Tag Archives: Android

Android TV

Coming soon: Android TV

Coming this fall is Google’s latest effort at competing with Apple TV, Roku, and video game consoles: “Android TV.” Unlike previous efforts Google TV and Chromecast, Android TV will be an operating system rather than a specific set-top box brand name. Smart TV makers will be able to embed it into their sets, while third-party set-top box makers (Asus, etc.) can use the operating system.

Similar to Android and Roku/Apple TV, it’ll come with an easy-to-use interface with support for Chromecast. It’ll also come with its own app store, complete with using the same programming tools as Android-proper.

More details can be found at these two articles:

Google Introduces Android TV, Its New Platform For Smart TV Apps And Navigation | TechCrunch

More on Android TV (TechCrunch)

Google TV, of course, was a flop for Google. One reason might have been stuff like this hideous Sony remote control, something only someone completely clueless would find “usable.” (Sony apparently had never heard of cell phones with slide-out keyboards, which would’ve been a vastly more logical design choice…) Chromecast, meanwhile, has been a success, thanks to being easy to use (by actual humans) and cheap (at $35).

I wonder how successful Android TV will be going up against Apple TV, Roku, video game consoles, and existing smart TVs…not to mention Google’s own Chromecast.

Comixology removes in-app purchasing from iOS apps

ComixologyYesterday, with zero advance notice, came some big comic news: Amazon stated that Comixology will drop in-app purchases for iOS users, to avoid Apple’s 30% cut of all in-app sales on any iOS app. The Android version will still allow in-app purchases, but not through Google Play’s system; Google also takes a 30% cut of sales from Android in-app sales. Android users will have to go through Paypal or Comixology’s own credit card system, which is what Comixology’s website uses. The new versions of Comixology’s iOS app will require buying comics through a web browser, which can then be synced with the now-reader-only Comixology app.

Needless to say, this seems to be a much bigger deal for comics folk than anything I heard at C2E2 this weekend. My Twitter feed shows a lot of people annoyed about the change, and how it’ll make things “needlessly complicated.” I thought I’d list my own pros and cons for this change below…

Pros

More money will go to comics creators

Under the previous system, the average comic sales split was 30% to Google/Apple, 35% to Comixology (which took half of all sales left), and the remaining 35% to be divided up between the publisher and creators. For a $4 comic, this would be $1.20 to Google/Apple, $1.40 to Comixology, and $1.40 to the publisher/creators. Seeing two-thirds of all sales gone to various middlemen before even getting to the publisher/creators (and however that remaining split goes) sounds like a ripoff to me. Amazon probably realized it’d hurt them as well, thus their taking the same path they’ve taken with their Kindle app.

Under the new system (which is how buying books through Comixology’s website has always worked), 50% of sales will go to Comixology, and the remaining 50% will go to the publisher/creators. For a $4 comic, that’s $2 to Comixology, and $2 to the publisher/creators. Granted, this could change in the future (say, if Comixology decides keeping two-thirds of sales for itself isn’t a bad idea), but assuming similar ratios, it works out to an extra 60 cents a book for Comixology/Amazon and an extra 60 cents a book for the publishers/creators (and however further down that’s split up, again). While from the creators’ end that still seems a bit lopsided to me, it’s one less middleman, and thus works out much better for everyone involved. Unless you’re Google or Apple, I suppose.

Slight lessening of Comixology’s monopoly could result

Some people that dislike Comixology’s in-app purchase change could realize that as long as they’re going through a website to buy their comics, they could just as well go through what alternate sites exist to buy comics. As I wrote in my post on Comixology alternatives, it’s possible to buy some of one’s comics from various alternate sources, though Marvel/some smaller publishers are exclusive to Comixology.

Again, having just one excessively dominant source for digital comics isn’t a good thing, especially if (as we’ve seen here) things change and one grows dissatisfied with said dominant company. Of course, DRM locking in one’s purchases to one store, making it harder to switch, is a reason why Comixology seems big on DRM (besides the publishers’ insistence on such). Webcomic xkcd summed this up in one strip.

Still, it’ll be nice if this does make people reconsider whether DRM, etc. is worth the now-lesser convenience of Comixology. It’ll also be nice if it lets people possibly consider sources with less harsh or no DRM, like Image Comics’ website. Some publishers also seem aware of the downside of overreliance on just one store, and have diversified their digital comics sellers (DC and Archie in particular).

