Gboard can now understand your mumbling much better than before

Gboard on the Pixel 2XL.

If you’ve found Google’s Gboard voice dictation frustrating to use, we have good news — Google has just updated Gboard with AI-powered offline dictation that should be a big improvement from before.

As Google details in its blog post, the voice dictation improvements were made possible with accuracy improvements through deep learning. The “prime focus” of several architectures was to reduce the amount of time it takes for your speech to be transcribed.

The result is an end-to-end, all-neural speech recognizer that lives in Gboard and on your device. The good news is that the speech recognizer doesn’t need an internet connection to work and is 80MB in size. That’s compared to past models that were 2GB in size and later went down to 450MB.

Editor’s Pick

Even better, the new speech recognizer outputs character-by-character instead of word-by-word as you speak. That’s made possible through “a feedback loop that feeds symbols predicted by the model back into it to predict the next symbols.”

Putting all of this together, Gboard’s voice dictation feature should work more reliably, more quickly, and more accurately than before.

Gboard’s upgraded speech recognizer is rolling out now to Pixel smartphones and is limited to American English dictation. You can enable it if you go to Gboard settings > Voice typing > Faster voice typing. We could see Gboard’s upgraded speech recognizer in additional languages and devices in the near future.

Google offers new customers free month of Fi when they port old number

Project Fi support

Google is running a new promotion from now until March 24 to tempt people onto a Fi contract. New users porting a phone number to Fi get a month’s usage for free, saving you between $20 and $80, depending on how much data you use.

Phones can’t have been bought through fi.google.com and the existing number must be ported during the signup. The existing number must also have been active since December 8, 2018.

Additionally, this has to be the full Fi service, not just the $10 data plan, and the devices must be active on Fi for 30 days for you to qualify.

Editor’s Pick

The free month will be applied as credit on the next bill which covers “a single subscriber’s unlimited talk and text, data usage, and taxes and fees for one month.”

It’s available for U.S. residents only with Google Payments and Google Fi accounts.

Why Fi?

Google Fi, formerly Project Fi, is a cell phone contract exclusive to certain Android phones and iPhones. It differs itself from existing carrier contracts by only billing you for the data you use, so you won’t be paying a monthly bill for data you don’t make use of. As of recently, it supports RCS Messaging too.

With a Fi plan, you could already save more money than you would on a more traditional carrier contract, so this free month is just another way to sweeten the deal.

If you’re interested, you can view the eligible Fi phones here and check out some specific LG and Motorola phone promotions at this link.

First Bixby, now Google Assistant: Why non-remappable buttons are bad for everyone

Samsung Galaxy S10 Google Assistant

Opinion post by
Oliver Cragg

The remap revolution has begun at MWC 2019. After almost two years of to-ing and fro-ing, Samsung has confirmed that it will finally let users remap the Bixby button on all its current and future Galaxy phones.

The announcement was understandably drowned out by the headline-grabbing reveals of the Galaxy S10 series and the Galaxy Fold, but it represented a potentially huge turning point for hardware customization on Android phones. When the world’s largest smartphone maker makes a decision, other OEMs take notice.

Editor’s Pick

Unfortunately this utopian vision of a world where all our phones have an extra customizable hardware key may have been torn away from us already.

Just days after Samsung’s commitment, Google announced that it will be joining forces with a bunch of OEMs to bring dedicated Google Assistant buttons to multiple smartphones in 2019.

The only problem? You won’t be able to reprogram any of them.

Blame Bixby

Samsung Bixby on Galaxy S9 smartphone

When asked if these Google Assistant buttons will be locked down as standard or open to customization from users, a Google representative gave Android Authority the following response:

We’re working with partners to ensure the Assistant experience is intuitive and consistent across devices, so the button will not be programmable at this time. We also allow users to disable the button if they so choose.

That’s pretty definitive: the Google Assistant button is the Google Assistant button.

