All posts in “Android”

Rylo’s shoot first, frame later camera is ideal for casual adventure-seekers

Action cameras are a gadget that mostly cater to a person’s wish to see themselves in a certain way: Most people aren’t skiing off mountains or cliff diving most of the time, but they aspire to. The issue with most action cameras, though, is that even when you actually do something cool, you still have to shoot the right angle to capture the moment, which is itself a skill. That’s the beauty of Rylo, a tiny 360 camera that minimizes the skill required and makes it easy to get the shots you want.

Rylo is compact enough to have roughly the footprint of a GoPro, but with dual lenses for 4K, 360-degree video capture. It has a removable battery pack good for an hour of continuous video recording, and a micro USB port for charging. In the box, you’ll get either a micro USB to Lightning, or micro USB to micro USB and USB C cables, depending on whether you pick up the Android or the iOS version, and you handle all editing on the mobile device you already have with you always.

The device itself feels solid, and has stood up to a lot of travel and various conditions over the course of my usage. The anodized aluminum exterior can take some lumps, and the OLED screen on the device provides just enough info when you’re shooting, without overwhelming. There’s no viewfinder, but the point of the Rylo is that you don’t need one – it’s capturing a full 360-degree image all the time, and you position your shot after the fact in editing.

Rylo includes a 16GB microSD card in the box, too, but you can use up to 256GB versions for more storage. A single button on top controls both power functions and recording, and the simplicity is nice when you’re in the moment and just want to start shooting without worrying about settings.

The basic functionality of Rylo is more than most people will need out of a device like this: Using the app, you can select out an HD, flat frame of video to export, and easily trim the length plus make adjustments to picture, including basic edits like highlights, color and contrast. Rylo’s built-in stabilization keeps things surprisingly smooth, even when you’re driving very fast along a bumpy road with what amounts to nearly race-tuned tires and suspension.

Then, if you want to get really fancy, you can do things like add motion to your clips, including being able to make dead-simple smooth pans from one focus point to another. The end result looks like you’re using a gimbal or other stabilized film camera, but all the equipment you need is the Rylo itself, plus any mount, including the handle/tripod mount that comes in the box, or anything that works with a GoPro.

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You can even set a specific follow point, allowing you to track a specific object or person throughout the clip. This works well, though sometimes it’ll lose track of the person or thing if there’s low light or the thing it’s following gets blocked. The app will let you know it’s lost its target, however, and in practice it works well enough to create good-looking videos for things like bicycling and riding ATVs, for instance.

Other companies are trying to do similar things with their own hardware, including GoPro with the Fusion and Insta360 with its Insta360 One. But Rylo’s solution has the advantage of being dead simple to use, with easily portable hardware that’s durable and compatible with existing GoPro mount accessories. The included micro USB to Lightning cable isn’t easily replaced, except for from Rylo itself, and it’s also small and easy to lose, so that’s my main complaint when it comes to the system as a whole.

In the end, the Rylo does what it’s designed to do: Takes the sting out of creating cool action clips and compelling short movies for people working mostly from their mobile devices. It’s not as flexible for pros looking for a way to integrated more interesting camera angles into their desktop workflow because of how tied content captured on the Rylo is to the Rylo app itself, but it seems clearly designed for a consumer enthusiast market anyway.

At $499, the Rylo isn’t all that much more expensive than the GoPro Hero 6. It’s still a significant investment, and the image quality isn’t up to the 4K video output by the GoPro, but for users who just want to make cool videos to share among friends using social tools, Rylo’s ease of use and incredibly low bar in terms of filming expertise required is hard to beat.

Anker’s Nebula Capsule portable projector is a pocket powerhouse

Anker is a device maker that’s rapidly become a go-to brand for affordable, quality accessories include cables, chargers and backup batteries. More recently, it’s started to branch out into additional areas, including projectors through its Nebula brand. The Nebula Capsule is the latest product from that line, a super portable projector with an Android-based OS, a built-in battery and the ability to double as a Bluetooth speaker.

The Nebula Capsule is the smaller sibling to the Nebula Mars portable cinema projector, which is actually far less portable than the newer Capsule. The Mars is more of a home theater projector that you’re also technically able to take with you if you want, whereas the Capsule is roughly the size of a can of Coke, and easy to stash in even smaller bags, or, if you’re not worries bout some bulging, even in a jacket pocket.

Anker initially launched the Capsule on Indiegogo, but now it’s made its way to Amazon where it retails for $349. The projector can extend an image up to 100 inches in diameter, with 100 ANSI lumens of brightness, and it can mange four hours of video playback on its built-in power source. There’s a 360-degree speaker integrated into the base, and it comes with built-in Wi-Fi and Android 7.1, with its own app store to run popular apps like Netflix, Plex, Hulu and Amazon Prime.

