2 weeks ago

Samsung unveils 64-bit Exynos 8 Octa processor based on ARMv8 architecture


Samsung today unveiled the latest entry into its Exynos line of processors, the Exynos 8 Octa.

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2 weeks ago

BlackBerry Vienna — the second Android BB — is a candybar with more physical buttons?


You didn't think BlackBerry wasn't working on something old-school, did you? The Priv is all the rage among those who live and die smartphones for a living (though whether anyone's actually buying it remains to be seen, especially since BlackBerry is taking its sweet time shipping it) — and so it makes perfect sense that we'd start seeing an old-school candybar-style phone making the rounds at some point.

Enter the BlackBerry Vienna. That's likely a code name, and what you see here might well not be finished product. (We're hearing that a more squarish display might be in the cards, and we can't caution BlackBerry enough against physical buttons.) But these renders — which take us all the way back to the days of the Motorola Charm (yikes) — do show one interesting feature: Several textures.

Plus, ya know, that keyboard.

So it's early days yet. Maybe this'll be a thing, and maybe it won't. But for sure it'll get those excited to see BlackBerry back in the game talking again. The question may be whether a return to the form factor that pretty much everyone left behind years ago can make a resurgence.

Source: Crackberry

For more, hit up our BlackBerry Vienna forum!

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2 weeks ago

BlackBerry Priv cases are now available at ShopAndroid


Shield your new BlackBerry Priv with any of these durable OEM cases that range from the leather holster or hard case to flip cases and pocket pouches.

If rocking your BlackBerry Priv without any kind of protection is too risky for your tastes there are some sweet cases up for grabs that will certainly handle a drop. As we've seen with previous devices, BlackBerry manufactures high quality leather cases that look and feel great. Keeping an ideal slim form are their hard shell cases that add extra grip without bulking up the device. Take a look at the complete lineup of Priv cases available right now and for pre-order here at ShopAndroid.

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2 weeks ago

How to take a screenshot on the LG V10


If you picked up a shiny new LG V10, eventually you're going to want to capture what you see on the screen. Maybe you'll even want to share what you captured with someone else, or maybe you'll just want to put a copy of your backup Battlenet Authenticator codes in your Dropbox. Either reason is valid.

The good news is that there are two pretty easy ways to grab what you see on the screen and convert it into a nifty little image you can then share or deposit anywhere you like.

Let's have a look at both.

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2 weeks ago

Nexus Protect now available in Canada


Google announced today that Nexus Protect, its additional bit of insurance for the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P, is now available in Canada.

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2 weeks ago

Acer Predator 8 gaming tablet pre-orders go live for $300


As promised earlier this year, Acer is now taking pre-orders for its Predator 8 Android gaming tablet. The price for the Intel-based 8-inch tablet is $299.99.

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2 weeks ago

Quick comparison: BlackBerry Priv versus Galaxy Note 5


There are several fantastic Android phones available this year, and choosing between them is all about your personal needs.

While there's a large group of Android users in full support of price being the biggest factor in what phone you get, there are some high-end phones absolutely worth considering. Samsung's phones this year are unparalleled in display quality and offer a quality experience with features no one else is offering right now, and the popularity of the new Note 5 reflects a desire to enjoy that experience. BlackBerry is another manufacturer to offer a quality high-end experience with unique features, not the least of which is a physical keyboard on a vertical slider with their new Priv.

If you sit these two experiences side-by-side, you'll see there's no shortage of differences between Samsung and BlackBerry's approach to building a high-end phone. We know, because we did, and now you can see just how different they are.

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2 weeks ago

Google's About Me page lets you easily control the privacy of your personal information


Google has introduced a new online tool that allows you to easily control which bits of your personal information are publicly available across Google's services.

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2 weeks ago

Nexus 5X versus the original Nexus 5


With two years separating these LG-built Nexuses, does the new one match the legendary original?

At the time of its launch back at the end of 2013, the first Nexus 5 was a bit of a revelation. Following up on the inexpensive wonderment of the Nexus 4, LG cranked out another budget-friendly phone in partnership with Google that ended up being quite a hit with both average consumers and hardcore Android enthusiasts alike.

Two years later, we have the Nexus 5X, once again coming from a partnership of LG and Google, with naming and design clearly harkening back to the somewhat-inexplicable nostalgia toward the original Nexus 5. Understated design, simple materials and a "value greater than the sum of its parts" mindset have all carried over to this phone from its predecessor.

Have these two companies paired up to make a worthy successor to arguably the best-received Nexus of all time? We're going to explore just that.

Nostalgic hardware

"LG's second Ne​xus is the best phone you can buy for $350," said our review of the Nexus 5 back in 2013, and those are some big shoes to fill. Of course anyone who owned or used a Nexus 5 will know that that value didn't come from its outstanding hardware chops — far from it, as the Nexus 5 was squarely in the "passable" arena of external build quality. And really, it's the same story all over again on the Nexus 5X.

