The Google Pixel and Pixel XL

(Reposted from the Dr. Bill.TV Site)

Pixel and Pixel XL review: What happens when Google designs phones?

Engadget – By: Chris Velazco
– “Google’s fascination with hardware stretches back years. Remember the early days of Android and the G1? The rise of the Nexus line? Those ill-fated Android@Home lightbulbs and those beautiful Chromebooks? It took Google a while, but that fascination turned into a sort of experimental hobby, and now into something far more serious. Software is Google’s art, and the company has been working for a long time to craft the right canvases.

That’s where the new Pixel and Pixel XL come in.

Google has more control over the development — and destiny — of these two smartphones than it ever had with any Nexus phone. It’s not surprising, then, that the company has turned to close friends to help chart this new course. Former Motorola Mobility CEO Rick Osterloh is back at Google heading up hardware after the search giant sold his company to Lenovo. HTC, which most recently worked with Google on the Nexus 9 tablet, is handling the Pixel phones’ production and assembly. There’s a palpable sense that Google wanted to round up its A-team for this project.

It shows. These Pixel phones are a culmination on Google’s part of years’ worth of experimenting with hardware, and they’re unsurprisingly great.

Pros
Excellent build quality
Fantastic camera
Smooth performance

Cons
Expensive
Yawn-inducing design
Less water-resistant than rivals

Summary

After years of experimenting with Nexus devices, Google finally decided it wanted to make a phone of its own. HTC might be assembling the phones, but Google designed and developed the Pixel from end-to-end. In doing so, it crafted a truly great smartphone that sadly looks a little dull. Still, the inclusion of a speedy new Snapdragon 821 chipset and a fantastic camera make the smaller Pixel a device to be reckoned with. Now, if only it were a little cheaper.”

Open Source Sirius Takes on Siri!

Move over Siri! Now, there’s an Open Source alternative for Linux users!

Meet Sirius, the open-source Siri clone that runs on Ubuntu

PC World – By: Chris Hoffman – “Sirius is an open-source virtual assistant, a bit like Apple’s Siri (pictured above), Google’s Google Now, or Microsoft’s Cortana. But unlike those well-known helpers—and like Linux itself—Sirius is an open platform anyone can use and contribute to, from universities to startups. It’s currently being tested on Ubuntu, and you can download and install it on your own Linux PC today… if you’re particularly adventurous.

How it works
Sirius includes speech recognition, image recognition, and text recognition components. Ask it a question, and Sirius will analyze the meaning of the words, then extract the relevant knowledge from Wikipedia.

One big feature Sirius offers is the image recognition integration. For example, you could take a photo of the Eiffel Tower and ask ‘when was this built?’ Sirius would analyze the image, determine it was the Eiffel Tower, and then go find out when the Eiffel Tower was built. The big commercial assistant programs don’t yet offer a similar feature. This University of Michigan video provides a good introduction.

Organizations like Google, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and the National Science Foundation (NSF) are funding this project, but don’t expect Google to replace Google Now any time soon. Instead, it’s being developed by researchers at the University of Michigan’s Clarity Lab, and technologies from it may one day make it into the commercial virtual assistants.

But Sirius isn’t just a dry research project—it’s actual software you can download and run today.

Get the code
This project is licensed under the BSD license and hosted on GitHub, so anyone can contribute and play with the code. You’ll also find a ‘Sirius Suite’ download package, which you should use if you want to install this stuff on your own Linux PC.

sirius interface from video
This isn’t a piece of ready-made consumer software, so getting it on your own PC involves compiling the code from source. Sirius is built from many other open-source projects, including Carnegie Mellon University’s Sphinx for recognizing speech and UC Berkeley’s Caffe deep learning framework software. For image recognition, it uses OpenCV’s SURF. To answer all your questions, Sirius uses Carnegie Mellon’s OpenEphyra software. All of these bits of software are included in the Sirius Suite package.

Linux desktop environments and distributions could one day integrate this software with a pretty graphical interface, providing their own alternative to Siri, Google Now, and Cortana.

Yes, you could use this stuff on your own Linux PC today and impress your friends. Cortana integration is still in development in Windows 10, and Apple hasn’t made any moves to add Siri to Mac OS X. Currently, the best you can do on Windows and Mac OS X—and yes, Linux too—is use Google Now in Google Chrome.

