Made by Google: the design secret behind Pixel phones revealed

Most Android fans out there probably had a Nexus smartphone at some point. Together with other manufacturers (HTC, Samsung, LG, Huawei) Google released a Nexus smartphone that provided a demo device for Android: showcasing the best it can offer. 

For example, anyone who wanted to enjoy Android 4.4 Kitkat with all of its features bought a Nexus 5, and thanks to the reasonable pricing, it was a hit for app developers and Android enthusiasts alike. It was so successful that the Nexus 4 and Nexus 5 gave the impression that Nexus smartphones were a bargain. In fact, Nexus smartphones were usually expensive, including the latest Nexus smartphones, the 5X and 6P.

AndroidPIT Nexus 5x Nexus 5X: The last of its kind / © AndroidPIT

Then again the Nexus 5 was already a turning point for Google devices. Up until this device, Nexus phones have been pure Android. But with the Nexus 5 introduced some minor changes. Hangouts replaced Android’s SMS app and the launcher was also initially exclusive to the Nexus 5.

Nevertheless, the Nexus series has always tried to show off what Android can do. Developers were able to test the latest features, as they were quickly updated to the latest Android version.

pixel 2 xl design 2 A smartphone contains a lot of modern technology / © Google LLC

What changes did 2016 bring?

Why not a new Nexus 7 or Nexus 6?

Alberto Villarreal, Creative Lead/Industrial Design Manager, sees the pixel series as a necessary evolution: “It is always difficult to understand different [partner] teams and their skills. We were therefore unable to establish a common design line. In a way, it was a constant dance and we realized that we had to bring all the steps of smartphone development to Google.”

alberto villarreal 02 Alberto Villarreal sat down with us to talk about the design process for Google smartphones / © AndroidPIT

Google has therefore moved away from Nexus, and embarked on its next project: Pixel smartphones. Now, Google has taken over the design, construction and all other development steps, and only the manufacturing process is outsourced to a partner, which is currently HTC.

AndroidPIT Google Pixel2 blue 1771 The Pixel 2 was created solely by Google / © AndroidPIT by Irina Efremova

Pixel smartphones have a new goal in mind: they aren’t showing the best of Android, but the best of Google, and this is clearly evident with Google Assistant.

This core feature in the first Pixel generation wasn’t really impressive at that stage. But if you look interact with Google Home (or Mini), you’ll notice the advancement of Assistant to a point where it is actually very useful at controlling your smart home. Looking back, it’s clear why Google needed to work on Assistant: The competition isn’t sleeping – especially Amazon with Alexa.

Google’s vision is clear: The smartphone is the center piece to an ecosystem of devices. 

Technology is only half the battle

But great technology alone is not enough. The capabilities of modern smartphones can be complex and overwhelming, so Alberto Villarreal therefore sees the importance in the design of technology, and is particularly proud of Pixel 2 XL. which so far, is his favorite smartphone

pixel 2 xl design 5 There are a lot of steps leading to the final design / © Google LLC

How is a smartphone made?

“How do you go about designing a smartphone?”, is something I wanted to ask Villarreal. Ultimately, it is a process in which designers and engineers try out ideas. Prototypes and design experiments are constantly being created. Sometimes the work starts on a sheet of paper, and sometimes design concepts are already prepared in advance.

pixel 2 xl design 3 Prototypes of the Pixel 2 / © Google LLC

In Mountain View, the team had a seemingly endless number of prototypes for the Pixel 2 (XL) sitting in the drawer. At the prototype stage, ideas are tested, evaluated and implemented. Eventually, they have to decide on the smaller details, deciding what the final finish will look like, to choosing how blue or orange a design accent should be.

That certain something

With Pixel 2 XL and its cases, there are some details that make you smile without being too over-the-top. For example, the orange power button on the Panda Edition of the Pixel 2 XL, and the Google Home Mini is available in a bright, unusual color, and this type of design choice makes things interesting. “These are the small elements that give our products that certain something,” says Villarreal. “The secret of the Google design is these smaller details, which in your busy and sometimes stressful everyday life, can make you smile”.

pixel 2 xl design 8 Designing a smartphone is a complex process / © Google LLC

Google uses fabric on many devices, including on the cases for the Pixel 2 XL and the Daydream VR glasses, for example. However, there are differences. The phone case material is more robust and durable, whereas the VR glasses are made with softer, finer fabric which feels more luxurious to the touch.

Villarreal is enthusiastic about the use of these kind of materials due to the versatility of them. The use of different fabric structures is dependent on the product, for example, the cases suit the tough and more resistant materials due to the way we use them. If we want something to protect our phones, it must be tough and long-lasting. 

In addition to the materials, Google also has another consistent design choice that characterizes the devices in this series, which are the contrasting colors. You can see this color split on Google Home, Pixel Smartphones, Pixelbook, and even on the Pixel pen or the Home Mini display. With both the distinctive design and Assistant, the devices are given a common theme and identity. 

google pixel event 2017 family You can recognize a Google product from its design / © Google

That is perhaps the bottom line: in the past, Google often had a rather simple technical-looking design that wasn’t very appealing. This approach has become a thing of the past. If Google wants to remain as successful as they are right now with Assistant, then every detail has to be perfected. Without an appealing design, a product cannot be successfully marketed. 

The design of the Pixel smartphone looks great, don’t you think? Leave a comment and let us know your thoughts!

Android News + App Reviews + Hardware Reviews – AndroidPIT

Make the most of Google Assistant with these voice commands


Jump to: 

What to ask Google Assistant:

Summary:

How to configure Google Assistant

Before waking up Google Assistant on your device, you should set up the service properly. First of all, I recommend that you check in the Play Store whether the Google app needs an update and download it if it is available. Once you have installed the latest version of Google, and then Google Assistant, you will be ready to start.

