Is it better to have too many features or not enough?
Is there any debate in the tech space more tiresome than Android versus iOS? Maybe Mac versus PC? If you’re deeply entrenched in the Android world, there’s one other argument you’ve probably heard and maybe even participated in dozens of times over the last decade — stock Android versus … pretty much everything else.
For years, stock Android essentially just meant whatever the operating system looked like on Google’s own Nexus and Pixel phones — though these days even that’s a bit of a loose definition, with the Pixel getting its own unique features like Now Playing and Active Edge. Still, what we see on the Pixel 2 and Android One phones can be roughly equated to stock Android; it’s Google’s pure vision of Android, devoid of any unnecessary software additions from your phone’s carrier or manufacturer.
Depending on your stance, that barebones approach can either be stock Android’s strongest or weakest point; with such a short list of pre-installed apps, you get a great-looking clean interface that would please any minimalist, but you also start to miss out on features and innovations that other manufacturers have built into their “forked” versions of Android.
Samsung has built a reputation over the years with its heavy-handed approach to software, and while it always runs the risk of overloading users with too many features (or doubling Google’s services with redundant features in its own apps), it’s also led to a number of great new features, some of which eventually made their way to stock Android — namely split-screen multitasking. Similarly, HTC’s Edge Sense technology, first introduced on the U11, was integrated into the Pixel 2 and 2 XL.
Stock Android tends to be great if you live that Google-powered life.
A lot of the best features in various phones don’t make it to stock Android at all, though. The LG V30 still has the uncontested best camera app for recording video, with a wide range of manual video controls and even the ability to shoot in Cine-Log. The BlackBerry KEY2 lets you selectively store photos in an encrypted locker that won’t upload to cloud storage or appear in your gallery. The Galaxy S9 allows you to create a separate instance of certain apps like Snapchat for quickly and easily managing multiple accounts.
Stock Android is great; it remains my personal preference in most cases since I live a mostly Google-powered life. However, depending on your needs it isn’t necessarily the complete package. As a video producer and enthusiast, I would love to be able to take advantage of the V30’s video capabilities, but alas — stock Android’s options are very limited when it comes to filming. Even if you operate exclusively on Google services, it’s easy enough to disable or hide the majority of unwanted apps on a non-stock phone and still benefit from the additional features included.
That, of course, begs the question — is stock Android still important to you (assuming it ever was in the first place)? Has the smooth, clean experience of the Pixel won you over, or are you more interested in having as many useful features as possible, regardless of the resulting clutter? Let us know in the comments below!
A perfect way to kick off the two-week countdown to launch.
We’re now just two weeks away from the launch of the Galaxy Note 9, and that means Samsung is getting its hype machine into full force. Today the company released its first official teaser video for the phone, and it’s all about the battery life prospects of the upcoming flagship. Warning: this 30-second clip may be traumatic for some of you.
We’ve all been there. We’ve had our phones dying at the worst possible time, with an important meeting, call, appointment or transport on the line. Samsung has always poked fun at other phones’ batteries — primarily Apple over the years — as a way to promotes its wireless charging feature and Adaptive Fast Charge system, but in reality it has mostly offered just average battery life on its phones.
The Note 9 really should have the best battery life of any Samsung phone.
All of the leaks up to this point point to the Galaxy Note 9 having a much larger battery than its predecessors, perhaps in the 4000mAh range, which has been an area where the last couple generations of Note left a lot to be desired. Not only was battery life simply average rather than exceptional, but the batteries have been marginally smaller than their Galaxy S+ counterparts — which just didn’t make much sense for a phone that’s supposed to be the biggest and best in every respect.
Samsung putting emphasis on battery life with its first teaser video bodes well for the Note 9, because you’d expect that Samsung would want to make its first marketing message one that it knows it can deliver on. We’ll see for certain when Samsung unveils the Galaxy Note 9 on August 9 — and you know Android Central will be there to offer all of the coverage you desire.
Samsung Galaxy Note 9
- Samsung Galaxy Note 9 rumors: Release date, specs, price, and features!
- Is it best to buy the Galaxy S9 or wait for the Note 9?
- Do you plan on upgrading to the Note 9?