But Sirius isn’t just a cool little open-source program to install. It’s a long-term vision for ‘the Linux of virtual assistants,’ an open project anyone can improve and use for their own needs. That’s something worth supporting—and something worth looking forward to.”

“On Body Detection” for Android Phones

This would be cool, I don’t like having to remember to lock my phone!

New “On-Body Detection” Smart Lock Mode In Android Seems To Be Hitting Some Devices

Android Police – By: David Ruddock – “Google is currently rolling out a new smart lock mode called on-body detection. The feature, described in the screens below, uses your accelerometer to figure out when your device is in your hand or pocket, and lock when it’s not. The idea being if you leave your phone sitting on a table or forget it somewhere, it will lock, preventing would-be thieves from easily accessing your data.

Once you unlock your phone, it will stay unlocked while you’re holding it or it’s in your pocket. Once you set it down, it will lock again. Picking it back up requires you to manually unlock it (assuming you’re not using another trusted authenticator factor). If you hand the phone to someone else while it’s unlocked, it will not lock – the feature isn’t able to recognize that you specifically are holding the phone. It just knows when the phone is being held / pocketed and when it isn’t.

The device the feature was noticed on was a Nexus 4 still running Android 5.0.1, but we’re now seeing it on many devices including most Nexuses. This doesn’t seem to be a feature related to Android 5.1, but you probably need 5.0+ for it to work. We do know our tipster has the most recent version of Play Services (we tried with the same version on our Nexuses, and no dice), and we know trusted places is enabled by Google Play Services, so it seems likely this on-body detection mode is probably activated similarly, and isn’t part of the core OS.

This appears to be Google slowly launching a new feature with a small rollout to begin with, so don’t worry if you’re not seeing it yet – we’ve got multiple confirmations it’s out there.

Let us know if you’re seeing this on your devices running the most recent (7.0.97) Play Services – we’ve got confirmation that it’s showing up on non-Nexus hardware running 5.0+ as well.”

GCW-Zero – A Kickstarter Hand Held Gaming Platform

Lon Seidman has a good review of this interesting device:

They say of themselves:

“We live in a technological era where it is possible to place powerful gaming hardware that exceeds yesterday’s PCs in the palm of your hand. Tablets and smart phones are just one example of this. Their touch screens have already revolutionized casual, portable gaming. However, many gamers would agree that they are in their true natural habitat when in direct control of that experience with physical buttons and a real d-pad or authentic analog control. The world just needed these two ideas combined into one package for the gaming community.

We are developing the Game Consoles Worldwide (GCW) Zero, a handheld console built around the Ingenic JZ4770 1 GHz MIPS processor. It is powerful enough to run classic PC games, emulate the game consoles we grew up with and run homebrew games seamlessly at high frame rates.

We here at Game Consoles Worldwide believe that a company should not just capitalize and consumers should be allowed to do more than consume. Too many devices today are walled gardens, designed solely for consumption. Not ours! The GCW Zero gives you full control of your handheld. Install any application you want to run, change the operating system in any way you want. We won’t fight you; in fact we’ll encourage you.”

Their Kickstarter page goes into more detail:

The GCW-Zero Kickstarter Campaign

“Handheld Gaming Is Awesome
We live in a technological era where it is possible to place powerful gaming hardware that exceeds yesterday’s PCs in the palm of your hand. Tablets and smart phones are just one example of this. Their touch screens have already revolutionized casual, portable gaming. However, many gamers would agree that they are in their true natural habitat when in direct control of that experience with physical buttons and a real d-pad or authentic analog control. The world just needed these two ideas combined into one package for the gaming community.

We are developing the GCW Zero, a handheld console built around the Ingenic JZ4770 1 GHz MIPS processor. It is powerful enough to run classic PC games, emulate the game consoles we grew up with and run homebrew games seamlessly at high frame rates.

Open Source Software Is Awesome

We here at Game Consoles Worldwide believe that a company should not just capitalize and consumers should be allowed to do more than consume. Too many devices today are walled gardens, designed solely for consumption. Not ours! The GCW Zero gives you full control of your handheld. Install any application you want to run, change the operating system in any way you want. We won’t fight you; in fact we’ll encourage you.

Because the Zero runs Linux, a huge library of excellent, free, open source software can run on it. Our core development team is hard at work porting popular applications to provide a strong launch day lineup and we’re sure many more will follow from us and from our community.