If you have never used Google Assistant before, don’t worry, despite its complex abilities, it’s easy to set up. If you have Android Lollipop or later on your phone, press the Home button for a long time to open Google Assistant. 

  • Press the Home button for a long time and start Google Assistant.
  • Press Next on the Meet your New Google Assistant screen.
  • Give Google permission to access the information it needs by pressing Yes, I agree.
  • You can now teach Assistant how to recognize your voice.
  • It is also possible to enable the detection of the “OK Google” hotword on any screen to speed up the activation of Assistant when needed. To do so, follow this path in the Google app: Settings>Settings (in the Google Assistant section)>Phone>’Ok Google’ detection and enable it. This means that you’ll activate Assistant anytime you say ‘OK Google’ when your phone is awake.

Congratulations! You have now unlocked all sorts of possibilities, from the simple search for websites via voice to the use of Google Assistant to open applications faster or store your schedule!

What to ask Google Assistant

Send messages via WhatsApp, Telegram or Viber

How many messages on WhatsApp, Viber, Telegram or any other instant messaging apps do you send every day? It’s easy to love count, but from now on you can make this operation even faster by asking Google directly to send messages for you!

To do this you just have to say “Ok Google, send a message on [WhatsApp] to [Mom]: what are we doing for dinner?” or say “Ok Google, send a message on [WhatsApp] to [Mom]” and then dictate the message you want to send. If your contact has more than one phone number, you will be asked to select the one you wish to send the message to.

AndroidPIT on the phone 0439 Let Assistant take care of your messages / © AndroidPIT

Open websites and applications directly from Google Assistant

To open your favorite website without lifting a finger, you just have to say the keyword “Go to…” followed by the site name:

  • “Go to [site (.com, etc.)]”.
  • Example: “OK Google, go to androidpit.com”.

If you want to launch an app, such as the calendar to check your schedule, once Google Assistant is activated you just have to say:

  • “Start [app]”.
  • Example: “OK Google, start calendar”.

You can start whatever applications are installed on your device. Be careful to use the exact name of the app (what appears below the icon). If the app has an unusual name, it could be quite difficult (and embarrassing) to succeed in the process.

Manage commitments with Google Assistant

Google can become your personal assistant and remind you of your commitments, set up the alarms for you and even keep your Amazon orders under control.It’s all down to knowing the right voice commands to use depending on the request.

Create reminders

You absolutely must remember to pay the gas bill by the end of the week but are you too lazy to manually create a reminder? Wake up Google Assistant and say the following command:

  • Remind me [what] [when] [where]”.
  • Example:“OK Google, remember to pay your gas bill on Friday at 8:00 a.m.”.

Google is clever enough that you can create custom reminders based on time and place, all in one sentence. But to make sure that the service works perfectly and knows exactly when to remember an event, you’ll need to configure your locations from the settings. Here you will have the opportunity to register your home or business address and allow Google Assistant to activate only at the right time.

Setting Alarms

If you want to set an alarm using the Clock/Alarm application, you will need to use a different voice command:

  • “Set an alarm for [time]”.
  • Example:“OK Google, set an alarm for tomorrow morning at 7:30 pm”.

Create and manage calendar events

You may confuse them with reminders, but events mean all the tasks stored in the Calendar app. With Google Assistant and the right voice command, you can create new events, such as a dentist appointment or an important work meeting, and view them at any time:

  • “Create an event [type] [when (date and time)] [place]”.
  • “What are my commitments [when]”.
  • “When is[what]”.
  • Example: “OK Google, create a calendar event: party with friends Sunday at 9 pm at my place”

Create personal notes on Evernote or Google Kee

Do you note down every little thing because memory plays tricks on you? You don’t need to clog the event calendar, instead use an alternative voice command to send notes directly to services such as Evernote or Google Keep, or in your mailbox:

  • “Ok Google, tell Evernote [the thing]”.

Get in touch with your contacts faster

When you feel like reaching out to people, don’t think that Google Assistant simply finds you the contact to call or open the message application for you. Google Assistant opens more convenient ways to contact your friends and is even connected to your social networks. Let’s see what we can do we see together all the voice commands that could be useful to you.

Make a call

Remember phone calls? They used to be a thing. But now, with Google Assistant, voice is in vogue again. There are several options for calling your contacts with Google Assistant.

By saying “call” followed by the contact name, you can start the call or choose who to call from the contacts Assistant finds. If you have several numbers associated with the same contact, adding the tag of that number (mobile phone, home, work, etc.) you will avoid having to manually select the one you want.

  • Call[tag][Contact]”,” Call[tag][number]”.
  • Example: “OK Google, call work Jessica”.

Send an SMS

With Google Assistant you can open the messaging app and then select the contact and enter the message text manually, or do everything by voice command and let the service do everything for you. All you have to do is use the voice command:

  • “Send a message a [contact] [message]”.
  • Example: “OK Google, send an SMS to Philip mobile, don’t forget to buy milk”

Send an email

With a very similar voice command you can send emails quickly and without tiring your fingers. However, I recommend that you limit the use of the service to short emails, as in the voice command you have to specify both the subject of the email and the text.

  • Send an email to[contact/email], subject[subject], message[message]”.
  • Example: “OK Google, send an email to test@androidpit.com, subject important, message you are awesome!”.

androidpit google voice hero 2 Just say “Ok, Google” followed by the desired voice command! / © AndroidPIT

Get directions and weather forecasts with Google Assistant

Don’t risk getting lost or distracting yourself from driving and make the best use of all the possibilities of Google Assistant to receive directions, information about the places you visit and updates on the weather conditions of your next destination, all without any effort.

