Motorola

The state of the foldable

Posted by | foldables, hardware, Mobile, Motorola, Royole, Samsung, Xiaomi | No Comments

You’d be forgiven for being cynical. I’ve been seeing foldable display concepts for as long as I’ve been attending tech trade shows (which, quite frankly, is longer than I care to mention). Big names like Samsung and LG have been pumping countless R&D dollars into the technology in hopes of being first to next step in the evolution of the smart phone form factor.

The concept is nothing new, of course. The flip phone pre-dates the ubiquitous smartphone slab by decades. And a number of companies have tried to cheat the system. 2017’s Axon M was one of the more memorable attempts in recent memory — though that device amounted to little more than two screens jammed together on a hinge.

It bold and brash, but more than anything it was completely silly with an execution that left a lot to be desired. In my review, I called it “a fascinating mess.” But hey, ZTE deserves at least some credit for a run of products that attempted — with varying degrees of success — to buck the trend of samey smartphones.

There are plenty of reasons to be pessimistic about the state of technology in 2019, but I humbly offer you a beacon of light. This is the year smartphones become fun again. With their back to the corner, facing flagging sales, smartphone makers are taking leaps. Hell, it’s still January, and we’ve already caught a glimpse of what’s to compete.

At the front of the charger are foldables. That seems to be the term we’ve settled on for now — and it suits the category just fine. What convertibles were to the laptop category, foldables are to phones. True foldables require the display itself to do the folding, so devices can ostensibly transform from a one-handed smartphone to a larger tablet.

The Axon M didn’t fit the description for a number of reason, not the least of which was the gap between the two displays, which, quite frankly, made for a pretty crappy movie viewing experience, among others.

The first real foldable we’ve seen was a surprise contender. If the name “Royole” meant anything to you, prior to the Flex Pai, it was probably followed by the phrase “with cheese.” From the moment we first saw grainy footage of the handset, it was clear that being first and being best are rarely one and the same. “Folding screens are here,” I wrote at the time, “and they look crappy.”

I got some time with an updated version of the handset about a month later in China, and reappraised my initial impressions a bit. Even still, the Flex Pai didn’t and doesn’t strike me as much more than a little known company’s push bid to make a name for itself simply by being first.

Romain spent a bit more time with the device at CES, and appears to have come to similar conclusions. Royole does get credit for actually making the device a reality — even if it’s one that’s more developer focused than consumer. That does, of course, speak to a broader issue around usability.

It was a cause Google was happy to take up in November, when the company announced Android support for foldable displays. Like the notch before it, Google was attempting to get out ahead of the looming trend.

We just announced support for foldables at #AndroidDevSummit, a new form factor coming next year from Android partners.

Android apps run seamlessly as the device folds, achieving this form factor’s chief feature: screen continuity. pic.twitter.com/NAfOmCOY26

— Android Developers (@AndroidDev) November 7, 2018

Here’s how Android VP Dave Burke described the category at the time, “You can think of the device as both a phone and a tablet, Broadly, there are two variants — two-screen devices and one-screen devices. When folded, it looks like a phone, fitting in your pocket or purse. The defining feature for this form factor is something we call screen continuity.”

It’s going to be fascinating to see if the industry coalesces around a single form factor here. The Flex Pai is one of the simpler ones — essentially operating like a sheet of paper that (somewhat awkwardly) folds in half so you can slip it in your pocket.

The same day that Google announced Android support, Samsung (briefly) showed off its own version of the technology. In the whooping 45 seconds the company devoted to it during a its two-hour keynote, we caught a glimpse of what looks to be an early prototype. Here, the device sports a display on the outside and unfolds to reveal a larger display within.

The “Infinity Flex Display” appeared at first glance to be more sophisticated than Royole’s — but “glance” is really the operative word here. It was a big, blocky prototype that we’ll be hearing more about at Unpacked next month.

Excited to share this video of a special Xiaomi smartphone from our President and Co-founder Bin Lin. It is the world’s first ever double folding phone — that’s pretty cool, isn’t it? #xiaomi #foldingphone #technology pic.twitter.com/iBj0n3vIbW

— Wang Xiang (@XiangW_) January 23, 2019

Earlier this week, meanwhile, Xiaomi debuted what’s since come to be regarded as the most advanced of the bunch, but like Samsung, we only got a glimpse. And here it was in a much more controlled environment of a short, pre-recorded clip and extremely low resolution. That said, “the world’s first ever double folding phone” looks like a thing out of a sci-fi film.

