Dodge spam calls on original Google Pixel with Call Screen: now rolling out

  • Google has started rolling out Assistant’s Call Screen feature to the original Google Pixel and Pixel XL.
  • Call Screen allows Assistant to answer calls on the user’s behalf.
  • It’s only available in the U.S. at the moment.

Google has started rolling out the Pixel 3’s Call Screen feature to the original Pixel and Pixel XL, according to reports on Reddit. A number of Pixel owners have chimed in to a thread started over the weekend to confirm the deployment.

Call Screen allows Google Assistant to answer calls on the user’s behalf. It announces itself and asks what the purpose of the call is, while users can listen in to the conversation to take over if they want to. It’s something that can deter nuisance callers.

Editor’s Pick

Google rolled out Call Screen to the Pixel 2 and 2XL only last month and it had been expected to make its way to the original Pixels shortly after. Some device owners have also reported receiving saved call transcripts too, a feature which isn’t even on all Pixel 3 smartphones yet (though Google says it will be by the year’s end).

However, some Pixel owners still report having neither feature, so it looks like a staged rollout.

Call Screen is still U.S.-only for the time being but Google plans to roll it out in more regions in the future. If you’re in the States and are yet to receive it, look out for it arriving on your Pixel 1, 2, or 3 in the next couple of weeks.

The Google Store is offering holiday deals on Home Hub, Nest products, and more

Google Home Hub

Black Friday was only a couple of weeks ago, but the Google Store is already back with its holiday sale. If you didn’t happen to purchase presents yet, these discounts should save you some money.

First up, Google is yet again discounting its latest smartphones. While the sales aren’t as great as what we saw back during Black Friday and Cyber Monday, they might be enough to make you consider picking up a Pixel 3 or Pixel 3 XL for yourself or a loved one.

The Google Store’s Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL discounts are live right now and will end on December 22. 

Editor’s Pick

Next up, Google is taking a decent amount off of its smart home tech. This includes deals on the original Google Home, Home Max, Home Hub, and the 4K-capable Chromecast Ultra.

You can take advantage of these deals between now and December 24.

Since late November, Google has been offering customers $80 off when they bundle the Home Hub with select Nest products. The Google Store is upping this deal and is taking an additional $20 off the bundled cost, bringing the saving to $100.

The below bundles are also available starting today with discounts ending on December 24.

5 Android apps you shouldn’t miss this week! – Android Apps Weekly

This is the featured image for Android Apps Weekly 12-08-2018
Welcome to the 272nd edition of Android Apps Weekly! Here are the big headlines from the last week:

  • Microsoft has some big plans for Microsoft Edge. For starters, it’s replacing EdgeHTML for the much more popular Chromium. Microsoft claims the change helps them release more updates and work better cross-platform. The good news is that it might allow some serious developments like support for MacOS. However, it also means that Chrome has gobbled up yet another competitor. Opera also uses Chromium as a base for its operation too. In any case, you can hit the link to learn more.
  • Google’s chat apps are having a pretty bad week. Google Hangouts is turning into a chat platform similar to the likes of Slack or Discord. The change should take place by 2020. It was once a couple of features away from being the iMessage of Android so it’s a staggering change. Then, Google announced the shuttering of Google Allo. Google is transitioning many of the features to Android Messages, an SMS app with RCS support. It seems like Google believes RCS to be the future. Those are two more Google social platforms to bite the dust in 2018 along with Spaces and Google+.
  • Epic Games had an exciting week. Fortnite received a new game feature. There is now a creative mode similar to the creative mode in Minecraft. Additionally, the company announced a competitor to Steam and the Google Play Store. The Epic Games Store houses PC and mobile games in the same place. This could be a big deal because no other store covers both platforms. It’s also not a half bad idea with how many indie games get both PC and mobile releases. We’ll see how that goes.
  • Google announced Hummingbird officially this week. The Hummingbird platform is a simple idea with a complicated execution. It lets developers build a single app that runs on a variety of platforms, including iOS, the web, and Android. All-in-one toolkits are usually bogus with support for a single platform with a few features for a second. Hummingbird has the opportunity to be the first of its kind to not be awful. Hit the link for more details!
  • Google announced its picks for the best of 2018 in the Google Play Store. There were a lot of winners across a range of categories, including PUBG Mobile (fan favorite and best game), YouTube TV (fan favorite), Avengers: Infinity War (fan favorite), Drops (best app), Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff (best ebook), 12 Rules for Life by Jordan B. Peterson (best audiobook), and The Walking Dead (best TV show). You can hit the link to see all of the selections and check them out on Google Play!

