Google’s Nexus 7 – great in size, but is there any substance?

nexus-7frontArriving in time for Christmas to round off its smartphone range alongside the Nexus 5, Google’s Nexus 6 fills that all important “phablet” niche with a device that’s as big on features as it is on size. If you’ve found a way to carry a big-screen handheld around with your comfortably, you’ll have this on your radar already, and given Google’s history we’re not exactly expecting them to drop the ball. Is it enough to trump the competition though?

First up, the specs. There’s a 6” display of course at a resolution of 1440×2560 and a whopping 493 ppi. It runs on a 2.6GHz quad-core Snapdragon 805 processor with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage but there’s no microSD for upping the capacity. On the front is a (relatively meagre by selfie standards) 2MP front camera with 13MP round the back and of course it sports Google’s newest OS, Android Lollipop.

The response so far has been pretty positive, though Forbes’ intriguingly titled “Nexus 6 Review Long Term: A Big, Brilliant Mistake” does have some issues with the design. The main ones, perhaps unsurprisingly, are with the size – it claims the comfort threshold has now been crossed and “Motorola may have done a great job with the bezels, but the Nexus 6 is still too big.” It’s all-round big as well – height, width and depth contribute to the fact that it’s difficult to actually wrap your hand around to operate it comfortably. Another problem here is weight distribution – it’s uneven and top-heavy apparently, which further increases the risk factor of one-handed use.  There are some positives though, including the fact that the thin bezels make it little bigger than the 5.5” iPhone 6 Plus and Note 4, and that it feels very solidly built thanks to a metal band around the edges.

So the first hurdle you need to jump is comfortable operation, and if you can overcome it there are some nice treats in store.  Engadget looks at some core hardware including the display, which it says is about on-par with the Note 4 for clarity and offers an auto-brightness setting that comes in very handy when trying to read in the dark and some nice touches such as the ambient display mode:

“When you pick up the device off of a flat surface or whenever a new notification arrives, the display shows your notifications in a very dim white glow. This is a nice feature that lets you see what just showed up without having to activate the entire lockscreen each time the phone buzzes or beeps, which hopefully helps conserve battery life and makes it less distracting and more convenient for the user.”

When it comes to the camera Engadget was presently surprised when taking into account Motorola’s less than stellar history in this area. In fact it points out that “Google did a better job with the imaging experience overall, compared to the Nexus 5 “ and is impressed by an auto-mode that does an excellent job at “point and shoot”, though isn’t as capable at night without using the dual-LED to brighten shots.

To get a better idea of how the Nexus 6 performs and what you can do with it we’ll turn to TechRadar, who is typically detailed in its analysis. It hails the device as Google’s standard bearer for others to follow, and loaded with Lollipop this should be the most effective way to showcase the OS – stock Android avoids all of the often unwanted third-party overlays, plus of course you get updates before anyone else.

Some important features are welcomed, such as Lockscreen notifications for email alerts, text messages etc., Priority Mode t silences the device indefinitely or for set intervals, whitelisting lets key contacts through and there’s more intuitive access to key functions. One particularly appealing feature is the Turbo Charger that’ll juice up the phone for 6 hours of battery life in just 15 minutes, and can also be connected to a Nexus Wireless Charger or any Qi inductive charger.

TechRadar concludes by saying that “Nexus 6 proves that Google’s Nexus program is not only far from dead, it’s alive and kicking with a powerful 6-inch phablet” but stops short of claiming that it’s a better all-round device than the Note 4, which still seems to be the one to beat.

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The Nexus 6 is available now in midnight blue and white for £499 SIM-free, with contract deals for a free handset at around £35 per month also doing the rounds.

Google Nexus 9: their finest tablet entry?

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Though it hasn’t scaled the heights of Samsung’s Android success, Google’s Nexus line has been doing a good trade with your “purists” and those who enjoy a less restricted experience, and that’s in short down to the fact that its phones and tablets are, on the whole, damn good devices.

