Pallab De is a blogger from India who has a soft spot for anything techie. He loves trying out new software and spends most of his day breaking and fixing his PC. Pallab loves participating in the social web; he has been active in technology forums since he was a teenager and is an active user of both twitter (@indyan) and facebook .
It has long been rumored that Twitter is looking to step into the music space. However, no one quite knew exactly what the popular micro-blogging service was planning. A short while back, Stephen Philips, the CEO of a music startup called “We are Hunted”, which was acquired by Twitter less than a week ago, officially announced Twitter #Music — a new music discovery service that is powered by Twitter conversations.
Unlike previous Twitter features and services, #Music is not integrated with the existing Twitter experience. Instead, it is accessible via an independent web app and an iOS app (Android app will be launched later). The main purpose of #Music is to aid music discovery by surfacing music being played by your friends and shared by artists you follow, in addition to showcasing trending and emerging tracks. You can browse through band and artist profiles, view their top tracks, and get a taste of their music. By default, Twitter plays a short preview pulled from iTunes. However, if you are an existing Spotify or Rdio subscribers, you can log into your accounts to enjoy full tracks from their respective catalogues.
Twitter is aiming straight for the mainstream audience with its new #Music app. In addition to partnering up with two of the biggest players in the online music segment, it also went to Good Morning America to announce its new feature. Currently, Twitter #Music is restricted to US, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand; however, more countries will be supported in the future.
India is still waiting for the official launch of the Nexus 4. However, LG’s Optimus G, which is the phone on which the Google Nexus 4 is based upon, was launched in India last month. The launch went practically unnoticed, with most of the hype centered on upcoming handsets like the Samsung Galaxy SIV, Sony Xperia Z, and the HTC One. The reason for that might be that the Optimus G is actually a six month old phone, whose successor LG Optimus G Pro has already been launched in Japan and Korea. However, while the Optimus G isn’t the latest and greatest, its specifications suggest that it’s no pushover. I used it as my primary device for a week, and was pleasantly surprised by it.
Unlike the Optimus 4X, the Optimus G doesn’t feel plasticky. It’s a solidly built premium smartphone that continues with the rectangular design ethos introduced in the previous generation LG devices. When the display is off, the screen blends with the bezel and appears to be a pristine black slab which oozes a lot of oomph. Much like the Nexus 4, the Optimus G also has a Gorilla Glass 2 back, with shiny metal bits embedded below the back cover. Under light, these metal pieces light up by reflecting the light hitting them at different angles. The effect is less pronounced and less magical than in a Nexus 4, but is still cool to look at.
Of course, glass back has its own disadvantages. The Optimus G is a device that is meant to be handled with care. My SIII has suffered numerous harsh falls, but has survived largely unscathed. With the Optimus G, however, I will almost surely end up with a cracked back. In fact, the metal rim can also add to your woes. The review unit I received had slightly chipped edges, which tended to agitate my skin while talking. In fact, the glossy back doesn’t feel as secure or comfortable to hold as the Optimus 4X with matte finish did. All these weaknesses are inherent in using a glass and metal body, and are present in similarly constructed devices from competitors like Sony.
One of my major complaints with the previous generation LG handsets was accidental home button presses. It was extremely easy to accidentally press the home
button while trying to press the Space key. Thankfully, LG has fixed that issue in Optimus G by adding a slight buffer space below the screen.
The Optimus G has a 4.7-inch IPS display with a resolution of 768 x 1280 pixels, which is protected by a Gorilla Glass 2 screen. I wasn’t a big fan of the previous generation LG displays, which seemed to appear washed out. Thankfully, the Optimus G marks a major step forward for LG displays. While not being as saturated as Samsung displays, color reproduction is rich and natural. In fact, when compared side by side, LG’s display seems more while remaining sharp and vibrant. Sunlight visibility and viewing angles are also good enough to be not an issue. LG’s Optimus G also boasts of something called ZeroGap touch, which reduces diffused reflection by integrating the touch sensors into the glass itself. While I am not sure exactly how much this has helped, I can state with confidence that the Optimus G’s display is definitely among the best that I have seen.
