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Android Intelligence
  The Latest Android Intelligence: Android trends to watch in 2019 and the 15-minute Android phone tune-up
  3 Things to Know This Week: Google Assistant's gigantic upgrade, Android TV's coming reboot, and the midrange Pixel's pending debut
  Tip o’ the Week: A new time-saving tool for web browsing on your phone
  Deal Intelligence: Deeply discounted Google Home products, $20 off at Google Express, and a $100 free Fi credit
  Plus Etch-a-Sketch in your browser — who's ready to play?
 A Word of Welcome

Zzz....oh, hi! Lovely to see you again. Hope you had a wonderful holiday break and were able to enjoy some relaxing downtime with plenty of pastry and/or hoagie consumption.


Me? Truth be told, I'm still trying to wake up from my end-of-year hibernation (and pastry/hoagie consumption). I managed to take a couple weeks off, which was exactly what this rusty ol' noggin needed.


While I wasn't technically working, though, I was spending a fair amount of time organizing my virtual work spaces and attempting to set myself up for this shiny new year. Part of that involved tuning up my phone, using some quick 'n' easy maintenance steps I follow each January (details below), and part of it involved recommitting myself to my four-step system for staying on top of my inbox — something I wrote about here. (Trust me: It works.)


But beyond those regular routines, I'm always looking for new ways to refine my setup and improve my efficiency. This year, my first big twist is switching to Trello for day-to-day organization. I've used Trello on and off for colossal projects, but I'm now embracing it as my virtual daily planner: Instead of awkwardly scattering notes and ideas across a variety of poorly coordinated places, I've created a series of carefully defined boards all within Trello — each with a handful of card-filled lists. I've got one board for this newsletter, one for my column, and another for feature story development. (There's a fourth board, too, but it's for something I can't tell you about quite yet.)


So far, it's been a revelation — an immeasurable leap forward from my cobbled-together system of yore. It's also helped remind me how important it is to constantly experiment with new ways of doing things — because whether it's finding a smarter setup from something familiar, as I did here, or stumbling across an entirely new tool for a simple-seeming task (see this week's "Tips" section, below), you never know what sorts of improvements you might encounter.


Here's to another year of exploring worthwhile tips and tools together — and to eating plenty o' pastries and hoagies along the way. If that's not something to look forward to, I don't know what is.


A better Android Intelligence experience awaits.


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 The Latest Android Intelligence
7 Android Trends to Watch in 2019

I'm generally not so big on predictions, which tend to be little more than glorified guesses — but trends based on long-term observations? Now, those, I can get behind.


Here are seven such nuggets of knowledge worth noodling over:


 Read more: Computerworld

The 15-Minute Android Phone Tune-Up

January's a fine time for a little mobile tech maintenance, as we were just discussing — and best of all? It doesn't take much to get your phone in tip-top shape.


 Read more: Computerworld

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 3 Things to Know This Week
1. Google Assistant's getting a serious upgrade

 The Short Version: Google announced a slew of new features for Assistant this week — along with some noteworthy new kinds of Assistant-connected hardware and an ambitious new effort to get Assistant in even more places.


 Know more: If you read this week's column about Android trends, these developments should come as no surprise. Google is betting its future on Assistant (for the moment, at least), and we're gonna see a lot more moves to improve and expand it in the months ahead.


For now, Assistant is about to gain (take a deep breath) the ability to notify you when it's time to check in for certain flights and then to handle your check-in as needed, the power to help you find and book hotel rooms strictly by voice, enhanced integration with Google Maps, and enhanced integration on the lock screen for phones beyond just the Pixel 3.


It'll also be able to intelligently insert punctuation into dictated messages (something a surprising number of humans still can't manage), and it'll offer a real-time translation mode on Google Home and Smart Display devices.


On the hardware front, Google's created a new way for Assistant to function as a Smart Clock, with the first such product set to show up from Lenovo later this spring — and the company is also working with manufacturers to make super-simple sticks that plug into your car and give you hands-free on-the-road assistance. And if all of that isn't enough, Google's also previewing a new program that'll make it even easier and cheaper for companies to integrate Assistant into all kinds of simple products.




 Read more: You can find an overview of the new feature announcements here, an up-close look at the first Smart Clock here, all the info on the first Assistant car doohickey here, and info about the program for future Assistant integration here.

2. Android TV may finally step into the spotlight

 The Short Version: Google's got a new exec heading up its Android TV division, and the company's promising big things for its long-neglected "other" streaming platform. As for what that implies about the future of Chromecast, well...


 Know more: In a revealing interview that got somewhat buried amidst all the week's other technology news, the new Android TV boss — a senior director at YouTube up til recently — said Google was ready to rethink the Android TV experience for consumers and give it a heck of a lot more attention.


Specifically, she said her team is working on yet another complete redesign of the Android TV interface, with even more focus on search, discovery, and personalized recommendations. She mentioned renewed efforts to get developers on board with building apps designed for the platform, too, and she talked about possible changes to the Android TV hardware requirements that'd allow the platform to run on less expensive hardware.


