Last week, Google unveiled its newest OS, Android 4.4 KitKat. Here are some of my favorite features. KitKat features a completely revolutionized dialer, which incorporates search into your address book and lets you find the number of that pizza place without having to search the web. Caller ID is provided for incoming calls, too, which means you’ll know exactly who’s calling … and when to let it go to voicemail. Your phone’s messaging experience has been condensed into the Hangouts app, which features a Places button for sharing map locations and emoji support. KitKat also makes it easier to access your photos, letting you attach pictures saved on your device as well as those in Google Drive and Box. Photography has been overhauled, too, as your phone takes a bunch of photos every time you press the shutter button and fuses them together to come up with a great final product. Very cool stuff. KitKat is only available on the Nexus 5 for now, but will be rolling out to most Android devices in the coming months.
Have you ever bought a book off Amazon and wished you had it on your Kindle, too? Now you can. Last week, Amazon launched Kindle MatchBook, which lets you buy a Kindle version of physical books you’ve bought on the site as far back as 1995. Not every title is included, but thousands of books are currently enrolled in the program with more on the way. Head over to Amazon.com/kindlematchbook to find out which books you’ve bought are eligible. Amazon will give you the option to buy – for $2.99, $1.99, $0.99 or free – any books enrolled in the program. Amazon said Matchbook was “one of the most requested features from customers,” and is similar to Amazon AutoRip, which gives customers a free mp3 version of many CDs or vinyl records purchased through Amazon. As we move into an almost entirely digital culture, Amazon is doing its part to bring your book collection into the 21st Century. If you want in, check out Amazon MatchBook today.
When Google unveiled the Nexus 5 last week, it also debuted the latest version of Android: version 4.4, also known as KitKat. Google says KitKat is built to put what it calls Google “smarts” across the mobile experience. KitKat was designed for more than just Android’s top-tier phones; it’s meant to work on most Android phones – even those with significantly fewer resources and lesser specs. Google wants to get every Android user on the same platform, and aims to do it through its latest OS. KitKat also boasts a lot of new features, like better displays within full-screen apps and a deeper level of control in your phone’s lock screen. Maybe the most exciting new feature, though, is a completely revolutionized dialer. KitKat incorporates search right into your address book, which means you can find the number of that pizza place without having to search the web. KitKat is only available on the Nexus 5 for now, but will be rolling out to most Android devices in the coming months.
Apple’s newest full-sized iPad, the iPad Air, hit store shelves last Friday. While finding one shouldn’t be too tough, finding the exact model you want might be a little trickier. If you’re having a tough time, a site called “Apple Tracker” is here to help. If you were on the hunt for an iPhone 5s when it launched earlier this fall, you might remember a site called “iPhone Checker” that showed you which stores had the model you wanted. That site’s been re-tooled to now include the iPad Air – and will also support the new iPad mini when it launches later this month. To find your next iPad, head to apple-tracker.com – don’t forget the hyphen – and select iPad Air at the top of the screen. Choose your desired color and carrier, enter your zip code and click “Find your iPad Air.” The site will search your 20 closest Apple Store locations and let you know where to grab one. The site is free to use but does feature a donation button. Happy hunting!
Last week, Google unveiled its newest flagship phone, the Nexus 5, and it’s the most Google-y phone ever… and I mean that in a good way. The phone runs the latest version of Android, version 4.4 KitKat, but it also runs on a new “launcher” app that unites the phone around Google’s services. The Nexus 5 aims to give you the right information, when you want it, at your fingertips. To give you the best Google experience, the phone features the best version of Google Now, Google’s personal assistant app, built right into the core experience of the Nexus 5. The phone is always listening, which means you can say “Okay Google” at any time to send the device into voice search mode and get answers immediately. The Nexus 5 is available for purchase now through Google Play for $349 without a two year contract, as well as through Sprint, T-Mobile and other third-party vendors. If you can’t get enough Google, the Nexus 5 is the phone for you.
