All posts by Ron Amadeo

Scroogled no more: Gmail won’t scan e-mails for ads personalization

Enlarge / Microsoft's description of Gmail scanning from the "Scroogled" ad campaign. (credit: Microsoft)

Google has announced it will no longer scan e-mail messages for ad personalization. Previously, in the consumer version of Gmail, Google's computers would scan the contents of every e-mail message to determine a relevant ad to show. The scanning "feature" has been turned off for Google Apps for Education and GSuite accounts for some time, but now Google says that "consumer Gmail content will not be used or scanned for any ads personalization after this change."

In its blog post, Google says, "This decision brings Gmail ads in line with how we personalize ads for other Google products. Ads shown are based on users’ settings. Users can change those settings at any time, including disabling ads personalization." Presumably Google means Gmail will now honor the account-wide "Ads personalization" setting, which is available at https://www.google.com/settings/u/0/ads/authenticated.

Gmail's scanning has long drawn ire from the tech community. It was the subject of a lawsuit alleging the the feature violated wiretapping and privacy laws, which eventually resulted in Google turning scanning off for students. Google has also been sued by non-Gmail users over the feature. That lawsuit claims that non-users that e-mail Gmail users should not have their e-mails scanned. The feature has also been the subject of Microsoft's "Scroogled" campaign.

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YouTube’s “VR180” format cuts down on VR video’s prohibitive requirements

Enlarge / Grab a phone, strap in, and start watching VR content.

VidCon, the largest conference for online video creators, took place this week, and YouTube celebrated by announcing a new VR format.

YouTube has supported VR and 360° video for some time, but the format is really hard to do right. The camera rigs are really expensive, and for any kind of clarity, 4K resolution isn't good enough—you need at least an 8K video feed for each eye, which is really hard to record, store, and stream to viewers. 360 video is great for virtually teleporting someone to a location, but it's not an appropriate format for more traditional, structured content with a stage, lighting, and a place you're supposed to be looking at.

To help pull traditional content creators into the VR space, YouTube is launching a new "VR180" format, which is exactly what it sounds like: stereoscopic video, but only in 180 degrees. This cuts the data requirements in half—4K for each eye looks great—and the format should map a lot easier to the existing content most content creators produce, where they can just set up a camera, aim it at a (slightly wider than normal) staged area, and start filming. The new format even supports live streaming.

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Google Glass is apparently back from the dead, starts getting software updates

A man wearing Google Glass. (credit: Google)

Remember Google Glass—Google's ultra-dorky, poorly supported, $1,500 face computer? Conventional wisdom said that the product was dead: it's not sold anymore, the website was more or less shut down in 2015, its Twitter and Facebook were deleted, and the OS stopped receiving updates. But someone at Google apparently still cares about this clunky little headset, and this week the device got both a firmware update and a companion app update.

"XE23" is the new firmware version, the first such update in nearly three years. In addition to the usual "bug fixes and performance improvements," Glass can now make use of paired Bluetooth input devices, like keyboards and mice. Android Police actually dusted off a unit and got the new firmware up and running, discovering that you'll actually get a mouse cursor on the unit if you pair a mouse.

There's also an update to the "MyGlass" app, Google Glass's Android companion app. After three years of rot and a target version of Android 4.2, the app was pretty broken in Android. It's been updated to target Android 5.1, and it now finally has a Notification Listener Service. This allows the app to sync notifications from the phone to the device, just like Android Wear. It's also been updated to prompt the user to disable the battery-saving Doze mode for the app so it can work when the phone is asleep.

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OnePlus 5 review—The best sub-$500 phone you can buy

Smartphone companies don't seem to care about cultivating a true "lineup" of phones. If you aren't spending at least $650, most companies will offer you anonymous, second-rate devices that seem like they've had no thought put into them. With the death of the Nexus line and with Lenovo's continued bungling of Motorola, the "good but not $650" market is slimmer than ever. Enter the OnePlus 5, which continues the company's tradition of offering an all-business, high-end smartphone for a great price.

