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Google Stadia is a mess. Initial impressions suggest

By now, we all know more or less about Stadia. Google made no secret of its big foray into game streaming. The founder’s editions of the console have reached reviewers recently. So how is the feedback so far?

Not very exciting, we’re afraid.

Read more: Google launching game streaming service “Stadia”

The promise of Stadia

Google hyped up Stadia to the point where it sounded like the future of gaming in general. The cloud-based service promised to change the way we play games. The cloud storage would remove the need to download game content. Click on a hyperlink and just dive into a game of your choosing; without sacrificing any resolution demands.

In the face of all that potential, here’s how the product actually feels like:
It feels like it hasn’t really launched yet.

The delivery

Disclaimer: Stadia works. We’re not trying to say it’s just some sort of scheme that doesn’t. You can play games via the cloud service, without any physical discs or large downloads. It just doesn’t work as it is supposed to.

A lot of the key features promised are not present. One of the biggest prospects that could change how multiplayer works; the ability to join a game that you’ve been watching at the click of a button? It’s not there.

In addition (more like subtraction), Stadia doesn’t have iOS support, no working friend-list, and no games with Stream Connect. And you can’t really buy a Stadia right now.

Hardware problems

The service is supposed to be free(technically). What you can get right now to play a Stadia game is the Stadia Pro; which is only available through the Stadia Premiere Edition Bundle.

There is no other way to access the service other than by Buddy Pass. Which allows a Stadia Pro owner to give you access to try the service. Thing is, this feature isn’t available at launch.

So, in simple terms, you are paying full price to buy a console. This console was going to eliminate the need to own hardware to play games. This console itself is hardware.

How it holds up

This is all to be considered with the information in mind that Stadia the service was always supposed to be free. You would still have to purchase games to play on the service. But you would be able to play them anywhere, on anything. Even a browser.

To be fair, the Stadia does run games smoothly enough.

There are input lags and stutterings, but not to the extent where it becomes a major bother. The games look fine as well.

Right now, you are paying for a console that delivers on none of the big promises it made. You’re better off buying a PC or a different console at the moment.

Conclusion

This isn’t to say Stadia won’t be what it set out to be eventually. The point is it isn’t right now. But Google still “launched” it at full price.

Google Stadia might just end up becoming the future of gaming. But it isn’t at present. So probably you should hold off on this purchase for the time being.

Google Maps adds new features for Bangladeshi roads including a biker mode, safety feature and more

Google has launched several new features to Google Maps for the convenience of the people of Bangladesh at a launching event today at Lakeshore Hotel, Gulshan.

From now on, riders will get better journey time estimates and suggested routes best suited to bikes. The people will now have the option of getting their navigation cues in Bangla.

As the popularity of ride-sharing services increases, everyone now will have the option of double-checking their commute and sharing the trip with friends and family. This safety feature triggers an audible alert if there is greater than a 0.5km deviation from the suggested route.

“We want to provide the most local and relevant experience to meet people’s needs so we hope that by providing a customized experience for motorcycles, adding Bangla voice navigation, and providing an extra option for commuter safety makes getting around Bangladesh easier and more helpful.”

Krish Vitaldevara, Director Product Management, Google Maps commented regarding this

Extra help for motorcycle riders 

Google Maps now features a new navigation mode for motorcycle riders. Motorcycles also have specific needs. They can take routes that cars can’t take such as narrow roads and alleys. There are also some roads (e.g. highways) where two-wheelers aren’t allowed. Motorcycles often move at different speeds than cars. 

This definitely comes as good news with more than half the country’s households owning a motorcycle as a common way to get about and cut-through traffic. In Dhaka alone, Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) data show that the number of registered motorcycles has doubled over the last eight years.

Previously, riders would need to do a mental calculation to estimate their arrival times. It was based on a combination of walking and driving routes. But this new feature delivers more accurate travel times based on machine learning models that reflect motorbike speeds. Not only turn-by-turn navigation but the direction results also include Google Street View image references, to help people with pre-trip planning and remember their routes.

