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3 months ago

Google Play: Ultimate Guide


How to get the most out of the Google Play Store

Google Play is the cornerstone of Google's ecosystem of content and has become a critical part of Android. It reaches almost all of Android and through Play Services is capable of fixing many of Android's problems. Google Play also is a content library and ecosystem that is accessible on more platforms than almost any other.

Born as the Android Market, it's grown from just a home for apps and is now the one-stop shop for applications, books, movies, music, TV shows — basically anything and everything that you can buy and use on your Android phone or tablet.

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3 months ago

How to download and manage apps from the Google Play Store


How do I download and manage apps and games through the Google Play Store? {.intro}

Whether this is your first smartphone or just your first using Android, there's a lot to love here, and it all starts with finding some apps to fill that new phone (or tablet) with. Google Play is the app store that Google runs, and it's also an important piece of Android's security as it scans apps before and after they're downloaded and monitors them for unusual activity. It can be a bit overwhelming when you first open up Google Play, but don't worry, we're here to help you get started!

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3 months ago

Do these 5 things when you get your Google Pixel


You just got a Google Pixel, now it's time to get up and running the right way.

You've done your research, you've read the review and you've placed your order. Now your fresh new Google Pixel or Pixel XL is awaiting your setup and customization. Just like any new phone there's a lot to take in with the Pixels, and we're here to point you in the right direction so you can start things off the right way.

Here are the first things you should do with your new Google Pixel.

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3 months ago

How to use Google Home to call an Uber

How to use Google Home to call an Uber

Google Home is supposed to be a digital assistant, so why not use it to call a car?

One of the first integrations announced with Google Home was Uber, meaning you can use your new smart connected speaker to seamlessly call a car to get you and your friends where you need to go. The problem, as is always the case with voice-activated interfaces, is that you don't know how this all works until you try it — and when it comes to Uber, you don't want to be messing around with calling actual people in actual cars to come pick you up.

That's why we did the work for you. Here's what it's like to call an Uber from your Google Home, and what you need to be ready for when you do it for the first time.

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3 months ago

Adding an OnHub router to your Google Wifi network


Your Google OnHub is now a bigger Google Wifi node.

Google Wifi is a great product. It's easy to setup and easy to make any adjustments or additions to the wireless network in your house. But it's not the first Wi-Fi router from Google. That'd be the OnHub.

Many were worried that the OnHub would be abandoned when news of Google Wifi was revealed. With good reason — the OnHub is a great product, and we've seen great products wither and die before. Thankfully, that didn't happen. We were told during the initial product briefings that an update was coming that would let the OnHub and Google Wifi work seamlessly. Google later made a similar public announcement when the required software updates started rolling out to OnHub users.

I've been using a network with an OnHub and three Google Wifi node for about a week. "Seamlessly" is a great description of how the two different products now work together and act the same.

What changed for the OnHub

The software. Basically, all of it.

The OnHub now performs exactly like any Google Wifi would, through the same interface in the same Google Wifi app. it is now a bigger Google Wifi mesh node. The unique features are still there: I can still wave my hand over the top of my ASUS OnHub like a Jedi to prioritize a device for an hour. You still have 13 antennas (six for the 5GHz radio, six for the 2.4GHz radio and a signal booster) that aren't designed for a straight line long range signal like many other routers in the price range. But the brains inside are now the same as we see used for Google's mesh network product.

You still have the strong antennas and unique features of your OnHub, but the way they work and how you set them up has changed.

You can use it the same way you would use a Google Wifi node, too. It can be added to an existing network as a Wi-Fi bridge (things worked exactly as expected and setup was easy), added to an existing Google Wifi network as a new node (we'll talk about that in a bit) or as a NAT Gateway router attached to your modem or ethernet service — which is how I recommend using it.

Performance in every configuration was similar to the older software when the OnHub was a stand-alone router. The range seems a little more broad than a Google Wifi unit, but they are very similar and if you're inside the magic bubble (I say the number is 45 feet in any direction) you'll have pain free wireless with any modern wireless interface. Go much further and you'll see things drop off, slowly at first but there is a definite distance where things just quit. That depends on what's between you and the unit, but in general, I've found one OnHub can cover my average-sized home. When added to an existing Google Wifi network, you have one more node that can stretch great wireless to even more corners and crannies in your house. It was shockingly flawless in this configuration and performance was equal to or better than a Google Wifi node would have been.

The setup process

You're basically following the same process as you would for Google Wifi — unbox the product, open the app and follow the simple step by step instructions. After you've read a few hints, though.

