Hands-on with the Samsung Galaxy Note II [Gallery]

The Galaxy Note II unveiled at IFA 2012 last month, amid a bevy of other Samsung-related news that dominated the popular trade show, and immediate reactions placed it somewhere between the original Galaxy Note and the Galaxy S III.

Well, those summarizations were spot-on.

SPECS

I recently sat down with Samsung at a media event in New York City to get a closer look at the global version of its “phablet.” At first glance, it is easy to notice the new Note’s lighter and thinner design, redesigned S Pen stylus, larger 5.5-inch display, faster 1.6GHz quad-core Exynos processor, and a slew of fresh software features layered over Android 4.1 Jelly Bean.

The 720p Super AMOLED display, which boasts a slight improvement over the original, carries a 1,280-by-720-pixel resolution, and Samsung U.S. Director of Product Marketing Ryan Bidan noted it is the company’s “brightest, sharpest, clearest screen.”

The Note II also features a shrunken bezel and a physical design akin to the Galaxy S III, including the same 8-megapixel camera, and even its user-interface mimics many of the S III’s core highlights. The phablet is notably different, however, due to its new S Pen-specific functions.

“The Galaxy Note II brings the design and software experience that we created for the Galaxy S III to the Note platform,” Bidan contended.

Additional specs include a “Magic Wand” homescreen, NFC, 16GB, 32GB or 64GB storage options, and 2GB of RAM. It ships in both Mountain White or Titanium Gray flavors and further touts a massive 3100mAH battery, which is 25 percent larger than the original Note’s, for 10- to- 12 hours of normal use.

A gallery is below.

Read more

Google Glass interface described in new report

The Wall Street Journal published a report with some new information on the interface for the Google Glasses:

In all, the glasses are like a wearable smartphone, allowing the user to take pictures, send messages and perform other functions via voice-activated commands. For instance, say “OK, Glass” into one of the glasses’ two microphones and a menu pops off to the side of your vision showing icons that will let you take a picture, record a video, use Google Maps or make a phone call.

After 10 minutes of playing with the glasses—which the company prefers to call Google Glass, since they don’t have lenses—I could see their long-term potential. The device fit well. It was easy to snap a picture or video without taking my smartphone out of my pocket. It was cool to see the information there in front of my right eye, though a little disorienting. I kept closing my left eye, which was uncomfortable.

Mr. Brin said his favorite feature is the time-lapse capability that lets him snap photos of his kids every 10 seconds when he is playing with them. “I never think about taking out my phone,” he said. “That would really be disruptive to my play time.”

“I have always disliked the feeling that with technology I am spending a lot of my time and attention managing it,” added Mr. Brin, dressed casually in a white T-shirt and jeans. “The notion of seamlessly having access to your digital world without disrupting the real world is very important.”

The reporter used the glasses at the DVF Fashion show in New York City this week (Gallery). It sounds like the interface options are progressing since I wore the headset briefly at Google I/O in June. However, we are still a long way from a usable product.

Read more

Google Wallet says it will cut Google Prepaid Cards next month

Google Wallet launched nearly a year ago with free $10 prepaid cards for welcoming users to the mobile payments system, but Google just announced that it is discontinuing its complimentary gift next month.

In an email to existing Google Wallet users, Google revealed prepaid cards will permanently disappear from the app on Oct. 17. The Internet giant offers folks a chance to request a refund, however, but it might be easier to simply spend the cash now.

Moreover, as of Sept. 17, users will no longer be able to add funds to their prepaid cards. Go to Google Wallet online for more information, or just read the entire email announcement below.

Read more

Google begins blocking The Pirate Bay from Google Instant and Autocomplete

Following its decision in January of last year to begin censoring search terms related to piracy and torrent sites, TorrentFreak reports today that Google is now censoring The Pirate Bay and searches related to the popular torrent tracker. While you can still access the site through Google, like other torrent related searches, Google is now blocking The Pirate Bay in its apps that utilize autocomplete and Google Instant.

