Black Friday is behind us, Cyber Monday is here, and Christmas shipping new purchases cuts off in about three weeks. Which makes me wonder: Where is Google's new tablet? When announced at the end of September, Google product director Andrew Bowers said that the "Pixel C will be available in time for the holidays on the Google Store". Eh, yeah—by whose measure is "in time". The information giant typically sells out of new gear, which leaves little time to manage inventory. "Out of stock" notices will disappoint many shoppers, who may buy something else.
I watched for this baby to drop before Thanksgiving, particularly with Apple iPad Pro already available—three weeks now. Granted, the devices target different markets, if for no other reason than size (12.9 and 10.2 inches, respectively). But each is innovative and stylish and would make great presents for someone. I'm ready to buy, Google. As surely are many Android fanboys. I reached out to the PR staff there today and was told to "stay tuned", which could be interpreted as soon. We shall see, eh?
If you're smartphone shopping this holiday and wondering what to buy, my primer can assist—with caveats. I focus solely on Androids that are higher end but affordable, and I ignore iPhones. No slight against Apple devices is intended. I figure that people who want an iPhone won't likely consider an alternative. Also: The differences aren't as pronounced. For example, the major benefit choosing 6s or 6s Plus over the two previous models is slightly lower price (3D Touch is an unnecessary gimmick). The major benefit picking 5s over the 6 or 6 Plus is again price but also smaller size.
Among Androids, differences abound—and many, such as older OS versions or custom UI skins, are carrier or manufacturer imposed. That's without considering the bloatware that either or both parties might impose. I intentionally focus on devices that offer the most value for price paid, which includes upfront or payment-plan purchased unlocked.
Another Thanksgiving is upon us, as Americans stuff their bellies with turkey and vittles, before falling asleep during the afternoon football game. It's the day of family feuds, too much food, and setting the mood for the holiday season ahead.
We also count our blessings and give thanks for the year behind. I got to wondering what Google can be grateful for and compiled a short list for you. Perhaps you would like to add to it in comments or lash out at my lack of sensitivity on this special day. Please do. With that brief introduction, I present 5 things for which Google can give thanks, served in no particular order of importance.
My colleague Wayne Williams wonders: "I don’t get the appeal of 'smart' versions of luxury Swiss watches". He refers to today's launch of the $1,500 TAG Heuer Connected Android Wear smartwatch. Over on Google+, journalist Kevin Tofel asks: "Who else doesn't think many people will buy a $1,500 Android Wear watch simply because it's made by TAG Heuer?" Both doubters make good, and related, points.
However, I see TAG Heuer Connected differently. Whether or not anyone buys digital over analog—or nothing at all—is immaterial. The high-end brand is carried in fine jewelry stores everywhere. This watch will make Android Wear visible to millions of buyers who might never see the platform. Demographically, many of these same people might never encounter or consider purchasing Apple Watch, either,
Without even turning on the HTC One A9 (which I haven't yet), the physical similarities with iPhone 6/6s are unmistakable. The smartphones share striking design ethic, separated by the shape of the home-button fingerprint sensor, placement of the rear-facing camera, and left-side SIM and microSD card slots. But these differences aren't immediately obvious.
My question: Is this the Android for people wanting the iPhone 6s look but something more flexible than the iOS platform? If there is truth in marketing, HTC's tag lines reveal much: "Design worth imitating", which while referring the company's One legacy also could be interpreted as backhanded praise or even fist-to-snub about Apple's device, which some could argue imitates earlier One models. "Power to choose"—customization and personalization options not offered on fruit-logo handsets.
HTC is just killing me. Last week, I bought a new Nexus 9 tablet from Amazon, thinking: "What a deal!" But every Tuesday, the device manufacturer boasts big 24-hour sale. "What a steal" is my reaction to the weekly price cut, with buyer's remorse. The company sells, today only, the 32GB LTE model for what I paid for the WiFi-only variant: $359. Oh, the pain!
But this story is stranger still. I didn't regard N9 much of a good value when reviewing in May, writing: "I want to love Google-branded, HTC-manufactured Nexus 9. But ours is a contentious relationship". On Oct. 29, 2015, Amazon delivered the new tablet, and the user experience dramatically differs from the previous device—so much I must revise my review. Value is even better, for anyone buying on this November Tuesday and scooping the deep discount.
The haughty headline from yesterday's Apple fiscal fourth quarter 2015 earnings report isn't big revenue or profit performance ($51.5 billion and $11.1 billion, respectively), but a figure given by CEO Tim Cook during the analyst call: "We recorded the highest rate on record for Android switches last quarter at 30 percent".
Blogs, and some news sites, set the statement off like an atomic blast of free marketing for Apple. The fallout spreads across the InterWebs this fine Wednesday, largely undisputed or corroborated. Just because Cook claims something doesn't make it true. To get some perspective, and to either correct or confirm the public record, today I asked a half-dozen analysts: "Does your analysis of the smartphone market support that assertion?"
Wow, and weird, is my reaction to YouTube Red, which is live starting today. The experience is so different from the regular service, I am stunned. Fast-loading is the first thing, so be careful what you click—or turn off autoplay. Videos on Facebook feel like a moped racing a Lamborghini compared to YT Red.
Using this 2012 MissFender video as example: Pressing the stopwatch on my Nexus 6P at the same time I click to enter the URL, 9 seconds passes before I can start watching the vid. The time includes the auto-loading ad, how long it plays before YouTube permits me to skip, and lag caused by my own responsiveness dismissing the advert.