How to get directions

You can receive step-by-step directions on the set goal, directly from Google Assistant with the voice command “Go to…”. By using the phrase “Directions to…” instead, the destination will be set in Google Maps or another installed browser. You can add the transport method used (public, bike, car, foot) at the end of the sentence. Finally, remember that you can take advantage of custom locationss:

  • “Go to [Address]”.
  • “Directions to [Address]”.
  • Example: “OK Google, directions to the Golden Gate Bridge”.

Get information about your location

You can find out about everything you need to do in the city that you are visiting or find the best restaurant in your vicinity, you just have to choose the right request to make to Google Assistant. Specifying “nearest” to the end of the sentence, you will find the places around your current location.

  • “Find/where is [target]”.
  • “Find/where is nearest [target]”.
  • Example: “OK Google, find the nearest bar”.

Stay up to date on weather

Immediately find out the time zone or weather anywhere in the world with these voice commands:

  • “What time is it in [place]?”
  • “What/how’s the weather in [place]?”
  • Example: “OK Google, how’s the weather in Portland on [Wednesday] going to be?”

Ask the all-knowing Google Assistant

You’ll be able to ask Google Assistant anything from Brad Pitt’s age to the formula to get the perimeter of an isosceles triangle, and thanks to a quick Google search you’ll get the answer you are looking for.

But in addition to questions of general knowledge, you can take advantage of this convenient voice assistant to make everyday life easier thanks to the integrated services of translator, dictionary, accountant, calculator, and much more.

Here are a few voice commands that you might find useful:

  • “Translate [word] [language]”.
  • “What does [word] mean?”
  • “What’s the price of [thing]?”
  • Square root[number]”,”[number] divided/plus/minus/multiplied by/divided by[number]”.
  • “What’s [measurement / currency …] in [measurement / currency …]?”

androidpit ita google now 8 Google Assistant can translate between various languages. / © AndroidPIT

Play with Google Assistant in your free time

We’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of what Assistant is capable of? The possibilities are endless and we will never be able to insert them in a single articlen. It’s worth keeping in mind that the voice commands of Google Assistant can also help you manage music, images, books, movies and other media and activities.

Manage your music

Listen to your songs, identify the song you’re listening to around or on the radio, discover the tracks of an artist or play a radio station with “I feel lucky” in Google Play Music (with Unlimited active):

  • “Listen[title]”.
  • “What is this track?”
  • “Play [artist]”.
  • “Play some music”.

Find interesting images

Get images or photos of anything you want to search for immediately:

  • “Show photo/images of [subject]”..

Manage movies and books

Play movies and read books purchased from the Play Store:

  • “Watch[title]”. Read[title]”.

Get some affordable help at home with Google Home Mini

Trivia

Ask the Google Assistant anything you want to know about a celebrity:

  • Example: “Where was [James Dean] born?”

After you have specified the subject, you can continue asking questions without having to repeat it again.

Useful Google Assistant commands

Google summarizes everything you can ask your voice assistant in a dedicated web page, but we’ve summarized the different kinds of commands below for your convenience:

  • People: “When was Barack Obama born?” / “Who invented the cellphone?”
  • Time: “When does the Sun set in Hong Kong?” / “What time is it in New York?”
  • Weather: “Will I need an umbrella on Tuesday?” / “How cold will it be on Sunday?”
  • Conversions: “What is 5,5 inches in cm?” / “Convert 399 dollars to euros”
  • Matematics: “What is16 divided by 4?” / “What is 90% of $ 200?”
  • Control apps: “Send a message” … “to Amy Hocknell” … “with WhatsApp” … “Hi Amy [period] How are you [question mark]”. / “Deactivate Bluetooth”
  • Definitions: “Define ostracize”
  • Alarms: “Set an alarm for 6.40 am”
  • Calendar: “Show me tomorrow’s meetings”
  • Gmail: “Write an email to Daria”…”party invitation” “message [dictated with punctuation included]” … “send”.
  • Phone: “Call Mom” 
  • Translate: “How do you say laundry in German?”
  • Reminder: “Reminder me to pay the gardener”
  • Navigation: “Where is the Washington Monument?”
  • Sport: “Results Vikings vs Saints”
  • Flight information: “Flight FR 5203”
  • Browser: “Open androidpit.com”
  • Movie and TV: “What are the best films of 2017?
  • Music: “Play We are the champions”

Google Assistant: always getting faster and more efficient

The keyword to keep in mind when calling Google Assistant is just to speak naturally. Speak as if you were talking to another person while considering that the Assistant is not yet smart enough to understand and implement demands that are too long. However, the Assistant will gradually become more efficient and learn from your needs and your mistakes.

What do you think about Google’s voice assistant? Are you willing to trust Google Assistant in everyday life?

Android News + App Reviews + Hardware Reviews – AndroidPIT

What happened to the fingerprint sensor on the Huawei P20?

Recently, Android Authority managed to get their hands on a prototype of the Huawei P20. The Chinese manufacturers’ latest device will be presented at its own event on March 27 in Paris, and judging by the latest leaks, there will be much to be revealed. 

Huawei P20 is set to surprise us

In the photos just leaked, we can take a first look at Huawei’s latest flagship. It seems the manufacturer is moving towards a design similar to that of the Mate 10 series, with extremely thin bezels and a glass panel on the back, surrounded by a metal frame. 

Unfortunately Android Authority were not able to turn on the display to show this in detail, but we can see the Always-on display in action in the photos, and the panel used appears to be LCD type, not AMOLED.

Huawei P20 prototype leak 3 840x472 The tone of the black on the display may indicate an LCD panel / © Android Authority

The rear double camera similar to that of Honor View 10 can be seen with Leica lenses. This is just the first detail that is missing on the prototype. Wasn’t the Huawei P20 supposed to have a triple camera? According to the source, the triple camera will only be incorporated on the Pro or Plus model of the P20, so don’t worry!

