Google will soon release Android 7.1 Developer Preview for Nexus 5X & Nexus 6P smartphone, as well as Pixel C tablet, listed some of the changes you can expect in the new dot release, and provided a timeline for other devices and the official launch.
Android 7.1 developer and user visible changes will include:
App shortcuts API will allow developer to set up to 5 shortcuts accessibly from app icon directly in the launcher. For example, a messaging app could have shortcuts to your favorite users and/or open a new conversation.
Circular app icons support to create rounded icons similar to what is used in Pixel launcher.
Enhanced live wallpaper metadata so that developers can show existing metadata such as label, description, and author, as well as a new context URL and title to link to more information.
Image keyboard support will let user easily insert custom stickers, animated gifs, and more from the keyboard app.
Storage manager Intent can be used by app to direct the user to Settings screen to clear unused files and free up storage space.
New APIs to support multi-endpoint calling and new telephony configuration options.
If you want to receive the Developer Preview automatically, enroll your device on Android Beta. After the first preview, more devices will be supported in the final Android 7.1.x release scheduled for early December, including Nexus 6, 5X, 6P, 9, Player, Pixel C, supported Android One devices, as well as the new Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones.
Google made a bunch a new product announcements with their Pixel phones, Daydream View VR headset, and Chromecast Ultra 4K dongle, but in this post I’ll write about two other new products: Google Home an Amazon Echo competitor powered by Google Assistant and supporting multi-room, as well as Google WiFi (Mesh) router aiming at providing WiFi all over the house by combining multiple WiFi routers.
Google WiFi Router
Most households now use a single router to provide WiFi to the home, but inevitably this introduce some dead or “slow WiFi” zones within the house. One way to work around this is to use WiFi repeaters, but it’s not always easy to setup and may lead to lower bandwidth. Google WiFi router uses a technology called mesh WiFi, where each router work together to determine the best path for your data using Network Assist technology to automatically choose and update the best channel for your device in real-time.
The router(s) can also be managed with an Android or iOS app, for example to pause WiFi for your kids when it’s time to go to bed or dinner, prioritize devices within your network, etc…
Google Wifi will be up for pre-order in the US in November for $129 for a single router, and $299 for a pack of three routers on Google Store, Amazon, Best Buy and Walmart. Visit the product page for more details.
Google Home is Google’s answer to Amazon Echo, a voice controlled system to play music locally or from services such as Google Music, Pandora, Spotify…, get answers to questions, manage home automation (IFTTT, Samsung SmartThings…), adjust the thermostat or lights (Nest, Philips Hue), etc… But instead of Alexa software, the device relies on Google Assistant.
Google did not provie many technical details about “Home”, but we do know it uses two omnidirectional microphones and neural beamforming in order to hear people from across the room, and “integrates a high-excursion driver with a dual passive radiator design that delivers crystal-clear highs and deep lows for Hi-Fi sound”.
Google Home supports multi-room features so you can have multuple Google Home devices or Chromecast Audio devices playing music all aroudn the house, while at the same time being smart enough to only answer questions within the room your are located.
Google used to collaborate with smartphone manufacturers for their Nexus devices, but the company is now promoting their own Pixel brand, and has just launched Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor, and running Android 7.0 Nougat operating system.
Both smartphones share most of the same specifications, but XL has a larger screen, a bigger battery, and a higher price tag:
SoC – Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 (MSM8996 pro AB) Quad core Kryo processor with two cores at up to 2.15GHz, two cores at up to 1.6GHz, Adreno 530 GPU
Sensors – Proximity/ALS, accelerometer / gyrometer, magnetometer, pixel imprint (Back-mounted fingerprint sensor for fast unlocking), barometer, hall sensor, sensor hub: CHRE V2 with GPS/Wi-Fi/BT, advanced x-axis haptics for sharper/defined response
Pixel – 2,770 mAh battery good for up to 19 days standby (LTE), 26 hours talk time, and 13 hours Internet use
Pixel XL – 3,450 mAh battery good for up to 23 days standby (LTE), 32 hours talk time, and 14 hours Internet use
Fast charging: up to 7 hours of use from only 15 minutes of charging thanks to USB PD support
Dimensions & Weight
Pixel – 143.8 x 69.5 x 7.3 ~ 8.5 mm | TBD
Pixel XL – 154.7 x 75.7 x 7.3 ~ 8.5 mm | TBD
The phones will ship with a USB-C 18W adaptor with USB-PD, and A-C cable (USB 3.0), a C-C cable (USB 2.0), a SIM tool, a quick switch adapter, and in box promos and collateral. Pixel phones will run Android 7.0, are compatible with Google’s Daydream VR platform, and include the new improved Google Assistant, successor of “OK Google”.
