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1 week ago

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro review: Tango should keep the 'project' tag for now

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro

Few of Google's "projects" have been as fascinating to watch take shape like Tango, but now that the first phone with the AR equipment baked in has hit store shelves it's not entirely clear who should invest in this tech.

The quick take

Tango remains an impressive collection of cool ideas, but the Phab 2 Pro is nowhere near ready to be considered a serious consumer product. Aside from being huge and awkward, Neither Lenovo nor Google's software is fully baked enough for this to be a complete thought.

The Good

  • Decent display
  • Solid build quality
  • Great battery life

The Bad

  • Huge and awkward
  • Camera isn't great
  • Tango is half baked
  • Lenovo's notifications are awful

It's very easy to think about Tango in individual contexts. We've seen it used as an incredible tour guide for museums, deployed on the International Space Station inside NASA's SPHERES satellites, and even used as the eyes of an autonomous drone. The individual possibilities for using the computer vision tech in Google Tango has demonstrated itself as highly useful in very specific situations, but what happens when you put all of that tech in the hands of a consumer?

Lenovo's Phab 2 Pro is the first retail product with Tango onboard, a massive smartphone with all the computer vision potential. You won't find it in a carrier store next to the Moto Z, though. It's available to purchase in Lowe's hardware stores as a phone that gives users the ability to measure objects in space and even place objects in augmented reality so you can "see" the product in the home or office before you buy it. The suggestion here is that the phone isn't really built for the Facebook generation, but is instead a smarter tool for contractors or interior designers to show their customers what their house could look like with a bit of help.

At the same time, Lenovo makes sure everyone knows this phone is also an entertainment powerhouse. A massive high resolution display with a quality audio system and a rich gaming experience thanks to the Tango Core, but it is lacking support for Google's new Daydream VR platform. Lenovo's selling points differ from what you see on the shelf at Lowe's, which differs again from Google's initial vision for Tango.

So, who is this phone for? Is this a massive media and gaming powerhouse? Will this become standard issue for contractors and interior decorators? Should eager tinkerers prepare little robots for this phone to power? Maybe all of the above? Read on to find out.

About this review

I'm writing this review after six days with a retail Lenovo Phab 2 Pro (model PB2-690Y) in Glen Burnie MD on T-Mobile. This review unit, which was provided by Lenovo, was using software version PB2-690Y_S100020_160924, based on Android 6.0.1 with the August 1, 2016 security patch.

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro

You'll need two hands

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro Hardware

As the name suggests, Lenovo's Phab 2 Pro is a big phone aimed at people who want to do a lot on the go. As much as I despise the word phablet, it really does apply here. This behemoth gave me flashbacks to the Sony Xperia Z Ultra, only thicker and a lot more solid. Make no mistake, this is is only a phone for people who like massive screens and the batteries that drive them.

The outer casing isn't anything special when it comes to design, but checks all the right boxes for a quality build. The aluminum body feels solid and has just the right amount of grip, with a nicely textured power key and a tactile volume rocker with very little wiggle. The edges of the phone have a slight chamfer that catches light well, but offers little towards making the phone comfortable to hold with one hand. Across the top of the phone you'll find the headphone jack off to the left, and on the bottom of the phone you'll find what looks like stereo speaker grilles on either side of a Micro-USB port. In reality, it's a single Dolby Atmos speaker firing down with the other side for what Lenovo calls a 360-degree microphone array.

The front of this Phab 2 Pro is a single sheet of 2.5d curved Gorilla Glass. It's not curved like the Galaxy S7 edge or LG G5, but the edges of the glass slope away into the bezel connector in a way that makes this phone a little easier to grip by the sides. Instead of software navigation keys like most Android phones, Lenovo went with the old school soft keys under the display. You only see those keys when lit up, which isn't all the time, so when the display is off the only thing you see on the face of this phone is the camera off to the right of the top speaker. Toss in a couple of antenna lines on the top and bottom and a fingerprint sensor dead center of the back, and you've got a fairly generic looking phone. You know, as long as you ignore the three cameras taking up the top half of the phone.

This phone should have been an early Christmas present for nerds.