Huawei P20 prototype leak 12 840x472 These cameras aren’t aesthetically pleasing or practical / © Android Authority

If you take a look at the right side of the smartphone, you can see of the on/off button, but the physical keys for the volume controls are missing all together. Well, this is what you might think unless you pay closer attention.

As Android Authority points out, in the area above the power button, you can see several dots in place of the usual volume button controls.

— Evan Blass (@evleaks) 20 september 2016

If this is implemented in the final version of the P20, it would be stepping away from the classic configuration for the volume keys that we have been familiar with for years. This could improve the user experience, as we’ll simply have to slide over the touch sensor to control the volume. Some of you may remember that HTC was also working on a similar feature called Edge Sense.

Huawei P20 prototype leak 1 840x472 An interesting change to the volume controls / © Android Authority

We can also see the absence of the 3.5mm headphone jack, news isn’t too surprising considering that the Mate 10 Pro ditched the jack too. At the bottom, is a double grill which we would assume would be for stereo speakers. However, it’s probable that one of the two speakers will provide a microphone for calls, which is a similar configuration we can find on many other smartphones, such as the Galaxy S8.

Huawei P20 prototype leak 9 840x472 The headphone jack is history / © Android Authority

…What happened to the fingerprint sensor?

However, there is an essential component missing for a top-of-the-range smartphone (unless we’re talking about Apple): where is the fingerprint reader? This feature is not placed underneath the display like on P10 and cannot been seen on the back of the phone, similar to other Huawei devices.

So, has Huawei decided to remove it and use other unlocking methods such as face recognition? I doubt that this is the case. Looking at this photo of the front of the P20, we can see something strange:

Huawei P20 prototype leak 4 840x472 The bezels have been kept to a minimum / © Android Authority

Notice anything different? Look at the top of the photo, can you see the circles? It might be that Huawei has decided to introduce a fingerprint reader integrated into the display, as used by Vivo in the X20 Plus UD.

It would be the first top of the range smartphone to come with this feature, which would make the Huawei P20 even more interesting. I think that the Huawei P20 is set to be more exciting than the S9.

Do you think Huawei will be the first to implement this new technology? What would you like to see in the P20?

Android News + App Reviews + Hardware Reviews – AndroidPIT

Why you should be more excited for the P20 than the S9

Samsung and Huawei are ready to bring out the big guns. Samsung will take the stage on February 26 in Barcelona and Huawei will unveil its new flagships one month later, on March 27, in Paris. They are the devices that are currently raising the most passion in the Android universe despite the differences between them, and personally I believe that the innovations of the P20 will take us further in technology than those of the S9, which seems a little bit stagnant.

Artificial Intelligence vs. Bixby

Yes, it’s always fun to laugh at Bixby’s expense. Honestly, I don’t think the Bixby assistant is as useful as Huawei’s neural calculus applications for processing your photos. On the other hand, Samsung’s determination to establish another voice assistant in the face of such strong opposition is both arrogant and oddly brave. It’s hard not to admire such a demonstration of courage. After all, Google Assistant is in more languages and works better.

But Huawei has been able to take advantage of its efforts in artificial intelligence and apply them to a section that all users are very interested in, photography.

But Huawei’s possibilities of artificial intelligence and machine learning do not end here. The Kirin 970 has an NPU module that Huawei already uses for three functions, there is a fourth on the way and an endless number of possibilities to discover. We have already seen what this processor is capable of in the Mate 10 when it comes to camera settings, energy saving and translation. Then there’s also noise reduction in calls and other miscellaneous tasks that can benefit from the NPU.

Three cameras vs. variable aperture

In this case the balance is somewhat more even, at least at first glance. Both functions are new because no smartphone has ever included them.

Samsung is going to equip its new flagships (according to rumors, anyway) with a camera that will be able to switch between two apertures. In this way we can choose an aperture of f/1.5 for situations with low ambient light or f/2.4 for bright environments. A good solution to improve the entry of light in an area that had been stagnant since the beginning of mobile phones. Below you can see how this new technology is supposed to work.

For its part, Huawei looks like it will incorporate a third lens in some of the new P20 models. There are rumors about its possible use in 360º videos, and this means that the P20 will be able to convey a sense of depth better than any device on the market.

I imagine you have already noticed that Huawei intends to give a new dimension to augmented reality with its devices. I find it more exciting to discover what lies behind the third camera.

A phablet-style battery

The latest news we have about the Huawei P20 really thrills the vast majority of users. The P20 Plus will be a smartphone with a 4000 mAh battery! As can be seen in the Mate 10, this means an autonomy that can exceed 24 hours with moderate use or more than 6 hours of screen time for an intensive day.

It is certainly a good improvement after the trend of decreasing battery capacity. The P10 successor suffered a good decline in battery life compared to the P9, but it seems that the P20 will return to the right path.

The Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+ will repeat with the same batteries as the S8 and S8+, i. e. 3000 mAh and 3500 mAh, respectively. Apparently its new Exynos processors are even more powerful, but it remains to be seen if they will be able to better manage existing resources. 

Is there a third option that you’re holding out for? Let us know in the comments!

Android News + App Reviews + Hardware Reviews – AndroidPIT

Google Assistant can now read you a bedtime story

For those who love reading, there is nothing better than relaxing on the sofa with a good book. At the end of the day when you are home from work though, you might even be too tired to concentrate, especially if you spend the day in front of a computer screen. This is the perfect scenario for Assistant to step in, to read your favorite audiobooks to you while you relax, sip a glass of wine or cook. 

