Plus 3 things to look forward to right now
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With all the negative news surrounding us right now, I thought it might be mildly uplifting to think about some fun tech-centric stuff to look forward to this spring. And lemme tell ya, here in the land o' Googley matters, there's plenty to pick from. Ready?

We may not be able to do much these days, damn it, but we can still distract ourselves with some good old-fashioned geekery — and enjoy the anticipation of some tantalizing tech treats.

❱❱ The Big Idea

What Chrome OS Needs to Conquer Next

THE SHORT VERSION: Google's Chromebooks are constantly evolving and expanding in reach, but there's one tremendous opportunity still begging to be seized.

KNOW MORE: With another major interface improvement rolling out to Chromebooks this week, I got to thinking about how crazy it is that anyone's still buying traditional Android tablets — and then it occurred to me: There's one obvious explanation. And it sheds an awful lot of light on what Google has left to accomplish with its Chrome OS transition.

READ MORE: Here's my full column.

❱❱ 3 Things to Know This Week

1. Google's mixing up its messaging app messaging — yes, again

THE SHORT VERSION: Google has started broadly referring to its enterprise-aimed Hangouts Meet video chat service as Google Meet, which seems to signify the beginning of the end of the Hangouts brand.

KNOW MORE: This shift honestly seemed kinda inevitable from the get-go, didn't it? The name "Hangouts" doesn't exactly scream "professional business," after all. Google Meet is a much more sensible moniker for the service — and while the change is getting a lot of attention right now, Google's actually been subtly hinting at it for a while (like in this blog post from March 31st). Here's the real kicker, though: Once Google officially extends this rebranding to its enterprise-aimed Hangouts Chat app, guess what we'll have? Oh yes: Google Chat — the very same thing most people colloquially called the original Google Talk messaging service (a.k.a. "gChat") way back in the day. Google's now flailed around enough with its messaging apps, in other words, that it's almost come completely full circle and ended up right back where it began. Hilarious.

READ MORE: You can read more about the change and Google's official confirmation in this short overview.


2. Samsung's Galaxy Chromebook has an unfortunate Achilles' heel

THE SHORT VERSION: Despite all of its appealing qualities, the just-launched luxury laptop appears to have embarrassingly bad battery life, with most reviewers reporting usage in the range of a mere three to four hours per charge (!) before the thing craps out.

KNOW MORE: This is a damn shame, because everything we'd seen and heard about the Galaxy Chromebook up till now made it look like it'd be the high-end Chrome OS system to beat for the foreseeable future. But three to four hours of use per charge on a top-of-the-line laptop simply isn't acceptable, especially when it's combined with hot-running surfaces one reviewer described as "frying [her] legs" during use (ouch!). It's a good reminder for all of us that you can't completely judge a product by how it looks on paper or even how it feels in limited hands-on use. And more than anything, it reinforces the fact that packing mobile-tech devices with over-the-top specs — things like, I don't know, a 4K-resolution screen on a 13" laptop — is ultimately a disservice to us and a move made purely for marketing value, at the expense of real-world experience. How Samsung could have put this system through its paces and possibly thought it was good enough to release with this arrangement is beyond me. Sigh.

READ MORE: The Verge has a delightfully detailed review of the device's pros and cons, while About Chromebooks has a helpful roundup of impressions from a variety of different sources.


3. The Pixel 4a might be a modest upgrade over its predecessor

THE SHORT VERSION: An alleged new leak of Google's upcoming device paints a picture of a phone that's pretty similar to last year's Pixel 3a midranger, with exactly the sorts of year-to-year progressions you'd expect and nothing too shocking.

KNOW MORE: Don't take this as a bad sign. The Pixel 3a was a fantastic phone with a perfect price, and it looks like Google is doing exactly what it should to push that same concept forward into 2020. And really, what more would you want the company to do? Pixel phones are typically more about the experience they provide than the specs beneath their covers, and offering up an updated Pixel-caliber experience for $399 is still a pretty enticing proposition — especially when that three-year update guarantee is part of the picture. (That'd essentially make the phone cost 11 bucks a month, if you were to buy it when it came out and keep it for the full three years it receives active support!) The big remaining unknown is that ever-pesky question of battery life: While the Pixel 4's stamina hasn't proven to be nearly as horrifying for me in real-world use as some reviews led us to expect, it'd sure be nice to see the scaled-back tech in this lower-end model lead to some beefed-up staying power.

