Plus Gmail label secrets and Docs add-ons worth adding
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Android Intelligence
  The Latest Android Intelligence: The Pixel 4's power-plunging puzzle and Google's Chrome OS upgrade changes
  3 Things to Know This Week: An Android security expansion, a keyboard app's corruption, and some awesome Chrome OS additions
  Tips o’ the Week: A Focus Mode upgrade, Gmail label secrets, and Docs add-ons worth adding
  Test Your Knowledge: Do you remember the Chromebook that started it all?
  Plus what happens when you put a bunch of introverts together at a tech event? Well...
 A Word of Welcome

I've got a pretty interesting Pixel discovery to share with you today — something I've been digging into and thinking about all week.


But first, remember how we talked last week about how for most folks, next year's midrange Pixel 4a might be the phone to watch?


That revolved mostly around what we've already seen Google do with this year's Pixel 3a. That phone packs all of the most meaningful advantages of the Pixel experience into a $400 device that's delightful to use — and that holds its own alongside pretty much any other phone out there.


Well, that same experience is now dropping down even lower in price — to $300, thanks to a promotion at Google Fi right now and heading to Best Buy (and probably also other retailers, if I were to take a guess) on Black Friday.


That, to put it bluntly, is insane — especially when you consider that the 3a is still guaranteed to get near-instant operating system and security updates for another two and a half years. That gives the device a longer (and better) lifespan that you'd get with most thousand-dollar flagships.


That's some old-school, Nexus-level value right there, my friend — only without most of the old Nexus-level compromises (like having to accept a subpar camera). If you know anyone who's in the market for a new phone and who isn't the type of person to fret over having the most premium materials or all of the high-end bells and whistles, by golly, let 'em know this is the time to strike.


Now, about that other Pixel news...

 The Latest Android Intelligence
The Pixel 4's Power-Plunging Puzzle

 The Short Version: There may be more to the Pixel 4 stamina story than what we see on the surface.


 Know More: Something came to my attention with the Pixel 4's power-related performance this week, and I can't help but wonder if it's at least part of the reason for the phone's unexceptional endurance. It's all about the Pixel 4's standby power consumption — the way the device burns through battery life when it's idle and you aren't actively using it. I've been going back and forth with Google all week to try to figure this out. And, well, it's really quite baffling.


 Read more: The full column is here.

Google's Chrome OS Upgrade Changes Are a Solid Start

 The Short Version: Just over a month after I called for it in this column, Google is committing to a more sensible approach for Chromebook software support. Huzzah! Now let's see where this takes us.


 Know More: Google is extending the end-of-support dates for a bunch of existing Chromebooks and promising to bump up the period of active support for future devices as well. It's all positive progress, without a doubt — but it doesn't completely address the problem.


 Read more: The full column is here.

Ready to edit photos on your phone like a pro?

I've had a fair number of folks ask me for tips on editing photos quickly and easily on Android — and you know what? While image editing is absolutely a complicated art and one that requires lots of practice to master, you can do some pretty incredible stuff on your phone without spending a dime these days.


A handful of easy-to-remember tricks, in fact, will go a long way in making your images look immeasurably better without much effort. So I decided to dedicate this week's entire Platinum Power-Up to that subject — exploring, in detail, how to master Photos' own image-editing options (which are far more powerful than you'd expect) and how, specifically, to take your phone-based photo editing to the next level with some top-notch third-party tools.


The Platinum Power-Up is one of three premium publications I put out every week — completely on my own, ad-free, and funded entirely by readers (at the rate of roughly 40 cents for every premium publication received). It's independent journalism, through and through, and it's allowing me to break down walls and cover things in a way I'd never be able to manage in my regular articles and columns.


And lemme tell ya: It's a heck of a thing to be a part of. Come check out the latest Platinum Power-Up issue, "Edit Photos Like a Pro," and get tons of other advanced resources directly from me every week:


 3 Things to Know This Week
1. Google's expanding its app-scanning efforts

 The Short Version: Google is forming a new "App Defense Alliance" that'll combine its own existing Play Store app-scanning system with those of three external security companies — all with the goal of allowing for more thorough reviews of apps before they become available for download.


 Know more: Android malware has never been as much of a real-world threat as it's frequently made out to be (quick: How many people do you know who've had actual malware on their phones?), but there's no denying that an abusive app occasionally makes its way into the Play Store. Still, I can't help but think this is as much a publicity move as anything, especially since the added scanning sounds like it'll be limited to new apps being submitted to the Play Store as opposed to existing apps being updated (which is often where the real trouble arises). But hey, if the added horsepower helps improve the Play Store's scanning capabilities even a little, that can only be a good thing — right?


 Read more: You can find all the basics about the new alliance in Google's official announcement and get a bit more detail on the background and goals of the project in this Wired story.

2. A long-standing Android keyboard app appears to have gone rogue

 The Short Version: A third-party keyboard app called AI.Type was pulled from the Play Store after reports indicated it was secretly clicking on ads and sometimes even activating paid-service subscriptions in the background, unbeknownst to its users. (Google confirmed to me that the app was, in fact, taken down but declined to go into any more detail about what actually happened.)


 Know more: This is exactly what we were just talking about: The AI.Type app had been around since 2012, and apparently, at some point recently, someone added the shady code into the software. The most serious problems were reportedly limited to Egypt and Brazil, where prepaid talk time is frequently available to use as an easily accessible form of currency on a phone. It's worth noting, too, that AI.Type was also at the center of a separate controversy a couple years ago, when its developer failed to secure the app's online database and consequently leaked the personal data of 31 million users. So, yeah: a stellar operation, all in all. With all of those factors together, odds are you weren't using the app — and even if you were, any negative impact on you probably would have been negligible — but still, now's a fine to make sure you don't have any of this company's other products on your device.


