Putting fingerprints on the Google Pixel

Subject: Mobile | October 6, 2016 - 05:20 PM |
Tagged: google, pixel, pixel xl, nougat, Android 7.1

The Inquirer had a chance to lay their hands on the new Google Pixel and Pixel XL and have shared their experiences here.  We have covered the specs of the phone previously and so will not reiterate them here, check out Tim's coverage for the details.  The impression that The Inq immediately had upon grasping the phone is that it feels very much like a slimmer HTC 10, which they were not overly impressed by. That HTC phone was rated 88 in DxOMark, the Pixel an 89 while the iPhone 7 garnered a rating of 86, if you follow that particular benchmark tool.  They had a strong feeling that Google may have missed too many marks on this phone to justify the pricing, read on to see if you agree with their experiences.

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"On first impressions, we can't help but feel that the Pixel is a bit of a wasted opportunity. The handset has a largely boring design, doesn't offer much in the way of innovation and is expensive compared with previous Nexus smartphones."

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Source: The Inquirer

About the "Firefox Is Eating Your SSD" Story

Subject: Storage | October 5, 2016 - 11:57 PM |
Tagged: ssd, mozilla, google, firefox, endurance, chrome

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a post pop up on Twitter a few times about Firefox performing excessive writes to SSDs, which total up to 32GBs in a single day. The author attributes it mostly to a fast-updating session restore feature, although cookies were also resource hogs in their findings. In an update, they also tested Google Chrome, which, itself, clocked in over 24GB of writes in a day.

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This, of course, seemed weird to me. I would have thought that at least one browser vendor might notice an issue like this. Still, I passed the link to Allyn because he would be much more capable in terms of being able to replicate these results. In our internal chat at the time, he was less skeptical than I was. I've since followed up with him, and he said that his initial results “wasn't nearly as bad as their case”. He'll apparently elaborate on tonight's podcast, and I'll update this post with his findings.

Google Launches High End Pixel Smartphones

Subject: General Tech | October 5, 2016 - 03:47 AM |
Tagged: usb-c, Snapdragon 821, pixel, Kryo, google, android assistant, adreno 530, 802.11ac

Google introduced its own premium smartphone today in the form of the Pixel and Pixel XL. Running Android Nougat 7.1, the Pixel smartphones will not only run the latest operating system but will be the new premium experience with the best Android features including Google Assistant and Smart Storage with unlimited cloud storage of photos and videos.

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Google is definitely taking a greater interest in promoting Pixel than they have with even their Nexus devices. It will be interesting to see how other Android manufacturers react to this news but I would imagine that they are not all that pleased and Google will be in a similar position to Microsoft with its Surface products and Nvidia with it's Founder's Edition graphics cards. 

Google's Pixel lineup includes the Pixel (5.6 x 2.7 x 0.2-0.3") and the Pixel XL (6 x 2.9 x 0.2-0.34") that wrap their respective 5-inch 1080p (441 PPI) and 5.5-inch 1440p (534 PPI) displays in a full aluminum and glass unibody design that will come in one of three colors: Very Black, Quite Silver and Really Blue. The smartphones feature curved corners and rounded edges with Corning Gorilla Glass 4 on the front and half of the back. Google has put a fingerprint sensor on the back of the phone and power, volume, three microphones, a USB-C port, and, yes, a 3.5mm audio jack. 

There are both front and rear cameras and Google is claiming that the rear camera in particular is the best smartphone camera yet (with a DxOMark score of 89 points). The rear camera (which sits flush with the back of the phone) is rated at 12.3 MP with a f/2.0 aperture, and 1.55µm pixels. The camera further features an IMX378 sensor. electronic image stabilization, and both phase detection and laser auto focus. The Pixel can take HDR+ photos and videos at up to 4K30, 1080p120, or 720p240. Users can adjust white balance and use automatic exposure or auto focus locking. The front camera is less impressive at 8MP with fixed focus lens and f/2.4.

Internally, Google has opted to use the Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 (MSM8996) which is a 2+2 design that pairs two Kryo cores at 2.15 GHz with two Kryo cores at 1.6 GHz along with an Adreno 530 GPU, an impressive 4GB of LPDDR4 memory, and either 32GB or 128GB of internal storage which is regrettably non-expandable. The smartphones can tap into up to Category 11 LTE (Cat 9 in the US), 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2, and NFC. Sensors include GPS, proximity, accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, barometer, and hall sensors.

