Saturday, 24 January 2015

What to expect in the next version of Microsoft Office

Microsoft Office is the software package which provides people around the world with the most popular word processor, spreadsheet software, presentation software, and email client.

Some of the features that are going to be included in the next version of Office (probably to be named Office 2016) were announced at Microsoft’s Windows 10 event during January.

The new version of PowerPoint on Windows Phone
Although Microsoft Office is currently available on Windows Phone, it lacks functionality and can be very slow; Microsoft hopes to change that with an updated version of the Microsoft Office apps. The update will allow you to do anything on your smartphone that you can do on your computer as the tabs ‘review’, ‘file’ and ‘format’ are available amongst others. The mobile user interface - which they gave the press and developers a sneak peek of in January - even looked like the familiar Microsoft Office 2013. Office for mobile will also support cloud printing.

On mobile, you will be able to view and edit Microsoft Word documents either in a page view – which shows how the document will look when printed, or a mobile view - which optimises the document so it is easier to view on smartphones.

Outlook in Office 2016
Word in Office 2016

PowerPoint will include sophisticated new animations and be able to wirelessly cast to screens. Outlook Mail has had a full redesign as well and Word is integrated for rich email formatting. Like what you can currently do on the Gmail app or the Apple Mail app, Outlook now lets you slide right on emails to flag them or slide them left to delete.

Apart from the mobile version and the desktop version, the next version of Office will also have a touch optimised version for tablets and convertibles. This looks very similar to the version of Office available for iPad.

Sadly, Microsoft doesn’t seem have a problem with a PC having two versions of Office installed; one for desktop and one for touch. I suppose they’ve done it for years like that with OneNote on Windows 8 which comes included both in Microsoft Office and also as Windows Store app.

Overall, Microsoft looks like it is continuing to do what it does best by maintaining Office’s status as the best software package for your office needs however they need to address the issue of multiple versions of the same software on one device.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

What to expect in Windows 10

Microsoft’s event in January played host to a number of announcements including the Surface Hub and the HoloLens. However, the primary purpose of the event, and the announcement which took up the most time, was showing off new features which are due to arrive in Windows 10.

Windows 10 was first announced at a tiny event last September and since then 1.7 million Windows insiders have downloaded the technical preview and given feedback to Microsoft on it. Some of the features included so far in Windows 10 include:
  • A new action centre when you slide in from the right which includes a list of notifications and quick settings (such as Wi-Fi, aeroplane mode, and a button to switch between desktop and tablet mode).
  • A new settings menu which combines the Windows 8 settings app and control panel which could only be accessed on desktop mode.
  • A new way of app switching when you slide in from the left which is now more ‘elegant and natural’.
Windows 10 action centre
It was Joe Belfiore, the man responsible for the design and software product definition of Windows services, who came on stage to announce the new Windows 10 features. Before he did, he stressed that what he would be showing was an ‘early build’ thus is prone to glitches.

Belfiore first talked about the new search bar which sits comfortably next to the iconic start button in the bottom left corner of the display. It has Cortana, Microsoft’s digital assistant, built in – which was previously exclusive to Windows Phone – and it can be operated hands-free like by shouting ‘Hey Cortana’.

To demonstrate Cortana’s new capabilities, Belfiore had a cringe-worthy conversation with her where he showed how it could track flights, display weather forecasts, push calendar notifications, speak the latest sports results, and even attempt to do impersonations. All of the data that Cortana learns about the user is stored in what Microsoft is calling ‘the notebook’. Users can go here and review what Cortana has learnt about them. This proves that Microsoft is being transparent about the data they collect about their users.

Joe Belfiore in front of the improved photos app
The terrible Windows 8 photos app has finally been significantly updated with a new, slicker, and simpler user interface and a handful of new features. Photos automatically uploaded to OneDrive are now auto-enhanced and duplicates are hidden – capabilities which are extremely familiar to people who currently use Google Plus Photos. The new photos app also automatically files photos into albums depending on where they were taken, when they were taken and who is in them. In the header of the albums include a list of people who are tagged and the name of the album so you can share it on the Internet – once again, functionality which is familiar to people who have been using Google Plus Photo Stories. (All the photo features can be turned off in settings if you don’t want them.)

