Why Do Android Flashlight Apps Need Dozens of Permissions?


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No one should be downloading a flashlight app in the Year of Our Lord 2019 — that’s why both Google and Apple have integrated the ability into their devices as part of the base operating system. Avast security researcher Luis Corrons decided to evaluate the security of flashlight apps after the wave of concern around the Russian-owned Faceapp software. According to his work, there are still 937 flashlight applications on Google Play, despite the fact that Flashlight capabilities are baked into the Android OS. Many of these applications request far more permissions from end users than they ever need to function.

Instead of being limited to the functions you’d expect a flashlight to need (access the LED flash itself, download ads from the internet, and lock-screen access so the flashlight can be turned on or off without unlocking the device), many of these apps request far more. The average number of permissions requested by app is 25. 408 applications request 10 permissions or fewer, but 262 of them require 50 permissions or more. The table below shows the worst offenders:

Now, just because an application is requesting a lot of permissions doesn’t necessarily mean it is requesting them for nefarious purposes. But when Corrons dug deeper, the issues kept getting worse. A massive number of applications request permission to kill background processes, access your fine-grained location data, control Bluetooth connections, record audio, download data without notification, and write to your contacts list. A few even process incoming calls.

As Corrons discusses, the reason these apps have such ludicrous permissions isn’t because they’re actually trying to hook you up with Nigerian princes with large fortunes to dispose of. It’s undoubtedly so they can gather data and then sell it to other firms as part of their efforts to endlessly monetize all of human existence. He steps through how some of these apps are developed by studios with multiple multi-million downloads on the app store. All of the apps require the same invasive permissions, and they’re almost certainly funneling data to the same invisible group of partners.

Google, of course, could stop this kind of garbage in its tracks by forcing app developers to only request permissions that they can plausibly prove they need, and by tightening the approval process to make this kind of rampant data-collecting against its own terms of service. Google doesn’t, because that would alert people to how much of their own daily device usage is uploaded to third-party corporations in the first place. The companies that take advantages of loose user permission requirements aren’t exploiting a loophole; they’re using the system in the manner in which it’s intended to operate. Corrons notes that it’s extremely important for users to be aware of what kind of permissions their applications request. This is true, but it also puts the impetus of fixing the problem solely on the end-user.

Google has allowed its app store to be abused by people who are running massive data harvesting regimes — and it’s on Google to fix that problem, not end-users. Nobody should be downloading a flashlight app on a modern device. But Google shouldn’t be allowing applications to request permissions that they have no business requesting, either.

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Gmail App’s Dark Theme Is Finally Rolling Out


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Google has been on a tear lately, updating all its mobile apps with the new Material Theming design style. In practice, that means a lot of blindingly bright apps. There is, unexpectedly, a method to Google’s madness. Moving to the new Material Theme is necessary to implement dark app themes. Gmail, one of the most popular Google apps, finally has a dark theme on Android, but not all phones have it right away. 

Gmail has been blinding smartphone users longer than most apps. As a largely text-based experience, there’s always been ample white space all through the inbox and emails themselves. Google made Gmail even brighter when it rolled out the big redesign a while back. The red accent colors were replaced with, you guessed it, more white. 

Dark themes have been a running joke among Android enthusiasts because of the way Google keeps teasing it. The last few Android betas have included a dark theme that didn’t make it to the final version. Finally, Android 10 (previously known only as Android Q) finally has a real dark theme. The Gmail rollout is only the latest example of Google apps picking up a dark theme that plugs into Android 10. 

The first version of Gmail that has a dark UI mode is 2019.08.18.267044774, but even having that version doesn’t guarantee you’ll have the dark theme. There’s also a server-side component that rolls out at Google’s behest. So far, a small number of users have the feature, but everyone should be able to flip to dark mode soon enough. 

Gmail’s Dark Theme, image via 9to5Google

Gmail’s dark theme uses a very dark gray rather than completely black, which can actually make reading white text straining. The inbox and most emails should use this same color scheme. One notable exception would be emails that include HTML. Those will probably still render with other colors, probably white. 

If you’re on Android 10 (almost no one is), you’ll be able to automatically flip to the dark theme when you enable the system-level toggle. In addition to that option, the Gmail app includes a manual light and dark toggle. So, even if you’re on an older version of Android, you can manually change Gmail to the dark them by digging into the settings. This is a step in the right direction, but plenty of Google apps still lack a dark theme. Even the newly white-themed Play Store is still lacking dark mode. 

