JR Raphael

About the Author JR Raphael


20 Android tips and tricks you shouldn’t miss from 2017

‘Tis the season for kicking back, crankin’ up the fireplace, and finding some time-saving new tricks for that pretty slab o’ glass in your pocket.

Enhanced efficiency is one heck of a holiday treat, after all — and one that keeps paying off for months to come. Hey, productivity matters, and there’s never a shortage of fresh Android shortcuts and enhancements just waiting to be embraced.

In case you missed any of ’em the first go-round or maybe just didn’t have time to try everything out, here are some of my favorite Android tips and tricks from 2017. Pour yourself some cocoa, polish up the ol’ Festivus pole, and give yourself the gift of finely tuned technology.

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Dear Amazon and Google: Enough.

Gang, we need to talk. Here in the land o’ tech (no relation to the Land o’ Lakes, aside from a shared love of butter), things are starting to get silly.

Google and Amazon, if you haven’t heard, are in the midst of a very public schoolyard spat. And their little game of corporate one-upmanship shows no sign of slowing anytime soon.

Here’s the 30-second version, in case you haven’t been following along: For years, Amazon has refused to offer Google products like Chromecast and Google Home in its online store. It also neglected to offer a readily available Prime Video app for Android up until just a few months ago (previously, you had to go out of your way to sideload the entire notification-spam-spewing Amazon storefront app just to play a lousy movie). Oh, and it still doesn’t provide a way to cast videos from Prime to Google-Cast-compatible devices, which is a real thorn in the side for its many Cast-using subscribers.

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Android nostalgia: 20 once-essential apps you’ve probably long forgotten

Ah, memories. With the frenetic pace at which Android has evolved over the past decade, the experience of using the platform today is pretty darn different from the Android-using adventure of even just a few years ago.

And it’s not just the operating system itself that’s changed. As mobile tech in general has matured and Android’s native features have bit by bit expanded, the types of apps we rely on have also shifted considerably. Priorities have shuffled, standards have changed, and developers have come and gone. As a result, some of the most popular titles from Android’s earlier days are now mere memories — and pretty fuzzy ones, at that.

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Android nostalgia: 13 once-trumpeted features that quietly faded away

Every time a new Android version arrives, a new game begins: Which of the lovingly described fresh platform features will fail to live up to its hype and then end up fading out of the foreground — either to be phased out completely or just brushed aside and consigned to oblivion?

It seems like a funny thing to say, but when you look back at Android’s history, you realize how many once-transformative-sounding features ended up fizzling and being forgotten soon after their grand debuts. Some remain buried in the software while others quietly vanished after a period of inertia, but they all share the fact that they’re nowhere near the center-stage-worthy elements they once appeared to be.

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How to make your phone’s Gmail notifications much, much better

In my never-ending quest to minimize distractions and maximize efficiency in my work — a quest that’s especially challenging this time of year! — one thing I’ve discovered is that notifications tend to be detrimental to productivity.

Think about it: By their very nature, notifications are distractions. They flash and ding and steal your focus away from whatever Very Important Task you happen to be doing at any given moment (even if said task is simply staring blankly whilst thinking of cake — hey, we’ve all been there). And more often than not, your allegedly smart phone’s notifications don’t involve anything that actually demands your immediate attention. Pardon my gibberish, but that’s pretty flarking stupid.

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Microsoft is flailing with Android app support on Chromebooks [Update: The saga continues]

These days, Microsoft is supposedly all about services — about getting you to use and subscribe to its software, regardless of what platform you prefer.

That’s why it’s especially hard to understand the convoluted mess the company’s creating with its Android Office apps and their wildly inconsistent support on Chromebooks.

Let me back up for a minute: Last week, I published a guide to the essential Android apps for Chromebooks. Google officially took the beta label off its Play Store on Chrome OS effort with the launch of its Pixelbook this month — a change visible not just on the Pixelbook but on any Chromebook with Play Store access — and that seemed like a fine time to assess which Android apps actually enhance the Chrome OS experience in a meaningful way.