Belfiore then briefly touched upon a redesign to the People app and the Music app. The new Music app allows you to store your whole music album in OneDrive and then stream it from any of your devices - just like what you can currently do on Google Music.

Windows 10 on a desktop PC
The new lightweight Internet browser which was rumoured last week was officially announced. ‘Project Spartan’ has a new engine which is better built for the current internet (unlike Internet Explorer which is running into an increasing amount of compatibility issues as the web develops). The new browser has ‘three significant new features’ one of which is the ability to draw on pages using a stylus or your finger, click to add comments to the page and share the page with friends via OneNote. The page’s current content is saved however the links remain working. The second feature is a new reading mode which standardises web pages so you can consume content in a clean environment and open PDF documents in the browser instead of having to download them. Reading lists are now synced and offline so you can read when not connected to the Internet. The third, and probably biggest new feature, is Cortana built directly into the search bar.

Windows 10 on
a smartphone
Regarding games, the XBOX app has been improved greatly and you can now stream XBOX One games through your Windows 10 device – something which Microsoft has been promising for years.

The most surprising announcement of the day wasn’t actually about any new software features, it was that Windows 10 will be a completely free upgrade for Windows 7, 8, 8.1, and Windows Phone 8.1 users in the first year. This terrific news was met by light applause. Microsoft said that devices will be updated until they literally can’t take it anymore which sadly might already be the case for Windows RT as no plans have been released to update those devices to Windows 10.

Windows 10 is predicted for release in late 2015. Until then, technical previews will be available to Windows insider users until spring and then Microsoft will add the finishing touches to the OS before it becomes available for the millions of people currently using Windows 7 or above.

Microsoft's new augmented reality goggles: HoloLens

Recently, Microsoft has been lagging behind companies such as Apple and Google when it comes to innovation however, at their Windows 10 event during January, that all changed when they announced a holographic headset called Microsoft HoloLens.

Microsoft HoloLens
HoloLens looks like something which has been plucked straight out of a futuristic sci-fi movie. Once a user puts the headset on, it spatially maps the world around them so they can look through HD lenses into an augmented reality world. In this digital world, they can play games (Minecraft was demonstrated in Microsoft’s announcement), make Skype calls, overlay designs on reality, and much more. All of these scenarios allow the user to move around and look at the holograms in 3D like they were really there. This is never-seen-before, exciting new technology isn’t something you would usually expect from Microsoft.

Microsoft says that the HoloLens includes a high-end CPU but that they needed to invent a new processor especially for this device because there isn’t currently one available that would have done the job well enough. This decision seems to have paid off because there has been almost no lag at all in the test demos.

HoloLens runs a special version of Windows 10 called Windows Holographic and Microsoft claims that Windows 10 apps can be adapted so that they work with the headset.

The user interface on Windows Holographic
Although Microsoft says HoloLens will ‘transform you living room into a surreal gaming environment’, the main demonstration of Windows Holographic featured an employee using HoloStudio – a Microsoft design studio which they said lets you ‘build 3D… in 3D’ – to construct a quad-copter out of various different shapes. Once the holographic app was launched, a 3D toolbox appeared which was full of different shapes with different holographic textures and paints. Users can summon these different items in two different ways: either by voice or by staring at what you need – HoloLens understands both. The words ‘tap and gaze, and tap again’ were repeated constantly during this demo emphasising how simple HoloLens is to use. Then, to put the icing on the cake, they announced that products built in HoloStudio could be 3D printed within minutes.

The outro to this unorthodox yet intriguing announcement was a video featuring Scientists explaining how, by this summer, they will be using HoloLens to both control Mars rovers and to immerse themselves in the Martian landscape.