The device has micro USB OTG input, and can read from USB drives formatted in FAT32, plus a full-sized HDMI for attaching basically anything. Its native 854×480 resolution isn’t going to win any awards, but it’s hardly important when you’re catching up on a show on the road or playing Switch in your backyard on a stretched out bed sheet. And the trade-off, in terms of portability and versatility, its worth it.

On top of the device, there are arrows that help you adjust volume, and there’s a button to turn it on, as well as a mode switch so you can use it as a Bluetooth speaker I you want. Focus adjustment is handled via a wheel mounted into the side, and this is a bit tricky because it involves a little hunting to get it just right, but the minimal interface options, but again, it’s a practical way of doing it and works given the form factor of the device.

In the box, you also get a remote control, which works via IR (there’s a receiver built into the back of the device). Here, it’d be nicer to have some kid of RF-based remote instead, but the IR version works well enough, and there’s a companion mobile app for both controlling the projector and for mirroring your content. You can’t mirror content-protected media, which is a bit of a pain, but the fact that the Capsule supports streaming media from built-in apps mostly makes up for this.

The speaker is surprisingly powerful, and can fill a small room easily. It’s not going to compete with 5.1 audio systems, or with something like the HomePod, but it’s plenty good enough that watching a show or movie on the Capsule is pleasant, and never falls down on the back of bad sound. Plus, I almost always pack a dedicated Bluetooth speaker on my trips away, anyway – the Capsule doubles as one, and takes up as little or even less space than most, with equivalent sound quality. Acting just as a Bluetooth speaker, the capsule’s battery life extends out to 30 hours.

Considered as a two-for-one combo that includes a great travel projector and a terrific portable Bluetooth speaker, the Anker Nebula Capsule is a hard bargain to pass up.

PUBG soft-launches on mobile in Canada with Android release

Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds, the ‘battle royale’ style game where everyone tries to be the last player standing while scrounging for supplies to keep them alive, has launched on Android in Canada MobileSyrup reports, which could presage a future release in the U.S.

The arrival of the mobile version of the game more generally known as PUBG coincides with it reaching the 5 million player milestone on Xbox, where it’s been available since late last year after debuting on the PC in early access earlier in 2017. It’s not cross-play compatible, unlike Fortnite, however, so if you’re playing the Android version you’ll be matched up against others with the app, which is published by Chinese Internet giant Tencent.

This Android port wasn’t developed by original PUBG studio Bluehole, but they say they oversaw the creation of this mobile version. Based on early testing with a Pixel 2 XL, it looks and feels a lot like the original.

PUBG doesn’t have quite the hype of Fortnite right now, since that’s begun a cross-platform play mobile beta and also Drake just played a session with one of the most popular professional esports players in the world. But a mobile version close at hand (and available now, if you’re Canadian) is reason to get excited.

Android beats iOS in smartphone loyalty, study finds

Samsung’s new Galaxy S9 may not quite live up to the iPhone X when it comes to Samsung’s implementation of a Face ID-style system or its odd take on AR emoji. But that’s not going to matter much to Samsung device owners — not only because the S9 is a good smartphone overall, but because Android users just aren’t switching to iPhone anymore. In fact, Android users have higher loyalty than iOS users do, according to a new report today from Consumer Intelligence Research Partners (CIRP).

The research firm found that Android brand loyalty has been remaining steadily high since early 2016, and remains at the highest levels ever seen.

Today, Android has a 91 percent loyalty rate, compared with 86 percent for iOS, measured as the percentage of U.S. customers who stayed with their operating system when they upgraded their phone in 2017.

From January 2016 through December 2017, Android loyalty ranged from 89 to 91 percent (ending at 91 percent), while iOS loyalty was several percentage points lower, ranging from 85 to 88 percent.

Explains Mike Levin, partner and co-founder of CIRP, users have pretty much settled on their brand of choice at this point.

“With only two mobile operating systems at this point, it appears users now pick one, learn it, invest in apps and storage, and stick with it. Now, Apple and Google need to figure out how to
sell products and services to these loyal customer bases,” he said.

That’s also why both companies have increasingly become focused on services, as they try to extract larger revenues from their respective user bases. For Apple, that’s been a win, financially speaking — it saw record revenue from services in November, suggesting growth in things like Apple Music, Apple Pay, iCloud, AppleCare and App Store.

For Android users, the higher brand loyalty could be chalked up to their ability to switch to different styles of new phones, without having to leave Android — thanks to its distribution across a variety of handsets. That gives users the freedom to try out new experiences, without giving up their investments in purchased apps, or the time they’ve spent learning their way around Android, for that matter.

It’s worth noting that Android hasn’t always led in user loyalty as it does now. CIRP has been tracking these metrics for years, and things used to be the other way around.

In 2013, for example, iPhone owners were found to be more loyal than Android users. But that shifted the following year, and Android has risen ever since. (By the way, if you click through to read the comments on that linked AllThingsD article from 2013, it’s a quite a trip. Remember when people cared so much about their choice of smartphone it led to commenting wars? Ah, the good ol’ days.)

