This past year has been incredibly busy, and a huge amount of hardware has passed through my hands. Some of it has impressed, a lot has disappointed, but a handful was great enough to make it to my list of favorites for the year.
While I've tried out a great deal of software, this has been a year in which it has been hardware that has caught my eye. So here it is: my favorite tech from 2013.
I've worked my way through a fair share of tablets over the years. An iPad 2 with its 9.7 inch screen, a Sony Tablet S with a slightly smaller 9.4 inch display, followed by a series of 7-inchers -- the Nexus 7, Tesco's Hudl and the GOCLEVER Aries 7o. Oh, and the Surface Pro; I have a tendency to forget this is a 10.6 inch tablet as I use it in laptop mode.
All of my tablets have been used for much the same things: checking email, writing the odd document, viewing photos, watching videos, updating Facebook and Twitter, browsing the web and playing a few games. Taking the Surface Pro out of the equation, I've always found the circa 10-inch tablets too big. I thought I was settled on 7 inches as offering the best dimensions. It seems I might have been wrong.
Things are starting to get festive, and that means there's also a lot going on. This past week has been quite a busy one! It might not come as a surprise, but the figures are in -- Windows 8.1 is not performing anywhere near as well as Windows 7 in terms of sales. Part of the reason for the slower adoption could be the Start screen and the absence of the Start menu. There has been some debate here at BetaNews about the possibility that the Start menu could make a return. Brian is very much opposed to the idea, I think it's probably a good idea, particularly for business users, while Wayne showed us how to get the Start menu back right now.
The backlash against NSA surveillance continues, and now Microsoft, Apple, Google and a number of other big names have joined forces and written to President Obama asking for reform. Joe was not impressed. To help protect user accounts, Microsoft beefed up security.
Google has released new factory images based on Android 4.4.2 KitKat, for the Nexus 4, Nexus 5, Nexus 7 and Nexus 10. This comes a couple of days after the search giant rolled out the latest update for its mobile operating system.
The Android 4.4.2 factory images allow users of said Nexus devices to install, and upgrade to, the latest KitKat version without waiting for the OTA update to arrive. They also come in handy for installing individual bits, like the radio, kernel or recovery, alongside third-party distributions.
Even though just a little over a month has passed since Google released the Nexus 5, and even less since Android 4.4 started rolling out to compatible devices, KitKat has already made its way into the Android distribution charts. It is a very impressive achievement considering that it took the third Jelly Bean iteration more than twice as long to enter the charts.
Based on the number of devices accessing Google Play in the seven days ending December 2, the three Jelly Bean iterations continue to dominate the Android landscape with a whopping 54.5 percent share, up from 52.1 percent a month before. Android 4.1 is the most popular distribution, running on 37.4 percent of all registered devices. Its growth is barely noticeable, up from 37.3 percent in early-November.
Sony PlayStation 4 hit the stores and Brian not only took a look at the brand new console, but also cracked open the case and slipped a larger hard drive inside. Brian wasn't alone in his love of the PS4, more than a million people also bought a console on the day of launch. But not everyone was happy as many units were found to suffer from a Blue Light of Death problem that rendered them unusable. Raspberry Pi was also celebrating its sales figures as more than two million were shifted since its launch last year.
In a rare show of unity, Microsoft and Google joined forces to help tackle the problem of online child pornography. At the same time, Microsoft took its Scroogled campaign to a new level by releasing merchandise (although Joe was impressed). Elsewhere online, Twitter introduced Twitter alerts to the UK and Ireland to help provide people with critical information in an emergency.
Fancy getting your hands on a Nexus 7 without having to part with any cash? If you've been on the lookout for a 7-inch Android tablet, Google has a contest that may well be of interest. Providing you live in the US, you can take part in a photo competition to bag yourself either a free Nexus 7 or a $50 Google Play gift card. Sound tempting? All you need to do is take a photo of an arrangement of things that matter to you -- that's all there is to it!
The competition is not actually new as three draws have already taken place -- but there are only a couple of days left to try your luck with the final one. A reminder was issued on Google+ and while the introduction on the main competition page suggests that photos need to include an Android device, read on a little and you will discover that this is not actually a requirement for entry -- but make sure you don’t include a rival product in the shot though, as "non-Nexus or Android devices (phones/tablets) may not be shown in entry".
It would be a strange week if Google didn’t steal a few headlines, and this week saw the introduction of new quick actions to Gmail as well as the launch of a series of online tools to help with the aftermath of the Philippines typhoon. Changes were also made to attachments in Gmail so it is now possible to download files directly to Google Drive. After the launch of the Nexus 5 -- which Brian was not blown away by -- Google also started to roll out Android 4.4 to Nexus tablets -- Mihaita was on hand with a guide to manually upgrading for anyone who did not want to wait for the OTA update to arrive. The news wasn't so good for the Chromebook 11 which was taken off sale after problems with overheating chargers. Google won a court battle after a judge ruled that the scanning of books is not illegal.