The LG Optimus G was the first phone powered by the Snapdragon quad-core S4 Pro chipset. Thanks to the powerful CPU and GPU, the phone is screaming fast. I am yet to encounter any lags or hiccups while using the Optimus G. Whether you are flinging through long lists, scrolling through your Gallery, or going on a rampage in GTA III, the Optimus G doesn’t miss a beat. The Optimus G boasts of 2 gigs of RAM and 32 gigs of internal storage. There is no provision for memory cards.
I ran a couple of synthetic benchmarks. As expected, the Optimus G fared very well. Unfortunately for the Optimus G, its lead won’t last for long, as next gen devices from Samsung, and HTC will hit India within the next couple of months.
The downside of the Snapdragon S4 Pro is that it gets hot. I mean really, really hot. Even after only surfing the web for half an hour, the phone begins to feel uncomfortably hot. And this is in spite of having a glass back, which should be cooler than an all metal back.
LG Optimus G currently runs on Android 4.1.2 Jellybean with a custom Optimus UX layer on top. LG has announced the launch of Android 4.2.2 powered Optimus G handsets in Europe; however, it’s not known when it will roll out the update to the rest of the world.
The Optimus UX is actually quite subtle and baring some unnecessary skeumorphisms (especially in buttons and icons) and brightly colored icons, it doesn’t look too bad. However, as is the case with most manufacturers, the original Android UI is still more appealing than the custom skin. In addition to retaining QuickMemo, SmartShare, and SmartWorld, that we have seen in previous LG handsets, LG has thrown in some more new goodies for Optimus G users. The major ones are:
Q-Slide: Q-Slide is similar to Samsung’s Popup Play, which allows users to watch a video while working on something else. The video player floats on a screen and can be freely resized and repositioned. Q-slide, however, goes a step further, and can be overlaid on top of existing apps. You can continue watching a video full-screen, while working on other apps by simply controlling their opacity. For example, if you want to compose an email while watching a video, Q-Slide will simply make your email app translucent so that you can still see the video, while writing your email. And yes, you can still pinch to zoom into videos. Check out the video below for a demonstration.
LG has also added a Q-Slide section to the notification screen, which acts as a quick launcher for Q-slide compatible apps. These apps are Video, Internet, Memo, Calendar, and Calculator apps. This is a nice idea, but would have been truly useful, if I could add my own apps to the list, instead of being limited to the five system apps.
Quick Translator: Quick translator app can translate text from images that you capture between a number of languages. This feature was actually introduced with the Optimus L9 and wasn’t present in the Optimus 4X. The translator can translate words, lines, or blocks of sentences. The app also supports offline translation, but for that you will need to purchase dictionaries from the Play store. Smart Screen: This feature is obviously inspired by Samsung’s Smart Stay, which prevents the display from timing out when it detects that you are looking at the screen. Wise Ringtone: This is something that I haven’t seen elsewhere, is actually a very neat idea. Optimus G uses the microphone to judge if you are in a loud environment and accordingly increases your ringtone volume. Quiet Time: This is another really smart feature, which allows you to define a time range during which everything except alarms and notifications will automatically be muted. Safety Care: This is a feature that a lot of Indian users will appreciate. It allows you to define emergency contacts, and in case of an emergency, your location and other information will automatically be sent to them. You can also simply set a number, which when dialed will trigger a location alert to your selected contacts. LG also claims to automatically know when you are calling a emergency, so that it can alert your emergency contacts. However, I am not sure if it is configured to recognize Indian emergency numbers.
