Google unveiled its fancy new Pixel phone during a press event on Tuesday. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s an impressive handset, with VR capabilities, a fast-charging battery, supposedly the best-ever phone camera, a super-smart AI assistant and Android 7.1. It’s also the harbinger of death for the current line of Google Nexus smartphones.
As soon CEO Sundar Pichai announced the Pixel on-stage, Google set about scrubbing listings for the Nexus 5X and 6P from its online store. If you want to buy one of them direct from Google now, you’re out of luck. You can however still get one through Google Fi if you don’t mind switching carriers. So what are consumers who have recently purchased these phones (*raises hand*) to do? Does the introduction of the Pixel mean that Nexus owners are on their own, hemmed in by a Nougat 7.0 ceiling, relegated to the technological sidelines until our service contracts expire and we’re free to upgrade?
Turns out, the situation isn’t quite as dire as I feared. Per Google, the company will continue to support existing handsets (think: customer service, software updates and the like), but the company has no plans to build any more Nexus-branded products.
Although there are definitely some features that will remain exclusive to the Pixel handsets themselves, a Google rep told me that a number of them will eventually spread to the rest of the Android ecosystem. Assistant, for example, will start off as a Pixel exclusive and probably won’t be porting to other devices any time soon. Daydream VR support, though, will be available on day one for any Android device new enough to accept the Nougat 7.1 upgrade.
All told, the Pixel will ship with the following exclusives: the Pixel launcher, Google Assistant, screen sharing and various UI/wallpaper tweaks. It will also be the only one to offer the Pixel camera (obvs) as well as Smart Storage, and unlimited space on Google Photos. Plus the Pixel is the first Android phone to offer a quick switch adapter that ports content from your old phone, so of course that’s an exclusive too. Again, some of these features will eventually find their way to other phones, some will not. It depends on a litany of marketing and technological factors so Google isn’t publicly saying what or when just yet.
That said, our Nexuses are not chopped liver. When Nougat 7.1 arrives, you can look forward to a slew of new software features. These include Night Light, touch and display performance improvements, Daydream VR mode and a new manual storage manager that will allow users to see which apps are using the most onboard memory. The update will also enable Moves: an opt-in gesture-based feature that will open or close the notifications slider.
So, no, Nexus owners aren’t going to get Assistant or a fancy new camera — those are the perks of riding the early-adopter train — but we’re not being left in the wilds to fend for ourselves either. Plus, no matter which handset you have, Nougat 7.1 is going to give us VR and that’s something everyone can get excited about.
Managing editor Dana Wollman and senior editor Devindra Hardawar join host Terrence O’Brien to dig through all the big Google news from the week, including the launch of the Pixel phones. Plus they take a brief detour to talk about what makes the PlayStation VR better than its competitors.
The Flame Wars Leaderboard
- With Assistant, Google is becoming a lot more like Apple
- Google’s ‘Assistant’ is at the core of its new hardware
- Google baked its AI ‘Assistant’ into the new Pixel phones
- A look back at Google’s Android flagships: the Nexus family
- Google’s play for the living room starts with Home
- Google’s AI-powered ‘Home’ hub ships next month for $129
- PlayStation VR review: Great games outweigh limited specs
- With the Pixel line, Google finally takes control of its phones
You can check out every episode on The Engadget Podcast page in audio, video and text form for the hearing impaired.
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Android purists have always had the same response to new smartphone announcements from the likes of HTC, Samsung or LG. “I’ll just wait for the next Nexus.” And why not? For years, Google’s Nexus line served both as its official flagship products and as public reference devices for the latest in Android phones and tablets. Now, Google has replaced the brand with a new top dog: the Pixel. At first blush, it’s everything users loved about the Nexus line and more — but before we close the casket on Google’s first series of smartphones, let’s look back and talk about what made the Nexus brand so special.
For the uninitiated, the Nexus line could often be described as “Google’s iPhone,” but the truth was more complicated than that. Unlike Apple, the folks in Mountain View didn’t dictate every aspect of the device’s design — choosing instead to farm out the hardware part of the Nexus equation to a series of different manufacturers. Nexus devices have been designed and built by Asus, Huawei, HTC, Motorola, LG and Samsung. All of them were top of the line (or least great bang for the buck) at their launches. But, physically they share almost nothing in common. Google’s choice to partner with different manufacturers for each model made every Nexus unique. Not every design was a hit with fans, but the appeal of a Nexus phone wasn’t necessarily the hardware. It was software.