How to buy an audiobook in the Play Store

An important step was taken by Google in January: to release audiobooks to the Play Store, which are available in 45 countries and 9 different languages. If you go to the Play Store or Play Books, you can select which audiobook you wish to purchase, after listening to the preview, which helps you decide if the book and the narrator is right for you.

Steps to follow:

  1. Open Google Play Books
  2. Click on the cover image of the book you are interested in
  3. Select Play Preview
  4. Proceed to payment, and you’re good to go!

Good to know: Google offers 50% discount on the purchase of your first audiobook. Once purchased, you don’t necessarily need Google Home or its mini version to read it, as you can also use Assistant on your smartphone. If you use one of the smart speakers however, the experience will definitely be better.

Listen to audiobooks on Google Home (or Mini)

Now you have your audiobook, grab your glass of wine or your cup of tea, and relax, but before:

  1. Say “Ok Google, read my book/audiobook”. 
  2. If you have more than one audiobook, be more precise “Ok Google, read…” and say the title of your book
  3. If for some reason you don’t have any audiobooks downloaded, Google Assistant will notify you

Here are some other helpful voice commands:

  • “Ok Google, pause.”
  • “Ok Google, previous/next chapter.”
  • “Ok Google, how much time is left?”
  • “Ok Google, stop playing in 20 minutes.”
  • “Ok Google, who wrote this?” or “Ok Google, who is the author?”
  • “Ok Google,  read my book on [Chromecast name]”: This command will be useful if you would like to use another device instead of the three discussed in this article. 

AndroidPIT google home mini review 3229 Say “Ok Google, read my book/audiobook” and Assistant will read it for you! / © AndroidPIT

What’s the overall impression?

With a few simple steps to follow, you won’t have any problems with the general downloading and set up of the audiobooks feature. On my Google Home Mini, the command responses were immediate, moving to the next chapter and pausing when required. What you might not like is the voice of the narrator for your chosen book, and unfortunately there isn’t much you can do about that. 

Personally, I have a problem with audiobooks: I can’t concentrate on them for more then 20 minutes. This means that after this time I’ll either fall asleep or start thinking of something else. But of course, that’s not Assistant’s fault. This feature could be very useful for a variety of situations: when you’re doing chores around the house, cooking or reading to your children if you’re busy. 

Will you stick to your trusty books, or are you willing to try audiobooks with Assistant? Let us know in the comments.

Android News + App Reviews + Hardware Reviews – AndroidPIT

ClanHQ: A social hub for superheroes still learning to fly

Mobile gaming is increasingly asserting itself as a ‘serious’ gaming platform, and a big sector of the market is massively multiplayer formats, in which potentially thousands of different players form clans, guilds, alliances and other groups in competition with each other.

Many of the slickest, most heavily promoted ‘free’ games on Android encourage this multiplayer model. After all, the peer pressure to both beat your rivals and not let down your allies is a strong incentive to get in-app purchases for game advantages.

Economics drive game developers to create pretty complex systems of leagues, events and co-operative quests with different play modes and rewards. Often players also ‘pay in’ to alliance/clan events with some kind of in-game currency, adding yet another level trading to the multiplayer element.

A community/clan management app for mobile gaming makes a lot of sense, but the competition is heating up

Effective participation in these systems requires some serious communication and organization, and that requires a messaging service with more advanced features for large groups than popular stalwarts such as Facebook messenger and WhatsApp.

Messenger – Text and Video Chat for Free Install on Google Play WhatsApp Messenger Install on Google Play

Discord and Line chat are popular apps for gaming groups, but one company has an ambitious plan to go much further and offer a service that leverages years of social gaming experience into a bespoke chat services specifically for the needs of mobile gamers—ClanHQ.

Discord – Chat for Gamers Install on Google Play LINE: Free Calls & Messages Install on Google Play

From farm to carnivore

ClanHQ purports to be a social network for gamers, enabling them to manage their clans and alliances. It has some big-name social and gaming pedigree, being founded by Zynga alumni John Osvald and Eric Schiermeyer. Remember Zynga, the team behind Farmville and all those spam Facebook invitations that made you die a little inside whenever you saw them?

ClanHQ is the child of the Zynga veterans’ new venture, Carnivore, which did remind me of the somewhat predatory mechanics we know from Zynga games. But wait, don’t run away yet. We’re dealing with a different beast now.

But the state of the mobile games market isn’t ClanHQ’s fault. To see what the app has to offer, I decided to go in without prejudice and try out its features with Marvel: Contest of Champions (MCOC), a fighting game featuring the comic colossus’ roster of super-heroes and -villains with a focus on player alliances and questing.

MCOC happens to be the first game that ClanHQ was compatible with, and as of the time of writing, still the only one. Check out the trailer below for an impression of the game:

MARVEL Contest of Champions Install on Google Play

ClanHQ has a short list of games it hopes to support in the future, including other popular multiplayer titles such as Lords Mobile and Summoner’s War, so we can expect future games supported to be similarly heavy on the grinding/IAP. Still, the ladder to the top in these titles requires considerable time and attention as well as money, so anything that facilitates communication and coordination between players is welcome.

ClanHQ Install on Google Play

ClanHQ supports games without being part of them

Given that ClanHQ launched with Contest of Champions in mind, I was surprised to find just how inconvenient some of the content related to the game was. Most egregiously, I had to add my roster of champions and their stats manually, one at a time, a process that was not only tedious but required switching out from the app into the games to check the different ratings of each hero.

This alone made me groan at the thought of having to use ClanHQ as my roster of champions grows ever and ever larger. Kabam, MCOC’s developer, isn’t sharing their data with ClanHQ so for the moment this kind of irritating bookkeeping is inevitable.

For some players who prefer to put their trust in ClanHQ rather than the admins of the game service, this lack of data sharing might be an additional bonus. For now though, it’s still an extra layer of busywork that makes entry that little bit more difficult.

