Microsoft has released a new preview of its Skype app for Windows Phone 8, bringing with it a number of performance enhancements and bug fixes. The biggest change, however, is the temporary removal of one of the app’s most exciting – if buggy – features: People Hub integration.
The app’s integration with the People Hub and its ability to run in the background and surface incoming chats and calls as if they were part of the OS are both cool and useful, making them banner features for Skype. Unfortunately, the former was known to cause stability issues with the People Hub, resulting in crashes and many other frustrating things. As a result, the feature has been temporarily disabled in Skype for Windows Phone 8 Preview 2.1. Hopefully, the Windows Phone and Skype teams will be able to quickly resolve the issue.
Thankfully, incoming chat and call notifications are now much more reliable and messages are also guaranteed to be displayed in the correct order. Other improvements include an updated keyboard with autocorrect, a new option to toggle toast notifications for Windows Live Messenger contacts (this is very helpful if you don’t want to have duplicate notifications from Skype and the Messaging Hub), and labels for friends who are on Windows Live Messenger rather than Skype.
Microsoft has discounted six hot Windows Phone games for Black Friday, and most of them are must-haves. All six of the titles have been dropped to $1.99 for the next week, which has resulted in savings of between 33% and 60%.
Personally, I’d highly recommend Mush, and Carcassonne is a very addicting board game which has since been turned into a video game. Carcassonne is particularly notable because it was released just a few short weeks ago, right before the launch of Windows Phone 8. The rest of the games on sale are just as great.
While the sale pricing doesn’t appear to be live just yet in the United States, you shouldn’t have to wait too long. The Black Friday sale is expected to run up through November 26.
If I had to create a list of apps that I couldn’t live without, Nokia Drive would be pretty close to the top. It is the killer app for Nokia. So much so, in fact, that it makes it difficult to use a Windows Phone from any other manufacturer like HTC or Samsung. Earlier this year, Microsoft revealed that Nokia’s mapping technology would be built into Windows Phone 8. And while that is certainly the case, the actual mapping experience isn’t all that different at this point.
Thankfully, while Nokia’s voice-guided turn-by-turn directions, speed limit alerts, and other great Nokia Drive features aren’t built into the core Windows Phone 8 OS at this point, Nokia has provided the app to the rest of Microsoft’s hardware manufacturing partners. This means that – believe it or not – Nokia Drive will be available on other devices, should the manufacturers choose to release it. Personally, I can’t wait. Although I do wonder if, by giving this killer app to its competitors, Nokia is almost shooting itself in the foot.
With Windows 8 now available in stores and the new Xbox 360 dashboard update on consoles, Microsoft has gone ahead and updated the Xbox Companion app on Windows Phone, turning it into the long-awaited Xbox SmartGlass app.
Xbox SmartGlass is more than just a simple name change. While the app still supports basic navigation and media playback controls, as well as the ability to search the Xbox LIVE Marketplace and launch content, it now supports content-specific interactive experiences with select games and apps. Send music and videos to and from your smartphone or tablet, discover who’s in a particular scene while watching a movie on Xbox Video, queue up songs in Dance Central 3, and much more. The possibilities are endless.
SmartGlass is also deeply integrated with the new Internet Explorer app on Xbox 360, letting you interact with content on your big screen as if it were on a touch device. You can even transfer websites from your TV screen to your smartphone. Keyboard input is directed to the phone as well, eliminating the need for a Chatpad accessory. The inclusion of an Xbox Guide button and asynchronous connectivity – allowing you to use the app in a limited capacity if you’re not signed in on your console – are welcome additions too.
I’ve you already have the Xbox Companion app on Windows Phone, all you need to do is download the update. But if you haven’t tried it before, we highly recommend doing so. Xbox SmartGlass is currently available on Windows Phone and Windows 8, but Microsoft plans to release the app on Android and iOS as well.
Microsoft has announced that Android will, at long last, be getting an official SkyDrive app in “just a few weeks.” Windows Phone has had built-in SkyDrive integration since launch, and SkyDrive apps were released on Windows Phone and iOS in December 2011. Android users, however, were left without an official way to access the files they had stored on Microsoft’s cloud storage service from their tablet or smartphone. There are a few unofficial third-party apps, but they’re no replacement for the real thing. Thankfully, this problem will be rectified in the near future.
SkyDrive for Android will support all of the features you’d expect, including file uploads, downloads, and sharing via the “send a link” feature. The free app isn’t available yet, but Microsoft expects to make it available on Google Play in the coming weeks. At this point, there’s no word on whether the app will be released on the Amazon Appstore for Android.
The Android app isn’t the only SkyDrive improvement. Microsoft has also completely overhauled the website’s interface and added new features for developers and customers who use the SkyDrive application on Windows and OS X. For the full run-down on what’s new, head on over to our sister site Pocketables.
Google has pushed out a new update for its Translate app, enabling support for translating text in images. This is especially useful when you’re in a foreign country, since it makes it easy to translate street signs and the like. To use the new feature, simply take a photo and use your finger to “brush” the text. This will trigger the translation software.
Windows Phone, believe it or not, has had text image translation built into the OS itself for more than a year. To access it, press the Bing button, tap the eye for Bing Vision, and select “scan text.” It will then automatically detect the text in the image and provide a translation directly on top of the original. I happen to prefer this method, but Google Translate works quite well too.