Microsoft announces the Surface Hub: an 84-inch 4K touchscreen whiteboard

The new Microsoft Surface Hub
At Microsoft’s even in January, the technology giant announced that they were entering a whole new product category which appears to be a blend of a television and an interactive whiteboard. It is called the Microsoft Surface Hub.

This is not a product aimed at consumers; Microsoft isn’t even attempting to market it that way. Instead, businesses and organisations are the target market of this unique device which features a 4K display, dual cameras, microphones, and inbuilt Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and NFC.

Like many of the Surface products, the Surface Hub comes with a stylus which, once picked up, automatically turns the screen white so it can be drawn on. The notes are then automatically saved to OneNote.

Skype for business plus other useful business tools are built-in. During the unveiling event of the device, Microsoft employees staged a conference call where notes were made and a virtual 3D model was toyed with. Once the call had ended, all the information used during the call – including the notes and diagrams - were then sent to the people involved automatically and the apps closed down so the device was ready for the next meeting. The Surface Hub looks like the ultimate conferencing tool.

Users can cast to the Surface Hub from their Windows Phone or Windows 10 PC either wirelessly or with a wire. This is ideal for PowerPoint presentations, showing off charts in spreadsheets, and even simply watching videos.

The Surface Hub is running Windows 10 however the apps have been optimised for such a large screen. This means that you can multitask and run two apps side-by-side.

The Surface Hub comes in two sizes: 55-inch and 84-inch. And, although there is no price point yet – it is highly likely that this thing isn’t going to be cheap. Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, said at the January Microsoft event: “We want to move from people needing Windows, to choosing Windows and loving Windows”. He hopes this will be a step in the right direction for Microsoft instead of a repeat of the $8000 PixelSense (Surface) table they announced in 2008 everyone has forgotten about (apart from Hawaii Five-0).

A disastrous flop: the Microsoft PixelSense in Hawaii Five-0 - a TV program sponsored by Microsoft

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Al Murray, pub landlord, to stand as candidate in forthcoming general election

Xenophobic pub landlord, Al Murray has turned his attention to politics recently with his announcement that he will be running as a candidate for South Thanet in the forthcoming general election.

Murray announced his political plans on his YouTube channel where he stated “The system is broken. We all know it is. You hear people saying you shouldn’t vote. Well, you should vote… for me.”

Al Murray: Future MP of South Thanet?
Murray represents FUKP (Free United Kingdom Party) who claim to have “common sense policies for common sense people” which have been laid out in a 13 point plan. FUKP’s pledges include National Service – but only for people who don’t want to do it, the unemployed to be locked up to reduce crime, and South Thanet to be made the new capital of the UK with a demilitarised zone set-up between North and South Thanet. Out of all of these controversial pledges, the one which stands out most is his promise for the penny pint – clearly influenced by his background as a pub landlord.

Many politicians have taken the news that Murray is running to become an MP with good humour however others are arguing that this stunt is a dangerous joke. In response to hearing the news of the comedy candidate Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP – the party that Murray is clearly parodying – said “The more, the merrier”. South Thanet also happens to be the seat that Nigel Farage is running for. Will Scobie, Labour candidate for that area also, said that Murray will “certainly make things interesting”.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

David Cameron proposes backdoor government access to messaging services

Services which could soon be monitored or banned by the
Government if the Conservatives win the next general election
In the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo shootings last week in Paris, questions have been raised about how these kind of attacks can be prevented in the future. David Cameron, Prime Minister of Great Britain, pledged earlier this week that if the Conservatives win the general election they’ll introduce laws allowing the Government to access encrypted messages from services such as iMessage, WhatsApp, and Snapchat in hope that this would prevent acts of terrorism from being organised over the web.

David Cameron said: “If I am Prime Minister I will make sure that it is a comprehensive piece of legislation that does not allow terrorists safe space to communicate with each other.”

The controversial announcement was superficial and logistics were not mentioned. Messaging apps such as iMessage, WhatsApp, and Skype crucially market themselves as private messaging services where only the sender and recipient can view the messages – the companies themselves can’t even gain access to the encrypted messages. Therefore, technology companies have spoken out against these proposals; offering the Government backdoor access to user’s messages is not something they are prepared to do lightly as most companies would lose their unique selling point of offering secure and private messaging services. Consequently, messaging services would also see a significant reduction in users.

