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printed December 15, 2017
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Google Releases Android 8.1 Oreo

Dec 5, 2017, 3:50 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today made Android 8.1 Oreo official. Google had made the final developer preview of the refreshed platform available at the end of November. Most prominently, Android 8.1 unlocks the Pixel Visual Core on the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL smartphones. This lets app developers put the Pixel phones' HDR+ mode to use in their own imaging apps. Android 8.1 Oreo also includes a significant number of under-the-hood changes. For example, apps can take advantage of hardware acceleration for on-device machine learning operations. Android 8.1 makes changes to notifications, helps developers target low-RAM devices, and improves Oreo's autofill behaviors. Developers gain new tools, too, such as the Safe Browsing API for detecting threats, the Shared Memory API for creating apps that are able to share memory resources, and the Wallpapercolors API for tweaking wallpapers. Android 8.1 Oreo is available to the Pixel, Pixel XL, Pixel 2, Pixel 2 XL, Nexus 5X, Nexus 6P, Nexus Player, and Pixel C. The update will be available over the air in the days ahead.


Verizon Debuts In-Home LTE Extender, Pixel 2 Promo

Dec 1, 2017, 12:12 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Verizon Wireless today announced the Samsung 4G LTE Network Extender 2, a device meant to improve wireless coverage at your house or small business. Like many network extenders, the Samsung 4G LTE Network Extender 2 plugs into your home's wired broadband service. It then provides about 7,500 square feet of LTE coverage, with support for up to 14 simultaneous connections. The extender supports LTE service only, and does not provide 1X or CDMA coverage in the home. The device costs $249, but there is no monthly service fee associated with its use. In other Verizon news, the company rolled out a new promotion for the Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL smartphones. The company will cut the price of either phone by $300 when purchased on a device payment plan. Customers will need to finance the entire cost of the handset. Verizon will then contribute $300 in total over the course of 24 monthly payments (about $12.50 per month). The Pixel 2 promo kicks off on Sunday.


Google Releases Final Android 8.1 Beta to Developers

Nov 27, 2017, 1:33 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Nov 27, 2017, 1:44 PM

Google today made the second and final developer preview of Android 8.1 Oreo available to app writers and beta testers. The refreshed beta represents the OS is final form according to Google, though some bugs remain. Notably, Android 8.1 unlocks the Pixel Visual Core on the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. This will allow app developers to put the Pixel phones' HDR+ mode to use in their own imaging apps. This update to Android includes a significant number of under-the-hood changes. For example, apps can take advantage of hardware acceleration for on-device machine learning operations. Android 8.1 makes changes to notifications, helps developers target low-RAM devices, and improves Oreo's autofill behaviors. Developers gain a bevy of new tools, such as the Safe Browsing API for detecting threats, the Shared Memory API for creating apps that are able to share memory resources, and the Wallpapercolors API for tweaking wallpapers. Other updates include the ability to assign new behaviors to the fingerprint reader on Android handsets, such as permanently lockout users who fail too many times to unlock their device with a fingerprint. The Android 8.1 Oreo Developer Preview 2 is available to registered developers and Android beta testers. Google has made system images available for direct installation on compatible handsets, though an over-the-air update will also reach registered Google users in the near future. The beta is compatible with the Pixel, Pixel XL, Pixel 2, Pixel 2 XL, Nexus 5X, Nexus 6P, Nexus Player, and Pixel C. Google expects to release the final version of Android 8.1 Oreo to devices starting in December.


Holiday Gift Guide 2017

Nov 21, 2017, 5:13 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

As the end of the year approaches so too does the season of giving. Holiday gifting lists are often filled with technology, but it isn't always easy to find that perfect item. We're here to help. Allow Phone Scoop's annual Holiday Gift Guide to be your helping hand this season. It's chock full of suggestions from handsets to headphones, in-home assistants, and everything in between.

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Google Lens Reaches Pixel Handsets

Nov 20, 2017, 8:20 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Nov 20, 2017, 8:23 AM

Google has updated Google Assistant on its Pixel smartphones and added the Google Lens tool it first announced back in May. Google Lens is an image-recognition function that relies on mobile cameras to perform searches. Google Lens is a significant advancement to the old Google Image Search app. Google says its neural networks are better than humans at recognizing most objects. Using Google Lens, Pixel owners can aim their camera at just about anything and Google will instantly perform a search and suggest results. The tool works within Google Assistant on the Pixel handsets, as well as within Google Photos. For example, users can snap a shot of an old car on the street and immediately gain information about that car and discover where it might be available for sale. Google Lens can recognize objects such as flowers, vehicles, gadgets, and more. The update to Pixel devices is rolling out now. Google hasn't said when Google Lens might reach other Android handsets.


