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3 months ago

Google's Uptime app is a more social way to watch YouTube videos

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... and for the moment, only available on iPhone.

Google's Area 120 startup incubator, set up last year to allow Googlers to play startup pioneer in their "20% time," has just birthed its first product — a social video app called Uptime.

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3 months ago

Love to Snapchat your pals? Now you can make Bitmoji shortcuts for your faves

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Snapchat Spectacles

Snapchat will soon let you pin your closest Snap pals to the Home screen for easy chats.

Ignore the fledging IPO struggling to find its footing for just a second. For those of you who may be signed up for the Snapchat Beta — you can sign up for it here — the Android app now lets you pin specific Bitmoji to your home screen, reports The Verge.

Snapchat shortcuts

You might be wondering, why would I want to do that? Well, pinning a Bitmoji makes a shortcut to a Snapchat chat window with that friend or group of friends. It's to encourage you to use the app for all your corresponding needs. You can access the ability through Android's native widget functionality, which is likely why this particular feature is limited to Android users at present.

Thus far, my favorite part of trying out this feature is realizing how many of my friends and family have actually set up a Bitmoji avatar; I'm fascinated by how they've chosen to depict themselves in digital cartoon form. My second favorite part is sending a screenshot to my friends on Snapchat of their avatars pinned to my Home screen, to show them how devoted I am to communicating through this medium. No one has replied to my chats yet, however. Also, if your friend doesn't have Bitmoji set up, there's no way to pin them.

If you'd like to try out the new Snapchat feature, you can join the beta. However, the stable version of the app seems to include the Bitmoji update, too.

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3 months ago

Google's unique update process is one of the best parts of owning a Pixel

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Google's phones are updated the same way phones from other companies are, with one big difference.

There is an extremely well-defined divide between phones from Google and phones from any other company when it comes to updates. While a few exceptions exist, you know that you can only expect a timely Android update if you're using a phone recently sold by Google. In short, unless your phone says Nexus or Pixel on the back of it, getting updates can be as random and unpredictable as rolling dice.

Whenever we start talking about the update situation, someone will mention that Google can do it faster because it isn't going through the carriers and the companies that make the phone hardware. There is a lot more at play here, but a look at how a Google Android update is born and delivered should make for a fun conversation!

Two misconceptions

Let's start by addressing two things most of us get wrong: 1) The number of devices sold makes a big difference. 2) Carriers and manufacturers aren't in the picture.

Building a software update for one phone is the same as building a software update for one million phones. There are differences in the deployment because more people are downloading it and more errors can happen, but changing the code and testing how everything works is completely independent of how many phones that will use it are in the wild.

Android on a Nexus 5X is the same as Android on a Nexus 6P or Pixel.

Android is not developed in a bubble and it isn't tested in one, either. A manufacturer is still involved in an update for a Pixel or Nexus phone. Someone works with the vendors that make the individual components and get everything working as expected and sort out the licensing, and then it's tested with input from a lot of other companies, like big software vendors and carriers. Verizon (for example) places a pretty high value on its network and would blacklist a particular phone quickly if it caused trouble. Google gets Verizon to have a look before that can happen even though the phone in question may not be branded specifically for Verizon.

What we really mean here is that Google is the only company writing the software for an Android update on a Nexus or Pixel phone. This isn't technically correct either, but it gets the message across. This is Android the way Google made it with no major changes.

The deployment

Google is pretty good at this internet stuff. It has built a FOTA update (Firmware Over The Air) system into Android that's simple and robust. An application in the system software pings a server, and if the response indicates that an update is available a special download manager service starts and grabs the file. The files are hosted by Google for almost every Android phone.

Your phone is assigned an update slot based on your unique device ID and a bit of random number generation. By not making the update files available to everyone at the same time, download servers aren't crushed by demand and if a critical error is uncovered the rollout can be stopped.

An update is deployed for almost every other phone this same way.

How an update is developed

This is the important part.

All updates, even Nexus or Pixel updates, have manufacturer and carrier involvement. They all get rolled out the same basic way through Google Android update servers. How the updated code is delivered by the people writing it to the people in charge of building software is where Google has a distinct advantage.

When an update is "finished" by Google it's still not finished for Samsung.

The people involved in building Android for a Nexus or Pixel phone basically use the Android code the way it is written. Building Android from the source code isn't difficult at all. A few commands given to a computer that's been properly set up to compile Android is all that's needed to build all the parts into software that can be copied to a phone. The "hard" work is done by the folks writing and changing the code itself.