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Huawei’s Kirin 990 SoC Is the First Chip With an Integrated 5G Modem


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Huawei’s year has been anything but good, but the company has pushed ahead with new technology introductions and smartphone designs. The Chinese firm has now announced its latest SoC, the Kirin 990. The new chip will ship in two flavors — the Kirin 990, and the Kirin 990 5G. These two chips are based on the same SoC design, but there are some significant differences between them.

First, the Kirin 990 5G is built on TSMC’s 7nm+ process node, which utilizes EUV. The Kirin 990, in contrast, is a standard 7nm design. It seems as though Huawei will be the first customer to ship a part that uses EUV for manufacturing. Huawei’s stated reason for using EUV for the 5G variant is that it allowed for a smaller die. Die size on the 5G part is larger than 100mm2, while the LTE chip is less than 90mm2. Transistor counts are also significantly different, with the LTE chip at 8B and the 5G chip at 10.3B.

Kirin-990-Comparison

One interesting fact that Anandtech mentions is that the Kirin 990 was originally expected to use ARM’s Cortex-A77 CPU, not the Cortex-A76. Apparently the Huawei team didn’t like how the Cortex-A77 clocked on TSMC’s 7nm process node. The A77 had higher peak performance, but overall power efficiency between the A76 and A77 was practically identical on 7nm and the A76 design was capable of hitting much higher clocks. Supposedly the A77 tops out around 2.2GHz on 7nm at the moment and the design may not be used widely until 5nm CPUs are available.

The new ARM Mali-G76 implementation is substantially wider than the 10-core implementation used on the previous generation Kirin 980. GPU power efficiency can often be improved by using a wider GPU clocked at lower frequencies, and Huawei believes the new GPU design will still be more power-efficient than the old Kirin 980, despite being substantially wider.

The NPU design is a homegrown Huawei effort. Where the company previously licensed an NPU from Cambricon, the new Kirin 990 uses Huawei’s Da Vinci architecture. Huawei intends to scale this AI processing block from servers to smartphones. It supports both INT8 and FP16 on both cores, whereas the older Cambricon design could only perform INT8 on one core. There’s also a new ‘Tiny Core’ NPU. It’s a smaller version of the Da Vinci architecture focused on power efficiency above all else, and it can be used for polling or other applications where performance isn’t particularly time critical. The 990 5G will have two “big” NPU cores and a single Tiny Core, while the Kirin 990 (LTE) has one big core and one tiny core.

Huawei’s Balong modem will support sub-6GHz 5G signals with a maximum of 2.3Gbps download and 1.25Gbps upload. Overall CPU performance improvements from the Kirin 980 to the Kirin 990 are modest — Huawei claims single-threaded gains of 9 percent and multi-threaded boosts of 10 percent. Power efficiency, however, has improved significantly. The top-end cores are supposedly 12 percent more efficient, the “middle” cores of Huawei’s Big.Little.littlest are supposedly 35 percent more efficient, and the low-end Cortex-A55 chips are 15 percent more efficient. Most workloads are supposed to run on the middle cores for maximum performance/watt.

It seems unlikely that these devices will come to the US market in any numbers, though you may be able to buy them from third-party resellers if the Trump Administration doesn’t take further action against the company. While devices are going to start carrying 5G modems from this point forward, I’ve yet to see a 5G phone I’d actually recommend. While it’s true that the first generation of LTE devices didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory, the first generation of LTE devices didn’t overheat and shutdown when summer temperatures rose above 85F / 29.4C. They didn’t require you to be literally standing underneath an LTE access point in order to see faster service, either. Verizon has already stated that outside city centers, its 5G network will closely resemble “good 4G,” which raises the question of what, exactly, consumers are paying all this money for.

The first LTE devices were the HTC Evo 4G, the Samsung Craft, and the HTC Thunderbolt. They sold for $200, $350, and $250, respectively, though this was in the era of two-year contracts. Apple’s first LTE device was the iPhone 5, which cost $649 if purchased without a contract. Assuming Apple and the other AndroidSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce manufacturers continue to offer 5G as a luxury feature, we’ll likely only see it on devices at or above the $1000 price point for the next 12 months. I wouldn’t pay $1000 for a phone under any circumstances, but I definitely wouldn’t step up to a $1000+ device to buy a feature that I’ve got no chance of using at any point in the next few years.