Turn-by-turn voice directions in Bangla

Another update rolling out is turn-by-turn voice navigation in the local language. Now you can expect Google Maps to effortlessly tell you to “In 100 meters, turn right onto Bir Uttam Rafiqul Islam Avenue” in Bangla.

The Google Maps voice navigation language is independent of your device’s language setting. You could have voice-guided navigation in Bangla while continuing to use the Google Maps app in English.

You can also change your phone language settings to “Bangla (Bangladesh)” and Maps voice navigation will automatically give you directions in Bangla.

Safer trips

Now, after searching for your destination and getting directions, you can enable this experience by selecting the “Stay safer” and “Set off-route alerts” option. 

If your cab, rickshaw or ride-sharing driver deviates more than 0.5km from the Google Maps suggested a route, your phone will buzz with a prominent notification and you can tap it to see where you are compared to the original route.

You can also choose to share your live trip with friends and family directly from that screen so they know you are off route and can keep track of your journey, and take appropriate action if required.

Improving the map in Bangladesh

Since January 2018, Google has added more than 50,000km of roads, more than 8 million buildings, and more than 600,000 points of interests on Google Maps across Bangladesh and continue to update it.

Ready to give all these new features a try? They are now all available to Android users in Bangladesh using the latest version of Google Maps. 

Google launching game streaming service “Stadia”

Remember that streaming service for gaming everyone wouldn’t shut up about? Although it wasn’t even here yet?

It’s here.

Google’s stadia

Google is launching the Stadia cloud gaming service at the San Francisco GDC (Game Developers Conference). CEO Sundar Pichai spoke about the company’s ambition to make Stadia a platform for everyone. Google hopes to stream games to all devices. But as of now, Stadia will stream games to the PC, laptop, tablet computers, TV and mobile phones.

How it works

Pichai and Phil Harrison, former Microsoft and Sony executive unveiled Stadia onstage. According to Harrison, YouTube will be used to add to the service. This comes in the form of a new feature, which allows one to view a game clip from a YouTube creator and hit a “play now” button to instantly access streaming service to the game. And this feature doesn’t require one to download or install any games. You can play through the google chrome browser. The feature was previously hinted at during Google’s trial period of Stadia deemed “Project Stream”. Many Chrome users accessed Assassin’s Creed Odyssey through the browser and streamed mostly seamless gameplay.

Part of the demonstration was moving gameplay seamlessly from a phone to a tablet and then to a TV.

A Stadia controller will also be launched and will work with the service by connecting through Wi-Fi. It will make moving games between devices smoother, and also being able to use one controller for all your devices is kind of cool. Games can be run at 4K at 60 FPS at launch, and up to 8K resolutions with 120 FPS will be made available in the future. A custom GPU will be released for Google datacenters, partnering with AMD. The GPU is expected to be more powerful and efficient than the ones used in the PS4 pro and even the Xbox One X.

Doom Eternal will be one of the launch titles for Stadia. And a cheeky reference to The Elder Scrolls series was also made courtesy of an image with a sword, a potion flask and a knee with an arrow sticking out. Make of that what you will. Google is planning to use State Share for players to share gameplay instances, down to specific parts of the game.

Competition looms in the horizon

In short, this has the potential to change the landscape of the gaming industry, if done right. And although Google seem like the first of the pack to unveil a firm offering, they are to face stiff competition from Microsoft and Amazon who are to release similar service later this year. Things are starting to get very intriguing indeed.

Video game streaming: A market on the horizon

Streaming services have gained a foothold in virtually every entertainment market over the past decade. Netflix and other streaming services have practically put cable television to rest. One industry that direct streaming hasn’t ventured into is gaming. That is about to change, for better or worse. Companies have observed the $150 billion worth industry and noted the potential for expansion. And they can’t wait to capitalize on it.

The Game

The answer to the question, “What could video game streaming achieve?” is still very vague.