In order for Tango to work, Google uses a standard RGB sensor, and infrared sensor, and a fisheye lens. The standard 16MP sensor and infrared sensor work together to "see" things, and the fisheye lens adds human-style depth perception, among other things. All three of these cameras work together with the specially optimized Snapdragon 652 processor to give this phone the information needed for a successful Tango experience. You hold the phone up with two hands, look at the QHD IPS display as though you were peering into another world, and in theory Tango does the rest.

It's difficult to imagine this phone with a case on it. The Phab 2 Pro is not fun to carry around in your pocket, both because it weighs more than half a pound and because the 6.4-inch display is noticeably larger than any phone I've tested over the last year. People using this phone for commercial reasons, like consulting on hardware installations, are going to want a case — which is going to make this phone even larger. It's possible there are people out there who would buy this phone because it's fairly inexpensive and gets you a massive display and a 4050mAh battery, but either way dropping this phone is not going to be fun for anyone.

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro

No, really. When does this get good?

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro Software

This is the part where I, the VR and AR nerd, am supposed to tell you how much better your life would be if you had the ability to look through your phone and see another reality. Having followed Tango and drooled over the potential for years, this phone should have been an early Christmas present for nerds like me. Instead, Lenovo and Google seem to have tried their best to make this phone one of the least enjoyable experiences I've had in 2016.

Lenovo's Android has never been great. Previous iterations of their software have been visually uninspiring and on several occasions included bloatware that bordered on offensive. After the purchase of Motorola and the release of the fairly impressive Yoga Book, it seemed as though Lenovo's software was finally getting the overhaul it needed.

While Lenovo has worked hard to stay close to something that more closely resembles stock Marshmallow with this release, it all falls apart with the notifications. They're transparent with either black or white text, which means no matter what wallpaper you're using the notifications are often difficult to read in the best of lighting. Out in daylight, forget about it.

Lenovo and Google seem to have tried their best to make this phone one of the least enjoyable experiences I've had in 2016.

This phone does dial it way back on added software though. The only nonstandard apps installed are Accuweather, McAfee Security, Sound Recorder, and SYNCit for people who want a third-party backup tool for their phone. Sound recorder makes sense, given the special microphone array this phone has. The purpose is to offer a more complete 360-degree recording solution, and it works noticeably better than just sticking a recording app on a Pixel and leaving it on a table to record while you talk. This is a great feature for talking through something in an interview format, but there aren't a ton of other uses for this microphone setup.

Obviously the big software feature here has basically nothing to do with Lenovo. Google Tango already has more apps in the Play Store than Google Daydream does, and only two are actually made by Google. These apps can be broken out into three basic categories:

  • Games take a look at the environment around you and overlay some kind of activity for you to interact with. This can be a small simulated city like Towers for Tango, a firing range where you point your phone and tap to shoot like Tango Targets, or a table full of puzzle pieces for you to walk around the real world and interact with. Most of these require fairly low accuracy and so work fairly well. There's also some surprisingly big names, like Crayola Color Blaster and Hot Wheels Track Builder Tango.

  • Shopping apps let you browse Amazon, Wayfair, Lowe's, and others for a variety of products and then show you what those products would look like in your home. The measurements offered in the product description and Tango's computer vision work together to place objects in augmented reality so they don't clash with anything in the real world, and as long as your room is well lit and you have a fairly open space this method of shopping works well.

  • Tool apps let you measure 2D and 3D spaces with an app, and allow you to store those measurements for later. This can be physical measurements or a way to observe things like signal strength for Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and cellular networks in the real world. These apps require accuracy to be effective, which means wide open spaces and proper lighting to "see" everything clearly. Even in perfect conditions, tool apps still have a high failure rate.

Very little in this software experience works the way it should.

While games are a great way to show someone Tango and give a starting idea for what computer vision is all about, it's a serious problem that these are the most accurate apps in the Tango arsenal. Not only is this setup only useful indoors, but even in ideal conditions the software isn't reliable. Google's Measure app starts with a warning that it's meant for estimation and not for accuracy. Shopping apps are more reliable when you're in a well lit room, but fail quickly in low light and handles collision poorly if your goal is to see how well a corner table would look with two real couches on either side.

