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Google Glass Gets KitKat Support And Improved Photo Browsing, Loses Video Calls

Photo Bundles Anybody will be able to buy Google Glass tomorrow, but ahead of this, Google is giving the Glass software an update. There are a couple of new features in this update, including new tools for making working with photos easier, but Google has also decided to remove the option to do video calls from Glass for the time being. Read More

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Frederic Lardinois

April 15th

Gadgets

Google Search App On Android Adds New Voice Commands, “Time To Leave,” And Olympics Google Now Cards

sochi_card

Google is rolling out an update to its Google Search for Android app today, and with this, it is introducing a number of new features for Google Now as well.

Google Now already tells you to leave for work so you can arrive on time, and it will now do the same thing for your trips to the airport, event and dinner reservations. Basically, any Google Now card that used to only remind you when you needed to be somewhere can now also tell you when you should leave to get there on time. You’ll be able to specify whether you’re taking public transport or driving, and how early you would like to arrive (which comes in pretty handy when you’re driving to the airport).

Time To LeaveIn addition to this, Google’s voice recognition feature now lets you make calls and send texts. Just say “call John” or “send text to my brother” and the app will pull the right contact up for you. If you have a few John’s in your contacts, it will check who you want to call and if you have multiple numbers, it will ask you about that, too.

As Google has previously said, it wants to be your personal assistant. And just like some of its other voice features, these new features allow you to have a relatively complex interaction with your device without ever touching the keyboard.

Other new features in this release include a new Google Now card for the Sochi Olympics, with easy access to medal standings, news and upcoming events.

The team has also increased the number of languages users can use to set reminders by voice in Google Now. The app now supports, French, German, Japanese or Korean, so if you feel inclined to do so (and you are in Germany), you can now say “Erinnere mich daran um 12 Uhr Rolf anzurufen” and Google will indeed remind you of your call at noon.

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Frederic Lardinois

February 7th

Gadgets

Mobile

Google Unveils Smart Contact Lens That Lets Diabetics Measure Their Glucose Levels

Hand holding - zoomed in

This isn’t Google Glass in a contact lens, but it may just be Google’s first step in this direction. The company’s Google[x] lab just teased a smart contact lens on its blog that is meant to help diabetics measure their glucose levels.

The company says it is currently testing prototypes of this contact lens that use a tiny wireless chip and a miniaturized glucose sensor. These chips are embedded in between two soft layers of lens material.

In its announcement, Google notes that scientists have long looked into how certain body fluids can help them track glucose levels. Tears, it turns out, work very well, but given that most people aren’t Hollywood actors and can cry on demand, using tears was never really an option.

According to Google, the sensor can take about one reading per second, and it is working on adding tiny LED lights to the lens to warn users when their glucose levels cross certain thresholds. The sensors are so small that they “they look like bits of glitter.”

Google says it is working with the FDA to turn these prototypes into real products and that it is working with experts to bring this technology to market. These partners, the company says, “will use our technology for a smart contact lens and develop apps that would make the measurements available to the wearer and their doctor.”

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[image via recode]


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Frederic Lardinois

January 17th

Gadgets

Google Play Services Gets Improved Mobile Ads And Multiplayer Support, Google+ Sharing And Preview Of Drive API

gps

Google today started rolling out the latest version of its Google Play services for Android. Just like earlier updates, version 4.1 brings a number of incremental changes to the company’s service for integrating Google services into mobile apps. The rollout is currently in process and should land on all Android devices worldwide within the next few days.

Today’s update brings support for turn-based multiplayer games to Play services, for example. With this, developers can easily build asynchronous games with up to eight participants. Every time a player takes a turn, the data is uploaded to Google’s servers and shared with the other players. Google has integrated this service with its tools for matching players with others, too.

Also new in this update is improved support for Google+ sharing. This, the company says, will make it “even easier for users to share with the right people from your app.” As part of this update, users will be able to get auto-complete support and suggested recipients for all Gmail contacts, device contacts and people on Google+.

Developers can now also use Play services to access Google Drive through a new API that’s now in preview. With this, they can read and write files in Drive. Users will be able to work on these files offline, and changes will be synced automatically.