The Optimus UX retains its previous strongpoints, which includes easy access to frequently used power options from the notification bar, a very cool unlock animation, and massive amount of customizability. When I say massive amount of customizability, I really mean it. Everything including the lock screen, home screen, and the general UI is customizable. You can change themes, animations, font, font size, lock screen apps, and a whole lot more. Unfortunately, some of the existing annoyances with the Optimus UX have also been retained. The app drawer refuses to remember your sorting preferences, and you have to reselect your sorting preference every time you install a new app. The volume control button still only gives an unified volume control options. Additionally, LG has also decided to stupidly copy the water droplet sound effect from Galaxy SIII, which makes little sense.
The Optimus G boasts of a 13 megapixel rear camera with full HD video recording support. As you might expect from such a hefty camera, the picture quality is excellent, whether you are capturing stills or videos. Details are well preserved, noise is limited in outdoor photos, and color reproduction is good. The only issue is that the focusing can be a bit finicky and sometimes requires two or three attempts to get things right. In addition to the standard burst mode, panorama, and HDR mode, there is also LG’s Time Catch shot. In this mode, the camera actually snaps pics from a few seconds before you pressed the shoot button to a few seconds after. You can later choose which picture you want to keep. This is meant to ensure that you don’t miss the shot you wanted. LG has also improved its low light capture, and now can compete with the likes of SIII comfortably. In fact, on whole, the L3 is among the best, if not the best Android shooter. For video calling there is also a 1.3 megapixel front camera, which gets the job done. One thing that’s often ignored while reviewing a smartphone is its speakers. However, the Optimus G’s speakers are actually loud enough to deserve a special mention.
Thanks to the glass back, LG had to make another compromise with the Optimus G. The rear portion is completely locked down, which means that the battery isn’t user replaceable. This isn’t something I am a big fan of. It rules out the possibility of carrying a spare battery, or even upgrading to a high performance 3rd party battery. The good news here is that the Optimus G’s battery life isn’t bad. The 2100 mAh battery lasts a day in 2G mode, and will survive for about 10-12 hours in 3G mode, which is enough to get back from your office and charge the phone. You can squeeze a couple of additional hours by enabling Eco mode for the processor, and turning on the Power Saver mode when battery is below 50%.
Connectivity options include all standard features along with Wi-Fi Direct, DLNA, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, and MHL.
The LG Optimus G is perhaps the first LG smartphone that I can term as a great phone, without any ifs and buts. It sports a blazing fast chipset, a sharp camera, brilliant display, and some nice software bells and whistles. My biggest reservation with the device is the glass back. However, judging by the growing trend of glass backs, and how well the older iPhones sold, and how much in demand the Nexus 4 is, it’s obvious that a lot of people don’t share the same concern. The non-user replaceable battery, and the lack of support for microSD are also downers, but they aren’t big enough issues to come in the way of the Optimus G achieving greatness.
The biggest problem LG India will have is that the Optimus G will be sandwiched between the best of the previous generation like the SIII and the One X, and the best of the current generation like the SIV, Xperia Z, and the One. If Optimus G had been launched in October or November, it would have simply been the most powerful phone in the market. However, by the end of this month, that will no longer be true. LG will also have to withstand the marketing blitzkrieg of Samsung and Sony. Priced at about Rs. 31,000 it’s the best phone you can buy for that price. It’s a fair bit cheaper than the similarly specced Sony Xperia Z, which is currently selling at about Rs. 35,000. However, the Xperia Z has a bigger screen, more powerful and user replaceable battery, and is water resistant. If you spend a bit more, you will soon be able to get the newest powerhouses from Samsung and HTC. On the other hand, if you compromise a bit on the performance, the SIII and other previous generation handsets are available for Rs. 27,000 or less. I hope that the Optimus G manages to carve out its own identity. It’s just too good a phone to be a failure.
Google has announced that it will be forking WebKit, and developing its own rendering engine called Blink. Less than a couple of months ago, Opera Software had announced that it would be dumping its own rendering engine (Presto), in favor of Google’s Chromium flavor of WebKit. So, where does this surprising development leave Opera?
