causes user grief. If it all goes well, though, it will be enabled for everyone when Chrome 56 arrives for the general public in February.

Source: Google

Google's Daydream View Available on November 10th

Subject: Mobile | November 7, 2016 - 12:01 PM |
Tagged: VR, google, daydream

Now that Android 7.0 Nougat is beginning to ship on phones, and the holidays are around the corner, Google is releasing accessories to support it. The Daydream View, which you can dock phones into for VR purposes, will be on sale on November 10th. The viewer will cost $79 USD, minus the phone of course, and can be purchased in the US, Canada, UK, Germany, and Australia.

google-2016-daydream.jpg

Currently, the only Daydream-compatible phone is Google's Pixel. As mentioned before, Nougat is only beginning to ship on phones, and the OS is required for this feature. One thing that's not entirely clear to me, after reading several sites, is whether all Daydream-compatible phones will be able to use this specific viewer, or if some will need a different chassis. You would think that variations in attributes like screen size might complicate things, but we know it will support other, non-Pixel phones; I'm just not clear whether it's some or all.

Anyway, that concern aside, it's almost cheap enough to be a “why not?” addition to any phone that is compatible. It certainly will not put the HTC Vive PC-based VR system out of business, but I'm interested in how it works with mobile content, especially linear video, going forward.

Source: Google

Alphabet Inc.'s DeepMind Working on StarCraft II AI

Subject: General Tech | November 4, 2016 - 06:55 PM |
Tagged: blizzard, google, ai, deep learning, Starcraft II

Blizzard and DeepMind, which was acquired by Google in 2014 and is now a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., have just announced opening up StarCraft II for AI research. DeepMind was the company that made AlphaGo, which beat Lee Sedol, a grandmaster of Go, in a best-of-five showmatch with a score of four to one. They hinted at possibly having a BlizzCon champion, some year, do a showmatch as well, which would be entertaining.

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StarCraft II is different from Go in three important ways. First, any given player knows what they scout, which they apparently will constrain these AI to honor. Second, there are three possible match-ups for any choice of race, except random, which has nine. Third, it's real-time, which can be good for AI, because they're not constrained by human input limitations, but also difficult from a performance standpoint.

From Blizzard's perspective, better AI can be useful, because humans need to be challenged to learn. Novices won't be embarrassed to lose to a computer over and over, so they can have a human-like opponent to experiment with. Likewise, grandmasters will want to have someone better than them to keep advancing, especially if it allows them to keep new strategies hidden. From DeepMind's perspective, this is another step in AI research, which could be applied to science, medicine, and so forth in the coming years and decades.

Unfortunately, this is an early announcement. We don't know any more details, although they will have a Blizzcon panel on Saturday at 1pm EDT (10am PDT).

Source: Blizzard

Nexus has been Pixel-ated by Motorola ... Google it!

Subject: Mobile | October 20, 2016 - 09:45 PM |
Tagged: pixel, pixel xl, google, Android, Snapdragon 821, nougat

Ah, the tech industry; blink and suddenly familiar things disappear and yet you are also simultaneously overcome with a sense of deja vu.  Former Motorola President Rick Osterloh now heads a team at Google which is the combination of Nexus, Pixel Chromebooks, Chromecast, OnHub, ATAP, and Google Glass and this team have just released two new Google phones.  The 5" 1920x1080 Pixel and the 5.5" 2560x1440 Pixel XL have arrived on the market, priced to compete with Apple's new lineup, though still far less expensive than the Chromebooks which bore the same name up until recently.  The phones run Android 7.1 Nougat on a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 and are manufactured by HTC.  Ars Technica considers them to now be the best Android phones on the market and yet somehow bland; read their full review to see if you agree.

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"Welcome to the age of Google Hardware. Apparently tired of letting third-party Android OEMs serve as the stewards of Android handsets, Google has become a hardware company. (Again)."