The hardware can be described as nostalgic ... or just dated.

The phones are nearly identical in materials and build, with soft touch coatings layered on completely plastic exteriors, dotted with buttons and ports where necessary. The only real identifiable differences are the symmetrical speaker grilles on the front, and change in camera design on the back, of the Nexus 5X. To be fair to the newer model the Nexus 5X does seem to exhibit a bit better fit-and-finish, though the improvement isn't dramatic — it's still just serviceable hardware, and it's expected to simply fade away and let you experience the software.

Perhaps one of the reasons we were all so willing to put up with the less-than-stellar build on the Nexus 5 was its size — even in 2013 and '14 a 5-inch display felt compact compared to the growing average screen size, and the Nexus 5 was very small even for its screen size. The Nexus 5X is compact for its day as well at 5.2-inches, though symmetrical bezels on the top and bottom have boosted its overall footprint a bit. It's still super easy to slip into a pants pocket or grasp in one hand, and that's important to a lot of people still.

Simply adding a little bit of physical size to the screen isn't the only thing that's changed here, though. Display technology has advanced notably in the past two years, and the LCD panel in place on the Nexus 5X is considerably nicer than the Nexus 5. Though both phones are the same 1920x1080 resolution the Nexus 5X is brighter and has more accurate colors, and doesn't exhibit the light bleeding from the edges of the screen often found on the Nexus 5.

Additions like the fingerprint sensor, USB-C and an improved display shouldn't be overlooked.

Internally, things have made a pretty predictable progression. The Nexus 5X has a Snapdragon 808 hexa-core processor, a step above the Snapdragon 800 quad-core in the 5, along with the expected bumps in things like radios and sensors. The questionable choices? RAM and base storage, which stick at 2GB and 16GB, respectively, two years later. We've also lost Qi wireless charging, which is a hard-to-explain loss. (If we had to guess, we'd blame thinness.)

The Nexus 5X has also taken a few more steps forward in the hardware department, namely with its absolutely wonderful fingerprint sensor, an improved speaker and jump to a USB-C port. Each add something extra to the hardware experience, and remind you that this is a modern phone when you set it alongside the Nexus 5.

Software and performance

When you set the two phones next to each other, both running Marshmallow of course, you actually can't immediately find a speed increase on the Nexus 5X over the Nexus 5 when just launching and thumbing through various apps. That's really a credit to the Nexus 5, which runs Android 6.0 at quite an amazing pace. Sure apps launch just a hair faster on the 5X, but it isn't something that'd be noticeable if you weren't running a side-by-side comparison.

Performance has only slightly improved, but battery life took a solid jump.

The Nexus 5X starts to pull away when it comes to multi-core performance, such as gaming or scrolling and interacting with heavy web pages and apps with lots of content. That's really what the newer generation of processor is going to give you by default, and in typical Nexus fashion we'd expect the Nexus 5X to only get faster in subsequent updates.

Where the differences really come out is in battery life. The Nexus 5X's 2700 mAh battery is over 15 percent larger than the Nexus 5's, but you're getting far more than that amount of longevity. Even a brand new Nexus 5 (i.e. one not run into the ground over two years) doesn't stand up to the full-day battery life available on the Nexus 5X, and if you've ever owned a Nexus 5 you know this is one of that phone's critical issues.

Now one of the main reasons why you may have had a Nexus 5 in the first place is software updates. Google (generally) does a pretty great job keeping its Nexus phones up to date for years after their release, but that well has to run dry at some point. We venture to guess the Nexus 5 is in for one more major release of Android — that'd be the N release, presumably — before being cut off, as we've just seen with the Nexus 4 only making it to Lollipop. Of course the Nexus 5X is two years further down the road and slated for multiple big Android releases in the future.

Camera prowess

For all of the similarities you can draw between the Nexus 5X and 5, the camera has taken a large jump in quality. Despite losing OIS (Optical Image Stabilization) on the Nexus 5X, we've gained resolution — 12.3MP up from 8MP — along with larger individual pixels and improved image processing. The end result is and important jump in camera quality, with the Nexus 5X being able to take better photos in a variety of situations.

You can't deny the solid improvement in camera quality, even though it's still a tad slow.

While the Nexus 5 pretty much required the use of HDR+ processing to get a good shot — and in the end could definitely take some great ones — that's no longer the case on the 5X, and your average non-HDR+ snapshot is pretty solid as well.

Much like the rest of the software experience the Nexus 5X hasn't dramatically improved the speed at which it captures photos, with HDR+ images still taking a while to process and general camera performance being simply good and not exceptional. But the bump in image quality can't be understated here, and while we wish OIS was still incorporated like on the Nexus 5 there can't be many complaints here — it's clear that Google has finally taken cameras seriously with the Nexus 5X (and Nexus 6P).