There are some apparent caveats (which I’ll get to), but taken at face value this is a clear cut stance on remappable hardware keys from the search giant, even if the “at this time” part leaves some wiggle room for customization further down the line.

It also suggests Google will force its announced partners — LG, Nokia, TCL, Vivo, and Xiaomi — to lock down the button on future phones. Considering LG previously hinted at a remap option for the LG G7 ThinQ — the first phone to carry a Google Assistant button — you have to wonder if it wasn’t eventually able to do so at Google’s insistence.

The decision is especially disappointing in the face of Samsung’s long-awaited announcement. The move to open up the Bixby button signalled a huge change in the OEM’s attitude towards a divisive feature first introduced with the Galaxy S8 series.

Unfortunately, it seems like the implementation is far from perfect though. While there a plenty of apps and functions you can remap the button to, you apparently can’t set it to call forth a different assistant like Google Assistant or Alexa.

Even if you do replace Bixby, you also seemingly can’t escape from it in its entirety as Samsung’s One UI has baked its assistive commands and notifications right into its very core.

That it took two years and multiple blocked third-party apps to get to even this point isn’t fantastic in hindsight, but for Samsung Galaxy users it’s a case of better late than never, and better this than nothing.

Perhaps Google will eventually add a remap option too. Who knows, if there’s enough outcry from users it might not take the whopping two year stretch it took Samsung to finally give in.

Yet, the timing of both announcements does Google no favors. While Samsung has at least taken a few steps forward, Google has decided to walk in the exact opposite direction.

It’d be a cruel irony if Google’s stance was influenced by Samsung’s choice to hold out on a remap option for quite so long.

Inconvenience keys

Blackberry KeyOne convenience key

The lineage of extra hardware buttons doesn’t begin or end with Samsung.

TCL’s Blackberry phones have carried a so-called convenience key since the launch of the DTEK50 through to the recent Blackberry Key2. All of these have been heavily customizable, culminating in the Key2 which supports three shortcuts as standard and even more contextual functions if you toy around with profiles.

There’s also the squeezable buttons on HTC’s phones which eventually led to Active Edge on Google’s Pixel line. Edge Sense supports various gesture commands and can be remapped to open other apps or HTC Sense features.

Google added quick access to Google Assistant on the Pixel 2 and then the Pixel 3 series with its own variation. Unfortunately, Pixel users are stuck with that stock function. There are third-party apps like Tasker that can be used as a workaround for the Pixel 2, but not the latest Pixel phones.

Related: How to use Google Assistant through your headphones

As for dedicated physical Assistant buttons, the LG G7 ThinQ started the ball rolling but you still can’t remap it natively. The same is most likely true for the LG G8 ThinQ and LG V50 ThinQ.

There are also Assistant buttons on the Google Pixelbook and Pixel Slate. These can’t be remapped either, but the buttons don’t stick out quite so much on a QWERTY keyboard. There are even hints we might get to customize these keys in a future Chrome OS update.

The wild card is the Xiaomi Mi 9, which you’d think would fall under the new “Assistant only” policy. However, in our review we found that you can remap the button to some basic MIUI functions like the flashlight. You can’t change it to summon an app of your choosing though, so it’s still far from ideal.

It’s entirely possible that Xiaomi’s other phone with an Assistant button, the 5G Mi Mix 3, will be the same. The main question marks are Nokia, Vivo, and TCL. It’ll be especially interesting to see how TCL balances the Google Assistant button with the Blackberry convenience key. Will we get two buttons or will the convenience key be retired?

Pain in the Assistant

LG G8 ThinQ Google Assistant button

For many users the presence of a non- or only semi-customizable Google Assistant button on their phone won’t be a huge concern. After all, the Bixby button didn’t stop millions buying the Galaxy S8 or Galaxy S9.

It’s also true that Google Assistant is a far more useful companion than Bixby, which softens the blow a bit.