The Pixel features a 2,770 mAh battery and the Pixel Xl uses a slightly larger 3,450 mAh battery. In either case, Google rates the Pixel and Pixel XL at 13 hours and 14 hours of internet browsing and video playback respectively. Further, the batteries are able to be quick charged enough for up to "seven hours of use" after just 15 minutes of charging time using the included 18W USB-C charger.

Pricing works out to $649 for the 32GB Pixel, $749 for the 128GB Pixel, $769 for the 32GB Pixel XL, and $869 for the 128GB Pixel XL. In the US Google has partnered with Verizon for brick-and-mortar availability in addition to it being available on the Google store and other online retailers.

Google is banking a lot on these devices and asking a very premium price tag for the unlocked phones. It is certainly a gamble whether users will find the unique features enough to go with the Pixel over other flagships. What do you think about Google's increased interest in the smartphone space with the launch of its own hardware? How well will Pixel fit into the existing environment – will Pixel lead Android hardware and the OS to success or simply fragment it more?

I do like the look of the Pixel (especially the blue one) and the feature lists sounds good enough that maybe I could live without a removable battery and non-expandable storage (I'll be holding onto my old T-Mobile unlimited plan for as long as possible! heh). Pricing is a bit steep though and I think that will trip a lot of people up when searching for their next device.

Source: Google

Google Shows Off $69 4K HDR Capable Chromecast Ultra at #madebygoogle Event

Subject: General Tech | October 4, 2016 - 08:28 PM |
Tagged: google, chromecast, media streaming, 4k, hdr, google home

During Google's #madebygoogle event (embedded below), the company introduced a number of new pieces of hardware including a new Chromecast. The Chromecast Ultra is aimed at owners of 4K televisions and supports both 4K Ultra HD and HDR content from the likes of Netflix, YouTube, and other apps. Like previous models, the Chromecast takes input from Android, iOS, Mac OSX, and Windows devices that "cast" media to the TV. Additionally, it can be paired with Google Home where users can use voice commands such as "Ok, Google. Play the sneezing panda video on my TV."

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The Chromecast Ultra is a small circular puck with a Micro USB port and a short flexible flat HDMI cable that is permanently attached to the device. The Micro USB port is used for both power and data. One neat feature about the new Chromecast Ultra is that the power adpater has an Ethernet port on it so that users can hook the streaming device up to their wired network for better performance (important for streaming 4K content). Not to worry if you rely on WiFi though because it does support dual band 802.11ac.

Google has not yet revealed what hardware is under the hood of its new 4k capable Chromecast, unfortunately. They did release pricing information though: the Chromecast Ultra will be $69 and is "coming soon". If you are interested you can sign up to be notified when it becomes available.

Source: Google

Google Translate Boosted by Deep Learning

Subject: General Tech | September 28, 2016 - 11:36 PM |
Tagged: google

Machine translation is quite difficult, especially between certain pairs of languages that vary greatly in how they handle implied context and intonation. At Google, the current translation system picks out known words and phrases, converts them to the target language, and blindly outputs them. This, unfortunately, ignores how the phrases are structured together.

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Google has been working toward a newer system, though. Google Neural Machine Translation (GNMT) considers whole sentences, rather than individual words and phrases. It lists all possible translations, and weighs them based on how humans rate their quality. These values are stored and used to better predict following choices, which should be a familiar concept to those who have been reading up on deep learning over the last couple of years.

This new system makes use of Google's “TensorFlow” library, released to the public last year under a permissive, Apache 2.0 license. It will also be compatible with Google's custom Tensor Processing Unit (TPU) ASICs that were announced last May at Google I/O. The advantage of TPUs is that they can reach extremely high parallelism because they operate on extremely low-precision values.

The GNMT announcement showed the new system attempting to translate English to and from Spanish, French, and Chinese. Each pairing, in both directions, showed a definite increase, with French to English almost matching a human translation according to their quality metric. GNMT is currently live to the public when attempting to translate between Chinese and English, and Google will expand this to other languages “over the coming months”.

Source: ZDNet

Google Continues Clamping Down on HTTP

Subject: General Tech | September 9, 2016 - 03:02 AM |
Tagged: google, chrome, http, https

Many software vendors want to impose security and encryption basically everywhere. Google and Mozilla are two of the more vocal organizations about it, and they have been slowly implementing ways to discourage insecure HTTP (in favor of HTTPS). Some of these make sense, like preventing insecure sites from accessing your webcam so the video stream cannot be intercepted, while others seem a bit pushy, like lowering HTTP-based sites down in search results.