Pixel is available for pre-order for $649 (32GB) $749 (128GB) and Pixel XL for $769 (32GB) $869 (128GB) in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Germany and Australia with pre-orders in India to begin on October 13. More details can be found on Made by Google phone page scheduled to launch in October & November in several countries.
Google has been introducing several “MadebyGoogle” device including the latest Chromecast Ultra support 4K and HDR, but it’s not the only 4K HDMI dongle to stream videos from your phone that’s about to be release as EZCast sticks are also getting an upgrade with EZCast 4K dongle supporting 4K Miracast, DLNA, and EZCast own protocol.
Chromecast Ultra specifications:
Connectivity – 802.11ac (2.4 GHz/5 GHz) WiFi, Ethernet port (on power adapter)
Video Output – HDMI 2.0 up to 4K resolution, HDR support
Chromecast Ultra ships with a power cable (2m) and a power adapter with an Ethernet port. The device can be used with devices and/or computers running Android 4.1 and higher, iOS 8.0 and higher, Mac OS X 10.9 and higher, Windows 7 and higher.
Power Supply – MHL or USB (5V/1A) selectable through switch
EZCast 4K is said to work with platforms running Android 4.4+, Windows 7+, iPhone 4S+(iOS9+), Mac 10.10+, and Chrome OS 39+ with EZCast app. One advantage of the stick is that it can work without external power supply thanks to MHL support.
Price and availability information has not been released for far. EZCast 4K can be bought for $49.99 with coupon EZCast4K81N03. Delivery is scheduled for November 1st. Some more information may be found on EZCast 4K page.
OK the title might be a little over of the top, but within the last month or so, I’ve been a “victim” of three American companies’ requests, via third parties, namely their customers or technology partners, never directly, to delete or amend the content of this blog. One which I believe is justified albeit not really necessary, and two are just ridiculous, with the latest one prompting me to write this post.
The first issue was about a post entitled “Allwinner A64 based Pine A64 and Banana Pi M64 Boards Can Now Run Windows 10 IoT Core“, where I shared .ffu firmware file links that I found directly via a page on Microsoft Azure github about Banana Pi board. There were accessible without any EULA, or agreement. So The Internet being the Internet, where you can freely share links that don’t break any sort of copyrights or promote hate, I added the links to my post, as well as a video showing the board with Windows IoT.
Two days later, I received an email from a company telling Microsoft had been asked them to ask me to “remove the ffu links from the article as MS are quite sensitive about publishing them” and “could you remove the video?”. I reluctantly did it, since I’ve received DMCA requests from Microsoft in the past for allegedly infringing on their copyrights in that post, but the way Google words them, it’s nearly impossible to find out why exactly. Google will normally comply with Microsoft request, so the page was removed from Google Search results, but funnily enough I can find it in Bing… On the bright side, there’s a lawsuit against DMCA by the Electronic Frontier Foundation in progress… Who knows, this might also help terminate YouTube’s “you’re guilty until proven innocent” policy regarding fair use of copyrighted audio and video…
The second US company asking me to modify my content this month was Intel, against by proxy, through their customer. The post was “Intel Atom C3000 Denverton Processor Targets Low Power Servers“, and a company contacted me to remove two pictures, and references to a specific company, as Intel had seen this was in conflict with an NDA. I got the picture and info from Anandtech, but I was explained that there’s been a misunderstanding with Anandtech when they published the pictures, and I could see they had themselves removed the pictures, so I did it too as I felt it was a fair request. However, I still have a hard time understanding how those two pictures can negatively impact Intel business, and IMHO they’d better focus their efforts on more important things. It also took them around 50 days to report the issue…
Netflix was the third company asking me to remove content or even delete a post by proxy. The interesting part is that I did not have any input from any company involved when I wrote “MINIX NEO U9-H 4K HDR Amlogic S912-H Android TV Box Coming in October“, as I got all my info from HDBlog Italia, except for one confirmation about the use of Amlogic S912-H processor. The post was written five days ago, and today I received an email by a third party asking me to remove the post. Wow, that’s quite a request without explanation… So I asked why and whether I could amend part of the post instead, and I was told that Neflix was quite unhappy about my post because of the text in bold below:
One interesting point is that Widewine Level 1 DRM is supported, so some premium video streaming app will support HD and maybe 4K UHD. It does not mean Netflix HD/4K will be supported however, as this requires an extra agreement with Netflix, but it’s still a step in the right direction.
