With the shipment of the Google Home device just days away for many of us, Google has started laying the groundwork for their arrival. At the October event the company held, we learned that one of these steps would be rebranding the Google Cast app. That has happened and is rolling out now. The Google Home app is, essentially, the same app as Google Cast but will be able to add additional cast devices and of course the Home device once it is released. Google, wisely in my opinion, has lumped the Cast and Home device management into one app, much like they have done with Google OnHub and Google Wi-Fi into the On app. This will help cut down on the number of apps you have to install to manage the growing number of devices.
Google has announced that Android Pay will be integrating with two popular payment systems, MasterCard’s Masterpass and Visa’s Visa Checkout, in early 2017. The integration will bring more opportunities for consumers to use the Pay app and selecting which backend payment option that want the funds to be drawn from for the transaction while shopping online.
Android Pay users will soon be able to pay on hundreds of thousands of new sites where Visa Checkout or Masterpass are accepted using their preferred device authentication method – like fingerprint recognition. No longer will users have to remember multiple usernames and passwords in order to checkout, saving them time and hassle.
When the app is updated in early 2017, you will be able to configure it to be your single app for payments online.
As a Google Photos Top Contributor, there are a few feature requests that I hear pretty regularly. One of those is now off the list: Albums in search results. The latest update to the Photos app now shows you albums in your search results when you are looking for a photo (or in this case a set of photos) within the app. It is a small feature mind you and frankly, should have been there a while ago. But it is there now and it is a good proof point that Google does take user feedback seriously. With any Google app, if there is a feature you want to see, use the Feedback feature to get that to Google. It really does work.
With orders now starting to arrive to those who ordered the new Google Pixel or Pixel XL, Google has posted both the factory images and the OTA updates for both phones on the Android Developer website. This follows the trend that the company has had the last two device rounds (Nexus 5X/6P and Marshmallow & Nexus 6/Lollipop). This means that, like the Nexus lineup before it, the Pixel lineup will have images that those who want to manually update their devices can use as soon as the images are released instead of waiting for the standard over-the-air updates.
There is a new update to Chrome for Android rolling out that has some nice new features for the browser. The update is version 54.0.2840.68 for those keeping score at home and is now in the Google Play Store. The OTA update should roll out to your devices over the course of the next few days. Once you have it, there are three new features that will be available that improve the overall experience of the app. First, there are new article suggestions when you open up a new tab. This will be based on your browsing history as well as topics you’ve identified in other Google services (like Google News) that are of interest to you.
Google and other developers continue to update their apps to support multi-window views in Android Nougat and the latest to get the treatment is Google Calculator. Now let’s be honest, calculator apps aren’t exactly exciting. The principles of mathematics haven’t changed and frankly, no app is going to make it really exciting. It is utilitarian. But, that said, having the ability to have the calculator on one pane while say in Sheets or Excel in the other? That can be really handy.
The updated build is version 7.1.1 for those keeping score at home and the update is available now in the Play Store. If you have the app already installed, you should see the OTA update for it over the course of the next few days. Don’t expect to see a lot of changes. It is a calculator. But it is a calculator that you can now run in parallel on your screen with another app which can be quite handy.
For those who don’t remember how to get to multi-window in Nougat, have at least two apps open and then tap-and-hold the Recents button. You will then be able to select the app you want at the bottom (or right in landscape mode) on your screen. Tap it and you have two apps visible. You can then use the bar between the two apps to resize one window to make it larger depending on your needs.
The Android team at Google has released the first Developer Preview of Android Nougat and with it comes a host of changes and improvements. The version is indicated as Nougat 7.1.1 with a build number of NFP10C and right now it is only available for the Nexus 5X, Nexus 6P and the Pixel C. As you know, Nougat 7.1.1 will be shipping on the Google Pixel devices so this is very much a catch-up build for the Nexus devices and Pixel C. The good news is that there are a lot of changes and improvements in this build of Nougat. While Nexus devices won’t get the Pixel Launcher – for now at least – the changes that are in 7.1.1 do bring some of the Pixel features to these devices and it is well worth considering joining the beta program so you can get a sneak peak.
That said, it is beta. That means that you could run into issues with apps or other things with your phone if you do decide to install it. I’m far more comfortable in recommending this install however because it is an evolution of Nougat, not the wholesale version change from Marshmallow to Nougat. I’ve been running it on my Nexus 6P for about 24 hours now and haven’t run into any issues. If you decide to install it, the download is about 1.3GB so you’ll for sure want to make sure you are on Wi-Fi to avoid data usage.
Today the Pixel Launcher has made its debut in the Play Store. The launcher which comes standard on Google Pixel devices however, cannot be installed on non-Pixel devices. Well, officially at least. If you want to download the APK and side load it, the team over at Android Police have the link available on their site.
The question that many are already asking is why Google would put this in the Play Store even if only two phones can actually install it? That actually is pretty easy to answer. Google has been porting out standalone version of a multitude of their apps over the course of the past year. By doing this, it makes it far easier to update and not require a system update as it would if it were baked into the Android build. This process has actually allowed non-Nexus phone to use Google apps on their devices and while the Pixel Launcher is only for the Pixel phones now, the foundation is laid at the very least for Google to expand it to other Android devices in the future. If they chose to do that in the future.
The lock screen app, Next Lock Screen from Microsoft, has been updated today with several big improvements. The biggest change in the new build, version 3.9 for those keeping score at home, has to do with improved notifications and weather on the lock screen of your Android phone. In this new build, these two features have been significantly improved and are, well, reliable. In the previous build the weather updates in particular were haphazard at best. This new 3.9 build is much better at updating both notifications and weather updates in a timely fashion.
A pretty nice little feature has been turned on in Google Search for Android, mini widgets. These new semi-transparent widgets appear just below the search bar to give you quick information like weather, commute information, local information and so forth. As I have been traveling this week and have enabled this feature, it is actually very handy and I’d encourage readers to enable it on their phones. Keep in mind it doesn’t show up all the time so even if you have it enabled, you may not see it immediately.
Once again you can pick up a great deal on the Nextbit Robin. As they did last month, the company is running a sale over at Amazon where you can pick up the 32GB phone in either their unique Mint or Midnight blue color for just $199. The Robin normally sells for $299 but the company has been running this $199 promotion every few months this year which for what the phone offers is a steal. I reviewed the Robin a few weeks ago and it remains one of my favorites. I have no problem in recommending it.
If the streaming music options available to you weren’t enough, Amazon has decided to jump into the game. The company announced their new Music Unlimited service, a streaming service that gives you access to millions of songs that you can stream from your computer, Android or iOS device. Like many other services, you can download the music to your device for playing offline. There are, however, some uniquely Amazon elements to the service which could make it an attractive alternative for some, especially those who are deep within the Amazon services ecosystem.