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From the Editor’s Desk: Google’s looming Pixel 4 disappointment

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Can Google continue to pretend the normal rules of phone hardware don’t apply to it?

It’s been three years since Google first launched its Pixel series of devices. In that time, despite lackluster sales, the company’s phone brand has managed to carve out its own niche around quality photography and software purity. There’s no denying Google’s Android software is more enjoyable to use than anyone else’s, and that its HDR+ camera is in a league of its own.

But with flagging Pixel 3 sales, it’s also evident that the Pixel series as a whole has been far from a resounding success. A big part of the reason why the Pixels have failed to enjoy success beyond a niche audience is that Google seems to have its head in the sand when it comes to what the Pixel line actually is.

You can attribute the Pixels’ lack of barnstorming success to occasionally sluggish software or ho-hum hardware designs, but in my view one of the Pixel brand’s most significant weaknesses is Google’s stubborn insistence that the normal rules of high-end smartphones do not apply to it. See: Generic hardware build and no water resistance in 2016. Bad screens in 2017. 4GB of RAM and single cameras in 2018. And in 2019, only two cameras, no fingerprint scanner and hefty top screen borders.

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In other words, Google is trying to be Apple. Now Cupertino, with its reality distortion field and near trillion dollar value, along with its own custom silicon and supply chain dominance, is one of the few players who really do exist outside the norm. Google, however, is for all intents and purposes just another Android smartphone maker, with access to largely the same components as everyone else — outside of its unique Pixel Visual Core chip.

The obvious counter-argument is that regular consumers don’t care about specifications. You buy a phone for what it does, not numbers in a spec sheet. Yet the Pixels’ current weaknesses go beyond mere figures on a page. Lackluster battery capacities compared to its peers put the Pixel 3 line at a disadvantage compared to the Galaxy Note 9s and Mate 20 Pros on neighboring store shelves in 2018. The dismal multitasking capabilities of the Pixel 3 XL make for easy one-sided comparison videos. And the single camera, however impressive, can’t take true telephoto or ultrawide shots.

Google’s assumption that its software secret sauce can counteract rivals’ hardware dominance has failed to play out in the market.

And so it’s frustrating to witness the early stages of such disappointment in the Pixel 4 and 4 XL. As rivals like the OnePlus 7 Pro adopt space-age designs, Google insists upon face authentication with chunky forehead bezels. As even Apple looks set to adopt triple cameras, Google reportedly will feature only two — a standard and telephoto, as if t’were 2016.

And in parts of the world where you find yourself wearing sunglasses 12 months a year, good luck getting by without fingerprint unlock.

I’d love to be proven wrong this October, but the Pixel series still seems like something of a hobby project for Google. Even after having gobbled up the remains of HTC, working directly with Foxconn on device manufacturing and with the benefit of three and a half generations of experience, I’m still expecting to be at least somewhat let down by the Pixel 4 range later in the year.

Here’s hoping I’m wrong.

Other odds and ends for a working Sunday:

  • While I’m giving Google a hard time, it’s pulling some last-minute shenanigans to fix up Android Q’s terrible gesture controls. Q’s back gesture in particular has been problematic, breaking slide-out menu functionality in many applications including Google’s own apps. Google’s answer? A new peek and slide gesture, along with exclusion areas in certain apps.
  • Huawei is supposedly off the hook for the moment, with regards to its current predicament around access to U.S. technology. ICYMI, President Trump announced last weekend that he’d permit the Chinese firm to do business with American companies. However the situation is murky as ever, with the timeline for Huawaei’s normalization in question, and plenty of room for doubt as to what form the Mate 30 will take when it eventually emerges. Trump has promised to allow Huawei access to U.S. businesses, yet the company remains on the Department of Commerce’s Entity List, meaning in practice, for the time being, nothing has changed. Let’s see what happens as the immediate August 19 deadline approaches.
  • Apparently the Galaxy Note 10 and 10+ will feature real, actual buttons after all, as Samsung has reportedly ditched plans to include HTC U12+-style digital non-buttons. Given the teething problems experienced by HTC last year, that’s not too surprising. Though it’s probably a case of if, not when someone solves the usability problems around digital keys. Nevertheless, the Note always has been Samsung’s enthusiast phone, and the emergence of two models this year perhaps liberates the company to shoot for a higher-specced, more expensive offering in the Note 10+.
  • Vodafone UK has a compelling 5G offering, with packages announced this week focusing on unlimited data and capped speeds rather than the reverse. The country’s second 5G rollout remains limited to a handful of larger cities, but certainly brings the heat to EE, whose 5G service has data caps broadly in line with its 4G plans.

