Category: Opinion

Opinion – Chrome OS Could Kill The Android Tablet in 2017

As 2017 gets started, one thing has become abundantly clear to me:  The days of the Android tablet form factor are numbered.  Its not that the Android experience on tablets will kill them – which is pretty poor to be fair – but rather the flood of Chromebooks and other Chrome OS devices that are set to hit the market this year.  2017 will be the year that Chrome OS takes off for good with a wide range of form factors expected to be release and the much anticipated support of Android apps on the platform in Chrome 56.  The latter is due within days and the former, with the likes of Samsung’s new Chromebooks, will set the stage for a transformative year.

The push for the tablet form factor came fundamentally from Apple.  With the launch of the iPad, it suddenly became a tool by which you could get more things done on a larger screen.  Add to that portability and a lower cost, generally, than a laptop and you set the stage for a form factor that seemingly many wanted.  But for all the might of Apple, the iPad has never really taken hold.  Samsung, HTC and Google themselves have had the same struggles.  They brought the conveniences of a mobile Operating System and the associated apps but equally, they brought limitations that users did not experience on laptops.  It was, as if, they were a stop-gap measure until a proper merger of a desktop OS and a mobile OS could take place.

That merger is happening now with Chrome OS and Android.

Android apps running in Chrome will be more than just a stop gap.  You will get the benefits of an app ecosystem along with the power and productivity of a desktop OS.  Is it perfect?  No but it is a far cry better than having two completely desparent solutions to meet your productivity and entertainment needs.

I suspect that my usage of my Nexus 9 Android tablet is similar to many of you.  I like the tablet but 90% of my use of it is for entertainment:  Games, movie watching and social networking.  Rarely do I use it for productivity, even with the solid Google productivity apps like Docs, Sheets and Slides.  The only time I really use it for productivity is when I’m on an airplane, in coach, crammed into a little seat with little room to pull out a 14″ Chromebook to work.  If I’m in business class or First class, the Chromebook is always the weapon of choice to get things done.  So the question becomes, if I had my entertainment on a slate or convertible Chrome OS-based device, would I need a tablet?  The answer, in my mind, is a resounding no.

Nextbit Robin – The Most Underrated Phone of 2016?

As 2016 starts to wind down, It is always interesting to go back and look at how things progressed throughout the year.  To be sure, there have been a huge number of phones launched this year from a wide range of manufactures.  One of the new kids on the block, Nextbit, launched their first phone in mid-2015 and started shipping it in February of this year.  Originally priced at $399 and having more than a few teething problems (mostly related to a really sluggish camera), the phone has slowly and steadily been updated, fixing issues and improving performance as time has gone by.  At the same time, the price kept dropping.  Mid-way through the year it hit $299 from Nextbit with Amazon dropping the price for a few weeks here-and-there to $199.  Now it is available for $169, a price which makes this solid performing phone a no-brainer.  Seriously, I would challenge readers to find an equally equipped phone for this price.

What I’m not going to do here is rehash my review of the Robin.  You can read that and get the specs and my initial thoughts.  But I will make the case for this phone being the unsung hero of the year based on its specs for the price, the update cycle that Nextbit has been keeping and the open and supported nature the company has taken with the Robin.  Let’s start with the specs.  It is powered by the Snapdragon 808 processor running at 2GHz and coupled with the Adreno 418 GPU.  It has 3GB of LPDDR3 RAM coupled with the processor which gives a nice, snappy feel to the Robin during use.  Storage wise you have 32GB available on the device along with 100GB in the Nextbit Smart Storage

The Display of the Robin is a 5.2″ renders at 1080 x 1920 Full HD resolution which gives you approximately 423 PPI.  That makes the flat screen of the phone easy on the eyes when viewing for a long period of time.  The display is protected by Gorilla glass 4.  Camera wise, the main camera is a 13MP unit with phase detection auto focus and a dual-tone flash.  On the front you have a 5MP camera that is wide angled to give you a good selfie image.

In the market today, there are a handful of phones that run the Snapdragon 808 processor.  Those phones are all substantially more than the Robin.

  • Blackberry Priv:  $399
  • LG V10:  $368
  • Nexus 5X:  $299
  • Moto X Pure:  $299
  • Lumia 959 (Windows 10):  $369

All of these phones have 32GB or less in storage so from a price point alone, even at $299, the Robin starts to make a lot of sense.

