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opinion

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Opinion: Android 9 Pie's Digital Wellbeing has too little data and too many options, but that can be fixed

Digital Wellbeing is one of the bigger features with landed with Android 9 Pie—though it seems like Google is keeping it separate and distinct in the Pixel-only public beta. I've spent the last week using it to analyze my use patterns and place restrictions on how I use my phone, and while the tool brings together a lot of options for precise configuration, I've found the data it actually provides is a bit lackluster. But I think there are ways it can be improved.

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The Galaxy Note9 is Samsung's fanboy phone

Sitting through Samsung's Unpacked press conference in Brooklyn yesterday, I wasn't struck with a barrage of technical specifications, comparisons to the competition, or endless feature demos. Samsung didn't even really attempt to sell the new Note as revolutionary, or to convince its audience that they were getting a great product for the money. Instead, it appealed to something more human, more base: emotion.

The Note9 announcement opened with a montage of journalists disparaging the original Galaxy Note back in 2011 (to be fair, it was a bad phone), followed by a supercut on the rise of the Big Phone and the Note's subsequent dominance of the segment it essentially created.

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You're not wrong - smartphones aren't as exciting as they used to be

A new processor, a new camera, a new screen, and better-faster-stronger everything are annual givens for our smartphones, and it seems people are starting to notice - and are increasingly becoming indifferent to it all. But are smartphones actually getting more boring? Or is it just that we have become so spoiled by mobile technology that its seemingly inevitable march forward is no longer interesting? It's a bit of a navel-gazing exercise, I must admit, but I think it's something worth talking about - especially with a look to the smartphone's larger history.

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I used an Android Go phone for a month, and it was terrible

With the vast selection of pre-existing, inexpensive Android phones, Android Go and its worse-spec'd ~$100 handsets were quickly dismissed by many. To be honest, I shared the attitude, but I wanted to give the concept a fair shake before I shrugged it off as another well-intended but misguided effort on Google's part. So I willingly gave up all my fun flagships—my Pixels, OnePluses, Essential, etc.—and spent one calendar-precise month as a digital monk on the mountain, using only my Android Go-powered Alcatel 1X.

My opinion hasn't changed: Android Go is an overpriced, terrible experience.

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First, they came for your phone's headphone jack—is the USB port next?

When Apple released the first iPhone without a headphone jack two years ago, many - critics, consumers, and competitors alike - were quick to cry foul. The decision was widely derided arrogant and unfriendly, and CMO Phil Schiller took a well-deserved beating in the court of public opinion for calling the removal of the 3.5mm jack “courageous.”

Imagine, then, what would happen if Apple was to remove the charging and data port from the iPhone entirely.

It's not as wild as it sounds. A report from trusted Apple leaker Mark Gurman recently revealed that the company had considered doing just that with the iPhone X.

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Xiaomi wants to come to America, but it feels more stuck in China than ever

For all the traction China’s many smartphone brands have gained globally in the past decade, it’s in China itself where they remain most popular. And for good reason: because Chinese consumers don’t have access to many Western products or services. Xiaomi is one of the most popular smartphone brands in China, and while the unique market in that country has encouraged the company to think differently than its more global rivals in some ways, its latest smartphone strikes me as one built by China, for China. There’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself, but it makes me question just what Xiaomi’s pitch to the rest of the world will be, or if the company’s phones will ever matter outside a few, select regions.

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Opinion: Google AMP is still confusing, and it's not getting any better

The mobile web can be frustrating. Smartphones and tablets are becoming faster every year, but modern sites usually outpace them by becoming more complicated. While there are efforts to improve site load times, smartphones have to deal with other obstacles as well. Cellular network connections can become congested, especially in densely-populated areas, and budget phones often aren't speedy enough for a good browsing experience.

There have been many different products and technologies designed to speed up mobile browsing. Some browsers, like Opera Mini and Amazon Silk, render most of the page on a server and send the result to the user's device.

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Smartphone addiction is worth talking about, but it probably isn't a social crisis

"Smartphone addiction" is a term that entered our cultural lexicon relatively recently - you could say it's A Thing. And it's a thing increasingly cited by techno-skeptics and self-help authors looking to capitalize on our natural desire to purge "unhealthy" habits from our lives (historically, a very American kind of fad). Not to mention: the ever-popular fear that we're all being spied on. Some people are even switching back to dumphones to avoid all the awfulness smartphones have brought into our lives. In short, the smartphone's ubiquity has made it The Next Big Source of All Your ProblemsTM. And I think, in spite of the best intentions - being more in the moment, having more meaningful interactions, and sleeping better - we've all kind of jumped the gun here.

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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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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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