A steady (albeit unspectacular) progression

With two years separating the release of these phones, it's somewhat tough to evaluate how well they stack up against one another. The Nexus 5 was a standout offering for the end of 2013 (and through 2014 as well), and anyone who owned one is likely to agree. The Nexus 5X has improved solidly over its predecessor with a better screen, longer battery life, new hardware features and a markedly better camera, though we wouldn't blame you for expecting a larger progression in terms of build quality and overall performance.

And in the end, it's worth noting that the Nexus 5X retails for only $379 unlocked, just $30 more than the Nexus 5 debuted at when it was released. Keeping that it mind the rate of improvement seems understandable, though the Nexus 5X is at a bit of a disadvantage here as it has stiff competition of great inexpensive unlocked phones that the Nexus 5 never had to face. The 5X is also being pitted against another Nexus, the 6P, launched at the exact same time starting at just $120 more, which also raises our expectations for what it should be.

It's true, the Nexus 5X may not be the low-cost wonder that's a dead easy buying decision like the Nexus 5 was. But in attempting to fill the undeniably-large shoes of its predecessor, the 5X has done a pretty good job overall. This is a solid second take on a great original device, even if it falls short of being spectacular in itself.

Nexus 5X

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2 weeks ago

Skyscanner flights update brings improvements to search, ratings and more


Skyscanner, the popular global travel search engine, has released a huge update for its Android app, bringing improvements to search, ratings and more. No longer do you need to continually enter the same information when you need to repeat a search, as the app will now show you recent searches as well.

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2 weeks ago

Save big on the Nexus Player at Newegg, $45 for a limited time


If you are looking to save some cash on the Nexus Player, you won't want to miss this deal from Newegg. With the coupon code VCOSINGLE15 you can grab a Nexus Player for $45, a huge savings from its original $99 price point.

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2 weeks ago

Android is Transformed

Android Holo Era

In Part 4 of our 8-part series on the history of Android, we explore a transformative year filled with new types of Android devices, and an all-new design language.

As Android hit its stride on phones, a new tablet release brought the OS onto bigger screens, and a new design language took its look and feel to the next level.

By the end of 2010 Android had become a force to be reckoned with on smartphones. The following year would see Google's OS properly branch out into tablets with the slate-centric (but ill-fated) Honeycomb release before reuniting the phone and tablet branches in Ice Cream Sandwich, the biggest change to Android in its history thus far. With "ICS" came an entirely new visual style, and a stronger focus on design. And thanks to a partnership with Samsung, Android 4.0 debuted on a phone with a major technical milestone to its name.

In the fourth part of our Android History series, we'll track the progress of Android through its most transformative period yet — a year that saw the rise of Samsung through major launches like the Galaxy S2 and Galaxy Note, as well as huge changes to the core of the platform. Read on to discover the year that transformed Android beyond recognition.



Android 3.0 went by the codename "Honeycomb." (Or, to many Android followers, "the version of which we do not speak.")

In early-December 2010 Andy Rubin — in many ways considered to be the father of the Android we know today — strode onto the "D: Dive Into Mobile" stage in San Francisco with a little surprise tucked under his arm. A tablet from Motorola with a new version of Android on board — Android Honeycomb.

Motorola Xoom

Android tablets to this point mostly had been large displays with a phone's operating system hacked onto them. And perhaps that isn't really all that different than what we have today. But back then it just didn't feel right.

Honeycomb apps

This prototype tablet and the operating system it was to launch were meant to change that. A new "holographic" design language (more Blade Runner than Holo, perhaps). New notifications. Things were different. And we quickly began to wonder how well any of this would translate to phones once Honeycomb reached its full release.

And so we ended up with the Motorola Xoom. We might not have known it at the time, but its bizarre name was a harbinger of things to come. The tablet initially shipped with 3G data and not LTE — but Motorola would retrofit tablets if they were mailed back in. Adobe Flash wasn't supported at launch. Nor was the microSD card slot.

But moreover is that we waited and waited for the Honeycomb source code to be made open-source, like the rest of the Android releases. That day never came. Conventional wisdom tells us that Google recognized the trouble both with the design and the operation of Honeycomb, and that we'd end up with some serious FrankenPhones should it be released into the wild. (Likely there were licensing issues as well — that never really goes away.)

Honeycomb, and the hardware upon which it ran, felt like rushed products.

Honeycomb home screen

Nevertheless, all this gave the impression of an OS that was rushed to launch to prevent Apple from dominating the nascent tablet market.

