Plus a tasty little Essential-related scoop
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Android Intelligence
  The Big Idea: Beware of the coming Android 'innovations'
  3 Things to Know This Week: Samsung's new Galaxy-Google connection, the end of Essential, and a glimmer of hope for an Essential-owned email app
  3 Things to Try This Week: Maps' revamped interface, an Android download upgrade, and your phone's supremely useful search secrets
  Plus: Google Assistant's softer side — ooh, baby...
 Just Between Us...

Sometimes I feel like most of the stories you see about phones start with the assumption that you obviously oughta be buying something — and the main question, really, is just which device you should select.


Me? I've developed a bit of a different mindset over the past several years. New phones are fun, sure, and every now and then a device comes along that really just speaks to you for one reason or another. But by and large, phones from a year or two (or maybe even three) ago are also still fine. Quite honestly, I kind of assume by default nowadays that you don't need to buy anything — that you can usually be better served by making the most out of your existing device than by seeking out some shiny new vessel.


It's easy to get swept away by the spectacle of a new phone launch and all the lofty language around it, but it's more important than ever to step back from the hype and ask yourself: Once the novelty wears off and the flowery adjectives are forgotten, what value will this new feature, element, or improvement everyone's obsessing over actually give me in my day-to-day life?


The answer, as I explore in this week's Big Idea, might sometimes be smaller than you'd expect. And with Samsung's new flagship phones now officially on the way and the 5G hype machine cranking up to terrifying new heights, there's no better time to start keeping that perspective at the top of your mind.

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 The Big Idea
Beware of the Coming Android 'Innovations'

 The Short Version: Sorry to disappoint, but this year's highest profile Android hardware advancements aren't actually about you — not at this point, anyway.


 Know More: As we start to hear about all the flashy new phone features headlining this year's high-end devices, I can't help but think that practically every big hardware-related "innovation" on the horizon right now seems like a step in the wrong direction for us — the two-legged land-dwellers who actually buy and use these devices. They're less about bringing value into our lives and more about creating new reasons for phone-makers to charge us more money and convince us to upgrade more often.


 Read more: The full column is here.


 Hear more: Listen to me chat candidly about everything in this article in the latest episode of the Android Intelligence Platinum podcast: "It's All About the Benjamins." A new ad-free show is available every week — one of the many perks of supporting my work with a Platinum membership:


 3 Things to Know This Week
1. Samsung's shiny new phones are (almost) here

 The Short Version: The Galaxy S20 goes on sale in early March for $1,000 and up, while the horizontally folding Galaxy Z Flip launches today for a cool $1,380.


 Know more: The devices themselves seem impressive enough, in their respective ways — but what really jumps out at me here is the way Samsung seems to be stepping up its relationship with Google on these products. First, the companies teamed together to create some of the fancy new software tricks for the folding Flip phone, and Google says those same features will become available to other device-makers soon as well. Beyond that, Samsung is following the Pixel phones' lead and integrating Google's Duo video chat service directly into its devices' dialer apps — a rare touch of voluntary Google service prominence on a Galaxy device — and Google, at the same time, is giving the Galaxy S20 the honor of becoming the first non-Pixel product to ship with its excellent new Live Caption system. I hate to read too much into a single set of small gestures, but maybe, just maybe, this might signal the start of a slightly less awkward dynamic between Android's two typically-at-odds behemoths?


 Read more: You can learn more about the new Galaxy S20 models in this thorough hands-on assessment and get a glimpse at what the Galaxy Z Flip is all about in this balanced set of initial impressions.


 Dive Deeper: Think with me about how Google could stand to learn something from Samsung's smartphone selling strategy in this sidebar-style column: "Hey, Google: Maybe It's Time to Take a Lesson From Samsung"

2. The enthusiast-beloved Essential company is over

 The Short Version: Essential, the hardware company formed by Android founder Andy Rubin, has announced it's giving up on its current projects and shutting down completely.


 Know more: This is a tough one to know how to feel about. On the one hand, Essential once seemed like a promising and scrappy new startup in a land of Android giants. Its sole device, the first-gen Essential Phone, was by no means perfect — but it had lots of good qualities, and it got software updates at a pace no manufacturer other than Google can match. Essential also seemed to have some ambitious ideas for unusual sorts of devices (none of which will now ever see the light of day). At the same time, once disturbing allegations about Rubin's time at Google and the circumstances surrounding his departure came to light, it became difficult to look at a company that revolved so closely around his ideas and his image in the same way. Ultimately, it's hard not to think that's at least in part what led to Essential's demise.


 Read more: Essential's full announcement, which includes some previously unreleased videos of the company's under-development "GEM phone" device, is here. For more context on the situation, see this NYTimes article.

3. An Essential-owned email app might (might!) have a future

 The Short Version: As of now, Newton Mail — an email client bought by Essential just over a year ago — is set to shut down at the end of April. But there might be more to the story.