Buying a Nexus was a way to get the “pure” Android experience — a smartphone unsullied by manufacturer- or carrier-specific features and tweaks. If you bought a phone from Samsung, for instance, you’d either have to get used to its TouchWiz customization layer or be clever enough to flash a custom ROM to the device. Nexus phones were almost always the first devices to get updates too. Buying a Nexus meant no longer waiting months for the latest version of Android to arrive. It didn’t just take updates out of the authority of phone carriers either: Google sold Nexus phones directly to the customer. No subsidies, no contracts, just great smartphones for a good price. For phone and tablet users who wanted to be on the bleeding edge, it was a dream come true — but the brand wasn’t perfect.
In 2012, Google’s Nexus line had its first legitimate flop with the Nexus Q, an odd, media-streaming ball that simply didn’t do enough to justify it’s price. For $299, the Q streamed movies, music and TV over a myriad of high-quality connection options — but it was severely limited. Content had to be on Google’s servers to work, and more robust functionality could be had for less with the $99 Apple TV. Google quietly pulled the Q from market, eventually replacing it with the (much cheaper) Chromecast.
Earlier this year, Google started pushing for more control over the hardware aspect of the devices — aiming to create a phone that was wholly Google. Today, we know that device as the Pixel. It still has stock Android. We can still count on it to be a high-quality device. It’s almost everything we ever loved about the Nexus line… but today, a small piece of Google’s old identity dies. There’s still an extremely small chance we’ll see the name resurface in the form of a tablet, but in case we don’t — here’s to you, Nexus. You had good run.
You may be wondering why Google appears to be going with HTC for this year’s Pixel phones instead of Huawei. Wasn’t the Nexus 6P a rousing success? Apparently, Huawei and Google aren’t getting along quite as well as you might think. An Android Police source understands that Huawei bristled at Google’s plan to take more control over its Android hardware, which included erasing any mentions of the phone builder’s name. Huawei wanted a larger footprint in the US, and it wasn’t going to get that by being reduced to a contract manufacturer.
The decision to back out wasn’t helped by trouble with the Nexus 6P launch, according to the tipster. Google had originally promised deals with all four big US carriers, but that never happened. Talks broke down, and the grand launch (which would have included a “multi-hundred-million dollar” ad strategy) was reduced to sales through Google and Huawei stores. Neither this nor the Pixel problem appears to have permanently soured the relationship between the companies (there may even be a Huawei-made Google phone in 2017), but Huawei would undoubtedly be frustrated.
The incidents may be hints of a broader problem with Huawei’s US division. Reportedly, the only device to get any significant traction is the cheap-but-capable Honor 5X. The GX8 (which shares ties with the Honor phone) has seen virtually no sales, while the MateBook is an “absolute flop.” There are hints that Huawei ousted most of its American leadership and has otherwise gone through major management changes in a bid to turn things around.
We’ve asked Huawei for comment on the report. Whether or not the Google stories are accurate, though, it’s no secret that Huawei hasn’t had the best time in the US. Outside of the Nexus 6P and Huawei Watch, the company doesn’t have much stateside recognition or a fiercely competitive lineup. Unlocked phones (beyond Google’s lineup) don’t garner nearly as much attention as their carrier-bound counterparts, and it’s hard to argue for the MateBook when the Surface Pro 4 is both better-known and better-built. In short, it’s not enough to show up — Huawei has to demonstrate that it compete with its biggest rivals on their home turf.
Source: Android Police
Along with its leak of the 4K Chromecast earlier today, VentureBeat is showing off this picture that it says is of Google’s upcoming Pixel phone. Along with the larger Pixel XL, it’s expected to be the successor to previous Nexus devices, with a 5-inch 1080p screen and 32GB of storage onboard. A potential $649 starting price is also raising eyebrows, but previous leaks from Android Police indicate that the most notable feature will be software built to maximize Google’s new Assistant AI.
We’re expecting to find out all of these details and more at Google’s October 4th event, as well as news about a new router and Google Home. Of course, if you just can’t wait, third parties like Nova Launcher and Action Launcher have already pushed out updates that can give your phone the Pixel look, if not its tight Google integration.
In just a couple of weeks, we could have our first official look at Google’s renamed flagship phones, so brace yourself for leaks and unofficial revelations. Take for instance, these images posted by Android Police. They apparently show the Pixel and the Pixel XL, and they do look like the computer render of the phone that leaked earlier, as well as the device Nest used in a new commercial.