It’s quite a well known fact that Netflix HD and 4K does not work on all devices, and Netflix even have a list of working devices. It’s quite hard to understand why this comment would become an issue, unless Netflix feels like it makes them look like the deliver a poorly supported service… Anyway, I changed the “inadequate” post by removing the text in bold, and wrote this post instead to make everybody happy 🙂
Coowell V4 Android TV box is based on Rockchip RK3368 octa-core processor with 2GB RAM, and 16GB flash, and also includes a camera. In part 1 of Coowell V4 review, I have already taken photos of the device, and torn down the device to have a closer look at the board, and the camera which is based on a GC2145 2MP image sensor. Today, I’ll mostly test the camera and microphone, including firmware compatibility with Skype, Google Hangouts, and the latest Duo by Google app. Finally, it’s been a while since I’ve tested a RK3368 TV box, so I’ll run CPU-Z and Antutu again.
Coowell V4 Hardware Setup and Launcher
Coowell V4 hardware setup is pretty usual, and I connect an Ethernet port, and the USB RF dongle for MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse, as well as a USB keyboard to take screenshots. However, while normally I’d use my own HDMI cable, I had to use the provided cable since the device features a mini HDMI port.
Once you connect the power the power button LED on the unit turns red, and you need to press the button to boot it up, with the LED switching to blue color. A typical boot takes about 30 seconds. If you don’t use the camera, you can fold it down when you don’t use it if you have privacy concerns.
Click for Original Size
The launcher is optimized for TV use, and the user interface has a 1920×1080 resolution. It includes shortcuts to other “folders” like Online Video, My recommend, My Apps, Music, or Local, and a shortcut to Settings. It also features a customatizable row of shortcut right under the main buttons. The status bar is there. but can also be hidden. I went to the settings to check video output was set to 4K 60Hz, and it was the case.
Coowell V4 Camera
But let’s get to the main selling point of the TV box: its camera. I’ll start with the camera app.
Click to Enlarge
The quality is what you’d expect from a 2MP camera, and it will save 1600×1200 JPEG photos, and record 1280×720 MP4 videos.
Coowell V4 Video Conference
Most people who probably such TV box for video conference purpose, so I’ve tried what I consider the most popular video conference apps in Android: Skype, Google Hangouts, and the latest Duo by Google. I’ll describe my experience first, but you can also jump directly to the video demo further below if you want.
Skype is pre-installed, but I still tried to install the latest version with Google Play, and for some unknown reason type “skype” would make Google Play crash just went I typed the letter “e” with the air mouse. When I tried the pre-installed Skype, I could register an account and login, but calls would not work. So I searched in Google Play again using the USB keyboard, and it let me update the app.
I could use the Echo services to test audio calls successfully, and I also successfully called another laptop for a video call.
I had no problem install the app from Google Play, and the first time I tried I got both the caller and callee videos on the screen, but subsequently I lost video on the Android TV box, but both video feeds would still show on the laptop, and audio was still working. So there may have been a network issue in one direction…
Duo is the latest one to one video calling app by Google, which is supposed to be very easy to use compared to something like Hangouts. SO I was eager to test it, but it’s incompatible with the TV box. [Update: I’ve just tried Duo on my phone ,and it requires a phone number, so that’s probably why it won’t work on any TV boxes]
You can watch the device in action with the Camera app, Skype and Google Hangouts in the short video below.
