Ya know, looking back at our recap of the first six months of the year, I'm not quite sure how I survived. Well, OK. I do. And the answer is pretty simple: With a kick-ass team, of course. No one person here does it alone. I may be the one who spends too much time on airplanes, but it's the entire team that keeps this ship running.
And with that said, it's time to turn to the second half of 2013. And for as exciting as January through June was, July to now stepped it up that much more.
Let's take a look.
July 2013: Goodbye, Google Reader ... Hello Nexus 7 and Chromecast!
Strangely enough, the world didn't end on July 2, 2013 — the day Google Reader was shut down for good. Alternatives had arisen. OMPL lists were exported, imported and enjoyed anew. Are our RSS lives the same? As fulfilling? Maybe not. But persevere we did.
Verizon has a little get-together in New York to announce the new Droid Mini, Droid Ultra and Droid Maxx. The Droid Ultra is decent, but it's pretty clear that the Droid Maxx, with its massive battery, is where it's at.
The real news of the month, however, was the new version of Google's Nexus 7. A "Breakfast with Sundar Pichai" was scheduled for July 24 — yes, the same day as Verizon's Droid event — in San Francisco. We got an exclusive first look at the new Nexus 7 a week early, but the event was well worth the wait. The new Nexus 7 upped the ante in the specs department, giving the tablet the innards and display that it deserves.
But, wait! There's more! Google also gave us the Chromecast — a dongle-sized HDMI, erm, dongle to stream video and music to our TVs. The Chromecast actually does the heavy lifting, but it's controlled by an Android device. And it's easily one of the most important devices of 2013. It's not quite a Nexus Q replacement — it's not quite as full-featured a device — but with a $35 price tag (instead of $299) that made Chromecast an instant buy. And I finally box up my Nexus Q — for good.
Oh, and Android 4.3 dropped.
A few other nuggets:
- We sit down with Falcon Pro developer Joaquim Verges to talk about Twitter's heavy hand affecting third-party apps.
- We review the Google Play edition Galaxy S4 and HTC One — they're released to the public a week later.
- T-Mobile announces its "Jump" early upgrade system. AT&T follows shortly thereafter — but you're going to want to do some math. Oh, look. Verizon gets in on that game, too.
- By this point the Moto X is about as far from a secret as a phone can be — but Motorola goes ahead and announces an event for Aug. 1 in New York City anyway.
August 2013: Finally, the Moto X ...
That's it, cancel the rest of the year. The Moto X finally has arrived. It's almost difficult to find a phone that had been leaked more — if not outright displayed publicly — before its announcement, but here it is. We had a relatively intimate briefing with Motorola in New York, then time to explore the phone.
The wood backs. The wrist-flip camera app. The custom designs through Moto Maker (though on AT&T only at first, which sucked). All things to be very excited about. Touchless Control. Active Display. Trusted Bluetooth Devices to help better protect your phone. But the camera? Eh, not so much. Pictures were sorely disappointing, never mind what Moto sang to us. Also extremely disappointing was the fact that Moto X is U.S.-only. Moto X still isn't going to win any specs battles — but it's not supposed to. And that's OK, though.
It becomes pretty clear to us pretty quickly that Moto X will be among the top phones of the year.
Also worth a pretty big mention is Google's new Android Device Manager, which allows you to track the location of any of your connected devices. You can ring them remotely, or outright wipe the thing if lost. This is a big deal and goes a long way toward keeping your data more secure.
The Moto X was released by U.S. carriers toward the end of the month.
The sleeper hit of the year came in August as well. LG came to New York City to take the wraps off the new LG G2. (It dropped the "Optimus" name earlier in the year.) Not only does it check all the boxes when it comes to specs, but it moves the volume and power buttons to the rear of the phone. Sounds crazy, but I got used to it quickly enough. The 5.2-inch display is big, but it wasn't too big for me to actually use.
Really, the biggest quibble I had with the LG G2 was the decision to partner up with the Vienna Boys Choir for ringtones and notifications. They're cute, at first, but by the end of the first day you're ready to throw the phone against a wall. (Or at least change to something less annoying.)
September 2013: Berlin and New York and Miami ... And KitKat!
The whirlwind continues. First up, the IFA conference in Berlin. But, first, a fun story: I get rerouted from Amsterdam through Paris and finally to Berlin. Hours late. Exhausted. But, oh, look. As I'm sitting at CDG in Paris, waiting for one last flight, Android 4.4 KitKat gets announced. And the Nexus 5 gets leaked out in Google's video of the KitKat statue being unveiled.
So there's that.
Anyhoo, it's my first time in Germany. And we've barely got our feet on the ground (Alex and Richard where there, too, leading me around) when we get our first look at the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and the Galaxy Gear smartwatch.
The Note 3 definitely is the more important device of the two, but I do still like the Galaxy Gear. It's just hard for most folks to stomach the $299 asking price, especially when you consider that it just now got more proper notifications. Design-wise, it's pretty good. I just think it might be trying to do too much.
In addition, Samsung brought the awkwardly named Galaxy Tab 10.1 — 2014 Edition. Great 10-inch tablet. Horrible name.
From Sony, we got the Xperia Z1 smartphone, but the real sexiness came from the QX10 and QX100 lens attachment thingies. For as weird as the idea is — a self-contained camera that attaches to just about any normal-sized smartphone (or works as a standalone shooter — it is remarkably fun to use. Basically Sony took the glass and guts from its excellent point-and-shoot cameras and turned them into the QX series.