And so Honeycomb very quickly began to die on vine. In fact, the Xoom was the only device ever released with Android 3.0. (Its slimmer Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 landed at Google I/O 2011, with Android 3.1 in tow.) The Xoom was updated to Android 4.0.x Ice Cream Sandwich before it was abandoned. Today, even the Android Platform Versions dashboard — which keeps a running tally of the percentage of active devices on various versions of the OS — has no mention of Honeycomb. (Versions with less than 0.1 percent distribution are squelched, but even Android 2.2 Froyo remained on the list as late as November 2015.)

Honeycomb is the forgotten version of Android. Good riddance? Probably. But it was an intriguing ride.

Verizon 4G

4G LTE in the USA

Gather 'round, children, as our elders tell the tales of a time before LTE. A time before it was possible to download megabyte after megabyte of cat gifs, at least not quickly. "Gangnam Style" was not yet a hit. And Wifi was your only real best for streaming anything. This was the time of "Faux Gee," a time in which U.S. mobile operators fought to be the first with the new "4G" wireless data speeds by affixing the label to the existing (though improved) HSPA+ technology.

But LTE was coming. They knew it, we knew it, and all we needed were some handsets so that we could properly get things going and forget about the losing WiMAX standard.

And in 2011, we got it — 4G LTE smartphones.

"Faux gee" no more — in 2011 real, actual 4G arrived on American shores.

Things actually kicked off at the Consumer Electronics Show that year in Las Vegas, where Verizon unleashed a flurry of LTE-capable devices. Four smartphones. A couple tablets. Plus laptops and a two hotspots for good measure. Our own Phil Nickinson was there in the audience. It was one of those press conferences that instills as much excitement for the new toys as it does fear for having just a few minutes to cover all of them.

The LG Revolution. HTC Thunderbolt. Samsung 4G LTE. (Yes, that really was its name at the time.) Motorola Droid Bionic. And the Samsung Galaxy Tab and Motorola Xoom. Android devices, all, and all with the fledgling 4G LTE data. Verizon was leading the way here, and it was coming out strong.

Verizon LTE

Things started out strong. Then they got weird.

That's when things got weird.

The first Android smartphone to sport LTE for those of us in the states landed not too much later, but not on Verizon proper. It was the Samsung Indulge, on Metro PCS. We'll forgive you for not really remembering that one.

The phones everyone was really waiting for were the Thunderbolt, Droid Bionic and the phone from Samsung that eventually became the Droid Charge.

And we waited. Then we waited some more. It was the longest spring ever, really. Rumored launch dates for each phone came and went. The HTC Thunderbolt was available March 17, 2011. The Droid Charge landed on April 28. And the Motorola Droid Bionic didn't hit until Sept. 8 — a little more than eight months after we first saw it at CES. (The smartphone nerds, as you might recall, were rabid.)

The first generation of LTE-capable smartphones were battery hogs.

But by the time the Droid Bionic finally made its appearance we'd already learned a harsh truth. The first generation of LTE-capable smartphones were battery hogs. Killing a phone by lunchtime wasn't out of the question in the slightest. You could almost see the life draining from the handset as it burned through all the bits and bytes. And this was back in the days before batteries got big. We're talking a mere 1400 mAh battery in the Thunderbolt — less than half of what you'll find in most of today's flagship smartphones, and that's without the benefit of the more efficient processors and software that we have today.

Phones didn't last long back then. But, damn, fast data was fast.

Peak HTC

Peak HTC

Going into 2011, HTC was king of the Android hill. The Taiwanese manufacturer's early bet on Google's OS had paid off handsomely, with monthly sales exceeding $1 billion and a prized position as the U.S.'s biggest smartphone manufacturer in the third quarter of that year.

The HTC Sense flip clock was a familiar sight in advertisements around the world. New handsets arrived to rave reviews. HTC was the public face of Android, and the de facto alternative to the iPhone.

The sheer success of HTC was perhaps best quantified by the events it was able to put on. To launch the Sensation XL — a relatively minor phone — and inaugurate its purchase of Beats Electronics, HTC took over London's Roundhouse venue for a press conference-slash-celebrity-filled party, with performances from will.i.am, Fedde Le Grand and Nero. In attendance were Dr. Dre, Lady Gaga and many other big names.

For a company that styled itself as "quietly brilliant," HTC was roaring.

For a company that styled itself as "quietly brilliant," HTC was roaring.

But there were already signs of the looming decline that would push HTC off the top spot and into its present role as an appreciated but increasingly niche contender. HTC's early tablet efforts, the Flyer and Jetstream, were met with a lukewarm reception. And intense competition from Apple's iPhone 4s and Samsung's Galaxy S2 and Galaxy Note started to hit HTC's bottom line, with revenues tapering off in November and December 2011.