The biggest difference is that you'll need a software update. If you've been using your OnHub and have switched to the Google Wifi app, you already have the correct software. If you haven't had it up and running or you just got it, you'll need to take it out of the box and attach it to your modem or ISP gateway and let it download some software. Get it connected and let it sit for about 30 minutes, then open the Google Wifi app and make sure it's showing in the app. You're now good to go.

Once you update the OnHub software, you set it up the same as Google Wifi through the same app.

You can add an OnHub to an existing Google Wifi setup, but I found that the setup process complains about doing it and suggests you try using the OnHub as your NAT Gateway instead of a mesh bridge and sometimes just refuses to start the setup process. Once the setup does commence, the rest is easy and it just works. The good news is that you won't have to be playing with the setup more than once. The bad news is that you might not have any luck the first time. In any case, the setup that it recommends — building your Google Wifi network with the OnHub installed first and as the gateway to the internet — was a breeze and everything worked great the first time. I haven't touched the setup since.

Setting an OnHub up as a bridge on an existing network is similar to adding it to an existing Google Wifi network. You're told that this is not an optimal setup (but not given any real details why) but you can tap your way through anyway. The reason why, by the way, is because it can create what's called a double NAT (Network Address Translation). Most of the time your first router can send data through a bridged router seamlessly, but not all the time. It's something I'm more than happy to discuss in the comments if anyone wants to know more. With that out of the way, once set up and running it works fine. You just have to be careful when changing advanced network settings.

The way I recommend you set things up is to unhook all the things you have on your existing network and build your mesh network around the OnHub. Plug it into the modem and power, let it get its software updated if it needs it, and start the process in the Google Wifi app to build a new wireless network. You won't have the app fussing at you, and you'll have a strong router near the modem that still has a free Ethernet port. That leaves any other Google Wifi nodes as the smaller and easier to place newer units.

An extra Google Wifi unit can be a wonderful thing

This is the most exciting part. OnHub routers can frequently be found on sale and will end up a good bit cheaper than the single Google Wifi unit. It's a great way to add a fourth node to a network and can give you the freedom to be creative.

Google Wifi units (including the OnHub) are wireless other than the power connection. Plug the first one into your modem, and place the rest anywhere within range. But you can use a wired connection between one or all of your nodes. And Ethernet cables can get long.

Wi-Fi in the kid's (or your) treehouse is an entirely different level of awesome that's easy to do if you have an extra Google Wifi node.

A Google Wifi three pack can make for damn near perfect wireless everywhere in an average home. Even the porch and driveway. But many of us have a workshop or pool or other areas around our house where good wireless would be a great addition. A 100-foot, 200-foot or even longer CAT-6 cable can be attached to two Google Wifi units to stretch them far apart. You can even buy long cables that are designed to be buried directly in the ground. It works great, and you don't lose the wireless speeds you would trying to cover 200 feet of distance — Ethernet is fast, too.

I suggest setting the unit up wirelessly first while it's in the range of everything else. Once finished, unplug it from the power and take it out to the deck or treehouse and connect it to the cable you've run. Power it up, give it a minute or two, and enjoy the fast Wi-Fi for your phone or your Chromecast or TV.

It's late December. It's far too cold for me to be outside scratching away at the frozen dirt with a shovel. But I've tested this with a 200-foot cable and a Chromecast audio setup and it works just grand. I'm looking forward to a nice Springtime project that's easy to do and can make a great home improvement.

Google Hardware

Google Wifi:

Google Amazon

Google Home:

Google Best Buy

Chromecast Ultra:

Google Best Buy

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3 months ago

How refunds work on Google Play


We all have purchases we regret.

We buy apps that aren't as great as we hoped. We buy books and movies we don't like. Our kids buy things we didn't want them to. Co-workers get into your phone while you're in the bathroom and buy dirty movies. Things happen, and if you need a refund on Google Play, there are ways to get one.

But as always, there are caveats and hoops to jump through.

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4 months ago

What is encryption?


Encryption can be a very complicated subject, but getting a grasp of the basics isn't difficult.

Recently, we've had a few questions about encryption. We've talked about how Android incorporates encryption and the changes that Nougat brings, and to get the most from those discussions an understanding of the basics is a must. Let's talk about those basics for a bit.

What exactly is encryption?

In its simplest sense, encryption is changing the way information is displayed, so that it is masked, and the only way its true form can be viewed is with a clear set of instructions.