The good news is, once you’re invested, it has the right tools to make all the admin/management part of multiplayer MCOC much easier.

ClanHQ offers a home for the hardcore

So there are some hurdles from the get-go, but as a messenger/social app, ClanHQ is a marked improvement over the native communications tools in Contest of Champions.

mcocchat MCOC’s native chat tool is far from impressive. / © AndroidPIT (screenshot)

Carnivore’s app offers a social space far above and beyond what MCOC comes with, and Carnivore’s attention allows a real living community to flourish in their app. In this you can see the team’s real expertise with social gaming shine through.

The truly dedicated who are spending 6+ hours a day playing and participating in the community will find a lot to love here. ClanHQ buzzes with lively chat discussing all aspects of the game, looking for groups to join, sharing tips and tricks, joking around, bragging about prizes and coordinating strategy.

clanhqchat ClanHQ is both more lively and helpful than MCOC’s chat tools. / © AndroidPIT (screenshot)

Then there are various convenience features that will quickly assign the rank and file players in an alliance to quests and lets them quickly inform the leadership about their achievements. For busy clan leaders and alliance commanders, this kind of help with the often baroque mechanics of massively multiplayer games can be a godsend and a serious time-saver. 

Once it supports multiple games, ClanHQ sounds like it would a great one-stop-shop to manage your involvement across the different titles. If Carnivore remains dedicated to their mission to create specific features and services tailored to each particular title, that would be a lot of work on their side, but seriously impressive if they could pull it off.

Carnivore may have bitten off more than it can chew

Savvy readers may also be looking for the bottom line here. How is ClanHQ going to make money? At some point, ads will be shown on the platform, no doubt to the resentment of many. In order to sweeten that pill, Carnivore are going to have to build up a lot of goodwill by refining their product so that player’s think it’s indispensable.

Could this be the future of mobile gaming?

So, are we going to see Carnivore all over social media like we did with Zynga? Hardly. It’s still too niche, and too early. But the hungry startup could be on the trail of something juicy.

As it stands, ClanHQ is a decent app for Contest of Champions, most useful above all to the leaders of alliances who need to coordinate their soldiers. But it aims to be more than that. To do so, it will have to knit together support for various features from different games. 

Currently, its edge on the competition are the game-specific features that elevate ClanHQ over something like Line, and that only works for MCOC. And for many, even that isn’t sufficient. It’s not a great look for your app when Alliances advertise for players in ClanHQ explicitly mentioning that they will be requiring Line for further communication.

linereq Many alliances on ClanHQ still require Line for communication. / © AndroidPIT (screenshot)

At the end of the day, it’s all about convenience. An app, whether it’s for gaming or chat or ordering food or photo editing, wins when it streamlines a process and makes it more convenient for those times when we’re busy or out in public, with a short amount of time to focus on the small screen.

A community/clan management app for mobile gaming makes a lot of sense, but the competition is heating up and the winner is going to have to provide the following:

  • Be compatible with a lot of games (not so easy when you consider the second point)
  • Also provide game-specific convenience features (and kudos to ClanHQ for trying this)
  • Unite players by being stable across a range of devices. My own test devices (Samsung Galaxy S7 and the Razer Phone) had no problems with the app, but recent reviews in the Play Store suggest it’s still an issue for many.

Right now, ClanHQ provides a good hub for MCOC players willing to make an effort to get invested, but it’s a far cry from being the obvious choice. It’s hard not to admire the ambition, but I’m left with the impression that Carnivore may have bitten off more than it can chew.

Do you use a separate app to chat with other players of your favorite games? Which ones are your favorite?

Android News + App Reviews + Hardware Reviews – AndroidPIT

A pen for all: universal stylus standards are taking shape

Stylus have always been a controversial subject in the world of smartphones. Are they actually useful? There are many pens good for iOS but, outside of Samsung’s S-Pen (exclusive to Samsung devices), there aren’t many options for Android.

Few dare to launch devices that need this little pen to complement their usability. LG released Android devices with stylus, but they failed to win the hearts of the masses.

LG stylus 3 Remember the LG Stylus? / © LG

The LG stylus was not very successful, since it was just a piece of plastic. Samsung’s S-Pen has a much higher level of usability, quality and accuracy, but can only be purchased with the Galaxy Note line, the Korean company’s most expensive devices.

It was more than the time for a unifying standard to appear on the market, such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and USB, so that companies can follow and standardize some details. In fact, this project already exists and started in 2015, but it’s only this year that it begins to take shape, with the recent entry of new companies into the group.

usi 2 Current stylus, including S Pen, suffer from interference / © USI

The Universal Stylus Initiative, or USI, first surfaced with market giants such as Intel, Wacom (the stylus experts) and Synaptics, among others, and in 2016 launched USI 1.0, the first specifications for what should be a universal stylus.

With these specifications, component suppliers (independent hardware vendors or IHVs) and manufacturers (original equipment manufacturers or OEMs) now had a guide to produce a stylus that would serve on various equipment.

USI is an open, non-proprietary format that defines the method of communication by which the stylus sends information to the device, so any company can use it without paying for related patents or the protocol itself. Thus, stylus with a consistent, customizable and interoperable user experience can be sold for use with different brands and equipment, be it smartphones, tablets, computers, home appliances and more.

usi 3 Look for this logo on the product. / © USI

Now in 2018, major new companies have announced participation in the initiative, such as Google, 3M, MyScript, Tactual Labs, Lattice Semiconductor and Maxeye Smart Technologies, joining others such as Dell, Lenovo and Sharp. In total, there are 30 members committed not only to improving the protocol, but also to using them in their products.

