JR Raphael

About the Author JR Raphael


5 Google launches from 2017 that still haven’t landed

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Google announces an awful lot of stuff.

Between its annual I/O convention, its fall hardware event, and the beefy stew of blogs posted in between, the big G always seems to have some big new feature, product, or service up its sleeve — so many, in fact, that it’s easy to lose track and forget about a few things along the way.

That’s precisely what I discovered when I slogged back through the past year’s worth of Google revelations. Amidst all the now-familiar fare was a small handful of leftover items — little this-and-thats mentioned as part of broader announcements and then never brought up again. They’re things we heard about, talked about, then largely forgot about.

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8 Android narratives to approach with skepticism in 2018

Ah, early January. It’s a time when hopes are fresh, promises are grand, and hype is about as hyperbolic as it gets.

As we mark the start of CES and the beginning of a new year of ambition and anticipation, it’s more important than ever to maintain perspective. In a realm where practically everything includes a superlative, after all, a good old-fashioned reality check is the best chance we’ve got to keep ourselves grounded.

And in the realm of Android, specifically, some of the same grandiose narratives seem to pop up time and time again — so much that they’re basically just empty words at this point.

Will this be the year some of these things actually come true? Maybe. But given the context and history we have in front of us, anyone would be well-advised to take the following now-standard Android narratives with a healthy grain of salt in 2018:

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8 New Year’s resolutions for Android fans in 2018

Well, gang, the start of a new year is upon us, and we all know what that means: Time to make wildly ambitious resolutions you know you’ll never keep.

But hey, do that on your time, won’t ya? We’ve got important business to attend to here — namely making some beneficial yet realistic goals for the Android side of our lives.

If you have one or more Android devices, step off the scale for a few seconds and commit yourself to some of these immensely achievable 2018 tasks:

Resolution #1: Get your security situation in order

Android security is a loaded subject, but the long and short of it is that there’s really not much to worry about — provided you (a) use common sense and (b) take advantage of the tools Google gives you.

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The best Android apps for organizing your life

You don’t need a New Year’s resolution to realize it’s time to get your life in order.

Most of us juggle an immense amount of information these days — enough tasks, to-do’s, and scattered scraps of mental data to fill up a 40-gallon fish tank. (Just imagine all those tiny little thought-fishies swimming around! Glub, glub, glub.)

But guess what? You don’t have to rely on your tired ol’ noggin to keep track of everything in your life. That shiny slab of glass in your pocket is overflowing with excellent apps that can organize practically everything imaginable for you. And whether you’re reading this on January 1st or on June 3rd, now’s as good a time as any to embrace their organizational prowess and give your brain a break.

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Android 2018 primer: 10 bits of telling analysis to mull over

As we gear up for a quiet week of relaxation, reflection, and — hey, who knows — maybe even a little regurgitation, now’s a fine time to both look to the past and prepare for the future.

In the world of Android, after all, trends mean everything. And thinking back on some of the broader trends we’ve observed with the platform over the past 12 months can go a long way in informing us about the moves we’re likely to see in the months ahead.

Take a few minutes to revisit these important bits of analysis as you brace yourself for the coming January craziness. They’ll give you valuable context about where Android and Google in general are going and what broad themes are bound to dominate the discussion in 2018.

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How to securely erase your Android device in 4 steps

It’s an inevitable moment in the smartphone-owning cycle, the point at which a newer, shinier model comes along and your trusty old device is no longer needed.

Maybe your company bought you a new Android phone. Maybe your old one was getting too slow. Or maybe you just love electronics and couldn’t resist the lure of whatever sexy new Android device your favorite manufacturer started selling.

Whatever the case, it’s common nowadays to find yourself with an extra phone. And while there are plenty of practical uses for an old Android device, there’s also a time when the best choice is to sell, donate, or otherwise pass it along.                                                                            

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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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