While Google Hangouts has a few flaws, there are countless things it does right. Besides group messaging, video calling is probably one of the most compelling features of Google’s new messaging app. We’ve taken video calls out for a spin a few times and it’s worked flawlessly in nearly every situation. The only time the service did not work was when we tried a video call with a friend who owns an iPhone on AT&T. We could take a jab at Apple, but the issue lies with AT&T’s policies regarding video calling on its 3G and 4G network.
As of now, Apple, Samsung and Blackberry are the only companies which have approved pre-installed applications which can operate on AT&T’s Mobile Share or Tiered plans. But things are about to change. Starting in mid-June, those same applications will also be able to make video calls on unlimited LTE plans with all pre-loaded video chat apps gaining access to AT&T’s network by the end of this year.
It’s nice to see AT&T change its stance on video calling, but we’re sure you’d agree that they’re a little late to the game.
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For video chat apps that come pre-loaded on devices, we currently give all OS and device makers the ability for those apps to work over cellular for our customers who are on Mobile Share or Tiered plans. Apple, Samsung and Blackberry have chosen to enable this for their pre-loaded video chat apps. And by mid-June, we’ll have enabled those apps over cellular for our unlimited plan customers who have LTE devices from those three manufacturers.
Throughout the second half of this year, we plan to enable pre-loaded video chat apps over cellular for all our customers, regardless of data plan or device; that work is expected to be complete by yearend.
Today, all of our customers can use any mobile video chat app that they download from the Internet, such as Skype.
Last night, Google’s Vic Gundotra took to Google Plus to write that he was having a hard time falling asleep because he was excited about something that was set to happen today. This morning, like clockwork, a huge update for the Google Plus Android app was released with photography, location and discovery enhancements, putting the app on par with the website which was revamped at Google I/O.
Probably the biggest changes in the new Google Plus app for Android are the photography features. At Google I/O, Google introduced several useful new utilities for Plus that made your photos look better, and made them easier to share. The new Android app focuses on three major areas of photography, and automates them all.
The first area is editing. Google Plus’ new auto enhance feature does just what it sounds like. By tweaking a few simple things, like contrast or adding some smoothing, your photos are automatically improved when uploaded to Google Plus. You don’t have to leave them auto-enhanced, but in my experience, Google Plus actually does a fantastic job. Also related to photo editing, the new Plus app includes built-in Snapseed editing, for those that want more control over the changes made to their photos.
The second photography related feature is auto highlight. After a long day of photo taking, Google Plus will go through the photographs that have been auto-uploaded to Plus, and find the best ones, making it easier to share highlights. Auto highlight is a neat feature, especially for those days when you’ve taken a ton of pictures, and don’t have anything in particular you want to share.
The last major photography feature is auto awesome. Auto awesome goes through your photos, and makes things like animations and panoramas, which Google apparently considers Awesome. Until we spend more time with auto awesome, we won’t know just how awesome it really is. It could certainly turn out to be a neat feature.
Outside of photography features, the new Google Plus app has made some changes to location sharing, and content discovery within the app. With the locations tab in the new Plus app, if users are sharing their location, you’ll see exactly where they are, in either a list view, or a handy map view. To bolster content discovery, Google has added auto-hashtags to posts from the Android app now. With posts being auto-tagged, more of Google Plus will be categorized, making it easier to find content relevant to your interests.
There have been some issues in rolling out the update to Google Plus, but rest assured, they are being worked on. Once you get your hands on the new update, let us know how you like it either in the comments, or on the Android and Me Google Plus page.
Welcome back to Android Gaming Weekly, our weekly recap to focus on new releases. We still plan to cover upcoming releases and games we’re playing, but this column is dedicated to new games you can install and start playing right now. Check out our top picks and let us know if you have any suggestions for next week in the comments below.
Sonic The Hedgehog
Description: The Sonic game which started it all is now optimized for mobile devices! Race at lightning speeds across seven classic zones as Sonic the Hedgehog. Run and spin through loop-de-loops as you collect rings and defeat enemies on your mission to save the world from the evil Dr. Eggman. This re-mastered mobile version of the SEGA Genesis classic features the full “Sonic The Hedgehog” game, plus exclusive features.
You Don’t Know Jack
Description: Download the Spike TV Video Game Awards’ “Social Game of the Year” to your Android phone or tablet. You Don’t Know Jack is the #1 game in the world that contains both fart noises and trivia about Shakespeare. This free-to-play mobile version includes hundreds of full episodes of everybody’s favorite quiz show trivia game, with new, topical episodes added every week!
