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Google Pixel 5 review: Keeping it simple

I’m going to be totally honest with you. I don’t really understand Google’s phone strategy right now. And for what it’s worth, I’m not really sure Google does either. I wrote about it here, but I’ll save you from having to read an additional 800 words on top of all these. The short version is that Google has three phones on the market, and there isn’t a whole heck of a lot of distinction between them.
The Pixel is a portrait of a hardware division in transition. That applies to a number of aspects, from strategy to the fact that the company recently saw a minor executive exodus. It’s pretty clear the future of Google’s mobile hardware division is going to look quite different from its present — but 2020’s three phones are most likely a holdover from the old guard.

Pixel 4 review: Google ups its camera game

What you’re looking at here is the Pixel 5. It’s Google’s flagship. A device that sports — among other things — more or less the same mid-range Qualcomm processor as the 4a announced earlier this year. It distinguishes itself from that budget handset, however, with the inclusion of 5G. But then here comes the 4a 5G to further muddy the waters.
There are some key distinctions that separate the 5 and 4a 5G, which were announced at the same event. The 5’s got a more solid body, crafted from 100% recycled aluminum to the cheaper unit’s polycarbonate. It also has waterproofing and reverse wireless charging, a fun feature we’ve seen on Samsung devices for a few generations now. Beyond that, however, we run into something that’s been a defining issue since the line’s inception. If you choose not to use hardware to define your devices, it becomes difficult to differentiate your devices’ hardware.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Since the very beginning of the Pixel line, the company has insisted that it will rely on software advances to push the products forward. It’s a nice sentiment after years of feature arms races between the likes of Apple and Samsung. But that means when it comes time to introduce new devices, the results can be fairly lackluster. That certainly applies to the Pixel 5.
From a hardware perspective, it’s not a particularly exciting phone. That’s probably fine for many. Smartphones have, after all, become more commodity than luxury item, and plenty of users are simply looking for one that will just get the job done. That said, Google’s got some pretty stiff competition at the Pixel 5’s price point — and there are plenty of Android devices that can do even more.
There are certainly some upgrades in addition to the above worth pointing out, however. Fittingly, the biggest and most important of all is probably the least exciting. The Pixel 4 was actually a pretty solid device hampered by one really big issue: an abysmal battery life. The 2,800mAh capacity was a pretty massive millstone around the device’s neck. That, thankfully, has been addressed here in a big way.

Top members of Google’s Pixel team have left the company

Google’s bumped things up to 4,080mAh. That’s also a pretty sizable bump over the 4a and 4a 5G, which sport 3,885mAh and 2,130mAh, respectively. That extra life is extra important, given the addition of both Battery Share and 5G. For the sake of disclosure, I should mention that I still live in an area with basically no 5G (three cheers for working from home), so your mileage will vary based on coverage. But using LTE, I was able to get about a day and a half of use out of the handset, besting the stated “all-day battery).
This is helped along by a (relatively) compact display. Gone are the days of the XL (though, confusingly, the 4a 5G does have a larger screen with a bit lower pixel density). The flagship is only available in a six-inch, 2,340 x 1,080 size. It’s larger than the Pixel 4’s 5.7 inches, but at a lower pixel density (432 versus 444 ppl). The 90Hz refresh rate remains. Compared to all of the phones I’ve been testing lately, the Pixel 5 feels downright compact. It’s a refreshing change to be able to use the device with one hand.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The camera is probably the aspect of the handset where the opposing hardware-first and software-first approaches are the most at conflict with one another. Google was fairly convinced it could do everything it wanted with a single lens early on, but eventually begrudgingly gave in to a two-camera setup. The hardware is pretty similar to last year’s model, but the 16-megapixel 2x optical telephoto has been replaced by a 16-megapixel ultra-wide. Whether that represent progress is largely up to your own personal preference. Frankly, I’d prefer a little more non-distorted zooming.
Google, of course, is building on a solid foundation. I really loved the Pixel 4’s photos. The things Google’s imaging team has been able to do with relative hardware constraints is really impressive, and while you’re lacking the scope of a premium Samsung device or high-end iPhone, casual photo snappers are going to be really happy with the shots they get on the Pixel 5.