With Lollipop on the way Google’s celebrating with the new Nexus 9, the latest in a line that includes some of the best Android tablets money can buy. It’s shaping up to be every bit as good as its predecessor but this time Google has asked HTC to work the design, who despite mixed success have certainly shown they know how to build a phone. It’s a mix of brushed metal and soft plastic housing an 8.9” (2048xx1536) display alongside HTC’s BoomSound speaker design. It has a 64-bit NVIDIA Tegra K1 processor at 2.3GHz, 8MP rear and 1.6MP front camera and a choice of 16 or 32GB of memory. It also claims up to 9.5 hours of video playback and up to 30 days on Wi-Fi Standby, so looks to deliver that all important battery life. There certainly seems to be plenty of potential here, so let’s see how it fares with some hands-on trials.

PCAdvisor is a fan of the design, even though it does note that the tightly built, slim device doesn’t leave any room for a removable battery or microSD expansion.

I like the soft-touch back, which reminded me of Amazon’s new Fire HDX 8.9; this tablet will be easy to hang on to and won’t slide off tables.”

On the downside it has a 4:3 aspect ratio which isn’t as suited to movies, and it does seem a shame that HTC hasn’t worked harder to make the bezel a bit thinner – “The design isn’t bleeding-edge.”

TechRadar is impressed by the Nexus 9 but stops short of getting truly excited about its potential. For example, in terms of the screen there’s plenty to like but it’s far from the best on the market.

“It’s a decent effort indeed without being mind-blowing. It’s certainly high-res enough to match the iPad Air 2 in terms of pixel count, which means by having a 0.8-inch smaller display increases the sharpness.”

That said, it was impressed by the deep blacks and overall contrast, with video content faring very well.

TechRadar also goes into some detail on the new OS – Android 5 / Lollipop. It’s fairly early days, but:

“it’s a really nifty upgrade and it combines well with the larger and wider screen size on offer. Loading TechRadar on the Chrome browser wasn’t the fastest experience, with a few lags with swiping, but that’s very possibly down to not being final build.”

Elsewhere most aspects of the tablet are praised, but one area that did draw some criticism was the camera, which can still struggle to focus and in terms of general usability the overall quality isn’t quite there.

Finally Pocket Lint has a lot of love for the Nexus 9 design in general, which compared to the Samsung-designed Nexus 10, is just a better quality of device. First impressions of the display are good with decent viewing angles, but it’s a shame it doesn’t have the anti-reflective layer of the new iPad Air 2. It also explains a few of the nice details found on Lollipop:

“There’s also some touches of detail that we really like, such as enhanced volume options. Tap volume down and you can opt to silence the tablet for an hour, or to only allow priority notifications through”

before concluding:

“the Nexus 9 is a lovely device. HTC has brought some of its skill to the device with the front-facing BoomSound speakers, but we’ve yet to put them through their paces. We’re hoping they match the performance of the HTC One M8.”

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The general consensus seems to be that there’s plenty to like in another solid entry from Google, but like its predecessor it’s not exactly cheap. £319 for the 16GB version in fact, which will be available from the 3rd November in a choice of three colours – white, black and a kind of beige. We’re interested to see how it fares under a full review.

Motorola Moto X review round-up

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Under Google’s brief stewardship of Motorola (May 2012 to January 2014), two handsets reached the market: the budget Moto G and the more premium Moto X. The Moto X is the second one to arrive in Britain (in the US, confusingly, the order was reversed) and now reviewers from this side of the Atlantic have also been able to put the mobile through its paces.

Featuring upper-end rather than top-end specs and several unique customisations, the Moto X finds Google and Motorola in experimental mood. While not quite in the same league in terms of power and display as Google’s own Nexus 5, the Moto X is nevertheless likely to turn a few heads. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come with the do-it-yourself Moto Maker case design options available to US customers.

It’s certainly smaller than the Nexus 5, which may or may not appeal to you depending on the size of your hands. One of the headline features mentioned in most reviews is the always-listening voice control service that enables you to run searches, launch apps and access other features without touching the device: “The voice recognition software seems more accurate and responsive than that found on the Samsung Galaxy S4,” reports Carly Page in The Inquirer, “and we found that we seldom had to repeat ourselves, with the handset having no problem adjusting to a British accent.” The rumour is that the Moto X’s delayed arrival in the UK was due to Motorola being busy tweaking its accent recognition capabilities.