The company, telling, tossed around the word “prototype” quite liberally there.

And then there’s Huawei. Mobile Chief Richard Yu highlight plans to announce a 5G folding phone at Mobile World Congress next month. As ever, details are scarce. Same goes for Motorola’s Razer, a $1,500 folding throwback, which is firmly in the rumor stages.

If that price point gives you pause, well, get used to it. The Flex Pai is already available at $1,300, and most other handsets are appear on track to hit roughly the same price point, making the latest iPhone and Samsung Galaxy devices look like a downright bargain.

Powered by WPeMatico

Google Fi now officially supports most Android devices and iPhones

Posted by | Android, app-store, fi, Google, iOS, iPhone, LG, Mobile, Motorola, project fi, Samsung, smartphones, TC, vpn | No Comments

Google is making a major move to expand the availability of its Fi wireless service.

It’s been a few years since Google launched Project Fi with the promise of doing things a bit differently than the large carriers. Because it could switch between the cell networks of multiple providers to give you the best signal, the service only ever officially supported a select number of handsets. You could always trick it by activating the service on a supported phone and then moving your SIM card to another (including an iPhone), but that was never supported.

That’s changing today, though. The company is opening up Fi — and renaming it to Google Fi — and officially expanding device support to most popular Android phones, as well as iPhones. Supported Android phones include devices from Samsung, LG, Motorola and OnePlus. iPhone support is currently in beta, and there are a few extra steps to set it up, but the Fi iOS app should now be available in the App Store.

One thing you might not get with many of the now-supported phones is the full Fi experience, with network switching and access to Google’s enhanced network features, including Google’s VPN network. For that, you’ll still need a Pixel phone, the Moto G6 or any other device that you can buy directly in the Fi store.

Fi on all phones comes with the usual features, like bill protection, free high-speed international roaming and support for group plans.

To sweeten the deal, Google is also launching a somewhat extraordinary promotion today: If you open a new Fi account — or if are an existing user — you can buy any phone in the Fi shop today and get your money back in the form of a travel gift card that you can use for a flight with Delta or Southwest, or lodging with Airbnb and Hotels.com. There’s some fine print, of course (you need to keep your account active for a few months, etc.), but if you were looking at getting Fi anyway, like to travel and want to get a Pixel 3 XL, that’s not a bad deal at all.

The fine print is below:

Travel on Fi with Any Device Purchase Promotion Terms (Google Fi)

Limited time, 24-hour offer applies to any qualifying device purchased from fi.google.com from 11/28/18 12:00 AM PT through 11/28/18 11:59 PM PT, or while supplies last. When you purchase a qualifying device on fi.google.com, you can redeem a travel gift card in the amount you paid for the device, excluding taxes (details below).

To qualify for this promotion, a device must be activated within 15 days of device shipment and remain active for 60 consecutive days within 75 days of device shipment. The device must be activated within the same plan that was used to purchase the device. Activation must be for full service (i.e., activation does not apply to a data-only SIM).

This offer is available for new Google Fi customers as of 11/28/18 12:00 AM PT and existing, active Google Fi customers. If the customer is new to Google Fi, the customer must transfer (port-in) their current personal number over to Google Fi during sign up. The number being transferred must be currently active and have been active with the previous carrier and the customer since 8/28/18 12:00 AM PT.

After the terms have been satisfied, the customer will receive an email from Google Fi (around 75 – 90 days after device activation) with instructions on how to obtain a gift card from Tango subject to Tango’s terms and conditions. The user can redeem gift card amounts with select travel partners: Airbnb, Delta Airlines, Hotels.com, and Southwest Airlines. Gift cards may also be subject to the terms of the travel partners.

If Fi service is paused for more than 7 days or cancelled within 120 days of activation, the value of the gift card will be charged to your Google Payments account to match the purchased price of the device. Limit one per person. This offer is only available for U.S. residents ages 18 and older, and requires Google Payments and Google Fi accounts. Unless otherwise stated, this offer cannot be combined with other offers. Offer and gift card redemption are not transferable, and are not valid for cash or cash equivalent. Void where prohibited.

