Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition makes its Android tablet debut for $9.99

BioWare's classic Dungeons and Dragons-based roleplaying game sequel Baldur's Gate II, first released way back in 2000 for the PC, has finally arrived for Android tablets via the Google Play Store. Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition is now available to download for $9.99.
The revamped version was developed by Beamdog and Overhaul Games, which did the same duties for the previous Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition and the more recent Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition. Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition contains higher resolution graphics and widescreen viewing modes compared to the original PC version.
The Android version has the original Shadows of Amn campaign, along with three of its expansion packs; Throne of Bhaal, Fist of the Fallen and The Black Pits II: Gladiators of Thay. There are also optional in-app purchases for three more expansion packs: A Price Paid in Blood, A Voice in the Dark, and In Defense of the Wild.

Google Drive adds 'OK, Google' voice search to help you find files

Google is rolling out an update to Google Drive that will hit Android devices in the next week or so bringing additional features to the cloud storage app. The new update upgrade Google Now search so you can command "OK, Google" to search for your files without having to launch the app. Additionally, custom maps can now be shared and accessed via the Drive app as well.

Hearthstone Heroes of Warcraft finally battles its way onto Android tablets

Good news for you Blizzard fans out there: Hearthstone Heroes of Warcrafthas finally landed on Android tablets! Blizzard announced today that it has officially launched the game on Google Play — and though it was initially limited to those in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand it's now widely available.
If you decide to get in on the action, here's what you can look forward to:
Pick up your cards and throw down the gauntlet! In Hearthstone, you play the hero in a fast-paced, whimsical card game of cunning strategy. In minutes, you'll be unleashing powerful cards to sling spells, summon minions, and seize control of an ever-shifting battlefield. Whether it's your first card game or you're an experienced pro, the depth and charm of Hearthstone will draw you in.
Fun introductory missions bring you into the world of Hearthstone's intuitive gameplay.
With hundreds of additional cards to win and craft - your collection grows with you.
Play in practice matches against computer-controlled heroes of the Warcraft universe. Thrall, Uther, Gul'dan - they're all here!
Your card collection is linked to your account - enabling you to switch your play between tablet and desktop with ease.
When you're ready, step into the Arena and duel other players for the chance to win awesome prizes!
As a bonus, Blizzard is also offering up a free pack of Classic cards to anyone who plays a game in any mode, win or lose, on their Android tablet.
If you're craving a little Warcraft-themed card action, hit up that Google Play badge above and get to battling!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Google Shopping reportedly will challenge Amazon with new features

Google is reported to be building out its online commerce business with a "Buy Now" button in an effort to challenge Amazon's 1-Click. The Internet search giant is said to have approached various online retailers to add the single-click buy button in an effort to keep online shoppers researching products on its pages longer.
Citing sources familiar with Google's discussions, the Wall Street Journal is reporting:
Until now, Google Shopping has referred shoppers to merchants' websites via links in search results. But Google wants to keep users on its own pages longer, rather than send them elsewhere.
Google wouldn't sell or ship products itself. It aims to streamline shopping for Internet users so they keep searching for products on Google instead of switching to Amazon. The move comes as Amazon has bolstered efforts to snag a slice of Google's search-advertising business.
The publication says that Google may also be pushing a second program that would more directly compete with Amazon Prime where retailers could promote 2-day shipping for customers who sign up for an annual membership.
Some retailers are considering participating in Google's shopping initiatives because they fear Amazon more. Unlike Amazon, Google doesn't sell products itself. It has discussed allowing merchants to capture the email addresses of customers who use a Google "buy" button, according to people briefed on its plans. Amazon doesn't share customer data like email addresses with merchants that sell via its website. An Amazon spokesman declined to comment.

Android Wear's 5.0 update changes the way notifications are handled, and it's a mixed bag

Things are unchanged if your phone runs KitKat, but Lollipop users will be in for some learning

Android Wear recently added a whole bunch of useful tweaks and features, building on a new base of Android 5.0 Lollipop. Though the focus of the update was on proper APIs for creating third-party watch faces and new "theater" and "sunlight" modes, the latest Android Wear update also changes the way notifications are handled on your watch when you're connected to a phone that's also running Lollipop.
The changes are likely to evoke mixed responses from people depending on how they usually use their Android Wear watch and how they feel about Lollipop's new handling of notification priority. But in either case we can all benefit from a little better of an explanation of the situation — read on.