Description: Carmageddon is the original freeform driving sensation, where pedestrians (and cows!) equal points, and your opponents are a bunch of crazies in a twisted mix of automotive killing machines. The game features anarchic drive-wherever-you-like gameplay and over-the-top surreal comedy violence. It’s the racing game where racing is for wimps.
Daddy Was A Thief
Description: Bank staff is usually friendly and polite. This time something went wrong! Gain as much money as you can! Hurry! Everyone try to catch you, but you are clever, aren’t you? Find combo speed boosts, shortcuts and grab power-ups to survive.
Description: Do you have the drive to survive? Americans have two favourite things; cars and guns. And no stinking zombie apocalypse is going to change that. Take control of your car to see how far you can get and how many zombies you can kill – and if you can actually escape with your brains intact. Four cars are available to get you to the final fort, each capable of holding progressively more loot. Ranging from the simple Redneck pick-up and the classy Hunter and to the tough Sledge and frankly-silly Harvester, you’ll enjoy throwing these bodged-up jalopies at the lines of the undead.
Can Knockdown 3
Description: Challenge your aim, hone your precision, and push your puzzle-solving skills to the next level in this insanely addictive game. This installment takes the critically acclaimed Can Knockdown series to all new heights- the physics-based carnival gameplay you know and love- and adds unique puzzles, adrenaline-charged challenges, and even more explosive action!
Description: CrossCraze is a classic crossword puzzle game where you place letters on a board to form interlocking words. Play against the computer or with a friend. Frustrated by the time-wasting and cheating found on online game apps such as Scrabble, Words With Friends and Wordfeud? CrossCraze lets you choose a computer opponent to match your own skill level. It will never cheat, never take more than a moment to move and never abandon a game before the end. How refreshing!
Toy Defense 2
Description: Toy Defense 2 is the long-awaited sequel to the multi-million-download hit Toy Defense! Set in WW2, this action/strategy game is packed with more levels, amazing new features, a big selection of fighting units for each world, and more intense action than ever. Take part in various missions in a range of theaters of war, from the picturesque beaches and forests of Normandy to the deserts of northern Africa. The most epic battles of WW2 await you!
Description: Enter the dungeon and hack-n-slash your way towards immortality! The highly anticipated dungeon crawler arrives on mobile! Evil has awoken from its slumber. Our heroes must rise and send the forces of darkness back to the depths of hell. Choose from three heroic classes: Templar, Archer, or Mage. Equipped with enhanced, intuitive controls, you will experience the game like never before!
Attack of the Wall St. Titan
Description: A giant robot, built to destroy and subjugate the masses. Reprogrammed by an anonymous hacktivist to turn on your evil corporate creators, you are the Wall Street Titan. Occupy Wall Street with a giant robot fist! Selected by Indie Game Magazine as one of the best mobile arcade games of 2012!
One common gripe with the Samsung Galaxy S 4 is the fact that it contains an excessive amount of TouchWiz bloatware that the phone often suffers as a result. Many were pleased with the previous Samsung Galaxy Nexus and hoped that Samsung would continue to be a part of the Nexus program. While that prospect never seemed to materialize as LG stepped up with the Nexus 4, we heard a few days ago that Google will launch the Samsung Galaxy S 4 through the Play Store.
The special Google Play Store version of the S 4 will run stock Android 4.2 and receive updates straight from Google. The benefits of such a stock phone is fast updates, a stable and clean Android build, and easy to unlock and run custom ROMs. The only disappointing part of the announcement for me is the fact that Google will sell it for $649 through the Play Store, and not $299 or $349 as the Nexus 4 costs.
In any event, the off contract Galaxy S 4 that operates on AT&T and T-Mobile’s LTE network will be available on June 26 for $649 off contract.
Rumors suggested that a white Nexus 4 might appear at Google IO, and they were right. We obtained the elusive white Nexus 4 and we can confirm it’s a carbon copy of the previous Nexus 4, just with a different color casing. That might not be the most exciting news, but we also learned the white Nexus 4 would hit the Google Play store on June 10th and it would be accompanied with Android 4.3.
Most of us expected Google to announce Android 4.3 at yesterday’s big keynote, but it sounds like the next version of Android was intentionally bumped from the show. Sources at Google say they wanted to demonstrate their ability to roll out new services and APIs without upgrading the Android firmware, and it appears they made their point.
Not much is known about Android 4.3, but we expect it to be a rather minor update. The developer API level should be bumped up to version 18, with support for Bluetooth Smart (and possibly OpenGL ES 3.0), and that’s about all we know. We are unable to confirm this, but we assume that Android 4.3 will be pushed out to all current Nexus devices (4, 7, 10) when it goes live next month.