Powered by WPeMatico

Motorola is partnering with iFixit to sell official DIY phone repair kits

Posted by | Gadgets, ifixit, Motorola, TC | No Comments

Repairing a phone is harder than it needs to be. With phone manufacturers spending the last decade chasing device slimness and building devices meant to last however long a phone contract lasts, user repairability just doesn’t seem to be something they care much about. Need a repair part? Good luck on eBay, friendo!

In what might, maybe, hopefully be a sign of that tide changing, Motorola is now selling official repair kits in a partnership with iFixit .

You probably know iFixit as the folks that somehow manage to rip apart nearly every new popular device within hours of its release. Their deep gadget teardowns show you how the clocks tick and the silicon hamster wheels turn, allowing a peek inside while your own hard-earned gear stays in one happily functioning piece.

But they also sell a bunch of bits and bobs for when things stop working. They source tons of individual parts for repairing all sorts of devices, from aging iPods to console controllers. And now, for a handful of Motorola phones, they’re doing it with Motorola’s blessing.

They’ve just started shipping a handful of pre-assembled repair kits with replacement parts sourced straight from Motorola. At this point they’ve got kits for eight different phones (Moto Z, Moto X, Droid Turbo 2, Moto Z Play, Moto G5, Z Force, X Pure and G4 Plus). They’re focusing on the two biggest, most frequently replaced components — the battery and the screen — and each kit contains everything you need to get the phone apart, patched up and put back together. The battery replacement kits cost around $40, while the screen kits cost around $100-$200.

Will other manufacturers follow suit? It’s hard to say. But I’d sure hope so. With each subsequent generation of smartphone getting less and less enticing (“The camera is slightly better! The screen is… brighter? Harder? Faster? Stronger?”), it’d be great to see more of them embrace repair.

(Image source: iFixit’s Moto Z repair guide)

Powered by WPeMatico

Happy 10th anniversary, Android

Posted by | Amazon, Android, andy rubin, Angry Birds, Apple, artificial intelligence, AT&T, China, computing, consumer electronics, digital media, Facebook, Gadgets, Google, google nexus, hardware, HTC, HTC Dream, HTC EVO 4G smartphone, huawei, india, iPad, iPhone, Kindle, LG, lists, Mobile, Motorola, motorola droid, motorola xoom, Nexus One, oled, operating system, operating systems, phablet, Samsung, smartphone, smartphones, Sony, sprint, T-Mobile, TC, TechCrunch, United States, Verizon, xperia | No Comments

It’s been 10 years since Google took the wraps off the G1, the first Android phone. Since that time the OS has grown from buggy, nerdy iPhone alternative to arguably the most popular (or at least populous) computing platform in the world. But it sure as heck didn’t get there without hitting a few bumps along the road.

Join us for a brief retrospective on the last decade of Android devices: the good, the bad, and the Nexus Q.

HTC G1 (2008)

This is the one that started it all, and I have a soft spot in my heart for the old thing. Also known as the HTC Dream — this was back when we had an HTC, you see — the G1 was about as inauspicious a debut as you can imagine. Its full keyboard, trackball, slightly janky slide-up screen (crooked even in official photos), and considerable girth marked it from the outset as a phone only a real geek could love. Compared to the iPhone, it was like a poorly dressed whale.

But in time its half-baked software matured and its idiosyncrasies became apparent for the smart touches they were. To this day I occasionally long for a trackball or full keyboard, and while the G1 wasn’t pretty, it was tough as hell.

Moto Droid (2009)

Of course, most people didn’t give Android a second look until Moto came out with the Droid, a slicker, thinner device from the maker of the famed RAZR. In retrospect, the Droid wasn’t that much better or different than the G1, but it was thinner, had a better screen, and had the benefit of an enormous marketing push from Motorola and Verizon. (Disclosure: Verizon owns Oath, which owns TechCrunch, but this doesn’t affect our coverage in any way.)

For many, the Droid and its immediate descendants were the first Android phones they had — something new and interesting that blew the likes of Palm out of the water, but also happened to be a lot cheaper than an iPhone.

