Facebook wants to make it easier for nonprofits to collect donations and spread awareness of their causes. The social media giant recently announced that it’s testing a new feature called “fundraisers”, a dedicated channel found on a nonprofit’s Facebook page. It lets charities tell their story, gather supporters, collect donations and track progress all from the one place. People who want to help can give money and share the nonprofit’s information with their friends, with the existing Donate button included in each shared post, meaning folks don’t have to leave their News Feed in order to support a cause. The button is also going to appear at the top of Pages, giving nonprofits more opportunity to raise money. These new features are currently being tested with 37 partner organizations and should expand to others “in the future”.
If you’ve ever wanted to make an online contribution to a non-profit but were put off by having to wade through the organization’s website, Facebook has your back. It’s deploying a “Donate Now” button that can pop up both in ads and on non-profits’ social network pages. Click it and you can go straight to a donation link instead of tracking it down yourself. It’ll take a while before you see the button in your feed, but it could be a big help the next time you’re eager to fund a good cause.
Ever found something on the web that would be better-served by an app, but didn’t relish the thought of downloading the app to give it a shot? Google clearly has: as part of a broader mobile search revamp, it’s introducing app streaming on Android phones. Search results from certain sites (such as Chimani or HotelTonight) will give you streamed versions of their mobile apps that let you do everything you need without a permanent download. Think of it as Nextbit’s cloud-based app management taken to the next level — you only need to ‘install’ that app for that brief moment when you really need it. The feature is still in beta testing with a handful of titles right now, but Google is promising to expand the selection over time.
You should also having an easier time finding things even if you already have the apps on your phone. Google search now turns up results within apps whether or not there’s matching web content, so you won’t miss out on a sweet discount that’s hard to find outside of software. All told, Google is doing more to acknowledge that the mobile internet includes a lot more than a bunch of web pages.
HotelTonight’s namesake feature is also holding it back: You can only book a room beginning at 9AM on the day of check-in. If you’re planning to arrive during a major event, say, in Los Angeles during E3 or Rio during Carnival, landing without a confirmed room can add to the already stressful travel process. But the folks at HotelTonight have a good idea of whether or not you’ll be able to find a room, and the team’s now ready to share that info with you. Now, when you open up the iOS app, Look Ahead will let you preview room pricing and availability for the next seven days. The app will even give you a heads up if there’s an event in town, so you can be aware of higher than normal rates, or opt to change your plans to avoid the crowds. Look Ahead is available today in Chicago, Dallas, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Diego, San Francisco and Washington, DC. You’ll need to have an iPhone to take advantage, but expect the feature to hit Android soon.
Nextbit wanted to celebrate the launch of its debut smartphone today at a party in San Francisco, but it turned out to be a celebration of success as well. In just under 12 hours, the startup reached its $500,000 Kickstarter goal to fund the Robin, an Android phone that isn’t only “cloud first,” but also surprisingly design forward as well. We had a chance to get an early look at what the final product might actually look like (though bear in mind these are all still prototypes) and asked Scott Croyle, Nextbit’s Chief Product and Design Officer — who’s also a former design lead for HTC — a few questions about the phone too.
First, let’s recap: The big idea behind the Robin is that not only does it have 32GB of internal storage, it also comes with 100GB of cloud storage — completely free. When you’ve maxed out the capacity on your phone, Robin is intelligent enough to slowly offload lesser used apps and/or media to the cloud. “It’s a unique hybrid approach,” said Croyle.
While he wasn’t able to show the software running on the prototypes to me, he did show a beta version of it running on a Nexus 5. He showed how a lesser used app was greyed out. Tap it, and you’ll see a progress bar as the app is loaded back onto the phone from the cloud. After a few minutes, the app will no longer be greyed out and you can use it just as you could before. And if you never ever want an app to be offloaded to the cloud, you can just pin it so that it’ll always be on your phone.
As for photos, he says that if you choose to back them up in the cloud, the phone will only load up the original high-res images while keeping downsampled versions in local storage so you can see what you have stored away. You don’t always have to use the cloud either; it’s completely up to you if you want to enable cloud storage for just media, just apps, both media and apps, or not use it altogether.
