JR Raphael

About the Author JR Raphael


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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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 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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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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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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A notch too far: The unfortunate irony of the bezel-less phone

Let me just start by apologizing for daring to criticize something that’s clearly both magical and revolutionary.

I know, I know: With its snazzy new iPhone X, Apple just “innovated” the bezel-less smartphone. (It also “innovated” wireless charging — er, sorry, AirPower — along with fast charging, high-quality OLED displays, and gesture-based controls, among other things. But we’ll focus on the bezels for now.) And hey, I’m certainly not one to get in the way of a good buzzword. 

While this column is ostensibly about Android, though, there’s no denying that Apple’s take on the design trend du jour is bound to have an impact on all parts of the mobile spectrum. With a variety of low-bezel phones already available in the Android ecosystem and plenty more certain to appear in the months ahead, Apple’s approach to the concept is likely to become relevant to us all at some level — whether directly or indirectly.

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Google’s HTC deal won’t solve its biggest Pixel problem

Sometimes, big news can take a while to process.

I’ve been spending the past several days thinking about last week’s revelation that, yes, Google is buying a piece of HTC. The announcement wasn’t quite the bombshell lots of folks were expecting — y’know, the “HOLY HELL, GOOGLE ABSORBED ANOTHER ENTIRE PHONE-MAKER!” variety — but it’s still pretty darn significant.

Google, as you no doubt know by now, paid a whopping $1.1 billion to bring a bunch of HTC’s smartphone brainiacs into its employ. Most of those people were apparently already working with Google on the company’s Pixel products. So in other words, Google hired its own dedicated team of former contractors to help create its future devices.

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Android file management: An easy-to-follow guide

When you think about your smartphone, apps and interfaces are probably the first things that come to mind. Beneath all that surface-level stuff, though, our modern mobile devices are filled with files — folders upon folders of ’em! — just like the clunky ol’ computers we’ve relied upon for ages.

We may not come face to face with our phones’ file systems too often, but it’s valuable to know they’re there — and to know how they can work for us when the need arises. After all, your Android device is a productivity powerhouse. It can juggle everything from PDFs and PSDs to presentations and podcasts. It can even act as a portable hard drive and house any sort of important files you might need in your pocket (and not just on some far-away cloud). Your mobile device can carry an awful lot of data, and there may come a time when you want to dig in and deal directly with it.

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What Android’s notification snoozing needs next

I love to snooze.

I’m not just talking about my nightly beauty slumber, mind you (but yes, my skin is looking rather radiant today — thanks for noticing). I’m talking about the new notification snoozing feature in Google’s Android 8.0 Oreo release.

If you’ve been hanging ’round these parts for long, you know notification snoozing is something I’d yearned for ever since I started using Google’s Inbox app a couple years back. Snoozing is a core part of Inbox’s organizational system, y’see: Instead of letting emails pile up and turn into counterproductive clutter, you either deal with messages right away or snooze ’em so they’ll get out of your way and then return when they’re relevant — or when you’re likely to have the time and inclination to think about ’em.

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iOS 11 vs. Android 8.0: Which is better? Well…

With Apple’s magical and revolutionary new iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone X devices now official, the world is about to get its first full look at iOS 11 — the most advanced, beautiful, and amazing software release to emerge out of Cupertino since, erm, the last one.

And you know what that means, right? Whenever we see a major new mobile OS release, we see a flurry of feverishly crafted arguments working to answer the eternally burning question: Which is better — Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android operating system? Who wins this round of the mobile OS battle? Who, gosh darn it, is the best?

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How Android One could complete Google’s grand Android plan

Ahah. It’s all starting to make sense. 

Google, if you haven’t heard, is said to be on the brink of bringing its Android One phone program to the U.S. — for real this time! New rumors suggest the freshly announced Moto X4 could arrive with Android One branding in America practically any minute now. Those reports echo previous rumors from earlier this year and follow word from way back in January that Google was working to launch its first U.S.-aimed Android One phone sometime “before the middle of the year.”

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