Features

Forget about Pixel and Nexus, where’s Android One?

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Broken MyPhone Uno - Android One

Last week saw Google proudly (yet not surprisingly) unleash its flagship, Nexus-killing Pixel phones. It’s so satisfying to see a pair of Androids that finally feel like worthy iPhone rivals, but they only cover the high-end spectrum. Wandering around blindly in Google’s basement is the series once destined to rule the entry-level smartphone market. Let’s take a moment to figure out what’s happening — or what happened — to Android One.

The Nexus effect

Before going any further, we have to define Android One’s intended purpose. Originally released in 2014 throughout Asia, the program’s smartphones were designed to be a gateway to Google’s mobile operating system. By delivering the latest software updates to bloatware-free phones costing around $100, the search specialist could capitalize on consumers who just wanted a handset that worked well, essentially labeling it as a role model for other entry-level Android devices.

If this sounds familiar to you, that’s because the Nexus series did the same for the premium and midrange market segments. Unlike the new Pixel lineup and its all-out specs and price approach, Google’s previous pride and joy simply maximized the hardware it collaborated on with third-party manufacturers.

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Smartphones such as 2013’s LG-produced Nexus 5 showcased how well Android could be optimized in a competitively priced package, while the two Nexus 7 tablets from ASUS did something similar by cutting down the products’ price without compromising performance.

Why, oh why, Android One

To better understand the root of Android One’s disappearance, you have to know what the internet giant offered hardware partners who were part of the program. It was basically a blueprint, laying out Google’s strict hardware and software requirements in creating a smartphone that fits its mold.

As a result, partners would be assisted in selling attractively priced smartphones; Google would spread the joy of its app suite and integrated search engine; and consumers would be able to buy into a pure Android experience at a fraction of the cost of any Nexus. That was the plan, at least.

By having a stranglehold on the requirements, Google gave third-party manufacturers no freedom in designing their own smartphones. This gave local brands a difficult time differentiating their handsets from everyone else’s.

“Google gave third-party manufacturers no freedom in designing their own smartphones.”

The situation got so bad, Google eventually relaxed its rules on features, components, and price late last year, as reported by The Wall Street Journal. Sadly, it came far too late, and local smartphone brands already lost interest in the system.

And that was just about hardware. Android One partners were also forced to apply a pure operating system on every handset, resulting in an interface free of any bloatware and unneeded features.

While that sounds great for consumers, local companies — especially the struggling ones — needed to make money out of pre-installed apps from sponsors. Those advertisement-loaded games and obscure messaging apps you’ve seen built into phones are vital in paying off a handset’s manufacturing and marketing costs.

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It’s all about branding

With a very small profit margin from $100 phones and Google’s dominant branding inside and out, there was very little incentive in producing for Android One. Now, you might be asking: Google had a similar blueprint for the Nexus series, so how did it manage to last six years? That’s a different case.

Besides receiving full support from Google and being able to sell at a higher price, Nexus partners got a lot more intangible rewards in return. For example: Like LG’s Nexus 5 and ASUS’ Nexus 7, the Huawei-made Nexus 6P became the Chinese company’s ticket to gaining more traction in the US market. It didn’t turn out as well as the two parties had hoped, but it revealed just how important branding was in the succeeding deal that didn’t push through.

“There was very little incentive in producing for Android One.”

The Nexus 6P is a fantastic phone and a great example of how stock Android should be handled, so naturally, Huawei was approached by Google to manufacture the Pixel phones. Problem: There was to be no third-party branding allowed on the new flagship devices, and Google would claim them as its own, one hundred percent.

According to insider reports, this development didn’t bode well for Huawei, who wanted as much global brand awareness as possible, and so the Pixel deal was subsequently handed over to HTC’s Taiwan-based plants instead. Why did HTC bite the bullet? Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’d know that the former leader in refined Android design hasn’t been doing well financially in the past few years, and any sort of collaboration that involves huge sums of money is heaven-sent for the struggling company.

Dead on second arrival

With all the team shuffling Alphabet (Google’s parent company) has been experiencing, it really makes us wonder where Android One currently resides. Last we heard, the program folded into Google’s new unified hardware division under former Motorola president Rick Osterloh, and plans were set for India to see more handsets launched in the near future — both of which were reported last May by Android Authority and The Economic Times India, respectively.

These bits of news sound all well and good, but if you consider the amount of hardware Google recently introduced and how weak Android One sales have been, it’s not surprising to see the least profitable division take a step back.

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It’s a shame, really. There were signs of life when Japan launched its own Sharp 507SH, a waterproof Android One handset with a three-day battery life, three months ago. Last February, Google tried something different with the internationally available General Mobile GM5 Plus, which is the first and only midrange smartphone to come out of the One series, appropriately costing $300.

And it’s not like the older One handsets have been neglected, either. The latest version of Android has been rolling out to 2015’s second-generation lineup, and with some tinkering, owners of the first generation from 2014 can get Nougat on their devices, too.

Barely a billion

Back when I interviewed Caesar Sengupta, the VP for Product Management at Google and head of the Android One initiative at the time, when the program was slowly spreading throughout Southeast Asia, he emphasized their main goal: to deliver smartphones to the “next five billion.”

It seems like the Mountain View company’s greatest weakness is being overambitious. Remember Google Glass? Shattered to pieces. And how about Project Ara? We all know how that turned out.