Even approaching this issues from the Government’s perspective, despite rumours of a new cyber-cell government organisation that will monitor communications, former security minister, Lord West, said “We probably do need a little bit more money for the security service”.

Even non-encrypted services such as Twitter and Facebook will be pushed by David Cameron and Barack Obama to co-operate with intelligence services as Cameron claims “they have a social responsibility to fight the battle against terrorism”.

If the law does pass in the next government and technology companies do not comply with it, it has been suggested that the government could ban or severely limit services. Plus, there is no guarantee that monitoring encrypted services will be successful; there is a large change that extremists will simply migrate to another medium of communication whether that be online on not.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Dell’s new XPS 13 is a stylish MacBook rival running Windows

Last week, when Dell announced the Venue 8 7000 at CES in Las Vegas I dubbed it the best Android tablet currently on the market. They also subtly announced the new XPS 13 – an Ultrabook - and it has thankfully followed suit of the Venue 8.

With a price point of around £1100 and a 13-inch display, Dell is marketing the XPS 13 as the ‘smallest’ Ultrabook currently available. The Ultrabook is undoubtedly a direct rival to the 13-inch Apple MacBook Pro. What separates this computer from the MacBook though is its Full-HD touchscreen – something which Mac enthusiasts have been lusting after for several years now.

The touchscreen isn’t the only feature which makes this computer stand out. It has the same ridiculously thin bezel around the screen, as seen in the Venue 8 7000 tablet, which Dell has coined ‘infinity’ display. Also, the glass touchpad is being called one of the best on the market with no lag at all.

The XPS 13 is currently boasting a 15-hour battery life however it is unlikely that that will be achievable in reality. But for when the battery is running low, Dell sells a compatible USB external battery which can be plugged in for working on the go.

Other than that, the Dell XPS 13 could easily be confused with a MacBook Pro. They share the same backlit keyboard, crisp screen, and appearance. Bottom line, this is a stunning MacBook Pro but running Windows 8.1.

If you are looking for a powerful, stylish Windows Ultra-book with a touchscreen, this the best thing on the market at the moment - and probably will continue to be for the rest of 2015.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

My 2015 Technology Predictions

  • Spring Launch of the Apple Watch. It will cost a fortune.
  • iPhone 6S with a faster processor and better battery life (as per usual). It will also have... well... what else can they improve on?
  • Apple to finally radically improve the Apple TV.
  • iTunes to be available from iCloud on the web so your music library is in the cloud.
  • Android M is launched - (Marshmallow maybe?)
  • First Android Auto vehicles get unveiled.
  • Android TV.
  • An explosion in Android Wear devices.
  • Another Microsoft Surface - maybe with no kickstand at all
  • Touch-friendly versions of Microsoft Office (similar to what is available for iPad) developed for Windows 8/Windows 10 devices.
  • New, faster, more functional Internet browser.
  • Cortana to be pushed out to more Internet devices. 
  • Microsoft to make a smartwatch. Live tiles on your wrist - maybe also a kickstand if it is branded with 'Surface'.
  • Little updates to Windows Phone 8 (if any). Focus to be moved onto Windows Phone 10.
  • Pricing structure for Microsoft Office is sorted out (it is currently free on iPad however £60 on PCs)

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Microsoft to ditch Internet Explorer in Windows 10 for a faster, more powerful Internet browser

For the last few months, there have been rumours that Microsoft has been working on an Internet browser for Windows 10 that isn’t Internet Explorer. Latest rumours circulating suggest that the replacement browser is currently code named ‘Spartan’ and will be more like Chrome and Firefox.