For developers who use Google’s ad products, this new version introduces full support for DoubleClick for Publishers, DoubleClick Ad Exchange and Search Ads for Mobile Apps. What’s most interesting for advertisers, though, is that publishers can now also use a new location API to give Google access to a user’s location when requesting ads. Location-based ads are likely to perform better than generic ads, after all, though users have generally been a bit nervous about sharing this data with advertisers given the potential privacy ramifications.

One other feature most users will likely appreciate is improved battery life. While Google isn’t sharing any details about this, the company said that anybody who has Google Location Reporting turned on should see longer battery life after this update, though whether that means less than 1 percent more (likely) or 10 percent more (very unlikely) remains to be seen.


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Frederic Lardinois

January 10th

Gadgets

Mobile

Google Releases Branding Guidelines For Glass™

dont-get-in-the-way

Do you cringe when you hear people talk about Google Glasses? So does Google, it seems. The company today released a set of branding guidelines for its developers to clarify how they can use the Glass™ icon and brand name in their products.

In this document, Google stresses that “Glass” can never be part of the name of a company that produces software for Glass, for example. You can call a product “Cat Facts for Glass” but never “Glass Cat Facts.” It’s okay to use “Glass” as a descriptor (Glass optics), though.

Google also stresses that whenever you use the “for Glass” construction in your logo, “for Glass” must be a smaller size than the rest.

getitonglass_172x60_action_button

Another rule states that Glass is always supposed to be capitalized and “is never plural or possessive.” This means, you aren’t supposed to say “”Wear Google Glasses” or “Swipe forward on Glass’s timeline.” I can see why the plural doesn’t make sense, given that the product name is Glass, but the only reason not to use the possessive, it seems, is that any word that ends with an ‘s’ always looks a bit off once it becomes a possessive.

One interesting guideline Google notes is that whenever users share content through Glass, developers are supposed to use the #throughglass hashtag “to categorize it for easy discoverability and aggregation” or “Sent through Glass” in emails.

Most of this is pretty straightforward (except for the odd rule around the possessive). It does show, however, that as more Glass software slowly becomes available now that the Glass Development Kit is in “Sneak Peak,” Google is starting to lay down a few more rules for developers.

Glass is a trademark of Google Inc.


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Frederic Lardinois

January 8th

Gadgets

DJI’s Phantom 2 Vision Makes Aerial Photography Easy

phantom_2_vision

The advent of affordable quadcopters has made aerial photography accessible for almost anybody. Getting really good results still often takes a bit more than just attaching a GoPro to a quadcopter. A few months ago, I looked at the DJI Phantom and that was already a lot of fun to fly, though the images you could get from an unmodified Phantom can be quite shaky.

Now, DJI has launched the DJI Phantom 2 Vision, which comes with a built-in camera you remotely control through your phone. As far as out-of-the-box quadcopters go, the $1,200 Vision sets a new standard for anybody who wants to get into aerial photography and is a heck of a lot of fun to fly.

One thing to remember here is that you are looking at a prosumer device – and not just because of the price. This is not the kind of remote-controlled helicopter you can pick up at any discount store today. Just like its predecessor, the Vision has a built-in GPS unit that allows it to fly back home if the connection to the remote controller is ever interrupted. In the near future, DJI will release an app that will turn the Vision into an autonomous drone by allowing you to input GPS coordinates and have it fly a circuit without your input.

dji_vision_portland

What makes the new Phantom stand out, though, is the fact that you get a direct video downlink from the camera that shows up on your iPhone or Android device. To do this, DJI built a mobile app and added a Wi-Fi extender to the remote (which you have to charge separately). As the remote has a range of up to 1,500 feet, the Wi-Fi connection between the phone and Vision would likely break up after just a few hundred feet. With the USB-charged Wi-Fi extender, you should be able to keep the video going up to almost 1,000 feet (though all of this always depends on your local conditions, too).

The phone app comes in handy for more than just seeing the video link. It also includes a heads-up display with all the pertinent information about your flight, including speed, distance, height and battery life. You can also use it to see a radar-like screen that tells you where exactly your quadcopter is in relation to your own position.

dji_vision_remote

The phone controls all the settings for the built-in camera. The wide-angle camera itself is comparable to a GoPro Here 3 Silver Edition and can, among numerous other settings, take 1080p video at 30 frames per second (fps) and 720p video at 60 fps. Unlike the GoPro, it can also record 1080i at 60 fps. Thanks to the built-in vibration-damping platform underneath the vision, the video you get from this unit is significantly better than from an unmodified Phantom 1.