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How to turn Google Assistant into a powerful list-making machine

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Google Assistant since its debut, it’s that some of the service’s most useful features are the ones that require a little bit of effort to set up.

Sure, Assistant can do all sorts of handy stuff out of the box — like perform calculations and conversions, provide weather and traffic updates, and give up-to-the-minute information on almost anything imaginable. It can send messages, play music, and control your Android device in numerous ways. But those are all things Android has long been able to handle by way of Google’s former Voice Search system. Assistant basically just repackaged and rebranded them.

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40 Chromebook tips for maximum productivity

Chromebooks may be all about simplicity, but don’t be fooled: Beneath their intuitive outer layer lies a web of advanced options. And you don’t have to be a power user to embrace it.

Make your way through these 40 tips, and you’ll be zipping around Chrome OS like a pro in no time.

Getting around Chrome OS

1. The Chrome OS launcher — the app-drawer-like interface that appears when you tap the Search key or hit the circle icon in the lower-left corner of the screen — is actually a powerful universal search tool. Just start typing as soon as it appears, and you can find and open apps, pull up websites and even get answers to specific questions right then and there.

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3 hilariously fitting things about Samsung’s first Android phone

When you dig around in Android history, you’re bound to uncover some spectacular treasures.

That’s what happened to me while I was deep in the digital archives doing research for my recent story about Android versions. From the memory-jogging screenshots to the many forgotten milestones, I came across more buried gems than I could possibly squeeze into a single story. And you know what? Some of the nuggets that didn’t end up fitting into the final piece were among the most amusing discoveries of all.

So let’s set the scene for a few standout examples: The year was 2009. Cupcake was the Android release o’ the moment — the first Android version to sport a tasty-sounding name, not to mention an on-screen keyboard and then-revolutionary-seeming support for third-party widgets.

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Android security audit: An 11-step checklist

Android security is always a hot topic on these here Nets of Inter — and almost always for the wrong reason.

As we’ve discussed ad nauseam over the years, most of the missives you read about this-or-that super-scary malware/virus/brain-eating-boogie-monster are overly sensationalized accounts tied to theoretical threats with practically zero chance of actually affecting you in the real world. If you look closely, in fact, you’ll start to notice that the vast majority of those stories stem from companies that — gasp! — make their money selling malware protection programs for Android phones. (Pure coincidence, right?)

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Android versions: A living history from 1.0 to today

What a long, strange trip it’s been.

From its inaugural release to today, Android has transformed visually, conceptually and functionally — time and time again. Google’s mobile operating system may have started out scrappy, but holy moly, has it ever evolved.

Here’s a fast-paced tour of Android version highlights from the platform’s birth to present.

Android versions 1.0 to 1.1: The early days

Android made its official public debut in 2008 with Android 1.0 — a release so ancient it didn’t even have a cute codename.

Things were pretty basic back then, but the software did include a suite of early Google apps like Gmail, Maps, Calendar and YouTube, all of which were integrated into the operating system — a stark contrast to the more easily updatable standalone-app model employed today.

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When Google Play Protect fails

I’ve written a lot about Android security over the years — and more often than not, it’s the same ol’ story time and time again:

A company that sells mobile security software finds some theoretical threat — something that (a) hasn’t affected any actual users in the real world and (b) couldn’t affect any actual users in the real world, outside of a highly improbable scenario in which all native security measures are disabled and the user goes out of his way to download a questionable-looking app from some shady porn forum.

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Microsoft is flailing with Android app support on Chromebooks

These days, Microsoft is supposedly all about services — about getting you to use and subscribe to its software, regardless of what platform you prefer.

That’s why it’s especially hard to understand the convoluted mess the company’s creating with its Android Office apps and their wildly inconsistent support on Chromebooks.

Let me back up for a minute: Last week, I published a guide to the essential Android apps for Chromebooks. Google officially took the beta label off its Play Store on Chrome OS effort with the launch of its Pixelbook this month — a change visible not just on the Pixelbook but on any Chromebook with Play Store access — and that seemed like a fine time to assess which Android apps actually enhance the Chrome OS experience in a meaningful way.