What the Internet browser on Windows 10 will allegedly look like
Over the last few years, Internet explorer has gathered a reputation for being slow and lacking functionality. But that might all be about to change with this new ‘lightweight’ browser that Microsoft is apparently developing. ‘Spartan’ is rumoured to have Microsoft’s digital assistant Cortana built in so when you need information, such as your personal flight times or package tracking, you just enter that in the browser’s address bar and Cortana will return with the results you need. Cortana’s integration would also mean that you could use your voice to ask questions and perform searches.

A second new feature allows users to draw on top of web pages using their stylus and then share the notes/doodles that they have overlaid – probably a feature built with the Microsoft Surface in mind (a device that comes with a stylus).

Like Safari, Chrome and Firefox, ‘Spartan’ will sync across devices so the desktop version will always be up-to-date with the tablet version and the phone version.

Even when Windows 10 has launched, updates will continue to be pushed out as ‘Spartan’ will be a Windows Store app – unlike Internet Explorer which changes only when a new version of Windows is released.

‘Spartan’ is being described as a really basic version of Google Chrome at the moment. The program is currently in early development and only has a few features however it is a step in the right direction and I think it will be good for Microsoft to finally replace Internet Explorer – well sort of… Although Internet Explorer will not be the primary browser, there are claims that it will remain on Windows 10 for backward compatibility reasons.

We are going to have to wait until Microsoft’s Windows 10 event on January 21st to find out more information.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Dell announces the thinnest - and one of the best - tablets in the world

The best tablet announced at CES 2015 was definitely the Dell Venue 8 7000. At 6mm thin, it is the slimmest tablet to date but it hasn’t made any sacrifices. The Venue features an 8.4-inch edge-to-edge OLED display which Dell is calling an “infinity display” meaning that the bezel is almost invisible. The screen is also crisp and sharp, with a resolution of 2,560 x 1,600.

The tablet is also one of the first to include Intel’s Real Sense 3D camera which allows users to take 8MP images and then refocus them – a technology popularised by trendy camera manufacture Lytro. There are two an additional 720p stereoscopic sensors to make the depth camera possible.

A large speaker and a 2MP camera for video calls and #selfies foot the screen on the front of the device.

The Venue has 16GB storage (plus a MicroSD card slot for additional storage), 2GB RAM and currently runs Android KitKat however Dell promises that there will be a Lollipop upgrade in the near future.

For $399 you can buy the Venue 8 7000 today in the US – it unfortunately isn’t available anywhere else yet. Dell says it will be coming to other markets in “early 2015” and in my eyes, it will be worth the wait. The only drawback I can see is the fact that this is a tiny tablet; with a screen size of 8.4-inches it is neither a tablet nor a phablet. It is somewhere in the middle. I can imagine most people wishing this tablet was a few inches bigger.
Impossibly thin: The Dell Venue 8 7000 is 6mm thick

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Blocks Wearables plan to launch a modular smartwatch by the end of 2015!

Remember Phonebloks, the company that teased and tantalised you with a video of a modular smartphone where you could easily interchange panels on the back for a better camera, improved battery life or additional storage. Well, another company, Blocks Wearables talked about a modular smartwatch at CES and unlike the modular smartphone by Phonebloks, the smartwatch might actually be launched!

Of course, the essential central block in the modular smartwatch will be the watch face. This will contain a screen and other basic hardware which is necessary for the watch to function. But then the strap, comprised of 6 blocks, will be interchangeable and each one will have different capabilities. You will be able to add links which extend battery, monitor heart rate, allow the user to make contactless payments, and much more.

This smartwatch will be dead in the water unless it gathers funding. Blocks Wearables anticipates to do this in June on; a crowd-sourcing website ideal for raising money for projects such as this one.

The concept of this watch is great, however I’m unconvinced it will be a success (if it even gets funding that is). Smartwatches were almost non-existent this time last year and I think it might be too soon for a modular smartwatch to be made; manufactures still haven’t managed to make an perfect regular smartwatch yet (although the LG G Watch and the Pebble Steel come close). The reason the Phonebloks modular smartphone was never made was because it was too complex and I feat that might also be an issue that Blocks Wearables might run in to.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Ex-Google engineers reveal the Remix tablet - a Microsoft Surface look-alike running a forked version of Android

Not a Microsoft Surface: The $349 Remix Tablet
Three former Google engineers responsible for products such as Maps and Search have recently announced the result of a new project they started after leaving Google. It is called Remix.