HTC's foray into the tablet space largely ended with the Flyer. (The Jetstream only saw a very limited release on AT&T in the U.S., with an eye-watering $800 on-contract price.) Rumors of more HTC tablets being in development continued, and HTC Product and Service Director Graham Wheeler confirmed to Android Central that some had been in the works through the years, but they were discontinued.

"I've had tablets that've gone through early development stages within HTC but we decided didn't have that differentiating factor, and so we didn't bring them to market."

"At HTC we're obsessed with creating things that differentiate, that connect people in different ways", Wheeler says, "And even before the Nexus 9, I've had tablets that've gone through early development stages within HTC but we decided didn't have that differentiating factor, and so we didn't bring them to market."

HTC Flyer

In the years that followed, HTC remained primarily a smartphone manufacturer during a period when it was becoming increasingly difficult to get by just selling smartphones. As iPhone sales continued to soar, and Samsung poured money into marketing and differentiating technologies, HTC began to feel the squeeze. Only recently has the company started branching out into other areas, with devices like the RE camera and Vive virtual reality system, as well as the Nexus 9 tablet, built in collaboration with Google.

HTC's role in the smartphone industry may be greatly diminished from the glory days of 2011, but the company remains hopeful that new device categories, and a renewed focus on the mid-range with the new HTC One A9.

As HTC America President Jason Mackenzie puts it:

"We live in a world now that's super exciting, because you're going to have billions of products. And when you talk about wearables and stuff people immediately think about the wrist and something that's going to track their footsteps and help them get in shape. But everything is becoming connected. And so what we're going to be doing there as a brand is going back to our partner roots, and looking at who are big brands in key categories who aren't in wireless."

Galaxy S2

The Samsung Galaxy S2

If the original Galaxy S was Samsung getting serious about Android as a platform, the Galaxy S2 was the Korean company going all-in on smartphone hardware. Launched at Mobile World Congress 2011 in Barcelona, the Galaxy S2 saw Samsung leapfrog the competition with its own dual-core Exynos processor and a dazzling SuperAMOLED+ screen. With homegrown components inside its 2011 flagship, Samsung was on its way to becoming the most vertically-integrated of all Android phone makers.

And, having worked closely with Google on the Nexus S, Samsung was also able to bring more responsive performance than ever to its 2011 flagship. In an era when speedy performance on high-end phones wasn't guaranteed, the GS2 was silky smooth on Android 2.3 Gingerbread.

The Galaxy S2 lacked the curvaceous metal of rival HTC's Sensation phone. But it made up for this shortcoming by packing its plastic shell with an enormous amount of horsepower into a slim, lightweight handset, while matching or beating its competitor in camera and battery life.

What the GS2 lacked in fancy materials it made up for in sheer technological prowess.

The GS2's AMOLED display sported a relatively standard 800x480 resolution, but with brighter, more vivid colors than the LCDs of rivals. Coming from the ho-hum LCDs and OLED screens of the time, the GS2 was mind-blowingly bright and clear — a big pay-off differentiator for the Korean company.

The GS2's software was another story. TouchWiz was bright, cartoonish and a little weird, with vestiges of stock Android, Samsung's darker Galaxy S visual style and liberal use of primary colors. Even HTC, with its newfound obsession with 3D home screens and widgets, presented a more cohesive design than Samsung. But it was 2011, and Android skins as a whole were still kind of a mess.

Epic 4G Touch

Europe and Asia got the Galaxy S2 in spring of 2011, but the phone didn't arrive on U.S. shores until later in the year, and only then under a mess of slightly different, carrier-specific models on AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint. (Verizon snubbed the GS2 entirely in favor of the Galaxy Nexus.)

It's this U.S. carrier mash-up that gave us the AT&T Galaxy S2, the T-Mobile Galaxy S2, and the (gasp) Sprint Samsung Galaxy S2, Epic 4G Touch. Yes, the comma was part of the official branding.

Marketing sins aside, the slightly different U.S. GS2s were every bit as good as their international counterparts, and the greater branding symmetry laid the foundations for Samsung to bring one phone — the Galaxy S3 — to all four carriers in 2012.

Galaxy S retrospective

Samsung's Galaxy S is one of Android's most important brands. And in our Galaxy retrospective, we take a look at the first five phones in the Galaxy S lineage, showing the evolution of the series over its first five years.

More: Galaxy S retrospective

The ASUS Transformer: A Honeycomb laptop

2011 was a big year for Android tablets. Honeycomb — Google's closely held version of Android specifically designed for large screens — brought over features that allowed them to be more than just big phones. ASUS took this to heart when it released the EeePad Transformer.

ASUS Transformer

A "typical" Honeycomb-powered tablet in its raw form, the Transformer, err, "transformed" into a honest-to-goodness Android laptop when dropped into its $150 keyboard dock. The software, while still touch-friendly, became easy to use with a pointer, and the hardware keyboard was set up with the requisite Android shortcuts, making things easy to use and a fairly seamless transition.