- Galaxy Note 8 review
- Join our Galaxy Note 9 forums
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Whether it’s for your bank account, Twitter profile, or Pokemon Go, passwords are required for just about all of the apps and websites we use. That shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, but even so, having to remember all of these can be a royal pain.
So, what’s a person to do to keep from going insane while not forgetting hundreds of different login credentials?
Some of our AC forum members recently started talking about this very topic, and these are a few tips they recommend for safe-keeping of all your passwords.
07-23-2018 02:05 PM
The only thing I don’t like is subscriptions. KeePassDroid is safe, uses fingerprint (or password) unlock, creates long random passwords, and lets you keep the data file in the cloud so other devices can use the same password file – with no payment. (True, no 2FA, but important apps, like bank apps, should be doing that on their own.)
07-23-2018 10:20 PM
I also routinely recommend the Stone Age method of just writing down important passwords and keeping them in a safe at home!
07-24-2018 08:12 PM
I’ll use browser auto-fill for non-secure data like my name and address, but not for passwords. They are generally seen as vulnerable and often store the passwords in plain text. A good password manager will not store any info in plain text and perform all encryption/decryption locally so your info isn’t vulnerable on their servers. Ideally the only time your password is available in plain text…
07-25-2018 02:33 PM
I use a letters and numbers long phrase type password as my master-password on LastPass myself, they make it too easy to be better than I would be at trying to manage hundreds of passwords myself.
What about you? How do you save/remember all of your passwords?
Join the conversation in the forums!
The monitor for people who never have enough monitors.
Ask anyone who knows me, and they’ll tell you I’m a bit of a monitor hog. My desktop sports a 43-inch ultrawide because I was tired of the bezels in multiple monitors. My laptop never has enough screen real estate for my workflow. I was raised on multiple monitors, and never really grew out of it.
The one place I don’t have this problem is when I’m gaming, but my console tethers me unnecessarily to the living room. When I went looking for a fairly inexpensive way to be portable with my console, I found a monitor that not only lets me game on the go but also acts as a fantastic secondary monitor when I’m working remotely. It’s called the Gechic On-Lap monitor, and while I’m probably never going to use it “On-Lap” there are a ton of other places it’s going to get used.
Gechic On-Lap Monitor
Bottom line: This monitor is great for just about everything, especially when you’re not particularly close to the ideal power set up.
- Lightweight, easy to travel monitor
- Great battery life
- Ports for just about everything
- Speakers are loud, but not great
- No USB-C port
See at Amazon
Gechic On-Lap Monitor What I like
I don’t often take my PlayStation 4 Pro out of the house, because why would I? Most of the televisions in the hotel rooms I stay in when I travel are locked down so I can’t really connect anything, and I’m not usually in the room for particularly long. The monitors built in to my minivan (#DadLife) when I’m taking my kids on long trips are way too small for the experience to be enjoyable for anything but a movie, and I already have a DVD player in the house. I would take my console with me way more places if it made sense to do so, but even on the train, the chances of my having access to two power outlets are slim.
This monitor removes a lot of these arguments by design. The 7800mAh battery powers this 11.6-inch 1080p display for at least four hours (Gechic claims 4.5 but I landed closer to the 4 mark most days) with no problem. The panel itself has an anti-glare matte coating on it so I can use it just about everywhere, and the 178-degree viewing angle lets the person sitting next to me play as well. I took this on a four-hour train ride from Baltimore to New York City and it kept my family entertained the entire trip.
The best part about this display is I can use it with basically anything. The ports on the side support DisplayPort and Mini HDMI, with cables in the box to connect to both with ease. I was able to use this to extend the display on my laptop when I wasn’t gaming, and it all just worked. With the headphone jack on the side of the display, I was able to immerse myself in what I was doing, with no need to involve wireless headphones.
I’m also barely scratching the surface of what this display offers. There’s a port on the back for more permanent mounting solutions where hanging cables off the back is inconvenient. You can also connect to cameras for a huge display when shooting video, and the carrying case gives you multiple leaning angles depending on where you are sitting or standing when using it.