Phones sold by Samsung or LG or any other company aren't using the code the way it is written. That means they can't just download the updated parts and build their software like Google can. This is especially apparent for those monthly Android security patches, which need to be adapted to work with the custom operating system companies build using Android as the base.

The way Google handles the source code and builds updated software for their own phones isn't drastically different from the way anyone else does it. Developers make changes and add features to the Android source. Google Hardware takes that code and works with the companies that make the parts inside the phones to get it running well on each model, then makes it available to the public through the beta program.

The step Google Hardware doesn't have to do — work these base layer changes into the code for a custom operating system — is what gives a Nexus or Pixel phone an edge when it comes to waiting for an update.

This is unavoidable when you have different companies building different software from the same base code. The goal is a rich ecosystem built from different companies that offer very different experiences while still being compatible with Android at the feature and app level. We wouldn't want it any other way.

Android Nougat

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3 months ago

Hey look — Facebook Messenger is now copying Snapchat, too

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If Snapchat does it, you can sure bet Facebook's apps will do it.

Facebook-owned Instagram has not-so-subtly followed in Snapchat's path for many of its recent feature additions, and now Facebook's own Messenger app is doing the same. With the announcement of the "Messenger Day" feature, Facebook Messenger is going straight after Snapchat Stories as well.

The writing was on the wall since Messenger added quick access to a camera interface late in 2016, but with this latest update it isn't just for single photos and videos. Messenger Day lets you chronicle your day in order from start to finish, creating a timeline of photos and videos augmented with plenty of filters and stickers along the way.

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3 months ago

Gboard adds emoji and GIF suggestions, in-line Google Translate and new themes

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Gboard keyboard

Google's (still oddly named) Gboard keyboard is getting even smarter.

The whole idea of Gboard is offering you access to tons of intelligence and Google services anywhere a keyboard is displayed, and today's updates show the real power of this platform. With the latest update on Android, Gboard can now auto-suggest both emoji and GIFs while you type, letting you insert either based on the context of what you're typing — in the case of emoji, with a tap you can replace the words with the emoji directly. GIFs can be inserted into apps like Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, Hangouts and Allo.

Showing even more of Google's muscle, you can also now use Google Translate directly in the keyboard — just tap the "G" button, select the incoming and outgoing languages, and type. Your output will automatically be sent in the new language right into your chat app, or anywhere else you want to call up a keyboard.

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3 months ago

Snapseed: Everything you need to know about Google's photo editing powerhouse

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Snapseed's professional quality editing tools let you fix your photos on the go.

We are in a time when taking photos at the spur of the moment is easier than ever. With a smartphone in your pocket, you can snap photos practically anywhere you are, so long as your phone has battery life. However, not every photo turns out the way you want it to, and you can't really go back and recreate an image after the moment has passed. That's where the magic of photo editing with Snapseed pops up. This app will let you correct tone, adjust angles, tweak white balance, and so much more. If you're not acquainted with Snapseed it can be a lot to take in. That's why we've got details on the many awesome features contained here.

Tutorials

If you aren't already a regular user of Photoshop, Lightroom, or other intensive photo editing programs, then everything included in Snapseed will definitely be overwhelming. So if you're just starting out, you'll want to look near the bottom of the screen for the insights tab. Tap on it and it will open a page that lets you scroll through a variety of tutorials. Each tutorial will allow you to edit a photo in order to achieve a specific look, whether it's a type of lens blur, or seventies style photo fade.

Each tutorial includes step by step instructions, along with an estimate of how long it will take to get the effect you are striving for. The directions are first broken into simple steps then explained in detail complete with screenshots to help you learn the app layout. There are over two dozen different tutorials to help get you started with the basics of Snapseed, as well as grasp more complicated concepts.

Tools

One of the biggest features contained within Snapseed is its suite of tools. These allow you to tweak specific parts of your photos, such as white balance, tone, and perspective. Snapseed includes 12 different tools for you to use, and all of them are quite easy to implement. All that you need to do is tap on the tool that you want for your image, and then use the slider bar to adjust how you want your photo to look. Once you have gotten the effect that you want, all you need to do is tap the checkmark to save your progress on the edit.

The suite of tools at your disposal are nothing to be scoffed at. They are set up in a way that is easy to find and select the right tool for the job. Even after you have applied a tool, if you don't like the changes that have been made, you can undo your last edit. If you decide after undoing a specific edit that you did like it, it's easy to redo the action at the tap of a button. You can also view your edits, which lets you see all of the effects and filters that you have used.