In theory, a streaming service encompassing all devices could eliminate the need for consoles and console exclusive games. We could play any game on any device with sufficient hardware. And if someone has doubts about that, think about it this way: If there was an opportunity to make more games available on any device, either the producers would step up the hardware in their devices for less money, or games would be developed with better optimization, making them less demanding.

The Players

There is a very likely possibility of having console quality games on even mobile devices if streaming comes to pass, in the way it should. More for less is good news for customers. But what are the potential players in the streaming market preparing to offer?

Microsoft

Microsoft’s Project XCloud began with the expression that their vision for the future of gaming didn’t involve an expensive console. A cynical person such as myself might attribute that sentiment to their expensive console not selling. After the disappointment of the Xbox One despite it’s great hardware, Microsoft looked to take the beef off the device and implement it to their servers. They plan the service to avail top tier video games in any and all devices. This was exciting news for video game enthusiasts. XCloud allows you to play Xbox games without ever owning an Xbox, with all the features like crossplay, party chat and competitive online play available. All you need is an XCloud account to have access to the Xbox’s library of games on any device, even your smartphone. A Wi-Fi connection with decent speed or even a 4G connection can avail the XCloud to anyone, anywhere.

Google

A few months after Project XCloud’s announcement, Google introduced us to the beta version of its Project Stream. The service offers game streaming via the Google Chrome browser. The process was demonstrated by streaming Assassin’s Creed Odyssey over Chrome. Google offered the game for free to beta testers (those who met a few criteria) for the procedure that ran from last October to January 2019. There were a few problems, but the major takeaway was streaming via the Chrome browser is possible for a high-end game running at 60 fps on 1080p HD.

The others and how they hold up

Aside from the more prominent projects of Google and Microsoft, it is rumoured that Apple might also be working on a game streaming service. Granted, Apple hasn’t exactly had much to do with gaming at any point. But the allure of the market might finally be bringing them around.

It can be argued that Sony with Remote Play and PlayStation Now has already done what Microsoft and Google are trying to do. The truth is that the PS4’s remote play allows games to be played on the PSVita and the PC, but only up to 720p resolution. And you have to keep your PS4 running over the internet or across your room. In addition, the PlayStation Now service requires that you own a Sony PlayStation device to play the games on it. And the streaming service has been tormented by input lag issues and low quality video capability. So the XCloud and Project stream are far more than just counters to the PlayStation on Xbox and PC respectively.

The future

There is a very simple idea at work here. If you own a game you should be able to take it with you wherever and play it on whatever. Backwards compatibility and streaming on demand are facets of the idea. Offerings like Project XCloud have the potential to change the entire gaming market going forward by redefining how you buy a game and how you own it. This is not to say that console exclusives or physical copy ownership in gaming are going away. Many people are still sceptical of digital ownership, which is why you can still buy game disks. And console exclusives are a great way to market and sell consoles.

Video game streaming in the context of Project XCloud and Project Stream is an indication of inclusion and reach. More games will be available to more people far more conveniently. You can own a console with exclusive games and buy physical copies if you want to. And someone else can play games they want to play on anything from a phone to a tablet at any place if one wants to. Simply put, video game streaming can find the balance Netflix and Cable couldn’t. It can provide a solution to everyone without upsetting anyone or shutting down any preceding option. So when Microsoft talks about Project XCloud being the Netflix of video games, they aren’t looking to put the last nail in console gaming’s coffin, just because the last two generations of Xbox got owned by basically every other console.

At least that’s what we hope. It’s Microsoft. They’ve screwed up good things before. All we can do is wait and see. Good thing is if it doesn’t look good, you can still resort to pre-existing means. This isn’t the 3.5 mm jack, no one’s trying to replace it for dubious reasons.

