Google Defends Leaving LTE Out Of The Nexus 4: None Of Its Excuses Are Good Enough

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Google announced a host of new hardware today, including a new Nexus reference device for its Android mobile OS, the LG-manufactured Nexus 4. Reading through the Nexus 4′s spec list is like checking boxes on a list of what’s required for a smartphone to be competitive. Until you hit its wireless connectivity standards and find that LTE is missing, with only HSPA+ speeds supported. What’s going on? Google has a few answers, but none really grant the decision a pass.

In an extensive piece at The Verge, Google provides a number of reasons why it couldn’t ship the Nexus 4 with LTE. First, Google says it can’t create a device that’s carrier-independent with LTE built-in. As a reference device, the Nexus line is supposed to be network agnostic; in order to build in LTE, it would have to make various custom phones on its own without financial aid from carriers.

That’s a fair point, but remember that the Galaxy Nexus eventually got an LTE version, so why not launch at least one LTE variant of the Nexus 4? In the past, Google has seemed willing to work with limited carrier access in order to provide some customers with true 4G connectivity, but this time around, at least at launch, it hasn’t. It’s an inconsistency that makes that reasoning seem at least a little confusing.

Second reason provided by Google: power draw. LTE uses a lot more power and battery life, and Google’s Andy Rubin cites poor user experience on the LTE Galaxy Nexus as a reason to leave LTE out of the Nexus 4. Of course, that hasn’t stopped other hardware manufacturers from working around this issue, including LG, which includes LTE radios in its Optimus G smartphone, upon which the Nexus 4 design is based. Invoking the spectre of users worried about battery life is a clever enough way to make a fault seem like a feature, but it ends up looking like lazy engineering, given how many others in the same field have addressed that issue sometime over the past couple of years.

Finally (and getting back to why it didn’t offer a Verizon LTE version as it did with the Galaxy Nexus) Google says that politics surrounding LTE network control is a big problem. It would prevent Google from issuing timely updates to devices on Verizon’s CDMA LTE network, while the cost of developing different devices for GSM/HSPA LTE networks would be the big hindrance there. Again, these excuses have some merit; Google wants Nexus customers to be able to update as soon as possible, and it isn’t looking to spend crazily on Nexus hardware since hardware isn’t its business. But still, these feel thin. For one, Verizon users would likely enjoy having the option to receive slightly delayed updates than no LTE at all. At least offer the choice. Provide an LTE version at launch next to the HSPA+ options. Saying “user experience suffers” seems like a justification of the removal of consumer options. Plus, Apple can issue updates to its devices in a timely manner regardless of carrier or network type, so that excuse again rings hollow.

And while it’s true that building on any one network standard would offer only a subset of customers access to LTE, they’re not statistically insignificant markets.

“AT&T currently has LTE in just 77 markets covering 135 million people, and Everything Everywhere in the UK has a goal of covering only 20 million people by year’s end,” reads The Verge’s post. Canada also has 25.8 million subscribers on the same frequency LTE as AT&T’s network. To characterize that potential pool as “small,” especially given that it covers subscribers with the highest average revenue per subscriber and mobile broadband usage in the world, is absolutely ridiculous.

The Nexus 4 is very affordable at $ 299 on contract, and that should win it some fans, but by leaving LTE out of it, it feels at least two years behind the times. For a phone that is looked to as the definitive Android handset in the media and by users, that’s not something you can explain away, regardless of the reasons you choose to use.


TechCrunch » android

Good News For Brands, Google+ App Gets Page Management Support On Android And iOS

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As we’ve mentioned before, Google+ has become a place for businesses and brands to set up shop and interact with their customers. Google is making sure that these folks have everything they need to not only engage with fans, but eventually turn the actions into actual sales and traction.

Today, the company has announced a pretty long-awaited feature for both versions of its Google+ mobile app, Page management for administrators.

Here’s what Google’s Anish Acharya had to say about the update:

Today we’re rolling out v3.2 of the Google+ app to Android and iOS; both versions include one of our most highly-requested features: support for Google+ pages. This gives page owners the ability to post, comment, and interact with their followers directly from their mobile device.

This is a pretty big deal, because up until now, brand managers had to use the web or mobile browser version to manage all of their pages. In some cases, like the NFL, there are quite a few sub-pages within its brand. This is the same thing that Facebook went through with its own Page offering, and eventually split out the experience into its own native app. I personally like Google’s approach by making account-switching super simple.

Of course, companies aren’t the only ones managing Pages, as plenty of people have set up ones for charitable causes, or specific topics that they’re interested in. I find it nice that Google managed to update both iOS and Android versions at the same time, keeping the experience consistent…for the most part.

Additionally, you can now edit your posts on the iOS version, which is now finally iPhone 5-friendly. Its Android counterpart sports an updated widget and a revamped “Find People” section. Obviously, the widget is Android-specific, but I’d like to see iOS get a similar Find People experience.

As far as I’m concerned, the UI of the Google+ app on both platforms creates an impressive experience that doesn’t feel like you’re using a Google product at all. That’s not a stab at Google, but let’s be honest, you wouldn’t exactly describe the company as an iOS development shop. Looks like the times are a changin’. If only they would put this mobile team on the native iOS Maps app…I mean, if it were to exist.

[Photo credit: Flickr]


TechCrunch » android

The Ostrich Pillow: Because Who Doesn’t Love A Good Nap?