Very little in this software experience works the way it should. Between the frequent failure rate of individual apps to Lenovo's aggressively mediocre implementation of Android, it's not entirely obvious who would enjoy this experience enough to justify spending money exclusively for playing with Tango. I say playing because that's basically what you're doing with these apps. The tools aren't accurate enough to be considered useful by real contractors. The shopping apps would only be useful to interior designers in an empty, well-lit home. The games are only fun if you happen to have a ton of free space in you home to enjoy them, which isn't a ton of people.

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro

Dragons are cool, I guess.

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro Experience

You know how some phones just sort of disappear in your pocket? This is not one of those phones. The good news is I don't think I'd ever misplace this phone, regardless of how long I used it. The less good news is I can't take this phone anywhere without either putting it in my jacket pocket or wearing a belt. It's not that the phone is big — though really, this is such a huge damn phone — it's the weight. Some of that is top be expected with a huge battery and a metal body and the additional hardware, but comparing the weight of this phone to every other on my desk is incredible.

Speaking of that big battery, if I don't touch the Tango features at all, I can get through a normal 16 hour day with 55% battery remaining when I go to sleep. With Quick Charge 2.0 on board, I can recharge this phone in minutes and basically never worry about it dying. Unless, of course, I start a Tango app. On average, Tango apps drain 10% of the battery for every 15 minutes of use, which is insane. It's no shock that three cameras and the act of processing that information while displaying content on the screen consumes battery, but you can crush almost half of the battery on this phone with an hour of Tango use. There aren't a lot of situations that call for an hour of Tango use though, so it's unlikely to be a huge deal in day to day use.

There's a lot of promise in tech like Tango, but this phone was not ready for primetime.

It cannot be overstated how poorly Tango operates in less than ideal situations. The Signal Mapper app failed 16 out of the 18 times I tested it. Between Google Measure and the measure tool in the Lowe's app, I got a mostly accurate measurement twice after using both apps every day for nearly a week. The number of time I've seen "Unfortunately, Tango Core has stopped" is embarrassing. In no way should this experience be on a store shelf right now.

But at the same time, the promise of Tango remains. This tech is so damn cool, and now that it's in a form factor that can generously be called a phone at a reasonable price it's accessible to way more people. This may not deserve to be a consumer product yet, but Project Tango as a concept is something incredible and powerful. Right now it just only works when you're inside a big empty room and conditions are perfect.

Some of that may be due to Lenovo's primary camera. It's not the best sensor for grabbing detail, and in low light the sensor struggles a lot. I found myself frequently wondering what would happen if a Tango Pixel existed, with a sensor that handled low light like a champion and could combine powerful AR with Google Daydream VR. That's obviously not happening anytime soon, but it's a cool thought. In the mean time, Lenovo's camera does include a cute AR mode that lets you overlay some animals for you to take some photos. Here's a quick look at some of the shots I grabbed this week.

There's a lot of promise in tech like Tango, but usually that promise is in contained experiences. A detailed 3D guide of a store is cool, but only if enough people own something that justifies the experience. This could be great when specialized for specific things, but on its own it's difficult to imagine wanting this phone in my pocket every day.

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro

The bottom line

Should you buy the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro? Probably not

Is it possible that Tango will improve with time? Sure. At one third the cost of Google Glass — that's $499 for the uninitiated — it's the kind of thing we'll see show up at hacker spaces for cool one-off ideas over the next two years. It's difficult to imagine this being the kind of thing you see someone casually using in public, and it's even more difficult to imagine a professional using this to enhance their work and being satisfied with the results right now.

But as a daily driver, even if you're really hyped about Tango and Augmented Reality? This isn't what you want, at least not yet.

See at Lowe's

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1 week ago

The best deals apps


The apps that deliver on the best deal.

Whether it's looking for holiday gifts, or picking up something for yourself getting a deal on the things you buy is easier than you think. There are plenty of awesome apps that say they can deliver you great deals, but not all apps are of the same caliber. If you've ever had a frustrating experience, you're probably well aware of this fact. That's why we've collected the best apps for deals, so that you can get right to finding the best bang for your buck.


eBay is a household name when it comes to finding awesome deals online. They've been popular since back in the days of Beanie Babies, and with good reason too. eBay is the world's largest auction house, and of course you can buy and sell used items. Rather than sending you to manufacturers, sellers on eBay are as varied as people themselves are. But you can also buy brand new products, often at huge discounts.

