E3 2013: Sunflex UNU Tablet Interview

At E3 2013, I spent some time with Sunflex vice president of business development Nicki Repenning to talk about the UNU tablet. At a glance, this seven-inch tablet is one of the most unique and diverse Android devices I’ve seen. In addition to being able to use it as a standard tablet, UNU comes with software and accessories that help you use it as a smart TV or videogame console.

On the smart TV side, it uses docks and an air-mouse controller. The controller is particularly novel. It features motion controls for menu navigation and for casual games (think Angry Birds or Fruit Ninja). The back of the controller has a QWERTY keyboard for a familiar and comfortable typing experience. One dock and controller are included in the standard UNU tablet bundle, which will retail for $199.

For hardcore Android gamers, there’s a $249 bundle that includes a full-sized gamepad, a travel pouch, and everything in the standard bundle. The controller has a good feel, thought not as impressive as the Nyko PlayPad Pro 2 that I tried at E3 2013. The gamepad makes sense for Android users that play a lot of traditional games ported to Android.

On paper, UNU looks like an inexpensive Android tablet that does many things very well. However, I want to spend more time with Sunflex’s custom UI and learn the exact chipset under the hood before I pass judgement. Hopefully I’ll get to do so before the product’s late-summer release. I’m intrigued by UNU, but I want to see more!

How about you guys and gals? Any of you interested in the UNU tablet?

[Thanks again to Rich Brown for his great camera work in this video!]

E3 2013: Nyko Booth Tour

I stopped by the Nyko’s E3 2013 booth to check out a bunch of accessories for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nvidia Shield, and Android. The new PlayPad controllers for Android were particularly impressive. The PlayPad Pro 2 is great for Android users that are heavy gamers. It has a rubberized grip for a solid feel and Alps analog sticks for precision control. It’s definitely one of the best Android gamepads I’ve ever tried. For Android users that are more into multimedia, there’s the PlayPad Media, which features a row of media-specific controls along the top of the gamepad. The PlayPad Media is no slouch in the gaming department either, using the same body as the original PlayPad for Android.

Kindly check out the video above and let me know what you think of Nyko’s E3 2013 lineup.

Special thanks to Rich Brown for his excellent camera work!

Chicago Sun-Times Fires Photographers in Favor of iPhone-Armed Reporters

In a depressing sign of the times, the Chicago Sun-Times has let go of its entire staff of photographers and will require reporters to take mandatory iPhone photography lessons. The cost-cutting measure was made partially due to the iPhone’s impressive camera and partially due to horrible judgement. While it’s a credit to how far phone cameras have come, it’s a slap in the face to skilled photographers everywhere. The decision screams “suit” and “bottom line,” with no consideration for quality content.

While I’m sure there are several Chicago Sun-Times reporters that can frame a snazzy photo, I’m also sure there are many that take crappy pictures. Writing quality news and taking quality news photographs are two extremely different skills. Being able to tell a story or complement a news piece with an image is a difficult thing to do well. It’s upsetting that the Chicago Sun-Times doesn’t see the value of quality photojournalism. Thinking that a team of iPhone-equipped reporters is an adequate replacements for trained photographers is just stupid.

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Yahoo! Adds 1TB of Space, New UI, Android App to Flickr

Once the darling photo service of the digerati, Flickr has languished under Yahoo!’s ownership…until now. When Marissa Mayer took over as Yahoo! CEO, one of her first goals was to make Flickr relevant again. She has done that with 1TB of storage, a new UI that emphasizes photos, and a lovely new Android app. Here’s a snippet from the official announcement:

Today, we’re thrilled to take Flickr even further with a beautiful, completely re-imagined experience that puts photos front and center. When it comes to photography, technology and its limits shouldn’t hinder the experience. So we’re also giving our Flickr users one terabyte of space — for free. That’s enough for a lifetime of photos — more than 500,000 original, full-resolution, pixel-perfect, brilliant photos. Flickr users will never have to worry about running out of space.

Most people will focus on the storage limit, which is a remarkable thing and reminds me of how Google (Mayer’s former company) used to trounce the competition in terms of storage space (remember when Gmail was first announced?). The new UI is a notable improvement. For too long, it was too easy to get lost in Flickr’s text, which is something you don’t want a photo-sharing service to do. While I’m still getting used to the new UI, I’m really enjoying it so far. Between the new storage limit and improved UI, I’m certain that I’ll be using Flickr more in 2013 than I have in the last few years combined.