So far, the main functions of a universal stylus should be:

  • Using the existing touch-tone technology, called Mutual Capacitance (present in almost any touch-screen device)
  • Compatible with any other USI compliant device
  • Two-way communication between device and stylus
  • Save ink color information and pen size on the stylus
  • Possess nine-axis inertia measurement (important sensors for details)
  • 4096 levels of pressure sensitivity
  • Among others

usi 1 The USI 1.0 protocol supports multiple styluses at the same time. / © USI

Of these specifications, one of the most striking is two-way communication, as this means that we will see much more than pieces of plastic with the name of stylus, but really smart pens, which store data, avoid interference from other electronics and which will live up to today’s technologically advanced products. We can dump the dumb plastic stylus into the trash can of the past along with the old Palm OS devices.

USI does not mean a bunch of companies gathered just to determine how to make a stylus, but rather a bunch of companies that are actively researching to develop new technologies to make the stylus really useful.

So if you enjoy technology, especially smartphones, keep an eye on this initiative and on your favorite manufacturer.

Would you use a decent stylus? What features should a good stylus have to convince you?

Android News + App Reviews + Hardware Reviews – AndroidPIT

Camera blind test 2017: HTC and Sony take on Google, Samsung, LG and Apple

Our editorial team now has all the flagships from the first half of 2017, so it’s time for a blind camera test. We’ve got some really fantastic phone cameras this time around as we’re pitching the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus against the likes of the Sony Xperia XZ Premium, HTC U11, LG G6, Google Pixel and iPhone 7 Plus. At the end of the day, it’s your vote that counts – so which do you think is the best? 

Choose Driving or Action-adventure.

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    Driving

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    Action-adventure

To set up the test, we did the following: we took pictures with all the smartphones using the stock camera app and default settings – we only set the resolution to maximum if it wasn’t already set. To ensure comparability, we didn’t touch the settings and – unless otherwise mentioned– didn’t adjust the light settings or the focus either.

Afterwards, we went on a walk with all the devices and took pictures of various subjects as we went along. Each time, we took three photos with each camera and selected the best for this blind test. Next, we lightly cropped the smartphone photos so that they wouldn’t give away the smartphone in question through the different focal lengths.

For reference purposes, we also took a picture of every subject using a DSLR camera, which was the Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Sigma 24-70mm 1:2.8 lens. We also selected automatic mode here.

A quick note before we begin: the letters assigned to the individual shots may represent a different smartphone in each case, so images 1A and 2A might not necessarily be from the same smartphone.

Subject 1: Dynamic range

blindtest q2 2017 01 dslr Subject 1 taken by a DSLR. / © AndroidPIT

Subjects that are rich in contrast are always exceptionally challenging for smartphones: Compared to full-fledged cameras, the tiny image sensors in cell phones have a very small dynamic range. When taking pictures in back-lit conditions, for instance, it causes the foreground to be underexposed and the background to be overexposed. HDR mode counteracts this problem.

blindtest q2 2017 1a  © AndroidPIT blindtest q2 2017 1b  © AndroidPIT blindtest q2 2017 1c © AndroidPIT blindtest q2 2017 1d © AndroidPIT blindtest q2 2017 1e © AndroidPIT blindtest q2 2017 1f  © AndroidPIT

Vote for the smartphone that you think did best with this high-contrast subject.

Subject 2: Macro

blindtest q2 2017 02 dslr This is the DSLR photo of subject 2 – and the section that we show enlarged in all smartphone photos. / © AndroidPIT

Smartphones usually do very well in macro mode, even when directly compared to full-fledged cameras like the Canon DSLR we used for this comparison. For this subject, you can rate the detail reproduction for different devices.

Since it’s essential to have the correct focus when taking close-up pictures, we tapped on the middle of the sunflower in each camera app to focus on it.

blindtest q2 2017 2a  © AndroidPIT blindtest q2 2017 2b  © AndroidPIT blindtest q2 2017 2c  © AndroidPIT blindtest q2 2017 2d  © AndroidPIT blindtest q2 2017 2e  © AndroidPIT blindtest q2 2017 2f  © AndroidPIT

Here you can vote for the smartphone you think did best in taking a close-up picture.

Subject 3: Dusk

blindtest q2 2017 03 dslr Here we’ve also marked the section on the DSLR image that we show enlarged from the full picture on the smartphone photos. / © AndroidPIT

Several things come together in this subject: on the one hand, the contrasts from the low sun are very high but on the other hand, this subject shows a lot of detail. Thus, for the blind test, we selected a section from the photo that should cover both aspects – on the DSLR shot, we marked the area where the section can be found in the full picture.

blindtest q2 2017 3a  © AndroidPIT blindtest q2 2017 3b  © AndroidPIT blindtest q2 2017 3c  © AndroidPIT blindtest q2 2017 3d  © AndroidPIT blindtest q2 2017 3e  © AndroidPIT blindtest q2 2017 3f  © AndroidPIT

Vote for the smartphone that you think did best at dusk.

Subject 4: Night

blindtest q2 2017 04 dslr This is the photo taken on our DSLR for the night scene category. / © AndroidPIT

Shots in dark settings also present smartphones’ small image sensors with a problem. To compensate for this, the camera needs to process the data from the sensor carefully and with “high sensitivity”. Not doing this well will result in reading errors that appear as image noise.

To decrease sensitivity and therefore improve image quality, a large aperture and an optical image stabilizer are helpful, both of which allow for longer exposure times. An additional challenge is the artificial lighting from street lights, which requires a correct white balance. So that’s the theory, now for the practice:

blindtest q2 2017 4a   © AndroidPIT blindtest q2 2017 4b   © AndroidPIT blindtest q2 2017 4c  © AndroidPIT blindtest q2 2017 4d © AndroidPIT blindtest q2 2017 4e  © AndroidPIT blindtest q2 2017 4f  © AndroidPIT

Here you can vote for the smartphone you think did best in taking the night shot.

