Google unveils Project Wing delivery drone programme

Google.drone.290-x195Google has revealed that it’s been building and testing drones that can be used to make deliveries. Project Wing is being overseen by Google X, the company’s secret tech research branch, and has been under development for the past two years.

The drones have a single “blended” wing measuring 1.5 metres, as well as four electronically driven propellers. It weighs 19 pounds and can carry packages up to 3 pounds, which are positioned in a gap in the middle of the wing. They are programmed with a destination and then fly there autonomously using a system of cameras, GPS, radios, accelerometers and gyroscopes.

Recently Google has been testing the drones successfully in Queensland, Australia, where the laws on flying drones are more “progressive” than many other parts of the world. The use of commercial drones is currently banned in the US, although both Amazon and Google are in talks with the regulators to change this.

The project is similar to the one announced by Amazon last year, although while Amazon’s Prime Air Service is intended to deliver goods to its customers, Google claims that its drones are being developed to deliver medical equipment and humanitarian aid. The idea was apparently first conceived as a way of delivering defibrillator kits to suspected heart attack sufferers more quickly than an ambulance. However, Google did also add that it envisaged the drones could be used to deliver goods to consumers eventually.

It would appear that the technology for drone delivery services is there, but the main hurdle is going to be changing regulations so that they can actually operate, and this will clearly involve a lot of research into the logistical and safety implications of having drones flying around autonomously.

Do you think it’s likely that we’ll see drones replacing delivery drivers in the near future?

Google’s first Android Wear smartwatches go on sale

LG G Watch

LG G Watch

One of several announcements made by Google at its annual I/O developers conference yesterday was news that the first smartwatches powered by its Android Wear operating system have finally gone on sale.

The Samsung Gear Live and LG G Watch are now available to pre-order through Google Play, with shipping expected on 7 July. Those who’ve been holding out for the eagerly awaited Motorola 360, which also runs Android Wear, will have to wait until “later this summer” for it to go on sale.

With its new smartwatch-specific operating system, Google hopes to make Android Wear the ‘go-to’ platform for developers. Analysts believe that part of the reason that smartwatches have failed to take off thus far is due lack of decent apps. However, it’s thought that a standardised platform such as Android Wear will encourage the development of better integrated, more sophisticated and widely used apps.

Another factor that’s deemed to be crucial to the success of smartwatches is the ability for them to be used as passively as possible. This is something that Google has focused on with Android Wear. The user interface is based around Google Now cards, which can be easily navigated using swipe, and press and hold gestures. Voice commands are also an integral feature.

samsung-gear-live-smartwatch

Samsung Gear Live

The £145 LG G Watch measures 37.9 x 46.5 x 9.95mm, weighs 63 grams, and is available in Black Titan and White Gold. Other specifications include a 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor; always-on 1.65-inch IPS (280×280 pixels) display; 4GB of built-in storage; 512MB of RAM; 400mAh battery; Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity; and a 9-axis sensor. It is also dust and water resistant for up to 30 minutes in 1 metre of water.

The Samsung Gear Live costs £118 and looks very similar to the Gear 2 smartwatch that was released earlier in the year. It measures 37.9 x 56.4 x 8.9mm, weighs 59 grams, and has a 1.63-inch Super AMOLED (320×320 pixels) display. It also features a 1.2GHz processor; 512MB off RAM; 4GB of inbuilt storage; Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity; 300mAh battery; heart rate monitor and a range of other sensors including accelerometer, gyroscope, and compass.

Both smartwatches are compatible with smartphones running Android 4.3 or above.

What do you think of Google’s Android Wear and the new smartwatches running it?

Google Nexus 7 Review

Back on the 27th June Google announced they were adding a new device to the Nexus line up, this time a tablet, called the Google Nexus 7 which is built for Google by Asus and was set to be the epitome of an Android tablet experience.

Asus Google Nexus 7

Google Nexus 7

Historically when Google release a new Nexus device, it is the first device to run a new version of the operating system, such as the Samsung Galaxy Nexus which was the first device to run Android v4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and this time when Google wanted to release its newest version of the OS, 4.1 Jelly Bean, they decided a phone wouldn’t suffice, a tablet was in order.

Now it goes without saying really that when a new Google device launches, pre-orders and sales are always strong and the Google Nexus 7 stood up to the test too, with Google halting UK sales for the 16GB version online to begin with and stores selling out as well. Because of this I had to wait a little while to get hold of one. Since the boss didn’t get a unit to review and return, I thought I’d just go out and personally get one, so I opted for the 16GB variant, my view on internal memory is go big or go home!