The app is very well designed, and easy to use which is a good thing, because there are a lot of moving parts within eBay. You can easily search, watch a particular listing, message with other eBay users, see your purchases, and plenty more as well. You can start using eBay without having logged in, but in order to use any of the features you will need to log in or create an account. There are thousands upon thousands of items to search through, and you can find just about anything here for the right price.

Download: eBay (free)


If you're looking for a deal app that is simple, and easy to use, then Woot may be right up your alley. It delivers you deals every day, along with best sellers, and then allows you to browse current deals by category. While you can sign up for an account with Woot, it isn't actually necessary to complete your purchases.

Woot's deals are all over the place. From clothing, to wine, to towels and comforters. They've even got short-term Flash deals that are available in beta right now. While not having an individual search function might be frustrating for some users, the categories are set up broadly enough that you should be able to find what you are looking for. You also have the option when browsing deals to organize them by price, discount and even by the newest deal.

Download: Woot (free)


Coupons are often the easiest way to ensure that you get a good deal on the things you buy the most. While coupons can save you a bundle, many people don't use them on a regular basis. After all, who has the time to go rummaging to find the one coupon you need through dozens of different advertisements? That's where Flipp comes in. They deliver coupons from all of the stores closest to you, so that you always have access to the coupon you need.

While you will still need to search through them to find the relevant coupon, having everything in one place digitally makes things much easier on you. Flipp pulls coupon information from major retailers like Lowe's and GameStop by using your zip code. You can save your favorite coupons so that they're ready when you need them, search for specific items, or just browse by category. They even have the coupons from flyers that are only available for specific sales.

Flipp is busting at the seams with some great features that just keep making things easier for you. Inside of a flyer, if you tap on an item you want to save it will clip that specific coupon and add it to your shopping list. If a flyer is only available for certain locations, the app will tell you as much when you open the flyer.

The shopping list feature lets you take a look at the coupons you have clipped, nearby stores, and lets you build your shopping list in general. It does an absolutely excellent job of helping you to find deals, along with making sure you have the coupon to get the most bang out of your buck.

Download: Flipp (free)


The idea of getting money back just for shopping by using an app seems a bit ludicrous. That's exactly what the deal is with Ebates though. You find the store that you were planning on making a purchase from, and navigate there from within the Ebates app. When you make a purchase, you'll get a percentage in cash back. Different stores have different deals with Ebates and you may see anything from 1% to 10% in cash back rewards.

Previously, you could only get these deals if you purchased the item you were looking for online. However, if you link your credit card to the app, you can now also access these deals at 22 brick and mortar stores. When you open up a particular retailer from inside the Ebates app, you'll also be able to access deals that are currently running.

The combination of discounts on purchases, and cash back for purchases you were already going to make are absolutely fantastic. When you have earned cash back for your purchases, it will pop up into the 'My Cash Back' section of the app. It generally appears a few days after you have completed the transaction, and once the cash is 60 days old it is eligible to be paid out. Cash back rewards are paid out on the 15th of February, May, August and November by either a paper check or by being deposited into your PayPal account.

Download: Ebates (free)


The giant when it comes to finding an awesome deal, with minimum difficulty, is most certainly Amazon. This company delivers more deals than you could ever possibly scroll through, which generally means you can always find a good price when you're looking for one. From running shoes to jewelry to technology, Amazon sells pretty much everything.

While you can use a computer, Amazon works perfectly well right from your phone. You can check on orders, gift cards, and even try Amazon Prime right there. Of course, if you're looking for a deal, Amazon lets you search by voice, specific item, and category, making it easier than ever to find what you are looking for. Depending on your location, you can even use Amazon Prime Fresh to get your groceries delivered directly to your door. For those of you looking to get as much done in one place as possible, Amazon ought to be your go to shopping app.