Gorogoa

Price: $4.99
DOWNLOAD ON GOOGLE PLAY
Gorogoa is a new indie puzzle game. It features elements similar to Noodlecake Games’ Framed series. The game features a bunch of comic book style panels that players arrange and combine into a full story. It features hand-drawn graphics, a fun story line, and simple mechanics. The game itself is fairly fun to play. However, the carefully crafted animations and story are the real story here. Those who enjoy thoughtful narratives should enjoy this one quite a bit. The game is a little bit short, but most people don’t seem to mind. It runs for $4.99 with no in-app purchases or advertisements. This is also from the same developer of Florence, a slice-of-life narrative game.
DOWNLOAD ON GOOGLE PLAY

Yahoo Play

Price: Free
DOWNLOAD ON GOOGLE PLAY
Yahoo Play is the latest app from, well, Yahoo. It’s a pop culture app and has tons of celebrity, pop culture, and entertainment stuff. It also does a bunch of other stuff. At its core, it’s a news app with news about the pop culture scene. However, it also includes original video series along with trivia and quiz games. There is honestly quite a bit to do in this app. However, it does suffer from bugs and slow load times. It definitely needs some work. This could be fun for those enjoy entertainment, but we recommend maybe waiting a bit until Yahoo sorts out the issues.
DOWNLOAD ON GOOGLE PLAY
Yahoo Play

Command and Conquer: Rivals

Price: Freemium
DOWNLOAD ON GOOGLE PLAY
Command and Conquer: Rivals saw its global launch earlier this week. It’s a duel-style battle game. Players choose a hero, build an army, and battle other players online in one versus one battles. The game mechanics also include strategy elements as well. Players must control the battlefield and resupply their troops in order to win. Of course, your army is customizable as well. The game has some serious balancing issues right now. Low level players get matched up with players significantly more powerful and it’s a little annoying. Otherwise, it’s actually not a half bad game.
DOWNLOAD ON GOOGLE PLAY

Google Santa Tracker

Price: Free
DOWNLOAD ON GOOGLE PLAY
Google’s yearly Santa tracker app is live in the Play Store as well as on the web. It has about the same content as it did last year. That includes a bunch of kid-friendly min-games, a countdown timer to the big day, and some other little bits of fun. The app then tracks Santa on Christmas Eve to the delight of young children. The min-games aren’t awe inspiring or anything, but they’re good enough for most younger kids. It’s a colorful, fun way to track Santa every year. It’s also entirely free with no ads or in-app purchases. Thanks, Google!
DOWNLOAD ON GOOGLE PLAY

Absolute Drift

Price: $2.99
DOWNLOAD ON GOOGLE PLAY
Absolute Drift is the latest game from Noodlecake Studios. It’s a decidedly mobile game with a racing theme. Players drift around corners, avoid obstacles, and collect little red balls for points. The game isn’t fast, but it’s surprisingly intense anyway. Plus, there’s a relaxing soundtrack to bring it all together. The game also features six cars, three game modes, a night mode, leaderboards, and even Bluetooth controller support. It costs an extremely reasonable $2.99 and has no ads or additional in-app purchases. What’s not to like?
DOWNLOAD ON GOOGLE PLAY

If we missed any big Android apps or games news, updates, or releases, tell us about in the comment section below! Also, check out our weekly podcast here!