Gechic On-Lap Monitor What I don’t like
Having a battery-powered portable monitor that doesn’t suck makes me feel like I’m in the future, right until I try to charge it. Right next to the other ports is a Micro-USB port for charging, which in 2018 kind of sucks. It means the monitor doesn’t charge very quickly (almost three hours to full) and really highlights what a missed opportunity USB-C included would’ve been. Not only would it charge much faster, but USB-C could have been another display out option for those of us living the dongle life.
This monitor fits nicely into its travel case and carries well, but the speakers on the top of the monitor suffer from the same thing most lightweight displays suffer from: tinny audio and occasionally a rattle alongside the bass. It’s not the worst set of speakers out there, but you’re probably going to want to use your headphones if you have them. If the audio quality doesn’t bother you, the good news is these speakers do get very loud if you need them to. Not a bad option for doing something outside if you don’t have speakers or headphones, but not necessarily the choice I would make.
out of 5
If you need a portable monitor for anything, a laptop or a console or just so your kids have something to watch movies while you’re doing something with the actual television in the room, this is a solid option. At $299, you’re absolutely paying for the privilege of portability, but it’s worth it for those of us who aren’t in the living room as often as we’d probably like.
See at Amazon
You’ve got Huawei’s custom software to thank for this.
Huawei’s been in hot water for most all of 2018 thanks to various legal disputes with the U.S. government, and now the company’s facing repercussions for its heavy-handed custom Android skin.
On July 25, VLC creator VideoLAN announced on Twitter that the popular media player app can no longer be downloaded by Huawei devices on the Google Play Store.
PSA: @HuaweiMobile phones are now blacklisted and cannot get VLC on the Play Store.Their ridiculous policy of killing all background apps (except their own) breaks VLC audio background playback (of course).See https://t.co/QzDW7KbV4I and many other reports…@HuaweiFr
— VideoLAN (@videolan) July 25, 2018
As mentioned above, the reason for this decision has to do with Huawei’s EMUI Android skin that aggressively kills non-Huawei background apps — thus resulting in a less-than-ideal experience when trying to use VLC for background playback.
VideoLAN goes on to note that this change affects all Huawei devices (not just newer ones), and if you still want to use VLC, you can always download the APK file directly from its website.
It’s possible VLC will be made available for Huawei phones later on down the road if Huawei decides to change the way third-party background apps are handled, and seeing as how this is one of the largest apps in its class, maybe this will be a big enough statement for some real change to take place.
Download: VLC (free)
And if the phone doesn’t have these, you should question why.
There are many parts of the smartphone experience that are a matter of personal preference — like screen size, specific internal components, expandable storage, certain exterior materials, software features and the like. All of those areas provide smartphone companies with room to differentiate and make unique devices with interesting selling points. Just one of those choices could make or break your decision to buy the phone.
But no matter your preference in each of those areas, you should expect a certain level of base features and capabilities — particularly when the price tag goes above $600.
Dust and water resistance
This is the simplest thing to expect nowadays. Just about every phone and tablet that’s more than a couple hundred dollars inherently has some level of water ingress protection, but higher-end phones go so far as to actually be tested and certified up to a certain point.
You may think you’re careful and your phone doesn’t need to have dust and water resistance, but sometimes this is out of your hands — and the phone should be protected from it. There are varying levels of protection, and it’s a little annoying to try and decode, but look for your phone to have an “IP” rating of 57, 58, 67 or 68. The first number, 5 or 6, relates to dust protection, while the second number, 7 or 8, refers to water protection.
You don’t really need to know the details of the exact circumstances phones are tested to reach each level, but just know that “splash proof” definitely isn’t the same as having a proper full IP rating noted above.
How ‘waterproof’ is my phone? What those IP numbers really mean
Samsung led the way for mainstream adoption of IP resistance ratings as a “must-have” feature, and the Galaxy S9 and S9+ are still advertised heavily as having the feature. Nowadays, all of the best phones have water resistance ratings — though the Galaxy S9 and S9+ do it while keeping a headphone jack.
See Galaxy S9 at Amazon
A screen completely usable in daylight
We often focus on screen size and resolution, which are also important in their own right, but neither really matters if you can’t see the phone out in the sun. Likewise, a good camera doesn’t do you a ton of good if you can’t actually see the viewfinder and operate the buttons with sun beating down on the screen.