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This announcement's change is technologically benign, but is designed to make HTTP feel a bit uncomfortable. Rather than just promote HTTPS sites with a secure padlock symbol, Google Chrome 56 and later will begin to add a “not secure” label to HTTP sites. At first, Google claims that it will only mark sites that transmit sensitive data, like passwords and credit card info. They intend to expand this to all HTTP websites going forward.

Again, this has pros and cons. The main benefit of encryption is that it's much harder to view or manipulate what flies across the data stream. One major disadvantage is that the content needs to be authenticated, which is a concern for truly anonymous expressions. Google Chrome treats local, offline content as secure, but that use case could be easily forgotten, and that could have terrible rammifications, especially in areas controlled by oppressive governments that massively censor art.

Source: Google

Google tests switching to a low fibre diet; WiFi almost all the way

Subject: General Tech | August 15, 2016 - 04:22 PM |
Tagged: google, wireless isp, LTE

The FCC bidding was not terribly exciting but the result was numerous companies buying up parts of the spectrum and more importantly to this post, the opening of 3550-3650 MHz band for anyone to use.  The 3.5GHz band is already allocated to shipborne navigation and military radar systems, this will be a test of ability of computer systems to moderate interference instead of the blanket ban they have always relied on in the past. 

Google is about to test that ability, they will be running a test in several US cities to check the propagation of the signal as well as any possible maritime or military interference from the broadcast.  This could be a way to get high speed internet to the curb without requiring fibre optic runs and would also be compatible with LTE, if Google wanted to dip their toes into that market.  You can read about the tests and where they will be happening over at Hack a Day.

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"In a recently released FCC filing, Google has announced their experimental protocol for testing the new CBRS. This isn’t fast Internet to a lamp pole on the corner of the street yet, but it lays the groundwork for how the CBRS will function, and how well it will perform."

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Source: Hack a Day

Google may be abandoning their VR headset, but not VR entirely

Subject: General Tech | July 18, 2016 - 05:37 PM |
Tagged: google, VR, daydream, rumour, Huawei

Detailed information on Google's Daydream VR Headeset was conspicuously absent from io16.  At that time it was still expected that Google was developing a VR headset to compete with the Rift and Vive which is why it seemed strange they merely mentioned it in passing.  Today rumours are spreading that Google may have abandoned that particular project on favour of improving mobile VR, taking advantage of Google Cardboard one might assume.  They are instead focusing on the software side, the Daydream VR platform designed to enhance VR capabilities on Android N will be improved and offered to vendors; Huawei was mentioned in the post on The Inquirer.  While it is still rumour at this point it certainly makes sense to stop spending money to develop competing hardware when they can focus on improving mobile software which any Android phone could use.

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"While Daydream persists, Recode said that Google has cancelled plans to create its own VR headset as it does not want to compete with Facebook, Samsung, HTC and others."

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Source: The Register

Google's take on the quantum computer

Subject: General Tech | June 14, 2016 - 05:14 PM |
Tagged: google, quantum computing

 IBM, D-Wave and Google are the major players in quantum computing research, with each taking a different route towards developing a Universal Turing Machine using qubits; a machine that can perform all the computations of a traditional processor but at speeds exponentially faster.  Before the research discussed in this article at Nanotechweb, Google had focused on adiabatic solution which is essentially a quantum computer purpose built to solve a particular problem, not a machine capable of performing any data manipulation problem presented.  They have switched tactics have digitized their adiabatic quantum computer to allow for error correction and to allow for non-stoquastic interactions.  This should, in theory, allow for scalability thanks to the unique direction the research is taking.  The reading is rather heavy, especially if you follow the link to Nature but very interesting if you are curious about new methods of developing quantum computers.

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"Bringing together the best of two types of quantum computer for the first time, researchers at Google have created a prototype that combines the architecture of both a universal quantum computer and an analogue quantum computer."

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Source: Nanotechweb

Was Google holding back at I/O? Not really; but here are a few things you might have missed.

Subject: General Tech | May 20, 2016 - 04:29 PM |
Tagged: google

The Inquirer put together a list of topics that received little to no coverage during the Google I/O keynote, though why Daydream VR was included is hard to say as it was all over the news yesterday.  The Google Play store coming to Chromebooks and Android Pay arriving in the UK were also services we knew about but which did not get a mention.  On the other hand, Google's Tensor Processing Unit really should have received more emphasis as it is rather impressive. If AMD, NVIDIA and Intel were hoping to get a contract from Google to power the next generation of Deep Dream or Google Assistant then they are out of luck.  Take a peek at the other topics The Inq wanted to hear more about here.

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"As such, here's the INQ top 10 announcements that got bumped from the I/O keynote to a footnote or out of the main speech altogether."

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Source: The Inquirer