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Android Intelligence
 
 
IN THIS ISSUE:
 
  The Latest Android Intelligence: The Pixel Slate productivity conundrum
  3 Things to Know This Week: Future Chrome features, a Google Assistant about-face, and Fi's (sort of) fresh start
  Tips o’ the Week: A new way to pinpoint your lost phone, a hidden upgrade for your home casting setup, and unclaimed Chromebook freebies
  Deal Intelligence: A Google Home Mini for 99 cents, a pair of free smart plugs, and newly popped-up Pixelbook discounts
  Plus the perfect PDF pun — now, there's a phrase you probably weren't expecting to hear...
 
 
 A Word of Welcome

Oh me, oh my, oh — am I glad to see you.

 

It's been a loooong couple weeks since we last chatted, and I've gotta say: I've missed hanging out. Not just because I spent most of the Thanksgiving break lying in bed and barely moving, mind you — long story involving an ill-fated trip to urgent care, an unfortunate misdiagnosis, several days of overmedication, and then the lovely punctuation of having two children with pink eye (!) — but also just because, y'know, I look forward to this. Thinking through each week's most interesting tech tidbits together is like a fun kind of therapy, only without all the feelings and personal growth (thank goodness). It's a fantastic way to wrap up the week.

 

So let's pick up right where we left off, shall we? The home stretch of 2018 may be in sight, but we've got plenty of good stuff left to digest before bidding this year adieu.

 

Let the healing begin.

 
JR
jr@androidintel.net
 
 

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INSIGHT
 The Latest Android Intelligence
 
Pixel Slate vs. Pixelbook: The Productivity Conundrum

Thinking about getting one of Google's convertible Chromebooks? I've personally used the Pixelbook for a year and lived with the Pixel Slate for the past week. Here are a few things you (you, you) oughta know:

 

 Read more: Computerworld

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PERSPECTIVE
 3 Things to Know This Week
 
1. Chrome is about to get a bunch of interesting improvements

 Here’s the deal: A series of small but significant upgrades is in the works for Google's Chrome browser, including a more advanced way to organize tabs, an easier way to move between websites, and a native dark mode for the desktop app.

 

 Know more: All of these things are technically unrelated but add up to paint an intriguing picture of the types of usability improvements lingering in Chrome's future. Up first is "Tab Groups," which was spotted in the open-source Chromium code and is said to be a new system for organizing tabs into "visually distinct groups" — or to "separate tabs associated with different tasks."

 

Speaking of tabs, if you tend to keep a ton of 'em open at once, you'll be happy to know Google is also working on an update that'll allow a tab's title to scroll instead of being shortened to a few unintelligible letters when your top-of-window area gets crowded.

 

On the Android front, meanwhile, some recently spotted code suggests you'll soon be able to swipe toward the left or right of a browser tab to navigate backward or forward in your browsing history (a gesture that's already possible on Chromebooks). And as for Chromebooks, they'll soon gain the ability to switch to the tablet-optimized version of a website instead of the full desktop site, if and when you're ever inclined.

 

Last but not least, Googlers are in the midst of creating a native dark mode for the Mac version of Chrome — though one would imagine if it's being made available for Mac, it'll be made available for other desktop platforms before long as well. In the meantime, you can always create your own dark mode — which applies even to the themes of actual websites you're viewing — by way of this handy extension.

 

 Read more: You can find the info about Tab Groups here, the tidbit about scrolling tab titles here, the details on the Android swiping gestures here, the news about the Chromebook tablet-mode option here, and the evidence of the pending dark mode here (whew!).

 
 
2. Google Assistant is finally regaining proper list support

 Here’s the deal: Google is in the midst of rolling out proper list-making support for Google Assistant — with a new native list- and note-keeping tool for now and the option to connect to a separate external list service "soon."

 

 Know more: This is one of the most absurd examples of Google making a plainly bad decision, sticking stubbornly to its guns for a little while, and then eventually going back to its original path as if it were a totally new and praiseworthy idea. (You'd be surprised how often that sort of thing happens around here.)