Download: Amazon Shopping (free)

Your turn

There are plenty of great apps that can cut you a serious deal in a variety of ways. Not all of them offer the same benefits, but if you're looking for an easy way to get a great deal they can definitely help you out. Do you think there is a a great app for deals that we missed? Do you have a favorite deal app? Be sure to leave us a comment below and tell us about it!

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1 week ago

EE enables low-frequency spectrum to boost 4G coverage in the UK to 75%


EE is aiming to cover 95% of UK landmass with 4G by 2020.

UK carrier EE has switched on the low-frequency 800MHz spectrum (Band 20) at 700 sites across the country, bringing 4G connectivity to 5,000 square kilometers of "not spots" overnight.

The carrier has relied on 1800MHz and 2600MHz thus far, and is now leveraging the 800MHz frequency for covering rural areas. High-frequency bands are ideal for urban centers as they have the ability to transmit more data, but the low-frequency 800MHz spectrum is less susceptible to interference and can cover a wider area, making it a better alternative in rural locations:

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1 week ago

OnePlus merchandise now up for sale in India, OnePlus 3T coming on Dec. 2


Are you ready for a Dash Charge t-shirt?

OnePlus is now offering its lifestyle products in India, kicking things off with a travel backpack, messenger bag, and t-shirts. The brand gave away a few accessories as part of its Diwali Sale last month, but is now launching OnePlus Gear merchandise officially in the country. The OnePlus 3T is also set to make its debut in India on December 2.

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1 week ago

'Glossy black' Galaxy S7 edge is Samsung's answer to the 'jet black' iPhone


Say hello to a slightly different black GS7 edge.

With the Note 7 consigned to the flaming dumpster of history, it seems Samsung is looking to new color options for the Galaxy S7 series to boost sales in the run up to the holidays. We've already seen the "blue coral" GS7 edge, and now it looks like it may be joined by a darker, glossier version of the "onyx black" color that's been available from launch.

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1 week ago

Huawei Watch price cut to £168 on Amazon UK

Huawei Watch

Get the best Android Wear smartwatch at a £70 discount.

The Huawei Watch remains our pick for best Android Wear smartwatch, and now you can pick up the wearable at a substantial discount on Amazon UK. As part of its ongoing Black Friday deals, Amazon has cut the price from £239 to £167.99, a 30% discount. (That's around half the original launch price for the watch, for what it's worth.)

See at Amazon UK

You'll have a hard time tracking down a better smartwatch at that price point. Here's Russell Holly on why the Huawei Watch is the best:

Huawei's Watch is a unique successful attempt at making Android Wear watches look more like and actual watch and less like a gadget. It's packing a fully circular always-on display, microphone and speaker for handling calls, and a heart-rate sensor for connecting with your favorite fitness apps. The battery will last the average user multiple days, but promises to last through a whole day no matter who you are.

More: Black Friday 2016 deals

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2 weeks ago

Take the State of the Mobile Nations Phones Survey for your chance to win $600 towards a new phone!


Silly season for new phones and gadgets is on us — it feels like we can't go a week without a major release as the calendar races into the holidays. There are a bunch of new phones out there and we wanted to get an idea about what's important to you in a phone and in a cellular carrier. Thus, this survey.

We get a little detailed, but that's because we want to suss out what it is that drives your decisions in purchasing a new phone or picking a new carrier. These are expensive and long-term choices, and your answers will help to influence what we write. This survey is your chance to help guide and inform how we approach answering your most important technology questions for years to come!

And because we love you, one random respondent to this survey will win $600 to buy the new phone of your dreams — or to pay for the next several months of your mobile service!

Hit up the survey below (or click here to open in a new window); it should take about 10-15 minutes to complete.

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2 weeks ago

Here They Lie review: Screaming forever

Muted colors, and atmospheric music will have your pulse racing in no time.

Here they Lie is a full length horror experience developed for PlayStation VR, and it is unsettling and terrifying in equal measure. It uses a combination of creepy music that will put you on edge, along with a mostly abandoned city that will have you peering around corners and over ledges.