This is one of the easiest reviews to write—and the shortest, too. If you own an Android or iOS device, buy the new Chromecast. Nothing more needs to be said, but I am obliged because you do want to know why. Right?
Google opened up the streaming stick category with launch of the original Chromecast, in July 2013. Release of its successor, on Sept. 29, 2015, makes an already compelling platform better. I see two benefits that matter: WiFi AC support and the hanging dongle design. Wireless update primps the device for faster routers, like Google's own OnHub. The other is more crucial. Some people needing or wanting to plug into one of a TV's rear HDMI ports may find the original Chromecast won't fit. The new design, puck hanging from HDMI cable, solves that problem.
The question everyone should ask about Google-branded, LG-manufactured Nexus 5X: Who is it for? My first-impressions review primarily focuses on the answer. My wife is one person, and I am surprised. Because conceptually she steps down from the Motorola Droid Turbo, which by raw specs is the superior mobile. Budget buyers also should consider the 5X or anyone living the Google lifestyle or wanting stock Android.
The new handset course corrects last year's release blunder, when Google sized up to 6-inch screen with the Nexus 6, leaving many satisfied N5 owners in stunned silence followed by loud complaint. While a N6 fan, I agree: It is a huge phone that is overly large for the majority of prospective buyers. This year's solution is smart. Google released two smartphones: Nexus 6P, which while phablet-class is markedly more manageable in the hands than its predecessor; Nexus 5X, for people wanting something smaller and for N5 owners looking to upgrade.
If you asked me two months ago about using a Huawei smartwatch or smartphone, I would have scoffed. Yet, here I am doing just that. Timing on the latter is ironic. On Oct. 15, 2015, I bought a 128GB silver (and white) iPhone 6s Plus using Apple's 24-month finance plan, rather than paying in full up front. Huawei-made, Google-branded 64GB Nexus 6P arrived the next day for review. The following morning (the 17th), I hauled down to Apple Store and returned the iPhone for full refund. That act sums up my reaction to the new Android flagship running "Marshmallow".
I didn't expect to be so wooed by Nexus 6P, but Google got me by delivering superior contextual experience. This device, and Android 6, is all about context, starting with what for me is the killer function I couldn't part with: the fingerprint reader on the back of the phone. Picking up the device and placing my forefinger on the circular indentation wakes and unlocks the 6P. Wow-way is right! The mechanism beats the Hell out of Apple's two-handed jimmy from the Home button.
Finely balanced and contextually practical are the terms that best describe my first impressions of Google's flagship Android. Nexus 6P preorders are about to ship, and I was fortunate to receive a review model but with short embargo lift: Delivered Oct. 16, 2015 before every blogger and reviewer on the planet blasted out simultaneous reviews and first-reactions on the 19th. I choose the latter, because a scant three days isn't enough time to rightly evaluate the smartphone.
Much of my experience is cast in moving from the previous flagship, Nexus 6, although there was a day between them where iPhone 6s Plus and I fitfully danced. The 6P is in many respects what its predecessor should have been: Smaller. Much as I like the larger Motorola-made phablet, its Huawei-manufactured successor has greater physical and feature balance. Both are superb smart devices, but the newer Nexus is better tuned to practical purposes.
That grinding against wood and dirt you hear is the sound of Steve Jobs rolling over in his grave. Microsoft is back! And badass! Today's Surface event in New York City outclasses Apple by every measure that matters: Aspiration, innovation, presentation, and promotional marketing. Microsoft proves that it can build end-to-end solutions—hardware, software, and services—as good as, and better than, the company cofounded by Jobs. Even more importantly: Present the new wares well. Today's event was exceptional.
But there is a shadow looming in the brightness that will matter to some Microsoft customers and not to others: Cost. Surface Book, for all its seeming greatness, is a budget-busting laptop for the majority of potential buyers. The low-cost config, at $1,499, comes with 6th-gen Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB RAM, and 128GB storage. To get the discreet graphics demoed today, with i7 chip, 8GB memory, and 256 SSD, you will spend $2,099. Doubling RAM and storage raises the price to $2,699.
Streaming set-top boxes are no longer about media consumption. The newest entrants—from Amazon, Apple, and Google—fit into a larger lexicon of connected digital lifestyles. Think intelligent television for the information-obsessed and for visual voyeurs demanding the highest-quality video that is commercially available.
On Oct. 1, 2015, I started testing the new Amazon Fire TV, which goes on sale October 5th. I will later review the newer Google Chromecast but unlikely Apple's device (because a review unit isn't available and I wouldn't buy one for personal use). There is nothing radically new about Fire TV. It's more of the same only much better. Key benefit for some: 4K Ultra HD video support. Benefit for all: Enhanced voice-interaction capabilities that include Amazon's Alexa digital assistant. Then there are iterative enhancements that improve overall benefits.
Google packed today's big annual autumn product launch with loads of news: Nexus 5X and 6P (available for preorder now); Chromecast 2 and Chromecast Audio (for sale today); Google Photo enhancements (rolling out soon); Android 6 "Marshmallow" (arriving on existing Nexus devices next week); and Pixel C tablet (coming sometime before the holidays). Jamming in so much, some things might get overlooked. One seeming tidbit rapped my attention.
Soon after discussing how Marshmallow uses a new permissions scheme for apps, Google veep Dave Burke said: "With the new Nexus devices, we've reduced the number of preloaded apps on the phone, to make the out-of-box experience cleaner and simpler. We've also developed a new system that moves over a quarter of our apps to a post-setup installation phase, which means they can be uninstalled just like any other apps". The implications are interesting.