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The Vivaldi browser lands on Android – gpgmail


Vivaldi has long billed itself as a browser for advanced users who want to be able to customize their browser to their heart’s content. With that mission, it managed to get a foothold in the desktop market, but until now, the browser company co-founded by Opera’s former CEO Jon von Tetzchner, didn’t have a presence on mobile. That’s changing today with the launch of Vivaldi for Android, which retains the browser’s look, feel and speed without getting bogged down in trying to bring all of its myriad features to mobile.

For the most part, I like to use the same browser on desktop and mobile, simply to keep my bookmarks in sync (and Vivaldi says it doesn’t use Google’s servers to sync, in case you’re worried about being tracked). For the longest time, that was one of the reasons why I always switched away from Vivaldi on the desktop again, despite the fact that the browser is essentially made for a user like me. With the mobile version, I think that’ll change.

The overall browser experience is pretty straightforward. I appreciate the fact that the Vivaldi team put all of the standard UI features (backwards, forward, tab switcher and URL/search) at the bottom. You can still use the address bar at the top of the screen and the menu, too, of course, but in this age of giant screens, I appreciate a browser that can be used with one hand for much of the time.

article feature 4 screenshot 980x551

As far as features go, Vivaldi covers all the bases, with speed dials and bookmarks, some advanced tab management features that aren’t usually available on mobile, including the ability to clone tabs, and a screenshots feature that lets you capture either the full page or just the visible area. If you regularly use different search engines, you can also use Vivaldi’s shortcuts in the address bar (think ‘d’ for DuckDuckGo, for example). There’s also a reader view and pretty much everything else you expect from a modern mobile browser.

article feature 2 bookmark 980x551

One area where I’d like to see a bit more work from Vivaldi in general, both on mobile and desktop, is tracking protection. That’s been a focus for Firefox in many of its recent releases and even Microsoft’s new Chrome-based Edge browser is offering the ability to block trackers by default. Vivaldi, at least in its current form, doesn’t yet any tracking protection by default. That’s not much of an issue on the desktop, where you can easily install an extension, but on mobile, I’d like the company to do a bit more.

Overall, Vivaldi on Android is a worthwhile contender. It’s fast and easy to use — and if you’re already using Vivaldi on the desktop, it’s a no-brainer. Even if you’re not, it’s still worth a shot and may just get you to try the desktop version, too.

vivaldi in use galaxyS8


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Fairphone 3 is a normal smartphone with ethical shine – gpgmail


How long have you been using your current smartphone? The answer for an increasing number of consumers is years, plural. After all, why upgrade every year when next year’s model is almost exactly the same as the device you’re holding in your hand?

Dutch social enterprise Fairphone sees this as an opportunity to sell sustainability. A chance to turn a conversation about ‘stalled smartphone innovation’ on its head by encouraging consumers to think more critically about the costs involved in pumping out the next shiny thing. And sell them on the savings — individual and collective — of holding their staple gadget steady.

Its latest smartphone, the Fairphone 3 — just released this week in Europe — represents the startup’s best chance yet of shrinking the convenience gap between the next hotly anticipated touchscreen gizmo and a fairer proposition that requires an altogether cooler head to appreciate.

On the surface Fairphone 3 looks like a fairly standard, if slightly thick (1cm), Android smartphone. But that’s essentially the point. This 4G phone could be your smartphone, is the intended message.

Specs wise, you’re getting mostly middling, rather than stand out stuff. There’s a 5.7in full HD display, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 632 chipset, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage (expandable via microSD), a 12MP rear lens and 8MP front-facing camera. There’s also NFC on board, a fingerprint reader, dual nano-SIM slots and a 3,000mAh battery that can be removed for easy replacement when it wears out.

There’s also a 3.5mm headphone jack: The handy port that’s being erased at the premium smartphone tier,  killing off a bunch of wired accessories with it. So ‘slow replacement’ smartphone hardware demonstrably encourages less waste across the gadget ecosystem too.

