Google Pixel XL – A Benchmark Six Months On

The Google Pixel XL, and its smaller sibling the Pixel, were released in October 2016.  At the time of their launch, they were lauded by many as the benchmark for other Android phones.  Samsung at the time was still dealing with the debacle that was the Galaxy Note7 while companies like Huawei had solid phones but less-than-stellar user experience in EMUI 4.0.  Even the younger kids on the block like OnePlus were touting their phones but from an overall experience, none of them matched the Pixel XL.

Fast forward six months.  Is the Pixel XL still a benchmark device?  In my opinion, absolutely.  It is from many perspectives:  Performance, photo quality, and perhaps most importantly, the upgrade experience.  If there is one thing that the Google Pixel lineup offers that virtually no others do, it is a pure, as Google intended it, Android experience.  Others are close – Motorola and OnePlus – but none are unadulterated Android.  When the Pixel was announced, the immediate response was “iPhone copycat” and, to be fair, it is a bit true.  If you hold a Pixel up to an iPhone 7, minus the Home button, they look strikingly similar on the front.  Is that a bad thing?  I don’t think so.  Apple, love them or hate them, has done a great job of selling iPhones these past few years and it is a proven look for a smartphone.

Unlike deep dive reviews of phones I’ve done here on the site, I’m not going to do that with the Pixel XL.  Instead, I’m going to highlight three key areas that I think make the phone a benchmark by which to measure other phones in the market.  You may feel different, and that’s okay.  We are all adults and can have a healthy debate on it.

Android Nougat 7.1.1 Comes in The Latest OnePlus 3 and 3T Update

OnePlus has released OxygenOS 4.1.3 this morning for the OnePlus 3 and 3T.  The update brings a host of improvements to the flagship devices along with upgrading the platform to Android Nougat 7.1.1.  For those who aren’t OnePlus users, OxygenOS is the company’s version of Android.  It is actually a very-near stock Android experience with a few tweaks and is a solid performing platform that OnePlus has been continually updating these past few months.

As has been the case in the past, OnePlus is slow rolling the OTA update out to users.  Therefore, it could be a few days before everyone sees the update hit their devices.

Huawei Mate 9 Sales Push Past 5 Million Units in 4 Months

After being on the market these past four months, the Huawei Mate 9 is doing well for the Chinese company.  In a report from China based MyDrivers.com, the company reports that some 5 million units of the 5.9″ phablet have been sold globally.  That is up 36% over the same period for its predecessor, the Mate 8.  Generally, the Mate 9 has been met with solid reviews for its design and performance.  I reviewed it a few weeks back and it, along with its smaller sibling the P10, are impressive devices.

Huawei isn’t resting however.  They have already issued updates for the phablet that brings Daydream support, one of the few non-Google devices with the VR support, and have brought Amazon’s Alexa to the phone too.  The latter has been less-than-stellar on performance but Huawei, for their part, fulfilled the promise to bring the Amazon assistant to the phone at MWC back in February.

Google Express Update Brings Shared Shopping Lists

Google Express, the shopping app with next day delivery for subscribers, has been updated with several changes.  The biggest new feature is the ability to invite friends and family to add items to your Shopping Lists.  Items can be added to these shared lists via your phone (the app), computer or by speaking to Google Home.  As you may recall, the Google Assistant shopping list feature of Home moved on Monday from Google Keep to Google Express.  That has irked more than a few Home users who didn’t want to have to install another app to manage shopping lists.  Deeper though, it makes sense as all shopping and shopping lists are now in Express and not in both Express (if you used it) and Keep.  Your mileage, of course, will vary.

Another big part of this update is the deprecation of support for Android Jelly Bean.  That version of Android was released nearly 5 years ago and continues to fall in usage based on the Android Distribution Report.  With regards to Express, the app won’t run on a device running Jelly Bean.

Android Nougat Update for The HTC One M9 on Sprint Released

Good news this morning for those of you who have the HTC One M9 on the Sprint network.  HTC has confirmed that the Android Nougat 7.0 update has been released by Sprint with updates starting today.  The updated build is 4.27.651.4 and weighs in at a hefty 2.25GB.  HTC is suggesting that the update will take about 20 minutes to complete and will reboot your One M9 several times during the process.  It is recommended that you have at least 35% remaining battery or, better, having your phone plugged in to AC (but don’t unplug it during the upgrade process) to upgrade.  Given the size of the update, Wi-Fi is the best option to download.

Once you have it downloaded to your phone and installed, you will have all of the benefits of Nougat including multi-window support, improved Doze and improved notification shade amongst many other refinements.  You can read my overview of Nougat 7.0 for more details.

Bing for Android Update Brings Improved Accessibility Support

Microsoft has rolled out an update for their search app Bing for Android today.  The update is versions 6.7.25183495 for those keeping score at home and on the surface, you won’t find much different from the previous version.  There have been a few UX design improvements but overall, not much to see here.  The big news is deeper however in the improved support for accessibility.  Bing supported accessibility features in Android previously but they were limited.  With this update, accessibility support can be found throughout the app, not just searching.