December 2018 security patch arrives for Pixel, Nexus, Essential Phone, and 2016 Pixels

Update #2, December 5 at 8:39 a.m. ET: Google has posted December 2018 factory images and OTA files for the original Google Pixel and Google Pixel XL. You can download them below:


Update #1, December 3 at 4:12 p.m. ET: Essential is usually quick to roll out Android security patches soon after Google releases them, and this month’s patch is no different. Essential Phone owners, the December Android security patch should be rolling out to your devices now!


Original article, December 3 at 1:05 p.m. ET: Right on schedule, Google has released Android’s December security patch. The new factory images for the various Google devices are here, while the OTA files are here.

The good news is that the Pixel C, Nexus 6P, and Nexus 5X are still getting updates, despite the fact that the company is no longer obligated to issue security patches for the three-year-old devices.

However, the bad news is that — just like last month — the security patches for the Google Pixel and Google Pixel XL are not here yet. Last month, the updates for the OG Pixel devices came about two weeks after the initial batch. Is this going to be the trend from now on?

Editor’s Pick

The December patch itself includes fixes for multiple security vulnerabilities. The most severe of these issues is a critical security vulnerability in media framework that could enable a remote attacker to execute arbitrary code on a device. However, Google has no record of any attacker actually exploiting this vulnerability.

The patch also includes a long-awaited fix for the memory management problems present on the Google Pixel 3 and Google Pixel 3 XL. There’s also some camera improvements, a fix for flickering always-on-display, and some Bluetooth audio enhancements. Check out the table below to see what’s getting a fix for your device(s):

If you don’t want to wait for the December security patch to make its way to your phone, you can download the latest factory image or OTA file from the links below. From there, you can either flash a fresh build to your phone or sideload the OTA update.

NEXT: I got a Google Home Mini for $1, and you can too — Here’s how!

New Google ‘Sounds’ app brings audio and visual delights to your Pixel

  • Google has released a new ‘Sounds’ app for Google Pixels.
  • The app is a Google Play version of the Sounds menu found in the Pixel settings, arriving with a redesign.
  • The app landed on Pixels with the December security patches, though the redesign doesn’t appear to be live yet.

Google has released a new and exclusive app for Pixel smartphones called ‘Sounds.’ The app, which is an updated version of the Sounds menu in the Pixel settings, allows users to select preferred sounds for alarms, ringtones, and notifications.

9to5Google says the new app rolled out to the Pixels along with the December security patches and it also recently popped up in the Play Store. However, its Play Store page is now inactive, so Google has seemingly pulled it.

Three Google Sounds app screenshots. 9to5Google

The reason for this likely relates to its design. Some folks on Reddit reported having the app installed on their device but without the design refresh seen in the Play Store (pictured above). Presumably, the app will go live in the Play Store again once the new interface also rolls out to Pixels — probably in the coming days through a server-side activation.

When it does eventually go live, you can also look forward to new color patterns to accompany each sound, giving you a visualization of the mood the audio is trying to evoke. However, it’s unclear if these visualizations are used outside of the app or only when previewing sounds.

Let us know in the comments if the new app is live for you and what you think of it.

Google Maps gets improved Assistant for smoother rides

  • Google has rolled out new Assistant integration in Google Maps.
  • Google Assistant can help users make calls, play music, and more without leaving the navigation app.
  • It appears to be live in version 10.4.1 of Maps.

Google has rolled out a new version of Maps with an optimized Google Assistant. The new Assistant integration opens up additional possibilities and superior hands-free navigation thanks to its new low profile (via 9to5Google).

The update comes with a new multi-colored Google Assistant microphone button as well as a new ‘listening’ symbol that appears unobtrusively at the bottom of the screen. The update is said to be present in Maps version 10.4.1, which is now rolling out.

Google Maps screenshots featuring the new Google Assistant 9to5Google

Those already familiar with Maps may know you can use already use your voice for navigation. However, as well as the superior visual implementation, Assistant now comes with some additional features. These include allowing you to play music, send SMS messages, and more without leaving the Maps app. You can do this using the OK Google hotword to begin or by tapping the microphone icon.

Editor’s Pick

Google had previously discussed the Maps/Assistant integration at I/O 2018 and the changes are intended to help drivers focus on the roads rather than their handsets. It seems like a sensible update.

