Android packing

The first six months were a doozy — full of new hotness, DOA products, and a brush with celebrity​​

Professionally speaking, you've got to love the week between the Christmas and New Year holidays. There's almost zero actual news, basically making it a week off from the usual grind and a chance to relax a tad before the craziness that is CES. It's also the annual time to look back on the year that was. Cliche? Sure. But it's also a practical way to fill virtual space.

And looking back is important, I think, especially in a business that moves as quickly as this one does. It's so easy to move on to the next hotness and ignore a good thing that's still available. It's easy to miss the forest for the trees, if not a single branch. Perspective can be difficult to maintain.

Matthew Panzarino said it well last week on Twitter: "something I think about a lot: the tech ‘fog of war’ which causes bloggers, writers to think in 90 day chunks." That's not unique to writing about tech, but the point stands. The carriers and manufacturers are playing chess, while everyone else is busy playing checkers. 

Something to consider when you see folks arguing that a great phone can't possibly be using a processor that's "200 less" or some such nonsense.

And with that, a look back on 2013, as I saw it ...

(Update: And here's Part 2, with the second six months of the year!)

January 2013: NVIDIA and Pebble rule what's left of mobile at CES ...

CES 2013

Next week will my fifth Consumer Electronics Show, and I can't remember any as busy as my first in 2010. That's probably because I had no idea what I was getting into, but there's no denying that there just aren't as many major product announcements for mobile at the event.

Still, CES 2013, nearly a year ago now, was big for NVIDIA, with the introduction of Tegra 4 and the Shield gaming system

Shield is still a pretty cool product — a powerful, handheld, all-in-one gaming platform. And the price drops it saw after its release didn't hurt. But NVIDIA blew the marketing, I believe, relying too much on blogs and not enough (or any?) on traditional advertising. And for as cool as Shield may be, the 5-inch display was just too small for the sort of graphics-rich games it's intended for.

CES also was the coming-out party for Pebble. It took the smartwatch a few more months to finally get onto a significant number of wrists, but for sure you can count it as the beginning of the wearable era.

Feb. 19, 2013: The HTC One is announced

HTC One

Finally, the first big phone of the year. The HTC One (codenamed M7) broke new ground both in hardware and software. On the physical side, it was a large (but not huge), sleek phone, milled from a single piece of aluminum and a pair of stereo speakers actually facing forward. I still can't say enough about those speakers. They change the way you use a phone. 

The HTC One was a bit complicated on the software front. The new Sense 5 was a bit toned down over previous iterations, which was nice, and still very useable. This is where HTC introduced us to its new "Ultrapixel" camera. It was a mere 4 megapixels but added the ability to take 3-second "Zoes" and combine them with still images and traditional video for the excellent themed Video Highlights. That may still be my favorite feature of 2013. And don't forget BlinkFeed.

But HTC struggled with nomenclature — at times we even saw marketing arms confuse Zoes and Video Highlights and Zoe Share and regular sharing. None of it was overly difficult to understand, piece by piece, but there were a lot of moving parts to explain to the users. I had two full days of behind-the-scenes briefings with HTC on the phone, and even then it took me a week or so of actual use to really wrap my head around it.

And then the HTC One struggled some with initial supply issues. And lawsuits. And with marketing constraints (ie a smaller budget) than competitors. Even Robert Downey Jr. can only do so much.

Still, the HTC One absolutely is one of my favorite phones of the year. The company is making strides in getting software updates to its phones more quickly. Here's to hoping for a better 2014 for HTC.

Late February: Mobile World Congress

Mobile World Congress

Back in Barcelona, Spain, but at a new venue. (I suppose that means absolutely nothing unless you're there, but for those of us at MWC, it was kind of a big deal.)

We hit the ground running with Samsung — quite literally, as a late-scheduled briefing took me straight from the airport to a hotel conference room on what usually is just a travel day. There we got our first look at the Galaxy Note 8.0. Later in the week Samsung announced its KNOX security platform, with the aim of finally bringing some sense to Android in enterprise. Samsung also rolled out its HomeSync living room system, but that hasn't really gone anywhere yet. And in the midst of all this, it announced an event for March 14 in New York City for what could only be the Galaxy S4.