Page found the biggest problem with the Moto X was not the device itself but rather its competition:

“The Moto X definitely has some good things going for it, with its up-to-date Android 4.4 KitKat mobile operating system, smooth performance and vibrant screen, but we’d still find it hard to recommend the handset over alternative Android handsets available.”

TechRadar’s Alex Roth was more enthusiastic, describing the Moto X as “a truly standout Android phone” despite reservations about the camera:

“The Moto X is a good, good phone. In fact it’s a great phone. Is it one of the best Android phones out there? Well that depends. Yes, if you value a reasonable size and useful services over raw power, a massive HD screen and microSD support.”

Again, it’s only in comparison with other top-end Android smartphones such as the Nexus 5 and the Sony Xperia Z1 that the Moto X’s star begins to dim a little. Taken on its own, reviewers have found very little to complain about: it has the clean, uncluttered stock Android 4.4 installed, decent battery life and an appealingly designed shell.

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“The Motorola Moto X’s slightly disappointing internal specifications are by and large balanced out by its close-to-untouched Android 4.4 KitKat operating system and useful software additions,” writes Alistair Stevenson at V3. “However, you can still get better value for money elsewhere.”

Praising the phone’s build quality, software and performance levels, Stevenson concludes by lamenting the delay in the Moto X’s launch in the UK, which has ultimately left it lagging behind the Nexus 5 in terms of specs and value for money. While it’s certainly a more powerful beast than the Moto G, the Moto X’s position has been weakened by the arrival of Google’s LG-manufactured flagship phone.

Finally, Samuel Gibbs in the Guardian has a lot of time for the active display notifications unique to the Moto X that appear even while the device is locked or in standby:

“When a notification comes in, only a small section of the screen lights up displaying an icon for what has just happened. A tap and hold gesture shows more at-a-glance information, allowing the user to assess whether it is worth turning unlocking the phone to access whatever just happened, be it a call, a text, an email or any other alert.”

This helps slow down battery drain and dismiss notifications more easily, without necessarily having to even open them up. Ultimately, Gibbs concludes that while the Moto X is “a terrific smartphone… the Nexus 5 is cheaper, and offers all the same features; it’s better value.”

The Moto X is available now SIM-free for £380 with 16GB of on-board storage. It offers a 4.7-inch 720p HD display (1,280 x 720 pixels), 10-megapixel and 2-megapixel cameras back and front, and 4G, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. The device is powered by a 1.7GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro CPU and 2GB of RAM.

Google acquires Nest, but what is it and how does it work?

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If may have come as a surprise to some when news broke announcing that Google had spent $3.2 billion (it’s not a surprise yet) on a company called Nest Labs, whose focus is on the eco-friendly future home and whose portfolio currently consists of a smart thermostat and smoke alarm (there it is). It’s the tech-giant’s second largest acquisition yet (following the $12.5b paid to Motorola Mobility) and when you start delving deeper into the reasons why, it starts to make sense.

Google’s expansion into less mainstream areas oriented around connected devices, such Google Glass and Chromecast, has already signalled its intent to rivals like Apple, who has also shown a desire to widen its portfolio. In fact the founders of Nest previously worked with Apple hardware and software, so this could almost be seen as a kind of pre-emptive strike. What makes Nest so special, and whether its value will be realised is yet to be seen, but a closer look at its products does suggest there might be something interesting going on.

The “lead” device appears to be the Nest Learning Thermostat. This fancy wall-mounted unit (which can be fitted yourself, if you’re comfortable installing a light switch) essentially adjusts the temperature of your home by learning your schedule, and can also be controlled from a mobile phone. Simply personalise for different types of heating (dual fuel, conventional forced air etc.) and then start using it – by this we mean increasing or reducing the temperature as you would a normal thermostat. Nest then attempts to learn your schedule and will begin to adjust itself according to your habits.

Why not take a look at the Apple-esque video (complete with plinky plonky pianos, and a “we call it…” segment):

It also features activity sensors for an “auto-away” mode, which will switch the heating off if it thinks you’ve left the house, a humidity sensor, weather conditions and savings and other information that can be transmitted to your account via Wi-Fi.

