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Android Intelligence
 
 
IN THIS ISSUE:
 
  The Latest Android Intelligence: The complete Google Fi FAQ and five easily overlooked Fi features
  3 Things to Know This Week: Processor promises, Allo's goodbye, and Microsoft's Chrome embrace
  Tip o’ the Week: A more ergonomic Chrome interface for Android
  Deal Intelligence: Serious savings on Chromecast Audio, Pixel phones, and Lenovo's larger Smart Display
  Plus Google's top-secret Chrome-mobile ride — and live, from the shores of Hawaii...
 
 
 A Word of Welcome

Two interesting and overlapping things are happening in the mobile tech world this week. One of them is being heavily reported; the other is going mostly unspoken.

 

The first is practically everywhere you look: the glowing and hyperbole-laden coverage of Qualcomm's latest smartphone processor, the Snapdragon 855. In blogs and especially on Twitter, tons of tech media folk are raving about the shiny new chip and the countless ways it's bound to revolutionize our lives in the coming year. Heck, I've even seen several comments about how any phone with an older processor is basically just "garbage" now that this new model's been announced (a statement I'd take with a hefty grain of salt, by the by).

 

That brings us to the second interesting thing: A bunch of mobile tech bloggers, writers, and "pundits" are currently hanging out in a posh hotel in Maui, getting lei'd while consuming fancy food and tropical beverages (mmm, beverages) — all on Qualcomm's dime. Yes, gang, Qualcomm itself footed the bill for much of the tech media's travel to Hawaii to cover this festive little shindig, including the vacation-worthy cuisine and the not-so-humble-looking accommodations.

 

Now, I'm not saying everyone involved is inherently biased or producing slanted coverage because of this. I know for a fact there are some well-intentioned and generally trustworthy people who accepted this trip and are going out of their way to make sure it doesn't affect their mindset.

 

But at the same time, doesn't it seem a little difficult to separate the two things entirely? At the very least, knowing that the company being covered spent thousands of dollars on each person covering it raises some pretty tricky questions. After all, even if on a purely subconscious level, wouldn't you think your perception of an event would be colored in some way by having accepted such a lavish handout from the company behind it?

 

The very fact that such questions come up is perhaps the biggest issue of all. (It's also the reason why traditional media companies have long forbidden journalists from accepting trips of this nature.) And the fact that some people aren't prominently and openly disclosing the arrangement alongside all of their coverage only further muddies the (admittedly beautiful) waters.

 

Ultimately, perspective matters. I wouldn't say you should write off everything you read about Qualcomm this week — that'd be silly! — but just like when we talk about the importance of knowing what a company like Google is getting out of your relationship with its products, it's worth your while to understand the context surrounding the coverage you're reading.

 

I don't know about you, but I could sure use a mai tai.

 
JR
jr@androidintel.net
 
 

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INSIGHT
 The Latest Android Intelligence
 
Google Fi (aka Project Fi): The Complete FAQ

Google's Fi service can be an awesome cost-saver and a huge step up from the standard carrier experience — but it isn't gonna make sense for everyone.

 

So much to know, so much to consider. Questions, meet answers:

 

 Read more: Computerworld

 
 
5 Handy Fi Features You Shouldn't Forget

And now, a little somethin'-somethin' for all the current Fi users out there: a collection of easily forgotten Fi features that are well worth embracing.

 

Take a few minutes to look this over and make sure you're taking advantage of everything Fi has to offer.

 

 Read more: Computerworld

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PERSPECTIVE
 3 Things to Know This Week
 
1. A new processor is bringing big promises for 2019's flagship phones

 Here’s the deal: That Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor we were just talking about a second ago is expected to start showing up in devices early next year and bring with it some noteworthy improvements — in theory, at least — to processing speeds, network connections, and battery life.

 

 Know more: Look, I'm not usually one to get excited about something like an annual processor progression — and quite frankly, this is no exception. Every new processor generation comes with lofty, metric-centric talk about performance and stamina advancements. At this point, though, it's rare to see such changes add up to much that's especially noticeable in the real world.