The Nexus 4 might not be the most exciting device on the block anymore, but it’s still a damn good value with a starting price of $299.
Google used this year’s developer conference to announce a ton of new features and services available now and coming soon for Android. There is a new Maps experience; Google Play has been updated; Google Now is set to include more information; Google game services will enhance your gaming experience across phones, tablets and platforms; Google Play Music All Access will completely change how music works on your Android device. And yet, there was no new version of Android announced. That’s no coincidence.
Google’s answer to fragmentation has been fully realized at Google I/O 2013. Google has developed around the vastly different configurations of Android, breaking down the various walls keeping Google from updating core apps and services that really shape your Android experience. If you were to break down the most important aspects of Android that dictate user experience, you could easily include everything Google updated today, without having to actually update Android. That means that not only will Nexus users experience Android the way Google wants you to, but HTC One, Samsung Galaxy S4, Sony Xperia Z and Oppo Find 5 users will as well.
Yes, the way text messages, certain aspects of notifications, the lock screen and home screen may be entirely different on various devices, but that’s not fragmentation — that’s choice. When every Android user, despite what phone or tablet they use, can enjoy the same Google Play store, the same Maps app, the same music services, the same Gmail experience and the same robust Google Search features, there’s no way you can say Android has a fragmentation problem. In the past there has been system compatibility problems, keeping some users on older versions of Android from accessing certain features, but that is getting better every day. And Google has set up a system that will get rid of that problem in the future.
In order to implement the changes to Android that Google wanted to today, they didn’t have to update Android. That, in itself, is the most important piece of news to come out of Google I/O 2013. To see how far Android has come in the last year, you don’t need to look further than that.
NVIDIA surprised everyone at CES with the announcement of their mobile gaming device Project SHIELD, and today they finally revealed the launch details. Fans who signed up to receive updates by clicking “Notify Me” on the SHIELD website will have an exclusive opportunity to pre-order starting today for $349. Pre-order for the general public will open on May 20th, and retail launch partners include Newegg, Gamestop, Micro Center, and Canada Computers. NVIDIA said SHIELD will ship “in June,” but they did not provide a specific date.
We were told that SHIELD would not be cheap, but the $349 retail price seems like a good value compared to other high-end Android devices with 5-inch displays. SHIELD will be the first product to ship with NVIDIA’s new Tegra 4 chip, so it will be the fastest Android device we have ever seen. The open platform gaming system also has access to one of the largest ecosystems of games, including NVIDIA Tegra Zone, Google Play, and Steam (with optional GeForce game streaming).
Here’s what you’ll get:
- Tegra 4 – The world’s fastest mobile processor, Tegra 4, delivers rich graphics and unbeatable performance thanks to 72 GPU cores, four CPU cores, and 2GB of RAM
- Console-grade controller – Precise control – thanks to dual analog joysticks, a full-sized D-Pad, left and right analog triggers, full-sized bumpers and A/B/X/Y buttons
- Multi-touch Display – 5-inch, 720p retinal multi-touch display for high-fidelity visuals
- Integrated Speakers – Custom, bass reflex, tuned port audio system – we think this is SHIELD’s sleeper feature
- Wi-Fi – 802.11n 2X2 MIMO game-speed Wi-Fi for seamless game streaming
- Pure Android – Latest Android Jelly Bean operating system from Google, for access to Android games and apps
- There’s more – We put into SHIELD everything we would want in a premium mobile gaming device… 16 GB memory, GPS, BlueTooth 3.0, a mini-HDMI output, micro-USB 2.0, a microSD storage slot, an 3.5 mm stereo headphone jack… see the full spec sheet, here.
In addition to the launch details, NVIDIA also revealed 5 cutting-edge games that will rock SHIELD.
It will be interesting to see how the SHIELD sells since it is such a unique Android product. Dedicated game consoles seems to be on the decline, but the SHIELD offers the pure stock Android experience and it is capable of so much more.
For more details about SHIELD, head over to the official site and check out NVIDIA’s YouTube channel where they have a ton of hands-on videos.
Based on the retail price and what you know of SHIELD, how many of you plan to pre-order this device?
Only two months ago, Andy Rubin stepped down from his position with Android, and head of Chrome, Sundar Pichai, took the reigns. Since then Pichai has been quiet, undoubtedly hard at work organizing Google’s upcoming developer conference, Google I/O. Not too busy, though, to sit down with Wired for his first interview since taking the position of Android lead, sharing his thoughts on where Android and its partners stand and setting some expectations for Google I/O.