So what about Chromecast — the once-revolutionary thought-free streaming stick that's kinda stagnated over time? The Android TV boss avoided making any firm commitments and simply said Google was "working through whether it makes sense for the two products to continue to live separately" — presumably as opposed to having them become one and the same. (Remember, Android TV effectively serves as a Chromecast in addition to offering an on-screen interface and remote control.)




 Read more: You can find the full interview — which is well worth reading — right here.

3. The midrange Pixel may finally become a reality this spring

 The Short Version: We've been hearing about plans for a midrange-priced version of the Pixel phone for nearly a year — and now, a new report suggests the Pixel 3 "Lite" could arrive on Verizon within a matter of months, in the "early spring" of 2019.


 Know more: For a while now, I've said the question shouldn't really be if but rather when a midrange Pixel phone will come to fruition — and also how long it'll take for that more modestly priced model to become available everywhere.


Why? It's simple: Just think about the purpose of Google's Pixel program. The whole reason Google started making its own phones was to regain a degree of control over the Android ecosystem by creating its own vehicle for the software — one that puts its Android vision, with a strong emphasis on Assistant and other Google services, front and center.


Google targeted the higher-end of the market to start while relying on partners to produce Android One phones that filled in the lower-priced gaps. But those devices don't deliver the same holistic experience — nor do they give Google the same level of control — as what the Pixel line provides. So ask yourself this: Given the stakes and what Google's ultimately trying to accomplish, why wouldn't the company want to move beyond a single set of self-made flagships?


 Read more: The limited details on the rumored new launch timing are here. For more context on the subject, look back to my April 2018 column: "A midrange Pixel is probably just the tip of the iceberg"

 Tip o' the Week
Try out Chrome's new time-saving mobile browsing tool

A neat new Chrome feature quietly made its way into the Android app just ahead of the holiday break — and after spending the past couple of weeks using it, it's already become of my favorite time-saving tools.


It's something called Sneak Peek, and it's available only in the beta version (or higher) of the Chrome Android app as of now. Once it's activated, you can press and hold any link within a web page — and then, in the menu that appears, you'll see a new option labeled "Sneak Peek." Tapping that pulls up the link in an overlay on top of your current tab; you can then slide the overlay up to view the other page without having to open a new tab or leave your current page.


It's a really handy way to peek at a link of interest without disrupting your reading or wasting time flipping from one tab to another. Once you get used to having that as an option, you won't want to go back.


To give it a whirl, first download the Chrome Beta app, if you don't already have it on your phone. Open it up, type chrome://flags into the address bar, and type sneak into the search box at the top of the page. You should then see an item labeled "An Ephemeral Tab in an Overlay Panel." Tap the box beneath it and change it from "Disabled" to "Enabled," then follow the prompts to restart the browser.


Now, just long-press a link on any page, look for the newly present "Sneak Peek" option, and browse away with your new disruption-free super-power.

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 Deal Intelligence
$50 off a Google Home Hub and other Home device discounts

Google is running deals on most of its Home products right now, including $50 off a Home Hub (making it just $99), $40 off a regular Google Home, $20 off a Home Mini (or buy one at its regular price and get one free), and $20 off a Chromecast Audio.


The deals are live as of this writing at the Google Store and most anywhere else that sells the devices, so check your retailer of choice if you want to pick up any of this stuff at a decent discount.


 Check it out: Google Store (and elsewhere)

Up to $20 off at Google Express

Once again, Google is offering up to $20 off orders placed through its Google Express shopping site. Google Express lets you buy from a ton of different stores, including Best Buy, Target, Fry's, Costco, and Home Depot, so there are plenty of possibilities to put this to use.


The catch is that it's valid only for first-time Google Express users — so if you've already used Google Express with your main Google account, you'll have to sign in with an alternate account in order to get the deal. The code also has a handful of exclusions, including gift cards and items from Google's own Google Store.


The code you need is NEWYEAR19; that'll give you 20% off your total purchase, up to $100.


 Check it out: Google Express

$100 in credit for new Fi subscribers

If you're thinking about trying out Google's Fi wireless service, take note: You can get $100 in free credit by signing up via this link (courtesy of the Ellen show, of all places) from now through this coming Tuesday, January 15.


The offer is valid for new Fi subscribers.


 Check it out: Project Fi

 And Just For Funsies...

Remember Etch-a-Sketch — the delightfully simple toy that let you create doodles by twisting knobs and making lines appear on a grayscale screen?


Well, thanks to Google's Chrome Labs showcase, you can now relive the joys of aluminum-powder drawing right in your web browser — on a computer or on your phone. Just pull up this page and start twisting those virtual knobs. There's a "Shake" button at the bottom to reset your creation and also a "Fancy" button that lets you introduce shadows and colors into the mix.


It may not be quite the same as actually holding the thing in your hands and manipulating it, but it's a fun trip down memory lane — and a fine way to waste a few minutes while looking like you're being productive. (If anyone asks, you're obviously just studying the implementation of web-based twisting-knob elements. Keep the source code open in a neighboring tab to be safe.)

Here's to a Delightful 2019

You've just gotta love this time of year — so much promise and potential ahead. I don't know about you, but I'm officially excited to see what twists and turns 2019 will bring us. And I'm a surly (and suspiciously wooly) old goat, so that's really saying something.


Baa. See ya next week.


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