You shouldn’t be afraid of the sun — and knowing is about more than just nits.
A rising tide of mobile display quality has lifted just about every phone up to an acceptable level of daylight visibility, but it isn’t universal just yet. Look at the synthetic brightness level — quoted in nits — of the phone you’re considering, but know that that doesn’t tell the whole story. There are many other parts of the display components, tuning and software that make a difference in daylight visibility. Every phone looks great and seems really bright indoors, but if at all possible go get it out in the sunlight to see what it’s really like. Read reviews and look for remarks specifically about daylight visibility — you should expect to be able to use your phone unencumbered outdoors.
Samsung’s Galaxy S9 once again leads in this respect, and it’s for two reasons. Is SuperAMOLED display has high contrast and generally great brightness — but it also has an automatically-triggered sunlight mode that boosts the contrast and brigthness when it detects harsh sun, meaning you’ll always be able to see the screen. The LG G7 deserves a mention here as well, because it has a brightness boost mode that pushes its screen up to an insane 1000 nits of brightness — unfortunately, it doesn’t trigger automatically like Samsung’s screen does.
See Galaxy S9 at Amazon
A camera that is usable in all lighting
There’s a never-ending battle over smartphone camera quality, and it’s one that we as consumers ultimately win from as smartphone cameras are really great nowadays. If you’re looking to buy a $600+ phone, it shouldn’t have any major compromises in camera quality — no matter the lighting.
We can compare high-end phones and quibble over their intricate differences because photos are ultimately subjective works of art. But no matter the phone you’re looking at, it should be able to capture a scene in any lighting without noticeable blur, graininess, discoloration or visual aberrations. It doesn’t have to be the most beautiful photo you’ve ever seen, but at this price point you should absolutely have the confidence to know that every photo you take is at least above average. After that point, you can start to nitpick about specifics — and probably pay $2-300 more to get the best.
Best Android phone cameras
The Google Pixel 2 is coming around on a year old, yet it still amazes us with its ability to turn low-light scenes into something beautiful every time — and you don’t have to think, just point and shoot. The Huawei P20 Pro deserves a mention, too, as all of its advanced shooting modes and multiple sensors can take amazing photos in all conditions.
See Pixel 2 at Best Buy
A speaker that’s loud and doesn’t distort
You can forgive a company making a cheaper phone for skimping on the speaker system because it’s one of those areas where it won’t make or break a buying decision. But if you’re paying extra for a phone, you can expect that the company spent the few extra cents for a better speaker or even the extra engineering time to work in dual speakers.
You shouldn’t expect room-filling sound, but it should get plenty loud and not distort.
The speaker doesn’t need to offer room-filling sound. And in this age of thinner and thinner phones, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to do so. But you should be able to quickly tell if the speaker is good enough — just play whatever local music is on the phone, or open up a YouTube video, and crank the speaker to max. Is it louder than you’d need when the phone’s in your hand? Does it max out volume without distorting and crackling? That’s the bare minimum to expect in this level of phone.
The LG G7 has the best speaker offering right now, thanks to its innovative use of the entire phone as a cavity for the loudspeaker. Whether it’s just sitting on a table or propped up on a larger opening to amplify, it’s about as good as a small Bluetooth speaker. The Pixel 2 XL has a more traditional dual speaker system, and it gets pretty loud with a full sound profile.
See LG G7 at Amazon
64GB of storage (or more)
I think it’s totally reasonable in 2018 to use a phone with 32GB of internal storage, even if you don’t have an SDcard slot available to expand it. So long as you’re not saving multiple movies or several massive games on your phone, you won’t run out of space. But when you spend extra money on a phone to get the best specs, you should expect at least 64GB of storage.
Storage is inexpensive for manufacturers. It’s totally understandable if the company doesn’t offer multiple storage options, because managing those SKUs is expensive, but that one model it does sell better have 64GB or more. It’s not so much for today, but really for the next year or two you use this phone — as files pile up and apps get larger, you don’t want to feel the squeeze of running out of storage on your big-money smartphone.
Every one of our favorite high-end phones has 64GB of storage, but some offer you an option for even more. The Galaxy S9 and S9+ can be had with 256GB of storage, if you buy from Samsung directly. The OnePlus 6 is also available with 256GB.