PC Review warms things up with a 4.5/5 review and an Editor’s Choice award. Praised is the funky styling, ease of setup and use and well designed range of apps. The ability to control the device remotely is one of the biggest plus points, which is important because there is some doubt as to whether it’ll help save you money. As pointed out, this is entirely dependent on lifestyle, and largely whether you’re the kind of person who always leaves the heating on, or often forgets to turn it off. Despite this and the high up-front cost of the device, it still gets called a “must have for high-tech homeowners”,

However, Apple Insider, who awarded Nest 4/5, does claim that the Nest does has potential for energy savings, even going so far as to suggest it may have already paid for itself. Again the design and smooth setup and operation were praised, though it wasn’t as keen on the app, claiming that there’s been too much chopping and changing going on and it becomes difficult to use for certain functions.

App showing Nest recorded history
App showing Nest recorded history

High scores seem to be a theme here, even if conclusions as to the Nest’s effectiveness aren’t. TechSpot gives it 90% but says that after two months it’s unclear whether it has saved a significant amount of money. The remote adjustment gets a big tick though, as does the learning functionality and viewable energy reports. Finally, Engadget shows a global score of 94% for the Nest, with biggest props going to design and operation.

Rivals to Nest come in many shapes and sizes. First of all you have more informational energy saving units from companies like Owl and  Efergy. These simply retrofit to your mains supply and provide you with an account on daily energy usage, so you can work out what’s costing you the most money. Most similar to Nest is a product from British Gas called Hive Active Heating, which lets you control heating and hot water remotely from a mobile. This is interesting because it’s about the same price as the Nest but doesn’t have any of the active learning functions.

We think this will be the biggest draw of the Nest Learning Thermostat by far. Most people have become used to scheduling heating/cooling or manual controls for “emergencies” for some time now, leaving problems that could be caused by a thermostat set too high to occasional concerns. Additionally, the temptation to switch the heating on an hour or so before you get home from work, or get out of bed, could actually lead to it costing money. However, this isn’t just about cost savings, it’s about the connected home, and there’s little doubt that this market will get bigger and bigger over the coming years.

The best features in Android KitKat 4.4

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New versions of Android don’t arrive with the same kind of hullabaloo as they used to, nor it would seem the same numerical significance. After Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0 and Jelly Bean 4.1-4.3, the newest kid on the block is KitKat 4.4 so called thanks to a strange deal struck between Google and Nestlé. KitKat 5.0 would’ve fitted in nicely with the Nexus 5, but it wasn’t to be.

With Google choosing to farm out the likes of Gmail and Google Maps as separate apps, partly to minimise the effects of Android fragmentation, there isn’t all that much left in the core code of Android itself in terms of integrated features. Nevertheless, KitKat does bring with it some notable changes that will interest all Android users, and which give some indication of where Google’s mobile operating system will be heading in the future.

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Google Now continues to improve.

First and foremost, there’s Google Now. Technically speaking, Google Now is part of the separate Google Search app, but the integration is tightened up in KitKat 4.4 so that your personalised cards can be reached by one swipe from the central home screen. The old way of accessing Google Now, where you press and hold on the Home button then drag upwards, is still available.

The home screen engine itself has been modified, so any blank home screens simply disappear. If all of your shortcuts are on the central screen, swiping right has no effect, as there’s no home screen to go to. Widgets, meanwhile, have been shunted to the home screen settings together with wallpaper, rather than appearing as an extension of the All Apps screen.

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Manage your home launchers.

If you’re a serious Android user then no doubt you’ve played around with alternative launcher programs, and KitKat 4.4 makes switching between them easier with a new Home entry in the Settings app. It only appears once you’ve installed at least one third-party launcher on your system, and is a much more straightforward way of changing from one to another.

In fact, as Ars Technica discovered, the Google Search app is now pretty much Android itself. The default launcher is an extension of Google Now, rather than the other way around. That means, somewhere down the line, you’ll be able to install a pure, unmodified version of Android on any device from HTC, Samsung or anyone else.

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The new Hangouts out.

