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Life With the Pixel XL 2: Mostly Good, Often Awesome

After a decade of making smartphones, I am sure that new refinements will be ahead - I am especially waiting for non-lithium batteries to come along - but, overall, it's hard to imagine a phone more refined than what the Pixel XL 2 offers. This is not to say that there aren't other great flagship phones, and yes, the OnePlus series of phones gives you great value. If you doubt this, then check out +Marques Brownlee's recent blind comparison test of leading smartphone cameras - basically a dead-heat finish for all of the leaders, including the Pixel XL 2.

Battery life? Not having "range anxiety" on a daily basis for my phone battery certainly frees up a lot of worry and attention that would otherwise be frittered away on dying battery charging strategies - often with less-than-ideal chargers. Even on a day when I am using media and navigation apps like crazy, I can go sunup to bedtime without a charge, with no problem. That's awesome.

The camera just snaps, instantly, again and again. Period. Quality is indeed excellent, and although I am just beginning to muss with Portrait Mode, it looks like a winning new feature.

The fingerprint sensor is very similar to the Nexus 5X, and it is completely problem free in use so far. Programming in multiple fingers makes an easy grab from pretty much any angle easy-peasy - including in the car.

Night Light is an awesome feature, I've had individal apps with this before, but doing the whole phone in this mode does seem to improve my sleep patterns. Easy on/off from the settings icons, or from Google Assistant.

Squeeze for Google Assistant is great, and saves me the dueling "OK, Google" syndrome when in the room with a Google Home appliance. It's also a bit more socially polite, it seems. With my clamping phone mount in the auto, no problem - squeezing still works once mounted.

The only thing that I am not super-happy with so far are folder icons. Whereas before I was seeing at least one icon in a folder large enough to see it clearly, now you see four tiny icons, so all of the folders at a glance look pretty much the same. Not a painful thing, but annoying.

And Chrome browser icons saved to desktop seem to be sketchy at best in translating to useful icons. Facebook managed this easily enough, but other sites that used to have usable icons have none, so far.

That's pretty much it. Long story short, I look forward to a few years of mostly not thinking about my phone, and just using it. Thanks, Dad - nice graduation gift.
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If true, based on a parts template, then it looks like the Pixel 3 might be going to a dual camera setup. Or something. I think that I will wait until we get a non-lithium ion battery for my next phone, which should be in a few years...
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Google Pixel 2 XL: Meeting Expectations

Nice graduation present, by any measure. With the recent Project Fi OTA update for Android 7.1.1 my Nexus 6 was actually pretty well behaved, but a look at the storage-o-meter told me that this would be short-lived, at best - and many of its downfalls remained unaddressed. So a FedEx box tucked at the end of my driveway with a new Pixel XL 2 was timely, to say the least.

Unboxing was fine, startup was...bumpy. The Project Fi network no longer requires a SIM card for its phones (uses the secure chip to store network ID data), and you'd think that would be easy-peasy, but the directions turned out to be vague just where you wouldn't want them to be. It went fine, soon enough, but it was not frictionless.

Data transfer was also kind of a quandary. The setup prompted me to install the cable with the USB-C adapter to my old phone, but the transfer never worked. Which makes sense, because my data is backed up in Google automatically. Why prompt me, then? The whole sequence was kind of higgledy-jiggledy,

But eventually, my apps downloaded, my data synced, and I was up and running on the 2 XL. First impression: nice. Not like, "Wow, the most amazing phone on the planet" nice, but, then again, that's not why I bought it. I want a phone that has a chance to last me four or five years without a lot of problems or storage issues. So far, I am using only 14 percent of the 128GB of storage available, so I am optimistic that this will work out well, especially with promises of three years of upgrades.

I slapped on a clear Casemate case even before booting up, and it seems to do the job. I think that smart phones in general are not very glamourous looking, but this case at least shows of the panda black-and-white back that has a nice look, FWIW. Access to buttons is unimpeded, and the squeeze functions of the Pixel are not affected by it.

The screen size is similar to the Nexus 6, but a tad taller and narrower - and, with the new Date/Time/Weather banner at the top of the home screen, this means that you lose one row of icons. So, be prepared to jiggle your home screen a bit, especially if you're using widgets. However, the tray now has room for an extra icon, so for my purposes it turned out to be a bit of a wash.

