Android 4.4 KitKat Now Available For Google Play Editions Of HTC One And Samsung Galaxy S4

Android 4.4 KitKat update is now available for people who use the Google Play editions of HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4. They follow Motorola’s Moto X, which first got access to Android 4.4 KitKat on Nov. 19 less than one month after Google revealed it.

Back in October, Google told TechCrunch that KitKat was designed to reach the next billion Android users in developing markets, which means that Google had to figure out how to create an OS that can bring older and lower-specced devices up-to-date, as well as helping third-party developers offer their content to all Android users, not just those with top-tier handsets. Android 4.4 KitKat’s new features include a new launcher, a new dialer that incorporates search, Hangouts with consolidated text, video and MMS, new HDR+ software for cameras and deep app linking for Google search.

But the version of KitKat on the Moto X and the Google Play versions of HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4 doesn’t have the Google Experience Launcher available on the Nexus 5, which was unveiled at the end of October. The Google Experience Launcher, meant as a Nexus 5 exclusive, lets you swipe left for Google Now, trigger Google Search through an “OK Google” hot keyword and has a new options for customizing the look of your operating system.

The Google Play editions of HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4 differ from the ones sold by carriers in that they are offered unsubsidized without a contract and operate on “pure” Android rather than the company’s customized skins.


TechCrunch » Android

Moto G Review: Motorola Bridges The Gap Between Cheap And Good In Smartphones

Motorola has done its best to deliver a premium experience with an affordable price tag with the Moto G, the little sibling to the higher priced Moto X. Both phones have Google’s stamp all over them, and share a surprising amount in common besides that, too. Best of all, the Moto G is a phone that mostly delivers on its marketing premise, offering an experience that’ll have many doing a double take at that price tag.

Basics

  • 4.5-inch, 1280×720, 326ppi display
  • 8 or 16GB storage
  • 5MP rear camera, 1.3MP front-facing
  • 802.11n Wi-Fi
  • Pentaband HSDPA support
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • MSRP: $ 179/$ 199 unlocked, off-contract
  • Product info page

Pros

  • Price
  • Amazing price
  • You cannot buy a better phone at this price

Cons

  • Max value, but still cuts some corners

Design

Motorola’s Moto G is a little on the pudgy side, but it feels at once comfortable and familiar. The matte finish back cases are great for grip, (though terrible for showing wear, as you can see from the photos), and it almost reminds me of the design of the iPhone 3G and 3GS. It also feels heavier than most modern superphones, but only just, and the weight isn’t necessarily a problem, as it adds a feeling of resilience to the Moto G. In many ways, the Moto G’s design harkens back to an era where phones were phones and meant business, and I found myself enjoying that impression.

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  3. display-moto-g

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  6. moto-g-hero

The one big problem with the design is the mechanism for removing the “removable” back case. You essentially dig in at the spot where the case breaks for the micro USB port, and then pull. Hard. Too hard. My fingers are tender from switching the device between case types, and I really felt I had to go beyond the point of what you could reasonably expect an average consumer to be comfortable with. Still, I honestly don’t think most people will care about switching the backplates beyond maybe doing it once.

Features

The Moto G has a number of unique features, though most of the development of the phone was based on stripping out the inessential and making a phone that just performs well despite a lower cost to build. There’s Moto Care, for instance, which offers instant access to tech support from Motorola staff via instant message or phone; Assist, which offers special modes for Driving, Meeting and Sleeping that change your phone’s behavior with one tap to suit different contexts; and Motorola Migrate, for bringing your old settings, text messages, call history, media and more with you when switching devices.

These features are excellent compared to most glommed on by Android OEMs, if only for the fact that you wouldn’t even know they were there unless you were actively seeking them out. The service app is a genius move considering the audience is likely to be people new to smartphones or advanced mobile devices, and the Assist function is a very handy shortcut for what’s often an arduous series of steps. Migrate isn’t something I got the chance to try out, but it definitely sounds like a value-add for people jumping on the Android bandwagon for the first time.