That’s it for another couple of weeks. Catch you guys in the run up to Note 10 season!

-Alex

Latest

Galaxy Note 20 gets first update with performance improvements, bug fixes

The two phones are slated to begin shipping on August 21.What you need to knowSamsung has released the first software

Tribit StormBox portable wireless speaker review

Bluetooth speakers come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and price points. To say that it’s easy to find something that works for you would likely be an understatement.Bluetooth speakers are also widely available; they’re found not just in electronics stores, but general retail stores and myriad online outlets, too.For every big-name branded speaker that you’ll encounter in your hunt, there also will be unknown companies competing for your attention and money. Take, for instance, Tribit.Although it doesn’t have the same market presence as Ultimate Ears, it does have a growing portfolio of competing products with lower prices. Its StormBox speaker is one of the brand’s latest products and we’ve had a chance to check one out.DesignThe Tribit StormBox is a cylindrical speaker that takes up about as much space as a large energy drink. Although its buttons lead you to believe there’s a specific front to it, the shape lends itself to a 360-degree sound.Speaking of buttons, the StormBox keeps things simple. There are volume controls and a multi-function power/pairing button. Oh, and there’s also an XBass button that’s used to take sound to the next level.The speaker has a hard mesh exterior and an IPX7 rating which means it’s built to withstand splashes and scrapes. At the top is a lanyard that makes it easy to carry or connect to a bag. Nice and portable, it weighs in around one pound total.Although it pairs via Bluetooth, the StormBox also has a 3.5mm auxiliary input for directly connecting to audio sources. It, and the microUSB charging port are located under a protective rubber flap that keeps things dry.Also worth noting, you can pair multiple StormBox speakers together to create a stereo sound. We did not have the chance to test the feature out.What’s Included?Tribit Bluetooth SpeakerMicro USB CableBlack LanyardUser ManualSetupThere’s very little to mess with here as it’s more or less a case of powering on and holding down the pairing button. You don’t have to worry about any apps or phone settings.PerformanceI was quite happy with how the speaker performed as it did everything it promised. The StormBox had no problem filling large rooms and open spaces. You could easily hear whatever was playing throughout any room.The water-resistance worked pretty well. It was a bit muffled, but nothing drastic. Overall, I thought the speaker did really well underwater.As for the special button, I didn’t feel that the XBass button had much effect. I wish it had been a bit stronger.The battery life is reported to be twenty hours. I used it right out of the box and used it for about ten hours, and haven’t had to charge it yet. The manual includes a guide to figuring out the different functions, including how to understand your battery level. It isn’t very obvious, but there is a column of lights on the back that will give you a general idea.ConclusionOne of the best selling points of the StormBox is that it comes with an 18-month warranty. Not only that, but you can extend it out to 30 months at no extra cost. This process is done online at Tribit’s website.Given the affordable ($60) price, this is a great speaker option for people who might want something for around the home, office, or pool. It’s portable, sounds great, and has an excellent battery life.AvailabilityThe Tribit StormBox comes in a variety of color options, including blue, black, and red. Look for it at Tribit’s website and Amazon for about $60.