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I tend to take naps everywhere — on park benches, at my kitchen table after lunch, and most certainly on the subway. In fact, I’m convinced that I have some sort of sleep disorder, despite my doctor’s insistence to the contrary. But with or without some official diagnosis, I seem to have stumbled across the sweet elixir to my napping happiness.

It’s called the Ostrich Pillow, and even though it’s been around for about a year, it only recently made its way on to Kickstarter. It’s essentially a giant oversized hat, that stretches all the way from the top of your head down to the crown of your shoulders, with a small hole for your nose and mouth, and holes up top for your hands.

The idea is that, as napping becomes more and more commonplace in work environments, users can strap on their ostrich pillow and doze off for a power nap. It seems to have everything covered, except it appears to lack proper neck support. I’ll need to get my hands (err.. head?) in one to find out, but based on the pictures you may wake up with quite the crick.

Here at TechCrunch, one of our fearless leaders has discovered that a solid nap during the work day actually improves performance, much to her surprise.

Other companies are also jumping on the nap time bandwagon, including Google and Cisco. According to Fortune, 6 percent of companies included nap rooms in their facilities in 2011, and 34 percent of ~1,500 respondents were allowed to nap at work.

Oh, I almost forgot… Romain, our intern, also sleeps at work.

It’s the beginning of a new era my friends.

Click to view slideshow.


TechCrunch » Gadgets

Western Digital My Book VelociRaptor Duo Review: An Expensive Drive That Makes Good Use Of Thunderbolt

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Short version: Western Digital finally has released a new Thunderbolt external hard drive to justify the existence of the Thunderbolt port on your laptop. The My Book VelociRaptor Duo is a desktop external hard drive, which uses two 3.5-inch 1 TB VelociRaptor hard drives. These disks spin at 10,000 RPM and are a good compromise between speed and storage inside a desktop computer. Yet, using them in an external enclosure comes with a major drawback: a hefty price of $ 899.

Features:

  • Two 1 TB 10,000 RPM WD VelociRaptor drives
  • Two Thunderbolt ports for daisy-chaining
  • A Thunderbolt cable in the box — a $ 50 value
  • Drives can be replaced
  • RAID 0 or RAID 1 options to have a 2 TB drive (RAID 0) or two 1 TB drives always in sync (RAID 1)
  • Western Digital Product Page

Pros:

  • It’s fast
  • Daisy-chaining with Thunderbolt
  • You can replace a faulty drive

Cons:

  • MSRP: $ 899
  • Noisier than a MacBook Pro 13″
  • No USB3

Long version:

Before diving into some read/write tests, let’s talk about the external features of the VelociRaptor Duo. It is a heavy and bulky desktop hard drive that will sit on your desk in a corner and never move again.

At the same time, due to its speed and limited capacity compared to some desktop external hard drives — you can easily get a slower but comparably sized 6 TB drive for the same price — you will have to find a special use for it aside from storing backups of your computer. An entry-level NAS is another alternative that could be considered at that price.

For example, it would be a good addition to a current-generation MacBook Air limited by its 128 GB or 256 GB SSD. But SSD prices will certainly drop in the coming years.

The exterior of the VelociRaptor Duo is made entirely of plastic. It looks fine when sitting on your desk, but feels cheap when you are moving the drive around. A discreet LED indicates that the device is plugged correctly. The drive is also noisier than the MacBook Pro used to write this review, even when not reading or copying files.

It gets warm, but that’s not very important for a desktop external drive. You can change the hard drives quite easily without using a screwdriver. Even though VelociRaptor drives are standard 3.5-inch SATA drives, there is a sticker that says “Only use VelociRaptor drives.” It remains to be seen if it is a serious claim as for the European patent-protected Nespresso coffee machine or only marketing advice. Finally, a Thunderbolt cable is in the box, a $ 50 value.

Daisy-chaining multiple Thunderbolt devices is a convenient feature when using a laptop. For example, the VelociRaptor Duo is currently plugged to a MacBook Pro and a display is plugged to the VelociRaptor using a DVI to Mini DisplayPort adapter. Only one port is necessary on the laptop to use those two devices.

When it comes to performances, the VelociRaptor duo is a nice surprise. In Raid 0, we could measure 352.3 MB/s and 374.1 MB/s respectively for writing and reading large files. Yet, dealing with a lot of small files was much slower with 13.2 MB/s for random writing. That is the disadvantage of mechanical hard drives, but the VelociRaptor Duo appeared faster than the Buffalo MiniStation Thunderbolt. Clearly, the bottleneck is not the connectivity but the drive.

In real-world use, copying a folder from the MacBook Pro to the VelociRaptor Duo would not be relevant because of the 5,400 RPM hard drive found in that Mac. That is why we copied a 69 GB folder containing small and big files already on the VelociRaptor Duo. It took 13’02″, at an approximate speed of 89 MB/s. The same test would have been many times slower using a USB2 drive.

The VelociRaptor Duo is a particular drive filling a particular need for those that feel cramped using a small SSD as their main drive. It is expensive but makes good use of the Thunderbolt interface. Yet, it is very hard to recommend the drive because of the price. As SSD capacities will increase a lot in future laptops, a cheaper desktop external drive with Thunderbolt might be good enough. The rest of the money could be saved to buy your next laptop with a bigger SSD.


TechCrunch » Gadgets