You're using encryption every day and may not know because it can be transparent.

There are plenty of ways to do this, especially when that information is digital and stored on a computer or a phone. If you've ever received a zip file or Microsoft Office document that needed a password to view, it was encrypted. The data you wanted to see was placed inside a container (think of it as a folder on your phone or computer) and the container was password protected. This method can be scaled up, even to include an entire disk or partition. To access anything on the encrypted partition, you need to unlock it with a password.

Another way to encrypt data is to physically alter what is displayed when you view it unless you can decode it. Let's say I built an app that you could type a phrase in, and it would convert all the letters into numbers from 1 to 26. You could type "this is a message" into my app and save it. If you tried to look at what you typed without using my app, it would look like this:

208919 919 1 1351919175

But my app knows that 1 equals a, that no string higher than 26 is valid, and has access to the operating systems dictionary to make sure the letters are correct because 11 could equal aa or k depending on what word it's used in. So if you open that file in my app, it reads normally.

At its core, encryption is designed to make something hard to read unless you know how to look at it.

Now do something like reverse the order, add 13 to numbers between 11 and 15, omit the whitespace and drop random data that won't be read every few letters. The file would be impossible to read without sitting down and trying to figure out how the text was manipulated through trial and error. That's what an encryption algorithm does. It helps a program turn data of any kind into a jumbled mess that can be easily decoded by the algorithm itself but would take a lot of effort and time to crack without it.

Computer algorithms can do things that are far more complicated than my simple example and take a lot less time than it did for me to count on my fingers. This type of encryption is usually referred to as a cipher and the method the algorithm gives to decode it is called a key. If you have ever used PGP or GPG encryption for a message or email attachment, you've used this type of encryption, known as cipher-keypair encryption.

Both types of encryption — container based or cipher-keypair — are common and in use on our Androids. Sometimes both are used and encrypted data is placed inside an encrypted container. Taking our data and encrypting it then making sure the things that we want to have access can decrypt it is extremely complicated. Thankfully, those complicated parts are handled by the hardware and operating system and all we need to do is have the right key in the right place and/or supply a password.

Encryption and Android

Android supports both types of encryption we talked about above in the OS, through the network and on the storage. As an application platform, it can also support encryption methods from third-parties for things like secure folders or encrypted messaging and email.Android also supports hardware backed encryption. That means there is a component inside the SoC (System on Chip — where the CPU and GPU live) that exists to help encrypt and decrypt data on the fly. The actual key to decrypt files is stored on this device and any user interaction — a password, a fingerprint, a trusted device, etc — that is used to access encrypted data is really asking the Secure Element in the hardware to do the job. Since Android 6.0 Marshmallow, all cryptographic function can be done using this Secure Element and the private key (the token used to encrypt and decrypt data) is never exposed to software. This means that without a token to present to the hardware, the data stays encrypted.

Android is built with encryption in mind and your data can be safe and inaccessible to anyone but you.

In your Android settings you might also be able to keep the system encrypted every time it boots up until a password is entered. Having a phone running that's filled with encrypted data is pretty safe, but halting the boot process until a password is entered prevents access to the files and acts as a double-layer of protection. Either way, your login password (or PIN or pattern or fingerprint) still accesses data through the secure element and you don't have a way to get the actual private encryption key, which is the only thing that knows exactly how the data was scrambled and how to put it back together.

Your messages and web browsing can be encrypted, too. You've probably seen many sites in your browser use the HTTPS header instead if HTTP. HTTP stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol and is the protocol (think rules) that is used to send and receive data over the internet. HTTPS stands for HTTP over SSL (Secure Sockets Layer), which adds an encryption standard to the protocol. Anything you enter into the web browser is "scrambled" with a public key you downloaded from the website when you got there, and only the private key — which the web server has — can unscramble it.

Whenever you're entering any information you consider private on the web make sure you have a secure HTTPS connection.

Data sent back to you is scrambled in a way that only your unique version of the public key can unscramble. You don't need to do anything except visit a secure page that has the HTTPS header. Your phone makes sure the server is really who it claims to be, using a certificate, and encrypts and decrypts data on its own through the browser app.

Messages that are encrypted usually require an app you need to download from Google Play. The Pixel is the lone exception, as it comes with Allo installed which supports encrypted messages. Another great messenger that does the same is Signal. Signal offers what's called end to end encryption, which means that the app assigns keys for individual contacts or groups and only you can decrypt a message sent to you. BlackBerry Messenger is considered secure by many, but since there is only one global key and every BlackBerry device has it, there's debate about how secure it is. BBM Protected is available for groups who require higher encryption or end to end encryption. Apple's iMessage is also encrypted end to end, but only when everyone is using an iPhone.