Despite Samsung’s best effort to improve its proprietary digital butler, Assistant is still way ahead in the race due to its deep integratioon with Android and much wider set of features and functions — with even more announced at MWC 2019.

More choice is always better than no choice at all.

Assistant is also more familiar to users thanks to its stronger presence in the wider smart home ecosystem via Google Home, whereas Samsung’s Galaxy Home is still lacks an official release date.

There’s a high chance Google doesn’t see the lack of a remap option as an inconvenience at all. After all, its spent years honing Assistant into a genuinely assistive companion that’s now an integral part of Android and the wider Google brand.

Yet, it doesn’t matter how great Assistant is or how many people are happy to ignore a dedicated Assistant button. The bottom line is that more choice is always better than no choice at all.

The decision slightly sours what has, up until now, been a mostly positive relationship with Google’s friendly companion.

Even if you have a best friend that you couldn’t live without, you still want a little personal space from time to time. Assistant has so far been the kind of reliable pal you can call on at any time, but Google shouldn’t force that relationship at the expense of a more open, user-friendly experience.

Continued Conversations is making its way to Smart Displays

Google Home Hub

In the years since the original Google Home was released, the smart speaker platform has received several new features. One of the most popular of these is Continued Conversations. With it, you don’t have to repeatedly state “Ok Google / Hey Google” after every command or query.

Unfortunately, despite Smart Displays being very close in nature to Google Homes, the platform lacked the feature. Thankfully, Google is bringing Continued Conversations to the Home Hub and other Smart Displays (via Android Central).

As you can see from the video, after the Assistant is done answering you, it will remain in the top left corner of the display. If you want to ask something else, you can voice your query without having to use Google’s hot phrases.

The Google Assistant will stay on your screen and continue to listen for additional commands for roughly seven seconds after the initial answer.

Google confirmed to Android Central that Continued Conversations is rolling out now to all Smart Displays. The update should make its way to every device in the next couple of days that are set to English.

Editor’s Pick

If you want to turn off Continued Conversations, you will need to disable the feature across your entire account. You can find the option to do so from within the Google Home app. From there, go to Settings > Assistant tab > Continued Conversation and toggle the item off.

What do you think about Continued Conversations? What other features do you wish Google would add to the Smart Display platform? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below!

Google Maps now shows Lime bikes and scooters in over 80 new cities

If you’ve recently used Google Maps to get directions to a location a short distance away,you probably noticed the app conveniently gave you information about Lime scooter and bike rentals — if you happen to live in a small selection of cities. However, this list of cities just got expanded with more than 80 new locations.

Starting this week, if you live in one of the cities listed below, you might start seeing Lime vehicle information pop up in Google Maps. The notification will conveniently tell you if a Lime vehicle is available, how long it’ll take to walk to the vehicle, an estimate of how much your ride could cost, along with your total journey time and ETA.

Check out the screenshot below to see how it looks:

Lime is one of many companies that offers low-cost rentals of bicycles, e-bikes, scooters, and other personal modes of transport in major cities. Since using energy-efficient, carbon-neutral methods of transportation fits in nicely with Google’s ethos, this Lime partnership makes perfect sense.

Here are the list of new cities:

United States:

Editor’s Pick

Arizona (Mesa, Scottsdale), Arkansas (Little Rock), California (Monterey, Mountain View, San Marcos, Santa Barbara), Colorado (Denver), Florida (Miami, Orlando), Georgia (Atlanta, Statesboro), Idaho (Boise), Indiana (Bloomington, South Bend), Kentucky (Louisville), Massachusetts (Arlington, Bedford, Belmont, Chelsea, Everett, Malden, Medford, Melrose, Milton, Needham, Newton, Revere, Waltham, Watertown, Winthrop), Michigan (Lansing), Nevada (Reno), Missouri (St. Louis), New Jersey (Keyport, Metuchen, Plainsfield), New York (Ithaca, Queens, Rockaways), North Carolina (Charlotte, Charlottesville, Greensboro, Greenville, Jacksonville, Raleigh/Durham), Ohio (Columbus, Oxford), Oklahoma (Oklahoma City, Tulsa), Rhode Island (Providence), Tennessee (Memphis, Nashville), Texas (Corpus Christi, Lubbock), Utah (Salt Lake City), Virginia (Harrisonburg), Washington (Tacoma), Washington DC.