Filters

Anyone who has used Instagram before is familiar with filters. These are specific effects that are settled over your photo to give it a particular look, without needing to manually edit every inch of the photo. Snapseed delivers 13 different filters to use and these vary from Lens Blurs and Glamour Glow, to Grunge or Black and White. Each filter has its own set of effects that will modify your photo. However that doesn't mean that you won't have control over how those filters look on your photo.

Each filter has its own setting of modifications that you have control over. At the top of the screen is a slider bar that will let you adjust how the filter settles over your photo. At the bottom of your screen are the different options for the filter. These tend to be small variants on the white balance, and look of each filter. This means that there are tons of options within each filter to allow you to fine tune the way that everything looks.

Sharing your photos

Saving and sharing the photos that you have edited is also exceedingly easy with Snapseed. At the top of the main screen, there is a download icon. If you tap on this you'll be able to save, share, or export your edits. Tap share to open up the share menu with all available social media apps. This means that you can apply professional edits to your favorite selfie, and then upload it to Instagram, or any other social media that you have installed on your phone. You can also share directly to a messenger client if you want someone in particular to see your photos.

Make every photo awesome

Snapseed is brimming with great features that give you access to a creative suite of editing software for true control over all of your favorite photos. Whether you just need to adjust the white balance, or you're looking to do more in depth edits, Snapseed can easily handle it. As you learn how to master the app, getting the exact look that you want will be easier than ever. Have you ever used Snapseed? Got any awesome tips we haven't mentioned here? Be sure to drop us a line in the comments below and tell us about it!

Download: Snapseed (Free)

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3 months ago

How you can keep celebrating International Women's Day now that it's over

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Android users, this is a great opportunity to take these resources and bookmark them for the next time you're showing off your high-powered device.

International Women's Day is almost over. The blog posts may have been written and the social media feeds filled to the brim, but that doesn't mean the self-edification needs to stop there.

Earlier on, Google posted in solidarity about its efforts to support women through its Women Techmakers summits, including highlighting how its machine learning technology is being used to combat gender inequality in film. The blog was sprinkled with resourceful links and ideas for subtly sharing women's accomplishments in the world, and I figured I'd round 'em up and share them with you so that you can get the dialogue started next time you're showing off an Android device. These links might also be useful in a classroom setting.

First up, Google reminds us that YouTube is compromised of carefully curated playlists, including this YouTube Kids playlist called Super Women of Our Past, which introduces little tykes to women like Eleanor Roosevelt, Harriet Tubman, and Grace Hopper. Other playlists include Celebrate Women's History Month and Celebrate International Women's Day, though you could find more through a quick search.

YouTube is also hosting a #HerVoiceIsMyVoice campaign, which encourages other ladies to share a video of who inspires them. The video I've embedded above offers more information if you're interested.

Google also announced its added 40 new Expeditions to its collection for classrooms, all of which are focused "on the careers, adventures, and contributions of women." These include a look at female astronauts, airplane pilots, engineers, and more, though I'm looking forward to the day where this sort of thing doesn't have to be highlighted. Until then, you can download the app yourself and pop your phone into a Cardboard headset to experience it.

Now, this wasn't in the Google blog post. But while I have you, I'd ask that in honor of March being Women's History Month, you to consider downloading the Historic Women Watch Faces for your Android Wear device. The app features a collection of illustrations highlighting women who have made a meaningful impact on technology, including Katherine Johnson (who is highlighted in the movie, Hidden Figures), Ada Lovelace, and the aforementioned Grace Hopper. Each watch face displays a quote from the woman tech maker when the watch is in ambient mode and it's an easy way to flip into something that's both stylish and subtly educational.

Google will be also celebrating the rest of Women's History Month on Instagram.

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3 months ago

Google Allo now works seamlessly with Android Auto

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Now you can use one of Google's least popular messaging apps to send messages while driving.

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Go ahead — keep chuckling. Google's Allo messaging service may not be the messaging savior we were all hoping to come to Android, but it's currently serving its purpose in my life. I'm happy to see that it's now compatible with Android Auto.

Previously, when you'd receive an Allo message while in the Android Auto app, the notification would disappear behind the main interface so as to remove any desire you might have to check it while driving. You couldn't bring it up with a voice command, either, nor could you reply or compose an Allo message if you needed to while on the freeway. A recent Allo update, as pointed out by Phandroid's Derek Ross, seemed to have finally added the hands-free functionality.

The new Allo update also includes the ability to animate some emoji by sliding up on the send button, as well as various bug fixes.

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3 months ago

Google is now making its own podcasts, and the first one is really good

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Google is getting into original podcasts, and you should listen.