What’s perhaps even more impressive however, is that hardware. It’s a nicely designed device, with straight sides, a slim profile and cool colors — it comes in both “mint” green and “midnight” blue. On the right side is a power button that also doubles as a fingerprint sensor; just tap and hold it to unlock your phone. In addition to the regular microphone on the bottom, there’s also a noise-canceling microphone at the top. As for the rest of the hardware, it also has a 13-megapixel camera, LED flash, a 5.2-inch 1080p screen and a USB-C port.
It’s hard to really give hands-on impressions at this point due to the early prototype nature of the device — the one we’re showing here is an EVT, or an “engineering verification test” — but we’re at least able to show a mockup of what it could look like. The overall feel is very light and smooth to the touch. Even though it’s squared on the sides, it still felt pretty comfortable to hold thanks to a bit of a “soft touch” finish on the back, which we’re told is close to what they want in the final hardware. Powering it all is a pretty-close-to-stock Android Lollipop, albeit with a few Nextbit touches.
There’s still 27 more days to the Kickstarter at this point, so you still have time to get one for $349 (the $299 early bird specials are all gone). But if you do, bear in mind there’ll be a wait: Croyle tells me they won’t start shipping until January 2016 at the earliest.
Although Garmin is mostly known for its GPS navigation systems, the company recently started expanding its scope to other things including wearables. Now, according to FCC documents, Garmin looks to be ready to introduce an Android-powered media stick. As Liliputing reports, Garmin’s Vivohub 2 (pictured below) is described as a device that can turn your dumb TV into a smart one — similar to products such as the Google Chromecast or Roku Streaming Stick. Strangely enough, the leaked user’s manual suggests the Vivohub 2 runs 4.2 Jelly Bean, which is far from being the freshest version of Android. In addition to that, the stick is said to come with a 1GHz Amlogic AML826 dual-core processor, ARM Mali-400 graphics, 1GB of RAM and support for both Bluetooth and WiFi.
At the moment, it isn’t quite clear how Garmin will pitch this to its core consumer base, but maybe there’s a plan to make it work alongside the Vivofit activity-tracking ecosystem.
Update: Garmin appears to have listed the Vivohub 2 on its site, but makes no mention of Android or any media-streaming capabilities. Instead, much like the original Vivohub, the new device seems to be focused on corporate wellness, too. Either way, we’re waiting for Garmin to reply to our inquiry regarding what the Vivihub 2 is really all about.
Garmin has launched a trio of GPS running watches, including the first equipped with the company’s new wrist-based heart rate sensor. The Forerunner 235 uses the “Garmin Elevate” optical sensor that displays heart rate and training zone directly on the wearable. (Its last model, the Forerunner 225 also has an optical sensor, but it was designed by Mio.) That means you’ll be able to ditch the chest strap, though you’ll pay a considerable $329/£270 for that luxury. If that’s too much, Garmin is also offering the similar Forerunner 230 that’s bundled with an ANT+ heart rate strap for $299/£240.
The Forerunner 230 runs up to 16 hours on a charge, while the 235 can go 11 hours. Both are compatible with the Connect IQ smartwatch platform, which brings extra watch faces, apps, widgets and more. They also sync with Garmin’s latest Connect mobile app, letting you control music on your phone and get lap times on the go. Speaking of which, the app has been updated with a more modern design, and now shows daily snapshots, a calendar, leaderboards and a newsfeed. Users can also share workouts in real time on social media with the “Live Track” feature.
Garmin also unveiled its “most advanced running watch,” the Forerunner 630. For $399/£330, it gives you a host of esoteric running data. For instance, you can see things like stride length, ground contact symmetry, vertical ratio (a measure of running efficiency), lactate threshold and performance readiness. It’s also Connect IQ compatible and works with Garmin’s latest Connect app. Despite the higher price, however, it doesn’t include the optical heart rate monitor that the Forerunner 235 has. Instead, you’ve got to strap an ANT+ device to your chest, and that’s not included in the price. Still, if you’re a hardcore runner who’ll do anything for an edge, we doubt that detail will bother you.