So, after lassoing icons into folders for the better part of an hour, my home screen is fairly comfortable, now. The fingerprint reader instruction were a bit vauge, but on the second try I realized that you just tap, wait, etc., and it is actually an easier and more reliable setup than, way, the Nexus 5x. Easy to set up a second finger, also. Still sorting out security, etc.

Now, for the "awright" things. First, the speakers. They pump much better volume than the Nexus 6 front-shouters,, and the stereo sound has more crispness and depth. Much more listenable, which will be nice for movies, podcasts, and ambient sound. Also on this list: fast up-from-nothing charging. It tops off slowly, to preserve battery life, but getting up to the first 75 percent of charge is quite quick. I am expecting this to be an effortlessly all-day phone.

Also on the "hey yeah" parade is the tap-to-zoom feature, which works on any screen. Love it, and I look forward to it making driving more safe. And the overall performance is fast, silky smooth, and everything that you would expect from a brand-spanking-new premium phone. Yeah, that'll change, but for now, it's nice to be in a mode where phone performance is not messing things up.

And the camera is very, very nice, as advertised, though the motion capture thing is a bit of a mystery to me so far. Some quick snaps of one of our cats was rendered in Google Photos as a mini-movie, but downloads as a still. Zoom quality is decent. Much more experimenting ahead...

Finally, thank goodness for USB-C charging. The connectors will not fall out as old style USB connectors do. As a plus, I noticed that whilst it was docked to try to transfer data from the Nexus 6, the N6 was getting a good charge to boot. Awesome. Knew that this was coming, but it can simplify life when you have an old-skool USB device that needs a quick boost.

So yes, that's it for new-shiny phones for a long time, but I am quite content, and very grateful.

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Saying Goodbye to the Nexus 6

Old phones don't die (generally) - they just don't get turned on again.

After three years of rugged use, it's time to say goodbye to my Nexus 6 Project Fi phone. I got it as a gift, in part because of wanting to save money on Fi (I did save a boatload!), and in part because I needed a screen big enough to read ebooks and PDFs comfortably while in school. And, having had nothing but Nexus phones since the Nexus One back in January, 2010, it had to be pure Google. No bloatware and messed-up updates, please.

Missions accomplished. The screen of the Nexus 6 is a beauty, and its decent front-facing stereo speakers also made kick-back time with media very enjoyable. Being the first phone on Project Fi, the Qualcomm chipset was only "meh" for managing the shift between Sprint, T-Mobile and Wifi in key spots, but overall I couldn't complain about the phone performance. The camera is good - not perfect, but overall it has taken many great photos.

And it has been a rugged phone. That monster crack in the screen is only about six months old. Considering how many times this phone went skidoodling across parking lots, down stairs, and you name it, it has been a very rugged phone. The Casemate case provided by Fi absorbed oils from my hand like a paper towel, but for ruggedness, it is hard to beat.

Things I won't miss: being stuck with 32GB of storage. I have eked out more life from that storage by removing apps and media, but I am always running up to limits that affect performance. A skotch more RAM memory would have helped, too, as the phone deals with increasingly memory-hungry apps demanding ever more sophisticated alerts. That's the nature of modern phones - they're like automobiles in the 1960s, planned obsolescence in the name of "progress" - read: profits.

Also on the buh-bye list: USB cables that fall out again, and again, and again...I am hopeful that USB-C connectors will provide a more reliable connection. Without having to guess which end is up in the dark.

Coming up next: a Pixel XL 2, my graduation gift. It comes with three years of upgrades, and 128 GB of storage, so I am hopeful that I can eke out at least four or five years with this one. Will key you in on out-of-the-box impressions when it arrives later this week. Thanks, "old paint" - it's been a good run. Thank you for letting me not think about my hardware any more than I had to...
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Android TV Finally Getting Donglish

How many years ago was it that I suggested at the first Google TV Ambassadors meeting at Google that they should ditch TV settop boxes and focus on a dongle for cord-cutters? Too many years - enough to make Roku And Apple TV the market segment leader. The Chromecast fills that gap partially, but for my smartphone-phobic wife, the lack of a remote makes it a nonstarter for phasing out cable for YouTube TV.