This isn’t the only Assistant-related feature we’ve seen roll out in the past week, though — check out its new broadcast replies, list creation, and pretty please features.

Here’s how Google made portrait mode on the Pixel 3 even better

  • Google has blogged about its recent improvements in AI and photography — specifically regarding portrait mode on the Pixel 3.
  • The post discusses how Google has improved the way its neural networks measure depth.
  • The result is an improved bokeh effect in its portrait mode shots.

Google has detailed one of the major photography accomplishments it achieved on the Pixel 3 on its AI blog. In the post published yesterday, Google discussed how it improved portrait mode between the Pixel 2 and the Pixel 3.

Portrait mode is a popular smartphone photography mode that blurs the background of a scene while maintaining focus on the foreground subject (what’s sometimes called the bokeh effect). The Pixel 3 and the Google Camera app take advantage of advances in neural networks, machine learning, and GPU hardware to help make this effect even better.

In Portrait Mode on the Pixel 2, the camera would capture two versions of a scene at slightly different angles. In these images, the foreground figure, a person in most portrait images, would appear to shift to a smaller degree than the background images (an effect known as parallax). This discrepancy was used as the basis for interpreting the depth of an image, and thus which areas to blur out.

A Google Portrait Mode parallax scrolling example. Google Blog

This provided strong results on the Pixel 2, but it wasn’t perfect. The two versions of the scene provided only a very small amount of information about the depth, so problems could occur. Most commonly, the Pixel 2 (and many others like it) would fail to accurately separate foreground from background.

With the Google Pixel 3’s camera, Google included more depth cues to inform this blur effect for greater accuracy. As well as parallax, Google used sharpness as a depth indicator — more distant objects are less sharp than closer objects — and real-world object identification. For example, the camera could recognize a person’s face in a scene, and work out how near or far it was based on its number of pixels relative to objects around it. Clever.

Google then trained its neural network with the help of the new variables to give it a better understanding — or rather, estimation — of depth in an image.

Google Pixel 3 portrait mode bokeh skull

The Pixel’s portrait mode doesn’t just require a human subject.

What does it all mean?

The result is better-looking portrait mode shots when using the Pixel 3 compared to previous Pixel (and ostensibly many other Android phones) cameras thanks to more accurate background blurring. And, yes, this should mean less hair being lost to background blur.

Editor’s Pick

There’s an interesting implication of all this which relates to chips too. A lot of power is required to process the necessary data to create these photographs once they’re snapped (they’re based on full resolution, multi-megapixel PDAF images); the Pixel 3 handles this pretty well thanks to its TensorFlow Lite and GPU combination.

In the future, though, better processing efficiency and dedicated neural chips will widen the possibilities not only for how quickly these shots will be delivered, but for what enhancements developers even choose to integrate.

To find out more about the Pixel 3 camera, hit the link, and give us your thoughts on it in the comments.

Deal: Get Google Pixel 3 Verizon for epic $400-off at Best Buy

 Best Buy Pixel 3 deals page. Best Buy

Best Buy has rolled out a surprise deal on the Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL, saving users $400 on each phone (via Droid Life). The offer wasn’t part of planned Best Buy offers we’d previously spotted, but it’s live now until tomorrow night.

The deal applies to the Verizon-branded devices only, bringing the Pixel 3 (64GB) down to $399 and the Pixel 3 XL (64GB) down to $499 (the phones start at $799 and $899 respectively). The phone’s total price is paid off in installments across a 24-month contract, meaning $16.66 per month for the Pixel 3 and $20.83 per month for the Pixel 3 XL.

Note that Google’s own Black Friday deals on the devices offer mere $150 and $200 respective savings on the phones, bringing them down to $650 and $699. However, you can get up to $400 knocked off Google’s price when you trade in a device. 

Editor’s Pick

This is a standout offer but it means picking up a Verizon-branded phone and you will have to pay $30 for activation and $30 to unlock it. There isn’t much else in the way of caveats, though, and The Verge reckons you can pay off the device in full at any time. 

