Joe Wilcox

The truth about Google Photos

Secret Tell Surprise Shock

Google Photos is more than an exciting -- and hugely transforming -- new product. The app/cloud service is a metaphor for an escalating mobile business model that, with perhaps the exception of Facebook, no competitor has the capacity to match.

Users gain tremendous time-saving utility, such as the ability to meaningfully search using innocuous terms like "dog" or "Washington", all without the need to manually add metadata tags by way of applications like Photoshop. Meanwhile, Google gets access to quantifiable information, in the image and accompanying metadata, around which to sell advertising and related contextual content or services.

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My sister abandons Windows Phone

Nokia Lumia Icon

Mobile apps do matter, otherwise my tech-savvy sister wouldn't be giving up one of the best smartphones on the market: Nokia Lumia Icon (which is the 930 internationally). She bought the handset from me last summer and from Day 1 praised the utility and usability of the user interface, attractive but sturdy design, and amazing hardware capabilities, which include the quality of images produced by the camera.

Nanette rang Thursday afternoon, explaining that she had reached the inflection point of frustration finding apps she wanted or absolutely needed. She wanted my advice about a replacement. Should she return to iPhone (Nan used the 4 before Icon) or get an Android? Her user story illuminates what can happen when someone entrenched in the Microsoft ecosystem raises his or her head above ground and sniffs the Android and Apple air.

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For all the blathering smartwatch idiots...

MSN DIrect CD

It's a reminder: You're even dumber than you think.

Tireless commentaries and speculation about when will Microsoft release a smartwatch are ill-informed -- as are other speculations about when will watchmakers release their own devices. (I refer not to our readers but writers here, there, and everywhere.) Perhaps you were sucking your thumb or mommy cleaned your poopy diapers when both were trendsetting market realities.

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My four months with Nexus 9 [Review]

Nexus 9 and Friend

I want to love Google-branded, HTC-manufactured Nexus 9. But ours is a contentious relationship. N9 is not a bad tablet; others offer better value and performance for the price (or less), with Apple iPad mini being high among them. That said, if pure (aka stock) Android is your thing, there is no worthy alternative. Just prepare for a few compromises, particularly if moving up from Nexus 7.

In his November 2014 review, my colleague Brian Fagioli calls Nexus 9 "magical". I can't agree. During my four months using the tablet, response occasionally hesitates and WiFi too often disconnects. Last week, my N9 received the newest Android update, which somewhat resolves both problems. I purposely delayed this review, waiting for v5.1.1.

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Your smartphone is too big

Big Large Oversize Smartphone

I love my Nexus 6. This morning, while waking to the rush of caffeine from steaming coffee, I read headlines on the device. "I’m Phed Up With Phablets: They're too big to prevail" caught my attention. The short commentary, by Brian Rubin for ReadWrite, rails against the bigger-is-better-smartphone trend. Screen on my cellular is massive: 6 inches, and I forever promised myself to never use a phone so large -- until I did and converted. Much as I enjoy using the N6, for which I can still manage many operations one-handed, smaller would be my preference. Perhaps yours, too.

Here at BetaNews, we first raised doubts about ever-expanding screens four years ago. I still remember the discussion about the story, and more importantly the headline, before Ed Oswald wrote "Is that the Samsung Galaxy S II in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?" In 2015, what seemed large then -- a 4.3-inch screen -- is puny. Even iPhones are bigger. Rubin rightly raises alarm about choice: "The real problem isn’t so much that there are too many phablets, but that there aren’t enough non-phablets these days -- at least none that are truly interesting".

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X-T10 joins Fujifilm's crowded digital camera family

Fujifilm X-T10

Fujifilm's line of cameras increasingly looks like choices among toothpastes. Do you want fluoride or gingivitis protection? Oh, this one whitens teeth, cures bad breath, and eliminates body odor. Decisions, decisions. That's kind of my reaction to today's debut of the X-T10 digital camera, which shouldn't be confused with Fujifilm's X10, X100T, or X-T1. Dyslectics and the visually impaired, beware!

As a X100T owner, I'm a Fuji fan. So, please, don't take my criticism wrongly. It's just this lineup is quite crowded. The company's product website lists -- count `em -- 18 different X-Series models. Sure, some aren't current and not all can be confused. But many of them are close enough in actual benefits to perplex potential buyers.

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Tidal: When better isn't good enough

Tidal on Chromebook LS

On May 1st, Tidal billed my credit card for the first month of music streaming. Yesterday, my subscription to Google Music ended. I should be satisfied with the switch, given how much more I enjoy 1411kbps lossless listening over the more typical 320kbps compressed streaming music. But recent, recurring service problems put my customer continuation into question.

Quality of content, or available selection of it, isn't the problem. I find plenty of music to enjoy, and the default playlists are smartly curated. The high-fidelity is just that. But slow starts, drop-offs, and song skips disrupt the listening experience -- and for a service costing twice as much as major competitors, like Beats, Rdio, or Spotify, I expect more but get less. There is no customer support option that I can find, either.

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I cut bandwidth by two-thirds to get faster Internet

snail

File this in the "When More is Less" folder.

My college-age daughter is moving home, at least for the summer, and my wife and I are scrambling preparations. One unexpected: Changing Internet Service Providers. Our Cox connection comes into the bedroom where my daughter will go. Access from the main living area would require new wiring that the landlord won't allow. I can understand why he wouldn't want the fancy molding drilled up. We already know that AT&T U-verse Internet is live in the living room.