 

In case you've forgotten, Assistant actually allowed you to manage lists in Google Keep back at the beginning: You could simply tell Assistant, on any device, to add an item onto a specific list — and the deed would be done. Then, last April, Google removed that function and instead made it so that Assistant would work only with a weird Google-Express-linked shopping list and nothing more — something precisely zero percent of users, by my estimation, actually wanted.

 

It's nice to be back where we should be, but it would have been even nicer if we could've just stayed there all along.

 

 Read more: You can see the announcement in item #2 on this page. Note that the "new" feature is rolling out as we speak, so it may or may not be live for you quite yet.

 
 
3. Project Fi is getting a new name and expanded focus — uh, kinda sorta

 Here’s the deal: Google's Project Fi wireless service is officially exiting its "project" phase and becoming Google Fi as of this week. At the same time, Google says Fi is now officially available to anyone on almost any Android phone or iPhone — a significant shift from the company's previous stance that you had to own a Fi-approved device if you wanted to use the service. Or so it might seem.

 

 Know more: Don't be fooled by the hype surrounding this announcement. More than anything, this is a branding and marketing move — because the reality is that you could always pop a Fi SIM card into practically any phone and use it with the service, albeit without some of Fi's most distinguishing features. The same is still true today.

 

Specifically, any phone that isn't a Fi-designed device won't be able to seamlessly switch you between multiple mobile networks (Fi uses a combination of T-Mobile, Sprint, and U.S. Cellular in the States and automatically connects you to whichever one has the best signal at any given moment). It won't be able to automatically connect you to high-quality public Wi-Fi networks whenever possible, which is another core Fi feature (and one that, take it from me, has the potential to help you save a lot of mobile data use). Finally, it won't have the always-on encrypted VPN protection Fi now provides for all mobile and Wi-Fi networks with official Fi phones.

 

So basically, if you use Fi with a non-Fi-designed device, you'll get coverage only on T-Mobile in the U.S. — though you will still get Fi's unusual pay-only-for-what-you-use pricing setup and its excellent fee-free international data support. And that's always been the case. All that's happening now is that Google is officially acknowledging, promoting, and supporting that fact instead of treating it like a poorly kept secret.

 

 Read more: You can find the full Fi announcement here, and stay tuned: I'll be writing much more about Fi myself next week.

Productivity
 Tips o' the Week
 
Let Google pinpoint your phone within a building

Make a mental note for the next time you misplace your phone: Google's Find My Device feature can now tell you exactly where your phone was last seen — even inside.

 

Find My Device has been able to track missing phones and show you their locations for quite a while now, but a new update to the service adds in the ability to pinpoint a device's exact location within a building, thanks to Google Maps' indoor mapping abilities.

 

It won't work everywhere, but if you ever lose track of your phone within a large public facility like an airport, mall, stadium, or train station, go to android.com/find from any other device — a laptop, a desktop, a tablet, a friend's phone, whatever — and you might get just the intel you need to get your phone back before it's too late.

 
 
Add regular Chromecasts into your Google Home speaker groups

If you use Google's Cast function to stream music to multiple speakers in your house — whether they're Home devices, Smart Displays, or repurposed old "dumb" speakers hooked up via Chromecast Audio (one of Google's most awesome and underappreciated products, by the way) — listen up: You can now add regular Chromecasts into your speaker groups and have your tunes play through your TV as part of the mix.

 

This has been a curiously missing feature from the get-go, so having it suddenly show up now is a nice surprise. Just look in the Google Home app to get started; any Chromecast other than the very first 2013 model should automatically appear as an available option when you go into a speaker group configuration.