Now, at I/O 2018, a new developers' version Android TV promises to start filling the gap that Nexus Player filled only partially. It's shaped like a Chromecast, so speculation runs high that Chromecasts are now end-of-life. Maybe, but given that the newest models support 4K TV streaming, it is more probable that they stick around as entry point devices.

I look forward to some great apps for this new device!
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A Kinder, Gentler Google: Reflections on I/O 2018

Pretty please, Google. Please be more human and humane.

Google has always struggled to balance its hyper-geekish machine culture with a vision that is ultimately about connecting people with the world. Often, it has failed to get its human side out in front of its competition such as Amazon, which has had to treat people like customers from day one of its operations.

But now, thanks to Google's staggering mastery of Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies, so advanced that they now need to cool their rack-mounted computers like the supercomputers they've become, Google is now astounding the world with more human services that amaze and delight people.

Google CEO +Sundar Pichai summed up Google's broader corporate goals in his I/O 2018 keynote speech. He called some of their key focus points "digital wellbeing" - understanding our habits, helping us to focus on what matters to us, helping us to relax instead of being constantly plugged in, and finding a balance between technology reliance and human relationships.

In other words, Google wants us to forget about machines, and to think about how we actually want to live lives as human beings. At least that's the pitch. Some are not so happy about this - +Mike Elgan, for example, is kind of cranky about the new feature of Google Home that rewards people who are polite speakers with polite feedback (Mike, anything that can train people to be more civil is a good thing, IMO).

And to be sure, the "soft" side of Google made for a lot less razzle-dazzle I/O event than the hardware-intensive events of the past had ginned up. There was a fleeting announcement of smart displays equipped with Google Home-style Assistance features, but, overall, the big focus on hardware came from Alphabet's Waymo self-driving car division, where the main user benefit appeared to be being bored enough with the technology that you can sleep while it's doing its thing.

Instead, the main focus was on what AI could do to understand humans - and respond to them - in a more lifelike and fun matter. The demo of a robot assistant making a phone call to make a haircut appointment was simple, but staggering. Knowing that it was a machine, you could find a touch of programmed humanness in the voice's conversation with a hair salon employee, but, overall, it was a machine having a conversation like a human in a very natural way.

Google Assistant's improved responses and more human voices (John Legend, anyone?) are also an indication that AI is moving at a far faster pace than the typical smart phone, laptop or tablet is advancing. There's only so much "wow" that you can package into a consumer appliance, and so the Google Home style of advanced technology - super-cheap voice interface device, connecting to a super-advanced cloud computing array - is how computing is serving people better today.

I am not saying that the next Google Pixel phone may not be a nice device to own in its own way, but the era in which individual computing will have a strong benefit compared to collective computing is drawing to a close. It is more important and beneficial in general for people to be connected, and Google is taking full advantage of its strengths to push that trend forward. Apple will continue to stroke the egos of status-seekers, but the new cool is mostly cheap, simple, and available to billions of people everywhere - from a friendly Google super-computing centre near you.
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This is a major cool-io.

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It's not that the new Gmail look is underwhelming- I like it, and it incorporates some of the nicer things that Inbox users have enjoyed for a while. Think of Inbox as an extended beta for what Gmail could become for the bajillion people who use it daily. That's all well and good.

My main thought is, what took Google soooo long to re-embrace Hangouts as a messaging platform? The post-Gundotra corporate stigma against having anything to do with Google+ derived social media tools really hurt Google's ability to make it a default player in messaging. Too bad. But better late than never.
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Rumors: Expected Pixel 3 is not for U.S./EU markets

OK, I get it, Google is trying - trying - to establish brand value in developing markets (hopefully with a version of social media communications that appeals to those markets). But when 85 percent of teens in U.S. markets using phones are using iPhones, according to recent research, what is Google doing to ensure that Google phones endure as the choice of new generations of mobile users? Hopefully we find out. Google seems to have a harder time hooking up with younger generations than it's willing to let on...
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