The original Chromecast proved that big surprises can come in small packages. Even though it was just a $35 HDMI dongle the size of a pack of gum, it had the power to transform any TV into a smart one, as long as you had a smartphone, tablet or computer nearby. Sure it wasn’t as full-featured as other media streamers, but for the price, it was a bargain. Fast-forward to 2015, and there’s a brand-new Chromecast in town with a new look and a promise of faster speeds, all at the same price. No, it’s not that much better than the original, but it still delivers great bang for your buck.
Compatible with most popular video streaming services
Supports dual-band 802.11ac for faster and more reliable WiFi
Improved app makes search and discovery easier
Still just 1080p
Needs a separate device to act as a remote control
Doesn’t have native support for Amazon Instant Video
For just $35, you get a full-fledged media streamer that won’t take up much space in your home entertainment center. It’s simple to setup, and the new Chromecast app sweetens the deal even further with how easy it is to find new content. Sure it doesn’t have 4K support or a real remote control, but its bargain basement price more than makes up for it.
Hardware and setup
While the original Chromecast took the form of a chunky stick, the 2015 model looks more like a hockey puck with a 4-inch HDMI cable attached. The reasoning behind this new design was to accommodate TVs with HDMI ports that are too narrow for the first Chromecast. Indeed, the original even came with an HDMI extender to fit in those tight spaces. Thanks to that short, flat cable on the new model, however, the extender is no longer needed. The only potential downside is you’d have to have it hanging off your TV in a rather unsightly way, but if your set’s ports are mostly on the rear, it shouldn’t be an issue.
If you decide to carry the new Chromecast around with you, that HDMI cable has a tiny magnet at the end of it that snaps easily to the rear of the device when folded over, which makes it a little more portable. It also now comes in three different colors — red, yellow and black — which seems a little silly if it’s tucked out of sight, but it’s a nice little touch all the same, especially if you plan on giving this as a stocking stuffer. (Note that the red and yellow versions are available only on the Google Play Store.) Other design improvements include the addition of a small reset button located on the side that you can use to power-cycle the Chromecast in case it crashes or gets stuck. There’s an LED power indicator as well.
Setting up the new Chromecast is as easy as ever. Just like the original, the new version has a micro-USB port that you can attach to either your TV if it has a USB connection or the included power adapter. Once you have it all plugged in, you’ll be prompted to go to Google’s Chromecast setup URL, where you’re encouraged to download the new Android or iOS app to setup your new device (more on this app later). Google also supports the ability to set up your Chromecast on Windows (7 and higher) as long as you download the desktop Chrome app. Even though it’s not available right now, it appears that you’ll also be able to do so on Mac OS X (10.7 and up) in the future. I used both the Android and iOS apps and the process was pretty straightforward — you’re basically telling the Chromecast which WiFi network to use, along with any associated WiFi password. While you’re doing that, you can also assign a name to your Chromecast, which is useful if you have more than one in your home.
Another major hardware difference between the new Chromecast and the old one is that the new model supports dual-band WiFi 802.11ac (2.4/5GHz). This means that the streaming should not only be faster, but also perform better in congested areas like apartment buildings since the 2.4GHz frequency is typically more crowded than the 5Ghz one. The rest of the internals, on the other hand, are pretty similar to what we saw on the original: There’s a slightly improved processor (the Marvell ARMADA 1500 Mini Plus SoC), the same 512MB of SDRAM and the same display resolution of 1080p.
Features and software
As far as features go, not much has changed. Just like the original Chromecast, the new model lets you cast video from any compatible app to your TV. Simply tap the little cast logo in the app, select the name of your Chromecast from the menu and voila, you’re ready to go. Most popular video-streaming apps are already Chromecast-compatible. They include Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go, YouTube, WatchESPN, CBS and of course, Google Play. Also on board are sports apps like NFL, MLS and MLB.TV, and the new Showtime Anytime app. The most glaring exception appears to be Amazon Instant Video, which appears to have opted out, at least for now.