Google Pixel 3 Lite: Why bringing back the headphone jack is a good idea

There have been rumors of a possible budget variant of Google’s flagship Pixel smart-phone; it was only recently that we got a glimpse at what it might look like. It has been referred to as the “Pixel 3 Lite”, and it combines the design of the Pixels with a smaller 5.5-inch display and a mid-range Snapdragon 670 processor. Although the usual complaints about the antiquated design and large bezels persist in this phone, one of the issues that a significant portion of consumers have been clamouring for a long time might have finally been addressed. By far the most interesting aspect of this phone is Google’s apparent decision to include a headphone jack for the first time since their very first Pixel phone.

Phones and headphone jacks have complimented each other for the longest time. For most of us, our first feature phones had a 3.5 mm jack, and it was perhaps the most interesting aspect of the phone to each of us at the time—cue countless hours of ripping MP3 files and loading them onto tiny memory cards. With smartphones, the need of a headphone jack was even greater—smartphones aimed at being the convenience guarantor and having a 3.5 mm jack on your smartphone was the convenient way to listen to music or recordings. And while the industry has transformed from feature phones to flip phones to finally smartphones, the headphone jack has largely remained constant. In an industry as focused on innovation as the smartphone industry change is the only constant. Thus we had to part ways with our headphone jacks, while Bluetooth and USB-C ports look to be the future. However, is that a good thing?

Firstly, the reason the headphone jack stuck around for so long is that it worked. It was a solved problem; there wasn’t much reason to move forward. Yes, we always strive for quicker and more convenient ways to solve a problem; provided the problem is still solved with the amount of quality retained. And the bottom line is, Bluetooth just doesn’t do that. Bluetooth audio quality is nowhere near the quality offered by most cabled equipment, yet. They simply can’t play high bit-rate files, or at least at the same quality wired equipment can. However, it is convenience vs. quality here, with different people obviously valuing different things. Audiophiles will always value cabled equipment, while consumers who value the convenience and portability of Bluetooth will opt for it. But the thing is, it isn’t too much to ask for both options on a device, especially when the manufacturing cost is so small.

It isn’t fair to say Bluetooth is bad for listening to music. High-end Bluetooth equipment can dish out music that is only perceptively worse than wired equipment. But to achieve that quality with Bluetooth, one has to spend a lot more than one had to for a wired option of similar quality. There is essentially no way to listen to a raw, loss-less sound on Bluetooth earphones; they just aren’t capable of it yet. All sounds need to be encoded to the Bluetooth headset, then decoded back to play. This is essentially the same tech as it was in 2004 when the first stereo Bluetooth headset came out. So Bluetooth still has a long way to go to match the 3.5 mm jack in performance.

Bluetooth headphones, ironically, offer less diversity than wired headphones. Active noise cancelling, bass-heavy, treble-heavy, you name it. There are headphones offered specifically to gamers, joggers, for Skype calls, etc. There’s a ton of flexibility when it comes to wired headphones, mainly because they’ve been around for longer and have had the time to address each specific need in the market. Bluetooth simply doesn’t offer that kind of flexibility yet. Bluetooth is mostly aimed at an active lifestyle, being more portable. They tend to have minimal builds, make complete seals with ear cups for better noise cancellation, and mostly just need you to adapt to it rather than it adapting to you. That doesn’t work for a lot of people and as it has been said before, there is simply no reason not to have both wired and Bluetooth options.

The weight then falls onto the USB-C type ports and dongles to make the argument for no headphone jacks. And I’m just going to say this flat out—dongles are bad. A lot of DACs and amps simply don’t work with the USB-C tech, and using one port to both charge your phone and listen to music causes an unnecessary amount of wear and tear. It is also a sloppy thing to use, as it’s easy to lose and just adds a new point of failure, being an external accessory.

On the point of convenience, Bluetooth doesn’t necessarily become the convenience provider most distributors make it out to be. Having a Bluetooth device means having another device to charge. At the same time when smartphone companies are trying to offer quicker ways to charge your phone to maximize time utilization—like fast chargers and larger batteries—doesn’t having another device to charge actually feel less convenient (if not completely defeating the purpose)? Bluetooth might indeed be the future, as it can only be improved upon. The problem is it hasn’t been fixed yet. There was never anything added to the experience of owning a device without a headphone jack, options were only taken away from it. For this reason, the headphone jack coming back in a market leader’s next big device is a welcome change. I personally feel like this is a good decision by Google, and eagerly await the return of the 3.5 mm jack in all its glory.