 Read more: You can find an overview of what the app was up to in this blog and a look at the company's last transgression in this story from 2017. To see what other apps the developer still has up and running, meanwhile, head over to this Play Store page.

3. Chrome OS is about to get some juicy upgrades

 The Short Version: Google's latest Chrome OS update delivers several noteworthy new features, including Virtual Desks as well as a one-click system for sending phone numbers to your Android phone for dialing, an even simpler method of printing, and the ability to use the YouTube Android app to play videos picture-in-picture-style in the corner of your screen.


 Know more: Whew! That's a long list of goodies for one update (which is starting to roll out now, by the way, so keep an eye out for it over the next several days). The most significant thing here is really the Virtual Desks system, which has been on the brink of launching for a while. That lets you maintain multiple workspaces that you can flip between on your Chromebook — kind of like having multiple monitors, only all within a single display. (Intriguing, no?) Another change not mentioned in Google's official announcement is the somewhat disorienting separation of Chrome browser settings and Chrome OS system settings. Up til now, all that stuff had been lumped together in a single streamlined settings screen, but as of this release, the system-level settings are moved to their own isolated area — accessible via a gear icon within the notification tray, similar to what you see on Android.


 Read more: Google's full Chrome OS 78 announcement has all the high points — and if you don't yet have the YouTube Android app installed on your Chromebook, for the love of Goog, go get it. (It'll also let you watch videos offline — something that isn't possible at all on a traditional laptop.)


 Dive Deeper: For a closer look at the new Virtual Desks feature and how it could work for you, look back to my preview of that system from this summer: "How Chrome OS Virtual Desks Could Change the Way You Work."

 Tips o' the Week
Make Android's Focus Mode infinitely more useful

Focus Mode is a fantastic feature — but up til now, it's felt curiously incomplete.


The whole point of Focus Mode, if you aren't familiar, is to give you an easy way to tune out distracting apps when you wanna, y'know, focus. You tell it which apps you want to avoid, then toggle it on whenever you feel the urge. As long as it's activated, any notifications from the apps you selected won't interrupt you; they'll remain on hold and out of sight until you turn Focus Mode back off. The apps' icons will be grayed out, too, and if you try to open any of 'em, you'll get a message telling you the app is unavailable while Focus Mode is active.


That's all great. The problem, though, is that it's up to you to manually turn Focus Mode on and off as needed — and whether you're trying to avoid email and social media in the afternoons or trying to avoid work-related stuff in the evenings, it takes a fair amount of effort to remember to flip that switch.


Well, as of this week, Focus Mode is getting an upgrade that fixes that issue — and makes the feature exponentially more valuable as a result. If your phone is running Android 9 or higher, head into the Digital Wellbeing section of your system settings and tap "Focus Mode," then look for the new "Set schedule" option. That'll let you set regular, recurring times that you want Focus Mode to come on. And once you get your schedule set up the way you like, everything will just work — no ongoing effort required.


(If you don't see the "Set schedule" option yet, by the way, check back in another day or two. It's in the midst of rolling out as we speak, and if it hasn't shown up on your phone yet, it oughta be there any moment now.)

Step up your Gmail labels game

If I had to pick one Gmail feature as being my secret weapon for staying organized, it'd without a doubt be labels. They're capable of so much more than most people realize.


I use labels to automatically categorize my emails, to make it faster and easier to find info I need, and — my favorite trick of all — to limit and control the email-related notifications I receive, both on my computer and on my phone.


Check out my new guide to making the most of Gmail labels, and get ready to take your inbox organization up a notch.

Teach Docs some handy new tricks

Every now and then, I remember that Google Docs supports add-ons — third-party enhancements that add extra features into the service. And then I really dig through 'em and end up finding some interesting stuff.


That's exactly what I did over at Fast Company this week. Take a peek through the add-ons I uncovered and see if any of 'em might make sense for you.

Quiz Time
 Test Your Knowledge
What was Google's "pilot" Chrome OS laptop called?

Right-o! The Cr-48 was made by Google and provided to both press and early testers who signed up and received the system for free. The laptop was never actually sold. D'oh! Wrong answer. Try again.

 Test your friends (and/or fax machines)

This interactive quiz is optimized for Gmail on Android or the web. If you're using another mail client and nothing's happening when you click or tap a choice, don't despair: You can find the right answer at the bottom of this email.


If the quiz isn't appearing correctly at all for you (hi, Windows Outlook/Mail users!), open this issue in your browser instead. It'll work A-OK there.

Know someone else who might enjoy this issue?



 And Just For Funsies...

Microsoft had its big annual tech shindig this week, and one thing about the event really made me chuckle.


The event took the forward-thinking step of offering up pins to indicate your level of social comfort. Upon signing in, you could pick from three choices:

  • "Don't talk to me ever"
  • "Only talk to me if you know me"
  • "Talk to me anytime"

A nice idea, right? Well, pretty early into the process, the registration desk apparently ran out of all but one of those pin types. Can you guess which one remained?


Ahem. Drumroll, please...



Yup: All the "stay away" choices were so popular that they actually ran out. A conference full of techies, and no one wanted anyone to approach 'em.


Introverts, unite! Um, from a distance, anyway. And preferably without any interaction.

Ciao For Now

Hey, thanks for having me over to your inbox — and thanks for reading all the way to the end of this saucy (and frequently greasy) little publication.


Don't forget to give Android Intelligence Platinum a whirl, if you haven't already. The "Edit Photos Like a Pro" Power-Up awaits, and even more member-exclusive resources are on the way every week.


Have yourself a very merry weekend, and I'll see ya back here soon.


The answer to this week's quiz is: Cr-48

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