With so many compatible apps, it can be a chore to figure out just what shows are available to watch. That’s where the new Chromecast application comes in — it’s the same one that you’d have downloaded to set up the Chromecast in the first place. Announced alongside the new hardware, the new app is really the star of the show in that it brings much-needed search and discovery to the party. It’s available on Android and iOS and is compatible with both the old and new Chromecasts.
Search is certainly one of the app’s more useful features. Instead of having to hop in and out of a dozen different apps, you can simply enter in a keyword — say, The X-Files — to see just what apps and services the show is on. You can enter in the keyword either by typing or with Google’s voice search. From there, you can simply hit “Watch” and your app of choice will launch. The downside so far is that search only brings up results from certain apps — Netflix, Hulu and Google Play options will show up, but nothing from HBO Go, for example. However, I’m told that it’s possible for them to be added to search later on. There’s also a “What’s On” tab that displays a rotating carousel of shows from various services like Netflix and YouTube, as long as the app is already installed on your phone. What I also appreciated was a list of Chromecast-compatible apps and games that you can get from the Google Play store. And of course, you can change the backdrop image of what’s on your Chromecast screen via the app too.
Aside from TV shows and movies, you can also send whatever’s on your Chrome browser to your Chromecast-enabled TV just as before. Although it’s currently in experimental mode, you’re also able to mirror your entire desktop screen on your TV, not just your browser. If you’d rather play music instead of video, popular streaming apps like Rdio, Spotify and Google Music are supported as well. However, you might consider Google’s new Chromecast Audio instead if you’re more of an audiophile who’d rather play songs through a pair of good speakers than your TV. And if you feel like sharing vacation photos with your friends instead, the new Google Photos app now supports Chromecast too.
It’s worth noting here that because the Chromecast has no remote control, you’ll have to use your phone or tablet to control playback and volume levels. That isn’t a problem most of the time, but when I’m home, I usually prefer to have my devices sitting in the charger rather than on my living room table. The Chromecast does support an HDMI-CEC protocol that lets you use any TV remote with it, but this capability varies from TV to TV.
Other noteworthy features include a guest PIN so that your visitors can control the Chromecast without having to log onto the network, plus a Fast Play mode that automatically queues up the next video in the playlist as you’re finishing the last one. Fast Play wasn’t available for testing at the time of this review, although Google tells us that third-party apps should start supporting it before the end of the year.
There’s really not much different between the old and new Chromecast in terms of functionality. The feature set is identical, and the setup is the same as well. The biggest difference is that the new Chromecast promises faster speeds. I compared both the old and new devices by loading videos from Netflix, Hulu and YouTube and found that the new Chromecast is indeed faster overall. On the old model, Netflix videos loaded in about nine to 10 seconds while they appeared in just five or so seconds with the new Chromecast. Hulu videos displayed about eight seconds faster while YouTube videos loaded about seven seconds faster. Obviously, the speeds will vary depending on the video quality and your network at home, but the new Chromecast’s hardware updates do appear to have improved performance.
That said, I don’t think the difference of a few seconds is that important. The load time on the old Chromecast never really bothered me, and I don’t care much if a video loads seven seconds faster. The difference would really be if you live in an apartment building or neighborhood where the 2.4GHz frequency is congested, and thereby likely to slow down your WiFi connection. With the new Chromecast’s support for the lesser-used 5GHz frequency, that should free up a lot more bandwidth for your video-watching needs.
In the increasingly crowded field of media streamers, the Chromecast has plenty of competition. Its biggest rivals are arguably Roku, Apple and Amazon. Both Roku and Amazon offer HDMI stick versions of their streamers, which go up directly against the Chromecast. The Roku Streaming Stick is $50 and comes with a remote control. The Amazon Fire TV Stick, on the other hand, is $40 and also comes with a remote, although there’s also a voice remote version of the Fire TV Stick that is $50. Both have their own TV-centric UI so smartphone/tablet apps aren’t necessary, and both also have native support for Amazon’s Instant Video, which the Chromecast lacks. Unlike the new Chromecast however, they only support 802.11a/b/g/n and not the faster 802.11ac.