Google Translate v2.5 also includes a few other improvements like instant translations as you type, speech input dialect preferences, and improved Japanese handwriting recognition. The free app is available now for Android 2.1 devices and up, but you’ll need to have at least Android 2.3 “Gingerbread” in order to take advantage of this update’s marquee feature.
Nokia Drive 3.0 is now available on the Windows Phone Marketplace for Lumia handsets. The latest iteration of Nokia’s turn-by-turn directions app adds a new My Commute feature, as well as the ability to pin locations, automatically switch between daytime and nighttime driving modes, and much more.
My Commute is the most impressive addition to the app. Simply enter your home and work addresses, as well as what time you generally get in the car for work, and Nokia Drive 3.0 will begin learning your driving preferences and offering route suggestions based on live traffic reports and common routes. All of this information is also presented on the live tile, for at-a-glance information before you leave the house.
The app has also received a few visual improvements, like a cleaner and more Metro-style driving interface. It’ll also automatically transition between day and night modes, so you’re not constantly entering the settings menu.
As expected, Amazon is upgrading its Appstore with social gaming features like achievements, leaderboards, and save game synchronization. The service, known as Amazon GameCircle, aims to bring Xbox LIVE-like features to Android. If you’re familiar with Xbox LIVE - or the Game Center on iOS, which was also inspired by Microsoft’s service – there’s not much new to look at. GameCircle’s current implementation appears to be very basic, but the features are still nice to have on Android.
Amazon is allowing game developers to turn in-game items like trophies, treasures, badges, awards, and other accolades into achievements, complete with the now-standard name, description, and image. Only Xbox LIVE’s Gamerscore system seems to have been left out of Amazon’s version. The design of the leaderboard, on the other hand, is different than most, since it’s sorted by percentile rather than the actual place on the leaderboard. Your score is shown in the middle of the leaderboard, flanked by the two closest players and two groups of three players ahead and behind you at set increments. Finally, GameCircle will allow you to sync your game progress, scores, and achievements across devices.
Amazon GameCircle isn’t groundbreaking in the slightest, but it does have a few nice features, particularly game progress synchronization. Hopefully this will become standard in all games moving forward. The service is currently supported by 15 games on Amazon’s Appstore for Android, including Temple Run, Doodle Jump, and Collapse! Developers looking to add GameCircle to their apps can contact Amazon to request API access.
Dropbox, one of the “big four” cloud storage services, has announced that it will be doubling the storage capacities for all Dropbox Pro accounts at no additional cost. This move, while much appreciated, is no doubt in response to the fierce competition from Microsoft SkyDrive and Google Drive, along with – to some extent – Apple iCloud. Dropbox is also adding a new pricing tier: 500GB for $500 annually.
With the increased storage space, Dropbox Pro customers are now getting cloud storage at a much more competitive price. Previously, Dropbox’s plans cost as much as four times more than other services. An analysis of the 100GB plan, for example, shows SkyDrive at $50 per year, Google Drive at $59.88 per year, and Dropbox at $200 per year. iCloud doesn’t offer a 100GB plan, but it’s safe to assume that it would be around $200 annually, since the 50GB plan sits at $100 per year.
Of course, the price per gigabyte isn’t the only determining factor in which service you use. Each of the four offers unique advantages and disadvantages, so if Dropbox is your thing, the increased storage space is no doubt quite welcome.
VLC, the popular free and open source cross-platform multimedia player, has finally arrived on Android. The mobile app, like its desktop counterpart, can play most audio and video files stored locally on your device, as well as network streams. It also supports a wide range of features like multi-track audio, subtitles, auto-rotation, aspect-ration adjustments, and gesture controls, and it includes a handy widget for controlling audio playback.
Of course, this being an early beta, the VLC Mobile Team (a part of the non-profit VideoLAN Organization) notes that the app is missing a few features and that the interface is subject to change. Furthermore, the app will only run on devices with an ARMv7 processor which supports NEON. Support for other processors is supposedly coming soon. If you’re one of the people who have been anxiously awaiting the release of VLC on Android, you can download it today from Google Play. The VLC Mobile Team does, however, warn that “It might kill your kitten, destroy your house and start the mayan (sic) apocalypse. Use it at your own risk.”
The beautiful Nokia Lumia 900 is manufactured from a single-piece injection-molded polycarbonate shell and features a 4.3-inch AMOLED ClearBlack Display (CBD), 1.4GHz processor, 16GB of internal memory, 512MB of RAM, and a 1830mAh battery. Performance-wise, it can best nearly every device on the market. The 8MP Carl Zeiss camera takes fantastic photos, and the quality of the 1MP front-facing camera is astounding. The intuitive Windows Phone OS, support for AT&T’s 4G LTE network, and $99 price tag are just icing on the cake.
Motorola DROID RAZR MAXX
The Motorola DROID RAZR was easily one of the best Android phones of 2011. It was one of the first seriously thin phones and it had the best specifications, durability, and styling to come out of Motorola in a long time. Now, with the introduction of the MAXX variant, it's almost irresistible, even to those currently locked into a contract. With Verizon’s 4G LTE, a 1.2GHz processor, 1GB of RAM, 32GB of internal storage, and a 3300mAh battery pumping out over 21 hours of talk time, the Motorola DROID RAZR MAXX is ecstasy wrapped in Kevlar.