See Galaxy S9 at Samsung
Two years of platform updates
This is a tough one, because it requires both an analysis of historical information and also confidence in promises from companies. If you’re buying a phone that’s this expensive, you should have the expectation that the phone will get the next two major Android platform updates.
This requires some research and trust in the company you’re buying from.
There are of course updates in between these platform jumps that matter as well: monthly security updates. Very few manufacturers are releasing these updates on a consistent monthly basis, but quite a few are getting to them roughly on a quarterly basis. Look back at the news for the previous major phones from a manufacturer — are they getting updates out? What frequency have they landed on? These things are important for the longterm health of your phone, and something you should expect when you spend extra on a phone.
The only way to know for certain that you’ll be getting software updates for at least two years is to buy a Google Pixel 2 or 2 XL. The OnePlus 6 is also a pretty good bet in this regard, as the company has really upped its software support in recent generations.
See Pixel 2 at Best Buy
How do you rank these features?
It’s clear that you should expect this level of base features on an expensive phone in 2018 — the only question is how you rank them personally. Which of these is an absolutely no-budge option for you? Are you willing to give any of them up to get something else?
These are the best Android phones
Update July 2018: We’ve added our top picks for phones with each of the must-have features for a flagship phone.
So much power!
The RAVPower 26800mAh PD portable charger is down to $51.99 with code THRIFTER58. We’ve seen it drop pretty close to this price before, but this code actually brings it down to a dollar or two better than previous deals.
That 26800mAh battery carries a lot of juice for one charger, and it shows. Because of the Power Delivery functionality, the RAVPower can charge a Nintendo Switch while you play it. The port can reach 30W, which means it can charge an Apple MacBook, too. It only takes 4 to 5 hours to completely recharge. The large capacity and multiple outputs means you can charge multiple devices to full at the same time, and it will probably last through several charges for most gear. Users give it 4.4 stars based on 518 reviews.
See on Amazon
In other words, your Android phone will probably have faster LTE speeds than the next iPhone.
Qualcomm and Apple have been throwing punches at each other since January 2017 due to disputes over patents, royalties, and more. According to a statement from Qualcomm, it looks like that fighting might have resulted in some real-world consequences.
Per Qualcomm’s Financial Chief George Davis:
We believe Apple intends to solely use our competitor’s modems rather than our modems in its next iPhone release.
The “competitor” mentioned there is referring to Intel, and while Intel is still one of the largest players in the processor space, Qualcomm’s LTE speeds have been proven to be considerably faster than what Intel’s’ achieved so far with its mobile modems.
Earlier this week, Qualcomm partnered with SpeedTest creator Ookla to show the difference in network performance between the Snapdragon 845 and Intel’s XMM7480 and XMM7360 chips. During this testing with “typical speeds”, Qualcomm came out on top in every scenario with up to 68% faster download speeds on T-Mobile, 41% faster upload speeds, and 35% slower latency on AT&T.
Even though Qualcomm’s modems may not be in this year’s upcoming iPhones, that’s not to say Apple will rely on Intel for good. According to Financial Chief George Davis:
This is a very dynamic industry. If the opportunity presents itself, I think we will be a supplier of Apple.
Whether you’re an Android or iPhone user, what do you think about Apple’s decision to go with Intel this year?
Qualcomm wants to own the ‘kid watch’ market with its new Snapdragon Wear 2500 platform
Joel and Ellie made it out alive, but did they really escape danger?
The original launch of The Last of Us was a refreshing departure for Naughty Dog. As much as we love Nathan Drake, seeing Uncharted’s level of polish, deep storytelling, and rich character development in an entirely different world is richly satisfying.
So naturally, we’re expecting big things out of the Last of Us sequel. The Last of Us II is on its way for the PlayStation 4, and if you haven’t kept up until now, then we’re here to get you up to speed.
- E3 reveals
- What’s the story so far?
- What’s happening in Part II?
- Gameplay details
- When can you play it?
Whats new with The Last of Us Part II?
Interested in knowing the latest about Ellie and Joel’s newest adventures? We’re adding all the new details we learn about The Last of Us Part II.