Things have changed

As a good number of Android Wear users have yet to receive the Lollipop update on their watches, I've been testing things out on my G Watch connected to my Moto X running Lollipop. The biggest thing that stands out to me post-update on my G Watch is that notification priority is now synced between your phone and watch, so long as both are running Android 5.0. In contrast to the way Wear worked before, now if you set your phone to have priority or no notifications, your watch will reflect that change and be on the same mode.
At the same time, and much more frustratingly to me, if you pull down settings shade on your watch and toggle to none, priority or all notifications that state is synced back to your phone. It's a big and confusing change to anyone who was used to manually muting their watch with a single swipe and not having that action affect their phone, and one I'm still trying to get used to.
The change makes sense in terms of simplicity and not having to fiddle with your watch independently of your phone (and silencing my pocketed phone via my watch is kind of a neat trick), but there are still many situations in which I just want my watch silenced.

What can you do about it?

Overall the new syncing notification states are probably an improvement, but where it doesn't make sense are those times that you want your watch to be silent, but not your phone. Thankfully when the watch is charging it is muted from vibrating on incoming notifications (but not calls, oddly), meaning you won't have to worry about additional little buzzing noises on your nightstand throughout the night.
Aside from tossing the watch on its charger, your only other options for silencing the watch without also silencing your phone are to full-on disconnect the watch — via a couple taps in the Android Wear app — or change the watch into "theater" mode. The latter isn't a great solution as it also turns off the screen completely (which is a bit overkill), limiting the usefulness of it as a time piece.

Still on Jelly Bean or KitKat? No need to worry

As interesting and confusing as the change is, if you have your Lollipop-running watch paired with a phone running an earlier version of Android, you get a standard mute switch on the watch that makes it silent as long as you want. No funny business with your phone, syncing or notification priorities — you can mute the watch and it won't change your phone in any way.

Google updates Docs, Sheets, and Slides for Android with improved editing features

Google has announced that its Docs, Sheets, and Slides Android apps are grabbing some update love today. While there isn't much that's groundbreaking here, the updates do bring some nifty quality of life changes, such as scrollbars in Sheets, along with new tools for inserting, moving, and resizing shapes and text boxes in Slides.
Here's what you can look forward to in today's updates according to Google:
Docs has some new, handy line spacing controls that let you choose single, double or fractional line spacing, Sheets has scrollbars for faster navigation, and you can now insert, move, resize and rotate text boxes, shapes and lines in the updated Slides app.
All three apps are now even friendlier with Office files with easier file creation and other updates, and we've added better accessibility options and squashed some bugs.
You can check for the updates on Google Play now. If you're looking for all three of the apps in one convenient place, Google has you covered here.

Lollipop starts hitting LG G3s across Europe

Lollipop is now hitting LG G3s across Europe. We're hearing (and seeing for ourselves) that the sought-after update is slowly but surely rolling out on a broader basis across Europe following limited release in Poland and on certain carriers in the past month.
While things of this nature generally take a few days to complete, it may be worth checking on yourEuropean G3.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

HTC RE Camera review

HTC's little handheld camera … thing

HTC's dabbled in non-smartphone electronics before, primarily speakers, but the HTC RE Camera is without a doubt one of the weirdest and most beyond HTC's comfort zone. This is the HTC that famously put just a 4-megapixel camera in its flagship HTC One M8 smartphone, so a little handheld camera with a 16MP sensor? That's different.

