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 chairman tries to convert Apple users to Android

Eric ShmidtAs executive chairman of one of the world’s biggest companies, Google’s Eric Schmidt has decided to use his influence to try to convert Apple users to Android and has even taken the time to help them do so.

In a purely magnanimous gesture, Eric dedicated his weekend to writing a guide to walk Apple users through the process of making the change. In his guide, posted on his personal Google + page, Eric claims that “many” of his iPhone friends are converting to the latest high-end Android phones for their “better screens and much more intuitive interface”. He even quips that an Android phone would make “a great Christmas present for an iPhone user!”

Apple to AndroidOf course, his thoughtfulness has nothing to do with Google’s association with Android and the fact that their smartphones use that operating system. That would be far too transparent. As would extoling the virtues of the Chrome browser over Safari… “It’s safer and better in so many ways. And it’s free.”

However, if you can take his post with a pinch of salt, it does offer some good tips for those looking to make the change, such as transferring contact information, setting up email, backing up photographs and transferring music from iOS to Android, using Google Music Manager, obvs. 

Eric clearly thinks, and hopes, that Android is the future… Do you?

Over to you…

Have you, or are you planning to, switch from Apple to Android?

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.

Sony SmartWatch – Review

The Sony SmartWatch is a watch that connects to your phone to push notifications to your wrist like emails, texts, calls, weather, Facebook and Twitter updates and oh yeah, the time, leaving your hands free when reading a text or tweet, and making it easier to reject those calls from people you don’t want to talk to.

The Wristband

Packaged really well the box displays the SmartWatch and hides all other included items, but what’s in the box? Coupled with the device itself is the wristband, black in colour, a wrist strap connecter and a USB cable for charging. A real shame it’s a proprietary cable not a microUSB lead as if lost you’ll have to buy a new one, but I can see why Sony went for this design as it snaps into the side well and the connecter on the device looks hidden when not plugged in. You can purchase different colour straps such as white, grey or pink for a few quid if you want to customise the look of the watch further.

Before I delve into the functionality of the watch, while I’m on the topic of charging it does well. For an OLED screen I was expecting a poor battery life considering how small it is but with average use a good 4 days life can be had, whilst heavy usage will see it go down in say a day so would advise charging daily. A draw back is the screen. As it’s an OLED it goes to sleep quickly, so looking at the time can’t be spontaneous, you have to short press the power key to wake the screen to view the time. This can’t do the battery life any good stopping and starting it so often. Sony have pushed an update out for the SmartWatch that solves this issue, turning the screen on and keeping it on when the watch detects movement so I can’t see that doing the battery any favours, though reduces the powering on and off frequencies.

Sony SmartWatch Screen

So what can the Sony SmartWatch do? To be honest, not a lot out the box. Was disappointed that it doesn’t even tell the time, or ask to have the time input when first turning this on. You need to have a phone to connect this too, and must be an Android phone so without one you’re out of luck. It does take a while to set up. With the Sony Xperia S I tested this with you have LiveWare manager pre-installed but if not that’s the first thing to download from Google Play. Get started by turning on Bluetooth and pairing the watch to the phone. The SmartWatch’s instruction manual tells you how to do it, and is really simple to set up. Low and behold once done, it tells the correct time, sync’d from your phone.

After setting up the phone will either forward you to Google Play to download the SmartWatch app as the Xperia S did, but if not just search for it yourself. Once downloaded it doesn’t show in the phone app tray which took me a while to work out, it becomes an app within the LiveWare manager app. A green dot appears next to it showing you it’s connected and on. Within the SmartWatch app you can manage the pre-installed apps or applets like texts, log in to Facebook through your phone to allow Facebook to push info to the watch, also Twitter, and you can enable widgets on the watch too– I’ll touch on that shortly – as well as how often they should refresh and whether each refresh you would like to be notified, in which case the watch vibrates. The more frequently they refresh, the more data and battery life is drawn from the phone, so if not on a Wi-Fi network, be prepared for data to be consumed, not in vast amounts but still, it’s worth noting.