Night Sight has been improved and now turns on when the phone’s light sensor detects a dark scene. My morning walks have gotten decidedly darker in recent weeks as the season has changed, and the phone automatically enters the mode for those pre-dawn shots (COVID-19 has made me an early riser, I don’t know what to tell you). The feature has also been added to portrait mode for better focused shots.
The Pixel’s Portrait Mode remains one of the favorites — though it’s still imperfect, running into issues with things like hair or complex geometries. It really doesn’t know what to do with a fence much of the time, for instance. The good news is that Google’s packed a lot of editing options into the software here — particularly for Portrait Mode.

Everything Google announced at its hardware event

You can really go crazy in terms of bokeh levels and placement and portrait lighting, a relatively subtle effect that lends the appearance of changing a light source. Changing the effects can sometimes be a bit laggy, likely owing to the lower-end processing power. All said, it’s a good and well-rounded photo experience, but as usual, I would really love to see what Google’s imaging team would be able to do if the company ever gives it a some real high-end photography hardware to play around with. Wishful thinking for whatever the Pixel 6 becomes, I suppose.
In the end, the two biggest reasons to recommend upgrading from the Pixel 4 are 5G and bigger battery. The latter is certainly a big selling point this time out. The former really depends on what coverage is like in your area. The 5G has improved quite a bit of late, but there are still swaths of the U.S. — and the world — that will be defaulting to LTE on this device. Also note that the $200 cheaper 4a 5G also offers improvements in both respects over last year’s model.
Still, $700 is a pretty reasonable price point for a well-rounded — if unexciting — phone like the Pixel 5. And Google’s got other things working in its favor, as well — pure Android and the promise of guaranteed updates. If you’re looking for something with a bit more flash, however, there are plenty of options in the Android world.

Google Pixel 5 review: Keeping it simple

Daily Crunch: Apple introduces the iPhone 12

Apple embraces 5G, Facebook Messenger gets better integrated with Instagram and Kahoot raises $215 million. This is your Daily Crunch for October 13, 2020.
The big story: Apple introduces the iPhone 12
Apple’s big event today kicked off with the announcement of the HomePod Mini, but the real focus was on the iPhone — specifically, the iPhone 12.

Pricing for the new iPhone starts at $799. New features include 5G, a magnetic adapter for various accessories (including wireless chargers) and a more durable Corning glass display.
There are four models, so if you’re trying to decide which one you want, we’ve even created a handy chart to keep them all straight.
The tech giants
Alphabet’s latest moonshot is a field-roving, plant-inspecting robo-buggy — Announced with little fanfare in a blog post and site, the Mineral project is still very much in the experimental phase.
Messenger’s latest update brings new features, cross-app communication with Instagram – The changes are a part of Facebook’s overhauled messaging platform, announced in late September, which introduced the ability for Instagram users to communicate with people on Facebook.
Startups, funding and venture capital
Kahoot picks up $215M from SoftBank for its user-generated, gamified e-learning platform — After announcing a modest $28 million raise earlier this year, the user-generated gamified e-learning platform revealed a much bigger round today.
Astroscale raises $51M in Series E funding to fuel its orbital sustainability ambitions — The Japan-based company has been focused on delivering new solutions for orbital end-of-life.
Caliber, with $2.2M in seed funding, launches a fitness coaching platform — The company says it brings on about five of every 100 applications for coaches on the platform, accepting only the very best trainers.
Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch
Is the Twilio-Segment deal expensive? — A quick look at the deal’s historical analogs and what we can tell from the numbers.
Should you replace your developer portal with a hybrid integration platform? — Changing your integration approach can reduce time to market and boost revenue.
(Reminder: Extra Crunch is our subscription membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)
Everything else
Walt Disney announces reorganization to focus on streaming — Disney’s media businesses, ads and distribution and Disney+ will now operate under the same business unit.
Original Content podcast: Netflix’s ‘Enola Holmes’ is thoroughly mediocre — I did not enjoy this movie.
The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Daily Crunch: Apple introduces the iPhone 12