I'm obsessed with podcasts. When I'm not writing or listening to music, I'm usually walking down the street with someone's voice in my head (😱). And increasingly, podcasts are big business. Companies like Slate, Gimlet and even we here at Mobile Nations have made a pretty good dent in the universe with series that appeal to every type of person.

Well, after Spotify announced that it was getting into the original podcast business, Google has followed up with its first series, and it's pretty darn good. Hosted by one of my favorite podcasters on earth, Hrishikesh Hirway, the series is called City Soundtracks, and it pairs great bands or artists and the cities that inspire them. The first three episodes are available now, and they range from R&B superstar Kehlani touring around her home town of Oakland, California, to (my favorite) Spoon giving Hirway the lowdown on Austin, Texas.

Hirway hosts two other notable podcasts, Song Exploder, which asks an artist to break down a song into its individual components, and The West Wing Weekly, where he goes through every episode with Joshua Malina, who played Will Bailey from season four until the series' end in 2006.

It's unclear what Google's intentions are for its original podcast content; one show with three episodes isn't likely to sway anyone to sign up for Play Music over Spotify (especially given Spotify's considerable investment in its own original media), but it's hopefully the beginning of a consistent output of worthy shows.

Google Play Music: The ultimate guide

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3 months ago

Android O may introduce finger gestures and more... but also maybe not

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Android's next set of feature additions may include finger gestures, better copy and paste, and more robust messaging.

Good news comes to those who wait, and those who've been waiting for something as menial as the native ability to use finger gestures to come to Android should feel very jovial. An anonymous source from Google told VentureBeat that Android will soon support this specific feature, in addition to several others. Apparently, these features will be confirmed later this year at the company's annual developer's conference:

The features might or might not make their debut in the next version of Android, a source familiar with the matter told VentureBeat. Google is expected to unveil Android O at its I/O developer conference in May and then release it in the fall following multiple developer previews.

The gesture feature would enable you to bring up a list of recent contacts with the simple outline of the letter C on the screen, for instance, which would be faster than calling out the command to Assistant and waiting for it to respond. It's possible, however, that Google's gesture triggers "could get delayed or might not ever ship," according to the source.

We also don't know if Google will implement a feature called Copy Less, which could help cut down on the finicky process of copying text from one app and pasting it into another. However, this particular ability could come implemented in a future update of the GBoard virtual keyboard.

The source could also not confirm whether the next version of Android would have more robust messaging features, like the ability to tap on an address in a text message in Android Messages and start navigating in Google Maps.

None of these claims have been publicly confirmed by Google. For now, we can merely speculate what's to come in Android O. And if you're not entirely ready for that sort of rumor mongering, you can start smaller by guessing which dessert is the inspiration for the next version of Android.

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3 months ago

Nintendo's Parental Control app is amazing. Here's how to use it!

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Every game console should have parental controls this nice.

While there are definitely adults roaming the world right now with Nintendo Switches in hands, rescuing the lands of Hyrule or racing in futuristic hovercrafts, plenty of new Switch owners are actually kids. Not every parent is a gamer, but most parents want to make sure their children are not up at all hours of the night playing on this new highly portable console. Switch is small enough to hide under a blanket or sneak out of the house to school with no problem, which is why Nintendo made sure parents had an extra tool to help make sure everyone behaves.

Parental controls on a Nintendo console are not a new thing by any stretch, but now those controls can be accessed remotely with an app on your phone. Even better? That app gives you a ton of information about how Switch is being used and includes new tools for controlling access. Here's how to set up parental controls on your phone!

Before you get started

In order to get set up, you're going to need a few things.

Adding Parental Controls to your Switch

Using the app to control settings on your Switch means you need to first log in to your Nintendo account on your phone. When the same account is on your phone and your Switch, it becomes much easier for the two to talk. If you do not have a Nintendo account, you will need to create on from within the app to continue. If you are already logged in to your Nintendo account through the Miitomo or Fire Emblem Heroes apps on your phone, you will be an option to use that login automatically.

  1. Open your Switch Parental Controls app
  2. Tap Next when prompted to register your Switch to the app
  3. Tap Sign in/Create Account when prompted to log in

Once you've logged in to your Nintendo account, you will see a Registration Code. This six digit pin needs to be entered on your Nintendo Switch. Keep your phone display on, but set your phone down and pick up your Switch for this next part.

  1. Head to System Settings on your Nintendo Switch home screen.

  2. Navigate down to Parental Controls and select Parental Controls Settings.

  3. Select Use your Smart Device from the options listed

  4. Select Yes when asked if you have the Parental Controls app

  5. Enter the registration code from your phone.

  6. Select Register when you see your name appear

Now that you have registered your Switch to the Parental Controls app, you need to go back to your phone so you can adjust system settings to your desire. On your phone you will now see Set Parental Controls and Later as your two options. If you want to add controls now, tap the top option. If not, refer back to this guide when you are ready!