Android P: two steps forward and one step back

With another year comes another Android dessert, NOT heading to a phone near you. With the announcement and release of a second developer preview, Android P, as it’s currently known (until Google can make up its mind on what to call this one), is already out in the world with most of its highlight features out in the open for all the world to see and analyse.

If you were expecting this to feature a major shakeup like Lollipop’s Material Design or Oreo’s Notification Controls, you are in the wrong year. While P has a boatload of new things to bring to the table on an exclusive few devices later in the year, it’s nothing worth going nuts over, yet. Do keep in mind that these are not the final additions, and more things may be added or removed as this gets closer to the release date. With all that said, lets jump into what’s new with Android’s latest treat:

Gesture navigation

We must admit, we were surprised Google hadn’t implemented gesture controls previously as Android had the most diverse landscape with towering screens long before Apple thought of going Plus sized. Anyway, with this new addition to Google’s stable, the navigation bar has been slightly redesigned with the removal of the recent apps button, and instead, swiping up from the home ‘bar,’ you’ll see all of your app icons. Sliding your home button to the left opens up multitasking views, and you’ll be able to perform quick actions from this view. For those who are already terrified at the prospect of learning new controls, the system also has a ‘legacy’ mode where it brings the traditional controls back.

Redesigned quick toggles, settings and notification shade

If you thought the vanilla Android look was boring, you wouldn’t be wrong. Seems Google thought that way too as their quick toggles have been given a slightly ‘bubbly’ look and some colours to liven it up. The same treatment was given to the settings menu as well, all in a bid to liven it up and make it easier to find what you need. Google has also taken to P to further enhance the way you interact with notifications, as a continuation of Oreo’s improvements, such as adding the ability to send pictures straight from the notification. Oh, and the volume slider sees its first proper redesign by now making them vertical, with proper toggles to change profiles.

Efficient learning

Machine learning goes big with Android P as it plays key roles behind the scenes. Starting from learning how you use your apps, to adjusting your brightness based on times and locations, not just from the ambient light sensor. Android P will also use your usage habits to save as much battery as it can. Dubbed Adaptive Battery, it’s mostly targeting to managing battery when your device is idle.

https://youtu.be/gmWIf5sINEc?t=5m3s

Multi-camera and notch support

Android P allows developers to access streams from two different physical cameras simultaneously using the multi-camera API. This API requires either dual camera setups, a norm these days (plus maybe a Pixel 3 prediction). Another new addition is support for the very controversial notched displays, also a trend nowadays (although not a great one).

The annoyances

As mentioned before, many of these features are subject to change and most of the changes are under the hood. As it stands though, P is also set to introduce some interesting annoyances too. For one thing, the gesture control system is nowhere as complete or as intuitive as its iOS counterpart. Also, if you were to bring up the idea of saving screen real estate, you’d lose on that one too because the navigation bar is still very much there. So until Google irons out this new gesture control system, iOS leads by a country mile.

Another interesting annoyance with the current build is the omission of some very helpful shortcuts, which were present in previous versions of Android. Most notably, the expandable small options menu attached to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth is gone. Another omission is that small icon to jump directly to the full system settings from the Quick Settings screen. Their attempt at streamlining the DND (Do Not Disturb) has ended up dumbing down a very useful feature. Gone are the Alarms Only and Priority Only modes, and that’s sure to annoy the hell out of most users.

Technically, Android P still isn’t in its complete form yet and things are subject to change, but as it stands, this new one is mostly a just a generational update and nothing more. There are some things that iOS still trumps it on, mostly the gesture based navigation, but assuming Google polishes it up, it could very well become its secret sauce.