Also of note is the new Hangouts app, designed to handle SMS text messages as well as instant messenger chats. Again, this is technically a separate app that’s now available for older devices too, but as the latest version debuted with KitKat 4.4, we’re including a mention of it here.

The text messaging integration is very much a work in progress. The old Web chat Hangouts and the new SMS threads are kept in separate conversations, even when they relate to the same contact. What’s more, your text messages aren’t archived to Gmail like Hangout chats are, which would’ve been a nice touch. There’s definitely room for improvement in the future.

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The phone dialler app gets a refresh.

The Phone app has been given a facelift in KitKat 4.4, and will now automatically show frequently called contacts so you can get at them more easily. There’s also a new Caller ID feature: if an unknown number rings you, Android KitKat 4.4 scans nearby businesses on Google Maps to see if it can identify who it is. The same technology is coming to personal numbers in 2014, if you agree to link your Google+ profile to your mobile number, though there is the choice to opt-out.

The Camera and Gallery apps are still part of Android, and both get a couple of new features in KitKat 4.4. The headline change in terms of the camera is the new HDR+ mode, which takes a succession of images very quickly, then combines the best lighting, colour and saturation from each one. In most situations, it returns better-looking photos in return for a few milliseconds’ extra lag.

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Camera and gallery improvements.

As for the Gallery, it seems certain to be subsumed into the Photos app in the very near future. Nevertheless, for now it includes new editing features that enable you to apply filters and borders, straighten and crop images, and make adjustments to brightness, colour and saturation. It’s a welcome improvement, if you like playing around with images on your phone, and it’s non-destructive too — all of your edits can be undone with one tap.

Apart from a few stylish design tweaks, that’s about it. Other changes ushered in with KitKat 4.4 include a full-screen “Immersive Mode” that works more naturally (for your games and ebooks), the “OK Google” voice shortcut introduced by with the Moto X (though you’ll need to switch from “UK English” to “US English” to use it right now) and the ability to record screen activity as a video (a third-party app is required to do the recording right now, but the capability is there). There’s also improved file handling capabilities available to all apps, with Google Drive integration built in, and native cloud printing support.

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Better file handling is now available.

Android 4.4 KitKat continues three trends that have been building for some time: more personalisation, tighter integration with Google’s other products, and a move away from integrated apps to separate ones that can be updated independently. It’s undoubtedly the best and most attractive version of Android yet, designed as much to counter the alternative Android versions as iOS.

Review roundup: Google Nexus 5 smartphone

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Following weeks and weeks of leaks, rumours and speculation the Nexus 5 has finally arrived as the new reference Android smartphone. Can the Google and LG collaboration really provide a proper flagship device at a fraction of the price? Take a look at the whirl of excitement the Google Nexus 5 has created and decide for yourself whether the anticipated handset really is worth the hype.

Rating the Nexus 5 an impressive ‘9 out of 10’, it’s worth reading ZDNet’s review of the smartphone. ZDNet’s writer had been living with the Nexus 5 for over a week and after initial disappointment and an immediate reaction to return the device, further evaluation meant the ZDNet Nexus 5 inspector deemed the smartphone as “outstanding value.” The focal point, writes ZDNet is the Nexus 5’s “latest and greatest” Android operating system, the Android KitKat 4.4.

In hardware terms, ZDNet isn’t as quite and complementary, finding the lightness of the device causing a worrying feeling that something’s missing, like the battery for instance. The camera also isn’t deemed as a plus point in this review, being slow to focus, although the photos included in the review seem to be pretty decent. Despite some slight disappointment with the weight and camera, the contributor is impressed with the Nexus 5’s immersive mode, which is great for reading in Google Books. Other stand-out features for ZDNet include the overall look of the design, the new OK Google voice control functionality, the Quickoffice integration, the integrated pedometer functionality and the pure application launch area. But what I think really drives this review to score an impressive ‘9 out of 10’, is the price. The 16GB model is priced at $349 and the 32GB model is $399, “fantastic prices” that provide “outstanding value.”