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2 USB-C adapters worth considering for your Chromebook

Heads-up, my mobile productivity compadres: If you’re using a Chromebook for work, there’s a decent chance you’ll need to load up your laptop bag with a few good adapters.

Increasingly, Chromebooks today — just like laptops in general — are shifting away from the ports-galore model and instead providing us with just a small number of USB-C ports to handle all of our physical connectivity needs.

That’s true with the Google Pixelbook, which has a single USB-C port on either of its two sides and nothing more, save for a 3.5mm headphone jack (oh thank heavens for that). It’s also true of Asus’s Chromebook Flip C302CA and Samsung’s Chromebook Pro and Chromebook Plus, all of which follow that same basic setup. It seems safe to say this is shaping up to be the new standard moving forward.

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Google Pixelbook: What the naysayers are missing

The reviews are in for Google’s $999 Pixelbook — and the overwhelming results? Well, they aren’t exactly surprising.

Let me sum up the common conclusion for you, in a nutshell: The Pixelbook is a beautiful, spectacular, and incredibly well-built device. In fact, it’s one of the most impressive computers we’ve ever seen! But, oh: It runs Chrome OS, so you absolutely shouldn’t spend a thousand dollars on it.

Those opinions were practically set in stone the second the Pixelbook was announced — or maybe even earlier. Heck, you can see the same sentiments being expressed in articles posted just hours after Google’s early-October event:

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Reality check: Can you use a Chromebook for work?

“Sure, Chromebooks are fine for schools and other simple stuff, but you can’t actually use ’em for work — can you?”

As someone who’s written about Google’s Chrome OS platform since the start, that’s a question I’ve heard more times than I can count. So I set out to get some current perspective on the answer.

For context, Chromebooks have actually played a significant role in my personal life for years. While I use a Windows desktop system in my office during the workday, I rely on a Chromebook for pretty much anything else that isn’t well suited to a phone — after-hours typing, weekend bill-paying, light work away from my desk, and so on. I’ve taken Chromebooks with me to handle work while I travel, too, but it’s been a while — and boy, oh boy, has a lot changed.

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Reality check: Can you use a Chromebook for work?

“Sure, Chromebooks are fine for schools and other simple stuff, but you can’t actually use ’em for work — can you?”

As someone who’s written about Google’s Chrome OS platform since the start, that’s a question I’ve heard more times than I can count. So I set out to get some current perspective on the answer.

For context, Chromebooks have actually played a significant role in my personal life for years. While I use a Windows desktop system in my office during the workday, I rely on a Chromebook for pretty much anything else that isn’t well suited to a phone — after-hours typing, weekend bill-paying, light work away from my desk, and so on. I’ve taken Chromebooks with me to handle work while I travel, too, but it’s been a while — and boy, oh boy, has a lot changed.

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How to connect to a remote computer with Chrome Remote Desktop

Once upon a time, in a world not so far away, accessing a computer remotely required all sorts of costly, complicated software and technical know-how.

These days, it’s a different story. Google’s free Chrome Remote Desktop service makes it dead-simple to get on any computer — Windows, Mac, Linux or Chromebook — from any other desktop or mobile device. You can access all of the remote system’s contents and even click around as if you were sitting right in front of it.

Chrome Remote Desktop can be useful for signing onto your own personal or work computer from afar, and it can be equally valuable for peeking in on someone else’s system — be it your co-worker’s or your mom’s — to provide hands-on help without having to be in the same location.

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How long til the true Google retail store arrives?

In the beginning, Google was a search company. Period.

At some point, it shifted into being a software and services company — and then a software and services company that, y’know, kinda-sorta dabbled in hardware here and there.

These days, there’s no denying it: In addition to its ongoing software and services efforts, Google is a hardware company through and through. Google has made that crystal clear with the launch of eight physical products and the accompanying shift toward emphasizing Google — not Android — as the primary ecosystem for its users. Sure, the hardware is designed specifically to showcase Google software and services, but the devices themselves are rapidly becoming an integral part of the equation.

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4 crazy Chromebooks myths, debunked

Bring up Chromebooks in any online crowd, and you’re practically guaranteed to get some version of a now-stock reaction:

Pshaw! Why would anyone pay for a browser in a box?