Worldwide

Brussels, Calgary, ChristChurch, London, Lyon, Madrid, Malaga, Malmö, Marseille, Mexico City, Milton Keynes, Oxford, Pamplona, Paris, Poznan, Stockholm, Sydney, Tel Aviv, Vienna, Warsaw, Wellington, Wroclaw, Zaragoza

If you don’t see your location on the list, don’t worry: both Lime and its integration within Google Maps is likely coming your way soon.

NEXT: This app might give Uber and Lyft a run for their ride-sharing money in US

You can now make Google Duo audio calls on Home speakers

Photograph of Google Home Hub, Home Mini, and Home side by side

Google Duo is becoming an ever more popular option for those wishing to video call someone — especially now that you can make videos calls from the web. But now, Google is expanding Duo’s audio calling feature. As spotted by a user on Twitter, Google Duo audio calls can now be initiated and answered on Home speakers (via Android Police).

The expansion of Google Duo’s audio calls shouldn’t be too surprising. After the Home Hub was released, owners noticed that they could place Duo calls despite the Smart Display not including a webcam. Google confirmed the audio calling functionality to Android Police at that time.

Editor’s Pick

As long as you already have a Duo account, you can set up audio calls for your smart speakers within the Google Home app. The setting can be found in Account > Settings > Services > Voice & video calls > Voice & Voice Apps.

From our testing, it appears as though the Duo calling feature does not work on third-party Google Assistant speakers. The limitation means that you have to own Home smart speakers to place calls via your phone number or Duo.

What do you think about this new feature? Do you think you’ll ever call someone on Duo over your Google Home speakers? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below!

Google: No more YouTube comments on almost every video featuring minors

The YouTube logo as of 2019.

In a sweeping policy change announced today, Google is disabling YouTube comments on nearly every video on the platform which features at least one minor. The company made the announcement on its YouTube Creator Blog.

According to the blog post, Google is instituting the huge alteration to YouTube comments due to “predatory behavior.”

This reasoning is sound, as it recently came to light that child predators use YouTube comments as gateways to “wormholes” of child pornography. In a video explaining how it works, former YouTuber Matt Watson shows how a search for a keyword unrelated to child pornography can easily lead you to content most would consider predatory.

However, the new policy is also likely in response to accusations that internet trolls are using YouTube comments policies to take down seemingly-innocuous channels. This abuse of a system which is there for good reasons was likely the final straw for Google, although it makes no mention of this in its announcement.

Editor’s Pick

Google does make it clear in the announcement that it is leaving YouTube comments open for “a small number of creators,” although it doesn’t say which ones. It also promises to add more creators to this whitelist as soon as possible.

In related news, Google is also launching a new YouTube comments classifier which identifies and blocks perceptively-abusive comments. This classifier, according to Google, is twice as effective as the previous classifier.

You can read Google’s full statement on the matter here.

NEXT: YouTube finally admitted that it’s Rewind 2018 video was hot garbage

The Google Pixel 3 Lite and Pixel 3 XL Lite are probably coming soon

The back of the Google Pixel 3 Lite. Andro News

If you’ve been holding out for the Google Pixel 3 Lite and Pixel 3 XL Lite, the wait might soon be over — two Google smartphones recently passed through the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) with model numbers G020C and G020G.

The filings show that both devices feature Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC, LTE, and Android 9 Pie. Also, the model numbers fall in line with what Google has used for previous Pixel phones. The Pixel 3 phones, for example, use model numbers G013A and G013C.

Unfortunately, Google’s request for confidentiality prevents images and other information from being shown. Also, the filings don’t outright state that the phones are the Pixel 3 Lite and Pixel 3 XL Lite.

