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Google Pixel 5 review: Keeping it simple

I’m going to be totally honest with you. I don’t really understand Google’s phone strategy right now. And for what it’s worth, I’m not really sure Google does either. I wrote about it here, but I’ll save you from having to read an additional 800 words on top of all these. The short version is that Google has three phones on the market, and there isn’t a whole heck of a lot of distinction between them.
The Pixel is a portrait of a hardware division in transition. That applies to a number of aspects, from strategy to the fact that the company recently saw a minor executive exodus. It’s pretty clear the future of Google’s mobile hardware division is going to look quite different from its present — but 2020’s three phones are most likely a holdover from the old guard.

Pixel 4 review: Google ups its camera game

What you’re looking at here is the Pixel 5. It’s Google’s flagship. A device that sports — among other things — more or less the same mid-range Qualcomm processor as the 4a announced earlier this year. It distinguishes itself from that budget handset, however, with the inclusion of 5G. But then here comes the 4a 5G to further muddy the waters.
There are some key distinctions that separate the 5 and 4a 5G, which were announced at the same event. The 5’s got a more solid body, crafted from 100% recycled aluminum to the cheaper unit’s polycarbonate. It also has waterproofing and reverse wireless charging, a fun feature we’ve seen on Samsung devices for a few generations now. Beyond that, however, we run into something that’s been a defining issue since the line’s inception. If you choose not to use hardware to define your devices, it becomes difficult to differentiate your devices’ hardware.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Since the very beginning of the Pixel line, the company has insisted that it will rely on software advances to push the products forward. It’s a nice sentiment after years of feature arms races between the likes of Apple and Samsung. But that means when it comes time to introduce new devices, the results can be fairly lackluster. That certainly applies to the Pixel 5.
From a hardware perspective, it’s not a particularly exciting phone. That’s probably fine for many. Smartphones have, after all, become more commodity than luxury item, and plenty of users are simply looking for one that will just get the job done. That said, Google’s got some pretty stiff competition at the Pixel 5’s price point — and there are plenty of Android devices that can do even more.
There are certainly some upgrades in addition to the above worth pointing out, however. Fittingly, the biggest and most important of all is probably the least exciting. The Pixel 4 was actually a pretty solid device hampered by one really big issue: an abysmal battery life. The 2,800mAh capacity was a pretty massive millstone around the device’s neck. That, thankfully, has been addressed here in a big way.

Top members of Google’s Pixel team have left the company

Google’s bumped things up to 4,080mAh. That’s also a pretty sizable bump over the 4a and 4a 5G, which sport 3,885mAh and 2,130mAh, respectively. That extra life is extra important, given the addition of both Battery Share and 5G. For the sake of disclosure, I should mention that I still live in an area with basically no 5G (three cheers for working from home), so your mileage will vary based on coverage. But using LTE, I was able to get about a day and a half of use out of the handset, besting the stated “all-day battery).
This is helped along by a (relatively) compact display. Gone are the days of the XL (though, confusingly, the 4a 5G does have a larger screen with a bit lower pixel density). The flagship is only available in a six-inch, 2,340 x 1,080 size. It’s larger than the Pixel 4’s 5.7 inches, but at a lower pixel density (432 versus 444 ppl). The 90Hz refresh rate remains. Compared to all of the phones I’ve been testing lately, the Pixel 5 feels downright compact. It’s a refreshing change to be able to use the device with one hand.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The camera is probably the aspect of the handset where the opposing hardware-first and software-first approaches are the most at conflict with one another. Google was fairly convinced it could do everything it wanted with a single lens early on, but eventually begrudgingly gave in to a two-camera setup. The hardware is pretty similar to last year’s model, but the 16-megapixel 2x optical telephoto has been replaced by a 16-megapixel ultra-wide. Whether that represent progress is largely up to your own personal preference. Frankly, I’d prefer a little more non-distorted zooming.
Google, of course, is building on a solid foundation. I really loved the Pixel 4’s photos. The things Google’s imaging team has been able to do with relative hardware constraints is really impressive, and while you’re lacking the scope of a premium Samsung device or high-end iPhone, casual photo snappers are going to be really happy with the shots they get on the Pixel 5.

Night Sight has been improved and now turns on when the phone’s light sensor detects a dark scene. My morning walks have gotten decidedly darker in recent weeks as the season has changed, and the phone automatically enters the mode for those pre-dawn shots (COVID-19 has made me an early riser, I don’t know what to tell you). The feature has also been added to portrait mode for better focused shots.
The Pixel’s Portrait Mode remains one of the favorites — though it’s still imperfect, running into issues with things like hair or complex geometries. It really doesn’t know what to do with a fence much of the time, for instance. The good news is that Google’s packed a lot of editing options into the software here — particularly for Portrait Mode.