If you are one who has various accessibility features enabled on your phone, this update to Bing will support many of the settings including TalkBack and Magnification gesture.

[Update – It’s Fixed!] Nexus 6P Owners in Android Beta Getting Official Build of Nougat 7.1.2

Update 3: Google addressed the server-side issue late yesterday and it is no not looping from beta to stable back to beta.

Update 2:  Thanks to reader Aberr who is reporting that the looping is also happening on his Nexus 5X.

Update:  It appears that the beta build is the last beta build so devices are looping from beta to stable to beta.  Sigh….

For those of you who participate in the Android Beta program and have a Nexus 6P, the GA build of Android Nougat 7.1.2 is now rolling out to devices.  The update is just a touch over 25MB in size, indicating that the last beta and this final build were pretty much identical.  You are looking for build N2G47H and so far, only the Nexus 6P seems to be updating to this new build.  Those of you who texted on the Nexus 5X or Pixel C are still having to wait for the official build to hit your devices.

If you are looking to get out of the beta, this is the time to do it.  Once you have N2G47H installed on your Nexus 6P, you can then opt out of the Beta program and you won’t get a reset of your phone.  If you move from the beta build out of the program, you will get a reset of your phone.  And this little tidbit is important because there is already another beta build out.

Google Assistant Can Now Track Flight Costs

Google Assistant continues to gain power and knowledge, especially when it comes to integrating with other Google services.  The latest example has rolled out today and was announced on the Made by Google Twitter feed.  Now you can track flight costs from one point to another by simply giving a command.

How it works is straightforward.  Simply ask Google Assistant, “What is the cost from (A) to (B)” with A & B replaced with locations.  Assistant will then process the information and present you with all of your flight options.  By default it will give you flight information two weeks out but you can change this by including a specific date.  It will also give you the shortest flight time for the trip you have asked information on from Assistant.

Add Your Debit Card to Android Pay Through Select Bank Apps

Google has announced that they have teamed up with several large banks globally to allow for adding your bank or credit card to Android Pay directly from your bank’s app.  Today, if you want to add your card to Android Pay, you have to add it to the app, then go through an approval process of some type (typically a SMS to your mobile) to actually add the card to Pay.  With this new way, while you are in your banking app, you can just tap a button to add the card to Android Pay.  It cuts down on the number of taps you have to make and certainly simplifies the process.

Today there are just a handful of banks that are supported:  Bank of America, Bank of New Zealand, Discover, mBank and USAA.  Google indicates in the announcement on this new collaboration with banks that more will be added in the future.

Google Photos Update Brings Impressive Video Stabilization

Google Photos version 2.13 is rolling out right now in the Google Play Store and with it comes a new video stabilization feature.  The new feature allows you to post-process videos you have shot and uploaded to the service to give your videos a more stable look.  This, my friends, is Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence at its best.  Using ML and AI, Photos is analyzing your video and essentially correcting the video at the pixel level.  It is astonish that it can sort it out and even more astonishing that you have this in the app.  A free app.

The new feature is located on the edit menu when you select a video from your Google Photos library.  Once you have the video open, you will see a new stabilize button.  Tap it and Photos will start processing the video and smoothing it out.

AT&T and Sprint Release Nougat for The Galaxy S6 Lineup

Good news for those of you who have the Samsung Galaxy S6 or S6 Edge on either AT&T or Sprint.  Both carriers have released the Android Nougat update for the devices on their respective networks, following up after the general release of the update by Samsung last month.  Principally, the updates for both carriers are the same.  Both bring all of the features of Nougat to the devices and both updates also bring device specific UX updates too.

The updates, as expected, are hefty.  They weigh in at over a 1GB on both carriers, regardless of variant, so you will certainly want to make sure that you are connected to Wi-Fi when you download the update.  Once it is downloaded, expect the update to take 15-20 minutes on either of the 2015 flagship devices.  After a reboot, you will be on Nougat.  If you need a refresher on what Android Nougat will bring to your phone, check out my review from last year.

Windows Vista Support Ends Today

Today, Microsoft is officially calling it a day on Windows Vista.  The ten year old version of Windows has officially reached EOL (End of Life) and if there are any readers who are still using it, it is seriously time to upgrade.  EOL means that Microsoft is doing nothing to support the OS any longer.  There will be no further security updates or patches and no service packs for the platform.  In other words, you are on your own.  Microsoft is still maintaining and supporting Windows 7, Windows 8.1 and Windows 10.

Windows Vista was codenamed Longhorn and was the first in a series of departures from the traditional look and feel of Windows to that point.  It was also the first version of Windows that seriously focused on security with multiple security improvements over Windows XP.  It was launched in October 2009 globally.