If legit, then the big G’s latest devices resemble the phones its staunchest rival is known for. Before anyone starts hurling copycat accusations, though, take note that HTC developed the Pixels, and the Taiwanese manufacturer has been using a similar design for its previous models. When it comes to Apple and HTC, there’s been a lot of discussion about who copied whom over the years.
In the photo of the phones’ backside above, you can see a fingerprint sensor in the middle of the shinier, glass-like section. You can also see a snapshot of the phones’ screens with their thick bezels below. As always, take these leaked images with a grain of salt — you’ll only have to wait a bit more before the actual reveal anyway.
[Image credit: Anonymous Alligator/Android Police]
Via: Droid Life
Source: Android Police
Why wait for Google’s rumored Pixel / not-Nexus phones, when you could use some of their software right now? The latest release of Action Launcher has arrived, and it cribs some of the features noted in Android Police’s leak of the software Google is apparently preparing for its Android devices. According to its developer Chris Lacy, the new release is entirely inspired by the leaks. The reason? As soon as Google makes a change, many of his users request similar features in Action Launcher, but this time, he’s getting out ahead of the curve.
I’ve been trying out the latest version of the app and honestly, I still think the QuickBar widget that brought apps to the search bar is more useful than the Google Search button / weather widget / swipe up dock combo. There are also “Nougat-inspired” outlined folder presets, and the folders themselves can get backgrounds that match your wallpaper. Lacy figures Google will eventually move on from this UI too (remember when it pushed Lollipop tweaks to older devices via the Google Now launcher?), but at least this way you can give it an early shot.
Along with the other new tweaks, it’s available now in the Play Store, but unlocking everything takes a $5 in-app purchase.
Source: The Blerg, Action Launcher (Google Play)
The answer to the question of what Google will call its next Nexus phones may turn out to be not Nexus at all. Android Central first reported a name change last week, while tonight Android Police notes sources saying there will be two devices, one 5-inch phone called the Pixel and a 5.5-inch phone called the Pixel XL. More importantly, it also has a date (seconding a previous report by Droid-Life) for their debut: October 4th.
The rest of the rumor concerns other hardware, including an upgraded Chromecast ready for 4K video called the Chromecast Plus or Ultra, and a new Daydream VR headset that Google announced during I/O 2016. Finally, it’s also expecting the company to fully detail its Google Home efforts, although other details on prices or release dates are still unknown. Google has not yet commented on these reports or confirmed a date, but we’ll keep our calendars open all the same.
Source: Android Police
After a surprise debut and months of previews, Android 7.0 Nougat is ready for primetime. The broad strokes haven’t changed since we first met Nougat back in March (when it was just “Android N”), which means it’s still not the game-changer of an update some people have been hoping for. Instead, what we got was a smattering of big (and overdue) features mixed with lower-level changes that make Android more elegant. That might not make for the most viscerally exciting update, but that doesn’t make Nougat any less valuable or useful.
Before we go any further, let’s get on the same page about a few things. Yes, it might be a while before you get your OTA Nougat update. Yes, that wait will stretch out even longer if you’re not using Nexus hardware. Carriers and OEMs are keeping mum about their specific Nougat update plans, but if you do have a Nexus device, you can enroll it in the Android Beta program and install a full-fledged Android 7.0 build.
The first taste
I hope you weren’t looking of a dramatic revamp of Android’s stock look and feel — that definitely wasn’t in the cards for this first release. (Bigger interface changes might come with the launch of Google’s new Nexus devices, which will probably sport a sleek new launcher.) In fact, once you’re dumped onto your homescreen, you might notice anything new at all. That changes very quickly as you start to swipe around.
For all that Google has added to the Android formula in this release, there are two features that fundamentally changed how I used my Nexus. The first, dull as it might seem, is an improved take on notifications. In prior versions of Android, notifications would fill up the pull-down shade and just sort of sit there until you interacted with them. Then, pfft — they’d disappear. Nougat, however, does a much better job of bundling them up by app and let you get things done.
In the midst of writing this paragraph, two new emails popped up in my inbox. On a Marshmallow device, all I could do is tap on the notification to jump into Gmail and see what people were asking me. Fine. Under Nougat, though, I can expand that notification to see the full sender names and subject lines of a handful of my recent emails. Another tap lets me see the first few sentences of the email and (more importantly) archive or reply without ever jumping into another app. Google’s own apps all play nice with these expanded notifications, and other apps crucial for my life — like Slack, mostly — do the same. Even better, you can manage notifications for individual apps just by long-pressing one of their notifications. Your mileage may vary, but these changes have become crucial to me.