All that being said, the rate of switching is different from the total number of people switching, the firm also pointed out. And looking at the numbers from that perspective changes things.

“We know Android has a larger base of users than iOS, and because of that larger base, the
absolute number of users that switch to iOS from Android is as large or larger than the
absolute number of users that switch to Android from iOS,” said Levin.”Looking at absolute number of users in this way tends to support claims that iOS gains more former Android users,
than Android does former iOS users.”

Here’s the first developer preview of Android P

Just like in the last two years, Google is using the beginning of March to launch the first developer preview of the next version of Android. Android P, as it’s currently called, is still very much a work in progress and Google isn’t releasing it into its public Android beta channel for over-the-air updates just yet. That’ll come later. Developers, however, can now download all the necessary bits to work with the new features and test their existing apps to make sure they are compatible.

As with Google’s previous early releases, we’re mostly talking about under-the-hood updates here. Google isn’t talking about any of the more user-facing design changes in Android P just yet. The new features Google is talking about, though, will definitely make it easier for developers to create interesting new apps for modern Android devices.

So what’s new in Android P? Since people were already excited about this a few weeks ago, let’s get this one new feature out of the way: Android P has built-in support for notches, those display cutouts Apple had the courage to pioneer with the iPhone X. Developers will be able to call a new API to check whether a device has a cutout and its dimensions and then request full-screen content to flow around it.

While Google isn’t talking much about user-facing features, the company mentions that it is once again making changes to Android notifications. This time around, the company is focusing on notifications from messaging apps and it’s giving developers a couple of new tools for highlighting who is contacting you and giving developers the ability to attach photos, stickers and smart replies to these notifications.

A couple of new additions to the Android Autofill Framework for developers who write password managers will also make life a bit easier for users, though right now, the focus here is on better data set filtering, input sanitization and a compatibility mode that will allow password managers to work with apps that don’t have built-in support for Autofill yet.

While Google isn’t introducing any new power-saving features in Android P (yet), the company does say that it continues to refine existing features like Doze, App Standby and Background Limits, all of which it introduced in the last few major releases.

What Google is adding, though, is new privacy features. Android P will, for example, restrict access to the microphone, camera and sensors from idle apps. In a future build, the company will also introduce the ability to encrypt Android backups with a client-side secret and Google will also introduce per-network randomization of associated MAC address, which will make it harder to track users. This last feature is still experimental for now, though.

One of the most interesting new developer features in Android P is the multi-camera API. Since many modern phones now have dual front or back cameras (with Google’s own Pixel being the exception), Google decided to make it easier for developers to access both of them with the help of a new API to call a fused camera stream that can switch between two or more cameras. Other changes to the camera system are meant to help image stabilization and special effects developers build their tools and to reduce the delays during initial captures. Chances are, then, that we’ll see the more Frontback-style apps with the release of Android P.

On the media side, Android P also introduces built-in support for HDR VP9 Profile 2 for playing HDR-enabled movies on devices with the right hardware, as well as support for images in the increasingly popular High Efficiency Image File Format (HEIF), which may just be the JPEG-killer the internet has been searching for for decades (and which Apple also supports). Developers now also get new and more efficient tools for handling bitmap images and drawables thanks to ImageDecode, a replacement for the current BitMapFactory object.

Indoor positioning is also getting a boost in Android P thanks to support for the IEEE 802.11mc protocol, which provides information about Wi-Fi round-trip time, which in turn allows for relatively accurate indoor positioning. Devices that support this protocol will be able to locate a user with an accuracy of one to two meters. That should be more than enough to guide you through a mall or pop up an ad when you are close to a store, but Google also notes that some of the use cases here include disambiguated voice controls.

Once you are in that store in the mall and want to pay, Android P now also supports the GlobalPlatform Open Mobile API. That name may evoke the sense of green meadows and mountain dew, but it’s basically the standard for building secure NFV-based services like payments solutions.

Developers who want to do machine learning on phones are also in luck, because Android P will bring a couple of new features to the Neural Networks API that Google first introduced with Android 8.1. Specifically, Android P will add support for nine operations: Pad, BatchToSpaceND, SpaceToBatchND, Transpose, Strided Slice, Mean, Div, Sub and Squeeze.

But wait, there’s more. Now that Kotlin is a first-class language for Android development, Google is obviously optimizing its compiler, and for all apps, Google is also promising performance and efficiency improvements in its ART runtime.

Clearly, this is one of the more meaningful Android updates in recent years. It’s no surprise then that Google is only making images available to developers right now and that you won’t be able to get this version over the air just yet. Like with previous releases, though, Google does plan to bring Android P to the Android beta channel (Google I/O is about two months away, so that may be the time for that). As usual, Google will likely introduce a couple of other new features over the course of the beta period and at some point, it’ll even announce the final name for Android P…

Featured Image: Bryce Durbin