Welcome, dear readers, to the Weekly Tech Overload, in which I boil down the last seven days of tech news for easy consumption on a lazy Friday afternoon. Whether you’re too busy to follow the blogosphere churn or still can’t bring yourself to rebuild your Google Reader sources elsewhere, here’s your opportunity to get caught up on what you’ve missed.
We’ll start with the biggest product unveiling of the week by far: the Moto X. Dubbed the anti-iPhone by Roger Cheng at CNET this is, if you fan away the hype, a pretty typical Android smartphone. It has a 4.7-inch AMOLED display that gets by at 720p while pictures come in through a 10 megapixel rear camera or two megapixel front-facer. Inside there’s a rather complex suite of CPUs and GPUs powering the whole thing that Moto has thoughtfully branded as eight cores worth of “contextual computing processors” and “natural language processors,” as explained at Ars.
PR-speak aside, what you have is a pair of dual-core Snapdragon S4 processors running at 1.7GHz and an Adreno 320 GPU, plus a pair of other custom chips for doing fancy things like hopping into Google Now whenever you say “Okay Google Now” — even when the phone’s display is off. I confess I’ve long-since tired of saying “Okay Glass, take a picture,” far preferring to just reach up and hit the damned shutter button, and I think X users will quickly find themselves forgetting their own predefined command. That’s not the only gimmick. Moto also announced a set of NFC tokens you can clip onto your clothes to unlock the phone without a pass code. These won’t ship until sometime in the future, but it doesn’t really matter when because no one will buy them.
So, mid-range specs and a $199 price point that pits it directly against the Galaxy S 4 and the iPhone 5. It doesn’t even run Android 4.3, instead offering a lightly customized version of 4.2.2. Moto’s software head Steve Horowitz had the unfortunate task of having to deliver this line to Wired: “Nobody’s buying products because of minor incremental improvements to Android.” In one shot he managed to alienate both the developers who worked on Android 4.3 and all those users, including myself, who covet the TRIM support it offers. Horowitz does have a fair point, your average shopper doesn’t hit the About screen in Settings before handing over a credit card, but his question raises another: why do people buy smartphones? Specs are a big part of the Android game, and we’ve already identified the Moto X’s deficiencies there. It was, therefore, given another selling point: customization.
Taking inspiration from the NIKEiD shoe program, Motorola will let you create a custom phone through Moto Maker, offering not only colors but materials, all assembled in a factory in Texas and shipped in a matter of days. I love the concept, particularly that I can choose natural wood, but there are two problems. First, anything that requires waiting a few days is a strike against in our modern culture of instant gratificiation and $4 overnight shipping. Moto would have been better following the Oakley model of customization, done in-store. Secondly, this customization is tragically available only to AT&T subscribers. It’ll come to other carriers eventually, but gimping the one and only standout feature of your phone to appease a single carrier is not a great launch tactic.
Google Chromecast Reviewed
Moving right along, the Google Chromecast HDMI dongle received a suite of reviews this week. The general consensus is that it’s a great little device and well-worth the $35, but the app support is mediocre and streaming content from a Chrome browser tab is a poor work-around. The device supports an SDK so more will come, but I’m still disappointed about the lack of proper Miracast support, the wireless video standard Google added Android 4.2 and then promptly forgot about. You know what they say: the best thing about standards is that there are so many to choose from. There are also plenty of Chromecast reviews to choose from:
NVIDIA Shield Reviewed
Also reviewed this week is the $299 NVIDIA Shield, a curious portable Android gaming device that I was in love with as a concept. However, my reaction was rather different when I learned NVIDIA was actually going to mass-produce the thing. It’s a Tegra 4-powered Android system built into a beefy, well-constructed gaming controller that will remind many of the classic Duke from the original Xbox. It has a 5-inch, 720p panel upon which you can run the (generally mediocre) selection of Android games, but the key selling point is its ability to play PC games. Sort of. Those games need to be running on an actual PC, which must have a GeForce GTX 600 series graphics card. Furthermore, the Shield must be connected to the same dual-band WiFi network as that PC. Should your personal technological stars align and you meet all those requirements you may now pay three hundred dollars to get some quality couch time with your favorite PC titles. Everyone else should probably steer clear. Should you like to know more:
iPad mini Rumors
There was plenty of talk about the next-gen iPad mini this week, with the Wall Street Journal indicating it will have a Samsung-sourced Retina display. Meanwhile, 9to5Mac indicated Apple’s testing a non-Retina mini with an A6 CPU. I, for one, wouldn’t bet against Mark Gurman, but there’s no reason both reports couldn’t be true. The non-Retina model could be a test mule for the A6, or Apple could be planning on maintaining both high- and low-res models in the market. I will say this: with the Nexus 7 getting a big bump in resolution, the Mini needs more pixels sooner than later.
Google Glass Banned for Drivers in the UK
The UK government made the terrifically short-sighted decision to ban Google Glass for drivers this week, as first reported over at Stuff, adding the device to existing laws that ban the use of mobile devices whilst driving. Navigation with Glass is one of my favorite features — it’s far less distracting than even an in-dash nav unit — and legislation banning its use will surely hurt Google’s sales pitch next year. Google should be making some serious outreach, both to legislators and privacy advocates, but from what I can tell the company seems content to let those who have never used the device dictate its perception outside the tech community. As I’ve said before, I believe that’s a key mistake.
Microsoft Loses SkyDrive
Microsoft also got a slap for making a key mistake this week, that of not properly researching its trademarks. Again. First it was “Metro” and now the company is being forced to shelve the name SkyDrive. Sky Broadcasting Group successfully won the lawsuit and the two companies agreed that a rebranding is in order. The service’s new name remains to be seen, but I might suggest the folks in Redmond use random sequences of letters, numbers and special characters for all products going forward.
Netflix Profiles Released
Netflix started rolling out individual profiles to the wild this week, and I’m happy to report it even showed up on my Panasonic VT50, which I figured, being a full year old, would never see an update. Subscribers can now create discrete queues for both disc-based and Instant content and then toggle between profiles before selecting which content to play. Only one question remains in my mind: How long will it take Netflix to realize I hate TV crime dramas and mysteries? Here comes the twist: it was my wife watching them all along, you see.
Apple Buys Passif
Finally, Jessica Lessin got the scoop on Apple purchasing Passif, a chip maker specializing in low-energy silicon, particularly Bluetooth LE. Apple uses the standard in many of its devices and so you needn’t read deeper than that when pondering the acquisition. That said, it is so very enticing to imagine Apple tasking these new-found engineers with improving battery life and connectivity for the fabled iWatch. If indeed the company is still ironing out key issues like this, that again is a very unfortunate indicator pointing away from a release this year.
12 Months on Mars in Two Minutes
I leave you with this killer video from NASA: “Twelve Months in Two Minutes: Curiosity’s First Year on Mars.” (Two minutes and 14 seconds, to be exact.) Though the scenery may be lacking variety, it is a trip to behold. Enjoy it, and have yourself a great weekend.