Microsoft – A Mobile Strategy Does Not Have To Include Phones

Microsoft and their mobile devices, Microsoft Lumia, were in the news again this week and not in a good way.  The company has all-but confirmed that they will be killing off the devices and brand by the end of 2016.  As a long time H/PC, PocketPC, Windows Mobile, and Windows Phone users (I started this site back in 2004 writing about Handheld PCs and PocketPCs), it is a shame to see a company with the resources of Microsoft so utterly screw up their mobile strategy around devices.  There are a lot of reasons for this of course and I could spend a lot of digital ink on it.  But the bottom line is, from a device perspective, Microsoft made a long series of major missteps that has led to where we are today:  Virtually no Windows powered phones.  Sure there is the new HP Elite X3 but at the price point it has ($799), it will see very few and really, it’s aimed at the enterprise anyway.

But to suggest that Microsoft’s mobile strategy is dead because their phones are dead is a bit of a stretch and dare I say, false.  Their strategy is very much alive and well across both Android and iOS and proves that you don’t necessarily have to have phones in the mix.  Microsoft’s focus has been pretty clear for the last two years.  First, they want you using Microsoft services on whatever devices you want to use.  Second, they want you to have the apps to make you productive and give you near the same level of functionality as you have on the desktop.  These two things not only make up a mobile strategy but it makes a pretty solid one.

The Bright Future That Awaits Chrome OS

I will start this post by being transparent:  I am a big fan of Chrome OS.  I more-or-less made the move to Chrome OS about this time last year and frankly, I haven’t looked back.  Yes I still have my corporate laptop that I use on occasion but the reality is, everything I need to do in my work life and my personal life I can do on Chrome.  So with that clear, I still stand by the title of this article:  The future is very bright from Chrome OS.

I believe this for several different reasons and all of them are intertwined to paint this bright future picture.  First is the rapidly maturing Operating System itself.  The Chrome OS of today, Build 53, is far superior in every way to the Chrome OS I started on last year, Chrome 48.  Second, is the era in which we live in.  We are, finally, approaching the post-PC world that Apple and others have been talking about since 2008.  But eight years on, we are actually there or darn close.  Third is adoption of Chrome OS as a platform in businesses and in education, the later of which was dominated by PCs, then by Apple and now nearly by Chrome OS.  Finally, there is the clear direction in which Google and the Chromium team within it are going to take the devices and platform in the future.  The Chromebook I’m tying this article on today (a HP Chromebook 11 G4) will be vastly overshadowed by what a device will look like this time next year or in 2018.  All of these things add up to a future that sees Chrome OS not only as a part of but a dominant player.  And the cool thing is, everyone reading this is on the cusp of it all.  We get to see it all unfold and that, speaking from experience as a Microsoftie during the Windows XP days, is a very cool thing to see.

Android Nougat Maintenance Releases A Shot Over Manufacture’s Bows

For those of us that love Android, yesterday a pretty rock solid day.  Android Nougat was released and devices that were a part of the beta program have already started seeing the final NRD90M build hit their devices (you can read my review to get all the details on Nougat).  One tidbit of news in all of the hubbub of the release was the announcement of regular maintenance releases for Nougat.  It was easy to miss as, as far as I am aware, it was only posted in the Android Developer Blog announcing the release.  That blog, unless you are developer, isn’t on everyone’s reading list understandably.  In that post from Dave Burke, he pointed out a small but important piece of information about Nougat.

We’re moving Nougat into a new regular maintenance schedule over the coming quarters. In fact, we’ve already started work on the first Nougat maintenance release, that will bring continued refinements and polish, and we’re planning to bring that to you this fall as a developer preview. Stay tuned!

This new maintenance schedule is independent of the monthly security updates.  This new maintenance schedule is all about bringing features, refinements and fixes to the platform.  It is also, in my opinion, a shot across the bow of manufactures who drag their feet in getting the .0 releases out.  Android is going to march forward and Google, more or less, is telling OEMs to get with the program.

Life on One Screen – Using Android With One Home Screen

Back at the end of June, I started an experiment on my Nexus 6P.  Like many of you, I have dozens of apps installed on my Android phone with the vast majority of them being accessed just a handful of times per week or month.  Yet, with those apps installed and with them organized on my various home screens, I still found myself doing a lot of swipes and taps to get to things.  Personally, I found that frustrating so I took a drastic step and eliminated all of my home screens except one.  Admittedly, the first couple of days were rough.  But as I got use to using the power that is in the Google Now Launcher, I can honestly say that life in one screen works for me.

But at the time I started this little experiment, it wasn’t just me who tried it.  Fellow tech enthusiast Kyle Reddoch (You can find him on Google+ and on Twitter) tried the experiment too.  During these last few weeks, while we’ve had plenty of Hangouts discussions, we’ve not talked about life on one screen until earlier this week.  The result?  Both of us don’t plan on going back to multiple screens any time soon.