Have you gotten a chance to check out the new Flickr yet? I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. Fire away in the comments section (please!).

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Noah Falstein Appointed Google Chief Game Designer

Between Android and Chrome OS, gaming has been a small but growing part of Google’s business. With Noah Falstein’s recent appointment as chief game designer, it looks like Google’s gaming ambitions are growing. However, there’s a lot of speculation as to what exactly those plans are and which products they’ll cover. Many have surmised that the company will up its Android gaming efforts, while others believe that Google Glass will be getting games.

For some background info on Falstein, here’s a clip from TechCrunch:

According to his bio Falstein’s been in the computer games industry since 1980, spanning companies such as LucasArts, 3DO, and Dreamworks Interactive, and is the designer behind a number of hit titles. He most recently ran his own consultancy, The Inspiracy, which offered companies help on game design, development and business, as well as being a regular on the lecture and speaking circuit.

A major interest of Falstein is the field of “Serious Games,” which he defines as “Using Games, Game Technology, or Game Industry Techniques for a purpose other than pure entertainment.” The list of Serious Games projects Falstein has been involved in spans anything from using game techniques to improve health and education, to financial projections.

The Google I/O developer conference is a few weeks away, so the company’s plans for gaming and Falstein’s role should be clarified then. For now, let’s play the speculation game! What do you think Google’s gaming plans are for the near future?

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Google Now Available For iOS

Google has updated its Google Search app for iOS to include Google Now. For those of you not familiar with the product, Google Now is an intelligent search assistant that uses natural language input and a card-based system to serve you information. Many tech experts feel that Google Now is a much more powerful and effective alternative to Apple’s Siri product. While there are certainly similarities, I believe that the products are different enough that a direct comparison is somewhat inaccurate. In practical terms, I’ve gotten way more mileage out of Google Now on my Android devices than Siri on my iOS devices.

Here’s a clip from Google’s blog with additional info:

Google Now is about giving you just the right information at just the right time. It can show you the day’s weather as you get dressed in the morning, or alert you that there’s heavy traffic between you and your butterfly-inducing date—so you’d better leave now! It can also share news updates on a story you’ve been following, remind you to leave for the airport so you can make your flight and much more. There’s no digging required: cards appear at the moment you need them most—and the more you use Google Now, the more you get out of it.

Due to the way Apple manages notifications and background processes, Google Now for iOS is slightly less powerful than its Android counterpart. It currently lacks some of the cards found in the Android version too. That said, it’s still a very powerful information tool and I recommend giving it a go.

If you play around with Google Now of iOS on your iPhone or iPad, I’d love to hear about your experience with it in the comments section.

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Dish Proposes $25.5-Billion Merger With Sprint

Sprint Nextel sure has a lot of suitors these days. Earlier in the year, it was being courted by Japanese company SoftBank to the tune of $20.1-billion. Satellite television provider Dish Network has trumped the offer, proposing a $25.5-billion merger. The deal would have huge ramifications for the mobile communications, telecommunications, and television industries, and is indicative of where these businesses are possibly heading. Here’s a clip from Dish’s press release:

DISH is offering Sprint shareholders a total consideration of $25.5 billion, consisting of $17.3 billion in cash and $8.2 billion in stock. Sprint shareholders would receive $7.00 per share, based upon DISH’s closing price on Friday, April 12, 2013. This consists of $4.76 per share in cash and 0.05953 DISH shares per Sprint share. The cash portion of DISH’s proposal represents an 18% premium over the $4.03 per share implied by the SoftBank proposal, and the equity portion represents approximately 32% ownership in the combined DISH/Sprint versus SoftBank’s proposal of a 30% interest in Sprint alone. Together this represents a 13% premium to the value of the existing SoftBank proposal.

Thanks to advances with mobile phones, tablets, and mobile broadband, mobile video demand has been surging for the last few years. The video quality and content choices are getting better and better all the time. For companies that are primarily in the video content businesses, owning and controlling mobile broadband services is a potentially powerful thing. Dish is known for giving its customers a nice selection of commercial-free content for phones and tablets.

Then there’s the matter of spectrum. Dish has acquired large chunks of mobile broadband spectrum at an estimated $9-billion. While many telecom companies sit on spectrum purchases, they eventually become use-it-or-lose-it assets. Sprint’s service is…clunky in several areas of America and the spectrum could be used to improve the network over the long haul.

Are any of you Dish or Sprint customers? How do you feel about a proposed merger between the two companies?