Developers Are Awesome

We are committed to working with the open source and homebrew communities. Have an idea for the Zero? We want to help. Port your favorite game, or write your own homebrew title! How about media software? Streaming? Turn it into a server? Your ideas and creativity excite us and we want to help develop the Zero into a full-spectrum device.

The Zero’s operating system is OpenDingux, a Linux distribution which is designed to be developer friendly with SSH login, SFTP file transfer and a debugger with profiling tools already included. Both the distribution and the SDK are kept up-to-date; for example we are currently using Linux 3.7 and GCC 4.7.2.”

At about $150.00 per device, this thing looks VERY interesting!

Hand Held Device Gaming Outstrips Console Usage

It seems having our phones handy all day, every day, means we are playing more games there, than at home on consoles!

Smartphone, Tablet Gaming Far Outpaces Handheld Console Games

24/7 Wall Street – By: Paul Ausick – “At the end of 2014, the installed base of smartphones worldwide was about 2.2 billion. There are, in addition, more than 600 million tablets in consumers’ hands as well. More than a third of that total of more than 2.8 million portable devices are used for gaming: more than a billion in fact.

The installed base for Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOGL) Android-based devices is nearly 75% of the total worldwide installed base of smartphones and tablets. Android’s share of the market rose by 5.2 points in 2014, compared with a decline of 2.3 points for iOS devices from Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) and a decline of 2.8% from other platforms, such as Windows and BlackBerry.

The data come from IDC and App Annie in a new report on portable gaming. The number of smartphones and tablets in use worldwide far outnumbers the 175 million portable gaming devices in use. And the worse news for Nintendo and Sony Corp. (NYSE: SNE) is that full game software shipments and sales volumes in the fourth quarter of 2014 were down 5% year-over-year, and the installed number of devices fell by 10 million worldwide. IDC and App Annie attribute that to decreased demand for the Nintendo DS and DSi players.

Games accounted for 30% of all fourth-quarter downloads from Apple’s App Store and about 40% of all downloads from Google Play. As the chart below shows, App Store game revenue grew by more than 30% and Google Play game revenue grew by 75% year-over-year in the fourth quarter. Handheld game console software rose by just 5% for the year, and all of that came in the holiday season.

The top-selling game at the App Store was Clash of Clans, followed by Puzzle & Dragons and Candy Crush Saga. The top three sellers at Google Play were Puzzle & Dragons, Clash of Clans and Monster Strike. Worldwide the top grossing games for the year are Clash of Clans, Candy Crush Saga and Puzzle & Dragons.

Other highlights from the IDC/App Annie report:

  • Game spending on both iOS and Google Play exceeded that of handheld game consoles in the fourth quarter of 2014.
  • More than 80% of combined iOS and Google Play consumer app spending in the quarter came from games.
  • iOS generated about 1.9 times more revenues than Google Play games.”

Palm is Being Brought Back!?!

Palm PilotWhat? I don’t think so!

Palm is being brought back from the dead

Variety – By: Marc Graser – “Chinese electronics maker TCL, which spent considerable coin to rename Mann’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood, has acquired the rights to revive the once-dominant maker of digital personal organizers.

TCL said at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week that it will re-create Palm in Silicon Valley, after having purchased the brand’s assets from Hewlett-Packard late last year. HP had paid $1.2 billion to purchase Palm in 2010, but sold off the company’s webOS operating system to LG in 2013, leaving TCL with little other than nostalgia to work with.

‘Palm has always carried a lot of affect and emotions,’ TCL said in a statement. ‘That’s why TCL has set the direction to rebuild the brand involving Palm’s very own community, making it the largest scale crowd-sourced project ever seen in the industry.’

The company will set up a new Palm Inc. in Silicon Valley. It also will back the development of new Palm products with 5,000 engineers and seven research and development centers around the world.

TCL, which is a substantial producer of electronics in China, with its line of TVs and mobile devices, is still relatively unknown in the U.S., although it’s looking to change that through high-profile placements in movies like ‘Iron Man III,’ and naming-rights deals like the one in Hollywood.

It also owns the Alcatel OneTouch brand through which it produces lower priced smartphones Stateside. The new Palm products are likely to become the company’s more high-end line of mobile devices.

Palm was founded in 1992 and had various owners, including US Robotics and 3Com. Its devices essentially established the handheld market, especially among business execs, with the Treo and Pilot, and opened the door for rivals like BlackBerry to step in and take over.

Palm isn’t the only mobile brand trying to make a comeback.