LG's always come big at MWC. And, pardon the pun, it did so with the LG Optimus G Pro — a 5.5-inch smartphone that basically (and rather unabashedly) was its version of the Galaxy Note. I still prefer the design of the G Pro, actually. It was the first oversized phone that I felt pretty comfortable using. The G Pro was also the first phone other than the Nexus 4 to have a Photosphere-like camera function. (LG's is called VR Panorama.)

ASUS and Sony brought new fare, as did Huawei and ZTE, but none of those really has any traction here in the U.S.

March 14: Samsung Galaxy S4

Just a couple weeks removed from MWC, Samsung brings thousands to Radio City Music Hall (and more outside in Times Square) for the unveiling for the Galaxy S4. Much has been said about the event itself — I still think it was just bad, over-the-top Broadway schtick — but the phone itself was the reason to be there.

I remember walking out of our prebrief simply floored by the number of software features crammed into this phone. And the GS4 itself had a larger screen than the original, but in basically the same footprint. The GS4 might not be the phone for me, but there's no denying it's a great device. (Actually, I think I prefer the water-friendly GS4 Active.)

It's easy to say that the Galaxy S4 is just more of the same — in the same way that the iPhone 5S is just more of the same. You can do it, and it's an easy argument to make, but that's lazy and hardly is a bad thing. Samsung has sold millions and millions of these things. It'll continue to do so.

April 2013: Facebook Home and the HTC First

HTC First and Facebook Home

You can't help but be at least a little excited about being summoned to Facebook HQ. By the time Mark Zuckerberg (who looks even younger in person) stepped on stage, we pretty much knew what we were getting. Part software, part hardware.

Facebook Home was an interesting proposition — bringing your news feed to your lockscreen. And it was a very nicely designed, presenting your friends' pictures and status updates where you'll see them first and foremost. Problem is, not every photo or update is worth that sort of screen real estate. (Have friends who show off ultrasounds and you'll know what I mean.) 

That event also is where we got the HTC First. Finally, an LTE-capable smartphone of "normal" size — all of 4.3 inches — and easily reverted from Facebook Home to a "stock" Android experience. It was an AT&T exclusive in the states, though, locking out many. And the camera was just OK. And while the phone cost just $99, that was with a two-year contract. And this phone simply was not worth two years of contractual life. How bad did things get for the HTC First? It never even launched in the UK as planned.

The one thing that lives on from Facebook Home, however, is the excellent new messaging scheme. Chatheads float your friends' faces above everything else on the screen, making it easy to hop in and out of a conversation. Even if you're not a fan of Facebook messaging, you've got to appreciate the design here.

Also in April: Google Glass finally starts to ship to the first explorers. We spent a week in New York City shooting the video for Talk Mobile 2013.

May 2013: Google I/O and CTIA (and JLo and A-plus-K) — and the Android Central App!

Larry Page at Google I/O

Google's annual developer conference in San Francisco was a little different this year. Just a single keynote address, on the first day — but with a surprise appearance by Larry Page!

The broad strokes: A whole bunch of low-level features to be added to Android. Better mapping. Even better search results. Vastly improved photo features in Google+. And probably more important for our purposes — Google Play Services picks up a wealth of features that might otherwise have required full system updates. Plus, Google Play Games Services, and Google Play edition devices. Proper beta testingHangouts takes over messaging. All Access Music is launched.

And the first Explorers with Google Glass are everywhere.

Kind of a big week.

Ashton KutcherJennifer Lopez

Home for the weekend, then off to Las Vegas (again) for CTIA. There's nothing more boorish than a blogger complaining about an event — we're all lucky to be able to do this for a living — so I'll just say this: I took probably the greatest event picture of my life at a press conference here — Jennifer Lopez! —  as well as some good shots of Ashton Kutcher. So that was that.

But the biggest news? We finally launched the official Android Central App!

Also in May: Talk Mobile 2013 is finally announced.

June 2013: Summer doldrums? Not hardly ...

June didn't see any major events, but that didn't mean we weren't busy. Consider:


And that was just the first half of the year, folks. We'll take a look at the back half later this week.

 

Reader comments

From the Editor's Desk: Looking back at 2013 (Part 1)

56 Comments

That was a lot for the first half of 2013. I really forgot all about the HTC first.

Posted via Android Central App

The HTC First had to be the flop of the year, yet for its price and once you turned off the horrible Facebook launcher you had a decent mid range phone that was quite capable, I'm surprised that HTC didn't just drop the name "first" and tty to sell the phone like Moto have done with the new G.