Review: UAG, Speck, and Incipio Cases for the Google Pixel 2 XL

Nov 15, 2017, 3:00 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Need a case for your pricey Google Pixel 2 XL smartphone? Here are three options from UAG, Incipio, and Speck. These will add a dash of style to your handset with varying degrees of protection.

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Google Boosts Pixel 2 XL Display Color In System Update

Nov 7, 2017, 8:12 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google says the November security update for the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL includes several behavioral and bug fixes to address user complaints. To start, the new software should resolve the clicking noise heard in some Pixel 2 earpieces during phone calls. Moreover, the update adds a new saturated color mode and tweaks maximum brightness settings for both displays to increase color saturation and lead to a brighter look. Google says the update also ensures the UI will avoid behaviors that might lead to screen burn-in. "These features have been carefully designed so as not to detract from the user experience," explained Google. "Since all OLED displays experience some degree of decay over time, we’ll continue to make enhancements which maximize the life of your Pixel screen." Some users complained of muted colors in the phones' displays, as well as burn-in on the Pixel 2 XL. Other changes in the update include improved Bluetooth pairing and media data visibility with older accessories, as well as improved speed and autofocus behaviors in the camera. The last set of tweaks adjust headphone volume warnings and YouTube's ability to switch from WiFi to LTE during playback. The system downloads for the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL are rolling out over the air gradually. Google plans to bring further enhancements to the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL via the December security update.


Google Assistant Now Recognizes Songs On Request

Nov 6, 2017, 5:18 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google Assistant on Android handsets is now able to identify songs playing in the background. As long as the music is audible, querying the Assistant with "what song is this?" will cause the app to listen for several seconds and identify the song. Results include the song title, artist, album, lyrics, and links to associated online music services, such as YouTube, Spotify, and Google Play. The feature is free to use and is being rolled out gradually. Google's new Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL handsets include a song-recognizing feature that runs in the background and displays the song/artist information on the ambient display.


Google Pixel and Nexus Devices Gain November Security Patch

Nov 6, 2017, 3:00 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today made its monthly security update available to its branded Android devices. November's patch plugs a handful of security holes that threaten Android devices. Google found dozens of vulnerabilities, most of which were classified as moderately dangerous though some were rated as high and others as critical. Some of problems are related to specific hardware and the associated software drivers that control them, such as components from MediaTek, Nvidia, and Qualcomm. Other vulnerabilities impact the kernel, system, and media framework directly. Google is pushing a patch dated November 5 to resolve these issues. Google said the Pixel 2, Pixel 2 XL, Pixel, Pixel XL, Pixel C, Nexus Player, Nexus 5X, and Nexus 6P devices will receive the November security patch directly over the air. The updated factory image for each of these devices is available for download from Google's developer web site. Google says none of these security holes have yet been exploited. Google already supplied the patches to its handset partners and will soon get one to AOSP.


Google to Rely On Software to Tweak Pixel 2 XL Screen, Pixel 2 Noise Issues

Oct 27, 2017, 7:39 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google says it will update both the Pixel 2 XL and Pixel 2 smartphones in the coming weeks to resolve various issues spotted by early adopters. Starting with the Pixel 2 XL, Google says it will give users more options to tweak the screen's color through a tool added to the display settings. One complaint about the device is its more natural-looking display, which shows muted colors. The new color profile will let people boost saturation for a brighter look if they wish. "One of our design intents was to achieve a more natural and accurate rendition of colors. Based on the recent feedback, we’re adding a new mode for more saturated colors," said Google in a blog post. Concerning burn-in on the display, something witnessed by Phone Scoop and others, Google insists the display falls in line with other OLED displays. "Our current investigation of burn-in confirms that the differential aging is in line with that of other premium smartphones and should not affect the normal, day-to-day user experience of the Pixel 2 XL. Regardless, we use software to safeguard the user experience and maximize the life of the OLED display, and we’ll make ongoing software updates to optimize further," explained Google. For example, it will reduce the brightness of the software control panel that appears persistently at the bottom of the screen, and work with app vendors so the control panel can be switched from black to white, and even disappear entirely when not needed. The smaller Pixel 2 will get its own software patch, though this one targets a clicking sound in the earpiece reported by some customers. Google suggested those who dislike the clicking sound disable NFC for now. It's not clear if the software patch will have the same effect. The separate software updates will arrive at some point in the next few weeks. Both phones will be given an extended warranty. The original warranty was good for one year; now, Google will provide the Pixel 2 XL and Pixel 2 with two years of protection. "We’re very confident that the Pixel 2 delivers an exceptional smartphone experience, and to give users peace of mind, every Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL will now come with a two-year warranty worldwide," concluded Google. Technical details concerning the screen color tweaks and burn-in issues are available on Google's user forums for those who might wish to read more.