 

Then there's the whole 5G thing: While the 855 itself won't enable 5G, it will work with a new modem that makes that sort of connection possible. Again, though, "in theory" is the phrase to keep in mind. Realistically, 5G connections are gonna be few and far between for the foreseeable future — hardly relevant for the vast majority of us — and phones designed to take advantage of those limited-reach next-gen networks will be expensive, locked down to individual carriers, and generally more the exception than the rule.

 

The more meaningful changes will likely be in the little things — like the new processor's ability to support in-screen fingerprint sensors (for better or for worse), more effective voice recognition, and blurred-background "portrait mode" videos.

 

 Read more: You can find a detailed technical rundown of the coming changes here, if you're interested in the nitty-gritty. For a more plain-English overview of what it all means, see this breakdown — and for info on some of the smaller but potentially more impactful possibilities the new chip enables, see this interesting list.

 
 
2. Allo is going bye-bye — and Hangouts, well...

 Here’s the deal: Google has officially announced that its short-lived Allo chat service will shut down at the end of March. A separate, unofficial report suggests the "classic" consumer version of Hangouts could be phased out soon after, though Google has sort of pushed back against that.

 

 Know more: Punchline-worthy as it may be, the pending Allo shutdown is certainly no surprise. I mean, come on: From the get-go, it was clear that Allo didn't quite have a reason to exist or a likely path forward. Then, when Google "paused" all work on the product in order to focus on Messages this past April, the writing was pretty much on the wall.

 

As for Hangouts, let's be honest: The writing has pretty much been on the wall there for a while, too. Google's made it clear that Hangouts is becoming an enterprise-centric, Slack-like product — via the newer (and so awkwardly named) Hangouts Chat and Hangouts Meet services — and that its main focus for regular-user messaging, for now, is on Messages for text-based talking and Duo for video communication.

 

This chart, tweeted out by the guy who created Duo and continues to serve as one of Google's top messaging engineers, sums it up nicely:

 

 

 Read more: Google's official announcement on the Allo shutdown is here. You can read the report — along with Google's sort-of denial — about the "classic" Hangouts phase-out here, meanwhile. And for broader perspective on the comedy of this whole mess, look back to my April 2018 column: "Allo, goodbye: The craziest thing about Google's latest messaging pivot"

 
 
3. Microsoft is giving in to Google in the great browser war

 Here’s the deal: After years of trying to get people to switch to its browser, Microsoft is giving up on its own self-created effort and moving Edge to the same underlying technology that drives Google's Chrome browser.

 

 Know more: Make no mistake about it: This is a monumental move. By rebuilding Edge to use Google's open-source Chromium code as its base, Microsoft is basically reducing its browser to a custom shell atop Google's internal engine.

 

Edge will retain its name, identity, and interface — but underneath the hood, it'll be Google's technology through and through. In many ways, ironically, it's kind of like when Yahoo gave up on developing its own search technology and started using Microsoft's instead, essentially turning its search engine into a reskinned version of Bing.

 

By and large, though, this should be a positive change. The way I see it, Edge's adoption of Chromium is likely to have a handful of noticeable effects: better compatibility, since websites will render the same way in Edge that they do in Chrome; faster updates, since Chrome gets major updates every six weeks (compared to Edge's current six-month cadence); wider reach, since Edge will now be available for Windows 7 and 8 as well as MacOS; and the possibility of Chrome extensions becoming compatible with Edge at some point in the foreseeable future.

 

Plus, Microsoft will now start contributing to the Chromium code — and more capable companies working on that effort can only mean good things for everyone.

 

 Read more: Everything you need to know about the change is in this excellent article. For some bigger-picture perspective about why Microsoft is doing this, check out this interview-driven analysis. And if you're curious about how Google and others are reacting to the news, look no further than right here.