For me the best phone of last year was the HTC One, this was a real home run of a phone for me (recently bought one again... 5th one this year lol). The sound from the device is like nothing else, horrible name but great execution, the build quality is also top notch having more in common with an IDevice aesthetically than the usual android fare, its fast, still hold up well against your new 800 series phones, to be honest in real life use and not benchmarks I'm not seeing any difference, sense was OK but when the chance came to convert to a GPe is when I really fell in love with this phone, the only real negative I have for the HTC one is the 2 button layout, wasn't a fan, I have got used to it but still not fond, I still say the HTC One has the nicest screen on any phone but that's preference and opinion so can be taken with a grain of salt.

The devices I was most looking forward to thus year was the Nexus 5 and 10, the 5 did not disappoint at all when you look at the price, its amazing, sadly the Nexus 10 is still in hiding :(

I also need to give Moto a nod with the release of the Moto G, that phone alone could change so much in the future as I believe this price point is where your going to see a lot of fighting for who can give the most for so little, for this reason alone I'm looking forward to 2014

Posted via Android Central App

I loved my HTC one. I also enjoyed it more when using a gpe ROM. And I'd have to agree that my biggest gripe was with the two button layout. Not only is it a bad configuration, but at least in my experience, the sensitivity of the buttons was too low. And they were in awkward places to hit consistently. Nearly every tap I had to do twice. And now owning an N5, its like night and day between the two. The onscreen nav button setup on the nexus devices is by far the smoothest experience and quickest to multitask. To me at least.

Posted via Android Central App

Your first paragraph wins you the prize for the longest sentence ever, lol.

But, yeah, I'm still disappointed that we don't have a new Nexus 10.

And, if you don't mind me asking, how/why did you end up buying 5 HTC Ones?

Posted from my "Gift from God" Nexus 5

seriously. It would be wonderful to have a different 600 dollar phone to switch around every week..

Posted via Android Central App

With my job and a friend I happen to come into using a ton of phones.

About the only major one I haven't had so far was the G. Now these are not extended periods of time mind you, but enough to do what I have to and get a feel for it

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Happy Holiday's from my phone to yours...

I am surprised. For the first time in a few years the second half was more exciting than the first half of the year

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Happy Holiday's from my phone to yours...

Yeah, we did have a lot of great products launch in the second half of the year.

Posted from my "Gift from God" Nexus 5

Precisely! The article is called "(part 1)" after all.

Posted using Android Central App on my Samsung Galaxy S4 T-Mobile

I love my HTC one. I'm currently mainly using my moto x & nexus 5, however every now and then I swap my sim back in the one, and am reminded just how much I love the one and the speakers.

Posted via Android Central App

I love my GS4. Put it in a Seidio Obex case, and you have all the ruggedness you need and all the features of the full GS4. I prefer the GS4 over the HTC One for the micro SD card and the removable battery.

+1!!! Non-removable battery & non - expandable memory is a major design flaw!

Posted using Android Central App on my Samsung Galaxy S4 T-Mobile

In your opinion and for your needs.

32gb is more than enough for someone that doesn't game or feel the need to carry 5000 MP3's, I could even get by with a 16gb

As for battery, bigger is better, but I was getting good life out if my N5, and I'm doing so with my HTC One.

Doesn't look like its getting any better for SD support neither really as you can't write to the SD with KitKat, which makes it a little useless unless like I said earlier, you carry a monster music collection and such

Posted via Android Central App

You cannot apps2sd either anymore... Oh wait Samsung can.

I am sure they will overcome writing to SD with kit kat. It is not that big a deal.

The One is a great phone, camera ruined it for me as well as it not being that huge an improvement over the sgs3, but those speakers! Gotta love them. The aluminum build seems to not hold up all that well so it is impressive out of the box, a year later not so much

N5 is average at best. Lots of people tout stock android as being a battery saver over skinned devices and for the battery to come up that short, just wow..

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Happy Holiday's from my phone to yours...

You're right about the camera, I don't take many pictures but when I do they are so inconsistent, good point u made their, If people like taking pics with their phone then don't bother with the One

Yeah Samsung and apps2sd, its great they do that, that is one of the few Samsung features I like and wish was on all phones

Posted via Android Central App

Yeah it is a big selling point T for the phones I own. I hate luging along equipment when I don't have to, and want decent shots, not really pro shots, but casually decent.

