Inbox by Google – A week with a smartbox

It’s about that someone did something about the e-mail that’s become a menace. Google seems to be taking the problem with e-mail seriously and it does reflect in their new (maybe future of email) app “Inbox”.

Invite systems have always worked no matter what the product is. Google is careful enough to take something this revolutionary slow. You can request access to this intelligent mail client by sending a request to “inbox@google.com” or get an invite from a friend who already is using it.

Inbox is an attempt to repair e-mail’s biggest problem, which is clutter and inability to keep and convey the information in a concise form. Google tried to address the above issues with the help of its intelligent algorithms. Inbox rethinks emails as a to-do list.

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What does it have?

The moment you log into to inbox with your Gmail account, Google crawls through your thousands of mails and tries to tidy it up by grouping them into various sections called “Bundles”. These are more like Primary, Updates, Social and Promotions in Gmail. Now, there are more sections like Travel, finance etc., and custom bundles. These are nothing but labels and filters with a greater IQ.The more I use, Inbox gets better and better at filtering and bundling mail. Thanks to Google’s cutting edge algorithms.

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As already mentioned, Google wants to make the email more useful. They chose to make the mail a to-do list. You can swipe(archiving, named “done”) away mails after attending them or snooze them to attend later. They can also be pinned to attend later, this is Google’s way of saying that it is important. This swipe away and snooze has been around for a while and proved to be useful in mail clients like Mailbox and Mail app on iOS 8. Also, no matter what the bundle is, as soon as a new mail is pushed to the bundle, it moves to the top of the Inbox. This is actually great, unlike in Gmail, where you need to go to the Promotions or Social or any relevant label.

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Reminders, an important feature that was introduced with Google now. Add reminders alongside with mail. This helps a section of people who get a lot of mails that carry tasks to be done.

As a designer, it feels great to see where Google’s design is headed to with the introduction of Material design. Transitions look great and better than ever on Inbox. It reflects their philosophy to make design delightful across platforms and devices.

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What does it miss?

Bundles do a great job when grouping the mails, but looks like even they fail to address the problem of clutter. It looks more spacious than a Gmail inbox but again, they are the same filters and this time more in number. Also, another annoying feature is the placement of all the attachments in the bundle. It feels really annoying, when you don’t know where that attachment is from and it only pushes you to dig deeper into the bundle rather than making it simpler.

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The idea of rethinking of mail as a to-do list is refreshing and makes mail slightly more useful than before. But may be this is not the revamp of email we are looking for. It probably needs to address the gap between email and IM to make it more usable.

I have used Inbox and only Inbox for a full week to ensure that I use it to the maximum. It felt great, but at the end of the week, I felt more than happy to get back to the Gmail app. It is not really right to judge Inbox and its future, certainly not at this point. With Google taking up the job, the future looks really promising. It is safe to say that email is in good hands for its long overdue makeover.

You can download Inbox right away here and find an invite from someone who already has it. With Android Lollipop release scheduled for November 3rd, you should expect Google to open this Inbox up for everyone.

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A week with Moto 360

There’s an important question to answer today.

Are smart watches really useful? Is it the right time to buy one?


A year ago, Google teased a new branch of its renowned operating system, Android Wear. It showcased a few smart watches from makers like LG and Motorola. LG G Watch was a regular approach in terms of design, but Motorola took a more natural approach towards designing the first of its kind wearable. A round-faced, perfectly engineered marvel, Moto 360. It invoked an interest in this technology driven world to focus more on the untapped market of wearable technology.

             I had been trying to get my hands-on a Moto 360 for a while, including shipping one from the US and I could finally get one from Flipkart. Thanks to their deals with Motorola for exclusive sale of their products. You can read my first impressions here, if you haven’t already. So, the much awaited Moto 360 arrived a week ago and I have used it extensively the whole week, to come up with a reasonable review.

Moto 360 is a treasure chest. You can keep talking about the wonderful and amazing things it does.

Design

           Moto 360 received a great applause for its design. It is a carefully engineered product. For the first time, it really felt like Motorola finally showcased its true capabilities in creating a great product. It features a round circular dial with a Stainless Steel body, which also comes in black. It features leather bands by Horween, a company that makes NFL footballs. It feels great, really premium. It covers all aspects of how a traditional watch is supposed to look like. Round dials, premium leathers, a button on the side. It also packs more than a traditional watch. The pictures make it look heavy, but surprisingly, it is light, very light. That’s a brilliantly pulled feat of engineering. Well played, Moto, well-played.