Cool tech gifts under $100

In the era of digitalization and lots of tech advancements appearing every day, you have no choice but adapt to our quickly-changing world. Tech gadgets are cool: they simplify our life and make it much more convenient. Besides, they become an irreplaceable part of our daily routine, just like smartphones once did. More attention to tech gadgets are paid in college: students are in need of helpful devices as well as reliable services like papercoach, which you can pay for an essay or just delegate your homework. Tech gadgets can also become a great gift for everyone, from a teenager to a retired person. In this guide, we will cover the top popular of them that will not cost you a fortune.Top gadgets for under $100 budgetHow many times have your smartphone, quick Internet connection, and professional student service united to make wonders? You just choose a reliable resource based on speedy paper review and other agencies’ feedback, then send a request like «Can you do my homework for me?» or «Can you write my essay for me cheap?» and receive a completed task within a short timeframe. Just a decade ago, we couldn’t imagine it would have ever become possible. Now there is a variety of gadgets aimed to make our life easy and comfortable. We offer a list of top tech gifts everyone would be happy to get and which cost no more than $100 (however, today $100 can get you quite far):Streaming stickA device like the Chromecast will cost you around $70, if not less, and is good for people who love streaming like bloggers or just enjoy watching Netflix. All tech giants like Apple, Amazon, and Google have invested in the development of the streaming revolution so you can find a variety of models appearing every year (for example, Roku). It is able to deliver 4K HD video and helps you find the best place to enjoy the content easily;Portable chargerThis is a must-have device for active smartphone users that never have enough battery power (that is, for everyone). We recommend getting the one with 20,000mAh or more, which will likely cost you around $50 and will keep your phone charged seven times (this is especially convenient during the trip in the mountains, concerts, and other places where you can`t get charged a standard way). It is small, lightweight, and easily fits in the pocket or backpack. Besides charging quickly, it also does it safely based on your cable and device;Amazon Echo DotThis device is a mini voice assistant speaker that has access to multiple apps and using which you can control smart home devices (lights, garage door, water, and thermostat), listen to music, and order pizza. It will cost around $50 and is totally worth this money: it has a far-field system of voice recognition so you can make commands across the room while the device will react to your speech, accent, vocabulary, and patterns;E-readerFor example, it can be Amazon Kindle for the cost of $80. If the person loves reading and cannot invest much money into regular books buying, this one will make a perfect gift. The most recent models have a nice design, enough memory to download hundreds of books, a great touch screen, and a powerful processor for convenient reading. Talking about Amazon, it also has a built-in vocabulary and the battery life of one month by active reading;Wireless headphonesIf you are looking for a gift under $100, you can consider the Shure SE112 model that has a solid construction, built-in microphone for making calls, great quality of the sound, and a smooth Bluetooth connection. These headphones provide outstanding performance within a limited budget so you can enjoy music on the go;DroneDepending on the model, it will cost you around $100, and it will be a perfect gift for travelers and just nature lovers. It is lightweight, has stabilization features, and is controlled via an app. Cheaper models can record videos in 720p, which still makes great quality.EDITOR NOTE: This is a promoted post and should not be viewed as an editorial endorsement.

Android’s file sharing Nearby Share is now live

One feature that has been missing in the Android space for some time is the option to easily share files and contacts wireless with other Android users. Apple has had this with AirDrop for years, but Google has never brought a comparable protocol to the table. Finally, the rumors have been confirmed with Nearby Share available to Android.Nearby Share gives consumers a great option to quickly share links, photos, contacts, and documents with Android users instantly. The service works over cell networks, Bluetooth, WebRTC, or WiFi. This gives folks multiple avenues to deliver the shared files both on and offline.Google’s blog post also states that privacy settings are available in the app to make sure you have some more granular controls over how you can be found and receive files. You can change this from “all contacts” to “some contacts” or “hidden”. These privacy settings should allow you to add a layer of security to make sure you are only receiving or sending files to your most trusted friends or colleagues.Chromebooks are also not forgotten in this update. Chrome OS is quickly becoming the jack of all trades operating system and Google has made Nearby Share available on this platform as well. File sharing seemed like a natural progression of the already good continuum experience of Instant Tethering from Chrome OS devices to Android phones and we are glad Moutain View’s finest took the time to make this compatible day one.Nearby Share is a long-awaited addition to the Android ecosystem. While we like to think that Apple steals from Google on a consistent basis for new iOS features, this has been a gap in the Android experience that just needed to be fixed.Pixels and “select Samsung devices” should already see Nearby Share on the devices. Google will continue the trend of rolling releases of new Android options like this with future handsets getting Nearby Share over the coming months.