Prices really are affordable. Asus were tasked to build to a budget when manufacturing the Nexus 7, something Google would not budge on as they wanted this device to not only be kickass but at a cost anyone could afford, and what a sweet price bracket they have dropped the tablet into. The 8GB variant is £159 direct from Google and the 16GB variant is £199 and just to add an extra incentive, when you first sign into your Google account (gmail) on the Nexus 7 you’ll get £15 of Google Play Credit to spend in the Google Play store on apps, books or movies, as well as a copy of Transformers: Dark of the Moon on Google Movies, a nice little kick back to save precious memory on the device itself if going for the 8GB. At the time of publishing if you log into one or more gmail account on the Nexus 7, that account also gets the £15 credit. This additional account does need to also be in your name, not a mates, sadly.

On the topic of variants, the Google Nexus 7 comes in two forms, an 8GB and a 16GB version. Now 8GB doesn’t seem a lot but this is for a clever reason on Google’s part. They are trying to promote their Books, Movies and Music options which store your content on the cloud and not on the device itself, rendering the large memory redundant, however not all of us want to have our content on the cloud which requires an internet connection to play, so the larger memory option proves beneficial.

Nexus 7 sideview

Nexus 7 sideview

The device itself looks great. it is really thin and light, and makes my Motorola Xoom feel like a brick, though this is due to the Google Nexus 7 having a 7” screen, much smaller than the Xoom’s 10.1” screen, and the Xoom having a metal build over the Nexus 7’s plastic build. That said the build quality is exceptional and feels so nice in the hand, with bevelled edges and the patterned back panel which reduces finger marks and has a nice non slip feel to it. The Google Nexus 7 weighs in at 340g which is a nice weight for the tablet. It’s heavy enough to confirm to you the strong build quality, but not so strong it would be uncomfy to use for long periods.

The screen is a real joy to look at. It is a 7″ 1280×800 HD display (216 ppi) back-lit IPS display with scratch-resistant Corning glass meaning it handles videos and apps with high-level graphics really well. There have been a few issues appearing with some devices where the Corning glass screen comes away from the device, but I have not found this with my unit. Don’t worry though as this is covered under warranty, so just follow the procedure to return if you find an issue with yours, when you get one.

Briefly touching on the packaging the box isn’t much to talk about, it is not much bigger than the tablet itself, upon removing the sleeve and lifting the lid off it uncovers the tablet in all its glory. I couldn’t help but be reminded of unboxing an Apple iPhone 4S, the Google Nexus 7 takes an awfully similar approach to boxing and displaying. I hope Apple didn’t take a patent out on packaging too, it wouldn’t surprise me if they had. The contents of the box aren’t much to write home about, being just the tablet, USB lead and power plug. There’s no cover, screen protector or fancy gifts it is very basic but then to get the price down to its juicy number there had to be some cutbacks. I was slightly disappointed to not see a set of headphones included, though this isn’t something any tablets come with, I just personally feel it would have added to the portability of the unit.

Google Play on the Nexus 7

Google Play on the Nexus 7

The Google Nexus 7 is a feature rich little beauty. I’ve already touched on the screen resolution and quality and the light weight of the device. Deep down in the belly of the tablet are a set of lovely features which make the spec list sing and scares off rivals such as the Amazon Kindle Fire stateside and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 over here in the UK. Powering the device and keeping it ticking over sweetly is a quad-core Tegra 3 chipset clocked at 1.3GHz courtesy of the good guys over at Nvidia and a battery life of “all day” according to Google, or 10 hours playback in reality, of course depending on how bright you like the screen and how many graphic-heavy apps or games you are running but do expect the 10 hours on video playback to be near capable. Tried and tested, and in glorious 720p it is great to watch films on.

Of course this excellent battery life and powerful CPU are only achieved thanks to Google’s newest version of the Android operating system, Jelly Bean, and the clever trickery they have done with this OS adding in some really clever features, and Project Butter.

Project Butter is Google’s attempt to quash lag time when using a device. It’s main advantage is it lets the CPU and graphics run parallel instead of interfere with each other and now all runs at 60 frames per second letting everything run faster and smoother now, which can be perceived both in reality and thought. Without getting too technical, it also pre-renders pages and menus for you, and learns where you will touch the screen next after the first touch. So if you hit a certain part of the screen, Android will know the most likely place you will next hit the screen next. It does this as when you touch the screen, it has to send a signal to the processor to action your command, whereas if it knows where you’ll touch, it’s already sideloaded that command to it doesn’t have to load it. All this makes the user experience great, and everything run so much smoother. Google’s attack on lagginess has really paid off. The Nexus 7 runs as smooth as butter.