As it turns out, Opera was well aware of Google’s plans, and in fact, Blink might have positively influenced Opera’s decision to adopt Chromium’s rendering engine. “We’ve known about these plans for a while and had a good dialogue with Google engineering about them”, Opera’s Lars Erik Bolstad confirmed to Digi.no. Bruce Lawson, another Opera employee, was also optimistic about Google’s new rendering engine. “Blink has a lot of promise for the Web”, Lawson wrote in a blog post. “Its architecture allows for greater speed – something that Opera and Google have long focused on. When browsers are fast and interoperable, using the web as a platform becomes more competitive against native app development.”
Blink solves one of the frequently cited downsides of Opera’s decision to abandon Presto – loss of diversity. With Blink powered Chrome builds expected to be in the wild rather soon, we will again end up with four major rendering engines – WebKit, Trident, Blink, and Gecko. Breaking the shackles of WebKit will also mean that Blink will be able to iterate faster, sport a smaller and faster codebase, and become more secure.
One thing that Google’s announcement makes amply clear is that Blink will be optimized for Chrome’s multi-process architecture. This is curious because, Opera had experimented with multi-process architecture on BSD more than a decade ago, and abandoned the one process per tab model due to resource overhead. Opera’s adoption of Blink seems to indicate that the Norwegian browser maker has changed its mind and will be following in Chrome’s footsteps soon.
In a surprising move, Google has decided to fork WebKit and create its own rendering engine called Blink. Since its inception, Google’s Chrome browser has been powered by the WebKit rendering engine, which itself was forked by Apple from KHTML in 2001. For the past five years, Google has been collaborating with Apple and numerous other Webkit users to develop and maintain the Webkit ecosystem. However, going forward, Google will be developing its own rendering engine that will be based on Webkit, but will gradually diverge over time.
The decision was apparently prompted by the growing complexities of remaining within the Webkit ecosystem. “Chromium uses a different multi-process architecture than other WebKit-based browsers, and supporting multiple architectures over the years has led to increasing complexity for both the WebKit and Chromium projects”, explained Adam Barth, a Software Engineer at Google. By making this change, Google expects to be able to remove 7 build systems and delete more than 7,000 files — comprising more than 4.5 million lines of code — right off the bat.
The core focus of Blink will be speed and simplicity. Google is also promising to strive for an open and inter-operable web by discouraging vendor prefixes and encouraging cross-browser compliant feature additions. Blink’s mission statement is “to improve the open web through technical innovation and good citizenship”.
Guess who is turning out to be Internet Explorer’s biggest headache. It’s none other than its own self. For years, Internet Explorer terrorized web developers, and anguished browser developers due to its lackluster implementation of web standards. Now that Microsoft is attempting to cleanup its act and move forward, the bad practices promoted by older versions of Internet Explorer is coming back to bite the software giant.
Opera, one of the earliest proponents of web standards, was forced to identify itself as Internet Explorer for a long time to get around silly browser sniffing scripts. Now, in a strange twist of fate, Microsoft might be forced to identify itself as Mozilla. Neowin has discovered that Internet Explorer 11 that is bundled with the leaked release of Windows Blue uses a userstring which includes the “like Gecko” command. Here’s what the Internet Explorer 11 userstring looks like:
Mozilla/5.0 (IE 11.0; Windows NT 6.3; Trident/7.0; .NET4.0E; .NET4.0C; rv11.0) like Gecko
The command essentially instructs websites to treat Internet Explorer like Firefox. Most websites employ Internet Explorer specific hacks and fixes to ensure compatibility with Internet Explorer 8 and older. This change will prevent Internet Explorer 11 from being served the old non-standard code designed for older versions. Of course, it’s worth keeping in mind that Windows Blue is still under development, and things might change before it’s released.
Windows Blue, the successor to Windows 8, which is expected to be released towards the tail end of this year, made an early appearance yesterday in the form of a leaked interim build. The leaked build is a 32 bit edition of Windows Blue with a build id of 9364.0.