SPECS AT A GLANCE: OnePlus 5
SCREEN 1920×1080 5.5" (401ppi) AMOLED
OS Android 7.1.1 (Oxygen OS)
CPU Eight-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 (Four 2.35GHz Kyro 280 Performance cores and four 1.90GHz Kyro 280 Efficiency cores)
RAM 6GB or 8GB
GPU Adreno 540
STORAGE 64GB or 128GB
NETWORKING 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 5.0, GPS, NFC
BANDS GSM: 850/900/1800/1900 MHz
WCDMA: Bands 1/2/4/5/8
FDD-LTE: Bands  1/2/3/4/5/7/8/12/17/18/19/ 20/25/26/28/29/30/66TDD-LTE: Bands 38/39/40/41TD-SCDMA: Bands 34/39
CDMA EVDO: BC0
PORTS USB 2.0 Type-C, 3.5mm headphone jack
CAMERA Rear: 16MP main camera, 20MP telephoto camera,

Front: 16MP

SIZE 154.2 x 74.1 x 7.25mm ( x  x in)
WEIGHT 153 g (5.4 oz)
BATTERY 3300 mAh
STARTING PRICE $479 / £449
OTHER PERKS "Dash" charging, three-position physical notification mode switch, fingerprint sensor, notification LED, Dual SIM slots

Today OnePlus is both announcing the OnePlus 5 and lifting the review embargo on the device, which we've had for about two weeks now. $479 (£449) gets you an aluminum-clad pocket computer with a 2.45GHz Snapdragon 835 SoC, 6GB of RAM, 64GB of storage, and a 3,300mAh battery. You still get OnePlus' physical 3-way alert switch, a USB-C port, capacitive buttons with a front-mounted fingerprint reader, and a headphone jack. The phone has two cameras on the back: one 16MP main camera and one 20MP telephoto camera, arranged in the most iPhone-y way possible. Besides the $479 version, there's a more expensive $539 (£499) version, which ups the RAM from 6GB to a whopping 8GB, adds another 64GB of storage for a total of 128GB, and changes the color from "Slate Grey" to "Midnight Black." This more expensive version is the one we tested.

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Hands-on with Chrome’s wild new mobile interface

As phones get bigger and bigger, putting all the controls at the top of the display—Desktop OS style—becomes less and less ergonomic. Phones like the Galaxy S8 Plus have displays that are about six inches tall, so there is no way most people can reach the top of the display one-handed. It's with this in mind that Google is totally rethinking the Chrome mobile design with a new layout that puts all the controls—even the address bar—at the bottom of the screen.

For the past few months, Google has been experimenting with several new layouts, but these have all lived behind special settings flags. The above design just rolled out, by default, to the Chrome "Dev" channel on Android. We expect it to be headed to the Beta and Stable versions once all the bugs get worked out, and it should eventually see a release on iOS.

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Play Store downloads show Google Pixel sales limited to 1 million units

Enlarge / The Google Pixel XL. (credit: Ron Amadeo)

The Google Pixel, Google's first totally self-branded phone, launched about eight months ago. Google declared itself a smartphone OEM and jumped into the world of manufacturing, but while the company's software and optimizations have made the phone a critical success, how have the sales numbers been?

Unlike just about every hardware manufacturer on Earth, Google doesn't share official sales numbers for the Pixel phones, choosing to bundle the income under Alphabet's "Other Revenues" during earnings reports. We do have one very solid signal for Pixel sales, though: the Play Store, which shows install numbers for apps. If there was an app that was exclusive and install-by-default on the Pixel phones, like say, the Pixel Launcher, the install number would basically be the number of sold activated phones.