Editor’s Pick

The good news is that we already have a general idea of what the phones will look like and feature, thanks to months of rumors. The Pixel 3 Lite and Pixel 3 XL Lite reportedly look like their high-end equivalents, save for the return of the headphone jack, IPS displays instead of OLED displays, single speakers, and plastic bodies instead of glass.

Even the alleged 12-megapixel rear camera and 8MP selfie camera are the same as the ones found on the normal Pixel 3 phones. Even with a lower-end processor, pictures should still look very good.

The main differences are under the hood. The Pixel 3 Lite reportedly features the octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 670 processor, 4GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, and a 2,915mAh battery. The Pixel 3 XL Lite will presumably feature the same specs, though its display and battery might be larger.

Google typically holds a fall event to announce new products. However, the request for confidentiality lifts August 28. That means Google might announce the Pixel 3 Lite and Pixel 3 XL Lite sooner than expected.

NEXT: Galaxy S10 Plus vs Pixel 3 XL: The battle for Android’s soul rages on

Physical Google Assistant buttons are coming to more phones along with new features

LG G8 ThinQ V40 ThinQ

Over the last year, LG has introduced a handful of phones that feature dedicated Google Assistant buttons. Google is now working with several smartphone manufacturers to bring the physical Assistant button to more handsets.

At MWC 2019, Google announced that the Assistant button is coming to LG’s and Nokia’s entire lineup of upcoming smartphones. This list of devices includes the LG G8 ThinQ, LG K40LG K50, LG Q60, Nokia 3.2, and Nokia 4.2.

Editor’s Pick

Google has also partnered with Xiaomi, TCL, and Vivo to bring the Assistant key to its phones. We should expect the button to be available on the Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 5G, Mi 9, Vivo V15 Pro, and more.

The search giant states that it expects over 100 million new devices to be released with a physical Assistant button. Maybe this means there’ll be an Assistant button on the Pixel 4 series?

New Google Assistant button features

Google Assistant logo.

When you press the AI button on the LG G7, it launches Google Assistant just as if you long-pressed on the Home button. But going forward, the physical Assistant button will have some new functionality.

First, Google is adding a double tap feature. When you double press the button, the Assistant will launch a new visual interface. Google states that the screen will display curated information that is based on previous Assistant interactions, the time of day, and the user’s current location.

An example of the visual snapshot can be seen below.

Google Assistant Visual Snapshot

Secondly, the Assistant will launch a walkie talkie mode when the button is long pressed. For the entire duration that the button is held down, the Assistant will continue to listen to queries. As Google states, this feature will be most useful when dictating long text messages or emails.

What do you think about dedicated Google Assistant buttons? Do you want your next smartphone to have one? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.

Deal: Google slashes $200 off unlocked Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL

The Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL are top-of-the-line smartphones, featuring terrific cameras, incredibly fast software updates, and a bevy of exclusive features.

However, they are also quite expensive, starting at $799 for the lowest-end model.

Today though, there’s a Google Pixel 3 deal over at the Google Store that gets you an unlocked Google Pixel 3 or Pixel 3 XL for $200 off. You can pick your model, your color, and your storage capacity, and whatever price you come to will have $200 lopped off the top.

It’s nice when things are straightforward like this. No trade-ins, no carrier contracts, no in-store exclusives: just $200 saved.

Editor’s Pick

If you do want to buy a Pixel 3 for a carrier, you can do that too through the Google Store. Available carriers are Verizon and Google’s own Google Fi. The $200 savings applies to those devices, too.

But if you ask us, unlocked is the way to go, so you can choose to move to whichever carrier you like whenever the mood suits you. However, the options are there if you want them.

If even after saving $200 your bank account isn’t liking the expenditure, you can always get zero-percent financing through Google, which starts as low as $24.96 per month for 24 months.

Click the button below to get started with this Google Pixel 3 deal!