Much of this was because the keyboard dock itself was designed to work specifically with Android. Bluetooth keyboards have been around forever, and they worked, but not as well as ASUS's dock with an integrated touchpad and mouse buttons. With no user setup required, things worked as expected, right out of the box. And they worked well. The Transformer's NVIDIA Tegra 2 processor handled most anything thrown at it, and the large battery — combined with the additional battery in the keyboard dock itself — kept you at it all day.

ASUS Transformer

Could Android be a viable laptop operating system?

A bigger question, and one that still remains is whether or not Android is usable as a laptop operating system. ASUS did a fine job integrating their hardware but you still found apps that required things like a swipe or a longpress, and many of those just didn't work with the Transformers touchpad. We still see those issues today, especially with Android TV. Oftentimes, compatibility doesn't really mean compatible.

Overall, the good outweighed the bad and ASUS (as well as others) continued to build "transformable" tablets with integrated keyboard docking solutions. Android is also getting better on a laptop, and we expect to see some great stuff from the upcoming Pixel C.

Just remember, ASUS did it first, and it did a pretty good job with it.


The Fantastic World of Stereoscopic 3D Smartphones!

As TV makers started to push glasses-free 3D sets in a big way, it was only a matter of time before smartphone manufacturers hopped on the bandwagon. And as mid-2011 rolled around we saw the very first (and very last) wave of stereoscopic Android phones and tablets.

Optimus 3D

LG unveiled the first 3D Android phone, the Optimus 3D, that spring. Using a similar approach to glasses-free 3D TVs, you'd have to hold the phone a specific distance from your eyes to see the effect (and lose half the display resolution in the process.) As with other portable 3D gadgets like the Nintendo 3DS, eye strain would become an issue with extended use, and image quality was worse than rival 2D-only panels.

Later in 2011, HTC launched the EVO 3D — the successor to the highly popular EVO 4G — on Sprint in the U.S., before giving it a limited European release. The EVO boasted a slightly higher resolution and improved battery life compared to LG's effort, with the rest of the experience mirroring the otherwise solid HTC Sensation.

LG's VP of smartphone product planning, Dr. Ramchan Woo, says the push towards 3D handsets didn't come from any single source, but rather a coming together of technologies.

"It came from many directions. The chipset manufacturers came up with the idea of supporting a stereoscopic camera, and also LG Innotek, they had the camera technology."

And the enthusiasm for 3D in LG's TV business was also catching, Woo says.

As with TVs, the real problem with 3D wasn't the technological implementation but rather the lack of content.

But as was the case in the TV space, the real problem with 3D wasn't the technological implementation but rather the content. Or lack thereof. YouTube supported 3D, but there wasn't much to watch. A few Android games got in on the action. And of course you could view 3D pics you'd already taken with the phones' dual rear cameras. But that was about it.

Neither sold particularly well, and thus 3D phones, a categorically failed experiment, were consigned to history. Instead of stereoscopic gimmickry, astronomical display resolutions and ever-growing pixel densities would push smartphone display tech forward in the years to come

Google Bldg 44

Updates and Alliances

Android Central's Jerry Hildenbrand still remembers sitting in the audience at the Google I/O 2011 keynote, and trying not to snicker when Google announced the Android Update Alliance. If you're not familiar, it was a "promise" made by Google, the people who make our Android phones, and the carriers that sell them to us that the version of Android running on the phone would be updated (if the hardware was capable) for 18 months.

Of course, that didn't happen. It couldn't have happened, and because of the way Android is distributed, it likely never will happen.

The Android Update Alliance was doomed from the start, because it depended on people holding true to promises they made before they started counting the money.

Android is not like Apple's iOS, where it's one company designing hardware and designs software in tandem. Android is not like Windows, where anyone can make the hardware, but they have to buy the software as a package from Microsoft. Android is different, because it's nothing but a few million lines of source code given away for free.

Android device wall

Google has no control over who can download the Android source code, change it into something hardly recognizable, and build it to run on a phone they have made. What Google can do is tell the company that downloaded and built Android that if it wants, it can install Google's apps and services (also free) as long as the devices meet a few compatibility standards. Many companies recognize the value in this and toe the line. Others, like Amazon or Barnes & Noble, shrug off the offer and do their own thing. What Google can't or won't do is come back a few months later and say "You didn't update to the latest version, so give us our stuff back."

So the Android Update Alliance was doomed from the start, because it depended on people holding true to promises they made before they started counting the money. Companies make money selling new phones with new version on them. They don't make any money spending time and resources on older models that they've already been paid for.

... But the Update Alliance was important, because it started a big conversation about Android's update problem.