When the game gets started, things look pretty normal. You board a train that it well lit and runs well. That really doesn't last though. Soon you'll be walking — or running — through claustrophobic alleys while...something chases you through the city. The big problem? You don't seem to remember where you are, or what happened here. Only that you need to find the woman in yellow, Dana. This atmospheric thriller is a great game to try out if you've been looking for an awesome horror game to experience on PlayStation VR.

Read more at VR Heads!

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2 weeks ago

Phil is back — as Modern Dad!


Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls: I regret to inform you that reports of Phil's demise have been greatly exaggerated. He's had a nice nap, a little vacation, a couple of long walks on the beach — but now it's time to get back to work. And so we present: Modern Dad!

Following up on the success that has been MrMobile (yeah, that Fisher guy's alright), Modern Dad is the second video-first project from Mobile Nations. And I'm pretty thrilled to be at the helm of this thing. On one hand it's going to be a lot of the same tech that you're used to. Computers, phones, tablets, gadgets, whatever. But it's also going to be so much more. And perhaps more important is that we're going to look at it through the lens of a father and husband — basically someone who at the end of the day has to answer for this stuff to a higher power (namely my wife and two daughters).

But above all, we're gonna have fun! We're soft-launching things for now (which is a nice way of saying we're trying to run before we sprint), but we'll definitely have new vids coming at you every week. A couple times a week, actually. Multiple videos, several times a week. Every week. That's a lot of Phil.

For now, some important links you need to know:

Hit me up with any and all idea of things you'd like to see us tackle so you don't have to! And shoot me an email any time you want — phil at modern dad dot com I'll get back to you just as soon as I get off Snapchat.

It's good to be back. And I'd love for y'all to come along for the ride.

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2 weeks ago

Huawei Fit review: A weak pulse


Huawei's latest fitness band leaves a lot to be desired.

The fitness band is over. Jawbone abandoned ship; Nike, too. It's easier — and more profitable — to own the data, to partner with companies like Apple and Fitbit, which actually make money from these things. There is one way to do fitness hardware: undercut everyone, like Lenovo and Xiaomi are doing with their $20 fitness bands, mainly sold in China, in order to saturate the market with something so consumable it can be as easily replaced as a hair band.

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2 weeks ago

Alcatel now offering Idol 4S for just $349 without VR headset


Save a few dollars on an Idol 4S by skipping out on the virtual reality headset.

Alcatel is now offering a version of the Idol 4S without its previously bundled VR headset and Incipio case, and shaving off an extra $50 in the process. The phone still comes with its standard accessories of a quick charger, USB cable and tempered glass screen protector, though.

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2 weeks ago

SD 5.1 spec will help you identify if your card can handle apps with new 'A1' badge


It will soon be easier to identify when a microSD card is best suited for app performance.

The SD Assisciation (SDA), which handles the specification for SD cards of all types, has unveiled its latest spec, SD 5.1, including a new distinction for SD cards that are designed for application use rather than just media storage. The new specification, called "A1" (or App Performance Class 1), shows that a given SD card meets certain performance standards set by the SDA that determine it's good enough to be used as a storage device for apps.

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2 weeks ago

Final Android 7.1 Developer Preview build released, Nexus 9 added to Beta Program


The second and final Android 7.1 Developer Preview is here.

Just a couple days over a month since the first Android 7.1 Developer Preview was released, we now have Developer Preview 2 available for Nexus phones and tablets to get a near-final taste of the latest software. Those who have enrolled in the Android Beta Program for their compatible device — which now includes the Nexus 9 — will receive Developer Preview 2 this week via an OTA update.

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2 weeks ago

Essential Accessories For Google Pixel + Pixel XL


Perfect partners for your Pixel.

So you've just dropped a chunk of cash on a shiny new Pixel or Pixel XL, and it'll soon be heading your way. But what about accessories for your shiny new Google phone?

Google has a wide range of first-party accessories for its first own-branded handset, and we've also rounded up some top essentials from elsewhere. Take a look!

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2 weeks ago

Next Google Pixel update adds raise-to-wake, double-tap-to-wake


So far, only Pixel owners in Canada are seeing the mid-month update to build NPF26J.

It's been just a few weeks since the Google Pixel November security update started rolling out, but already we're seeing a new build hitting some handsets, with the second update apparently hitting Pixel owners in Canada first.

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