I’ve outlined in this post the thought process behind this little experiment and how we went about it.   I’ll cover the tools we are using that have made this transition much easier than expected but frankly, it all comes down to the Google Now Launcher and our voices.  If there is one thing this experiment will teach you, it is the power of voice commands.

Today The Most Important Google I/O In Years Begins

As developer conferences go, Google I/O stands out for a lot of reasons.  Unlike Microsoft’s Build Conference or Apple’s WWDC, Google tends to bring to light countless projects each year, some of which never make it any further than I/O… but they get exposed.  The last few years, however, I/O has become synonymous with Android.  In 2014, we saw Android Lollipop.  In 2015 we saw Marshmallow.  Sure there were other things but fundamentally, that’s what remember these last two conferences launching.

Google I/O 2016 is going to be different.  Very different.  Starting today, we see the Mountain View company’s vision for the future.  Yes we will hear about Android N but it won’t be front-and-center.  It is, after all, already available in beta.  That vision is going to include a wide range of products, services and solutions, all of which will not only shape the future for Google but the future of everyone who touches their technologies.

The iPhone is Dead! Utter Bollocks…

Over the course of the last 3 weeks or so, really since the Apple earnings call, my Twitter and Google+ feed have been full of posts and articles on how the death of the iPhone, and by extension Apple, is near.  They point to the ever increasing growth of Android across the globe, the poor showing of Apple in their last quarter, the lackluster iPhone SE (which I reviewed for Gear Diary) and the rumors of what may well be a lackluster iPhone 7.  In a word, bollocks.

I’m an Android user.  I love Android.  I left iOS a couple of years ago for a reason.  I didn’t like the ecosystem, I found iOS buggy and limiting and ultimately, after a breach of their 2-factor authentication that left my devices locked forever, I had enough.  I have found a breath of fresh air in Android.  I enjoy the flexibility it offers both as a platform and in devices and while it is far from perfect, it gives me the things that I wanted.  But just because I’m an Android user doesn’t mean that I hate anything and everything iOS.  I have always advocated that users find the tool that works best for them.  If that is Android, great.  If that is an iPhone, great.  As long as it meets your needs, that’s ultimately the goal.  It is not a zero-sum game.

Google’s Perfect Timing With Android N

When Google unleashed the first technical preview of Android N on the world this week, nobody really saw it coming. In fact, talking to sources at Google, I’m not even sure most of the company knew. Sure the Android team did and like a few other critical teams but broadly?  I don’t think so.  Many Googlers I know were just as surprised as you or me.

For me though, the release of the preview could not have been timed more perfectly and the way they opened it up to anyone running a Nexus device will assure that this launch will likely be the most successful ever for an Android release.  It also moves up their release timeline to mid-year, something that will help year end holiday season sales of devices as N will be well established by then.  It is a stroke of genius by Google and should not be lost on anyone.

Don’t 1 Star An App Not Working in Android N

The news of the first beta of Android N being released yesterday has made the Android community a flurry of activity and with Google for the first time really making it easy for users to download it and install it on their Nexus devices, it means that a lot of people have installed it.  And by a lot I mean a lot.  My Google+ and Twitter feeds are full of people posting photos of their devices in various stages of being updated or N running on them.  Along with that has come a pile of posts of people not happy because their favorite app is not working.  I warned readers this would happen.  What was released yesterday was in every word beta and you could even make the argument that it is alpha code.

But whatever you do, don’t go to the Google Play Store and give a 1 star rating and bad review for an app not working in Android N.  That doesn’t help anyone, particularly the developers.

Do You Need An Android Tablet? Probably Not

It is a good time to be alive.  As an Android user, there are more phones and tablets within reach of many users than there ever has been before now.  These devices are increasingly growing in power and abilities and for most of us, they are an indispensable part of our everyday lives.  But as flagship devices have grown in size and power, they have started to intrude on the space once reserved for tablets and it is forcing some to consider the question, do I really need a tablet?  I have been asking this question for some months now and for me the answer is no.  Let me explain why.

Samsung & LG, Give Android Users Some Credit

Over the course of the last week, the news coming out of Mobile World Congress (MWC) has been the launch of the Samsung Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge along with the new LG G5.  These three devices look stunningly impressive from a design and function perspective and early indications are they will be quite a hit here in 2016.  But as the dust settled and people started taking a hard look at these devices, it became clear that one of the benefits of Android Marshmallow, which all three devices are running, is missing:  Adoptable Storage.