A lot of people have already questioned why the Google Nexus 7 doesn’t have a rear-facing camera and it’s simple really, it’s a tablet not a camera. For one, it is cumbersome to use a tablet to photo, even a nice small light one like this, but second to put the camera unit in is costly, and so to keep the tablet at this sweet price point, some corners had to be cut, although I do feel even if it was a higher price bracket Google would leave it out, as it’s not needed. I see tourists  in London taking photos of Big Ben with an iPad and it just looks awkward. The Google Nexus 7 does has a front-facing camera for your video calling on Skype or other app, and is a good quality being a 1.2mp snapper, though again I don’t feel it’s massively needed, video calling isn’t a widely popular way to communicate.

Google Now on Jelly Bean

Google Now on the Nexus 7

Another new feature to Android v4.1 (now v4.1.1) is Google Now. Google Now gets you just the right information, just when it is needed. For instance, if your device is synced with all your other Google services, such as Calendar and Maps etc, it will show you a card telling you your appointment is at 10am at “this address” and also how far away you are and how long it will take to get there. A Weather card always appears, which you can swipe to dismiss. With Google’s new voice search function, you can simply ask it a question like “How tall is the Eiffel Tower?” and it will respond “The Eiffel Tower is 324m tall”. It also remembers your routine, so if you travel to the office at a certain time each day, it will give you a card with your travel details each day when you need it, before you leave.  It works beautifully well, and is arguably better working than Siri at performing many tasks.

In summary the Google Nexus 7 is a cracking little device, and I personally feel it offers up the best Android tablet experience I’ve used to date, even more appealing than the Asus Transformer Prime I’ve played with, but this knocks the spots off all rivals as it’s tech spec under the hood is rich, and comes at such a pleasant price.

Google Nexus 7 back

Nexus 7 Back

Yes there are a few niggles with the device, like it’s plastic build quality and that some users have found the Corning glass to come away from the device, but the latter hasn’t affected many users and the fact the build quality is exceptional makes the use of plastic no bad thing. Some people have to gain more of a sense of reality when it comes to just how much of a device can be made at a £159 price tag, for the 8GB variant.

Memory sizes may snag a few people. I personally also have the 16GB Motorola Xoom with a 32GB memory card and very rarely have I ever used the card, so the 16GB Nexus 7 suits me fine, however I do feel I could manage quite comfortably with the 8GB, if I made more effort to use Google’s Play services, such as Movies and Music which store everything on the cloud and so frees up space on the internal memory. One little disappointment is the lack of a memory card slot, however as mentioned this is with Google trying to steer customers subtly towards their cloud services. I’m sure it wouldn’t take long to adjust, I can’t remember the last time I saved Excel or Word docs anymore, in favour of Google Drive where a project or blog can be picked up on any device.

 For the money this is the perfect device for people of all ages, be it for a child’s Christmas present or Grandad’s first tablet. The £159 price tag for the 8GB on Google is very reasonable, as with the included £15 Google Play Credit, and £199 for the 16GB also. I don’t feel the extra £40 justifies the memory increase, as there is no other benefit the units are otherwise identical, and with hindsight I would probably have opted for the 8GB. Most retailers other than Google only offer the 16GB and for £199.99 but you may find they can ship it quicker than Google themselves. I have used Currys in the past and never had an issue with the delivery times.

I am 100% sure if/when you get your hands on one you will enjoy the Google Nexus 7 and will forget I even mentioned the gripes I had with it, as the more I use it I do.

Pre-order your Galaxy Nexus from Three today

Pre-order your Galaxy Nexus from Three today. The Galaxy Nexus brings together Samsungs hardware with Google’s Android software.

Great news for Android fans, the new Galaxy Nexus will be the first phone with the latest Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) in the UK. The Galaxy Nexus includes the latest innovations in Androids software, like being able to unlock your phone using facial recognition.

Pre-Order your Galaxy Nexus now

Pre-Order your Galaxy Nexus now

The Galaxy Nexus also comes with a 4.65 inch true HD resolution screen, using Samsung’s new HD Super AMOLED  technology, which is great for watching videos and pictures. HD Super AMOLED technology is when you can view the content of your phone, even when it is really bright outside. The Galaxy Nexus also comes with two cameras, a front and rear one, within a slim line design. It has a 1.2Ghz dual core processor, which makes this phone super fast and works more power efficiently.  HSPA+ and RX Diversity is also supported by the Galaxy Nexus, which means using the internet will be even faster when Three’s HSPA+ network upgrade is completed at the end of the year.