Engagdet is never one to mince its words, particularly when it gets to try out a highly anticipated new device. Indecisively titled “The Best Phone $350 Can Buy,” Engadget’s praise once again falls at the Nexus 5’s price. It has to be said that Engagdet was a fan of the Nexus 4, citing it as “gorgeous and powerful”. So impressed is Engadget by the “serenity of a pure Android experience and all the trimmings,” that this contributor finds that with this device it’s clear Google is trying to give the high-end, $600-plus Android flagships a run for their money.

Check out this hands-on video:

So what are the trimmings of the Nexus 5, Engadget’s so impressed by? The solidity of the phone’s scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass 3 on the front and polycarbonate plastic on the back is one mentionable feature, though Engagdet does admit the Nexus 5 might not be ugly but certainly isn’t striking. Overall, Engadget loves the high-res display, the enhancements brought by Android KitKat and the general performance, but again, the real praise lies within the price.

“A phone like the Nexus 5 would get our blessing even at a higher price, but the fact that you can buy it for as low as $350 makes it that much sweeter,” concludes Engagdet.

The only feature deemed being a giveaway of the cost cuts, according to this review, is the device’s battery life with a runtime that is not as long as other flagship phones with larger batteries.

Deviating from the general praiseworthy consensus of the Nexus 5 is Wired’s evaluation. It has to be said Wired does tend to strive to controversially go against the run of play, citing smartphones as being boring. After spending a week with the Nexus 5 said:

“It’s clear this isn’t just another boring smartphone. It may be the most boring phone of the year.”

“It’s the vanilla soy milk latte of handsets.” (A typically trying-to-be-controversial-and-trendy Wired statement).

Despite describing the Nexus 5 as looking like a “big old slab of grass” even Wired has to admit it’s very fast, has a sensitive touchscreen, a pretty great battery life, a gorgeous screen, fantastic photo processing, loaded with Google brains, and is a great price.

Except having a slightly flawed camera, a degree of mixed opinions about the aesthetical merits and some debate about its battery, the Nexus 5 generally gets a big thumbs’ up. The majority of the praise is spawned by its price as what remain crystal clear in the Nexus 5 reviews is that we all can’t resist a bargain.

Review round up: HP Chromebook 14

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Its “eye-popping” colours are the first thing Engadget mentions in its hands on review of the new HP Chromebook 14. Citing the aesthetical merits (particularly the colour) of a new gadget first and foremost makes one suspiciously dubious about the inner-capabilities of a product’s guts. However, as these “eye-popping” colours include Ocean Turquoise, Coral Peach and Snow White, perhaps we’re being a little cynical.

Despite being described by Engadget as having a “toy-like” exterior, given the storm of attention the Chromebook 14 has ignited, it seems unlikely that its appearance is the only aspect that is worth mentioning.

Being powered by an Intel processor based on the Haswell microarchitecture, the Chromebook 14 offers super-fast internet speeds giving users the ability to tackle multiple tasks while on the go – apparently. What’s more with optional 4G, enhanced connectivity is also achievable.

One common theme the hands on reviewers of the online techno press distinguish as an HP Chromebook 14 asset is the device’s larger than average keys. After all, claim Pocket-lint, “size makes for a decent typing experience.”

Talking about size, owning a 14-inch screen, the Chromebook 14 is large for Chromebook standards. Of course large typically denotes heaviness, although weighing 1.8kgs and being 21mm thick when in closed position, the Chromebook 14 doesn’t seem to be particularly fat and overweight though definitely not slender and lightweight. While Pocket-lint is quick to criticise the HP Chromebook 14 for having a large screen that fails to deliver a resolution beyond its smaller rivals, Broadway World commends it large display as “providing the immersive web experience and superb visual enjoyment that customer’s desire.”

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Chromebook 14 comes in a variety of colours

It has to be said that speed and fluidity are components modern portable computer consumers crave. Due to the high demand for fluidness and fastness, the HP Chromebook 14’s automatic software updates that help maintain fluidity is a component of the product that has been widely picked up on.

Having easy access to content while on the go is another popular requirement of modern computing. With 100GB of free storage on Google Drive for two years, plus users being able to visit the Chrome Web Store in order to customise their Chromebook 14 by installing apps, this device certainly appears to be content accessible-friendly.