Or maybe:

Harrumph! Isn’t Google about to get rid of those and make the whole thing a part of Android, anyway?

Or the time-tested standby:

Pish tosh! You can’t do anything on those. Get a real computer instead. (Pshaw!)

These are the sorts of misguided statements sentient creatures have been making since the earliest days of Google’s Chrome OS platform (y’know, way back in the early 1700s, when I first started writing about this stuff). A lot has changed since the Chromebook’s debut — both with the software itself and with the way we hominids use technology in general — but the stubborn old inaccurate assessments remain.

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4 crazy Chromebook myths, debunked

Bring up Chromebooks in any online crowd, and you’re practically guaranteed to get some version of a now-stock reaction:

Pshaw! Why would anyone pay for a browser in a box?

Or maybe:

Harrumph! Isn’t Google about to get rid of those and make the whole thing a part of Android, anyway?

Or the time-tested standby:

Pish tosh! You can’t do anything on those. Get a real computer instead. (Pshaw!)

These are the sorts of misguided statements sentient creatures have been making since the earliest days of Google’s Chrome OS platform (y’know, way back in the early 1700s, when I first started writing about this stuff). A lot has changed since the Chromebook’s debut — both with the software itself and with the way we hominids use technology in general — but the stubborn old inaccurate assessments remain.

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Time to call it: The Chromebook is the new Android tablet

Riddle me this, dear reader: If you’ve got a device that looks like a tablet, acts like a tablet, and runs Android apps, what do you call it?

Odds are, your gut answer is “an Android tablet” — right? (Either that, or “a parsnip.” But seriously, if that’s what you thought, seek immediate counseling.)

What I’m actually describing, as you may guessed, is a convertible Chromebook. But for all practical purposes at this point, it essentially is an Android tablet. And all signs suggest it — not the traditional Android-based slate — is the future of the large-screened “Android” experience. There’s an argument to be made, in fact, that you should never buy a traditional Android tablet again. And crazy as it may sound, that seems to be precisely what Google wants.

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Google’s Pixel 2 embraces the reality everyone else is ignoring

I’m just gonna come out and say it: If you’re still obsessing over bezels, you’ve got your eye on the wrong prize.

Sure, most smartphone manufacturers want you to see those sexy edge-to-edge screens and feel that tingly, gotta-have-it sensation. They’re fresh, they’re new, they’re futuristic-looking — the gadget within must be better than what you have now, right?

Well, maybe. The truth, though, is that that sort of superficial quality is far from the most significant factor most people should be prioritizing when pondering a new phone. Selling hardware isn’t easy, especially these days, and device-makers know they need to latch onto readily visible or measurable marketing points if they want folks to open up their ears and wallets. That’s why we saw obsessions over things like extreme thinness, maximum megapixels, and utmost display density in the past.

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The Google feed has lost its soul

Not long ago, the Google feed — the stream of card-based info at the left-most side of your Android home screen and/or inside the Google mobile app — was something uniquely spectacular.

“The predictive future of search,” proclaimed The Verge — a “sign that all the different parts of Google are finally working together in a cohesive way.”

“A service that shows users vital information before they actually go searching for it,” noted Time — with info that’s “increasingly sophisticated.”

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16 time-saving Android shortcuts

When it comes to modern technology, every second counts.

It may sound silly, but it’s true: A second is the difference between an interaction on your phone feeling instantaneous and feeling just a touch too slow. And particularly with how frequently we tend to repeat common mobile tech tasks — switching apps, opening menus, firing up our cameras and so on — all of those seconds can add up fast.

The good news: Android has no shortage of hidden shortcuts that can help you save time and get stuff done more efficiently. All you have to do is learn how to use ’em.

Ready?

1. Snap between apps

Cut out delays in toggling between apps by putting Android’s semi-secret fast-snap function to use. If your device runs Android 7.0 (Nougat) or higher, double-tap the Overview key — the square-shaped icon next to the Back and Home buttons — and you’ll find yourself flipping between your two most recently used apps faster than you can say “fresh Froyo.”

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