Revealed at E3 2018
Sony released a new gameplay trailer for The Last of Us Part II at E3 2018. Ellie is shown kicking some serious butt as three foes corner her inside an abandoned storefront. We saw a great deal of stealth gameplay, as well as a glimpse at the crafting system and one of Ellie’s weapons of choice, the bow and arrow. Perhaps most impressive is she did all this without Joel, who we know will be making an appearance in the game but is no longer the main protagonist.
Oh, and Ellie is also lesbian, the trailer revealed. She can be seen kissing her girlfriend in a scene where the two are trying to get through a drab looking party. This detail was reportedly confirmed in a previous interview with the game’s writer, Neil Druckmann:
“Now when I was writing it I was writing it I was writing it with the idea that Ellie is gay, and when the actresses were working they were definitely working with the idea that they’re both attracted to each other. That was the subtext and intention that they were playing with from the opening cinematic when they’re holding each other’s hands for too long, or when Riley bites her on the neck; there’s that chemistry there from the get go that was important for us so that we earned that moment when they kissed each other. So that it wasn’t just out of the blue but also wasn’t so overt that you’re like “Oh of course. Just get on with it.”
While this detail isn’t likely to be consequential to the story at large, it’s always nice to see displays of inclusion in a big blockbuster title. The Last of Us Part II has no release date as of this writing.
What’s the story so far? Spoilers for part I ahead
As the name implies, this is a sequel to Naughty Dog’s 2013 PlayStation 3 exclusive. That game was eventually remastered for the PlayStation 4. The Last of Us is an adventure game that features stealth and shooting mechanics at the core of its gameplay.
There’s also a survival horror element to it, with much of the player’s path being blocked by ghastly looking things called Clickers. These beings are actually humans who have been infected with a deadly strain of the cordyceps viral strain, a virus which makes them cannibalistic and mutates their bodies.
Players control Joel (voiced by Troy Baker), whose life was turned upside down when military soldiers came and shot his daughter at the onset of the outbreak. Joel had to live decades with the pain until a girl named Ellie (Ashley Johnson) was thrust into his life by a survival group known as the Fireflies. They tasked Joel with helping to smuggle Ellie from within a quarantined zone to their hideout.
Reason being? Ellie is actually infected, but instead of turning in three days like most of the other folks, she has been symptom-free for three weeks. They believe the cure to the virus lies within her, and they want to perform lethal surgery on her to find it. Joel is unwilling to let Ellie die, however, as he has grown attached to her – perhaps because she helps fill the void left in his heart by his daughter’s death.
Long story short, they eventually escape, and that’s where The Last Of Us II will pick up. In actuality, about five years have passed between the events of the original game and the sequel.
What’s happening in Part II?
Not much is known about the events that will unfold in The Last of Us Part II at this time, though we do know that Ellie and Joel are returning, with players controlling the former this time around. It’s also said to have an overarching theme of hate in stark contrast to the first game’s emphasis on love. Hint: Ellie is pretty grown up (19 years old), and she’s the one who’s pissed off now.
We also know it’ll be a much darker game in tone, and that it’ll double down on the whole cannibalism angle. The two trailers we’ve gotten about the game so far have been unrevealing in regards to the story, but considering there are still hordes of infected threatening the unnamed characters we can at least assume that a cure was never found.
Joining Joel and Ellie are a bundle of new characters, too. Victoria Grace is playing Yara, Ian Alexander will play Lev, and there will be a guest appearance from Emily Swallow as Emily. Laura Bailey is also confirmed to have a significant role in the story with a yet-to-be-named character. And at least part of the game is taking place in Seattle, Naughty Dog confirmed.
Naughty Dog hasn’t yet revealed much about The Last of Us Part II’s gameplay. We can at least expect similarities to the first title, which featured a third-person shooter base with stealth and survival elements. Players can shoot, of course, but there’s also a crafting system for making tools, weapons, and consumables that you’ll need throughout the game.
You can also expect cooperative mechanics that’ll require the teamwork of both Ellie and the unnamed NPC companion that’ll tag along with you in some missions, puzzles that’ll need to be solved before you can move through an area, and more. It’s also confirmed that a multiplayer component will be returning for the sequel.
