The Wrap – May 19, 2017

HTC launches a squeezy phone, and Google talks up where Android is going, plus what’s going on at your local Apple store? And why is Will.i.am on a headphone box? This is The Wrap.

Transcript

For Friday May 19, this is The Wrap, and Australia’s fastest technology cover all round up starts this week with HTC putting Samsung and Apple on notice, with the launch of a phone that screams we’re just getting started and are well and truly ready to fight.

If you haven’t kept up with HTC, the once dominant force in smartphones hasn’t had the best of times lately, because while it has produced some solid phones, they haven’t been competing quite as well. Last year’s HTC 10 was good, but not good enough to battle against the likes of what Samsung and Apple were producing, and most of what came out of HTC felt very much skewed to budget and mid-range.

This year we got a taste that things were improving in the super shiny HTC U Ultra, and while good, the result didn’t really match up with the overall price, feeling in many ways like yesterday’s news wrapped in a shiny shiny jacket.

This week, however, HTC might finally have something worth fighting with as it announced the HTC U11, a new flagship that manages to sit above the U Ultra.

Now if you bought the U Ultra expecting you had the top-end phone for a few minutes, we feel for you, and are checking with HTC to find out if anything can be done, because a new flagship in the space of minutes is close to madness.

Unfortunately, getting mad seems like a viable option when you find out what is inside this new phone.

For starters, HTC is packing in the very latest in Snapdragon processors, 64GB storage, 4GB RAM — and that’s a minimum — and water-resistance, something the U Ultra so desperately needed.

It also goes up to one gigabit (1Gbps) in download speeds, making it the second phone to hit Australia to do so after the Galaxy S8, provided it can get here before Sony’s all-new Xperia XZ Premium which will also boast those speeds.

And there’s also a new camera along for the ride which reportedly boasts the best sensor yet, at least when rated with DxO’s sensor checking service.

Aside for a tightening of technology, HTC has also brought in a special way of controlling, because while you can still touch the screen, HTC is relying on you to squeeze the frame to get everything to do a little more.

Squeeze to activate the camera, squeeze to transcribe a message. Squeeze to do lots of things because it is a neat little gimmick.

And that’s what it appears to be, a gimmick, but more than that, the U11 appears to be an actual flagship HTC can have for itself.

We weren’t super excited for the overpriced U Ultra, but at the time two months ago, that was HTC’s flagship. And now we have something else, and we can’t help but feel for the folks that two months ago thought this was the flagship for HTC for the year, loyal fanfolk that went and bought one.

We’ve asked HTC what will happen to those folks; specifically, will the company offer an upgrade program to those people who bought a phone that was then $1199 only to see it reduced to $899 months later and replaced with something even better?

That’s the question we have. We don’t own an HTC U Ultra — we made our opinion known in the review — but there are people who do, and we wouldn’t want to be in their shoes right now knowing their phone has dropped tremendously in value so quickly.

At least this phone looks nice, and the U11 could finally swing things back to HTC, though we’ll have to wait and see. Reviews shouldn’t be too far along now, especially with the release expected in the next few weeks.

And it’s not the only piece of Android news from this week, with word from Google at its IO conference that a whopping two billion devices are active monthly on its operating system.

Now you might wonder which company has the most devices in the world, and the fight is clearly — clearly — between that of Apple and everyone else, but two billion is staggering.

It’s worth remembering too that Android isn’t just across phones and tablets, like the iPhone and iPad for Apple. No, you can find Android in wearable smartwatches, in select TVs, in very select cameras, in a few cars, and coming soon to the home.

The point is this: Google’s operating system is everywhere, and it is doing tremendously well.

And Google is hardly done, this week releasing a beta of its next operating system for Pixel and Nexus devices. You’ll probably see it on your phone some time in the next year or so after it goes final, and that will likely be in October, and it will probably have a different name then, too.

Remember that every version of Android is named after something sweet. We’ve had “Marshmallow” for M, “Nougat” for N, and what will O bring? There’s always a possibility for Orange whip, but despite John Candy’s insistence in The Blues Brothers, it’s unlikely to be Android Orange Whip. Jell-O starts with J but ends with O, so maybe that, and maybe the old Wrigley Orbit gum, but the smart money is on Oreo.

Mmm… Oreos. We don’t have a sample of Homer Simpson saying that, but just imagine it, because he probably has.

Meanwhile over at the main competition, over at Apple, that is, you’ll find the stores are talking up education because Apple has kicked into gear its “Today at Apple” program.

Seen as more of a walk-in educational lesson for its products, Today at Apple is basically like a communal institution except it’s in a store, and the whole idea with this is learning through the obvious promotion of selling.

For instance, have you been keen to learn about how to make music? Well, Apple will have lessons specifically for that with Logic Pro.

And what if you want to learn how to code: well, the support is there with its Swift Playgrounds app for iPad, teaching kids the basics while the parents stick around and possibly learn something too.

In essence, Today at Apple is about free education, and while selling Apple products is clearly the point, it won’t be required, and we’re willing to bet that some of the lessons — activities like the iPhone photography walk, for instance — will let you take whatever phone you have for the walk.

And finally, did you ever wonder what happened to The Black Eyed Peas’ Will.i.am?

Us neither, and yet this week the hip-hop artist-turned-producer-turned actor in Wolverine — yep, we’re not making that up — released his own line of earphones this week in Australia made to compete with the likes of Beats, of Bose, of anyone else with a pair of wireless earphones.

These rather strange looking Bluetooth in-earphones are called the Buttons, even though they only have Buttons on the remote — three of them — and they’re from Will.i.am’s i am plus brand, designed to get people listening with a bit of fashion.

Now the aesthetics on this one are rather interesting, evoking a feeling where you’ll either love them or absolutely hate them, appearing almost like giant earrings with a massive circular shape that drops from your ear.

Initial impressions aren’t bad either — certainly not as bad as we were expecting– and while few reviewers want to talk about these beyond another ho-hum-another-celebrity-headphones-why-are-they-releasing-more-of-this-crap cry, they don’t come across so bad, even if they do look a little ugly.

Okay, more than a little. They’re like wearing very large circles out of your ears. I don’t have earrings and they remind me of these, and that doesn’t suit me. It might suit you.

At $280, they’re also already overpriced, playing to that celebrity earphone market you’re possibly sick and tired of. You almost have to wonder what the impressions the Buttons would have if we didn’t have Will.i.am plastered all over the front, if they were just made by another small electronics company.

Anyway, we’ll let you know our full opinion soon enough, but not this week, because we’re out of time.

Tune in next week when we go into more from the latest in technology wrapped up in less than the time it takes to make and eat pancakes.

Mmm… pancakes.

Take care everyone. Have a great week.

 

 

 

Sound samples in this podcast from:
“The Blues Brothers”, copyright of Universal Pictures
“The Simpsons”, episode “Stark Raving Dad”, copyright of Fox

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