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Sorry, Americans, there are no 'YouTube My Break' Kit Kats for you

YouTube My Break

YouTube and Kit Kat lovers across the pond have reason to gloat. Unless imported—and there is a legal settlement prohibiting such practice—"YouTube My Break" campaign chocolate bars will not be coming to these shores. Yesterday, Google and Nestlé announced the branding collaboration, which replaces the Kit Kat logo with "YouTube break" on 600,000 wrappers.

"Hershey does license the rights to Kit Kat in the U.S.," a company spokesperson tells BetaNews. "At this point in time Kit Kat U.S. is not participating". That's okay, because I look at the UK campaign and wonder: "Why now?" In 2013, Hershey joined the Nestlé-Google collaboration that put the green Android robot on Kit Kat bar wrappers when the mobile operating system of the same name shipped. That tie-in I understand.

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Verizon pays $4.4B for Arianna Huffington

Risk

The headline may seem a bit outrageous but is a fair assessment of what Big Red gets from its proposed purchase of AOL. The all-cash, $4.4 billion deal would strengthen Verizon's media portfolio, and I wonder: Is this what happens when there is Net Neutrality? ISPs become content carriers?

Verizon's venture cannot be understated for what it means. Like a game of Risk, where players jockey for early-play position and forge alliances with eventual combatants, mobile is a battleground in the making. Territory captured now will mean everything in the future. AOL's content portfolio, which includes Huffington Post, is among the major assets.

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Harman/Kardon Nova is bright [Review]

Harman Kardon Nova

My daughter's cat Cali loves to chew cords—a habit we will eventually break. Meanwhile, it's good excuse to invest in new wireless speakers that diminish some of the cord clutter. Our 20 year-old also is moving home for the summer, putting more wires at risk and necessitating some speaker swaps. She takes my Harman/Kardon SoundSticks, which subwoofer meets her requirement for thumping bass; I don't need it and switched to a space-saving, cord-reducing duo set.

Spectacular sound is my description for Harman/Kardon Nova, which deliver rich treble, magnificent highs, fine detail, and more-than-adequate bass for the kind of kit. Separation and soundstage are bold—dynamic! The speakers are best appreciated when matched to the right source. I stream from lossless leader Tidal on Chromebook Pixel LS, connected via Bluetooth. The combination is immensely enjoyable and makes me happy while working, which boosts the quality and speed of my productivity.

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U.S. smartphone market is phabulous

OnePlus One vs LG G3 vs Apple iPhone 6 Plus vs Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Alongside Euro-zone cell phone data, U.S. first-quarter 2015 phablet shipments are out from Kantar Worldpanel ComTech. Depending on how the numbers are cut, fanboys can rally for their platform.

Spurred by iPhone 6 Plus, iOS showed strong performance, representing 44 percent of phablet sales. However, the number of iOS smartphone switchers from Android fell -- to 11.4 percent from 14.6 percent year over year -- supporting early anecdotal evidence that existing Apple customers are the most-likely 6 Plus buyers. Also confirming: Android smartphone conversions from iOS fell from 9.8 percent to 5.9 percent.

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My definition of 'modern' computing

Cloud Computing

Late yesterday I posted my review of Chromebook Pixel LS, which Google released in early March. The write-up is purposely rah-rah to impose the importance of embracing contextual cloud computing and to shakeup preconceptions about Macs being the tools of the creative elite. I also call "dumb" developers who may receive free Pixels during Google I/O later this month only to then sell them online.

One reader comment, from SmallSherm caught my attention, for accusing me of calling him (or her) stupid and for insulting other readers. After writing my response, I wondered how few people would ever see the interaction, which I regard as being quite valuable. So in the interest of fostering further discussion, I present our two comments for your Tuesday thought train.

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Chromebook Pixel LS is nearly perfect [Review]

Chromebook Pixel

Mark the date with an alarm. Around May 28, 2015, sellers likely will fill eBay and Craigslist with spanking new Chromebook Pixels, available for bargain prices—if anything less than $999 or $1,299 could be considered a deal. Google's developer conference commences that day, when I expect many attendees will receive and quickly dispatch shiny, new laptops. Big G gave away the pricey Pixel two years ago, and it's good guess will do so again. Smart developers will keep the machines; many will not. Dumb move, but who am I to judge, eh? Pixel rests at the precipice of future computing, for those open-minded enough to welcome it. They are few.

If you are among those who get the Chromebook concept, who thinks about purchasing the laptop, but waffles indecision, watch for short-term selling prices that could meet what your sensibilities and spending budget can tolerate. It's good background for me to finally review the higher-end of the two costliest Chromebook configurations. My primer can help you decide whether or not to bother, either for full price now or for the chance of less later. Why wait? I wouldn't and didn't. I received my Pixel in March, on Friday the 13th, ordered two days earlier from Google. I use no other computer. It's more than my primary PC and could be yours, too.

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LG Watch Urbane fast, first impressions [mini-review]

LG Watch Urbane Face

Early yesterday afternoon, LG Watch Urbane arrived from Verizon. Turnaround is quick for anyone who wants one right way, rather than waiting for Google to ship (now 1-2 days rather than by May 8). I am rushing a first-impressions review, and some comparison to the Moto 360 is mandatory. If round is your taste, consider one of these two smartwatches.

Meantime, to collect my thoughts for the review and for anyone considering the Urbane, I share something sooner. Overall, I am satisfied with the initial out-of-the-box experience. Urbane is gorgeous and looks like a traditional watch. The always-on, dimmed face contributes to the effect—without bleeding dry the charge. The watch is also more functional as a timepiece, as such. I mean, shouldn't it be?

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