But the real difference lies under the surface. Fairer here means supply chain innovation to source conflict-free minerals that go into making the devices; social incentive programs that top up the minimum wages of assembly workers who put the phones together; and repairable, modular handset design that’s intended to reduce environmental impact by supporting a longer lifespan. Repair, don’t replace is the mantra.

All the extra effort that goes into making a smartphone less ethically challenging to own is of course invisible to the naked eye. So the Fairphone 3 buyer largely has to take the company’s word on trust.

The only visual evidence is repairability. Flip the phone over and a semi-opaque plastic backing gives a glimpse of modular guts. A tiny screwdriver included in the box allows you take the phone to pieces so you can swap out individual modules (such as the display) in case they break or fail. Fairphone sells replacements via a spare parts section of its website.

Fp3sc

Despite this radically modular and novel design vs today’s hermetically sealed premium mobiles the Fairphone 3 feels extremely solid to hold.

It’s not designed to pop apart easily. Indeed, there’s a full thirteen screws holding the display module in place. Deconstruction takes work (and care not to lose any of the teeny screws). So this is modularity purely as occasional utility, not flashy party trick — as with Google’s doomed Ara Project.

For some that might be disappointing. Exactly because this modular phone feels so, well, boringly normal.

Visually the most stand out feature at a glance is the Fairphone logo picked out in metallic white lettering on the back. Those taking a second look will also spot a moralizing memo printed on the battery so it’s legible through the matte plastic — which reads: “Change is in your hands”. It may be a bit cringeworthy but if you’ve paid for an ethical premium you might as well flaunt it.

It’s fair to say design fans won’t be going wild over the Fairphone 3. But it feels almost intentionally dull. As if — in addition to shrinking manufacturing costs — the point is to impress on buyers that ethical internals are more than enough of a hipster fashion statement.

It’s also true that most smartphones are now much the same, hardware, features and performance wise. So — at this higher mid-tier price-point (€450/~$500) — why not flip the consumer smartphone sales pitch on its head to make it about shrinking rather than maximizing impact, via a dull but worthy standard?

That then pushes people to ask how sustainable is an expensive but valueless — and so, philosophically speaking, pointless — premium? That’s the question Fairphone 3 seems designed to pose.

Or, to put it another way, if normal can be ethical then shouldn’t ethical electronics be the norm?

Normal is what you get elsewhere with Fairphone 3. Purely judged as a smartphone its performance isn’t anything to write home about. It checks all the usual boxes of messaging, photos, apps and Internet browsing. You can say it gets the job done.

Sure, it’s not buttery smooth at every screen and app transition. And it can feel a little slow on the uptake at times. Notably the camera, while fairly responsive, isn’t lightning quick. Photo quality is not terrible — but not amazing either.

Testing the camera I found images prone to high acutance and over saturated colors. The software also struggles to handle mixed light and shade — meaning you may get a darker and less balanced shot that you hoped for. Low light performance isn’t great either.

That said, in good light the Fairphone 3 can take a perfectly acceptable selfie. Which is what most people will expect to be able to use the phone for.

Fairphone has said it’s done a lot of work to improve the camera vs the predecessor model. And it has succeeded in bringing photo performance up to workable standard — which is a great achievement at what’s also a slightly reduced handset price-point. Though, naturally, there’s still a big gap in photo quality vs the premium end of the smartphone market.

On the OS front, the phone runs a vanilla implementation of Android 9 out of the box — preloaded with the usual bundle of Google services and no added clutter so Android fans should feel right at home. (For those who want a Google-free alternative Fairphone says a future update will allow users to do a wipe and clean install of Android Open Source Project.)

Fp3f

In short, purely as a smartphone, the Fairphone 3 offers very little to shout about — so no screaming lack either. Again, if the point is to shrink the size of the compromise Fairphone is asking consumers to make in order to buy an ethically superior brand of electronics they are slowly succeeding in closing the gap.

It’s a project that’s clearly benefiting from the maturity of the smartphone market. While, on the cellular front, the transformative claims being made for 5G are clearly many years out — so there’s no issue with asking buyers to stick with a 4G phone for years to come.

Given where the market has now marched to, a ‘fairer’ smartphone that offers benchmark basics at a perfectly acceptable median but with the promise of reduced costs over the longer term — individual, societal and environmental — does seem like a proposition that could expand from what has so far been an exceptional niche into something rather larger and more mainstream.