When it comes to these kinds of videos, higher frame rates are often desirable, as the slowed-down video makes the recording feel quite a bit smoother. All of the images are beamed to your phone, but also stored on a microSD card.

Using your phone, you can start and stop video recordings, but you can also take still images. The 14 megapixel camera doesn’t exactly rival a DSLR, but does a nice job of keeping up with different lighting conditions and in a pinch, you can always set your exposure settings manually from the app. You can also take images in RAW format, but so far, DJI hasn’t made any tools available to actually read these images in Photoshop or other photo-editing suites (chances are it will at CES this week).

I’ve got a feeling these kinds of images will be the next trend in wedding photography (let’s just hope the photographers are better fliers than this guy).

Here is an example of what raw video from the Vision looks like:

The gimbal underneath the Vision only moves vertically, so it doesn’t fully eliminate vibrations and only compensates for the quadcopter’s forward and backward motions. When you’re flying sideways, your image will also be slightly tilted to the side. Overall, though, this system does away with virtually all of the dreaded “jello effect” that often marred videos from the original Phantom when paired with a GoPro.

Unlike the previous Phantom, which had a battery life of about 10 minutes, the Vision comes with a far more powerful battery. I didn’t quite feel like crashing my review unit by running out of juice (though it should automatically land itself if it does indeed run out), but in my tests, the unit easily stayed in the air for a good 25 minutes, which is on par with DJI’s promises. In return, though, the battery, which includes the on/off switch for the quadcopter, is proprietary and an additional unit will set you back about $150.

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How hard is it to fly the Vision? I’m not an experienced RC flyer, but just like the earlier Phantom, the Vision is pretty easy to get in the air and land after you’ve watched the introductory videos. Once it’s flying, the live video and radar scope make it straightforward to stay in control, though inexperienced flyers should definitely go slow at first. This isn’t a toy, after all, and it has four fast-spinning rotors that could easily hurt somebody. Because of this, you probably want to stay away from people at first (and trees, power lines and everything else, really).

I never quite crashed the Vision, but I did make a couple of ungraceful landings that didn’t seem to faze the Vision. If it’s anything like the original Phantom, which I did manage to crash into concrete and trees when I tested it, it should stand up to quite a bit of punishment.

It’s also worth remembering that the FAA would prefer it if you didn’t fly any remote-controlled planes within the proximity of an airport (three miles is the standard for regular remote-controlled aircraft) and to keep them under 400 feet.

If you have $1,200 dollars burning a hole in your pocket, the Vision is probably among the coolest toys you can buy right now (and hey, it’s even $200 cheaper than Google Glass). It won’t let you start your own Amazon Prime drone delivery service, but it’ll give your videos and photographs a whole new perspective.


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Frederic Lardinois

January 5th

Gadgets

Delta And JetBlue Now Let You Use Your Gadgets During Taxi, Takeoff And Landing

JETBLUE AIRWAYS PERSONAL ELECTRONIC DEVICE USE

It's been a long time since flying was fun (unless you are reading this on the upper deck of a 747, of course). This week, however, things got a bit more bearable thanks to the FAA's decision that airlines can now allow their passengers to keep their gadgets on – in airplane mode – during taxi, takeoff and landing. The first two airlines to actually put this into practice are Delta and JetBlue.

Both say that they have worked closely with the FAA to evaluate the impact of gate-to-gate personal electronics use and have completed testing to ensure that the use of personal electronic devices during all phases of flights is safe on its planes.

Other airlines will surely follow soon, but the fact that every airline has to go through testing and get FAA approval will lead to quite a bit of confusion. We'll hear about irate passengers on United, American or Southwest who refuse to power down their electronics after the boarding door has closed. It's also worth noting that for Delta, this new rule only applies to mainline flights. Passengers on Delta Connections flights, which are operated by a number of regional airlines, will still have to follow the old rules until at least the end of the year.

Under the FAA's guidance, virtually all small, lightweight gadgets are classified as “personal electronic devices.” Laptops and anything larger than a tablet, however, still need to be stowed during taxi, takeoff and landing just like before. The same goes for gadgets that were previously banned from in-flight use, including e-cigarettes, televisions, and remote-control toys.