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Source: Ars Technica

Google tests its Power and takes a shot at Intel

Subject: General Tech | October 17, 2016 - 04:48 PM |
Tagged: google, Intel, power9, zaius

Not too long ago Google revealed it had updated the code that runs behind its popular web based services to make it more hardware agnostic.  With a trivial tweak to the code their software can switch between running on Intel x86, IBM Power or 64-bit ARM cores.  On Friday Google Cloud's technical program manager, John Zipfel, provided more information on the OpenCAPI compliant Zaius P9 server that is in development and revealed it will use an IBM Power 9 chip.  As it will be OpenCAPI, it will use interconnects such as NVIDIA's NVLink or AMD's as yet unnamed fabric interconnect but will not leverage Intel's.  The Register has a bit more information on Google's plans and the Zaius here.

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"Google has gently increased pressure on Intel – its main source for data-center processors – by saying it is "looking forward" to using chips from IBM and other semiconductor rivals."

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Source: The Register

Google WiFi Bringing Wireless Mesh Networking to the Home

Subject: Networking | October 9, 2016 - 05:42 AM |
Tagged: wifi, onhub, mesh, google wifi, google, 802.11ac

Building on the company’s OnHub WiFi router program, the search giant will be offering up its own mesh WiFi network solution for home users later this year aptly named “Google WiFi.” Available in November for pre-order Google will offer single and triple packs of its puck-shaped smartphone controlled WiFi nodes.

Google WiFi node.png

Google WiFi is a new product that takes advantage of an old technology called mesh networking. While most home users rely on a single powerful access point to distribute the wireless signal throughout the home, mesh networks place nodes around the home in such a way that the WiFi networks overlap. Devices can connect to any node and transition between nodes automatically. The nodes communicate with each other wirelessly and connect end devices to the router and Internet by taking the best path (least number of hops and/or highest signal strengths). This model does have some disadvantages that are shared with WiFi repeater solutions in that as much as 50% (or worse!) of the bandwidth can be lost at each hop as the devices use wireless for both communicating with end devices and the backbone to the router. The advantage though is that you need only find a power outlet to set up the mesh node and there is no need to run Ethernet or deal with Powerline or MoCA setups.

Fortunately, it looks as though Google has mitigated the disadvantage by including two radios. The circular Google WiFi nodes (which measure 4.17” diagonally and 2.7” tall) pack a dual band 802.11ac WiFi chip that can operate at both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. Using the 5 GHz network for in room end devices (PCs, smartphones, game consoles, Rokus, et al) and the 2.4 GHz network to communicate with each other will help to eliminate a major bottleneck. There will likely still be some bandwidth lost, especially over multiple hops, due to interference, but it should be much less than 50% bandwidth loss.

Google WiFi Mesh.png

Each Google WiFi node features two Gigabit Ethernet ports that can be setup as LAN or WAN ports, Bluetooth, and an 802.11ac 2x2 WiFi radio with beamforming support. The nodes are powered by an unspecified quad core processor, 512MB DDR3L memory, and 4GB of eMMC flash storage. The nodes apparently draw as much as 15 watts.

Of course, being Google, the Google WiFi can be controlled using an Android or iOS app that allows the administrator to pause WiFi on a per-device basis (e.g. set time limits for children), monitor device bandwidth usage and prioritize traffic, and automatically apply firmware updates to mitigate security risks. Additionally, Google WiFi automatically configures each node to use the best channel and band to get the best performance that supports all devices.

The nodes currently come only in white and are constructed of plastic. There are blue LEDs around the middle of the puck shaped device. Google WiFi will be available for pre-order in November. A single node will cost $129 while a three pack will cost $299. Google is not first to the wireless mesh party but it looks like it will be competitively priced (the three pack is $200 cheaper than eero, for example).

This looks like it might be a simple to setup solution if you or your family are currently running a single access point that can’t quite cover the entire home. I don’t really see this as a product for enthusiasts, but it might be worth recommending to people that just want WiFi that works with little setup. I will have to wait for reviews to say for sure though.

What are your thoughts on Google WiFi?

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Source: Google