[OLD] Review: Google Pixel 2 XL

Oct 23, 2017, 2:47 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Nov 15, 2017, 3:09 PM

The Pixel 2 XL from Google is a high-end handset that includes a powerful camera, a big screen, a metal design, and a pure Google experience that comes with the promise of speedy software updates. It represents what Google thinks Android is all about. But there's a big problem facing the Pixel 2 XL, Google, and its fans, that we think is worth addressing directly.

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Verizon Only Carrier to Sell Google Pixel, But There Are Options

Oct 4, 2017, 3:45 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Verizon Wireless is the only U.S. wireless operator that will officially sell the new Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL handsets, same as it was with last year's Pixels. Verizon's monthly pricing for the phones is in line with other flagship smartphones. For example, the 64 GB Pixel 2 costs $27.08 per month for 24 months, while the 128 GB model costs $31.24 per month. Similarly, the 64 GB Pixel 2 XL costs $35.41 per month for 24 months, while the 128 GB model costs $39.58 per month. The phone is available for pre-order from Verizon Wireless' web site and ships starting October 17. Alternately, consumers can buy either a Verizon or unlocked variant of the Pixel 2 / XL directly from the Google Play Store. Google asks customers to pay for the phones in full up front, though financing options are also available. The 64 GB Pixel 2 costs $649 and the 128 GB Pixel 2 costs $749. The 64 GB Pixel 2 XL costs $849 and the 128 GB Pixel 2 XL costs $949. Shipping and taxes are extra. People who choose to buy their Pixel 2 through Google have the option to trade in last year's Pixel (if they have one) at reasonably good rates. For example, an unlocked 128 GB Pixel XL garners a trade-in value of $410, or about half the cost of the new model. Best Buy sells the new Pixel 2 phones, too, though only the Verizon-branded version. For the moment, Best Buy is offering a $100 discount on all Pixel 2 models when activated on a new line with Verizon.


Google’s New Pixel Phones to Ship with Embedded eSIM

Oct 4, 2017, 1:51 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Oct 4, 2017, 2:06 PM

Google today revealed that the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL handsets will include an optional, built-in eSIM card, allowing people to bypass the use of traditional SIM cards. According to Google, the eSIMs will be compatible with its own Project Fi service. During initial setup, owners will be asked if they want to use the embedded eSIM. Google says it will do the “heavy lifting” of activating the eSIM on its network. “This means you no longer need to go to a store to get a SIM card for wireless service, wait a few days for your card to arrive in the mail, or fumble around with a bent paper clip to coax your SIM card into a tiny slot,” explained Google in a blog post. For now, the eSIM is being tested on the new Pixel handsets only. Users will have to purchase the Pixel directly from the Play Store or Project Fi to take advantage of the eSIM. Both phones include a standard slot for nano SIM cards.


Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL Rely On Google Assistant More Than Ever

Oct 4, 2017, 12:21 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Oct 4, 2017, 12:40 PM

Google today announced the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL smartphones. Both devices run Android 8 Oreo and feature a new Assistant bar that is placed at the bottom of the home screen. Assistant is always available and working in the background to tie together the various things people do throughout the day, such as home-bound commutes. One of the key features is a carryover from the HTC U11: squeezing the sides of the phone will activate Google Assistant. The devices share most hardware features, including aluminum designs, glass front and rear panels, 12-megapixel main cameras, 8-megapixel selfie cameras, and rear-mounted fingerprint sensors. The camera has the ability to to optical and electronic video stabilization at the same time and the lens has an aperture of f/1.8. It includes a feature called Motion Photos, which are similar to the iPhone's Live Photos. The Pixel 2 has a 5-inch display, while the Pixel 2 XL has a 6-inch 18:9 quad HD+ plastic AMOLED display (similar to the LG V30). The phones meet IP67 for protection agains water and dust ingress. Google says the devices will receive up to three years of software support. Other specs include a Snapdragon 835 processor with 4 GB of RAM, stereo speakers, Bluetooth 5, and Daydream capability. The smaller Pixel 2 comes in black, blue, and white and costs $649, while the larger Pixel 2 XL comes in just black and white and costs $849. They include 64 GB of storage, but a 128 GB option is available for an additional $100 for each model. The device is available for pre-order starting today and ships October 17. For a limited time, Googe will give those who buy the Pixel 2 / XL a free Google Home Mini.


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