The Camera

Let's talk a bit about the design here. Our review unit was the white model, but all colors are made of the same slick and glossy plastic. The overall design is that of a tube that's bent on one end, slightly narrower than a roll of quarters (and notably lighter). That bent tube design evoked plenty of comments, from "What is that" to "I didn't know you had asthma" (assumed it was an inhaler) to "That's a weird crack pipe, bro." The easiest way to describe it was "it's like a GoPro." (Which, by the way, is precisely what HTC would prefer you not say.) That GoPro comparison reminded me of when the first non-iPhone capacitive-touch phones came out, or the first post-iPad tablets. "It's like a GoPro" isn't the most fair comparison, but it's the easiest.
The design of the RE Camera does make holding it and walking around with it a lot easier. It just fits right into your hand with the lens peaking up over the top of your grip like it's no big deal at all. It's a lot more inconspicuous that way too, certainly more so than the blocky GoPro.
That fitting right into your hand is actually one of the ways you can turn the thing on. Embedded into the main shaft is a grip sensor, and merely picking up the RE is enough to turn it on, and a light hidden in the big silver button on the top will flash green to confirm that it's awakened. From there, just tap that big silver button to take a photo, or press and hold to start a video (and tap to stop). It'll chirp and beep and click to confirm whatever you're doing. The only other control is a small white button under the lens — press and hold it to switch to slo-mo for the next video you record.
Videos and photos are recorded onto a microSD card that slots in on the base of the device. As this is a waterproof (up to 1 meter) camera, the card is underneath a sealing flap you'll need to use a fingernail to pull out. Dead center on the bottom is a standard 1/4-inch 20-thread tripod screw socket, flanked on the opposite side by a Micro USB port.
You'll be plugging into that Micro USB port often to recharge — HTC quotes 1 hour 50 minutes of battery life for the 820mAh battery if you're recording 1080p video, though if you're running your phone as a viewfinder (more on that below), you'll see a quite considerable drop in battery performance. Alas, that charging port is right next to the screw socket, so it's quite difficult to use both at once.

The App

All of that is fine and dandy, but some of the cooler things happen when you hook it up to your Android smartphone or iPhone using the RE Camera app. Both apps work the same way, pairing with the camera over Bluetooth to act as a live viewfinder for whatever's on the display, as well as letting you remotely control the camera.
The apps are a straightforward affair, as we want for something of this nature. There are, in essence, three views for the app: a gallery of photos and videos you've already taken, controlling the camera, and settings for both the app and the camera. The gallery view lets you, well, review photos and videos on the camera in a gallery, giving you the option to immediately share, save them to your phone, or delete them entirely from the camera's microSD card.
In the settings you can toggle if and to where you automatically back-up photos from the camera (choices being onto the phone or up to Dropbox or Google Drive). You can also manage the recording resolution for videos (1080p or 720p, both at 30fps) and photos (16MP 4:3, 12MP 16:9, or 8.3MP 16:9), toggle the camera viewing angle to an ultra-wide 146°, control how loud of a sound the camera makes (we frankly could barely tell a difference between the soft and loud), set automatic location data from the phone, and turn on or off video stabilization and other little bits.
The camera button is where the magic happens, though. In portrait mode you get a live preview from the RE camera at the top with buttons to switch between photos, video, and time lapse below and a large capture/record button. There aren't any additional options for photos, but for video you can toggle whether to record in slow-motion.
Time lapse gives you many more options after tapping on the time button at the bottom — options that include how often to capture a frame (default 10 seconds), how long to run (default 90 minutes), how to set the video to play back (default "smooth" 30fps, with options of 10fps or 1fps). From the app is, as best as we could tell, the only way to trigger a time lapse. Considering a time lapse is the a pretty deliberate thing and something I'd want properly framed, that's an acceptable user interface choice.
You can also plug the RE Camera into your computer and it'll mount that microSD card as a card on the computer. Transfer speeds certainly aren't blisteringly fast, but it's good enough.

The Shots

The HTC RE takes relatively mediocre photos. They're large, sure, owing to the 4592x3456 pixel resolution of the sensor. But they're also seriously grainy and exhibit depressing JPG artifacting, and it has trouble dealing with color and lighting balance.
Moreover, the Re Camera is just plain awkward as a photo camera. I often had difficulty keeping it steady enough to take a photo that didn't exhibit motion blur of some form or another. And taking photos in the dark? Forget about it. For as big as the lens is and presumably the sensor as well, it's frustrating that the low-light performance is so poor.
When it comes to photos, you're probably better off using your smartphone — it has a built-in viewfinder, after all. Unless you're going underwater, then maybe you should consider the Re (or a smartphone that's actually waterproof).
When it comes to video, however, the RE is a better beast, though not exactly overwhelmingly impressive. Videos were generally clear and bright, even in the darkness, and exhibited much less of the noise and artifacts seen from the larger photos (no doubt thanks to scaling down the noise of the larger image overall). Audio was also at least decent, captured from a small hole on top of the camera.
Videos weren't exactly sharp, however. For all its chunky design and block aesthetic, the GoPro series still captures generally crisp videos. The RE isn't so sharp, although with the kind of video you can record with a compact handheld camera like this, that's not always terribly noticeable. Where you see that most, though, is in slow-motion recording. There's no audio and the quality takes a noticeable drop to 720p at a choppy 120fps. And you won't really want to use the ultra-wide mode for anything close-up — the 146-degree angle is in fact quite wide, but anything near the frame's edge gets noticeably distorted.