When will the results of the camera test be revealed?

The results of the blind camera test will be revealed at the end of next week on AndroidPIT.com. Until then, we look forward to your votes and are excitedly anticipate the results. Thank you for participating!

Android News + App Reviews + Hardware Reviews – AndroidPIT

Smartphone prices are higher than ever, are we being ripped off?

The prices of smartphones in the last three years have skyrocketed. The flagships of 2017 reached a whopping $ 1,000, and that’s a lot of money. It may be worth it for some people, but the inevitable question arises: How much does it really cost to make a smartphone? Are we being ripped off?

How much do the components cost?

The price of a smartphone is a simple figure, made up of very complex parts. Here we’re going to focus on what each individual component costs and try to get an idea for the end result. Of course, we will have to exclude the developer investment costs, but let’s take a look into the rest of the expenses.

It’s important to note that these figures only make up half of the cost, otherwise you may feel extremely cheated when you take a look at these numbers!

IHS Markit published the material costs for Apple’s latest device, the iPhone X, revealing that it has a higher material cost at $ 370 than the Samsung Galaxy S8, which according to a news report from IHS, costs $ 307 to make. The iPhone X costs consumers a hefty $ 999, with the manufacturing cost being around 37% of the total price, and the Galaxy S8 costs about $ 720, around 42% of the total.

The graph below demonstrates these price differences:

chart IHS Figures released by IHS Markit / © AndroidPIT

In the graph we see how the most expensive components are the display, body, cameras and processor, which in both devices account for more than half of the cost of components. After this, we also have to add the manufacturing costs, which basically refers to the process of assembling it together. This varies from one device to the other and can range from $ 3 to $ 20. For the S8, the manufacturing expense is $ 5.90.

What profit margins do manufacturers make?

As you can see, making a smartphone costs considerably less than the final price of the device. But that difference isn’t all the manufacturer wins. The price of the device must also be deducted from the distribution costs, research costs, development costs and most importantly, marketing and advertising.

At the end of 2017, WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) published a report that included the profits manufacturers gain when selling a smartphone. WIPO gave us three examples: the Samsung Galaxy S7, the iPhone 7 and Huawei P9.

The WIPO profit margin for these three devices according to the global average price was 34% for the S7, and 42% for iPhone 7 and P9. So it seems that for the top range of the three largest manufacturers in the world, the profit margin is quite high. But not everyone makes money with their smartphones. LG, Motorola and Sony are three good examples of how making a profit by selling smartphones is difficult if you aren’t a top player in the market. As usual, the top seller earns the most.

What’s most shocking is that the number of sales aren’t affected even though the prices of high-end devices continue to go up. I have my own social theory for this: they have become yet another symbol of status and recognition, the same as with clothes or cars. 

Do you feel ripped off? Have smartphone prices reached the maximum with the latest flagships?

Android News + App Reviews + Hardware Reviews – AndroidPIT

Why LG decided to present a new V30 version at MWC

LG finally made it clear that it will be bringing some news to MWC this year. A new version of the LG V30 with more smart AI features; certainly a smart announcement from the manufacturer, but it’s not likely to steal the limelight right now.

Some say that smartphones have reached the peak. Or rather, a plateau. In other words, there are hardly any more development opportunities, and few new developments actually impress us. It seems that manufacturers are losing momentum. 

On the other hand, that isn’t totally true. A technical revolution is currently taking place in other areas. Image recognition functions don’t knock you off your feet, but they represent an enormously advanced and exciting technology. Speech recognition is the stuff of science fiction movies, and in a few years time it will become even more advanced.

Google introduced Assistant in October 2016. At the beginning, it was not all that useful. Fast forward to almost one and a half years later, Assistant has come a long way. Google Home, particularly the Home Mini are top sellers – only beaten by Amazon Alexa. Amazon Echo has gone beyond just simply being a smart speaker. With the Echo Show, Amazon is now offering video calling along with voice control and a fast Internet connection.  Amazon could soon turn out to be a big winner here.

AndroidPIT amazon echo show 7168 Amazon Echo Show / © AndroidPIT by Irina Efremova

We know LG announced a new version of the V30 that will be presented during MWC. An update that focuses on artificial intelligence functions, with Voice AI improving the use of Google Assistant commands. Vision AI extends the smartphone’s camera to include object detection in order to recommend the correct exposure settings. For example, if the V30 detects a plate of pasta, the food mode is activated, producing warmer colors and a sharper picture. 

However, they are not ground-breaking new features and neither of them are set to wow the crowds at MWC as of course, competitors are also offering their own versions of these technologies. 

Us too!

We’ve seen it before: manufacturers are simply following the trends, and for this reason it wasn’t surprising that LG announced new AI technologies. Don’t start yawning too soon though. For LG, developing its AI is a life insurance policy. Why? Because LG doesn’t make its profits with smartphones, but with household appliances and TVs instead.

Anyone who walks through an LG trade fair stand will see washing machines, refrigerators, televisions and more, but without a smartphone, LG would be missing out on an opportunity. 

AndroidPIT LG V30 0524 The LG V30 is getting smarter! / © AndroidPIT

In a few years time, electronics in your home will be networked with assistance systems, and LG is currently working with the ThinQ brand. Sooner or later, your smartphones will also be involved with this.  

LG’s V30 needs a better camera

Are these AI functions really what the LG V30 needs? If you ask me, a much more important feature would be an improved camera. But I guess that will have to wait. For V30 owners, there is some good news however, as the AI functions may also be available on older smartphone models via a software update.

Is LG heading in the right direction? Do you think the camera should be a priority?

Android News + App Reviews + Hardware Reviews – AndroidPIT