Performance

The Moto G isn’t a $ 600 superphone, but the times you’re aware of that while using it are surprisingly rare. It moves around the OS smoothly and quickly, for instance. Likewise, it quickly calls up Google Now and delivers speech recognition with the same accuracy and speed as its more expensive cousins. The only place I noticed some lag and slowdown was in the browser, where image-heavy content can cause some stuttering, but only in extreme cases: even photo heavy tumblrs, which are otherwise pretty sleek, behaved well.

The camera on the Moto G isn’t wonderful, but it’s fine for general use, and much better than you’ll find on most other budget smartphones. In a device like this, what I’m expecting from a camera is a workmanlike charm, and that’s what Motorola delivers. It’s a phone where you have to continually call to mind that absurdly low price tag – and when you do that, the photos the Moto G takes look plenty good.

Display

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Motorola has done a terrific job with the Moto G’s screen, which is saying a lot coming from me. I’ve never liked how Moto tunes their screens – too contrasty, too saturated for my eye. But this time they haven’t gone overboard in that regard, and they’ve even managed to achieve the same high bar for pixel density that Apple does with its iPhone 5s (326ppi for those paying attention). It’s not full HD, the clarion call of the current crop of Android superphones, but it’s a far sight better than anything even in the same ballpark pricewise, and at any rate, text and images are still going to appear stunningly crisp on that screen.

Again, it still goes a little too hard on the color saturation and the excessive contrast, but it’s a big improvement for Motorola devices in general, and a true feat on a device at this price.

Battery

The Moto G earns its stripes with the battery, leaving aside its other nice attributes. It’s got “all day” life, according to Motorola, and that can translate to a lot depending on your usage patterns. I found that with light usage, I was getting around three days out of a single charge on average, which, in the age of smartphones, is just crazy.

The battery life on the Moto G makes it a great candidate for a “throw it in a bag, forget about it until you travel” phone, since in low power mode it can stretch its standby life to around a week. Under heavier use it returns to the realm of results achieved by other devices (but still beats most of them) and will definitely get you through the day. But again, in a budget phone, to have this kind of battery power is amazing.

Bottom Line

The Moto G is remarkable device. It’s arguably the less talented sibling of the flash-bang Moto X released by the Google-owned smartphone maker earlier this year, but it’s more noteworthy because it offers so much at such a stunning price point. Make no mistake: I’ll still be going back to a top tier device as my everyday phone of choice, but if I didn’t prioritize tech in my personal budget, or if I didn’t have the means, I’d be more than happy to use the Moto G day in and day out as my daily driver.

TechCrunch » Gadgets

Fly Or Die: Kindle Fire HDX 8.9

Screenshot 2013-11-25 13.37.16

In early October, we brought you our thoughts on the seven-inch Kindle Fire HDX, of which John is a huge fan.

Today we bring you the seven-incher’s big brother, the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9.

In terms of Amazon’s evolution as a hardware (and specifically tablet) company, the Fire HDX 8.9 is a markedly improved device from previous generations. It’s thinner, lighter at just 13 ounces, and more powerful with a 2.2 GHz quad-core processor and improved software.

But how does it match up to the competition this holiday season?

John seems to think that this next-gen Kindle Fire has finally achieved “productivity status,” moving from a reader on steroids to a full-fledged computing device. I’m not as convinced, but I also haven’t been able to spend quite as much time with these Fire HDX tablets as him.

Would either of us save $ 100 and choose the HDX 8.9 over an iPad Air? Probably not, based almost entirely on the iPad’s ecosystem and App Store.

However, both of us feel that the smaller size tablets are a better idea for the average consumer.

Unless you require a larger screen for reading, or use the tablet almost exclusively to watch movies and TV, a smaller device like the seven-inch HDX or the iPad mini with Retina are more portable and comfortable options.

TechCrunch » Gadgets

Notch Is A Wearable Sensor & App For Tracking And Capturing Body Movements

Notch

Movement tracking could get a whole lot more granular if the New York-based startup behind this wearable sensor gets its way. Notch, currently being shown off in prototype form on Kickstarter, is a wearable sensor designed to be concealed within clothing at natural hinge points around the body to track and capture specific body movements – sending that data back to a companion (iOS) app for tracking and review.