This isn’t to say Android One is dead, but you can’t help but feel discouraged when you realize that releases from the likes of ASUS, HTC, and Lenovo never panned out, and likely never will. Imagine owning a high-quality HTC device equipped with the purest operating system in the market at a price below $300.

One can only dream at this point.

Hands-On

Huawei Mate 20 Pro Hands-on: Best phone of 2018?

Huawei outdoes itself again

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In an industry where incremental updates are the new norm, Huawei manages to wow us again — barely a year after the release of the P20 Pro. The Chinese company is back with the Mate 20 and Mate 20 Pro which might just be the best among the best this year.

In this video, we go over the phones’ new designs, updated cameras, and new memory card format. We also go through the differences between the Huawei Mate 20 and Mate 20 Pro.

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Features

Huawei Mate 20 vs Mate 20 Pro: What are the differences?

Price isn’t the only factor

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Huawei has once again launched two flagships phones at the same time; one comes with a Pro moniker, while the other does not. Like before, there are some significant differences between the Mate 20 pair to take note of.

While we wait to get our hands on the Porsche Design Mate 20 RS and Mate 20 X, here are the two phones we already know everything about.

Display

One obvious difference is in their displays. While the Mate 20 Pro goes for a notched 6.39-inch 1440p curved HDR OLED display — certainly a mouthful — the regular Mate 20 has a 6.53-inch 1080p RGBW HDR LCD with a much smaller notch.

The Pro model justifies the larger notch by housing a more complex camera system for secured facial recognition, but if that doesn’t matter to you, the regular variant’s Dew Drop notch may be more appealing — and definitely less intrusive.

In addition, the Mate 20 Pro’s OLED tech allows it to curve the edges and equip an in-display fingerprint scanner. It’s essentially the more modern-looking design of the pair.

Performance

Since both models have Huawei’s Kirin 980 chipset installed, pure performance is virtually identical. The Pro and non-Pro also share the same memory and storage configuration of 6GB and 128GB, respectively, although the plain Mate 20 has a more affordable 4GB memory variant available, too.

Another minor difference: The 4200mAh capacity of the Mate 20 Pro, along with the more energy-efficient OLED, provides it with potentially longer battery life than what the Mate 20’s 4000mAh capacity and LCD panel offer.

A more significant advantage for the Mate 20 Pro is its inclusion of a 40W SuperCharge adapter in the package — noticeably better than the 22.5W output of the Mate 20’s. Plus, the Pro version can charge other phones wirelessly using wireless reverse charging tech.

Cameras

Perhaps, you’ll care most about the difference in camera quality and performance. While it’s too early to make photo and video comparisons, an initial look at specs shows that the Mate 20 Pro may have an edge.

There are three modules in place for the Pro: One is a 40-megapixel main camera, another has 20 megapixels and an ultra-wide lens, and the final unit offers 8 megapixels with 3x optical zoom

As for the Mate 20, its main camera has only 12 megapixels, the ultra-wide shooter settles for 16 megapixels, and the 8-megapixel telephoto camera goes up to only 2x optical zoom.

Despite the larger notch of the Mate 20 Pro, they share the same 24-megapixel selfie camera.

Pricing and colors

This part largely depends on where you reside, but in an ideal setting, all five colors — Emerald Green, Midnight Blue, Twilight, Pink Gold, and Black — should be available for both models.

Pricing is another matter, and it again depends per region. In Europe, the Mate 20’s 4GB+128GB configuration retails for EUR 799 and its 6GB+128GB model goes for EUR 849. The Mate 20 Pro’s sole 6GB+128GB variant costs EUR 1,049, making it more expensive by EUR 250 and EUR 200, respectively.

In Singapore, the Mate 20’s 6GB+128GB setup retails for SG$ 998, while the Mate 20 Pro is at SG$ 1,348 — a difference of SG$ 350.

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Features

Huawei Mate 20 series first to have Nano Memory Card

Could this become a trend?

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Aside from introducing a host of flagship features to the freshly minted Mate 20 series, Huawei also introduced a new memory card standard, simply named Nano Memory Card.

It’s available on both the Mate 20 and Mate 20 Pro, and it effectively replaces the microSD slot we’ve become so accustomed to. The question is: What’s so special about it?

The simplest answer is that it has the same size as the nano-SIM card inside any smartphone today. Because of the identical dimensions, the secondary card slot doesn’t have to be designed differently, like what has been done for microSD cards.

In the case of the Mate 20 series, the removable card tray has back-to-back slots: one for the nano-SIM, and the other for either another nano-SIM or separate Nano Memory Card.

As of writing, Huawei will be offering 128GB and 256GB NM Cards, with speeds of up to 90MB/s. They’re hoping it’ll become the new standard, and are producing adapters for additional compatibility.

It’s certainly a more efficient way of adding physical storage to a handset, and allows manufactures like Huawei to use the saved space for other features, like a large battery.

Looking ahead, it seems only logical for other smartphone brands to follow suit, but that would mean consumers would have to buy into a whole new standard and let go of their microSD cards.

The same thing happened with the introduction of the USB-C port, wherein users had to replace their micro-USB cables for the newer, more intuitive system. It’s been a gradual process, but definitely rewarding.

It’ll take a while before we find out if this will become a trend, but for now, we should appreciate Huawei’s courage in taking the first, big step.

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