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Pixel's Motion Photos Can Now Be Exported as GIFs

Mar 8, 2018, 8:45 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Owners of the Google's Pixel handsets have a new way to share Motion Photos. A recent update to the Google Photos app adds the ability for Motion Photos to be exported as still images, videos, and now as GIFs. The GIFs are easy to share via social media apps and automatically loop once exported. The tool is available in the overflow menu of Google Photos. The GIF files are fairly large, larger than the original Motion Photo, and are saved at high resolution. The feature is already built into the Google Photos app on Pixel devices.

February Security Patch for Pixel 2 Phones Tweaks Performance Across the Board

Feb 5, 2018, 2:35 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today made the February security patch available to its Nexus and Pixel devices. First and foremost, the patch closes a number of security holes in the code that left all the handsets vulnerable to certain types of attacks. Google plugged up issues in the kernel, framework, system, and in select Qualcomm components. The update also provides a number of feature updates specifically for Pixel 2 devices. For example, it boosts Bluetooth call quality, WiFi uplink performance, and battery performance. It also improves the camera, Android Auto, app compatibility, mobile data, and audio switching, and provides stability fixes. Last, as already mentioned, the February patch turns on the Pixel Visual Core in the Pixel 2 and 2 XL for better photography. The update is now live and rolling out to devices.

Google Turning On Pixel Visual Core in All Pixel 2 Handsets

Feb 5, 2018, 12:22 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said it is fully activating the Pixel Visual Core co-processor in its newer Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL smartphones. The Pixel Visual Core allows the Pixel 2 devices to make use of advanced machine learning to improve HDR+ photography. The primary benefit is that third-party apps will be able to take advantage of Google's imaging technology to boost results. As such, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Snapchat are among the first to tap into the Pixel Visual Core. People who use the cameras within these applications should see better performance, particularly with respect to balanced exposure in high-contrast environments. In addition to HDR+, the Pixel Visual Core also runs RAISR for more detail in zoomed shots, and ensures there's zero shutter lag so the phone captures pictures the instant users press the button. Third-party app developers are encouraged to put Google's new API to use in order to fully take advantage of the Pixel Visual Core in their apps. Google says the Pixel Visual Core will be enabled along with the February security patch. The update should hit the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL in the next few days. Last, Google says it is bringing more augmented reality stickers to the Pixel camera app. People will be able to dress up photos and videos with winter sports-themed stickers, such as ice skaters, hockey players, and skiers. The new AR stickers will arrive later this week.

Google Closes Acquisition of HTC Hardware Team

Jan 30, 2018, 8:07 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said it has completed its proposed acquisition of select assets from HTC. The deal includes portions of HTC's handset design team, among other properties. Google worked with HTC to develop the Pixel 2 smartphone, which was released last year. "As our hardware business enters its third year, we remain committed to building and investing for the long run," said Rick Osterloh, Google's senior vice president of hardware. "Today, we start digging in with our new teammates, guided by the mission to create radically helpful experiences for people around the world, by combining the best of Google’s AI, software and hardware." HTC's hardware team will remain in Taiwan, as Osterloh said the acquisition marks Google's official expansion into Taipei, now the largest Google engineering site in the Asia-Pacific region.

Android 8.1 Phones Gain Public WiFi Speedometer

Jan 22, 2018, 5:29 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google is giving Android devices a new tool to help users decide whether or not to connect to public WiFi networks. "Public Wi-Fi can be spotty," explained Google in a Tweet. "For the first time, Android Oreo 8.1 lets you take out the guesswork and see the speed of networks before you hit connect." Visible networks will reveal both strength and speed. Signal strength will be indicated by the WiFi icon, with a fuller icon meaning a stronger signal. Speed will be labeled explicitly: slow, OK, fast, or very fast. Google says slow connections are good enough for WiFi calling and messaging while OK connections can handle social networks and streaming music. Fast connections should permit streaming most video, while very fast connections will offer high-quality streaming across the board. Users can turn the tool off if they wish. The update is being made available to devices running Android 8.1, which for now is limited to the Nexus 5x, Nexus 6P, and Pixel series.

Verizon Fires Back at T-Mo with BOGO Of Its Own

Jan 22, 2018, 5:18 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Verizon Wireless said customers can save big on select smartphones with a new buy-one, get-one offer that kicks off January 23. New and existing customers who add a new line of Verizon Unlimited service will be able to buy the Google Pixel 2, Samsung Galaxy S8, Motorola Moto Z2 Force, or LG V30 and get a second one for free. In order to qualify for the offer, both devices will need to be purchased on a monthly installment plan. The BOGO deal also requires a trade-in, the value of which can be put toward the purchase price of the new phones. Verizon will cover the cost of the second phone via monthly bill credits over the course of 24 months. Customers won't be able to mix and match: the second phone must come from the same manufacturer as the first, though people can opt for the larger Pixel 2 XL or Galaxy S8+ and cover the difference in cost on the second device. The Verizon BOGO deal counters a similar one launched by T-Mobile earlier this month.

Google Debuts 'Bill Protection' - Effectively Unlimited Data - for Project Fi

Jan 17, 2018, 1:13 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Jan 17, 2018, 1:58 PM

Google today rolled out a new plan for its Project Fi wireless service that lets people use more mobile data at a lower cost. Since launch, Project Fi has charged $10 per gigabyte, pro-rated so people pay for exactly the amount of data they use. For example, those who consumed 2.3 GB in a given month were charged $23. This system works well for those who use data sparingly, but it adds up quickly for heavy users. Moving forward, the new Bill Protection plan caps the monthly mobile data expenditure at $60, no matter how much is used. People who exceed 6 GB of data in a given month will still be able to use high-speed data, but once they reach 15 GB in a single billing period they may experience slower speeds. Customers who need more than 15 GB of high-speed data per month can continue to pay the $10-per-gigabyte rate if they wish. Moreover, the unlimited plan still pro-rated data. People who use 1.4 GB of data in a month — even if they're using Bill Protection — will be charged $14 for that data. Last, Bill Protection applies to roaming in more than 135 countries and with data-only SIMs in tablets or laptops. Google says Bill Protection is rolling out today to individual and group plan subscribers. Project Fi is compatible with Google's Nexus and Pixel smartphones, and the Moto X4.

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.

Google to Patch Pixel 2 Earpiece Buzz Within a Few Weeks

Nov 20, 2017, 12:56 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google said it plans to resolve an issue plaguing the Pixel 2 earpiece in the near future. "We're rolling out a software update in the coming weeks which eliminates a faint buzzing sound on some Pixel 2 devices when the phone is placed to your ear during a phone call," said Google in a post on its support forums. Some Pixel 2 owners report hearing the buzzing or crackling sound when making calls. Google first acknowledged the issue in October, but hadn't specified when a fix might be offered. It now appears the resolution will arrive by early December.

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.

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.

Sprint Says It Has 10 HPUE-Capable Phones

Oct 26, 2017, 9:09 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

The recent release of the Google Pixel 2 means Sprint customers have access to 10 handsets that support HPUE. Sprint has been deploying HPUE tech on its 2.5 GHz spectrum since late last year. The primary benefit is better performance (higher speeds, more capacity) at the cell edge. The result is a wireless experience more like that of Sprint's mid-band 1.9 GHz spectrum. The devices able to access HPUE include the Samsung Galaxy S8/S8+, and Note8; the LG G6, V30+, and X Charge; the ZTE Max XL and Warp 8; the Motorola Z2 Force; the HTC U11; and the Pixel 2. Apple has yet to release any iPhones that support HPUE. Sprint said it expects to offer many more HPUE devices before long.

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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