Then there’s split-screen multitasking, a feature that’s a big deal for big phones and gives Android tablets an extra edge. Here’s how it works: if you’re in a compatible app, you can long-press the Recent or Overview key (also known as “that square one”) to squeeze it into the top half of your display. The bottom half is taken up by the usual view of recent apps, and tapping one finagles it into the remaining free space. (If you’re working on a tablet, replace “top” and “bottom” with “left” and “right”.) In my experience, most apps worked in their diminutive forms pretty well. Sometimes they will make a fuss and proclaim they “might not work” properly running in a reduced size, but they’re usually fine — you’ll just notice some kludginess while apps try to figure out how to operate with such limited room.
Just for giggles, I ran Shazam in one window and Spotify in another, and wouldn’t you know it? The former could easily tell the latter was pumping out some Jacques Loussier. It’s a silly example, certainly, but it worked despite Shazam struggling to render all its interface bits in the right places. In time developers will (hopefully) smooth out the rough edges. The thing is, it can be tricky to work with both windows at the same time. I tried copying a bit of text from a Chrome window to a Hangouts window on the Nexus 6P for instance, and more often than not the necessary pop-up menus never appeared. Check this process out: I made Chrome full-screen, copied the text, went back to the split-screen view and then tried to paste into Hangouts. I didn’t get the pop-up option to do so, though, so I had to make Hangouts full-screen and finally pasted the text.
Of course, some apps don’t even try to adapt to smaller sub-displays. Games that take over the screen and obscure Android’s navigation keys certainly don’t and neither does image-heavy Instagram. When you try to force one of them into split-screen mode, they just sort of balk and refuse. Now, it’s understandable why the examples above don’t allow themselves to be contained in half a window: if they did, the experience would downright suck. What’s more puzzling is why Google didn’t extend this split-screen functionality to its own search app. You can have two Chrome windows working next to each other just fine, but you’re out of luck if you want to glance at info gleaned from Google’s search bar. It’s silly, arbitrary and more than a little annoying.
Thankfully, there are a few subtle features that help mobile multitasking work better. There’s an option to change the display size, for one, which scales everything on-screen up or down. For the people with lousy eyesight, display size can be cranked up three levels. For the folks who want maximum screen real estate, though, there’s a “small” setting below default size that neatly shrinks text, icons and more.
I always hated how big app icons were rendered on the Nexus 6P (one of the actual reasons I stopped using the phone), and this feature just fixed it all for me.
There’s also an option to clear all running apps when you’re sifting through the familiar stack of app cards (just like most other Android skins in recent years). Perhaps the single most useful Nougat addition falls under this category too — you can double-tap the Recents key to jump straight back into the app you were using last. It took maybe an hour for this to become second nature, and as far as I’m concerned, there’s no going back.
Still other handy — though less exciting — features become apparent once you start digging around a little more. Nougat still offers the option of customizing your quick settings options, for instance. They’re arrayed in a 3×3 grid, with extra icons shunted onto another page. For even quicker access to your five most used settings, look to a new bar at the top of the notifications shade. It’s useful enough, especially when you’re in a rush to turn that flashlight or get that WiFi going.
For whatever reason, everyone finds themselves in their device’s settings eventually. Luckily for them, Google finally overhauled it a bit. While the old settings layout was basically just a list of categories you could dive into, the new one peppers the list with really helpful bits of context like remaining battery life, current ringer volume and how many apps were blocked from sending notifications. Settings sections like Display and Battery offer most of the same options, but now you can bring up a navigation sub-menu that lets you jump between those sections. Handy, but easy to miss. The main settings menu also offers suggestions that aren’t really all that helpful. It can tell you about setting up a fingerprint (on compatible devices) and change your wallpaper, but did we really need this? Most of the time Nougat just suggested I add another email account. Thanks, but no thanks.
The revamped Settings page, by the way, is where you’ll find more of Google’s new handiwork. Consider Data Saver, for instance: the feature lets you define which apps can use your data plan without limits and which ones can’t, which is all too handy if you haven’t migrated onto one of those unlimited data plans carriers have started talking up lately. And if you’re one of those fortunate polyglots, Nougat added support for 100 new languages. Maybe more important is how you can now also have multiple languages enabled at the same time, creating what Google calls a “multi-locale” — when Google searching, for instance, you’ll get results back in whatever enabled language you typed your query in.