But if you’re willing to cough up more money, Roku’s and Amazon’s more expensive set-top offerings pack in a lot more features. They all have remote controls and Ethernet ports, which is handy for when WiFi is too unreliable. The newly released Roku 4 supports 4K video, dual-band 802.11ac and voice search, plus a remote-finder ability. The new Amazon Fire TV also supports 4K video, dual-band 802.11ac and it even has a microSD card slot for external storage. Of course, the Roku 4 and Amazon Fire TV are much more expensive at $130 and $100, respectively (you can also still get the older Roku 3 for $100), but that much added functionality is certainly worth it. And, of course, if you’re an iTunes die-hard, Apple’s latest TV offering is really your only option at $149.
Alternatively, you could also opt for the Nexus Player or the NVIDIA Shield TV, both of which use Google’s new Android TV interface. The former is just $99 while the latter is $200. Both have dual-band 802.11ac, but the Shield TV is certainly the better of the two thanks to its 4K support and beefier Tegra X1 processor.
In the end, the new Chromecast is really less of a 2.0 product and more of a 1.1. Yes, the new internals are improved and the support for dual-band 802.11ac makes it better for those who want a faster and more reliable signal. The new circular design with the attached cable makes it easier to fit in the rear of most TVs and it’s also a lot cuter. But it’s otherwise not too different from the original Chromecast. If you were satisfied with the WiFi performance of the old one, then I see no reason to upgrade at all. The real differentiator is the new Chromecast app for search and discovery, and as that’s available on both versions of the hardware, I would simply stick with the old one.
But if you somehow haven’t picked up a Chromecast yet, then you should certainly look into one. Although it lacks the bells and whistles of the competition, its bargain-basement price bundled in with its plethora of features makes it the best deal in entertainment-media streamers today. Certainly, don’t feel like you should get one if you can afford a beefier set-top option, but if you simply want to dip your toe in cord-cutter waters without spending a lot of money, the Chromecast is definitely the way to go.
When Roku released its first Streaming Stick in late 2012, it was a tough sell. It cost $99 (as much as the highest-end Roku box), only worked with TVs that were certified as “Roku Ready,” and it didn’t even ship with a remote. So the godfather of set-top streaming boxes went back to the drawing board for the 2014 version of the Roku Streaming Stick, which abandons its reliance on MHL (Mobile High-Definition Link) for standard-issue HDMI. It also comes prepackaged with a remote, though it lacks the motion control and headphone jack you get on more expensive models. For the internals, the company essentially crammed the Roku 1 into a dongle format — and that includes its wallet-friendly $50 price point. While it’s not quite as cheap as Google’s streaming stick, it does play host to plenty more content sources. Whether or not PBS, Showtime and over 1,000 niche channels of video programming is worth the extra $15 depends on you.
Other than form factor, the only difference between the Roku 1 and the Stick is that the latter ships with the latest versions of Roku’s apps, though those will be coming to the full-sized box in the near future. That means you’ll be able to cast photos and videos directly from your phone. Alongside the 2014 edition of the Streaming Stick, the company is launching a revamped mobile app. The most immediately obvious difference is the UI, which puts stark purple line drawings on black background. More importantly though, it puts the platform’s universal search at your fingertips. So, rather than having to look at your TV to browse through the results, you can pick out the best place to watch Sherlock for free with just the tap of your touchscreen.
The new Roku Streaming Stick will be available in April either direct from the company’s site or through the usual retailers (like Best Buy) for $50.
Yahoo is no stranger to fantasy sports, and its foray into daily fantasy games grabbed the attention of regulators in New York. The internet company is being included in the inquiry into daily fantasy sports by the New York Attorney General’s office. Yahoo was subpoenaed alongside DraftKings and FanDuel as Attorney General Eric Schneiderman looks to ban the games in his state. A distant third in the world of daily fantasy, Yahoo launched its version in July and continues to accept payments in the state of New York. However, the company shut down its daily fantasy option in Florida last month after an investigation of the industry began by a federal grand jury. With Schneiderman looking into other operators besides the two top names, it seems his goal is to rid New York of daily fantasy sports entirely and classify the games as gambling. And if he’s successful, it’ll be interesting to see if other states follow suit.