HTC Re Camera: The Bottom Line

For HTC's first big foray out of their touchscreen-driven comfort zone, the HTC Re is a decent effort. It's quirky, looks fun, and is honestly kind of fun to use. It's comfortable to hold, easy to control, and the companion apps significantly boost its capability and usefulness.
But despite all that, it all boils down to image quality, and here the Re simply doesn't impress. It's not horrible by any means, but when you consider what the competition is capable of producing, and that as a camera this device has just one job, and that's to take decent photos and videos, it's a bit disappointing.
At $199.99, this isn't a cheap toy. And for the Re to be truly useful and versatile, there's a whole contingent of accessories, including a bar mount for strapping to a bike of a scooter ($19.99), a clip mount for, well, clipping ($14.99), a suction mount ($24.99), and a charging stand ($39.99). Alas, there's no head-strap or helmet mount as of yet (I was able to capture some head-mounted video by slotting it down in the corner of my glasses, though that's certainly not optimal).
HTC's brought some innovation to the action, sorry, the "lifestyle" camera game. Though to what extent this is more a "lifestyle" camera than our always-on-us smartphones that typically take better photos and videos anyway, I'm not certain. As it stands now, the Re's a neat little device, though for the price I'm disappointed by the quality. Maybe a software update will improve things, or maybe the Re Camera 2 will feature improved image quality.
There are some really neat tricks up the RE Camera's little cylindrical body. But we're not certain they're really enough to garner HTC's tag line of being "A remarkable little camera."

Google to retire Earth API in December 2015

Google announced that it will be retiring the API for Google Earth on December 12, 2015, or a year from today. The decision to retire the Google Earth API comes after both Chrome and Firefox had dropped support for the NPAPI plugin framework, and Google also cites decreasing cross-platform support.
In a blog post, Google announced:
However, the Earth API is built on a technology called the NPAPI plugin framework, and recently, for security reasons, both Chrome and Firefox have announced they're removing support for this framework. These security reasons, combined with dwindling cross-platform support (particularly on mobile devices), had made building applications that leverage the Earth API untenable for developers.
You can read more about Google's decision in the source link below.
Source: Google

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Sony wants to assist you in unlocking the bootloader of your Xperia smartphone

After simplifying the process for unlocking the bootloader of Xperia smartphones, Sony is now providing clear instructions on how users can do so in a new video posted on its SonyXperiaDev channel.
While unlocking the bootloader allows you to install custom kernels and ROMs, Sony mentions that doing so would result in voiding your warranty, along with a host of other warnings about how you may even brick your device. Then again, what's life without a little risk?
For more details on how to unlock the bootloader of your Xperia smartphone, head to the link below.
Source: Sony Developer

Motorola reportedly looking to launch affordable 4G smartphones in India next year

Motorola will reportedly launch affordable 4G handsets in India sometime next year. In an interview withEconomic Times, Rick Osterloh, president and chief operating officer at Motorola Mobility, stated that the vendor will be very aggressive in the 4G segment in India in 2015.
The transition to 4G will be quick. Next year, we are going to be very aggressive in the 4G value proposition for end users. India is absolutely essential (for global turnaround). India and Brazil are countries that we think first when we think about our business because that's the future. The market here is growing incredibly quickly.
By offering affordable 4G-enabled handsets, Motorola will be looking to increase its market share in India. The vendor is currently the fifth largest in India in the smartphone segment, and is aiming to break into the top three in 2015.
Osterloh did not provide any further details with regards to a specific launch date or the kind of the hardware that will be on offer, but we should be hearing more as the new year rolls in. While 4G services are live in a few cities in the country, mainstream rollout is scheduled for early next year.

Galaxy S4 Google Play edition gets Lollipop with Android 5.0 update

The Samsung Galaxy S4 Google Play edition smartphone is getting its first taste of Lollipop. Google is now starting to push out the Android 5.0 Lollipop update to the Galaxy S4 GPe phone; this is the Android 5.0 update rather than the Android 5.0.1 that has been going out to other Google Play edition phones recently.
The Galaxy S4 GPe follows other Google Play edition devices in getting the OTA update, including theMoto GHTC One M8, and HTC One M7.