Google has quietly expanded its list of censored search phrases with the addition of The Pirate Bay’s domain names. The blacklist prevents popular keywords from appearing in Google’s Instant and Autocomplete search services, while the pages themselves remain indexed… By censoring parts of their search services, Google is sending out a strong signal that they are committed to combating online copyright infringement, and to a certain degree their efforts are effective.

Pirate Bay responded to TorrentFreak about the decision the block that kicked in sometime last month:
Read more

Google Glass makes an appearance on the runway at New York Fashion Week (as expected)

We told you the other day that Google’s Project Glass was teaming with Diane von Furstenberg at New York Fashion Week for a video project documenting the creative process of a fashion show. We also noted it wouldn’t be surprising to perhaps see Google Glass headsets on some models during the fashion shows. As expected, the above images show Google’s Sergey Brin walking with Diane von Furstenberg down the runway wearing a few new colors of the Google glasses. You will also notice many of the models during the show were also wearing the headsets and the images were taken by Google Glass for the DVF video project.

Toys ‘R Us announces $150, Android 4.0-powered ‘Tabeo’ tablet, goes on sale Oct. 21

Not content with letting Amazon dominate the $200 tablet category, The Wall Street Journal reported that Toys ‘R Us announced it would soon sell its own Android-powered tablet geared specifically towards children. The $150 “Tabeo” will start hitting the company’s retail stores Oct. 21 with preorders already being accepted through Toysrus.com. The report noted Toys ‘R Us, which is in its second year of profit declines, already has competition in the tablets for children market. Some of the leading kids’ tablets, such as Kurio 7, Meep and Lexibook, have each recently been discounted to $150 to match the price of the upcoming Toys ‘R Us Tabeo. It appears Toys ‘R Us plans to sell a tablet closer to the Kindle Fire than the LeapPad, equipped with well-known, preloaded apps and a marketplace with over 7000 apps, but that device was also just recently dropped to $169 during Amazon’s unveiling of the new Kindle lineup:

The Toys “R” Us tablet, which uses Google Inc.’s Android mobile operating system, more closely resembles an adult tablet; it comes loaded with 50 free game applications, including popular titles such as “Angry Birds,” and the retailer has developed its own app store with 7,000 titles… Focus groups of parents and children prompted the company to include features that allow parents to control what websites their children visit and how much time they spend playing with the tablet.

The device will pack 4GB of flash memory (expandable via microSD), 1GB of RAM, a 1GHz ARM Cortex A8 processor, and run Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. Also included: USB 2.0, Mini HDMI out, a built-in speaker, microphone, G-sensor, and front-facing camera. Toys ‘R Us said the display is a 7-inch capacitive, TFT LCD with 16 million colors and a resolution of 800-by-480. Battery life: 10 hours in normal usage, 6- to- 7 hours of video. Parental controls include filters to “block 27 predetermined categories of content, and parents can choose additional sites to block and can select specific online content to unblock.”

There is, however, substantial risk for Toys ‘R Us if the tablets do not sell:
Read more

Amazon: Thanks Google for the OS and Apps, but we’re going to use Bing’s search engine

.

Sure, Amazon is building on Google’s OS, and it sells Android apps originally developed for Android in its own Appstore for the Kindle Fire products, but that does not mean it owes Google any debt of gratitude or anything. The company has told various news outlets that its default search (and who knows if you can change it at this point) will be Microsoft’s Bing.  Amazon is probably getting some cash for the decision…as well as taking money for ads on the new Kindle Fires.

Google obviously will not be pleased with the news, but that is part and parcel of “being open.”

Perhaps Google should start putting its apps on the Amazon Appstore so that it can still gain exposure on the Kindle Fire platform, or perhaps we will see some APKs floating around that let users put Google services on Kindle Fires manually. Here’s to hoping. Read more

Google pays homage to ‘Star Trek’ 46th anniversary with interactive Doodle

Trekkies rejoice!