This week it was revealed that while BitTorrent still accounts for a large proportion of web traffic, and usage has actually increased in Europe, in the States there has been a drop in traffic. Anyone who seeks entertainment through other channels will be pleased by the fact that Roku streaming boxes can now be used to access Disney and ESPN channels. The Netflix channel was also updated with a new look.
While I love Android, I am open-minded. Despite the fact that I collect Android figures, I am no "fan-boy" of Google's mobile operating system. My choice to use the OS is because I like it. Over the years, I have tried Palm OS, iOS, Blackberry, and Windows Phone -- all of these smartphone-focused operating systems are good in their own ways. However, I fell in love with the counter-culture aspect of Android -- hacking, rooting, flashing roms; it was fun.
The holy grail of this sub-culture of Android is the Nexus smartphone. You see, these phones are easy to tinker with because you can easily unlock the bootloader, plus they have a pure Android experience. The newest such smartphone, the Nexus 5, has the Android community giddy with excitement. The phone sold out almost immediately and it is currently on backorder for weeks. If you check eBay, you will find the device selling for more than MSRP. You must be thinking that this phone is amazing right? I am sorry to say it's not. It's just OK. It's also one of the best Android phones you can buy. Confused? Read on.
Up until now, if you wanted to try out Android 4.4 KitKat, there were only two options available -- buy a new Nexus 5 that has the OS preinstalled, or download a custom ROM and roll your own. Now there is a new option, at least if you have a Nexus 7 or Nexus 10, as Google is rolling out the latest version of Android to its flagship tablets.
It is not just owners of the latest Nexus 7 who are in luck as the update is also being made available to the 2012 model. The fact that KitKat is rolling out to older hardware will please many people. Sadly, there has been no change of heart -- not yet, anyway -- for Galaxy Nexus owners hoping for an upgrade.
Five words, 25 letters, all indicating the latest addition to Apple's growing iPad family. Let's try to skirt over the name that extends to almost Tolstoyan lengths before we get too bogged down in it. But it does bear mentioning that this is a name no one is going to use; this is the iPad mini, perhaps the 'new' iPad mini to help differentiate from its predecessor. However it's not just the official title that's big… there's that price tag too.
While the price is not a new revelation -- we knew about it when the new iPad mini was announced a few weeks back -- now that the latest model is actually available to purchase, it seems a good time to reassess it. Head over to the Apple website and you can pick up the diminutive tablet for $399. And that's just the base price.
To help with the emergency in the Philippines after Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) struck, Google launches a series of tools to assist those affected by the disaster. The website can be used by anyone looking for friends or relatives who have been lost, as well as by those who have information about the whereabouts of individuals. With information very hard to get hold off in the area, this is a valuable service to those hunting for loved ones.
It is possible to visit the site and perform a search for anyone using their full name, or just part of it. Where possible, details about whether the individual has been located alive and well are provided, although there is the disclaimer that "Google does not review or verify the accuracy of this data". To help keep the people database up to date, anyone with information is invited to share information about people they know to be alive.
While the Nexus 5 is relatively inexpensive (in smartphone terms) at $349, you should still protect your investment. Android fans will likely want the official bumper case, but that costs $35 -- a bit expensive at 10 percent the cost of the device itself.
I decided to purchase an alternative, third-party case, so that I can compare the two. The Cruzerlite series of cases are quite popular on Amazon -- they are inexpensive, look good and get great reviews. And so, I chose the Cruzerlite Bugdroid Circuit Case which is almost a third cheaper at $12.95. The question becomes, which deserves your hard-earned money?
This week Google put an end to all the speculation and finally launched not only the Nexus 5 but also the new version of Android -- KitKat. There were no great surprises as there had been so many leaks prior to launch that we knew pretty much everything there was to know, but it was good have the rumors confirmed. Expect a full review in the very near future. The Nexus 5 comes with KitKat preinstalled, but it will also be available as an upgrade for a number of other handsets. As it this wasn't quite enough for Google, the company also donated 17,000 Nexus 7s to communities affected by Hurricane Sandy.
After the recent announcement, the iPad Air went on sale, and Logitech was ready with a series of cases.
Ending months of rumors and speculation, Google puts all of our minds at rest and announces that the Nexus 5 not only exists (as if we didn’t already know following all of the leaked images!) but is launching now.
It does seem like an age since we first (apparently) caught a glimpse of this phone in a Nexus 7 video, but now we know it to be true. The Nexus 5 is here, and it looks like it's everything we could have hoped it would be.