Zooming out for a second, the Fairphone certainly makes an interesting contrast with some of the expensive chimeras struggling to be unfolded at the top end of the smartphone market right now.

Foldables like the Samsung Galaxy Fold — which clocks in at around 4x the price of a Fairphone and offers ~2x the screen real estate (when unfolded), plus a power bump. Whether the Fold’s lux package translates into mobile utility squared is a whole other question, though.

And where foldables will need to demonstrate a compelling use-case that goes above and beyond the Swiss Army utility of a normal smartphone to justify such a whopping price bump, Fairphone need only prick the consumer conscience — as it asks you pay a bit more and settle for a little less.

Neither of these sales pitches is challenge free, of course. And, for now, both foldables and fairer electronics remain curious niches.

But with the Fairphone 3 demonstrating that ethical can feel so normal it doesn’t seem beyond the pale to imagine demand for electronics that are average in performance yet pack an ethical punch scaling up to challenge the mainstream parade of copycat gadgets.


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Huawei Announces Refreshed P30 Pro with Android 10


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Everyone involved in the mobile industry is watching Huawei’s next moves closely. With a pending export ban in place, Huawei can’t launch new phones with Google-certified Android, so the upcoming Mate 30 may be the first major Android phone to launch without Google apps. Huawei just launched a new phone, but it’s not the Mate 30. In fact, it’s not even “new” by some definitions. The revamped P30 Pro has been unveiled at IFA with a new exterior design and Android 10. 

Huawei first launched the P30 Pro in March of this year, several months before the US Commerce Department added it to the “Entity List.” People and companies land on this list when the government decides they pose a threat to US interests. In this case, Huawei is accused of having close ties with the Chinese government and engaging in espionage activities. Huawei vehemently denies these claims. 

The new P30 Pro has a redesigned exterior with a textured glass effect covering the lower two-thirds of the back panel. It looks a bit like Google’s current Pixel phones, but it’s available in much more fun colors like Mystic Blue and Misty Lavender. The matte glass makes the phones less slippery in the hand as well. The internals specs are unchanged with a Kirin 980 processor, 8GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage. 

The re-released P30 devices will also have Android 10 at launch, along with a new version of its system skin known as EMUI 10. Huawei has made a number of design changes in the new EMUI including bolder app fonts, a Pixel-style quick settings bar, and new icons. Huawei also has a gesture navigation system similar to Google’s. You also get the standard Android 10 features like dark mode, more granular privacy controls, and more. 

So, why re-release the P30 right now? Huawei currently enjoys a second 90-day delay on the full implementation of US export controls. Since the P30 Pro (and other P30 variants) launched before the trade ban, Huawei can continue certifying updates for those phones under the terms of the temporary delay. However, it can’t launch new phones with Google’s support. So, it seems all but certain that Huawei will have to release the Mate 30 without the Play Store and other apps everyone expects on Android. 

The re-launch of the P30 Pro might be a way for Huawei to compensate for the Mate 30. While the Mate 30 will suffer from its lack of Google support, the Google-y P30 Pro is back for another round, and it’s a very similar piece of hardware. It might soften the blow of losing Google apps, but it’s just a temporary fix.

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The LG G8X Is the Company’s Latest Attempt to Make Dual-Screen Phones a Thing


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Smartphones have basically gotten as large as they can reasonably get without some sort of radical design change. Samsung and Huawei are working with foldable OLED technology to allow phones to transform into tablets, but LG is still pushing the dual-screen design. The new G8X is the latest phone with one of the company’s snap-on Dual Screen accessories. Even with some new design refinements, this is going to be a tough sell. 

As you might have guessed, the LG G8X ThinQ is a modified version of the G8 that launched earlier this year. It ditches the silly and almost inoperable motion controls, allowing for a smaller display notch. Inside, it’s a typical 2019 flagship phone with a Snapdragon 855, 6GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage. There’s also a headphone jack, which is something of an anomaly these days. 

The phone itself isn’t the interesting part; it’s how the phone interacts with LG’s latest Dual Screen case. The 6.4-inch OLED in the phone clocks in at 2340 x 1080 and the case has an identical OLED. This is a change from past Dual Screen accessories which didn’t always match the phone’s display. In fact, the case even has a fake display notch at the top for its non-existent camera. There’s another display on the outside of the Dual Screen case as well. This 2.1-inch monochrome panel lets you quickly check the time and notifications without opening the phone. 