 Know more: Newton has had quite the death-defying saga already: Despite having its share of passionate fans, the app shut down in September of 2018, with its founder saying he couldn't overcome the competition and find a path to profitability. Three months later, Essential announced it was buying the app and resurrecting it — for reasons that still aren't entirely clear. Now, as part of Essential's shutdown, the company says Newton will go away for a second time, but I've learned that another company is interested in taking the app over and keeping it going in some capacity. The CEO of Boomerang, whose company makes a Gmail-enhancing service for Android and other platforms, has reached out to Essential to explore a possible purchase of Newton, I can confirm. There's no telling what, if anything, will come of the conversations, but it's easy to see how a company like Boomerang could benefit from integrating its own feature-packed service with Newton's polished app interface — especially since Newton is also available in native Mac and Windows versions. And if Essential was just planning on tossing Newton into the trash, anyway, who knows? Maybe it'd be open to the idea of selling it instead.


 Read more: The current plans for Newton's shutdown are laid out in Essential's bye-bye blog. You can read more about Newton's previous demise in this heartbroken love letter by my pal Jared Newman, and you can take a peek at Boomerang's current Android effort on the app's official Play Store page.

 3 Things to Try This Week
1. Take Maps' new interface out for a spin

We may have first heard about it last week, but Google's redesigned interface for the Maps Android app is just now starting to show up for most people — quietly and without any real warning. Make sure your Maps app is updated to the latest version in the Play Store, then open the app up and see if things look any different for you.


(Even if you saw the new icon last week, by the way, odds are the actual new interface hadn't arrived for you until now. Why the weird delay? Because Google, that's why.)


A few things worth noting in the polished-up app:

  • The newly added Saved tab at the bottom of the screen doesn't actually have any totally new functions, but it brings a bunch of useful stuff that used to be buried into the foreground. For instance, tap it and you'll find a tool for assigning custom labels to specific locations — a great way to save time on your next navigation ("Hey, Google: Navigate to Ned's house" or "Hey, Google: How long will it take me to get to the grocery right now?").
  • Also in that Saved tab, you'll find Maps' Reservations feature, which automatically pulls travel-related plans out of your Gmail and Google Calendar and organizes 'em into itinerary-like bundles — and if you scroll over a bit on the horizontal menu at the tab's top, you'll find a section labeled "Visited" that shows everywhere you've been lately and makes it easy to pull up directions to any of those places.
  • A couple of functions that used to be in Maps' main menu have now been awkwardly buried. If you want to share your location with someone or manage your offline maps, you'll find those features in the menu that comes up when you tap your profile picture in the app's upper-right corner. Not exactly intuitive — but hey, now you know!
2. Upgrade your phone's Downloads folder

Most Google-associated storage these days is made to be cloud-centric and available on any device, anytime. Your Android phone, however, is an exception.


When you download something onto your Android device, it typically goes into a special folder in the phone's local storage. That means it exists only on that single device and can't be accessed from any other phone or computer, even if you're signed into Google in both places.


With a few minutes of setup, you can change that — and effectively upgrade your phone's Downloads folder to make it cloud-synced and available anywhere.


The answer lies within a crafty little app called AutoSync for Google Drive (which, yes, is free for these purposes). It makes it easy as can be to continuously sync any folder on your phone with a matching folder on Google Drive, without any ongoing thought or effort.


All you've gotta do is install the app on your phone, connect it to your Drive account, and set it up to sync the phone's Downloads folder with a matching folder you create in Drive — and from then on, anything you download on your phone will automatically show up and also be available anywhere you can access Drive.


You can even set the app up to do a two-way sync, which means anything you place into the Drive-based Downloads folder will also go through to your phone — and anything you delete in either spot will automatically get deleted in the other. It essentially makes your phone's Downloads folder a part of the cloud instead of keeping it stuck only on that one physical device — a perfectly sensible improvement, if you ask me.


Want even more tips about optimizing your phone's syncing setup? Check out my recently updated Android backup guide. (That's where this tip came from!)

3. Unlock Android's search secrets

I know, I know: Talking about search doesn't sound exciting. Search is just a utility, after all — a way to get things done.


Don't let yourself be fooled, though: Being aware of the right advanced search features can save you time, open up new possibilities, and change the way you think about certain tasks on your phone. And on Android in particular, boy howdy, are there some interesting options out there.


That's the subject of this week's Platinum Power-Up — my weekly digest of next-level tips and app insight. I walk through some supremely useful tucked-away tools no normal person would ever realize existed, including an awesome way to keep track of shows you want to watch, some advanced commands for letting your phone act as your personal concierge, and some super-handy ways to enhance your Android messaging experience by embracing hidden search functions.


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.


 And Just For Funsies...

Well, I'll be: In honor of Valentine's Day, the Google Assistant we all know and (sometimes) love is showing us her softer, more sensitive side.


Try summoning Assistant on any phone, speaker, or Smart Display around you and then asking: "Do you love me?" Assistant will not only profess her unabashed affection for you — she'll also give you a quick quiz and then use your answers to craft a custom poem about your budding (and only slightly creepy) virtual relationship.


If that sounds like way too much work (and/or weirdness), try instead telling Assistant to serenade you. Turns out our friendly Assistant has a lovely singing voice. Who knew?!

Happy Valentine's Day

Hope your Valentine's weekend is as sweet as can be. Personally, I'll be fending off screaming toddlers and trying (likely without success) to secure the occasional moment of quiet before my brain implodes.


Ah, the joys of parenting.


Have yourself a wonderful week, won't ya? I'll see ya right back here next Friday.


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