Productivity
 Tip o' the Week
 
Try out a more ergonomic Chrome interface for Android

Ever wish you could reach Chrome's core buttons a little more easily when using your phone with a single hand? Thanks to a new and still-under-development tweak to the Android app's interface, you can.

 

The tweak, known internally as "Duet," moves the main Chrome toolbar to the bottom of the screen — so you can manage tabs, shift your focus to the address/search bar, go back to your home page, or even share a page without having to awkwardly shift your phone around to reach the top of the display.

 

You can enable it now by opening the Chrome browser on your phone, typing chrome://flags into the address bar, then typing duet into the search box that appears. See the option labeled "Chrome Duet"? Tap the box labeled "Default" beneath it, then select "Enabled" from the menu that pops up.

 

Chrome will then prompt you to relaunch the app. Go ahead and do that — then after it restarts, open your phone's Overview screen and swipe the app away. Now, go open Chrome again, and this time, you should see the newly optimized interface.

 

This'll work on any version of Chrome, by the way — the main stable app, the beta app, or the super-under-development Canary app — though the specifics of the interface and what buttons are present will vary somewhat from one version to another.

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SMART TECH
 Deal Intelligence
 
$20 off a Chromecast Audio

Best Buy's selling the simple yet supremely useful Chromecast Audio for a mere 15 bucks right now — $20 off the usual price of $35. I've been using these things from the start, and lemme tell ya: They are fantastic. You just plug 'em into any old speaker or stereo, and you can then stream music wirelessly to it from your phone or any Assistant-enabled device. You can even make the speaker part of a group so you can simultaneously stream tunes in multiple rooms or all throughout your abode.

 

It's an awesome way to have a Sonos-like system without spending tons of money, provided you have some old speakers or stereos sitting around collecting dust. And at $15, it's an absolute no-brainer.

 

 Check it out: Best Buy

 
 
$100 off a Pixel 3 — plus a free Pixel Stand and set of USB-C Pixel earbuds

Right now, Google is offering a hundred bones off its Pixel 3 (or 3 XL) to anyone with an active Google One subscription. If you've got Google One, sign into the app or website to look for the offer.

 

At the same time, the company is giving away a free Pixel Stand and set of USB-C Pixel earbuds to anyone who picks up a new Pixel phone (with or without a Google One account).

 

 Check it out: Google Store

 
 
$90 off a Lenovo 10-in. Smart Display

The larger model of Lenovo's Assistant-centric Smart Display is marked down to $160 at Best Buy as of this writing. That's a full 90 bucks off its usual price.

 

We've got one of these in our kitchen, and it's been a great replacement for the various barely-functional tablets we've used as cooking-time streaming screens over the years. The only real downside to it is that, vexingly, you still can't cast or otherwise play stuff from Netflix on the damn thing. But pretty much every other major streaming service works.

 

 Check it out: Best Buy

 And Just For Funsies...
 

We talk about Chrome for mobile all the time, but inside the Googleplex this week, it's the Chrome-mobile (as in Batmobile) commanding all the attention.

 

Chrome Security Product Manager Emily Schechter shared an image of the wacky creation the other day, noting that she had no idea why it existed but was "100% about to ride it around the office":

 

 

Rumor has it the Chrome-mobile is super-speedy at first but gets increasingly bogged down with every new add-on and adjustment. No word yet, meanwhile, on when a larger-scale rollout might begin.

 
That's All For Now

Have yourself a wonderful weekend, won't ya? And hey, if you enjoyed reading this issue, take a sec to share it — by forwarding it, tweeting it, or sending this link to someone you think might appreciate it. This is an independent operation (just little ol' me here!), so your help spreading the word really does make a difference.

 

And, of course, if you're really enjoying the newsletter, you can always think about upgrading to a Platinum membership. That level of support means a lot — and all sorts of cool perks await.

 

Thanks as always for reading — and thanks, too, for being you. I'll see ya back here next week.

Thoughts
JR

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