Right now, there’s no shortage of wearable tech aimed at fitness and activity use-cases, whether it’s Fitbit or Jawbone’s UP or Nike’s Fuelband to name a few. Easily enough activity tracker bangles to fill the average-sized forearm. And that’s before you get started on smartwatches. But fewer Bluetooth sensor-makers are aiming to capture precise body movements – likely because on the surface it seems a smaller, more niche use-case. Something for dancers, athletes and freerunners to get excited about, perhaps.

But then again, a wearable sensor – or more accurately a network of sensors if you want to capture a whole concert of body movements using Notch – that can record precise, physical movements and deliver localised feedback to an arm or leg, has potential to be useful in a variety of ways. As a warning system against slouching when sitting, perhaps (a la the LUMOback). Or a stress monitor, based on how much nervous gesticulating you’re doing at work.

Notch is designed to both capture movement data (either continuously or on demand – recording and pausing can be controlled by tapping on an individual sensor), and to output haptic feedback, via tiny vibration motors, meaning it can be used for motion-triggered notifications. The sensors use inertial measurement units to capture body motion, and Bluetooth Low Energy to send recorded data to the Notch app.

For starters, Notch’s own app will offer the ability to set up the individual mobiles, record movements, collect data on those movements, replay the movements as 3D visualisations, and download the data in XYZ format, say its makers. But they are also planning to release an API to allow third party developers to build out additional use-cases for Notch. So if they can excite enough developers, they could end up with some pretty off the wall motion trigger-tech scenarios.

Each Notch sensor is 1.3×1.2×0.31inches (30x33x8mm), and weighs less than 0.35oz (10g). They’re designed to be charged via standard microUSB and will run for 3+ days “normal usage”. The sensors are designed to snap onto clothing via standard male sewing snaps. The startup is also offering some custom clothing – including button-up shirts and casual tees – with built in connector pockets for Notch.

Early Kickstarter backers can bag one Notch sensor for $ 49, with various other pledge levels up for grabs. But if you want the full body capture option it’s considerably more pricey – circa $ 360 for eight modules, to allow for motion capture of wrists, elbows, head, torso, feet. So that’s clearly going to remain niche.

The startup is also seeking a rather sizeable $ 100,000 to make Notch fly – with sub-$ 5,000 raised so far, and 43 days of their campaign left to run. If they hit their funding target they’re aiming to ship Notch to backers next June.

TechCrunch » Gadgets

Patent Application For Touch ID Shows How Apple Secures Fingerprint Information On iPhone 5s

TOuch ID

A new patent application published by the USPTO (via MacRumors) shows some more detail around Apple’s use of Touch ID and the fingerprint sensor in the iPhone 5s. Apple has been mostly quiet about the specifics of how the tech works, while generally asserting that the fingerprint information never goes to a server, and only remains on the phone itself in a “secure enclave” which isn’t accessible by the rest of the system or third-party devs.

The patent describes a system that not only siloes data on the Touch ID “enclave” section of the A7 processor, but that also encrypts the fingerprint maps registered on the device to make it that much more difficult for any thieves to even attempt to pull the data off in any kind of usable form. The enclave is a one-way street, too: the system can check new fingerprints against the stored ones, but there’s no way to check or call up the stored fingerprints at all for external examination once they’re registered.

Otherwise, the system works likely as you’d expect it to, checking against stored profiles for possible matches (and using stored lower resolution templates based on variables like different angles to make it more likely to correctly ID your finger). But another patent also published this week shows a breakdown of all the components within the Touch ID hardware, and explains how the actual sensor hardware can be hidden behind an opaque lens that’s been printed with an “ink assembly.” It’s likely this needs to be uniform to read correctly, however, as Apple notably left off its small rounded square icon on the 5s home button, after that has graced each since the iPhone’s initial introduction.

These patents provide a little more clarity on what exactly is going on when you rest your finger or thumb on that 5s home screen and have it magically unlock, and it’s reassuring to see just how much thought Apple has put into making sure the info truly is secure.

TechCrunch » Gadgets