The Remix tablet, dubbed the world’s first ultra-tablet, is unapologetically a clone of the Microsoft Surface. It has a kickstand (which supports 40º and 80º angles), interchangeable keyboard covers and even a shell that mimics Microsoft’s design.

Inside, the Remix tablet is running a modified version of Android called Remix OS and it is apparently a blend of the best things from current devices. On the company’s website they say “We can't stand the drawbacks of the tablets and laptops on the market today and we wanted to do something about it.”

Remix OS looks like what Windows 8 would have looked like if it was made by Google. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The Windows Mail app has clearly been ripped off here, they haven’t even bothered changing the blue background colour. However, there is something neater and cleaner about the apps on Remix OS compared to Windows 8 which makes this tablet very desirable.

File manager on Remix OS
Apps can be downloaded onto the Remix tablet via the Google Play store and there is a ‘phone mode’ so the apps run like they would if they were on a smartphone. This means that multiple apps can be open at once utilising all the space on the 11-inch touchscreen.

To switch between apps there is a task manager at the bottom which looks like it has also been lifted straight from Window and the file manager too look like what the Windows 8 file manager should have been. The file manager on Remix OS is intuitive, powerful, and a delight to use with a touchscreen – unlike the one on Windows 8 which is made primarily for mouse and keyboard use.

Spot the different: The e-mail client on Remix OS Vs the e-mail client on Windows 8

Here are some of the specifications:
· NVIDIA 4+1 processor
· 2GB of RAM
· 5MP rear and front-facing cameras
· 11.6" 1080p IPS display
· microSD card slot
· Headphone jack
· Stereo speakers

There is also a microUSB port with an included OTG adaptor so you have a full sized USB port.

The makers of the Remix tablet hope that it will launch in the US later this year at $349 for the 16GB model however it’s likely that Microsoft will soon slap them with a copyright lawsuit which will stop them in their tracks.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

LG made a WebOS smartwatch (being used by Audi)

The former mobile operating system, webOS, has resurfaced recently as a smartwatch operating system being used by LG. Say hello to the LG webOS smartwatch (pictured right).

The new LG webOS smartwatch, discovered CES 2015, closely resembles the LG G Watch R and includes an NFC, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and a handful of native webOS apps including a calendar, music controller and a phone dialler. Unlike most Android Wear devices and the future Apple Watch, the LG webOS smartwatch has a cellular data connection which means that the smartwatch doesn’t need to be paired with a smartphone for full capabilities. Instead, the smartwatch can operate alone with built in text messaging, calling and Internet access.

It is clear that this version of webOS is built primarily for circular watch faces – unlike Android Wear which is more at home on square screens. The icons are circular and you slide between them in a seemingly never-ending spiral which fits on the screen perfectly. There is also a quick-settings screen which also utilises the screen in the way a smartwatch should.

Similarly to Android Wear, there is the ability to control the smartwatch via the user’s voice. How powerful this tool will be on webOS is still a mystery – just like most of the features on this watch actually.

Audi was spotted using the LG webOS smartwatch at their booth at CES 2015. They were using a unique watch face which they had developed themselves and the NFC chip on the inside to unlock the doors on the latest cars.

Neither the LG webOS smartwatch or even the smartwatch optimised version of webOS have been officially announced yet so it is unknown what smartphones the watch will be compatible with – if any, how much the LG webOS smartwatch will cost, or even if any other technology manufactures plan to use a similar version of webOS in the future

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Lamborghini announces $6000 smartphone

Supercar manufacture Lamborghini have announced a $6000 Android smartphone. The ‘88 Tauri’ is wrapped in blue leather, stitched at the back, and has gold metal plates running down the side edges of the phone. It looks tacky but hidden beneath the pretentious gold plates lies all of the phone’s ports; to get to them one must open the wing like covers.