As Pocket-lint summarises, the HP Chromebook 14 isn’t a revelation, although its glossy plastic finish in “eye-popping” colours has certainly sparked interest and discussion.

The pricing and timing of its launch is one aspect of the Chromebook 14 that has remains comparatively low-key on the reviews and is a characteristic that more than warrants remark – Starting at £249.00 and being expected to be available in at the HP UK store and at select retailers in the UK in November, this exceptionally colourful and “Toys R Us” resonant gadget is likely to be a popular gift this Christmas.

 

Google’s Chromecast Review Roundup

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Last week Google released a HDMI dongle called Chromecast, a week later the entire tech fraternity are still talking about it – so what is it and why is it so important?

Basically Chromecast is Google’s answer to Apple’s Airplay, but with a few added bells and whistles. Designed to be cheap (just $35), and simple to use: all you have to do is plug a Chromecast into your HDTV and you can watch content from a range of apps on your TV. As well as that you can also send tabs from Google’s Chrome web browser and beam them onto your TV, whilst using your device – whether it’s a phone, tablet, or computer – as the controller.

To get it going is fairly simple: plug the dongle into a HDMI port, then you need to either plug the dongle into a power source, or alternatively you can power the device via a spare USB port you might have on your TV. Once you’ve done that you need to download the Chrome Extension, then the Chromecast setup app and then, finally, connect the dongle to your home Wi-Fi network.

Once setup is complete you can start sending content from your device of choice to your TV. When you hit the Cast button in a supported app, the Chromecast directly connects to the Internet and streams the video itself, rather than streaming the content from the device. At the moment the only apps that have a cast button are Youtube, Netflix, Google’s various Play media apps.

If you have a smart TV, media player or games console, all of this functionality might not seem like that much of a revelation. But what you’re actually paying $35 for is the ability to simply put content from your laptop, PC, phone or tablet onto you TV. And when it works, it works really well.

With the Chrome Extension you can load your favourite video content and beam it to your HDTV at the press of a button, then you can use your device as the controller. Google says the tab casting feature is still beta, and it kinda shows. High quality video playback isn’t perfect, with dropped frames and audio lag often ruining playback at times, and if you’re computer has seen better days then you might notice lag between controller and screen.

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What have our fellow critics had to say about Chromecast?

“Could a small, plastic stick really deliver the type of functionality that so many other companies have failed to fully implement and utlilise? […] Once you select the Cast button in either app, Chromecast will play the video files while your device becomes the remote control. Since Chromecast is doing all the work, you can play with your device while watching TV. This means you can open and close apps and switch between tabs without disrupting your video. This also means you can switch platforms. For instance, when casting Netflix on Android, you could switch to iOS and continue managing your Netflix without a hiccup. To manage the currently streaming video, such as hitting rewind or pause, you have to use the original app (ie, Netflix, YouTube, etc) from which you “casted” the video. Google could easily circumvent this hassle by implementing playback buttons to Chromecast set-up app.” – Pocket-Lint

“The Chromecast basically offers two ways to get content onto your TV: from apps that support it directly, or by “Casting” content from the Chrome browser. […] It works well, for the most part. We had a couple of glitches at times, but 720p video streamed cleanly and there’s the option for 480p or 1080p depending on what headroom your network has. Switching between Netflix, YouTube, and Google Play takes a couple of seconds, no more frustrating than regular source-jumping on your TV.” – Slashgear

“Chromecast provides a much-needed low-cost means for migrating towards streaming services that immediately renders most of the recent advances in Smart TVs obsolete. […] The fact that Chromecast communicates directly with the cloud server means that once I load up a video, I can continue using my phone or tablet for other stuff without disrupting the movie. I can also queue up additional media directly to the TV so my mobile device doesn’t burn through its battery pushing the data from Netflix’s servers to the TV.” – Gizmodo

If you’re looking for a wireless solution to get your content from device to TV then Google’s Chromecast is a no-brainer for the price. Cinephiles would argue that the quality will never beat a traditional HDMI, and while that might true that’s not the point. Chromecast is all about convenience, and if Google can gets enough app developers onboard it could be a watershed moment for Google and it’s plans for the future of the TV, which so far haven’t exactly been all that great.