All of this doesn't mean that in-flight Wi-Fi will now be available until the flight passes 10,000 feet, however. Gogo, which powers the vast majority of in-flight Wi-Fi in the U.S., is evaluating the possibility of allowing connections from gate-to-gate, but in its current form, the service simply doesn't work under 10,000 feet.

The Air Line Pilots Association, by the way, says it supports the FAA's decision and was involved in the FAA's rulemaking process. The organization, however, notes that it believes that electronics should be stowed for takeoff and landing and that “relying on passengers to selectively turn off their devices in areas of extremely poor weather is not a practical solution.” Under the new FAA guidance, passengers will still have to turn their electronics off when low visibility requires the use of some landing systems.

In case you are confused about when and where exactly you can now play Dots on the plane, here is a chart from our friends at Delta:


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Frederic Lardinois

November 2nd

Gadgets

Chrome 30 Beta For Android Brings WebGL And New Swipe Gestures To Mobile, Easier Search By Image To Desktop

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Frederic Lardinois

August 22nd

Gadgets

Mobile

Chrome 30 Beta For Android Brings WebGL And New Swipe Gestures To Mobile, Easier Search By Image To Desktop

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Frederic Lardinois

August 22nd

Gadgets

Mobile

The GPS-Enabled DJI Phantom Quadcopter Makes The AR.Drone Look Like A Toy

dji_phantom

Back in 2010, our own John Biggs rightly described Parrot’s AR.Drone as ” the coolest thing [he had] seen in a long, long time.” Since then, Parrot has launched the AR.Drone 2.0 and while it’s still a very cool gadget, quadcopters have come a very long way since 2010. Last month, the folks at DJI, who mostly specialize in developing unmanned aerial systems for commercial use, sent me one of their consumer-oriented and GPS-enabled DJI Phantoms to review.

Most quadcopters are aimed at hobbyists and take a good amount of assembly and at least some experience with flying remote-controlled aircraft. The Phantom, which has a list price of $849 but currently retails for about $680, comes mostly pre-assembled and is extremely easy to fly, thanks to its built-in compass and GPS module. Thanks to having GPS built-in, the drone always knows where it is in relation to you. So depending on the mode you are flying in, every input you give will always be interpreted in relation to you and not in relation to where the front of the aircraft is (here’s a video that explains how this works).

The other cool thing about the GPS mode is that the drone can hover in position even if it’s windy. It’ll just auto-correct for the wind, thanks to its built-in autopilot (you probably want to turn this mode off when you are trying to take a video, however, as the constant corrections will show up in your videos).

This autopilot also kicks in if the Phantom loses its connection with your remote control if it flies out of reach or your remote runs out of battery, the drone itself is very low on battery, or because you turn it off to see if the autopilot actually works. Once the failsafe mode kicks in, the drone will simply fly up to 60 feet, fly back to where it first took off and land. I actually tried this and it worked surprisingly well. The drone touched down just about 3 feet from where I launched it. When you spent $700 on the drone and another $300 or so on a GoPro 3 Silver, that’s a nice feature to have.

The Phantom is a clear step up from something like the AR.Drone. Its communication distance is just under 1,000 feet and a maximum horizontal speed of about 32 feet per second and a descent speed of close to 20 feet per second. That’s fast and feels even faster if you are just learning how to fly it.

These specs show that this isn’t just a toy but can actually be used for some pretty impressive aerial photography. Indeed, since the Phantom launched earlier this year, a whole ecosystem has sprung up around it that provides owners with everything from improved propellers to cases and multi-axis camera gimbals. A gimbal, by the way, isn’t a must, but if you want to take really stable videos without the so-called “jello” effect (here’s a pretty extreme example of that), both a gimbal and some well-balanced after-market rotors will surely help.

Here is a video I took with the Phantom and a GoPro 3 White over the weekend:

The Phantom’s battery lasts just under 15 minutes, so you probably want to buy at least a second one, given that the package only includes a single 2,200mAh battery and a charger.

If you decide to get one of these, by the way, make sure you read the instructions and watch this series of videos before you turn it on. The Phantom may look like a toy and is easy to fly, but this is a pretty high-end piece of technology and there are a few things you need to know and do before your first flight.

With the 2013 NAB Show just around the corner, it’s a fair bet that DJI will announce a few new products in the coming days and we’ll make sure to keep a close eye on this company.


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Frederic Lardinois

April 1st

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