Google I/O 2013: Keynote

03:10 by akylas. Filed under: Hardware,Mobile,Software

Today concludes the first day of the 2013 Google I/O developer conference. This year’s I/O event was a bit unique in that it started with a three hour keynote, and is the only day for which a keynote is to occur. This is unlike the previous year where the first and last days had keynotes scheduled. The keynote also oddly ended without a significant announcement regarding the Android platform, or the controversial Google Glass program. I discovered that attendees of the 2013 I/O conference would not have an opportunity to participate in the Google Glass Explorer program, which became another pain in the side of people who had to suffer through the very unreliable registration process the previous years for this conference.

While the keynote had these two large omissions, it was filled with some relevant, and well-received updates. In particular from a social perspective, Google has performed a significant revision of their Google+, Hangout, and Messenger applications and effectively unified them for once under one common infrastructure. This allows users to have synchronized conversations between many of Google’s platforms, but also between different devices, without missing a beat in conversation. Including this, they made a significant change in the user interface to match that of the evolving Google+ model, which I have to admit is a pleasing direction that they are taking.

The second of the two changes I’ve felt were significant for me was the announcement of the “Google Music All Access” service. The analogy I would like to use here is a web-based version of Microsoft’s Xbox Music (or really, their Zune Music model). I’ve always enjoyed Zune Music, and probably have had two thirds of my collection through their service, the other being non-DRM music that I have purchased. For those unfamiliar with what Microsoft offers, they allow you to pay a monthly fee to download an unlimited amount of DRM music for free, which can be played on any compatible Microsoft device. In this case, it was limited to the Zunes and supposedly the Windows Phone devices as well. Google has developed a similar service that allows you to choose any song or album and add it to your library, allowing you to revisit and play the songs in full any number of times, for a slightly less cost than what Microsoft offers ($8/month versus $10/month respectively). I have enjoyed Google Music more than Zune recently, only for the shear fact that I’ve been able to pull up my uploaded collection at any time and listen to my music, particularly under the various conditions I find myself in at work. I don’t have to carry an additional device around, I simply can open my web browser. Of course, the biggest downside of this is the lack of music availability in conditions for which there is no network connectivity, but alas, this is the service.

Lastly, one of the things many attendees enjoy anticipating at the conference is the well-known “swag” that is received, arguably the best out of any conference since the total retail value often far exceeds the cost the attendees had to pay to attend the event in the first place, at least minus the airfare and hotel. There was much speculation that the swag was going to include another revision of the Nexus 4 and Nexus 7 devices, or perhaps the fabled Motorola Google X device. This did not end up to be the case to much surprise. The only swag given out this year was a Chromebook Pixel, and depending on where you lived, outside or inside the United States, attendees either would’ve received the 32GB WiFi model for the former, or the 64GB LTE model for the latter. Many people have been confused the choice of swag, given that a vast majority are attending for the purposes of using Android, especially when the majority of talks are focused on this platform. I have always considered the Pixel an interesting laptop, one that is very well engineered, although I have never been able to use one directly until today. I have to admit my initial taste of the hardware remains. It is great, and easily comparable to the Macbook Pro. The form factor is quite nice with a beautiful screen to go along with it.

The software on the other hand is left to personal taste. It is generally agreed upon that the $1,450 price tag for a laptop that is simply a browser is quite excessive. This was blatantly obvious to me when within the first 10 minutes of using the laptop I was contemplating and researching how I might be able to install another Linux on top of or along side Chrome OS. I would love to be able to use Fedora on this laptop with Gnome 3. Even though the hardware is very nice, I would not recommend someone purchase it for the purposes of Chrome OS. Some also have speculated that this ridiculous circumstance is a precursor to an upcoming shift in Chrome OS, but this will left to be seen.



Google Music Beta

00:23 by akylas. Filed under: Software

About two months I was accepted into the Google Music Beta. I signed up while on my Chromebook, and while I like to think Google gives preference to those who sign up for their betas on Chrome OS machines, I doubt that’s really the case. One would think that would be the case, right?

Once you’re accepted into the Beta, you’re given access to the web portal and the desktop application.

Google Music Beta User Interface

Google Music Beta User Interface

All the desktop application is responsible for is uploading your music back into the Google cloud. You simply specify the location to find your music and if it detects any in there (of a certain format), it’ll upload them. It really does nothing else, and that’s not really saying a bad thing. Also of note, I would expect Google would do a checksum of your song and correlate that to the same song someone else might’ve uploaded, but that’s not the case. All your music has to be individually uploaded. It does take quite some time, even if you’re on Cable/DSL.

As far as the web interface is concerned, it looks and works great. It’s pretty simplistic on what you would expect for a media manager: It simply just lets you listen to your music, and does not offer much else as far services, which I like. It does not shove recommended music in your face, or populated your library with music that’s not really yours. The website works on all the web browsers I’ve tried thus far (Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox) without a hitch, although I would expect this from Google.

Google also has produced applications for their Android devices that allow you to listen to the same library, over 3G or over WiFi. I tested it out on a Samsung Galaxy S II, and despite it’s choppy interface, it works pretty well! It’s a bit heard to navigate and occasionally gets hung up, but this is their beta of course.

Overall it has helped me in many circumstances where I found oddly myself without a device that has my music library on it, or if those devices are dead. I only have approximately 130 songs in my online library at the moment. I hope to add more, but I probably won’t until I find myself sick of my selections on there at the moment. Whether or not I’d pay for this service, I’m not sure. It certainly comes in handy when using my Chromebook, but for all other situations I usually have my Zune on me.



CR-48: The Google Chromebook

23:20 by akylas. Filed under: Hardware

A couple months ago I probably received one of the last CR-48 Chromebooks that Google was distributing to developers for testing their now released Chrome OS platform. I have to say, the hardware is pretty sleek.

CR-48: The Google Chromebook

The entire notebook is matte, with what almost feels like to be simple plastic. It feels cheap, yet nice at the same time. Even though the notebook is almost a matte finish, it certainly does its fair share of collecting fingerprints. I guess you can always expect that with all laptops though.

The laptop itself is rather small; Only slightly bigger than many of the netbooks you see today. The screen is a little on the cheaper side, but it certainly does the job (especially for a free device for that matter). The viewing angle on it is surprisingly limited, but when you’re using it like a notebook and don’t have it propped up anywhere else, it’s perfectly fine.

The keyboard is probably my favorite part of the notebook. The keys are very square and relatively low compared to the bezel. It feels almost as nice as the Macbook Pro keyboard, and pretty much looks just like it, except the letters do not light up.

CR-48 Keyboard

The battery life is fairly excellent, although the device is always either on or in a hibernated state, such that when you open the laptop up, it does its one to two second fast boot and brings you right to the login screen. Due to this, when the laptop is shut, and you decide to not use it for several weeks, it will eventually drain. That’s not really a complaint though because I’d hope you won’t have one and run into this situation. I can imagine this behavior with the battery easily carrying over to all other Chromebooks available now.

The only caveat I’d have to say with these devices is the odd charging problem that they have. When you plug in the power adapter into the unit, you have to plug it in very slowly until you see the orange charging light. Once you do, you can push it in all the way and you’re fine. If you immediately push it in all the way, the device will not charge, but it will be powered. It was quite strange and took me a while to figure out.

All in all, pretty great hardware. Even better since it was free. I certainly prefer this size and design over any other netbook available. Soon I’ll be discussing more about Chrome OS.