Much was made of last week’s “Triple Tablet Tuesday.” Within 24 hours, Microsoft’s new Surface 2 tablets went on sale, Nokia unveiled its Lumia 2520 and Apple unveiled the iPad Air and new iPad mini. With Microsoft about to close on its deal to buy Nokia, it seems like things are shaping to be a slugfest between Microsoft and Apple this holiday season, right? Wrong. The battle is not between Microsoft and Apple. The battle is between Google and Apple and, specifically, between Android devices and iOS devices. Microsoft hopes, wishes and prays to be included in the conversation, but the company’s just not there. Microsoft is trying to create a market for tablet computing as opposed to tapping the market of tablet users – it may sound like a semantic argument; I assure you it is not. Microsoft has missed all kinds of consumer opportunities. What they have to do is figure out how to beat Apple and Google at the game Apple and Google are actually playing – a game Microsoft clearly does not understand.
Netflix recently announced it was looking to bring digital versions of features you’d traditionally find on DVD releases to its original programming, like House of Cards. While Netflix was talking about it, Vudu stepped up and delivered. The Walmart-owned streaming service teamed up with Sony to launch a new service called Vudu Extras+. For now, the only film to receive extras is District 9, which you can watch but also check out deleted scenes, featurettes and access trivia. Vudu Extras+ also includes an “enhanced scene search” for dialogue, videos, photos and more, as well as a way to share your favorite clips on Facebook and Twitter. Vudu said bonus features will be added to other films later this year, including This is the End, After Earth and White House Down. The days of DVDs and Blu-rays may be coming to an end, as bonus features were one of the few remaining benefits to buying physical copies of your favorite movies. But really, who has time to bother with physical media anymore, anyway?
Last week, Nokia unveiled its newest tablet, the Lumia 2520. Shipping later this fall for $499, the tablet runs Windows RT and features both 4G LTE and Wi-Fi connectivity. Like Microsoft’s Surface tablet, the Lumia 2520 can be paired with keyboard cover, which protects the tablet and also delivers a fully functional keyboard. The 2520’s power keyboard goes a step beyond that of Surface, though, as it features a gesture trackpad, five hours of extra battery life and two built-in USB ports. Those differences don’t do enough to compensate for the fact that the unit is basically the same unit as the new Surface 2, which, oh yeah, hit store shelves the same day Nokia unveiled the 2520. Both the Lumia 2520 and the Surface 2 are crippled because they’re both RT units and don’t deliver the full Windows 8 experience. The two tablets are literally both the same unit from a technology standpoint, and share another common feature: at a $499 price point, you shouldn’t be buying either.
Comcast recently started offering a package aimed at the ever-growing masses of cord-cutters. The package, called “Internet Plus,” offers customers a 25 Mbps internet connection, 45 channels of basic TV, Comcast’s video service Steampix and a subscription to HBO and HBO Go. Available only in select markets – for now – Internet Plus will set you back just $39.99 a month. More and more people – especially young people – are watching less live TV and instead opting to stream or download their favorite shows. Comcast’s Internet Plus essentially delivers what many people have been asking for: a legal way to watch the shows they want without paying an exorbitant amount of money per month. Internet Plus is only available for customers who sign up by January 31, and its cost will go up to $70 after the first year of service. While the package isn’t exactly what fans wanted – that would be a standalone subscription to HBO Go – it’s a great sign that cable companies are listening to what their customers want – and beginning to deliver.
When Apple unveiled its two new iPads last week, it was the sign of a company knowing it needs to make a splash and gain some momentum. After inventing the tablet category and enjoying close to 100 percent market share, Apple now has about 49 percent market share and the numbers are trending in the wrong direction. Apple showed off two new devices last week: the iPad Air, which is thinner, happier and better than previous iPads; and a new Retina display version of the iPad mini. They’re good. But it’s not really true innovation. Apple’s CEO Tim Cook said, “Our competitors don’t really know what they’re doing.” He said their competitors are making too many types of devices and that Apple’s clear focus and singular vision is better. I disagree. Truthfully, Apple is just making iPads. They’re making them great. If you like an iPad, nothing else will do. But when it comes to hardware and exciting new ideas in the tablet market, Apple’s being lapped by just about everybody else.