Coowell V4 System Info and Antutu Benchmark
I think my latest RK3368 TV box review was with Zidoo X6 Pro in October 2015, so it’s probably a good idea to check if any have changed since then by running CPU-Z and Antutu 6.x.
Click to Enlarge
While all other devices with Rockchip RK3368 showed it clocked at up to 1.2 GHz, but RK3368 inside Coowell is instead clocked at up to 1.51 GHz, not that we should not always blindly trust CPU frequencies returned by the kernel. Other info shows 2GB RAM, 12.42 GB internal storage, 1920×1080 screen resolution, and Android 5.1.1 running on top of Linux 3.10.0.
So with that faster CPU clock, we should expect a higher Antutu score, right?
Nope. The score was just 23,445 points, while this type of device should have a score in the 3x,xxx. I repeated the test again in case something went wrong, but the device only achieved 22,870 points in my second try. I also noticed audio noise instead of music, during 3D graphics benchmarks for both tests.
A lot of traffic over the Internet goes through secure https connections. Under the hood this requires a 3-way handshake to establish a TCP connection, followed by even more packets exchanged between the client and server to negotiate TLS in order to establish a secure connection. Google is now working one the new experimental QUIC protocol that uses the “send and forget” UDP protocol, together with its own crypto, and its own way to making sure the connection is properly establish.
Software Architecture – TCP + TLS vs QUIC
The whole idea about QUIC is to reduce the effect of latency (e.g. ping time) by exchanging less messages to achieve the same secure connectivity. For example, if there’s a 200ms latency between a server and a client, and if a TCP connection requires 4 packets, while a QUIC/UDP connection requires only 1 packet, you’ll save about 600ms.
One downside with UDP according to Jim Roskind, designer of QUIC, is that UDP ports are blocked by some enterprise customers, however he expects that to change overtime, as in the past they also blocked TCP port 80 (used to browse the web), and that eventually QUIC could displace TCP, potentially becoming “TCP/2”. This would require a lot of work, as it would have to supported in Windows, Linux, and other kernels/operating systems to really take of.
Engineers at Google Research wanted to measure the strength of a carrier signals without having to use a bulky oscilloscope or DAQ (Data Acquisition) system, so they looked into several makers boards to achieve this task, eventually decided to go with BeagleBone Black / Green, and created their own PRUDAQ cape capable of sampling 40 million samples per second, and open source it all.
Up to 20MSPS per channel (40MSPS total) theoretical
0-2V input voltage range (DC coupled)
4:1 analog switches in front of each channel provide a total of 8 single-ended analog inputs. (See here for differential input)
SMA jacks for direct access to the 2 ADC channels
Flexible clock options:
External input via SMA jack
Internal on-board 10MHz oscillator
Programmable clock from BeagleBone GPIO pins
Powered via BeagleBone headers – no external power needed
Fully exposed BeagleBone headers on top to connect/stack more electronics or another cape
Dimensions – 87mm x 56mm (+/- 1mm)
Weight – 29 grams
The complete software and hardware documentation can be found on the Wiki and source code and design files in Github. The software is based on BeagleLogic logic analyzer, and you can retrieve and analyze the data on your computer using the command line with a typical output looking like:
The Beaglebone Black already has an ADC input, but PRUDAQ allows for much faster sampling, suitable to capture radio waves for example. Bear in mind that it’s not really suitable to be used as an oscilloscope due to limitations such as 0 to 2V range, and others. Any specific questions about PRUDAQ project can be asked on PRUDAQ users Google Group.
While the add-on board has been designed by Google Research engineers, it is not a Google product, and it’s made by GetLab, and currently sold on GroupSets for $79 for the cape only, or $159 as a bundle with a BeagleBone Black, PRUDAQ cape, an 8GB micro SD card pre-loaded with BeagleLogic image, one 64GB USB 3.0 Thumb Drive, one BNC-M to SMA-M RG-58 Cable, a USB mini cable, and 3 jumpers.