And from LG, we got the G Tab 8.3 tablet. It was obviously a great piece of hardware with a decent price, and it finally led to a Google Play edition of it later in the year.
- BBM for Android leaks out. Promptly crashes BlackBerry's servers.
- Cyanogen Inc. is born — CM grows a commercial arm.
- BBM says it'll launch Sept. 21. That date rolls around, and no BBM. Date missed. Launch postponed.
And because it's not like there's been news going on or anything, the Mobile Nations editors head to Miami for a week to decompress, strategize, and eat fish tacos. By the end of the week, things were getting weird.
October 2013: The HTC One Max and Samsung DevCon
October was a bit of a hodgepodge.
- Home from Miami for a couple days, then of to London for a few more, where we got a behind-the-scenes look at the HTC One Max and the updated Sense 5.5. It's too big, and too late. But you can finally turn off BlinkFeed if you're so inclined.
- BBM for Android finally launches. It gets 1 million installs on Day 1, but also a high number of suspect app reviews.
- Samsung announces the Galaxy Round, which is curved longways from the spine. Meanwhile, the also-curved LG G Flex makes its first leaked appearance and is announced a short time later.
- CTIA's MobileCon event moves from San Diego to San Jose, with other affiliated events in San Francisco. Nobody attends.
- Instead, we go to the Big Android BBQ!
- The Nexus 5 briefly appears on Google Play. But, nope. Still not announced.
The biggest thing for us was Samsung's inaugural developer's conference in San Francisco. A couple days of devs and the biggest damned tech company on the planet. We streamed the keynote live and did a couple days of interviews live from the show as Samsung's official community partner. And I had a better time doing it than I expected.
Samsung did a great job with its first devcon. I'd expect it to grow by leaps and bounds in 2014.
Oct. 31, 2013: Finally, the Nexus 5 and Android 4.4
This one's worth splitting into its own section. Looking back, announcing Android 4.4 KitKat and the Nexus 5 on Halloween makes perfect marketing sense, though perhaps just a little too cute for its own good. But, finally, they've arrived. The phone was barely beat out by the Moto X for the least-surprising device of the year, but that's not its fault. And LG (tapped for the second straight year as the Nexus manufacturer), did a pretty good job with it.
The phone pretty obviously mimics the Nexus 7 in overall design language. While it lacks some of the sex appeal of the Nexus 4, it makes up for it by adding LTE, a slightly larger display in just about the same footprint — and, c'mon, it's a Nexus.
The camera is decent enough, but we did run into a few other software issues that Google has since taken care of.
Alex was able to get his hands on a retail Nexus 5 a good 12 hours or so before my review unit arrived, so he took the lead on this guy — and did so in his typical awesome fashion.
A lot of hay has been made over the Nexus 5's launcher (aka the "Google Experience Launcher"), which integrates Google Now more closely and puts it to the far left as a sort of home screen. I think this GEL thing has been wildly overhyped, and I'm still thumbing up from the home button just fine. (From a different launcher altogether, actually.)
Also, we poured one out for the Galaxy Nexus, which was being left behind on Android 4.3.
Oh, and as if we didn't have enough going on that day, the FAA decided we could use our phones and tablets on planes below 10,000 feet, which was rather nice of it.
November 2013: All Nexus, all the time ... and then Moto G!
I'll be perfect honest here: Even we get a little sick of writing about the same phone over and over — never mind great hardware and great features. But the Nexus 5 and KitKat continued to dominate the news cycle.
Google's added some great new photo features in the past several months. One of them is Auto Awesome Videos, which basically apes the Video Highlights HTC introduced earlier in the year, but on the server side, not rendered on the phone. But it also introduced a "Photos" app alongside the "Gallery" app. Andrew Martonik did a great job explaining the two, but it's still a mess. Google will clean it up, no doubt. But for now, it's confusing.
A new version of Google Hangouts is released, and it becomes the default SMS client on the Nexus 5, for better or worse. (If you use Google Voice, you're going to have to wait for proper integration.)
We all play around with the new ART runtime in Android 4.4, but, again, we also overhype it.
And then there's the Moto G. It's easy for us to forget that what smartphone nerds demand (especially here in the U.S.) isn't necessarily what most folks need, to say nothing of the realities of other parts of the world. And that's where the Moto G comes in.
At an event in Brazil — South America often gets short shrift when it comes to smartphones — Motorola unveiled its "budget" smartphone. Off-contract, $199 gets you a 4.5-inch smartphone with Android 4.4, interchangeable shells and 16GB of storage. (You can get half the storage for $20 cheaper, but why bother?)
This phone is a big deal. It's the smartphone for everyone else, at the right price. No contract. No LTE, either, but again, that price. This is what changes games, folks.
December 2013: And here we are ...
- OK, technically we started our Through Glass series in November, but December is when it started getting really good.
- I also spent a few days in California at the outset of the month — the results of which you'll see real soon — and got to spend some time with LG's curved G Flex smartphone.
- Google Play Music came to Google Glass. Android 4.4.1 and 4.4.2 rolled out with fixes galore.
- Chromecast got a handful of new apps, but still can't directly share photos or video from your phone or tablet.
- We get Google Play editions of the LG G Pad 8.3 and Sony Z Ultra.
And that's just the big, big stuff off the top of my head. Yeah, 2013 was kinda ridiculous. Just wait until this wearables thing really takes off.
Stay tuned for 2014, folks, kicking off next week with our #CESlive coverage from Las Vegas. This is going to be a good one. Thanks for being a part of it.
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