This calculation is complicated by the fact that Google Play doesn't show exact install numbers; it shows installs in "tiers" like "100,000-500,000." So most of the time, we won't have an exact Pixel sales number—except when the Pixel Launcher crosses from one download tier to another. So guess what just happened? The Pixel Launcher just crossed into the "1,000,000-5,000,000" install tier (you can see some third-party tracking sites, like AppBrain, still have it listed at 500,000). So for this one moment in history, eight months after launch, we can say Google finally sold a million Pixel phones.

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Pixel 2 leaks show Google still moving between OEMs to make its phones

Enlarge / The original Pixel was made by HTC and looked a lot like an LG phone, so maybe the Pixel 2 will look like this LG G6?

Google's official bug tracker seems to have spilled the beans on the manufacturer of the next Pixel phone (or at least, one of the next Pixel phones). A post—which was first spotted by 9to5Google—indicates that the lucky manufacturer is none other than LG.

When we last checked in with Google Pixel 2 rumors, there were going to be three devices, all with the usual fish-themed code names of "Walleye," "Muskie," and "Taimen." Walleye was pegged as the smaller Pixel successor, Muskie was the Pixel XL 2, and Taimen was rumored to be something even bigger than the XL. A report just yesterday from Android Police claims the XL successor, "Muskie," is cancelled, and that Taimen, previously pegged an "XXL" device, will be handling the big phone duties. The extra-large size is probably a reference to the screen size and not the body size, as slimmer bezels mean OEMs can squeeze ever-larger screens into the same size phone bodies.

It's "Taimen" that was leaked in this bug report. An LG employee is discussing a device's USB-PD compliance and is told by a Google employee to reopen the bug under "Android > Partner > External > LGE > Taimen > power." There's our "Taimen" codename, right in the directory structure, and in addition to the filing employee being from LG, the directory structure shows "LGE," which is short for "LG Electronics." It's not clear if this means both phones or just Taimen is being made by LG.

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Andy Rubin’s Essential phone announces carrier availability and it’s… Sprint

Essential

Andy Rubin, the father of Android, has a new smartphone company in the works called "Essential."  Its first flagship smartphone, the "Essential Phone," is launching soon in the US for $699. While most upstart smartphone companies (see: OnePlus) opt for an unlocked-only, direct-sales model, Essential is actually doing carrier deals. Well, one carrier deal: the device is going to be a Sprint exclusive.

Speaking to USA TodayEssential President Niccolo de Masi was very nice to his launch partner, calling Sprint "the network of the future," saying “We like to bet with where we think the market is going as opposed to where the market was.”

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Hands-on: Android O Preview 3 is 8.0, has a sweet colored media notification

The third Android O Developer Preview hit the Internet yesterday, giving us just one more version before Android O hits final release. While Google's new OS seems to be mostly in a finished state, there are a few new additions to this third developer preview that are worth mentioning.

Welcome Android 8.0!

Not that the version number of a release really matters, but for people that care about this sort of thing, the third Android O preview spilled the beans on what Android O will be called when it gets released. The "about" screen identifies the OS as "Android 8.0," killing any speculation about whether it would be called either 8.0 or 7.2. We still don't know what the sugary snack the "O" will stand for, but we're at least halfway to the real name.

The new media notification

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Android O Developer Preview 3 launches, finalizes APIs

Enlarge (credit: Google)

Less than a month after the release of the second Android O developer preview, Google is back dropping yet another version of the OS on us. The third developer preview should be rolling out to beta devices now, and along with an update to the Android Studio SDK, it finalizes the APIs for Android O.

Android O brings a revamp of the notification panel with snoozable notifications and a whole new settings app. There's easier updating with Project Treble, totally redesigned emoji, and a low-end phone configuration called "Android Go." Phones get picture-in-picture mode, Android TV gets a new home screen, and faster boot times should help every version, but cars with Android should especially benefit from it.

The Android O APIs are now officially finalized as "API level 26." With the finalized APIs, Google says developers should be testing apps to ensure they still work after the changes to background limits, networking, and security. The Play Store is also ready to take API Level 26 apps and start sending them out to users. 

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