You use these apps like you would any other messenger — add a contact and send messages. The only difference is that those messages can be encrypted so only the two parties involved can read them.

Is encryption bad?

Encryption does nothing on its own. It's the user that makes it "dangerous."

Some folks in some governments claim that having encryption technology available to the end user (that'd be you and me) is dangerous because it makes it impossible to monitor communications of "persons of interest". The argument can sound convincing when we're told that terrorists communicated for months using a service like Facebook or WhatsApp. But encryption itself is not a danger to anything and without it, none of our online transactions would be secure, and we would have no guarantee that our chats are private. At the same time, all the private information on our phones would be easily accessible by anyone with the right tools and motivation.

If we give up any right to have encryption, we are giving up our privacy. Privacy is scary to the government because they want to know when we're not being completely law-abiding. The notion that potential criminals can be caught and some crime prevented is great, but it requires that the law-abiding citizens who want to safely buy from Amazon give up that right, too.

Only you can decide if you think encryption should be taken away from the private sector for the greater good, but you do need to know that the technology itself does no harm. Like most things, it can be abused by the user.

This really only scratches the surface of what encryption is and how it works. there are plenty of online resources that go in-depth with all the technical details. But this should give you a basic understanding of it all, and the next time you see someone talking about the merits of end to end encryption or advantages of a particular platform, you'll be able to understand and participate.

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4 months ago

How to buy and email a Google Play Gift Card


In need of a last-minute gift? Google's here to help!

A Google Play Gift card makes a great gift or stocking stuffer for any Android user on your shopping list. You can find gift cards at a number of popular brick and mortar stores, but if you've been trying your darnedest to avoid the hustle and bustle of the shopping season, Google has made it incredibly easy to give the gift of Google Play credits via email — right from the Google Play Store App.

This option is only available in the United States, so the rest of the world is stuck with the traditional gift cards. Bah humbug!

How to buy and email a Google Play Gift Card.

  1. Launch the Google Play Store app and tap the Menu bottom by the search bar.
  2. Tap Send Gift.
  3. Select the gift value you wish to send.

  4. In the next window, type the recipient's email along with an optional greeting.
  5. Tap Continue.
  6. Confirm all the info is correct and then tap Buy.

  7. You may need to enter your Account password to confirm the purchase.
  8. Your gift card will immediately be sent out via email.

You will also be sent a copy of the email with the Google Play gift code. If for whatever reason your recipient can't find the email with the gift code info, you can forward them your copy and it'll work just the same.

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4 months ago

Google Wifi Setup Tips & Tricks


It's only easy until something goes wrong. These tips will help make sure your Google Wifi setup is painless.

Google Wifi is really easy to set up. That's what impressed me the most about it when I was reviewing it, and the easy setup combined with quick updates when the tech inside needs them makes it a product I recommend to most anyone who needs a new router. But it can also be a nightmare if something goes wrong.

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4 months ago

Chromecast Ultra vs. Xiaomi Mi Box: Which should you buy?

Chromecast Ultra vs. Xiaomi Mi Box

If you want to spend $70 on a Google Cast device, you'll be looking at the Chromecast Ultra and the Xiaomi Mi Box.

Google's new Chromecast Ultra brings a lot to the table — not the least of which being 4K HDR streaming — but it is also unfortunately double the price of its predecessor. At $70 the Chromecast Ultra is now closer to the price of full-on Android TV boxes — including the newest of the bunch, the Xiaomi Mi Box, which also conveniently costs the same $70.

Both offer 4K video support, are of course Google Cast targets and won't take up much room behind your TV, but that doesn't mean you should blindly choose one or the other. Some people will prefer the Chromecast Ultra's simplicity while others will enjoy the extra features of the Mi Box. Which is right for you, though? Read on to find out.

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4 months ago

Find your phone: the ultimate guide to Android Device Manager

Android Device Manager

Android Device Manager is a great utility that lets you track your phone remotely.

Chances are you've heard of Android Device Manager. The service lets you remotely track, lock, and erase the data on a lost or stolen phone. It's one of those services that you wish you'd never have to use, but you should set it up just in case. It never hurts to be prepared.

Here's what you need to know about Android Device Manager, and how you can set it up on your phone.