We’re already used to buying some media through websites

Amazon’s Kindle app for iOS is designed to work similarly to the Comixology change—no in-app purchasing, etc.—but what few extra steps that might be required haven’t hurt Amazon’s current dominance of the ebook marketplace. Amazon also seems to be doing OK with selling digital music against the one-click iTunes, though they’ve also made it easy to transfer one’s purchases into iTunes on your PC/Mac.

Less censorship of Comixology books

Since one’s buying books through Comixology’s website, Comixology will be free to sell their entire inventory without worrying about Apple banning certain books from its app. This includes books that ran afoul of Apple’s iOS standards in recent months, particularly “Sex Criminals.”

Comics manufacturers’ individual apps still allow in-app purchasing

The individual apps for DC, Marvel, etc. will still offer in-app purchasing, even if Comixology’s app is what they’re based on. This might appeal to some, assuming they don’t mind having multiple individual apps on their mobile device. Though that might be the case already—Dark Horse Comics books are only available digitally through their own app.

Cons

Buying comics from an app might require a few extra steps

Setting up and buying new comics might take a few extra steps over before. But again, it shouldn’t work much differently from Kindle’s ebook store.

Creators might see sales decline if fewer people use Comixology, negating the benefits of removing in-app purchasing

Some have expressed the belief that people switching away from Comixology (for other sites, paper comics, piracy, etc.) might result in Comixology losing profitability, or even fewer people reading comics, as Gerry Conway notes in an article. While I suppose it’s possible sales could drop, as I noted above, I still feel people moving to a diverse choice of other (legal) digital comics venues will be a good thing in the long run. Comixology can still be a major digital comics choice (they do make a nice app); it just shouldn’t be the only digital comics choice.

Conclusion

Overall, while it’ll be a bit less convenient, I have to conclude the benefits outweigh whatever downsides will happen from Amazon’s removal of in-app purchasing from Comixology. If it results in an increased range of alternative choices to Comixology, more awareness of the downsides of DRM/near-monopolies, more money to the creators of the comics, and less self-censorship of what Comixology can sell, it’s hard for me to argue “a few less buttons to push” should trump those factors.

Merry Christmas 2013

Doc McStuffinsTo those of you who celebrate, merry Christmas!

I thought I’d list some useful previous posts I’ve written, as well as other holiday highlights…

I got a new Nexus 7/Nook/etc. for Christmas; what can I do with it?

For those who’re giving/receiving an Android-based tablet or smartphone for the holiday, here’s my post on recommended Android apps.

Where can I buy digital comics besides Comixology?

For those looking to buy digital comics with said tablet, and don’t want to use Comixology, here’s my post on non-Comixology digital comics sources.

I just want to watch that Garfield/Charlie Brown/Snow Miser special…

Interested in spending the day watching holiday specials? Here’s my top 10 list of favorite specials (and runners-up), as well as my posts on various Christmas specials.

I’m reading this to kill time between Christmas and New Year’s…geez, there’s nothing on TV

Are you reading this after Christmas and want to know about animated specials referencing New Year’s or Boxing Day? There’s a post for that too, albeit a short one (they aren’t popular holidays for cartoons, apparently).

Who the heck hasn’t “saved Christmas” at this point? Dora the Explorer?!

Finally, if you’re wondering what minority cartoon characters have “saved Christmas,” here’s a list of some who have done so. For the record, Dora’s saved Christmas and a second holiday…

Blu-ray vs. digital media stores: which option’s better for multiple mixed-OS devices?

Wreck-It Ralph on Blu-rayLately, I’ve been considering going to high definition for future movie and TV show purchases. Between the direction things are moving, my owning an HDTV set, and that the HD version of “Wreck-It Ralph” I’ve seen looks a lot better than my DVD version does, I figure it’s time to make the move.

But what kind of HD videos? The current choices are Blu-ray and the various digital media stores, the latter dominated by iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play. I’ve written about Blu-ray in the past, and why I’ve mostly ignored it until now, given my dislike of its downsides: it’s another rapidly-spinning-disc media format (when I feel the future for video is in digital files, just as we’ve seen in the shift from CDs in music); it’s laden with more annoying DRM than DVDs ever had (a major reason Blu-ray was likely created in the first place); its attempts to make DVDs obsolete feels rather aggressive, despite that it’s only been about a decade since DVDs largely displaced VHS; and they still have the nerve to charge more for high definition over standard definition, despite no clear reason for the extra cost at this point other than a cash grab.

Still, when I went to compare Blu-ray to the digital video services of iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play, I concluded that ultimately, Blu-ray has the advantage over those stores, despite its flaws. The biggest problem of the stores is that they’re designed and geared toward working with their parent companies’ own device ecosystems, with cross-platform compatibility often iffy to nonexistent. Even DRMed ebooks aren’t as bad as the current state of digital video—at least Comixology allows one to read their books in a web browser, Android tablet or iPad.