But the Android Update Alliance was important, because it got people talking about — and expecting — various Android vendors and manufacturers to keep up-to-date software on their phones. The companies involved, including Google, know that people are expecting timely updates so they are slowly changing how the whole updating thing operates. Things like breaking apps out of the system and putting them in Google Play are a direct result of companies knowing how much we care about being current. The same goes for Google finally getting serious about keeping phones it doesn't directly sell secure with a new monthly patch system that vendors can easily build into their own flavor of Android.

It also got companies like Motorola and Samsung to send out major updates too quickly, and that turned out to be pretty bad. That was part of the learning curve, and hopefully a part we're over.

In the end, the whole update alliance thing didn't pan out as advertised. That doesn't mean it was a bad idea or that companies wanted to break their promises, though. It was one of those ideas that looked great when it was devised, but almost impossible to follow through in the ways we thought it should. Instead, we got some well planned and thoughtful changes to make keeping current — and keeping more secure — easier.

Steve Jobs, 1955-2011

On October 5, 2011, the day after the introduction of the iPhone 4s, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs passed away following a battle with pancreatic cancer. A towering figure in computing, Jobs brought the Mac, iPod, iTunes, iPhone and iPad to market. He also was a staunch opponent of Android, believing it to be a "stolen product." Regardless of brand loyalties and product choices though, there's no questioning the impact that the Jobs-led Apple made on the world.

More: Steve Jobs on iMore

Ice Cream Sandwich and Holo

By late 2011 it was time for Android's biggest upgrade to date, reunifying the smartphone and tablet branches of the OS and defining its look, feel and technical underpinnings for the coming years.

It was clear that Honeycomb's "holographic" UI would be the shape of things to come, and at the Android 4.0 launch event in Hong Kong, Android design guru Matias Duarte (hired the previous year), laid out the thinking behind the new "Holo" design language: "We asked ourselves, for the first time, what is the soul of Android?"

Ice Cream Sandwich

"While people liked Android and needed Android, they didn't love Android."

"While people liked Android and needed Android, they didn't love Android," Duarte told attendees. Android's new Holo design philosophy was intended to remedy that, creating a more consistent, more modern interface with clean typography and a flatter aesthetic. The "Roboto" typeface was introduced, designed for high-density displays like the Galaxy Nexus's state-of-the-art 720p panel. And Google broke with the stale grey-white gradients of the past, and the skeuomorphic woods and leathers of iOS at the time. Buttons, controls and icons in ICS felt a little bit futuristic, but less overtly sci-fi than Honeycomb's seemingly Tron-inspired UI.

Google's designers wanted to create something relevant and emotional, while eliminating "lines and boxes and unnecessary decoration." And the resulting product was something that felt more like the computer of the future than any desktop operating system. Instead of buttons and borders, Holo brought us "delightful flourishes," like a flash of blue energy when scrolling to the end of a list, or a glowing outline when re-arranging icons.

The start of an important design journey for Android.


Android 4.0 also brought common design elements to Google's own apps, like the Action Bar and overflow menus, some of which have stuck around to the present day. These design traits would evolve over time, but the big deal with ICS and Holo was that there were actually design guidelines to follow. No longer would the Android OS and Android apps be this hodgepodge of unfamiliar interfaces. Holo helped bring everything into a cohesive whole.

There were big functional changes too. Like tablets, Android phones got on-screen buttons, and a dedicated key for switching between recent apps — a nod to the fact that more and more of us were becoming heavy multitaskers on our phones. And notifications became even more useful, with time-saving actionable buttons.

Android 4.0 provided the building blocks that phone makers would use to create the Android devices of 2012 and beyond. And while not all of the beautiful new "Holo" UI would make it through to end-users, it was the start of an important design journey for Google and Android.

Galaxy Nexus

The Samsung Galaxy Nexus

Such a major new version of Android demanded a new Nexus device, and in 2011 Google partnered with Samsung once again, giving us the Galaxy Nexus. The phone was unveiled along with Android 4.0 at a media event in Hong Kong, having been delayed a week (and moved out of a San Diego tech show) due to the passing of Steve Jobs.

As Nexus launches go, this one was unusual for a whole bunch of reasons. Firstly, the name: "Galaxy Nexus" put a big Samsung stamp on the Nexus line, and that was reflected in the manufacturer's prominent role at the joint launch event. That was surely no accident — the "GNex," as fans nicknamed it, was made possible by Samsung's homegrown technologies, including its revolutionary (for the time) 720p HD SuperAMOLED display. Samsung execs also took pride in the phone's thinness, lightness and sleek curves, traits which we'd see carry over to the Galaxy S line the following year.

The Android 4.0 user experience was so vastly superior to anything Android had previously offered, and that's what made the Galaxy Nexus, despite other hardware foibles.