Sony SmartWatch

Once in the app there is a list of all the applets downloaded, and a link to search for more on Google Play. There are some really good ones such as a weather applet which you manage on the phone with location, then the SmartWatch tells you what will come from the sky, though it’s not really needed as we all know it will just rain!  There is an applet for sending SMS which allows you to set pre-defined responses on the phone to just touch and send from the SmartWatch. With a screen of 1.3” on the SmartWatch typing would be near impossible so just choosing which message you want to send, be it “sorry I’m busy, will call later” or what have you is simpler. A good app called Find Phone is a must. As long as your phone is within the Bluetooth 3.0’s range, it can make the phone ring loudly until you find it and works even when phone is in silent mode. I installed a battery indicator for the watch which just shows a percentage of remaining life the phone has which is simple but works, and an RSS reader app which shows feeds you’re subscribed to. If you’ve not added GadgetStylist to your feed, why not!?

My favourite applet is VFinder. This is a clever app that allows the camera image on the phone be shown on the SmartWatch’s screen and swipe up to take a photo which is cool too. This is very James Bond, can be used for peering round a corner and catching a criminal act. This app is open to being abused what with the ability to leave your phone somewhere and use to the watch to see what’s going on. I’ll leave that to your imagination but I don’t condone misbehaviour. Well, not much. This app adds a kind of “hidden camera” function to the phone/SmartWatch but as said, is open to abuse. 

The music player applet is also very good.. It gives you the ability to increase volume, skip track or just pause. Annoyingly you can’t change albums on the SmartWatch just the one that is already playing but it does show album artwork on the 1.3″ screen so is a really nice touch. This is set to work with the standard Android music player app, so if you’ve a custom music player installed I can’t say whether it would work or not. The standard music player app on the Sony Xperia S is certainly good enough not to need a different one, remnids me of the fact Sony make MP3 players and has Walkman credentials in it.

Wristband Colours

Once you’ve downloaded all the applets you want from Google Play and sorted the management of them within LiveWare it’s all set up. All in this took me around an hour once I’d charged the device, which the instructions said to do for 2 hours. It did have battery but I do like to do as I’m told with tech. Within LiveWare you can set whether an applet just shows on the menu, so touch to open, or have as a widget which works like a widget on a phone, scrolling through updates. Touching this works the same as touching the app icon. I like having widgets for RSS reader, Facebook and Twitter, and set those updates to every 15 minutes. There were some that I didn’t feel were required to have as a widget but this is down to an individual preference as there are some apps on my phone I don’t like as widgets either.

My niggles? There’s not a lot if I’m honest. I guess this product only sits in the Android camp so if you’ve not got an Android phone (or Sony tablet) there’s not much point in it. I would like to see more connectivity options, such as iPhones or Windows phones. The touchscreen is okay, but apps made by 3rd parties don’t conform to the same consistency as the Sony applets. User interface and gesture control should be uniform throughout. Some apps want a double finger tap to close, some want a pinch to close gesture to exit. In terms of the gesture control a single touch opens an app or widget. I feel Sony should make pre-requisites for 3rd party app developers to conform to, so all consumers have a unified user experience. We don’t want to have to learn three of four different ways to operate a small device. 

Sony did put an update to the SmartWatch out which was the first upgrade and didn’t work for some users, mainly those using it with a Samsung Galaxy S2 or the Sony Xperia S, as I did, but after several disgruntled customers complained another update was put out and all is worknig fine again. Good on you Sony for listening to your consumers. Something which did annoy me was when the update did first come out, and made the SmartWatch not connect to the phone, I was unable to download the apk for the older version of the app, nor was I able to uninstall the updates directly on the phone, something I feel Sony should consider doing moving forward. Either that, or more robustly test a software update before pushing it live. There should be the option to download older versions of the apps if you don’t want all the latest bells and whistles or simply the option on the phone itself to uninstall the latest upgrade, which a lot of apps offer already.