Inside, there’s 3GB of RAM, a 2.3 GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor, and 32GB of storage to complement the 1920 x 1080p, 5-inch display. On the back sits a 20-megapixel camera and on the front sits an 8-megapixel camera for taking selfies. (You could even add the Lenovo VibeXtension Selfie Flash for flawless selfies).

The premium price tag is probably due to this phone being, unsurprisingly, a limited edition; just under 2000 of them are estimated to be produced which makes this phone perfect for filthy-rich car enthusiasts who want to show off.

The new Sony Walkman

Sony is nostalgically trying to revive the popularity which the Walkman once possessed with the announcement of the ZX2 High-Resolution Walkman at CES 2015.

What makes the new Sony Walkman unique is the ‘High-Res Audio’ sticker it boasts which means that music sounds just as it should… And if it doesn’t, there are plenty of settings the user can toggle with, so favourite tracks sound outstanding.

Considering this is a premium media device, the design is nothing special. There is a large bezel at the top and bottom; plus the device is very thick - probably due to the 128GB internal storage which has been packed inside. The iconic gold ring around the headphone jack consequently makes an ugly bump at the bottom of the device and as for the rear of the device, it is leather and uneven. The design isn’t all bad though, if you hold the Walkman with your left hand, the playback and volume controls are perfectly placed so you can operate them easily.

Although the ZX2 runs Android 4.2 Jelly Bean, this device wasn’t built to compete with high-end smartphones… It built primarily for listening to music and maybe watching movies – but nothing else.

So, for an ugly, uneven body on a device which only has one purpose, you wouldn’t expect to need to fork out much? Wrong. The Sony ZX2 High-Resolution Walkman will set you back £949. With a price tag that high, the Walkman seems to be exclusively for premium clarity audio fanatics and nobody else.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Three absurd gadgets from CES 2015

The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is home to some pretty amazing technology including 5K computer monitors, curved smartphones, and even an electric scooter or two. It is also home to some really weird stuff. Here are three completely unexpected pieces of technology nobody expected to be announced at CES 2015:

The Vibe Xtension Selfie Flash
Lenovo Vibe Xtension Selfie Flash
This device does exactly what it says on the tin. For $29, you plug this funky looking metalic doughnut into your smartphone’s headphone jack, it emits a bright glow so you can compose your shot, and BOOM… You’re done… You can now take selfies in the dark. As ridiculous as this sounds, there might actually be a market for it; I can’t currently think of any smartphones on the market which offer a front facing flash.

LG Twin Wash
The LG Twin Wash is a thin(ish) washing machine which is designed to hide under your current washing machine so you can get two loads done at once. LG says it is "perfect for delicate items that require special attention or unique wash settings." You’ll be pleased to know that this add-on is back-compatible with many old LG washing machines and not just the current ones.

myBrain Melomind
myBrain have created a new wearable gadget which connects to your smartphone, called the Melomind. For only $299, you get device which looks like it has been plucked straight from the set of Star Trek. It monitors your EEG, then plays music accordingly to decrease detected stress levels… Because who wouldn’t be stressed with something that is scanning their brain sat on top of their head?

Acer announces the biggest Chromebook yet

The Acer Chromebook 15's predecessor:
the Acer Chromebook
Google Chromebooks are undoubtedly the underdogs of the computer market. They aren't as powerful as Apple Macs and they aren't marketed as intensely as Windows PCs. Admittedly, this may because they are the new on the scene; the first Chromebook only launched 4 years ago. Since those original Acers and Samsungs, there have been a number of low end devices from manufactures including HP, Lenovo and Dell. Google even released the Chromebook Pixel a couple of years ago which boasted a touchscreen display. Chromebooks are today surpassing another boundary with the announcement of the Acer Chromebook 15: the biggest Chromebook to date.

The Acer Chromebook 15 boasts a 1080p 15.6-inch screen. It is light thus practical but also has a good build quality and is rather sturdy. Large dual speakers sandwiching the keyboard and an extremely reasonable price tag $249 (just over £160) makes it one of the most appealing Chromebooks yet.