Past Dual Screen cases also relied on pogo pins on the back of the phone for connectivity, but this one connects to the phone via the USB Type-C port. LG also says it’s less of a drain on the phone’s battery, which has grown to 4,000mAh from 3,500mAh in the previous G8. 

With the Dual Screen case connected, you can run two apps side-by-side on the G8X. Those could be two separate web pages or something more elaborate like a game and a video player. You can even turn the phone into a miniature laptop by pulling up LG’s keyboard app on one screen with an app in landscape on the other. 

At this point, you may think this sounds like a good deal. After all, flip cases for phones are not exactly a new idea and plenty of people like them. However, like all LG Dual Screen systems, this thing is bulky at about 15mm thick and 326 grams. For comparison, the Galaxy Fold only weighs 263 grams, and it’s about half a millimeter thicker when closed. App developers need to get on-board to enable advanced functionality, too. LG will have to move a lot of units to have any hope of significant support, and that’s far from a certainty. 

LG will ship the G8X ThinQ in the fourth quarter of the year. Specific market availability and pricing will be announced closer to release.

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Sony Is Back to Making Compact Phones With the Xperia 5


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It is traditional for Sony to launch two flagship phones per year, so naturally, everyone expected its big IFA 2019 announcement to be the Xperia 2. After all, it released the Xperia 1 earlier this year. Instead, Sony unveiled the Xperia 5. The numbering scheme is unusual because this phone is essentially a smaller version of the Xperia 1, and that could make a lot of people very happy. 

For years, Sony was the only smartphoneSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce maker that resisted the trend toward larger and larger phones. Companies that did make “mini” versions of their phones often hobbled them in some way to keep the price down. Sony simply made “Compact” editions of its larger flagship phones with all the same features and specs. It moved away from that as sales slumped, but the Xperia 5 could be a return to form. 

The Xperia 1 sports a 6.5-inch 4K OLED display, but it’s a 21:9 ratio. That makes it very tall and narrow. Thus, it was more comfortable to hold in one hand than a 16:9 or 18:9 phone with the same diagonal measurement. Although, the overall length made the phone somewhat awkward at times. The Xperia 5 has a 6.1-inch OLED at 1080p, and it’s still 21:9. At just 68mm wide, it’ll be easy to use one-handed, provided you don’t have to reach up to the top of the screen too often. By comparison, the Note 10+ is almost a full centimeter wider. 

On the inside, the Xperia 5 has almost the same setup as the Xperia 1. There’s a Snapdragon 855, 6GB of RAM, and 128GB of internal storage. The battery is necessarily a little smaller at 3,140mAh (3,300mAh in the Xperia 1), but the lower resolution display should more than make up for that. The phone runs Android 9 Pie, and Android 10 just launched a few days ago. It’s not uncommon for phones launched each fall to ship with a year-old version of Android, and Sony’s track record with Android updates is spotty at best. 

The Xperia 5’s triple-camera system includes a 12MP main unit, a 12MP telephoto, and a 12MP wide-angle shooter. Sony says the camera app uses the same autofocus technology found in its line of Alpha mirrorless cameras. Although, Sony’s software processing has fallen behind the likes of Google and Samsung. 

The Xperia 5 should be available for pre-order next week in Europe with shipping in October. We don’t have a price, nor confirmation of a US launch timeline just yet.

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Android 10 Code Confirms Pixel 4 90Hz Display


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We don’t even have to assume a new Pixel flagship phone is coming this year — for the first time, Google has announced features of its new phone before the big reveal. Google already showed off the back of the phone and talked about the Soli radar sensor, but we haven’t heard any official details on the screen. The next best thing after an announcement is code features from Google engineers, and XDA found some lines in Android 10 that support the report of a 90Hz screen. 

The standard for mobile device screens has long been 60Hz. It took a long time for Android to even hit 60 frames per second in the UI consistently, but Google has prioritized smoothness in the last few versions of Android, and it optimizes Pixel phones aggressively. Laptops and desktop monitors have long advanced beyond 60Hz with 100, 144, and higher refresh rates readily available for a small premium. However, computers have a lot more power at their disposal, and phones need to remain efficient and pocket-sized. 