Since its appearance, it has been thoroughly dissected by several Microsoft watchers, including the likes of WinSuperSite and The Verge. As anticipated, Windows Blue is an incremental update, rather than a major overhaul as Windows 8 was. It builds upon the foundation laid by Windows 8, and tries to alleviate some of the major pain points.
For me, the biggest enhancement is the new half-screen app snapping. The Metro UI is simply too inhibiting on larger form factors (especially on PCs) because it only allows 1 app to be in the foreground at a time. There is an app-snapping feature, but that only allows the second app to run in a mini-mode within a quarter of the screen. In Windows Blue, you can run two apps side by side in a 50/50 screen sharing mode. In fact, Blue supports as many as four apps side-by side.
Enhanced Metro Settings
One of the biggest problems with Windows 8 is its split personality. No where is the half hazard division between Classic and Modern UI more apparent than the Settings. While the Modern UI has its own PC Settings app, it’s woefully inadequate. Most crucial settings are present only in the classic Control Panel. Windows Blue takes a step forward by adding several more options to the new PC Settings app.
Microsoft has added two new options to the Charms menu. The Share charms has received a new screenshot option for quickly capturing a screenshot and sharing it, while the Devices charm has been augmented with a play option.
Enhanced Start Screen
Windows Blue adds two new Tiles to the start screen – the first one is minuscule, while the second one is oversized. Additionally, Windows Blue prevents accidental modification of the Start screen by locking it down. You need to specifically select the Customize option to be able to modify the layout.
There are several other changes including new apps (Alarms, Calculate, Sound Recorder, and Movie Moments), improved SkyDrive Modern UI app, Internet Explorer 11, and new gestures.
Windows Blue is a step in the right direction. It attempts to solve some of the biggest issues with Windows 8. However, Microsoft still has some distance to travel. Modern UI is growing up, but still isn’t mature enough to stand on its own. Windows Blue will be a cheap (possibly even free) upgrade for existing Windows 8 user, which is expected to be released later this year.
A couple of days back, a small Spanish firm called Makalu Interactive launched a new location bookmarking app called Rego on the iTunes app store. Rego is a simple app which allows you to save places you have been to, along with associated notes and images. Although Rego is primarily designed to serve as your own personal journal of favorite and memorable places, it features smart social integration, which enables you to share selected places with your friends and family.
It’s not easy for a new app from a little known development firm to make it big. However, Rego has gotten off to a great start. Soon after its launch, Rego was added to the “New and Recommended” section by Apple, which undoubtedly helped the freemium app. Rego requires a $0.99 in-app purchase to remove the 10 places and 1 photo filter limitation present in the free version. However, the app has gone viral in Brazil, largely due to an unfortunate co-incidence. I’ll let Malaku’s director Matt Henderson explain exactly why it went viral.
Rego in Portuguese means ‘butt crack’. With that bit of info in mind, Rego’s app description makes for a hilarious read. Here’s a sampler — “Rego’s private. Nobody sees what you add to Rego.” No wonder then that Gizmodo Brazil had a field day with it’s “not hands-on” review of Rego. To its credit, Makalu intends to capitalize on its unexpected popularity in Brazil by releasing a Portuguese translation of its location bookmarking app soon.
Ebay has released its 2012 census, which offers a unique perspective at the state of e-commerce in India. Since, eBay sells pretty much everything under the sun, it’s in an unique position to offer us a glimpse at what Indians are buying and selling. You might be aware that a lot of youths are buying t-shirts and gadgets online, but did you know that every two minutes one note or coin is sold on eBay?
Maharashtra grabbed the top spot in terms of buying and selling stuff online, largely due to Mumbai, which is most active city on eBay India. Other cities in the top ten were Dehi, Jaipur, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Kolkata, Chandigarh, and Pune. While mobile phones, watches, fragrances, and apparel dominated the list of products sold and bought, most cities had one or two surprise entries.
