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Most Wanted: The top mid-range (<$500) smartphones of 2016

The mid-range smartphone segment is a highly competitive one these days, and one that is seeing its price boundaries ever-expanded in the quest to reach the perfect equilibrium of specifications to dollar. 2016 saw the release of what we think are five truly exceptional mid-range devices in the United States: these phones put their money where their mouth is. Devices in this category must be priced at retail under $500, but over $250 (sub-$250 qualifies for our "budget" category). Our picks for "Top Mid-Range Smartphone" are presented below, in no particular order.

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Google acquires smartwatch company Cronologics to work on Android Wear

Google pushed back the release of Android Wear 2.0 a few months ago, which is currently expected to debut in early 2017. There's been a great deal of uncertainty about the future of the platform, but Google isn't giving up. In fact, it just acquired a company (founded by former Googlers) that created a smartwatch OS. It's called Cronologics—or rather it was. The company is being absorbed entirely by the Android Wear team.

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Android Pay officially expands to Japan

Google is slowly but surely expanding its Android Pay platform to more territories. Today Japan gets access - if you're in the country you should be able to download the app from the Play Store for the first time on Android 4.4 or later. Google's retail partners in Japan include McDonalds, Dominoes, Lawson, Mini-Stop, Apita, Family Mart, and Coca-Cola vending machines, along with a handful of Japan-exclusive retailers. 

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[Deal Alert] Grab an Asus ZenWatch 2 for up to $50 off at Best Buy today only, plus $25 off with Visa Checkout

The Asus ZenWatch may be growing a bit old at this point, but it is still a capable performer. Today brings us a few deals on the last memorable square Android Wear watch, but most notably is the offering from Best Buy. You can score some versions of the watch for $100 today only, but you'll get the additional $25 off if you use Visa Checkout. An effective $75 for the ZenWatch 2 is not bad at all.

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Gboard expands keyboard GIF support beyond Android 7.1

One of the few substantive changes in Android 7.1 was the addition of GIFs in the keyboard. When typing in a supported app, you can use the GIF button to drop in an image. This was only working on Android 7.1 previously, but the new Gboard keyboard update changes that.

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Most Wanted: The Google Pixel is Android Police's staff pick for 2016 Smartphone of the Year

In an internal poll of the Android Police staff, the Google Pixel has won overwhelmingly as our choice for smartphone of the year.

As I pick up my Google Pixel XL, nestled in its artwork Live Case (which, annoyingly, is cracking), I don't find myself missing much. I don't miss the almost artful curves and subtle refinement of the Galaxy Note7, the vast display canvas of LG's V20, or the Moto Z's... whatever. The Pixel XL just seems right, and if you were to ask me to give it up for any other smartphone today, I'd politely decline: this, for now, is as good as it gets.

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Project Fi offering $20 'Share the Fi Love' referral credit until January 11

Google's Project Fi has always been about saving money, as long as you don't consume a lot of data. Now Project Fi customers can "Share the Fi Love" with a new referral credit, accessible via the carrier's website. For each new Fi subscriber that uses the referral code, both the new subscriber and the original subscriber get a $20 Fi credit.

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Moto G4 and G4 Plus owners in India are seeing their Nougat updates in a slow rollout

Tis the season for timely Android OS updates. Most of the phones that get bumped to the latest version of Android before the end of the year are flagships and other high-end devices, but it looks like Motorola may be bucking the trend a bit with the latest G-series phones. Reports from a small number of users in India indicate that the Moto G4 and Moto G4 Plus are seeing over-the-air Nougat updates.

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Google Assistant can now control Nest thermostats from the Pixel, not just Google Home

For those of you who have used OK Google in regular Google Search before, then got a Pixel and a Google Home, the inconsistencies in what each of these can and can't do should be baffling. There are so many actions that Assistant struggles with on either the Pixel and Home that good'ol Google Search never had trouble with, and even within Assistant, there's a disconnect between what can be done from the Pixels or from Google Home.

One of the latter inconsistencies is that changing your Nest thermostat's temperature was possible with Google Search before and works with Assistant on Google Home, but for some odd reason, was not interpreted by the Pixel's Assistant.

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[Deal Alert] Save $100 on the 64GB Pixel C and $50 on the Pixel C Keyboard from the Google Store

Android tablets are in a bit of a lull right now, so I understand if you think this may not be the perfect time to invest in a Pixel C. But if you do want a new Android tablet, maybe for yourself or as a Christmas gift for someone, then the Pixel C should be a top contender. It runs Android 7.0 Nougat, has a 10.2" 2560 x 1800 display, 3GB of RAM, 32GB or 64GB of storage, and the Tegra X1 may not be the hottest processor on the bloc, but it does the job fine enough. The big deterrent however, is probably the hefty price tag, but that is changing for the next couple of weeks.

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