HTC/Google Nexus One (2010)

This was the fruit of the continued collaboration between Google and HTC, and the first phone Google branded and sold itself. The Nexus One was meant to be the slick, high-quality device that would finally compete toe-to-toe with the iPhone. It ditched the keyboard, got a cool new OLED screen, and had a lovely smooth design. Unfortunately it ran into two problems.

First, the Android ecosystem was beginning to get crowded. People had lots of choices and could pick up phones for cheap that would do the basics. Why lay the cash out for a fancy new one? And second, Apple would shortly release the iPhone 4, which — and I was an Android fanboy at the time — objectively blew the Nexus One and everything else out of the water. Apple had brought a gun to a knife fight.

HTC Evo 4G (2010)

Another HTC? Well, this was prime time for the now-defunct company. They were taking risks no one else would, and the Evo 4G was no exception. It was, for the time, huge: the iPhone had a 3.5-inch screen, and most Android devices weren’t much bigger, if they weren’t smaller.

The Evo 4G somehow survived our criticism (our alarm now seems extremely quaint, given the size of the average phone now) and was a reasonably popular phone, but ultimately is notable not for breaking sales records but breaking the seal on the idea that a phone could be big and still make sense. (Honorable mention goes to the Droid X.)

Samsung Galaxy S (2010)

Samsung’s big debut made a hell of a splash, with custom versions of the phone appearing in the stores of practically every carrier, each with their own name and design: the AT&T Captivate, T-Mobile Vibrant, Verizon Fascinate, and Sprint Epic 4G. As if the Android lineup wasn’t confusing enough already at the time!

Though the S was a solid phone, it wasn’t without its flaws, and the iPhone 4 made for very tough competition. But strong sales reinforced Samsung’s commitment to the platform, and the Galaxy series is still going strong today.

Motorola Xoom (2011)

This was an era in which Android devices were responding to Apple, and not vice versa as we find today. So it’s no surprise that hot on the heels of the original iPad we found Google pushing a tablet-focused version of Android with its partner Motorola, which volunteered to be the guinea pig with its short-lived Xoom tablet.

Although there are still Android tablets on sale today, the Xoom represented a dead end in development — an attempt to carve a piece out of a market Apple had essentially invented and soon dominated. Android tablets from Motorola, HTC, Samsung and others were rarely anything more than adequate, though they sold well enough for a while. This illustrated the impossibility of “leading from behind” and prompted device makers to specialize rather than participate in a commodity hardware melee.

Amazon Kindle Fire (2011)

And who better to illustrate than Amazon? Its contribution to the Android world was the Fire series of tablets, which differentiated themselves from the rest by being extremely cheap and directly focused on consuming digital media. Just $200 at launch and far less later, the Fire devices catered to the regular Amazon customer whose kids were pestering them about getting a tablet on which to play Fruit Ninja or Angry Birds, but who didn’t want to shell out for an iPad.

Turns out this was a wise strategy, and of course one Amazon was uniquely positioned to do with its huge presence in online retail and the ability to subsidize the price out of the reach of competition. Fire tablets were never particularly good, but they were good enough, and for the price you paid, that was kind of a miracle.

Xperia Play (2011)

Sony has always had a hard time with Android. Its Xperia line of phones for years were considered competent — I owned a few myself — and arguably industry-leading in the camera department. But no one bought them. And the one they bought the least of, or at least proportional to the hype it got, has to be the Xperia Play. This thing was supposed to be a mobile gaming platform, and the idea of a slide-out keyboard is great — but the whole thing basically cratered.

What Sony had illustrated was that you couldn’t just piggyback on the popularity and diversity of Android and launch whatever the hell you wanted. Phones didn’t sell themselves, and although the idea of playing Playstation games on your phone might have sounded cool to a few nerds, it was never going to be enough to make it a million-seller. And increasingly that’s what phones needed to be.

Samsung Galaxy Note (2012)

As a sort of natural climax to the swelling phone trend, Samsung went all out with the first true “phablet,” and despite groans of protest the phone not only sold well but became a staple of the Galaxy series. In fact, it wouldn’t be long before Apple would follow on and produce a Plus-sized phone of its own.