The phones were available in all colors and variants but the 64GB Clearly White Pixel 3 appears to have already sold out.

You might not see an offer as good as this on the third-generation Pixels for a good while so don’t miss out if you’re interested. Find both the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3XL deals at the link below and check out our dedicated Black Friday deals page for the other great offers we’ve found. 

 

Here’s why Android Pie’s Adaptive Brightness mode is so efficient

  • Google has revealed some details on the inner workings of Android Pie’s Adaptive Brightness setting.
  • The company discussed how the setting learns from its users and how it will continue to improve as Pie lands on more smartphones.
  • Google also explained how it improved the brightness slider setting based on how our eyes perceive light.

When Google released Android Pie in August, it introduced a feature called Adaptive Brightness. This is an extension of the automatic brightness display setting many Android users will already be familiar with. In a post on the Android Developers blog earlier this week, Google explained how and why it’s better than its forerunner.

The Adaptive Brightness setting allows Android Pie to determine the optimal brightness for your smartphone. It’s an automatic setting, just enable it and it will raise or lower the brightness depending on the light in your current environment. This is not only intended to save you time manually altering brightness settings, but also to improve battery life; your smartphone should always be bright enough for your needs but not so bright that it’s consuming more battery than is necessary.

Editor’s Pick

These were also the aims of automatic brightness, though it wasn’t always effective. Manual adjustments often yielded better battery life and a better brightness level for the current situation. However, the Android Pie solution differs from previous automatic brightness modes in that it uses machine learning algorithms to help achieve the best results.

With Adaptive Brightness enabled on Pie, the system will learn your preferred settings over time. As you manipulate the brightness slider during the day, you will train the phone to understand the display brightness you want in various lighting conditions. Google says this should mean you gradually use the slider less and less, presumably until you no longer need to touch it at all.

You can find Adaptive Brightness on the Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL.

It’s a smart system because it lends itself to our natural behavior — we are tapping that brightness slider anyway, Pie just uses the input to inform optimal settings in an unobtrusive way. Google also says this model is updateable and should become better over time as more people use it.

Additionally, Google claims its brightness slider control accounts for the human eye to a larger extent than previously. Humans register greater differences in light changes when the display is dark compared to when it’s bright, and Google has updated the Pie slider to reflect this. It’s said to provide greater control, though it means you “may need to move the slider farther to the right than you did on previous versions of Android” to get the same brightness.

Adaptive Brightness isn’t an Android Pie feature that will come to every handset by default, but Google says it’s now working with third-party OEMs to incorporate the setting into their Pie builds. Hopefully we’ll see it on plenty of devices in the future.

For more on the new Android software, read our Android Pie review at the link and check out our Android Pie update page to find out when your device will get it.

Call Screen starts slowly rolling out the Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL

  • Google has started rolling out Assistant’s Call Screen feature to the Google Pixel 2 and 2 XL.
  • Call Screen allows Assistant to answer calls on the user’s behalf and record a message for them.
  • It’s available in the U.S. only right now.

It looks like Google has started rolling out Call Screen to the Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. Android Police was tipped-off about the update yesterday before several others in the comments chimed-in to say they’d received it too.

The feature, which launched with the Pixel 3, allows Google Assistant to answer calls on the user’s behalf. Here, Assistant will ask the caller to explain the reason for the call, and that the message will be recorded and passed on. Pixel owners can customize Assistant’s responses, as well as listen in to the call live and answer if they wish to.

This can be particularly useful for dealing with nuisance phone calls; read more about it here.

Editor’s Pick

Google has previously said Call Screening would come to the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL in November, but it didn’t offer a more precise date. The rollout seems to be underway now, but given the sparse confirmations, it could take another few days (or perhaps weeks) to arrive to all users. It’s a U.S.-only feature for now.

Look out for the functionality on your Pixel 2 soon and let us know in the comments if it’s already with you. For everything else you need to know about how the gen-two Pixel stacks up against the latest model, head to our Google Pixel 2 vs Google Pixel 3 comparison.