Setting Parental Controls

Nintendo's basic parental controls include three basic settings. You can set a time limit for how long your child can play Switch every day; you can set a content rating restriction if you don't want your child playing games above a particular age rating; and you can set a pin to bypass the first two options. Gameplay and content restriction settings offer several extra features if you want to be more detailed, but the initial setup will walk you through basic time and content options. As soon as you save these options, the restrictions are immediately enabled on the Switch as long as it is connected to Wi-Fi.

If you want to be more detailed in your time restrictions — for example to set different time restrictions for different days of the week — head to the Console Settings tab in the bottom right corner of the app and select Play-Time Limit from the top. From here you will see Set Days Individually at the top, which will give you a Monday-Sunday list for you to set individual timers on. You'll also see a Bedtime Alarm option, which will render the Switch unplayable past a specified time unless the pin is entered.

Adjusting the Restriction Level when first setting the Switch up allows you to set a content rating limit, but if you want to go deeper you can select Custom Settings from the Restriction Level list and adjust things as you see fit. You can place limits on the ability to post screenshots to social media, and restrictions on the ability to send or receive messages from anyone Nintendo Switch user. The ability to pick and choose these settings makes it a little easier if you have family members with Switch consoles to share with your kids, or if you're interested in a higher content restriction but have no interest in the ability to share to Facebook.

If you're interested in more actively monitoring Switch activity, the Time Played tab will break down what games are being played each day and for how long. This information is later organized in the Monthly Report, so you can see total hours played over the course of any month. Nintendo generates this information automatically, and you can either choose to be notified when this information is available or look in the app when you're curious. Usage information is sent to the app several times a day, but is not sent in real-time so it won't be entirely accurate if your child is playing on your Switch at the moment you are looking at reporting.

How to remove parental controls from your Switch

Decided you don't need these features on your phone? It's pretty easy to turn off but don't just uninstall the app and walk away. You want to de-register the app from your Switch, which means you'll need your phone and your Switch handy for a few minutes.

  1. Head to System Settings on your Nintendo Switch home screen

  2. Navigate down to Parental Controls and select Parental Controls Settings

  3. Select Unregister App from the available options

  4. Enter your Parental Control pin (check the app if you forgot!)

  5. Confirm you want to do this by selecting Unregister

  6. Uninstall the Parental Controls app on your phone

And that's it! You now know all you need to know about controlling the Nintendo Switch remotely. Got an idea for a future feature in this app? Share it with us in the comments!

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3 months ago

You can now install Samsung's browser on Nexus + Pixel devices

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Samsung is making its browser available on Google hardware.

In a bid to deliver faster updates, Samsung decoupled its browser from TouchWiz and started offering it on the Play Store since 2015. The browser was limited to Galaxy phones, but a beta version of Samsung Internet is now being listed on the Play Store with support for the Google Pixel and Nexus devices.

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3 months ago

Google Translate picks up machine learning support for even more languages

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Google Translate gets much better at converting phrases from Hindi, Russian and Vietnamese into other languages.

Google announced back in November that it was adding neural machine learning to its translation service, allowing the service to translate entire sentences at a time. The move resulted in a drastic improvement when using Google Translate with English, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Turkish, and today the company is adding support for Hindi, Russian and Vietnamese.

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3 months ago

Android Pay is now live in Belgium

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Android Pay is slowly becoming available in more markets around the world.

Google has rolled out Android Pay in Belgium, making it the tenth country in the world to receive the digital payments service. Belgian users will be able to pay at over 85,000 retail locations with Android Pay, including Carrefour, McDonald's, Media Markt, H&M, and more. The service also allows customers to checkout within apps, and is supported by Fancy, Uber, Deliveroo, TransferWise, Hotel Tonight, Vueling, and more.

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3 months ago

Pixel and Nexus factory images with March 2017 security patch now available

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You can now get up to the latest software without waiting for an over-the-air update.

In keeping with its regular cadence of releasing full software builds for its latest devices, Google has updated its factory image page to include Android 7.1.1 builds with the March 2017 security patch for its latest phones and tablets.

The latest images are available for the Pixel, Pixel XL, Pixel C, Nexus 6P, Nexus 5X, Nexus 6 and Nexus 9. You may also recall that this will be the final full platform update for the Nexus 6, with only security patches coming to the phone going forward until its support is ended.

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