Google is celebrating the 46th anniversary of “Star Trek: The Original Series”, although the first episode’s anniversary is tomorrow, with an interactive Doodle on the homepage. Google told Mashable it launched the game-like Doodle a day early so “people would have time to play with it and discover the entire story.”

The Doodle spotlights the show’s primary characters as letters from the word “Google”. Spock, for instance, is the ‘G’, while Kirk is an ‘o’. It also combines many familiar sounds and sights from the iconic Sci-Fi series including scenery of the USS Enterprise and its Transporter.

Ryan Germick, a self-touted Trekkie and leader of the Google Doodle Team, sat down with Entertainment Weekly to discuss the design process behind today’s Doodle:

We went through lot of different iterations. What we’re looking to do is show them. And it seemed like a way to double-down sort of silly, campy nature of what we’re doing with the doodle to put in Kirk’s block of hair, Spock’s ears. It’s a testament to the power of the show, and how iconic it is, that you can just put a couple details on anything, even a letter ‘G’ and know it’s a Vulcan. That was really fun to play with and informs the whole direction of [the silly style].

Check out Entertainment Weekly for more inside details. 

Can you identify the other characters in today’s Doodle? A gallery is below.

Read more

Google acquires online virus scanning service VirusTotal

According to a statement from VirusTotal (via TNW), a free online virus scanning service, its long-time partner Google has acquired the service. There is no specific word on how Google might take advantage of the company to improve security offerings across its products, but VirusTotal confirmed it will continue to “operate independently, maintaining our partnerships with other antivirus companies and security experts”:

Our goal is simple: to help keep you safe on the web. And we’ve worked hard to ensure that the services we offer continually improve. But as a small, resource-constrained company, that can sometimes be challenging. So we’re delighted that Google, a long-time partner, has acquired VirusTotal. This is great news for you, and bad news for malware generators, because:

  • The quality and power of our malware research tools will keep improving, most likely faster; and
  • Google’s infrastructure will ensure that our tools are always ready, right when you need them.

All New Kindle Fire Tablets are ad-supported

How did Amazon get such low price points on the new Fire tablets? JR Rafael points out something in the fine print:

Special Offers

The new Kindle Fire family comes with special offers that appear on the lock screen. Examples of special money-saving offers that customers will enjoy include a $5 credit in the Amazon MP3 Store and a $5 credit for select titles in the Amazon Instant Video Store. Customers will also receive special offers and screensavers from brands like AT&T, Discover and Intel, such as a special offer of a $10 Amazon.com Gift Card when a customer uses their Discover card to purchase a digital product on Amazon.

Translation: All these new devices are basically ad-supported.

That is interesting because Bezos also said:

Amazon wants to make money when people use its products. If someone puts it in a desk drawer, Amazon deserves nothing.

Frankly—if ads pay for some of the cost of delivering a solid device at super aggressive price points, then good for Amazon. My biggest question is: Of all the companies in the world, why is Google not doing this?

Read more

Amazon drops price of Kindle Fire to $159 adds $199 and $299 HD models in 7 and 8.9-inch varieties (and $499 LTE)

Live from Amazon’s Kindle event; the company just unveiled a refreshed Kindle Fire lineup dubbed the “Kindle Fire HD”. A few of the highlights: the device now comes in an 8.9-inch 1,920-by-1,200-pixel variant (in addition to a new 7-inch 1,280-by-800-pixel HD model) with 254 ppi, double the RAM of previous models, longer battery life, and a laminated touch sensor that reduces screen glare by up to 25 percent. The 8.9-inch Fire HD is set to ship Nov. 20 for $299, while a 7-inch Fire HD will cost you $199 when it ships Sept. 14.

Amazon also announced a 32GB 4G LTE model will ship Nov. 20 for $499 with LTE packages starting at $50 per year:

A few other notable specs for the new Fire HD line:
Read more