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Screen

             The moment your eyes catch this modern timepiece, the only thing you will really notice is its 1.56 inch round LED screen. It is so gorgeous that you wouldn’t want to see any other part of this watch. It has a resolution of 320 x 290 pixels, which is approximately 205 ppi. It is a sharp screen, which does its job pretty well. But, those of us, who have been used to the high-resolution displays over 440 ppi might find the screen less sharper than usual. But again, it does a great job outdoors too. Pictures look sharp, text looks crisp and watch faces look elegant. The colour reproduction is great as you would expect on an LED display. Oh, yes, it comes with a Corning Gorilla Glass 3 to keep itself from scratches and dust.

          A lot of people have been complaining about the small cutout portion on the bottom of the screen. Frankly, in my one week with this device, I didn’t notice it at all. This is the reason why the resolution is 320 x 290 instead of 320 x 320. It never comes into your way and catch your attention. In fact it is a great decision by Motorola in terms of engineering to go ahead with the cut unlike the new LG G Watch R, which makes the dial bigger on the bezels. It houses the ambient light sensor.

Watchbands

        Flipkart had only one option. Gray leather bands with Stainless steel body. It is great, but I found the dark gray version available at BestBuy and Moto website better than other options available. This one is a light gray version and the quality is remarkably good. I didn’t expect anything less and it didn’t disappoint me. I have used it during my workouts and regular activities and it seemed to repel water rather than getting wet. That’s solves my issues of removing my watches to save them from getting wet. 

Heart rate monitor and pedometer

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       The most talked about features in a wearable, health monitoring and fitness tracking are a part of this smart watch as well.

       Moto 360 features a heart rate monitor that tracks your heart rate throughout the day and help you with tips to keep your heart healthy. It is more accurate on the Google Fit heart rate app than the Motorola’s own app. I personally didn’t really find it useful, but may be there will be apps that will take advantage of this feature. 

        Pedometer is not that useful right now due to lack of apps that take advantage of this. Also, it is not really accurate, it keeps counting your random hand movements to be steps, like Marquees Brown-lee mentioned in his Moto 360 review.

Performance

         There have been a lot of reviews that point out the usage of TI OMAP 4 processor is not a great move by Motorola. Ok, this is the processor that Motorola used in its Droid series of devices before they shifted to Qualcomm Snapdragon. It is age-old, but still works fine. Thanks to Android wear for all the under-the-hood awesomeness. There are times when I found it laggy and I think a software fix is a solution to all those problems. In fact, I received an update a day after I started using it and it fixed a lot of performance issues, including battery life. Just not to forget these specifications, it comes with a 512 MB RAM and 4 GB onboard storage.

          The software is  great, but it lacks a lot of features. This is just the first version, so there’s a lot to come yet. Motorola Connect app lets you customise your watch faces and tracks your health data, but that is not enough. Right now, Android wear can only do so much and it is getting better with other app makers optimising their apps for wearables. For example, Microsoft Research made this cool keyboard for smart watches.

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         Battery life is the most concerned issue not just with a Moto 360, but all the smart devices. So, it does deserve a mention. A friend of mine even made a joke after I got this device, “Now you need to charge your watch too daily”. That was err… true till the first charge. The first ever full charge cycle after I opened the box lasted for 8 hours. That disappointed me, but after the update a full charge cycle lasted a whopping 28 hours. I have this watch almost always strapped on (even while writing this), connected to my phone and tested it under pretty moderate to heavy usage. So, I can safely say that all the battery life issues are solved and delivers the promised one full day usage. A 320 mAh battery is not big, but it goes on and on.

         Time to run to conclusions. This is a great timepiece with super cool watch faces and there’s no doubt about it. In this one week with this watch, I found myself using the watch more than my phone to check my notifications, reply to messages, make notes and set reminders. Thanks to Google’s most accurate voice recognition. I just leave my phone in my pocket or bag and go on with my work. Moto 360 tells me, with gentle vibrations, about incoming messages and calls, which feels great to not pull your phone out just to see who’s calling you. I even had a few people looking at it in the Metro when I changed my music tracks or reply to a text message. It is definitely an attention grabber.

         Is a smartwatch really useful? Well, it is, but not yet. Smart watches are a great step for wearables, but they are in their nascent stages. There is a dearth of features that makes them just expensive watches, right now. Also, there’s a great competitor coming soon, Apple Watch. It is the only comparable smartwatch to Moto 360 in terms of engineering, design and ecosystem.

         Should you buy one now? No, unless you are really interested in trying out one and a price tag of Rs. 17,999 doesn’t matter to you. It is highly advisable to buy one after a year or so. But, in case you decide to buy anything before the next edition Moto 360 or rumoured OnePlus Watch or Apple Watch come out, this is what you should buy. You can buy it from Flipkart at Rs. 17,999/- in a week or two.