Then there’s all the other stuff — the smaller changes that help Nougat feel more thoughtful and polished. At long last, you can set different lockscreen and homescreen wallpapers in stock Android. How it took this long to implement, I’ll never understand. There are 72 new emoji here because of course there are! (They’re part of the Unicode 9.0 standard). You can display emergency info like your name, blood type and allergies on your phone’s lockscreen, too, and Android Nougat also allows you to block calls and text messages from specific phone numbers. Oh, and the best part? Those numbers stay blocked across different apps.
Meanwhile, not everything Google planned for Nougat made the final cut. Remember that Night mode that showed up in the first developer preview? Well, it’s gone — sorry, folks. Google apparently chalked its excision up to poorer-than-expected performance, though you can re-enable it pretty easily if the thought of Dark Android does it for you.
Under the wrapper
Just as important in Nougat is all of the stuff you can’t “see”, strictly speaking. These foundational changes aren’t as eye-catching as some of Nougat’s other new features, but they’re more important — and more useful — than you might think. The most obvious of these low-level changes is Doze on the Go, which builds off of a similarly named feature that debuted in Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Think of it as a light sleep — when the device is locked but in motion, a set of rules kicks in that limit what apps can do and restrict their network access. Then, when the device can tell it’s staying put for a while, the original Doze rules from the Marshmallow update kick in, leading to still more restrictions meant to preserve battery life even further. The one-two punch of Doze and Doze on the Go might not blow your mind, but it should still move the needle — my Nexus 6P seemed to gain about an hour or two of standby battery life.
This year’s Android updates also folds in support for Khronos’ Vulkan API, which should make for some seriously good-looking mobile gaming. There’s a dearth of compatible games right now, though; here’s hoping more developers get to pushing performance and graphical limits soon. You might also notice apps installing and launching a little faster than usual, depending on what kind of hardware you’re working with. That’s thanks to Nougat’s just-in-time compiler, which works with existing systems to determine when to compile an app’s code.
The arcane stuff goes on. Encryption has been moved to the file level, which — among other things — means your secured device can boot up and compatible apps can do their thing before you even unlock your gear. It should also mean lower-end phones can be partially encrypted (and run a little better) since full-disk encryption can really screw with performance sometimes. Alas, I didn’t get to try this out on a low-end phone because who knows when Nougat will make it beyond the Nexus playground.
The value of other features won’t be apparent for a while, either. Consider the case of seamless updates: Nougat can support two system partitions, one for handling your day-to-day work and another that can install big software updates that quietly download in the background. Once those updates are installed, you’ll be told that Android will update itself next time it restarts, at which point the device starts using that updated partition (complete with all your stuff). It’s possible that some phone makers will never embrace this feature and existing devices like the Nexus 5X or 6P don’t play nice with it either. But we can at least assume it’ll pop up in this year’s new batch of Nexuses.
Those Nexuses, by the way, are likely to be the first devices to fully embrace features Google revealed at its 2016 I/O developer conference. Nougat ships with a VR mode, for instance, a sort of high-performance system that drives down the time gap between your head’s motion and the image on-screen updating. Neat, certainly, but we’ll get a better sense of the benefits VR mode brings to the table when Google’s Daydream virtual reality platform launches this fall. Meanwhile, we know that Google’s new intelligent Assistant will be baked into the company’s Allo messaging app and the Amazon Echo-like Google Home speaker, but recent evidence suggests it’ll also be made part of Android thanks to an upcoming maintenance release.
After playing with Nougat for a week, one thing has become abundantly clear: Android is smoother, smarter and more elegant than ever. That doesn’t mean it’s completely issue-free — split-screen multitasking isn’t nearly as elegant as it could be and it kind of sucks that seamless software updates won’t happen on older hardware — but the platform’s foundation is in great shape. It’s a good thing, too. The version of Nougat you’re playing with now is just the first step, and you can bet the features we’re really looking forward too, like Daydream and Assistant, will build off of what was wrought in this update. Yes, chances are you’ll have to wait for a taste of Nougat, and yes, that blows. Just know that the improvements here, subtle though they may be, are worth the wait.
Google is killing off its homegrown Device Assist app that helps navigate the ins and outs of certain phones. That means tools like speed tests, settings for battery saving and live tech support are going away in favor of website with tips and tricks. Affected fpolks with Android One, Google Play Edition or Nexus handsets will notice a “detected issue” card within the app, according to Android Police, with a link for Google Support when they try to use the application. It has already been removed from the Play Store, and 9to5Google writes that the app is still semi-functional and that no new tool tips will be added.
Source: Android Police