With Google I/O right around the corner, speculation as to what we’ll see has been all over the board. From new hardware to new apps, services and an updated version of Android, Pichai opened up to Wired on what to expect from Google I/O and much more. Speaking on I/O specifically, Pichai said:
It’s going to be different. It’s not a time when we have much in the way of launches of new products or a new operating system. Both on Android and Chrome, we’re going to focus this I/O on all of the kinds of things we’re doing for developers, so that they can write better things. We will show how Google services are doing amazing things on top of these two platforms.Sundar PichaiGoogle
In other words, keep your expectations for the developer conference realistic. We still expect to see Google Play Games, whatever Babble turns out to be, a new version of Jelly Bean and possibly a new Nexus 7, but Key Lime Pie, the Nexus 5 or any other similar new hardware will most likely be saved for the fall. It’s important to remember that I/O is a developer event first and foremost; anything Google does for its developers directly impacts the quality of software we all use today. Even if nothing major is announced (we still think what’s on deck is going to be a big deal), there’s still plenty to be excited about.
Pichai also talked about various Android partners, like Samsung and Amazon, and where he sees Android heading. On Samsung, Pichai says that, much like Motorola, they are just another partner. He says that Android’s relationship with Samsung “gets played up in the press a lot.” What Android and Google may say of Samsung’s dominance in private is one thing, but publicly, they’re “a great partner to work with.”
He said similar things about Amazon and Facebook, making it clear that while Google would prefer for everyone to work on one version of Android, they aren’t looking to prevent it. Google wants developers big and small to be able to utilize Android to the fullest. Whether that’s simply making hardware for stock Android or creating new experiences with Facebook Home, that flexibility is important. But so is creating a consistent consumer experience, which could translate to changes down the road.
Finally, there’s where Pichai sees Android heading. There’s been a lot of talk on whether or not we’ll eventually see Chrome and Android merge. That doesn’t appear to be likely any time soon, and it doesn’t need to be. You don’t need a complete merging of platforms with the flexibility of the cloud and web. Google has created an ecosystem that spans devices and platforms. Thanks to services like Drive and Gmail, all your files are already available on whatever platform you choose. Android and Chrome don’t need to be merged into one operating system to create a relatively seamless experience between the two. Pichai will be embracing this separate but united approach, a move he thinks will be best for developers and consumers alike.
We expect to hear much more from Pichai on everything Google at I/O in two days.
Ever find yourself digging through a mountain of apps in an effort to stay up to date on all your latest news and social media feeds? HTC’s newest commercial for the HTC One highlights BlinkFeed and its ability to display “all of your favorite content, news, networks and more, streamed live to your home screen.” HTC has already taken a stab at promoting BlinkFeed in the UK, but most seemed to agree that the first attempt was a bit creepy.
The two US commercials for BlinkFeed take a much lighter approach, showing smartphone users digging through their home screens while an HTC One user is sitting back, enjoying Blinkfeed. Personally, I favor the first clip below and love the “dig gopher style” line, but both ads do a decent job of highlighting the HTC One. I’m still not 100% sold on BlinkFeed, but I have a half dozen friends who own the HTC One and seem to really enjoy the fact that all of their social media content can be accessed without the need to open an app.
What’s your take on the new HTC One BlinkFeed ads? Do you think HTC’s marketing approach is hitting the right notes?
HTC, UK, US
We’ve been hearing faint whispers that a new Nexus 7 will be announced at Google I/O this year. Until today, details surrounding the device had been surprisingly scarce, especially considering that Google I/O is almost upon us. Word is now in from KGI securities analyst Mingchi Kuo that Google and ASUS will be teaming up to announce a new Nexus 7 next week.
According to Mingchi Kuo, Google I/O will indeed be the venue for the unveiling of the next Nexus 7, set to be released in June or July for $199. We’ve heard previous rumors that the next Nexus 7 will come from ASUS and feature a spec bump in nearly every area; if Kuo is right, that’s exactly what we’re looking at.
Kuo has detailed the new Nexus 7 as coming with a 7-inch LTPS 1920 x 1200 display, a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro (much like the one found in the Nexus 4), Qi wireless charging, a 5-megapixel rear camera, an HD front-facing camera, NFC, a 4,000mAh battery and Android 4.3.
Normally, we wouldn’t take anything an analyst says to heart, but Kuo is considered well-connected and has been right on several rumor reports in the past. There’s a good chance what you hear today will come true. If that is the case, what do you think of the upcoming Nexus 7 refresh?