That took a ton of phones of the list this year, One, n5, X... All fall off

Well Google wants the SD card gone so I understand why they don't include it more, BUT if you do put a sdcard in you have to be able to use it

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Happy Holiday's from my phone to yours...

Stock Android does help with battery life. The small capacity is what hinders the N5.

Posted from my pure Google Nexus 4 using the AC app.

The SGS3 had a smaller battery and obviously was an older phone than the Nexus 5 but the battery life is close to the same (in my experience among others). Stock is obviously not helping that thing at all.

I agree about SD/storage. I had the 16GB N4 and never came anywhere near the storage limit. For my personal use case, high storage capacity is much, much more important for tablets than for phones, since I store a lot of video files on my tablets, but my phone pretty much only sees apps and photos.

As for battery, I think it's time for OEMs to suck it up and sacrifice thinness for higher-capacity batteries. Every version of Android since 2.1 has promised optimizations to increase battery life, but every Nexus device since the GNex has has sub-par battery life (I get decent battery life with my N5, but the flagships for all the other companies get better due to their higher-capacity batteries), and Google needs to accept that.

I am the other way. 16GB on a phone is BS, I can deal with it on tablets. I have different reason than you but it really doesnt matter. 32GB should have been the standard for both since the N4.

You do not have to sacrifice thinness for battery. The SGS4 is bigger in battery and thinner in size. Same with the Droid Maxx

I do believe as you that I would be happy to sacrifice thickness for a 37OO battery. I would throw the note out there as an example, but it isnt fair. There is a bit more room in the Note for a bigger battery.

I liked my HTC One a lot. When I switched carriers again, (surprise) I almost got another... Then I saw the G2.

Posted via Android Central App

I'm not claiming its built better, but you'd never know the difference when you put the One in a case like I did. I liked my One a lot. I would have gotten a second one, but the G2 was not much larger, had a bigger screen, and better battery life.

Posted via Android Central App

Still haven't found a replacement for My RAZR maxx for what and how my phone is used, expandable memory holds my music, crazy battery life is fantastic, wrapped in an Otter box case has nearly made the phone indestructible,, considering I've dropped it 5 times from a ladder 15ft or higher, and twice on concrete

Posted via Android Central App

Don't no where to put this but I've always wondered my nexus 7 has a 1080p display with 329 PPI but the nexus 5 also has a 1080p display but that has 445ppi what's with that ??

Posted via Android Central App

I am disappoint that you guys didn't mention the Xperia Z, ZL, the Huawei Ascend Mate, and the new snapdragon line - those were all WAY bigger parts of CES than an underwhelming cpu, a game system looking for its place in the world, and a early smart watch that couldn't even fit in a touchscreen.

And yes, I did go to CES 2013

Why?
Seriously, the snapdragon was in every good phone this year, the 400, the 600, the 800.
The Xperia Z and ZL marked a turning point for Sony, into more beautiful and well designed phones. But yet you mentioned an unimportant and niche phone for Sony (ZUltra)!
The Huawei ascend mate was unimportant and didn't need to be mentioned.

Posted via my defective Nexus 7(2013)

The only way Sony hits a turn g point is if they release the phones on all carriers, like every other flagship. Otherwise they fall into the unimportant bin

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Happy Holiday's from my phone to yours...

I understand it is not the same everywhere, and that they may be better, but they are killing themselves in most markets

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Happy Holiday's from my phone to yours...

you can make the best phone in the world, if no one knows about it, or can get it, it changes nothing.

THey made better phones, compared to other Sony phones but in the grand scheme they do not have a must have thing or innovation

Yeah the 3 things you put down were game changers while the three things you want talked up were run of the mill

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Happy Holiday's from my phone to yours...

But some were still important to mention. Not the Huawei ascend mate. And how was the tegra 4 any more game changing then the Snapdragon line

Posted via my defective Nexus 7(2013)

Mobile gaming is not anywhere as big as it can be, and it was a big step forward

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Happy Holiday's from my phone to yours...

Cpus, are Cpus, nothing revolutionary about them. They get faster and smaller

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Happy Holiday's from my phone to yours...

For someone who works in the wireless industry this year was pretty exciting with all the cool innovative stuff that came out. Hopefully 2014 brings us better badder devices faster updates and new batteries for phones haha because thats one issue with all my customers

Posted via Android Central App

This year was pretty big from a MDM perspective as well but Mobile Nations doesn't really talk about the Enterprise space very much - which is too bad.

True, MN is very consumer oriented

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