It has only been in the last 12-18 months that high refresh mobile displays have become viable. Razer launched the original Razer Phone with a 120Hz display, but that was an LCD with serious efficiency problems. It ran at 90Hz out of the box, and even that drained the battery quickly. Asus improved matters with the ROG Phone, which had a 90Hz OLED panel. OnePlus launched the OnePLus 7 and 7 Pro earlier this year with a high-refresh OLED as well. 

Several weeks back, the first reports of the Pixel 4’s 90Hz “Smooth Display” appeared. Now, XDA has spent some time digging through the just-released Android 10 open source code and found supporting evidence. Android contains a service called SurfaceFlinger, which links apps and system UI with the display controller. Naturally, the SurfaceFlinger service needs to be aware of the display refresh rate. SurfaceFlinger in Android 10 includes a manual 90Hz toggle that wasn’t present in previous versions of the OS. 

In the current build of Android 10, the 90Hz mode exists as a temporary solution for testing purposes — a permanent version is already in AOSP, too. The code notes that the switch should only be used on “P19 devices.” Presumably, that means the 2019 Pixels, and not the Pixel 3a. Those budget phones launched last Spring, and they’re 60Hz. So, it’s a foregone conclusion that the Pixel 4 and 4 XL will indeed have 90Hz displays.

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Google Assistant, navigation and apps coming to GM vehicles starting in 2021 – gpgmail


GM is turning to Google to provide in-vehicle voice, navigation and other apps in its Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC vehicles starting in 2021.

GM began shipping vehicles with Google Android Automotive OS in 2017, starting with the Cadillac CTS and expanding to other brands. Android Automotive OS shouldn’t be confused with Android Auto, which is a secondary interface that lies on top of an operating system. Android Automotive OS is modeled after its open-source mobile operating system that runs on Linux. But instead of running smartphones and tablets, Google modified it so it could be used in cars.

Now, GM is taking the additional step of embedding the Google services that so many people already use through their phones and smart speakers. GM was convinced by its own customer research to bring Google into its cars, Santiago Chamorro, GM’s vice president for global connected customer experience, told gpgmail.

Google voice, navigation and apps found in the Google Play Store will be in compatible GM brands starting in 2021. Broad deployment across all GM brands is expected to occur in the years following.

Future GM infotainments, powered by Android, will have a built-in Google Assistant that drivers can use to make calls, text, play a radio station, change the climate in the car or close the garage door, if they have rhe requisite connected smart home device. The Google Assistant integration will continue to evolve over time, so that drivers in the future will be able to simply use their voice to engage with their vehicle, which could include renewing their
OnStar or Connected Services plans, checking on their tire pressure, scheduling service, according to GM and Google.

Google Maps will also be embedded in the vehicle to help drivers navigate with real-time traffic information, automatic re-routing and lane guidance. Google Assistant is tied into maps, allowing drivers to use voice to
navigate home, share their ETA or find the nearest gas station and EV charging stations.

The infotainment system will include in-vehicle apps from the Google Pay store.

GM isn’t ditching all of its own features for Google, Chamorro said, adding that the automaker will continue to offer its own infotainment features such as service recommendations, vehicle health status, in-vehicle commerce and more, with the Google applications and services complementing our offerings.

In May, Google announced that it was opening its Android  Automotive operating system up to third-party developers to bring music and other entertainment apps into vehicle infotainment systems. Media app developers are now able to create new entertainment experiences for Android Automotive OS.

Google has been pushing its way into the automotive world, first through Android Auto and then with its operating system, for several years now.

In 2017, Volvo announced plans to incorporate a version of its Android  operating system into its car infotainment systems. A year later, the company said it would embed voice-controlled Google Assistant, Google  Play Store, Google Maps and other Google services into its next-generation Sensus infotainment system.

Polestar  2, an all-electric vehicle developed by Volvo’s standalone electric performance brand, also has the Android OS. Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance anf Fiat Chrysler Automobiles have also announced plans for Android Automotive OS.

“Cars are quickly transforming and opening up a lot of opportunity,” Patrick Brady, vice president of engineering at Google, said in a recent interview. “Its the beautiful thing about having a platform like this. There are services that we might not be thinking about today and that be here tomorrow.”


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