Acer took CES 2015 as an opportunity to announce this device which means that the final specifications of this Chromebook aren’t confirmed just yet. Despite this, if what Acer has said so far is any indication of what this laptop will be like, the Chromebook 15 from Acer makes buying a Chromebook become an ever more enticing option for consumers.

Alcatel announce their first Smartwatch

Alcatel, the phone manufacturer you probably know best from producing low end mobile phones over the last decade, has today taken a firm step in to the future. At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Alcatel announced the Onetouch Watch; a smartwatch running their own operating system.

The Onetouch Watch has a very familiar design similar to that of the Moto 360; it even has the strip running along the bottom of the watch face preventing the screen from being a perfect circle. The overall aesthetics of the watch are standard however it boasts a bright screen which Alcatel claims can last for two days without needing to be recharged. When you finally do need to recharge this device, it has a USB charger built into the interchangeable straps.

Both Android Phones (including Alcatel Onetouch family) and iPhones are compatible with the Onetouch Watch and, as expected, notifications can be sent to your watch so you are alerted when something new is happening on your phone. The watch can also be used without a smartphone because Alcatel has developed a small number of practical apps such as a stop watch and health monitor. In addition to that, there are a small number of customisable watch faces. Sadly, it isn't likely that many more apps and watch faces will become available anytime in the future because, despite the watch being cheap and trendy, it doesn't run a mainstream smartwatch interface such as Android Wear.

Having a small app ecosystem is a challenge that many independent smartwatch manufactures will have to figure a way around - unless they could jump on the Android Wear bandwagon.

Overall, the Onetouch Watch is a decent first smartwatch from Alcatel. Unfortunately, for every good thing about this device, there is almost certainly a counter negative. The watch will cost $149 (that's just under £100), which undercuts every Android Wear device currently on the market, however for that price you consequently sacrifice a strong app ecosystem and you need to put up with the uninspiring, Windows-like, operating system. It seems to be Alcatel device through and through; a decent low end device.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Windows had 'Material Design' before Google

Material Design in 'Inbox'
'Material Design' is a phrase coined by Google which is the name for the design language they implemented throughout their native apps and websites with the release of Android 4.5 (Lollipop). The diverse spectrum of Google services, from YouTube to Google Drive, have been soaked thoroughly in Google's new cleaner look which makes the services easier to use, more asthetically pleasing however, consequently, all the apps now look like clones of oneanother. This can be a positive and a negative - however not a debate that I'm going to delve into in this post.

If app developers wish to use aspects of material design they can find extremely strict guidelines on what material design is, and what material design isn't, on the Google design website. And although this idea of all apps having a same feel and familiar interfaces may seem like a new idea, Microsoft has been doing it since 2010 when Windows Phone 7 was launched.

The Windows Phone SDK for developers is debatably restrictive - maybe less so now compared to what it was a few years ago. However it was restrictive so that all of the apps, with the exeption of games, gave the user a sense of familiarity so that they could navigate brand new apps they've installed without overthinking. This design language was called 'metro'... later to be replaced with 'modern'.

The 'People Hub' on Windows Phone 7
Metro/modern had live tiles instead of app icons, panes inside the app which users could swipe between and often titles which wouldn't fit on one screen.

The problem with 'metro' is, app developers like to be creative with their apps and give them unique design and feel. The Windows Phone SKD didn't offer them space to be creative. This might be one of the reasons that the Windows Phone app marketplace is only tenth of the size of the Apple App Store.

Going back to Google's design language, 'material design' has a higher chance of sucess compared to 'metro' because, not only has Android got 29x more users than Windows Phone thus more potential customers for app developers, 'material deisgn' isn't being pushed upon app developers; if they want to imploment 'material design' in their own apps, they can; however if they'd rather come up with their own look, they can do that as well. Google is offering developers freedom of choice, something which Microsoft might have crucually forgotten to do.