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Android needs to adopt gesture navigation sooner rather than later

It hardly seems that long, but nearly ten years ago, the world’s first Android smartphone was announced. Android in 2008 really was barely recognizable as the operating system we know and love today, and the way we navigated that operating system was pretty different, too.

The HTC G1, or Dream as it was known in some markets, was equipped with a slew of hard buttons and even a trackball (yes, a trackball), though it also offered a full touchscreen and a slide-out keyboard. At the time, Android didn’t have a standardized system navigation layout; the G1 had buttons for opening the dialer, ending a call, going home, a menu key, and a back key, along with the clickable trackball to use as a confirmation input.

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Android Auto wishlist: Five things Google's infotainment system is still missing

Google unveiled Android Auto way back at I/O in 2014, but it didn't reach vehicles until May of 2015 when Hyundai added it to the Sonata. If you looked at Android Auto from 2015 and compared it to the current version, you'd see precious few differences. Google has been slow to improve Auto, but at least we got wireless projection. That tells us Google is still working on Android Auto, but it's still missing some features we've wanted ever since we got our first glimpse at Google's infotainment platform. Here are four features we still want to see in Android Auto.

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Opinion: Essential could learn a lot from OnePlus - specifically, its mistakes

Since Essential launched the PH-1 last year, the phone has gained a cult following. Although the phone isn't without its faults, there aren't many other choices for a Snapdragon 835 below $500, and many people took advantage of last fall's Sprint and Amazon sales that saw the price fall lower, under $400. Essential also pioneered the "notch," which (like it or hate it) is only just now coming into vogue. The company and its products aren't perfect by any means, but one might even call Essential disruptive.

For better or worse, I’m reminded of another company that pioneered disruption in the flagship space: OnePlus.

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Motorola is more at risk of becoming irrelevant than ever - can it be saved?

Motorola is in trouble. As it has been, frankly, for much of the past five-plus years. The Lenovo-owned smartphone brand once known for its positively prodigious portfolio hasn't announced a new phone in well over six months. That was the Moto X4, which got a mixed reception and has gone on discount so frequently of late that it seems poor sales are probably a given (granted, it's horrendously overpriced). But the X4 was never really competitive in its segment, and its reason for existence remains something of a mystery to me.

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The Galaxy S9 is supposed to be boring

The Galaxy S9 and S9+ are upon us, and if there's one thing we already can safely say, it's that they'll be the best-selling premium Android smartphones of 2018. And we can also safely say that they'll hold that title by a very wide margin. This despite the fact that they look, feel, and function remarkably similar to the Galaxy S phones Samsung launched in 2017. You might even say the Galaxy S9 is kind of boring - a sentiment I've seen widely expressed in comments and across the web since its announcement yesterday.

But before we dive in to that topic, let's get back to the numbers.

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The US smartphone market is devolving into a Samsung and Apple market - and that's bad for Android

If you live in the United States and walk into a Verizon store, you have essentially four options when it comes to choosing a premium smartphone brand: Apple, Samsung, LG, and Google. Yesterday, we learned that continuing to expect LG will be one of these options probably isn't the best bet.

While there may yet be a premium LG phone that launches on Verizon, the Korean conglomerate looks poised to join Motorola as one of Verizon's when-it's-convenient handset partners, and is quite possibly on its way to the Verizon graveyard with the likes of HTC, Sony, and BlackBerry.

The same can generally be said of AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint.

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Opinion: Google has quietly become one of the world's most important hardware companies

As we say goodbye to 2017, I'd like you to think back to five years ago - specifically, Google five years ago. At that time, if I had told you Google was one of the world's most important consumer electronics manufacturers, you'd probably have laughed at me.

Mentally put yourself in 2012: Google's just announced the fourth Nexus phone, the Nexus 4, running Android 4.2 Jelly Bean, along with the Nexus 10 tablet. At Google I/O six months prior, it unveiled the Nexus Q - a device intended to be some sort of smart entertainment hub... and proceeded to cancel its public launch.

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Android to iPhone, part two: What I've liked about switching to the iPhone X

I can already tell I’ll have a hard time going back to Android’s software navigation keys.

One of the most pleasantly surprising features of the iPhone X - and something that’s going to read like it’s straight out of Phil Schiller’s marketing playbook - comes in the form of what Apple removed from the phone: the home button. By forcing the issue of gesture navigation instead of going half-in with soft keys, Apple’s made a convert of me. I like gesture nav.

It’s also kind of broken. There’s no universal gesture to go back (some apps let you swipe from the left - sometimes), and the quick switcher button at the top left of the phone requires some serious thumb acrobatics to reach.

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Opinion: The Pixel 2 XL, despite one big flaw, is still my favorite phone ever

I've been using the Google Pixel 2 XL now for over a week. Its predecessor, the 2016 Pixel XL, is what I called the best Android phone ever six months after its release. I'm fairly certain that the 2 XL will take the original's title, at least in my opinion, without issue.

Before flaws, refinements

Around the internet, I am seeing a lot of revisionist history claiming the original Pixel XL was essentially a no-compromise, highly polished smartphone. Here's the thing: it wasn't.

The original Pixel had significant flaws, and in spite of them, I still thought it was the best smartphone I'd ever used.

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Opinion: The new Pixels will have the same problem as the current ones - they're just Android phones

A little-acknowledged but persistent problem has plagued every Google handset since the original Nexus One: Their most defining characteristics - Google's services and Android itself - are not unique to them.

With each new Google phone, consumers do often get their first chance to buy (well, assuming they're in stock - a big assumption) a device that ships with the latest version of Android. Or, they can wait four or five months and buy one that ships with that same version of Android from another, better-known vendor, typically with all of the major improvements and new features intact. Such a limited window of exclusivity on a highly iterative and admittedly quite geeky facet of a product all but ensures most people cannot be bothered to understand any of this.

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