JR Raphael

About the Author JR Raphael


How to turn Google Assistant into a powerful list-making machine

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Google Assistant since its debut, it’s that some of the service’s most useful features are the ones that require a little bit of effort to set up.

Sure, Assistant can do all sorts of handy stuff out of the box — like perform calculations and conversions, provide weather and traffic updates, and give up-to-the-minute information on almost anything imaginable. It can send messages, play music, and control your Android device in numerous ways. But those are all things Android has long been able to handle by way of Google’s former Voice Search system. Assistant basically just repackaged and rebranded them.

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40 Chromebook tips for maximum productivity

Chromebooks may be all about simplicity, but don’t be fooled: Beneath their intuitive outer layer lies a web of advanced options. And you don’t have to be a power user to embrace it.

Make your way through these 40 tips, and you’ll be zipping around Chrome OS like a pro in no time.

Getting around Chrome OS

1. The Chrome OS launcher — the app-drawer-like interface that appears when you tap the Search key or hit the circle icon in the lower-left corner of the screen — is actually a powerful universal search tool. Just start typing as soon as it appears, and you can find and open apps, pull up websites and even get answers to specific questions right then and there.

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3 hilariously fitting things about Samsung’s first Android phone

When you dig around in Android history, you’re bound to uncover some spectacular treasures.

That’s what happened to me while I was deep in the digital archives doing research for my recent story about Android versions. From the memory-jogging screenshots to the many forgotten milestones, I came across more buried gems than I could possibly squeeze into a single story. And you know what? Some of the nuggets that didn’t end up fitting into the final piece were among the most amusing discoveries of all.

So let’s set the scene for a few standout examples: The year was 2009. Cupcake was the Android release o’ the moment — the first Android version to sport a tasty-sounding name, not to mention an on-screen keyboard and then-revolutionary-seeming support for third-party widgets.

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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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