READ MORE: You can find all the details of every last suspected spec in this 9to5Google report.

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❱❱ 3 Things to Try This Week

1. Uncover some of Gmail's best hidden gems

Out of the box, the Gmail Android app is perfectly...acceptable. It gets the job done, but it could certainly use some extra features and added bits of personalized polish.

Much of what seems to be absent, though, is actually there. It's just hiding out of view and easy to overlook.

Here are a couple of hidden Gmail gems worth uncovering on your phone:

Those are two of the seven handy hidden features in the Gmail Android app I dug up and highlighted this week. You can check out the rest in this complete collection.


2. Let Maps find you some quarantine-time comfort food

Staying mostly at home sure isn't easy (especially if you've got pint-sized child-monsters in your abode, as I do), but one thing we've found that makes this current state a teensy touch more tolerable is the occasional normal-seeming meal — food we know and love from favorite restaurants in our area. It sounds silly, I realize, but that small-seeming addition really does make a meaningful difference in our mental states, at least for a little while.

Well, you might not think to open Google Maps much at a time like this, but the app has quietly been updated with a fantastic feature for this very moment: a one-touch way to find restaurants near you that have food available for pickup or delivery. Just open up Maps on your phone and look at those little text bubbles beneath the search bar at the top. The first couple items in that list should now be "Takeout" and "Delivery."

Tap either, and you'll get a list of nearby restaurants that are ready to cook up some comfort food and either bring it to your doorstep (likely in a contact-free way, if they're following current trends) or make it available for easy curbside pickup, if that's still kosher where you are. You can tap any restaurant's entry to access even more details, including menus, online ordering links, and sometimes links to relevant delivery services.

(And in case you're wondering, by the way, the general consensus among experts far smarter than I am seems to be that food takeout and delivery is still perfectly safe right now, though you may want to take your food out of the containers it comes in and then wash your hands and disinfect any surfaces the boxes touched just to be cautious. And, of course, you want to minimize up-close contact with other people as much as possible.)


3. Treat yourself to some cool Google tools

If there's one advantage to being stuck at home during this strange and stressful time, it's — well, time. All of a sudden, you have hours to try out interesting new tools and then tinker with 'em to your heart's content. And here in this goofy, Googley corner of our virtual universe, there's no shortage of tinker-worthy tidbits to be found.

This week, I thought it'd be both fun and useful to look at some little-known Google apps and services that are a mix of entertaining and helpful. Some of 'em are apps for your phone, while others are web-based and will work on any type of device. But all of 'em are interesting and technologically impressive — and whether they end up acting as short-term distractions or becoming regular parts of your virtual toolbox, I think you'll enjoy giving 'em a go.

Check out my suggestions in this week's Platinum Power-Up — my weekly digest of next-level tips and app insight. You can read it now and get extra knowledge in your inbox every Monday by signing up for a free trial of my premium resource package, Android Intelligence Platinum. You'll learn something new and useful every week — I promise.

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❱❱ And Just For Funsies...

Well, here's something perfectly suited to our current predicament: If anxiety is keeping you up at night lately, a new podcast hopes to help clear your mind and lull you to sleep by reading you the internet's most boring material imaginable: the terms-of-service agreements from various apps, services, and websites.

Yes, really.

The podcast is called Ts&Zzz. Its official description sums it up well:

We have all agreed to countless numbers of these contracts in our lives but have never actually read them and probably never will. Instead, we are putting them to use to help people get better sleep and maybe even learn something along the way.

Sounds like something worth adding into my listening list. Here's hoping the show somehow manages to click the "Agree" button for me when it reaches the end.

Before We Go

Thanks to everyone who sent in thoughtful feedback on last week's issue and the recent newsletter design tweaks. I'm embarrassed to admit I made a teensy mistake with my coding that made it impossible for me to see who sent what — just a minor detail, right?! — and so I was unable to respond personally to any of those messages. D'oh! If you want to chat further, just hit reply to this message and drop me a note, and I'll get in touch.

And keep me posted on what you're thinking now, too: Pick a face to vote and let me know how you liked this issue! (I'll even be able to respond this time, if you leave a message. Imagine that!)

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Have yourself a wonderful week, and I'll see ya right back here next Friday.

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