When can you play it?
Unfortunately, a release date for The Last of Us Part II has yet to be set. Sony will likely reveal more information at E3 2018. It’s possible the game could launch later this year or in early 2019, with recent murmurings suggesting Naughty Dog was as far as 60% into its development in December 2017. Don’t get your hopes up, however, because mum is still the word.
We’ll be updating this page with new details about The Last of Us Part II as they come in. Be sure to check back often for the latest!
Updated July 2018: We’ve updated this post to ensure the earliest days of Ellie’s musings are accurately represented
- PS4 vs. PS4 Slim vs. PS4 Pro: Which should you buy?
- PlayStation VR Review
- Playing PS4 games through your phone is awesome
There’s a lot going on with the Google Assistant — let’s break down the important stuff.
In May 2016, we got our very first taste of the Google Assistant with the debut of Allo. The Assistant was a big draw to Allo at the time, with Google marketing it as a helpful bot that could make restaurant reservations, search the web, and more within your conversations.
Since then, the Assistant has gained heaps of new features and expanded to smartphones, tablets, speakers, and more. Google’s shown no interest in slowing down development for the Assistant, meaning that it’s likely here for the long-haul.
Whether this is your first encounter with it or you just need a quick refresher, here’s everything you need to know about the Google Assistant.
The latest Google Assistant news
July 26, 2018 — Dutch is now an officially supported language
Good news, Dutch speakers! As of July 26, 2018, Google’s confirmed that the Google Assistant now speaks Dutch as one of its official languages.
Assuming you’ve got an Android phone running Marshmallow or later, you can now access the Assistant to ask it questions about the weather, create calendar appointments, control smart home devices, and more.
In addition to your phone, you’ll also be able to use Dutch on the Google Home later in the year once the smart speaker goes on sale in the Netherlands.
July 17, 2018 — New Google Assistant page shows commute times, packages, upcoming flights, and more
Starting today, the Assistant on your phone is getting a big visual overhaul. After prompting the Assistant, tap the icon near the top right that previously opened up the Explore page for finding new Assistant actions and it’ll now show a visual overview of your day.
Similar to old Google Now cards, this page shows things like your commute to work, the current weather, upcoming flights, packages that are on their way from recent online orders, calendar appointments, and much more.
In the near future, Google says it’ll let you see a quick overview of notes/lists from Google Keep, Todoist, Bring!, and more, a discovery page that’ll help you find nearby events/activities, reminders of where you last parked your car, and recommendations for songs and podcasts the Assistant thinks you’ll like.
This new interface is rolling out today and is available on Android and iOS for all languages the Assistant supports.
All the important details
Google Now paved the way for Google Assistant
The Google Now page compared to the new Google Feed.
Before there was the Google Assistant, we had Google Now. Google Now was introduced to the world all the way back in 2012, offering contextual info through the Google Now page and helpful answers to random questions with an “OK Google” voice command.
A lot of what made Google Now so great can still be found in the Google Assistant today, with the exception of the Google Now page. The Google Now page used to be home to cards showcasing the weather, information on packages that had shipped from online orders, boarding passes, and more. It’s since been replaced by the Google Feed – a collection of news stories Google thinks you’ll be interested in – and it’s definitely the biggest departure between the two services.
The Google Assistant as a whole is still more powerful than Google Now ever was, but long-time Android users like myself are still mourning the loss of that Now page. RIP, old friend.
Read more: Google Now is being left to wither and die as Google Assistant takes the focus
It’s available on just about everything
In just a few short years, the Google Assistant’s gone from being exclusive to a now-failed chat app to being integrated into just about anything you can think of.
You’ll find Google Assistant built right into most Android phones, it’s the star of the show for the Google Home lineup, and it’s even making its way into sound bars.
Here’s the full list of devices with Google Assistant
Setting up the Google Assistant is as easy or complex as you want
When you set up a device for the first time that has the Assistant, getting started is pretty simple. Accessing it is just a voice command or tap away depending on what gadget you’re using, but if you want to really fine-tune your experience, Google’s got you covered.
Take a quick dive into your Assistant settings and you’ll find options for just about everything – including your weather preferences, changing the Assistant’s voice, retraining your voice model, picking out preferred news sources, and much more.