The Note also represented a step towards using a phone for serious productivity, not just everyday smartphone stuff. It wasn’t entirely successful — Android just wasn’t ready to be highly productive — but in retrospect it was forward thinking of Samsung to make a go at it and begin to establish productivity as a core competence of the Galaxy series.

Google Nexus Q (2012)

This abortive effort by Google to spread Android out into a platform was part of a number of ill-considered choices at the time. No one really knew, apparently at Google or anywhere elsewhere in the world, what this thing was supposed to do. I still don’t. As we wrote at the time:

Here’s the problem with the Nexus Q:  it’s a stunningly beautiful piece of hardware that’s being let down by the software that’s supposed to control it.

It was made, or rather nearly made in the USA, though, so it had that going for it.

HTC First — “The Facebook Phone” (2013)

The First got dealt a bad hand. The phone itself was a lovely piece of hardware with an understated design and bold colors that stuck out. But its default launcher, the doomed Facebook Home, was hopelessly bad.

How bad? Announced in April, discontinued in May. I remember visiting an AT&T store during that brief period and even then the staff had been instructed in how to disable Facebook’s launcher and reveal the perfectly good phone beneath. The good news was that there were so few of these phones sold new that the entire stock started selling for peanuts on Ebay and the like. I bought two and used them for my early experiments in ROMs. No regrets.

HTC One/M8 (2014)

This was the beginning of the end for HTC, but their last few years saw them update their design language to something that actually rivaled Apple. The One and its successors were good phones, though HTC oversold the “Ultrapixel” camera, which turned out to not be that good, let alone iPhone-beating.

As Samsung increasingly dominated, Sony plugged away, and LG and Chinese companies increasingly entered the fray, HTC was under assault and even a solid phone series like the One couldn’t compete. 2014 was a transition period with old manufacturers dying out and the dominant ones taking over, eventually leading to the market we have today.

Google/LG Nexus 5X and Huawei 6P (2015)

This was the line that brought Google into the hardware race in earnest. After the bungled Nexus Q launch, Google needed to come out swinging, and they did that by marrying their more pedestrian hardware with some software that truly zinged. Android 5 was a dream to use, Marshmallow had features that we loved … and the phones became objects that we adored.

We called the 6P “the crown jewel of Android devices”. This was when Google took its phones to the next level and never looked back.

Google Pixel (2016)

If the Nexus was, in earnest, the starting gun for Google’s entry into the hardware race, the Pixel line could be its victory lap. It’s an honest-to-god competitor to the Apple phone.

Gone are the days when Google is playing catch-up on features to Apple, instead, Google’s a contender in its own right. The phone’s camera is amazing. The software works relatively seamlessly (bring back guest mode!), and phone’s size and power are everything anyone could ask for. The sticker price, like Apple’s newest iPhones, is still a bit of a shock, but this phone is the teleological endpoint in the Android quest to rival its famous, fruitful, contender.

The rise and fall of the Essential phone

In 2017 Andy Rubin, the creator of Android, debuted the first fruits of his new hardware startup studio, Digital Playground, with the launch of Essential (and its first phone). The company had raised $300 million to bring the phone to market, and — as the first hardware device to come to market from Android’s creator — it was being heralded as the next new thing in hardware.

Here at TechCrunch, the phone received mixed reviews. Some on staff hailed the phone as the achievement of Essential’s stated vision — to create a “lovemark” for Android smartphones, while others on staff found the device… inessential.

Ultimately, the market seemed to agree. Four months ago plans for a second Essential phone were put on hold, while the company explored a sale and pursued other projects. There’s been little update since.

A Cambrian explosion in hardware

In the ten years since its launch, Android has become the most widely used operating system for hardware. Some version of its software can be found in roughly 2.3 billion devices around the world and its powering a technology revolution in countries like India and China — where mobile operating systems and access are the default. As it enters its second decade, there’s no sign that anything is going to slow its growth (or dominance) as the operating system for much of the world.

Let’s see what the next ten years bring.

Powered by WPeMatico

The Moto Z3 will get 5G via mod

Posted by | hardware, Mobile, moto, Motorola | No Comments

Say what you will about the success or general usefulness of the Moto Mod line — Motorola keeps plugging away. The company currently offers 17 Mods with an 18th on the way, bringing one of the most interesting use cases yet.