 
 
Don't forget to snag your Chromebook freebies

Pick up a new Chromebook recently? (Or maybe even not so recently?) Remember to check and see what freebies came with the device. Google doesn't promote this as much as it used to, but most Chromebooks give you an extra 100GB of Google Drive storage at no extra cost (usually for two years). Pixelbooks include six-month Google One subscriptions, with 200GB of space, as well as three free months of YouTube TV access. But with all of this stuff, it's up to you to claim it.

 

No matter when you bought your device, it's worth checking to see what's available. Just visit this page, from the Chromebook in question, to see what pops up.

SMART TECH
 Deal Intelligence
 
Google Home Mini + 2-mo. Spotify subscription for $0.99

This week's first deal is really weird, but I just tried it myself — and it definitely works. As usual, it appears to be limited to the U.S. (sigh; sorry, international pals).

 

Here's how it works — and stay with me through this: First, you sign up for a new Spotify Premium account, which costs 99 cents for a three-month trial. Once you've done that, you upgrade the account to Spotify Premium for Family, which appears to cost $14.99 but doesn't actually charge you a dime as long as you just completed that 99-cent Spotify Premium sign-up. Let me repeat: The site will say it's going to charge you $14.99, but when you click through, it won't actually charge you at all.

 

After that, all you've gotta do is visit this page to collect your Home Mini. Spotify will verify your account and then take you to the Google Store, where it'll apply a promo code that'll make the Home Mini and its shipping completely free. You'll end up with a Home Mini and two months of Spotify Premium (presumably due to the plan's higher cost, the trial shrinks from three months to two when you upgrade to the family setup) at the unbeatable price of 99 cents.

 

Just be sure to go back and cancel the Spotify subscription before the trial period ends. In fact, you can actually go ahead and cancel it immediately after you get confirmation that your Home Mini has shipped; that way, you'll still be able to use the service until the expiration date, if you want, but your subscription will then expire instead of renewing when that date arrives.

 

 Check it out: The full breakdown of this wacky and wild deal is here, if you want to read more and get additional assurances that it's still operational before you try. (That might be worth doing, as you can browse through recent comments from people who've tried it to confirm that it is indeed still live.)

 
 
2 Home Minis and 2 smart plugs for $60

Another slightly strange Home Mini deal to ponder: Over at Target right now, you can pick up two Google Home Minis and two Wemo smart plugs for 60 bucks — barely more than the normal price of a single Home Mini.

 

Alternatively, you can buy just one Home Mini at its usual $49 price and get one Wemo smart plug along with it at no additional cost.

 

Just add the appropriate number of each product into your cart, and the discounts should automatically appear.

 

 Check it out: Target

 
 
$200 off a Pixelbook

That insane $699 Pixelbook pricing we'd seen the past several days seems to be over for now, but you can still pick up one of Google's high-end convertible Chromebooks at a discount — if you look in the right place.

 

While the Google Store itself has the Pixelbook back up to its normal $999 price, Amazon is selling the system for about $800 as of this writing. The price seems to fluctuate based on what specific seller the site pulls up at any given moment — so if you don't get a great result, give it a few hours and then try again — but even at its worst, I've yet to see it creep anywhere close to the full amount.

 

 Check it out: Amazon

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 And Just For Funsies...
 

It's not every day you come across a perfect pun about productivity software — so when I saw this superb bit of super-geeky wordplay, I knew I had to pass it along.

 

Courtesy of graphic designer Matt Powell:

 

 

Now, I'm certainly no doc, but I'd say this therapist excels at assessing a patient's outlook.

 

Sorry. Give me a second to compose myself...

 

Word? Word.

 
A Very Happy December to You

Well, my friend, that's it for November. What a whirlwind month it's been! I'll see ya right back here next Friday, when we'll somehow be at the beginning of the end of 2018.

 

Winter may be coming — and along with it, more "holiday gift guides" and "best of 2018" lists than any reasonable biped could possibly tolerate — but fear not: The year isn't over yet. And plenty more twists and turns are bound to pop up and surprise us.

 

Pip pip, m'dear.

Thoughts
JR

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