Meanwhile, since its earlier days, Blu-ray’s DRM aspects have been sidestepped or defeated, and they’ve become easier to rip: the program MakeMKV is a popular means of ripping BR discs to an MKV file, and can be followed up by the use of programs like Handbrake or MP4tools to convert the MKV file to a smaller/more device-friendly file size and format. Said files would also be DRM-free, allowing one to put them on any device, unencumbered by one daring to actually buy a device based on desired features, not by whether they’re tied to a specific company/operating system. There’s also being able to back up the files to a hard drive, as well as still owning the original disc.

In my case, I have a mix of devices: a 2012 Mac Mini; an Xbox 360; a Nexus 4 smartphone; and a first-generation Nexus 7 tablet. This CNET article has a table summarizing which service is compatible with which device (updated 3/20/14: the article dates from over a year ago at this point; there’s been a few changes since it was written, but it’s still useful):

http://news.cnet.com/8301-33620_3-57566817-278/how-trapped-are-your-digital-movies-and-tv-shows/

As for my own devices, I’ve summarized their media store compatibility below (updated 3/20/14):

  • Mac Mini: iTunes; Google Play (via web browser; SD and HD); Amazon (via web browser; SD video only)
  • Xbox 360: Amazon; its own Xbox media services; Google Play videos (via the YouTube app, under “purchases”)
  • Nexus 4/Nexus 7: Google Play

As you can see, Amazon’s determined to push the Kindle, and thus won’t make their service available for straight Android devices; Google’s focused on Android, and thus their non-Android services are mediocre; and Apple’s definitely not offering much for non-iOS/OS X devices. The Xbox has support for its own services, Amazon and (technically) Google Play (via the YouTube app).

Since I don’t feel one should be punished for daring to buy tablets/smartphones/computers from a mix of operating systems/manufacturers, converting Blu-ray video to digital files seems the best course to take. At least until DRM is (hopefully) finally killed off for videos sold through iTunes, etc., though given VHS/DVD’s history (Macrovision, etc.), it’s debatable if or when that day will arrive.

Finally, yes, technically there’s also pirating videos from torrents, etc., which would have all of the same advantages as ripping Blu-rays/DVDs save the obvious one: no compensation for those that created the movies/TV shows. There’s also piracy’s other downsides (MPAA lawsuit threats, hit-and-miss availability of certain things, sketchy websites, etc.).

Android app review: Yahoo Weather

Yahoo WeatherYahoo!, the company that’s recently adopted a wide range of changes, ranging from buying Tumblr to changing its logo, is striving to make inroads into the mobile world. Besides their recently improved Flickr app, Yahoo’s also improved its Weather app.

The new Yahoo Weather app makes use of Flickr images to provide within the app full-screen background images, depending on one’s city/location. Among the aspects of this app:

  • A clean view and layout of weather information, including today’s high and low temperatures, hourly temperature forecasts, precipitation predictions, and a five- or ten-day forecast.
  • Sunrise and sunset information is provided, along with wind speed/direction, with slightly animated graphics.
  • A weather radar map is provided. Oddly, tapping it brings up Google Maps’ information, instead of the Weather Channel’s maps. Yahoo usually pulls its weather information from the Weather Channel.
  • Severe weather alerts are provided, along with (in the settings) switching from Imperial to metric units.
  • Widgets are provided in various sizes and functions, including a widget integrating a clock.

As nice as it is, Yahoo Weather has its downsides:

  • The information provided might be a bit too basic. More detailed data, for those that need it, will require either a different weather app or going to a weather related website.
  • The settings are buried at the bottom of a slide-out menu, below various other Yahoo functions (sports, etc.) that’re included for no clear reason, and just serve as unneeded clutter.

Overall, Yahoo Weather’s a nice, easy to use app, and should serve most users well. For those that need more detailed weather statistics, however, they may wish to consider AccuWeather or Weatherbug.

Here’s some screenshots of Yahoo Weather in action:
Yahoo weather 1 Yahoo weather 2
Yahoo weather 3 Yahoo weather 4

Android 4.4 to be called… KitKat?

Android 4.4 (KitKat)Earlier today, Google announced that it’s arranged a licensing deal with candy maker Nestle that’ll see Android 4.4 have the dessert-themed name… “KitKat.” Yes, after the candy bar.

Google’s always chosen dessert-themed names for Android, as listed on this tie-in page, which also advertises Google Play/Android device prizes embedded in select Kit Kat wrappers. As for the spelling, it looks like the Android OS will be named “KitKat” (in camel case), while Google refers to the candy itself as “Kit Kat” (with a space).