Along with the new Moto Z3 handset, Motorola unveiled a Mod that will bring 5G connectivity to the entire line via Verizon’s nascent network. Due out early next year for an undisclosed sum, the new Mod presents an interesting workaround to the pains of introducing a next-generation network to a handset.

With this backdoor approach, the company is able put the Z3 up for sale on August 16th, and work another half-year or so to get its ducks in a row on the 5G front. Perhaps Verizon’s 5G coverage map will be a bit more dense by then, though at present, the company has only announced three cities — Houston, Los Angeles and, oddly, Sacramento. A fourth unnamed city is also on tap to get coverage by the end of the year.

At the very least, this lets Motorola tout the claim of being one of — if not the — first phones to offer the technology to U.S. customers. The company also claims that putting this tech directly into the phone would have been much more resource intensive than just sticking it and an extended battery inside the mod.

I’m not sure how much I buy that line of reasoning, but it certainly helps keep the cost of the handset down — the new Z3 will be available for $480 unlocked. The company has long focused on providing budget options for users, and that’s certainly the case here, helped along by some good — but last-generation — silicon like the Snapdragon 835. 

Motorola also likely didn’t feel confident that most users would be willing to take the plunge on a 5G phone at this early stage. As for the phone itself, it looks pretty similar to the recently introduced Moto Z3 Play in most respects. There’s a six-inch display, a 3,000mAh battery and dual-cameras with depth sensing and Google lens built in. No word yet on whether Verizon will eventually bundle the phone with that new mod.

Disclosure: Verizon owns Oath, Oath owns TechCrunch.

Powered by WPeMatico

The Moto Z’s Alexa Smart Speaker is mostly useless

Posted by | amazon alexa, hardware, Mobile, moto z, Motorola, TC | No Comments

 The Moto Z is a phone built around a strong gimmick, but it’s a gimmick nonetheless. A little over a year after release, the company has added some interesting Mods to its selection, but none have offered an entirely compelling justification for the phone’s modular system. That certainly applies to the new Alexa Smart Speaker. Read More

Powered by WPeMatico

The Moto Z’s latest Mod turns the phone into a Polaroid instant camera

Posted by | hardware, Mobile, moto z, Motorola, Polaroid | No Comments

 The Moto Z’s selection of modular backings have been pretty hit or miss (largely miss, if I’m being honest), but this one’s pretty clever. Sure, the addition of a Polaroid Insta-Share Printer Moto Mod probably isn’t going to make anyone run out and buy the company’s latest flagship, but this is a case where it actually makes sense to have the accessory as a… Read More

Powered by WPeMatico

The Moto Z gets its very own Alexa smart speaker

Posted by | Alexa, Amazon, amazon alexa, Gaming, hardware, Mobile, moto z, Motorola, TC | No Comments

 It was just a matter of time, really. Motorola’s been teasing Alexa integration since Mobile World Congress in February. Back then, the company previewed a sort of “experimental” Mod for the Moto Z sporting Amazon’s insanely popular smart assistant. The add-on is finally really real and set to start shipping next month.
The AI has already slowly made its way onto a… Read More

Powered by WPeMatico

Google brings the $399 Android One Moto X4 to Project Fi (and the U.S.)

Posted by | Android, Android One, Gadgets, hardware, Mobile, moto x4, Motorola, TC | No Comments

 Google today announced that the Android One Moto X4 is now available for pre-order on its Project Fi page. Like other Android One phones, the mid-range Moto X4, comes with a pure version of Android without any bloatware. This marks the first time an Android One phone is available on Project Fi, Google’s own virtual cell network, and it also marks the Moto X4’s arrival in the… Read More

Powered by WPeMatico

Motorola does the unthinkable and unveils gadget concepts

Posted by | Gadgets, Mobile, Motorola, mwc, mwc 13 | No Comments

moto-2-of-5 The gadget world is stale and boring now. Phones look the same. Action cameras copy GoPro, headphone companies copy Beats. Most electronic companies are overly cautious about going to far. Vaporware can kill momentum. Yet today Motorola threw its arms in the Spanish air and said fuck it. During its Mobile World Congress press event, the company basically said here are some products we might… Read More

Powered by WPeMatico