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4 months ago

How to take a screenshot in MIUI 8


MIUI 8 offers plenty of ways to take a screenshot.

There are three different ways to take a screenshot in MIUI 8, and Xiaomi rolled out a new scrolling screenshot feature that lets you capture an entire page. The operating system is slowly rolling out to more phones, and handsets like the Redmi Note 3 that picked up the update earlier this year are now receiving the Marshmallow-based builds of MIUI 8.

If you're new to MIUI 8 or are looking for easier ways to take a screenshot, here's what you need to know.

How to take a screenshot in MIUI 8

Use the power and volume button combination

The fastest way to take a screenshot in MIUI 8 is through the tried and tested combination of pressing down on the power and volume down buttons.

  1. Get to the screen you want to capture.
  2. Press and hold the power and volume down buttons at the same time.
  3. Hold for a few seconds, and you'll hear the camera shutter accompanied by a short visual indicating the screenshot was captured.
  4. Once the screenshot is taken, it will be accessible for a few seconds from the top right corner of the UI. You'll be able to share, annotate, or edit the screenshot by selecting it.

Alternatively, you can also press the volume down and menu keys simultaneously to take a screenshot.

Select the screenshot toggle from the notification panel

With MIUI 8, Xiaomi introduced quick toggles in the notification panel. The default pane offers a toggle through which you can quickly take a screenshot. While it's a convenient way of taking a screenshot, you won't be able to use this method to take a screenshot of the notification pane itself.

  1. Get to the screen you want to capture.
  2. Swipe down from the top of the screen to access the notification panel.
  3. Select the Screenshot toggle to take a screenshot.

Use Quick Ball to take a screenshot

Quick Ball in MIUI 8 is similar to Assistive Touch in iOS. When enabled, you'll see a floating circle that lives on top of other apps, giving you quick access to five shortcuts: Home, back, recents, power off, and screenshot.

  1. Go to Settings.
  2. Navigate to Additional settings.
  3. Go to Quick ball.
  4. Toggle Turn on Quick ball.
  5. Once it's enabled, tap Quick ball to access its shortcuts.
  6. Select the Screenshot shortcut.

Extended screenshot

MIUI 8 offers a scrolling screenshot option that lets you capture a whole page in a single screenshot. To access the feature, you'll have to take a screenshot first using any of the aforementioned methods. Once the screenshot is taken, you'll see an animation in the top right corner that shows a preview of the screenshot. Select it, and you'll see options to edit, share, or delete the screenshot, as well as a scroll feature that lets you extend the screenshot.

Hit Scroll, and MIUI will continue scrolling down to the bottom of the page where it left off. The feature doesn't work in Chrome, but you will be able to save entire webpages when using the default MIUI browser.

Your turn

That's a quick look at all the options currently available to take a screenshot in MIUI 8. Select MIUI 8 beta builds also have a nifty option that lets you quickly take a screenshot with a three-finger swipe motion anywhere on the screen.

I wasn't able to access the option on any of the Xiaomi phones I currently have, but if it shows up in a stable build, I'll add it to the list.

What's your preferred way to take a screenshot in MIUI 8?

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4 months ago

What you need to know about Dual Apps in MIUI 8


Dual Apps lets you run two instances of an app simultaneously.

One of the headlining feature additions in MIUI 8 is Dual Apps, which allows you to run two instances of an app at the same time. The feature is especially handy if you have two social media accounts and are looking to access them from the same device.

And yes, with Dual Apps, you can run two WhatsApp accounts on the same phone. The feature is pretty straightforward: head into the phone's settings to toggle dual app functionality for the app you're looking to clone, following which you'll see a separate icon for the app on your home screen.

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4 months ago

How to use Google Home to help in the kitchen with cooking and baking

Google Home

Google Home won't bake you cookies, but it sure can help with the process.

Depending on your comfort level in the kitchen, cooking and baking can range anywhere from "fun!" to "can we just order pizza instead?" — but if you're willing to get in there, Google Home can be a useful tool. Here's a handful of tips to let Google Home be an excellent companion in the kitchen.

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4 months ago

Want to help Google Home improve? Here's how to send feedback directly to Google


Google Home is a product that still needs a lot of help.

With Actions on Google, we're finally starting to see Google Home capabilities expand, but that's not to say this product is anywhere near perfect yet. Google is going to be improving Home for years to come (or at least, let's hope it's years to come), and do you want to know how you can help them make this little air freshener lookalike more helpful in your own life? Give Google some feedback! It's easy, too!

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