And yes, the article’s correct: Kit Kats are made and sold by Hershey here in the United States, but by Nestle elsewhere. No word on whether Key Lime Pie, the previous next-gen name for Android, will be used for a future version. For that matter, there’s no word on whether or not we’ll see future Android versions retain generic dessert names, or also enter into marketing arrangements with other candy makers. Can you imagine Android versions named “Twizzler,” “Dilly Bar,” or “Twinkie?”

The Nexus 4 experience three months later

Nexus 4Several months back, I bought the Nexus 4 smartphone, which I spent much time pondering whether it’d be worth buying. My main concern was the various reports about the phone’s back glass cracking. While I posted an initial review, I thought I’d offer an update on how the phone’s going so far.

T-Mobile plan

I signed up with the $30/month T-Mobile plan, advertised on their website. The plan comes with 100 minutes plus 5GB of data. Data with T-Mobile works fine for me, even at my workplace, which often has issues with dead zones. And since I’m not streaming YouTube or Netflix heavily, I’m not in danger of hitting the 5GB cap.

The minutes, however, I have hit at least once; while I don’t talk much on the phone, conversations with family may sometimes stretch on at length. Hitting the limit while I was on vacation also wasn’t the most convenient time. Thus, I’ve kept an extra $5-$10 on my T-Mobile account in case time runs over. The $30/month plan charges an extra 10 cents per minute ($6/hour) for anything over 100 minutes.

I’m thinking about signing up with the non-free version of Skype, which for $3/month offers an unlimited calling plan from Skype’s mobile app to phone lines. It’d be cheap (versus what the next suitable tier of T-Mobile service would run), give me the benefits of unlimited calling, and save on my T-Mobile phone minutes.

Stock Android

The Nexus 4 comes with stock Android, which I’ve greatly enjoyed. The two best aspects being that my phone’s 8GB of space isn’t eaten up by unwanted garbage apps put there by the manufacturer, and I get to receive upgrades to the newest Android versions fairly quickly.

The apps work as well as any other mid-to-high end Android phone, of course.

Phone camera

I’ve made use of the phone’s camera, such as on my recent trip to Seattle. While the camera works fine for taking casual snapshots, the camera isn’t one of the Nexus 4′s strong points. It’s nicer than my previous phone’s cameras, but probably not as nice as the iPhone’s camera.

Protecting the phone

This was my biggest concern, per the various online reports about the phone breaking. However, most of these reports seem to show the phone never had any sort of case on it. In my case, I bought a generic $25 case from a T-Mobile kiosk; probably thanks to the case, the Nexus 4 has held up so far, even after the inevitable dropping of my phone a few times. I also put a screen protector on the phone, ones that I ordered from an Amazon vendor. The shields have prevented scratches so far, but the ones I bought seem to give the phone screen a slightly grainy look.

Conclusion

Overall, I’m enjoying the Nexus 4, and glad I bought it. I’d still consider this phone as a viable choice, provided one has a case for it. I assume Google will want to release an updated version soon, as the Nexus 4 model is about a year old.

If one’s considering alternate phones, other phones I’d look at include the recently-announced Moto X, the HTC One, the Samsung Galaxy S 4, and (for iOS fans) the iPhone 5. Engadget’s summer 2013 smartphone guide might be worth reading.

Android app review: OI Flashlight

OI FlashlightWhile there’s tons of flashlight apps in the Google Play store, a lot of them ask for a high number of and/or odd permissions. While some of the permissions are presumably for advertising, others might be questionable at best.

OI Flashlight is a flashlight app whose only permission it asks for is for the camera, and that’s in order to make use of the camera’s flash. No advertising, etc., and the app’s free.

Features include whether or not to use the camera’s flash instead of the screen backslight, and changing the screen color. However, changing the screen color requires a separate color picker app to download.

The app works as advertised otherwise, and (like most flashlight apps) is easy to use.

Android app review: Speedtest.net

A new app I’ve been using lately is SpeedTest.net. Based on and tied into the popular website of the same name, Speedtest.net is an app that lets you test your smartphone’s data connection speed. The app comes in versions for Android, iOS, and Windows Phone.

As its Google Play page description notes, Speedtest.net lets one test the server ping, upload, and download speeds. The settings allow one to choose whether to display speeds in kbps, mbps, or kb/s. There’s also an option to choose which server to test with based on the distance away. (Distances are measured in kilometers only.) Another feature is the ability to store a record of past test results, as well as export them in .CSV format.