How to set up and customize Google Assistant
Google Assistant is available in multiple regions and languages
Of course, a smart voice assistant isn’t any good if you can’t actually use it. Fortunately, Google Assistant will be available in 52 countries —adding 38 countries this year — and 17 languages by the end of 2018.
More: Google Assistant will expand to 38 countries and 17 languages in 2018
Google Home’s the premier way to get the Assistant in your house (at least for now)
It’s great to have the Google Assistant on your phone, but if you want to truly experience just how helpful it can be, you’ll want to consider picking up a Google Home.
Google Home is Google’s line of smart speakers that put the Assistant on full-display, allowing you to control smart devices, ask random questions, set timers, play music, and more by just using your voice.
You can spend as little as $49 for the Google Home Mini, $129 for the original Google Home, or a whopping $399 for the Google Home Max.
However, as great as the Home series is, don’t forget that Smart Displays are just on the horizon.
Announced at CES 2018, Smart Displays are essentially smart speakers with the Google Assistant and a touch screen display that can show you helpful visuals when talking to them. It’s basically Google’s answer to the Amazon Echo Show and Echo Spot, and we can’t wait to see more from them.
Everything you need to know about Google’s Home speakers
Then again, is an always-listening speaker the right fit for your home?
However, the convenience of a Google Home (or any smart speaker for that matter) does come at the cost of privacy. Speakers like the Google Home are “always listening”, meaning they’re constantly on the lookout for a hot word to know when you’re talking to it (such as “Ok, Google” and “Hey, Google”).
This means the microphone on a Google Home is always active, but it’s not necessarily storing all the audio it hears when it doesn’t detect its hot word.
Most all speakers allow you to restore some privacy by being able to mute the microphone, but if you want to start asking the Assistant questions, you’ll need to unmute it first.
To learn more about these “always listening” speakers, I’ll pass the mic over to Jerry
Big upgrades are coming to the Assistant on Wear OS
Switching gears for a second, the Google Assistant on Wear OS (formerly Android Wear) is about to get a big upgrade.
In the near future, the Assistant on Wear OS will support Assistant Actions (basically apps for the Assistant) and give you the option to hear its responses through your watch’s speaker or a pair of connected Bluetooth headphones.
Along with this, Google will be adding something called “smart suggestions.” After asking the Assistant for the weather, for example, you’ll see little bubbles for “weather tonight”, “use celsius”, and more so you can continue the conversation with just the tap of your finger. Google Assistant on Android offers something similar, and it’s a great tool to have.
IFTTT supercharges the Assistant’s usefulness
IFTTT (If This Then That) is a powerful online tool that allows you trigger something (that) if a certain event (this) happens. You can connect IFTTT to the Google Assistant to create your own recipes using this formula, and it can allow for some incredibly helpful combinations.
Some of our favorite uses for IFTTT and the Assistant include adding contacts to your Google account, setting your Google Calendar status to Busy for a certain period of time, and much, much more.
Getting started with IFTTT can take some time and patience if you’re new to it, but once you’re all set up and ready to go, it can prove to be a lifesaver.
How to connect Google Home and IFTTT to do amazing things with your connected tech
You’ll get the same experience no matter what devices you use
With so many devices capable of running the Assistant, it’d be easy to think that the experience you get on one gadget would be different from another. This is something that Google struggled with for a while at first, but we’re finally in a position where the Assistant experience you get on a smart speaker, for example, is the same you’ll get on your phone.
There are a handful of features here and there that still create for some discrepency, but for the most part, the Assistant you use on your Pixel 2 is the same one found on Google Home.
Google Home and Google Assistant finally offer the same experience
Google Duplex is actually going to be a thing
Google showed off Duplex — Google Assistant making natural-sounding phone calls on your behalf — at I/O 2018, but quickly noted that it was just an experiment. Flash forward a couple months, and Google announced that certain users have started testing Duplex, and a public release will be here in the next few months. Before you know it, Google Assistant will be able to book hotels, dinner reservations, hair appointments and more without you lifting a finger.
More: What is Google Duplex?
Updated July 2018: Added the Google Duplex and language support sections, as well as links to recent Assistant news.