Ice Cream Sandwich statue

And it was that crazy-dense display, combined with Google's streamlined, beautiful software, that made the Galaxy Nexus feel like a futuristic phone. Even though the camera wasn't the greatest, and the chassis was decidedly plastic, the user experience of Android 4.0 -- so vastly superior to anything Android had previously offered — shone through.

But like the previous two Nexus phones, this was a collaborative effort. Speaking at the launch event in Hong Kong, Android founder Andy Rubin told press, "the engineering teams lived in one building when we built this product. We were really one team." Samsung's own processor wasn't used this time around though -- instead, the "team" opted for the more open-source-friendly Texas Instruments OMAP 4460 chip. Ironically that'd be the eventual downfall of the GNex, as lack of support from TI (which had since exited the mobile processor space), scuppered its chances of being upgraded beyond Jelly Bean.

The Galaxy Nexus launch did not go smoothly on either side of the Atlantic.

The retail launch of the last Samsung Nexus phone was also beset by issues. The UK and Europe got it first, but supplies were short, and retailers like the (now defunct) Phones4u gouged launch-day customers with a £100 price hike for the first 24 hours of availability.

Over in the United States, things got even messier. Verizon Wireless would exclusively carry a 4G LTE-enabled Galaxy Nexus for the first few months of its availability, and the clash of competing corporate interests ultimately scuppered the GNex's chances of gaining a foothold in the U.S. Although Google had successfully negotiated the Nexus's place on Verizon — a deal which also led to the country's biggest operator passing up the Galaxy S2 — there was friction between the two.

As one knowledgable insider tells Android Central, "Verizon didn't like the lack of control over the device. They are big on revenue from [preinstalled] applications, hence the delays and the lack of resources to certify it."

"When [the Galaxy Nexus] got out there, [Verizon] stores were told to pretty much ignore it."

Verizon also saw the Galaxy Nexus as a potential rival to its own super-popular Droid line among power users, our source says, and thus "when it got out there, stores were told to pretty much ignore it." Ultimately, after being delayed past Black Friday and into mid-December, the Verizon Galaxy Nexus was met with a lukewarm response among all but hardcore tech enthusiasts.

What's more, those who bought a Verizon Nexus expecting speedy updates — a hallmark of the Nexus brand — would be even more disappointed. For all their waiting for the phone's release, they'd have to wait even longer for subsequent updates beyond Android 4.0.2. The Verizon GNex was relegated to "just another phone" status.

Eventually the Galaxy Nexus would go on sale in the form of an HSPA+-only version for the U.S., sold directly by Google. Until then, fans on T-Mobile and AT&T would be forced to pony up extra cash for an imported European model.

Samsung Galaxy Note

The Samsung Galaxy Note: Enter the 'Phablet'

At the IFA 2011 tradeshow in Berlin, Germany, Samsung unloaded a slew of Honeycomb-powered tablets ... and a quirky new smartphone.

A quirky new really, really big smartphone.

The Note seemed ridiculous at the time. Now it just seems obvious.

This was the first Samsung Galaxy Note, a phone with a 5.3-inch display in 16:10 aspect ratio, and one of the first HD SuperAMOLED displays to hit the market. And the big screen wasn't just for decoration — Samsung expected Note customers to use the extra screen real estate for work as well as entertainment. Hence the inclusion of the Wacom-powered "S Pen," a pressure-sensitive stylus that, unlike HTC's Flyer tablet, didn't require any battery of its own. Instead, it simply docked into the side of the device when not in use.

Galaxy Note event

The idea was that younger consumers would use it for creative pursuits, while business types would appreciate the extra space for emails and productivity. It's debatable whether that paradigm really played out in the real world, or whether both camps simply wanted to see more of what they were already doing. In any case, the Galaxy Note was a surprising success.

While many dismissed the Note at the time — and, looking back at our review, we weren't entirely convinced either — this phone was the start of something big. Samsung had pre-empted the trend towards enormous phone displays, and in so doing established itself as the go-to brand for big-screened handsets.

It'd also driven us to conjure up the cringe-worthy term "phablet" to describe this emerging category of device. But we suppose you've got to take the rough with the smooth.

Samsung Unpacked

NEXT: The Rise of Samsung

With Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich released, Android tablets hitting store shelves and larger phones like the Galaxy Note blurring the line between handset and tablet, the mobile space of late 2011 was more diverse than ever before. But there was even more to come.

In the next installment of our Android History series, we'll see how device makers adapted to the Android 4.0 era, and how Google took on one of Android's biggest technical hurdles with the next release, Jelly Bean. And we'll look at what made 2012 the year of Samsung, the Korean giant that was slowly but surely conquering the Android world.

READ PART 5: The Rise of Samsung


Words: Phil Nickinson, Alex Dobie and Jerry Hildenbrand
Design: Derek Kessler and Jose Negron
Series Editor: Alex Dobie


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