Lenovo is trying to breathe new life into Motorola after buying it last year, with three new smartphones it will launch in China this year. The new Moto X rolls out in February.”

Android “Lollipop” Disk Encryption Causes Serious Performance Issues!

(Cross-posted from Dr. Bill.TV) If you recently upgraded your Android device to Android 5.0, known as the “Lollipop” version, you may be experiencing some strange performance issues after the upgrade if you enable encryption. It appears that the problem is caused by disk encryption of the Android device which can be turned off in the new Nexus devices. It is a “feature” and not a bug! However, users are very upset by the performance hit that this new feature causes. In testing a Motorola Nexus 6 that didn’t have encryption enabled (which is not the way it normally comes) testers at AnanTech discovered that it was, in fact, the disk encryption in the Nexus 6 that slows down the read-write disk speeds… and, unfortunately, you can’t turn it off once enabled.

During tests with a Nexus 6 running without encryption, and another one with it enabled, they saw as much is a 63% decline in read performance and a 50% decline in write performance in the device with encryption enabled. If your math impaired, in terms of understanding those numbers, that’s a big deal!

Now, if you want to turn off your disk encryption in order to see at a performance improvement; you can’t on the Nexus 6 or Nexus 9, at least not at this time.

The geeky folks over at XGA are tinkering with a new boot.img image that will disable the forced encryption, but this is annoying fix for a problem that Google should have already provided a workaround for. We should not have to rely on some hackers to fix their problem!

One would hope that Google will respond to this and give users a way to encrypt their phones and restore performance to reasonable levels!

A Nintendo 3DS Hack to Get (Illegal) Free Games

The YouTube Video has sine been removed. But, you shouldn’t be cheating to get free games anyway!

New Nintendo 3DS Hack Gives You Easy Access To Illegal Games

Huffington Post – By Damon Beres – “Nintendo’s popular 3DS video game system may have a new piracy problem.

A video posted on YouTube on Friday, which you can see above, shows off a new cartridge that, when inserted into the 3DS handheld, lets you play illegally downloaded games with the touch of a button. It’s called the Sky3DS, and it’s the latest so-called “flashcard” that lets gamers play pirated games without paying a cent. It’s expected to hit the market in one to two weeks, and it’s child’s play to set up.

Here’s why Nintendo should worry: The 3DS was the top-selling console in America last year, with more than 11.5 million units sold since its 2011 release. In total, the 3DS has sold more than 44 million units worldwide (PDF). It’s considerably more successful than Nintendo’s Wii U system, which is struggling to find a place in the market. The Sky3DS, though a niche product that needs to be ordered online, could cut into game sales that last year alone amounted to more than 16 million games globally. Games cost anywhere from $29.99 to $49.99 in the United States.

Most worrisome is the device’s simplicity. According to the video, you pop a MicroSD memory card loaded with games into the Sky3DS cartridge, power the 3DS on, and open your software. It’s that easy, and the flashcard reportedly works on any 3DS unit, including the newer, budget-priced 2DS and forthcoming “New 3DS” consoles. Here’s how it works: First, one has to find a site that hosts ROM files—game data ripped from a cartridge and uploaded to a computer—to download and put on a MicroSD card.

The process is practically the same as booting up a legally purchased 3DS game.

Flashcards — also called flash carts — have long been a thorn in Nintendo’s side. They’re available for the old Nintendo DS handhelds, which officially became obsolete when Nintendo shut down their online services earlier this year. They’re also available for the even-more-retro Game Boy Advance. In each iteration, the premise is the same: Download a bunch of games for free onto one cartridge and go nuts with all the Mario Kart and Pokemon you can stomach.

Nintendo until now skirted the issue on the 3DS with regular system updates. Though flashcards have popped up before, the Japanese game company whack-a-moled them with a system update that rendered them mostly useless. Essentially, Nintendo’s overhaul of the system’s settings interfered with software that previous flashcards needed to run.

The Sky3DS, on the other hand, says it supports the newest version of Nintendo’s hardware, which means any game released up until now will work on the flashcard as long as the user can find the files online. Plus, it doesn’t appear to require any software hacks, unlike other such devices: The Sky3DS reportedly works after simply slotting it into the 3DS like a game. That could make it harder for Nintendo to combat.

To put Nintendo’s problem in perspective, illegal downloads of last year’s popular Pokemon X and Y games have exceeded 527,000 on a popular ROM site, according to publicly available stats. For a thought experiment, imagine if each of those downloads represented a unique user who could have bought the games for $39.99 a pop: That’s a potential (if exaggerated) loss of $21,074,730 in revenue from two games alone.