I guess after using this for a couple of weeks now I’ve realised not everyone would want all this on a watch, it appeals to a few that like the thought of being James Bond-esque, it’s a throw back to the eighties having a watch that’s like a phone-ish on the go is cool but not to everyone’s taste. The fact it is very simple to use, and does aid your everyday lifestyle makes it something worth considering. I don’t always feel my phone vibrate in my pocket as it’s not always pressed up to my leg tightly, but a watch strapped to your wrist, you do feel vibrate, so it makes notifying you of texts, emails or tweets much more easy to acknowledge. 

In summary this is a really good piece of tech which does a lot to make life simpler for you. As a commuter in London I am fond of being able to read tweets and text messages without getting an expensive phone out my pocket in a busy town, though the SmartWatch does vibrate when notifying you of something that’s happening and at times it feels like it’s going to shake off my wrist. The screen is a good size for a watch and the style makes it actually look like a watch, though the sunlight legibility of the OLED screen isn’t fantastic. The rubber wristband is comfy but unlike a leather strap doesn’t breath so the wristband connecter included in the box will soon be utilised and I’ll connect a leather or metal strap to it. Will also then give it a more unique look, and even less like a phone accessory and more like an actual watch.

SmartWatch

Sony have done really well making an piece of hardware that serves two purposes, both as a useful lifestyle tool for convenience and just for those wanting to spend money on new tech when it comes out which is unique and doesn’t conform to the standard gadget style. 

If you’re reading this and think this is the sort of cool gadget that you wish to buy, you’re in luck as amazon are stocking these at a really good price and have never been out of stock since this device came out. There are other places you could buy it, but I have been monitoring a few places and have gone in and out of stock of the Sony SmartWatch several times in mere weeks. This is a piece of technology you really won’t regret spending your hard earned cash on, and will certainly fit in to your lifestyle, be it a hectic lifestyle where this makes things easier, or for lazy people who really don’t even have the inclination to get a phone out their pocket.

Stay tuned to GadgetStylist for a full review of the Sony Xperia S we used to accompany the test of the Sony SmartWatch.

The Orange San Diego launches exclusively

Orange announced their own-branded San Diego phone on the yesterday which is a new smartphone powered by Intel Technology, and will be launched on June 6th.

The Orange San Diego is a feature rich high-powered smartphonee and packs Intel’s new Atom processor as well as HD Voice, something Orange is very proud of, and an 8MP camera capable of ‘burst’ capture mode and HD video. HD Voice is a clever system Orange build into some of their smartphones which kills background noise to give you super clear, HD voice quality.

Orange San Diego

The Orange San Diego, which was previously codenamed “Santa Clara” on Orange’s website, is the first Intel powered smartphone to launch in Europe and will offer up the latest in innovative smartphone capabilities at an affordable price. As mentioned this phone is powered by the first Intel processor to be put in a phone, the Z2460 and supports HSPA+ with the Intel XMM 6260 Platform. Put simply, together these solutions offer users a fast and responsive experience for general phone usage and web browsing.

The 8MP camera has a really clever feature built in called burst mode which enables users to take 10 pictures in under a second to make sure you get the best photo for the subject you are taking. You take 10 photos of the same thing, and choose the one that you feel is the best quality to keep and share. Viewing these photos on the phone itself promises to be great on a 4″ touchscreen so no squinting at a tiny image on screen, and the HSPA+ and Wi-Fi capabilities make sharing these photos on any of your social networking sites is simple.

Being that it is Orange branded, it means the phone will be exclusive to that network, offering up all the Orange goodness they give to their customers, such as Orange Wednesdays and Your Orange, as well as swappables like Deezer if on the right tariff.

The Orange San Diego will be available on Pay as You Go for £199.99 when customers top up £10 in Orange shops, or alternatively from launch, the phone will be free to customers who take out a 24 month contract from £15.50/month until 25th July 2012 when the offer ends. We think this is a really good offer, and just goes to highlight the affordable strapline they are keen to promote. 

Watch this space, hopefully the boss will hook me up with one of these, as I’ve had my phone now for 4 weeks, which is far too long for a gadget fan, so we will fully review this phone and tell you just how good it is for an affordable device.

Update:

The Orange San Diego is available to buy now with Orange from just £15.50 a month (24 months) with a Dolphin Promo 15.50 plan.