Delhi sold a lot of Indian notes, while Mumbai sold loads of Indian stamps. Mumbai also bought plenty of British India coins, and imported British Colonial Stamps. Chinese stamps are #1 on the list of goods imported by Chennai residents. Similarly, Hyderabad is fascinated with Malaysian coins.
Jaipur, the capital of the desert state Rajasthan, sold loads of room heaters.
Delhi bought the most chocolates, while Bengaluru exported the most Yoga videos. Kolkatans on the other hand are in love with Tibetian collectibles.
Top brands in India were Samsung, Apple, Sony, and Nokia respectively.
The jury is still out on the BlackBerry 10; however, the struggling Canadian phone manufacturer is making good strides in filling up its app store. The BlackBerry World now has more than 100,000 apps, with 30,000 new apps being added over the past seven weeks.
“The response to the BlackBerry 10 platform and applications has been outstanding. Customers are thrilled with the applications already available, and the catalog just keeps growing, now with more than 100,000 apps,” said Martyn Mallick, Vice President, Global Alliances at BlackBerry. “Top brands and application providers are joining us every day and are seeing the benefits of being early supporters of the new platform. We constantly hear from developers that the BlackBerry 10 tools are easy to build with and that we provide opportunities for app differentiation that they do not see on other platforms.”
The good news for BlackBerry is that it has managed to persuade some of the most popular mobile app developers to develop apps for its new operating system. Some of the big names that BlackBerry is touting are 8tracks, Angry Birds Star Wars, ATP World Tour Live, BBC Top Gear News, Bloomberg Anywhere, CBS Sports, Delta Air Lines, F1 2013 Timing App CP, Facebook, Foursquare, Jetpack Joyride, Keek, LinkedIn, Navita Translator, Need for Speed, NHL GameCenter, N.O.V.A. 3, The New York Times, PressReader, Slacker, Songza, Twitter, UFC, USA TODAY, Waze, WhatsApp, and Zara. Apps from Amazon Kindle, OpenTable and The Wall Street Journal will launch today, while apps from CNN, The Daily Show Headlines, eBay, eMusic, Maxim, MLB at Bat, MTV News, Pageonce, PGA, Rdio, Skype, Soundhound and Viber will be added in the coming weeks.
Having a vibrant and rich app store is critical for the success of any platform. BlackBerry seems to have gotten off to a good start. However, BlackBerry World still has a long way to go before it can even think of competing with Android and iOS app stores. While reaching the hundred thousand mark even before launching in several key markets is impressive, it’s worth keeping in mind that a significant chunk of the 100,000 apps are Android ports created using the BlackBerry Packager. These apps are generally fully functional, but they don’t leverage the unique strengths of the new BB 10 platform, and feel out of place visually.
Just a day after we learnt that Google Now is making its way to the Chrome browser and OS, Engadget is reporting that Google is also working on porting its Siri challenger to the iOS. Apparently, a short promo video featuring Google Now for iOS appeared yesterday on YouTube. The clip was quickly pulled down, but not before several enterprising viewers managed to save a copy. Here’s one of the many such copies currently available on YouTube.
While we can not vouch for the veracity of the video, it does look pretty convincing. Even the voice actor seems to be the same as the original Google Now announcement video. Due to restrictions imposed by Apple, Google will not be able to integrate its personal assistant into the system in a manner Siri is on the iOS. Instead, Google Now will live inside the Google Search app, which already features voice recognition. A quick swipe up from the main screen will bring up the Google Now interface.
The big question is how many iOS users, who already have the charming and cute Siri, will find a need for Google Now. Google’s personal assistant app does have its own set of advantages including the ability to offer neat nuggets of information pre-emptively through several pre-defined cards. It might also be compatible with a wider range of iOS devices than Siri, which only supports iOS 5 and later. However, Google will not be able to offer the deep system level integration that Siri features. That being said, there is clearly a segment of iPhone users that want Google Now, as evident from the popularity of the NowNow mod for jailbroken iPhones.