Nintendo and Sky3DS did not immediately respond to requests for comment.”

A Hand Held Bomb Detector

And, no, we are not talking about movies that are bombs… we are talking real bombs!

Hand-held device detects liquid bombs in 5 seconds

RT.com – “A Japanese research team has developed a bomb-detection device that can quickly determine if liquid inside a container is explosive or flammable. Once the device is manufactured, it could rapidly speed up baggage inspections at busy airports.

When checking for liquid explosives at airports, many of the devices used are cumbersome and take time to give results. Osaka University researchers said earlier this month they have developed a hand-held device that can detect whether a bottle’s contents are explosive or flammable in a matter of seconds. When placed between two cylinders that emit a LED light – using Near-Infrared Resonance – the device cross-references the light-absorption properties of the liquid with a stored database. Depending on the safety of the liquid, a lamp glows either red or green.

Already, scientists picture using the device in a variety of circumstances.

‘The device should prove useful not just in airports, but also in a variety of event venues and museums, including the Olympic games,’ Hideo Itozaki, a professor of engineering who led the team of researchers at Osaka University, told the Ashai Shimbun.

Results can take less than a second to come in if the content of the plastic bottle is ordinary like water; a less common liquid will take about five seconds to analyze. Liquids in opaque containers such as aluminum cans are inspected using a different method, whereby sensors touch the surface of the containment vessel. The device is compact and can be installed anywhere, and findings are displayed on the device, according to the Asahi Shimbun.

Developers conducted a month-long trial of the bomb-detecting device at Narita Airport’s international terminal, and hope to collaborate with a private developer to sell their hand-held device next spring.”

Malware for Your Phone – Just What You Need! (Not!)

I HATE Malware. I am OK with lining up the perps that write it and shooting them (metaphorically.) I guess.

Malicious Software Said to Spread on Android Phones

Bits Blog – New York Times – By: Nicole Perlroth – “For years security researchers have warned that it was only a matter of time before nasty digital scourges like malicious software and spam would hit smartphones.

Now they say it is has finally happened.

A particularly nasty mobile malware campaign targeting Android users has hit between four million and 4.5 million Americans since January of 2013, according to an estimate by Lookout, a San Francisco mobile security company that has been tracking the malware for about two years.

Lookout first encountered the mobile malware, called NotCompatible, two years ago and has since seen increasingly sophisticated versions. Lookout said it believes, based on attempted infections of its user base of 50 million, that the total number of people who have encountered the malware in the United States exceeds four million.

Criminals infect smartphones primarily by infecting legitimate websites with malicious code. When victims visit the site from their mobile phone, they inadvertently download the code, in what is known as a “drive-by download.”

In other cases, the attackers sent spam from hijacked email accounts to their victims. That technique, Lookout’s researchers say, successfully caused more than 20,000 infections a day. More recently, researchers say, attackers have been tricking their victims into installing the malicious code by disguising it as a ‘security patch’ in an email attachment. In others, spam emails advertised weight loss solutions with a link that served up malware to Android users.

The attackers goal, researchers say, is to infect as many smartphones as possible and turn them into a so-called botnet, a network of infected devices that can be used by attackers for various malicious purposes. Lookout’s researchers say there is evidence that Not Compatible’s authors are renting out control of infected mobile devices to people who have used them to simply send out more spam or buy up event tickets in bulk from from Ticketmaster, Live Nation, EventShopper and Craigslist. Some have used infected devices to try to crack WordPress accounts.

Lookout says the malware, now on its third iteration, allows infected devices to search for and communicate with other infected machines and share intelligence. Attackers also have found a way to encrypt communications between their command and control center and infected devices, which makes it more difficult to detect and decipher.

The latest version, Lookout said, ‘has set a new bar for mobile malware sophistication and operational complexity.’

All this malicious activity can be costly. The criminals are incurring data charges on phones that, ultimately, victims are held responsible for. As if that weren’t annoying enough, researchers say the malware causes tremendous battery drainage.

As with most malware discoveries, Lookout, the company sounding the alarm, has a stake in raising concerns about the security of mobile devices. Its mobile security application, which is available for both Apple’s iOS and Android-powered smartphones, is able to identify the NotCompatible malware and keep it from infecting Android devices that have downloaded the Lookout app.”