What to expect from Apple’s ‘Hi Speed’ iPhone event

For starters, iPhones, of course. That one was easy. The company skipped out on new mobile devices during its recent Apple Watch event, owing to COVID-19-related delays. And, of course, the fact that the events are all pre-taped and virtual now means companies can more easily split them up in ways that were harder to justify when people were expected to fly in from all over the world.
That doesn’t mean we won’t be getting more than just a phone (or, more like multiple phones). While Apple’s been more inclined to host more, smaller events, there’s a decent chance this is going to be the last major event the company hosts before the holidays. That means it’s going to want to get a lot of bang for its buck this time out.
The iPhone 12 is expected to be the centerpiece, of course. The headline feature will almost certainly be 5G. Apple’s been a little behind the curve on that front versus its Android competitors (Samsung, for instance, has several devices with next-gen wireless), though another knock-on effect from the pandemic has been a slower than expected adoption of the tech. So in some ways, Apple’s really right on time here. In the U.S., the company is said to offer both the mmWave and sub-6Ghz 5G technologies. Availability may vary depending on the needs of a given market.

Here’s everything Apple revealed at its September hardware event

Rumors point to a bunch of different models. After all, gone are the days a company like Apple could just offer up a big premium device and be done with it. Sales for high-end devices were already drying up well before the virus came along to bring smartphone sales to a screeching halt there for a bit. People were already tired of paying in excess of $1,000 for new phones when the ones they already had still did the job perfectly fine.
There are supposedly four sizes arriving. There will be higher-end devices at 6.1 and 6.7 inches, and more budget-minded devices at 6.1 and 5.4 inches. It’s a pretty broad price range, from $699 for the “mini” to $1,099 and up for the Pro Max (sandwiched between are the $799 iPhone 12 and $999 Pro). Along with its recently expanded Watch line, Apple’s all about choice this time out.
Reportedly, however, the company will be bringing OLED tech to all of the models, marking a pretty big change from the days of LCD-sporting budget models. The new models are expected to get a welcome redesign, reportedly returning to something more in line with the iPhone 5. The rounded edges are expected to be dropped in favor of a flatter design, akin to what you get on the iPad Pro.
Other interesting potential additions include the return of the company’s dearly departed MagSafe life for a pair of wireless charging pads that will hopefully finally lay to rest any memory of the failed AirPower experiment. Available for one or two devices, the new pads will reportedly leverage magnets built into the phones to snap them in place.
Music has always been a cornerstone for the company, and it’s long overdue for some updates to audio products. This time out, we may finally get the long-awaited AirPods Studio, an over-ear addition to its line of headphones. The models are set to come in two variations, the largest variation being build materials. A smaller version of its smart speaker could be on the way, as well. The HomePod has long been cost-prohibitive for many, so a mini version could finally make it a bit more accessible.

A closer look at the new Apple Watches

Another long-rumored addition — AirTags — could finally arrive, as well. Apple’s product-tracking Tile competitor has been in the cards for some time now, but has repeatedly been delayed. That may still be the case — and same goes for a refresh to Apple TV. With the company’s subscription service about to celebrate its year anniversary, it could really use some updated hardware. New Macs with Apple-built chips could be on the table, as well, though the company is reportedly planning one more 2020 event for that big launch.
The event kicks off tomorrow at 10AM PT/1PM ET. We’ll be watching along with you, bringing you the news as it breaks.

What to expect from Apple’s ‘Hi Speed’ iPhone event

Google takes aim at ‘beauty filters’ with design changes coming to Pixel phones

Google is taking aim at photo face filters and other “beautifying” techniques that mental health experts believe can warp a person’s self-confidence, particularly when they’re introduced to younger users. The company says it will now rely on expert guidance when applying design principles for photos filters used by the Android Camera app on Pixel smartphones. In the Pixel 4a, Google has already turned off face retouching by default, it says, and notes the interface will soon be updated to include what Google describes as “value-free” descriptive icons and labels for the app’s face retouching effects.
That means it won’t use language like “beauty filter” or imply, even in more subtle ways, that face retouching tools can make someone look better. These changes will also roll out to the Android Camera app in other Pixel smartphones through updates.
The changes, though perhaps unnoticed by the end user, can make a difference over time.

Google says that more than 70% of photos on Android are shot with the front-facing camera and over 24 billion photos have been labeled as “selfies” in Google Photos.

Image Credits: Google

But the images our smartphones are showing us are driving more people to be dissatisfied with their own appearance. According to the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, 72% of their members last year said their patients sought them out in order to improve their selfies, a 15% year-over-year increase. In addition, 80% of parents said they’re worried about filters’ impact and two-thirds of teens said they’ve been bullied over how they look in photos.