I find Speedtest.net useful for situations such as my workplace, where my smartphone’s data speed often comes to a crawl, and I’d like to know by just how much of a crawl.

Here’s some examples of Speedtest.net in action. Yes, my workplace data connection’s sometimes that slow!
speedtest1

speedtest2

speedtest3

speedtest4

Anthony’s favorite Android apps guide

android_logoSince I’ve upgraded to a new phone recently (the pleasant to use Nexus 4), I thought I’d write about what apps I use on my Android smartphone and tablet. Note that my choice of favorite apps might be different from what others use; I’m not an Instagram or Pinterest user, for starters.

Social Media

  • Facebook: yes, I have this one on my devices.
  • Google+: though Google+ is pre-installed, I’d install it on my own anyway. Google’s social media service is pretty nice compared to Facebook, and doesn’t change its privacy rules every other week.
  • Twitter: just the stock Twitter app, especially with how Twitter lately has been bent on killing off any rival Twitter apps.
  • imo: a multi-protocol instant messaging app.

Audio

  • Android MP3: Amazon’s MP3 store may be accessed through this app, as well as its cloud music player.
  • Pandora: the popular streaming audio service.
  • Play Music: built in already, but functions well enough for my audio playing purposes. More hardcore music enthusiasts can find alternative apps through Google Play.
  • Shazam: the popular app that tells the name of a song playing when the device is held up to the radio/stereo/other audio source. I don’t frequently use this app, but sometimes it’s nice to have around for fun.
  • TuneIn Radio Pro: I paid for the non-free version of this useful streaming audio app, which streams various radio stations from around the world. I use this app to listen to NPR, as well as sometimes Canada’s CBC.

Video

  • MX Player: while the default video player works well enough, MX Player offers support for more formats, and comes with a few extra features.
  • Netflix: the streaming video service gets some use on my tablet.

Comics

  • Comics: the plainly-named Comixology app is useful for reading what comics I’ve bought through the service.
  • GoComics: a newspaper comic strip reading app I’ve written about previously.
  • Perfect Viewer: an excellent comic reading app for Android devices, with support for popular non-DRM formats (CBR, CBZ, PDF, JPG) and for reading Western or Japanese comics.

Ebooks

  • Aldiko: this popular ebook reading app works quite well with non-DRMed ebooks, such as those from Project Gutenberg or bought from the few ebookstores without DRM (like Tor’s books). There’s also removing DRM from legally purchased books on one’s own, of course.
  • Amazon Kindle: the popular Kindle app is something I install for the few Kindle books I have.
  • Nook: Barnes and Noble’s ebook store app. Besides a holdover from my Nook Color days, I also purchase most of my digital comics and magazines through the Nook app.
  • OverDrive Media: an app that allows one to check out ebooks from public libraries. Unfortunately, the nature of how libraries are forced to offer ebooks, thanks to large publishers’ ham-fisted meddling, doesn’t make this as appealing as it should.

Photos

  • Flickr: a recent update to this app has now brought it up to par with the iOS version, and thus it’s a vast improvement. The only drawback is there’s no automatic backup feature for smartphone photos, similar to what’s found in the Google+ and Dropbox apps.

Utilities/Tools

  • Astro File Manager: an app that allows for browsing through an Android device’s file directories much like on a desktop computer. Particularly useful for devices with an SD card, or when a particular file is needed to be found.
  • Dictionary Premium: Dictionary.com’s dictionary and thesaurus app. While there’s a free version, I opted to pay for the ad-free version.
  • Evernote: the online-based notekeeping service is something I use frequently and find highly useful. Since I just use it for text-based lists (and not photos/audio/etc.), I stick with the free version.
  • KeePassDroid: the Android version of the popular password database program KeePass.
  • Lookout: a popular smartphone security service.
  • Unit Converter: useful for converting from U.S. Imperial units (inches, miles, gallons, etc.) to metric units.

Games

  • Angry Birds: yes, I have the ever-popular game, too. However, I’m not a big Android gamer.

Miscellaneous

  • AccuWeather: a weather app.
  • Dropbox: the popular online storage service. Installing the app on my devices, desktop computer, and laptop helps with some personal file-sharing aspects.
  • Feedly: the replacement RSS service I’ve found for the soon-to-shut-down Google Reader.
  • IMDB: an app for the popular online movie information database.
  • StopWatch & Timer+: while there’s a free version, I use this app often enough I paid for the non-free version. The app does what its name says: offer various timer pre-sets.
  • WeatherBug: another weather app, though with more features/detailed forecasts than AccuWeather’s app.