The head of handsets at Three, Sylvia Chind said, “At Three we love firsts, so we’re excited to be bringing our customers the first Android Ice Cream Sandwich phone. It’s also great to add another HSPA+ enabled device to our range, which will see the Galaxy Nexus’ features be brought to life with Three’s award-winning HSPA+ enabled network.”

You can get the Galaxy Nexus for just £34 a month, or you could go for The One Plan, which will cost £40 a month, but will give you 2,000 anytime any network minutes, 5,000 texts and all-you-can-eat data. If you’re a PAYG customer, then you could get the Galaxy Nexus for £499.99. You could add the All in One 15 for £15 a month, which gives you 30 days access to 300 any network minutes, 3,000 texts and all-you-can-eat data. Alternatively you could add the All in One 25 which costs £25 for a 30 day period, and gives you 500 minutes, 3,000 texts and all-you-can-eat data.

The Galaxy Nexus will be available in a Three store near you or online at Three.co.uk within a few weeks.

Does Google’s entry into handset territory signal a brave new world?

Below is a copy of the Guest Blog I wrote for Mobile magazine .

mobilelogo

Does Google’s entry into handset territory signal a brave new world?

The launch of the T-Mobile G1 phone heralds Google’s entry into the handset market. Up until now the internet giant has been happy to squeeze the mobile versions of its services into phones via partnerships with operators and manufacturers, but the launch of Android is a large and aggressive step in a brand new direction. Why does Google want to enter the crowded mobile operating system and handset market?

Android isn’t about making Google cash by selling phones or software. The open source-based approach to developing Android and the way Google is positioning its involvement in the launch of the G1 makes this clear. Despite driving the development of Android, the device only features a low-key ‘with Google’ logo on the back. The company seems keen to make it clear that it only provides the embedded Google applications, leaving credit for the rest of the Android platform to the Open Handset Alliance, which now includes several operators, software companies and manufacturers.

Google’s Android strategy seems to be built upon entirely different commercial objectives to those that drove Apple to launch the iPhone. Apple is a box shifter. They sell user-centric, cool gadgets and software, designed to live up to a set of brand values. Any additional revenues from content services, such as iTunes or the iPhone App store, are simply a bonus.

One key reason for launching the iPhone was to protect Apple’s huge share of the MP3 player market from the advance of the converged mobile phone. Apple also hopes that droves of iPhone users will ditch their Windows-based PCs and become overnight Mac fans, thus boosting its share of the consumer computer market. So far it seems to be working.

Ad money
Google’s main source of revenue is advertising. It helps companies connect with potential online customers via simple context-sensitive adverts that are integrated into its broad and growing array of services – such as its search engine, Google Maps, Gmail, and YouTube. We have all noticed the ‘ads by Google’ boxes built into our favourite blogs or the ‘sponsored links’ that appear whenever we search for something at Google.com or open an email in Gmail. As a user we get free, accessible and easy-to-use applications in return for accepting exposure to Google’s context-sensitive advertising.

Free, accessible and easy-to-use services, though not something the mobile industry falls over itself to provide, makes for happy users. This simple formula has helped Google become the top brand in the UK according to a recent Superbrands survey. Consumers trust Google more than any phone operator, phone manufacturer and even the BBC.

Given Google’s modus operandi it seems reasonable to assume that it sees huge potential for mobile advertising and, through Android, is laying the groundwork to secure a big piece of the pie. In the meantime, the big operators are standing outside the pie shop peering in through the window with one eye shut.

How big a slice can Google secure? As a point of reference, 90% of all the UK’s internet search traffic goes through Google. This means it is the gatekeepers of the UK’s online high street, with all businesses reliant on Google’s search ranking and its supplementary advertising solutions. Also, Google’s revenues are not shared with the ISPs that carry its traffic. You can create quite a cushy business model if you dominate the market and write all the rules. Mobile operators be warned.

Android is a very long way from becoming a significant player in the handset market, but the seeds have been sown and Google is setting up camp in mobile for the long haul. It’s a huge vote of confidence in mobile advertising as a viable revenue stream, but is mobile operator ambivalence going to hand Google a second monopoly at the detriment of its bottom line and consumer choice?

Chris Frost is the founder of GadgetStylist.com