Google now has three mid-range Pixel phones

Google explains it sought the help of child and mental health experts to better understand the impact of filters on people’s well-being. It found that when people weren’t aware a photo filter had been applied, the resulting photos could negatively impact mental well-being as they quietly set a beauty standard that people would then compare themselves against over time.

Image Credits: Google

In addition, filters that use terminology like “beauty,” “beautification,” “enhancement” and “touch up” imply there’s something wrong with someone’s physical appearance that needs to be corrected. It suggests that the way they actually look is bad, Google explains. The same is true for terms like “slimming,” which imply a person’s body needs to be improved.
Google also found that even the icons used could contribute to the problem.

Google launches the $499 Pixel 4a 5G

It’s often the case that face retouching filters will use “sparkling” design elements on the icon that switches the feature on. This suggests that using the filter is making your photo better.
To address this problem, Google will update to using value-neutral language for its filters, along with new icons.

Image Credits: Google

For example, instead of labeling a face retouching option as “natural,” it will relabel it to “subtle.” And instead of sparkling icons, it instead shows an icon of the face with an editing pen to indicate which button to push to enable the feature.
Adjustment levels will also follow new guidelines, and use either numbers and symbols or simple terms like “low” and “high,” rather than those that refer to beauty.

Image Credits: Google

Google says the Camera app, too, should also make it obvious when a filter has been enabled — both in the real-time capture and afterwards. For example, an indicator at the top of the screen could inform the user when a filter has been turned on, so users know their image is being edited.
In Pixel smartphones, starting with the Pixel 4a, when you use face retouching effects, you’ll be shown more information about how each setting is being applied and what specific changes it will make to the image. For instance, if you choose the “subtle” effect, it will explain that it adjusts your skin texture, under-eye tone and eye brightness. Being transparent about the effects applied can help to demystify the sometimes subtle tweaks that face retouching filters are making to our photos.
Face retouching will also be shut off in the new Pixel devices announced on Wednesday, including the Pixel 4a 5G and Pixel 5. And the changes to labels and descriptions are coming to Pixel phones through an upcoming update, Google says, which will support Pixel 2 and later devices.

Google’s Pixel 5 gets reverse wireless charging and 5G for $699

Google takes aim at ‘beauty filters’ with design changes coming to Pixel phones

Everything Google announced at its hardware event

This year, Google’s annual hardware event consisted of a brisk 30 minutes of pre-recorded promotional videos, but the company managed to pack a number of new product announcements into that time.
To make things easy for you, here’s a quick rundown of everything that Google announced, including the Google Pixel 5, a new TV interface and an upgraded smart speaker.
Google Pixel

Google’s latest mobile flagship, the Pixel 5, comes in a 100% recycled aluminum body and offers reverse wireless charging — in other words, you can use the Pixel 5’s battery to charge other devices. There’s a 6 inch display and the whole package costs $699. Pre-orders started today, with the phone available in nine countries on October 15.
In addition to the Pixel 5, Google also announced the 5G version of the Pixel 4a, which will cost $499, with specs that are closer to the Pixel 5 than the existing 4a. This one will be available in Japan on October 15, then launches in the United States and elsewhere sometime in November.
Both phones come with improved cameras, including a new ultrawide lens in the back. And beyond the hardware, Google also said it’s introducing a new Google Assistant feature, which will stay on the line for you when you make a call and then get put on hold, then send you an alert when someone picks up.
Google TV and Chromecast

Image Credits: Google

Google TV — at least in this iteration — is the company’s name for a new interface bringing streaming, live TV and other services together in one place. It includes most existing streaming services while also offering live TV via YouTube TV. And Google seems to be putting a lot of resources into the voice search experience.
The interface is included as part of the new Chromecast with Google TV, which also adds a remote control to Google’s streaming dongle and costs $49.
Nest Audio

Image Credits: Google

Nest Audio is the successor to Google Home, the company’s mid-range smart speaker. Google said the device will offer more bass, increased volume and clearer sound. And the form factor is closer to the Google Home Mini and Google Home Max. The Nest Audio smart speaker will cost $99 and will be available starting on October 5.

Everything Google announced at its hardware event