Everything Google announced at its hardware event

You can really go crazy in terms of bokeh levels and placement and portrait lighting, a relatively subtle effect that lends the appearance of changing a light source. Changing the effects can sometimes be a bit laggy, likely owing to the lower-end processing power. All said, it’s a good and well-rounded photo experience, but as usual, I would really love to see what Google’s imaging team would be able to do if the company ever gives it a some real high-end photography hardware to play around with. Wishful thinking for whatever the Pixel 6 becomes, I suppose.
In the end, the two biggest reasons to recommend upgrading from the Pixel 4 are 5G and bigger battery. The latter is certainly a big selling point this time out. The former really depends on what coverage is like in your area. The 5G has improved quite a bit of late, but there are still swaths of the U.S. — and the world — that will be defaulting to LTE on this device. Also note that the $200 cheaper 4a 5G also offers improvements in both respects over last year’s model.
Still, $700 is a pretty reasonable price point for a well-rounded — if unexciting — phone like the Pixel 5. And Google’s got other things working in its favor, as well — pure Android and the promise of guaranteed updates. If you’re looking for something with a bit more flash, however, there are plenty of options in the Android world.

Google Pixel 5 review: Keeping it simple

Google takes aim at ‘beauty filters’ with design changes coming to Pixel phones

Google is taking aim at photo face filters and other “beautifying” techniques that mental health experts believe can warp a person’s self-confidence, particularly when they’re introduced to younger users. The company says it will now rely on expert guidance when applying design principles for photos filters used by the Android Camera app on Pixel smartphones. In the Pixel 4a, Google has already turned off face retouching by default, it says, and notes the interface will soon be updated to include what Google describes as “value-free” descriptive icons and labels for the app’s face retouching effects.
That means it won’t use language like “beauty filter” or imply, even in more subtle ways, that face retouching tools can make someone look better. These changes will also roll out to the Android Camera app in other Pixel smartphones through updates.
The changes, though perhaps unnoticed by the end user, can make a difference over time.

Google says that more than 70% of photos on Android are shot with the front-facing camera and over 24 billion photos have been labeled as “selfies” in Google Photos.

Image Credits: Google

But the images our smartphones are showing us are driving more people to be dissatisfied with their own appearance. According to the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, 72% of their members last year said their patients sought them out in order to improve their selfies, a 15% year-over-year increase. In addition, 80% of parents said they’re worried about filters’ impact and two-thirds of teens said they’ve been bullied over how they look in photos.

Google now has three mid-range Pixel phones

Google explains it sought the help of child and mental health experts to better understand the impact of filters on people’s well-being. It found that when people weren’t aware a photo filter had been applied, the resulting photos could negatively impact mental well-being as they quietly set a beauty standard that people would then compare themselves against over time.

Image Credits: Google

In addition, filters that use terminology like “beauty,” “beautification,” “enhancement” and “touch up” imply there’s something wrong with someone’s physical appearance that needs to be corrected. It suggests that the way they actually look is bad, Google explains. The same is true for terms like “slimming,” which imply a person’s body needs to be improved.
Google also found that even the icons used could contribute to the problem.

Google launches the $499 Pixel 4a 5G

It’s often the case that face retouching filters will use “sparkling” design elements on the icon that switches the feature on. This suggests that using the filter is making your photo better.
To address this problem, Google will update to using value-neutral language for its filters, along with new icons.

Image Credits: Google

For example, instead of labeling a face retouching option as “natural,” it will relabel it to “subtle.” And instead of sparkling icons, it instead shows an icon of the face with an editing pen to indicate which button to push to enable the feature.
Adjustment levels will also follow new guidelines, and use either numbers and symbols or simple terms like “low” and “high,” rather than those that refer to beauty.

Image Credits: Google

Google says the Camera app, too, should also make it obvious when a filter has been enabled — both in the real-time capture and afterwards. For example, an indicator at the top of the screen could inform the user when a filter has been turned on, so users know their image is being edited.
In Pixel smartphones, starting with the Pixel 4a, when you use face retouching effects, you’ll be shown more information about how each setting is being applied and what specific changes it will make to the image. For instance, if you choose the “subtle” effect, it will explain that it adjusts your skin texture, under-eye tone and eye brightness. Being transparent about the effects applied can help to demystify the sometimes subtle tweaks that face retouching filters are making to our photos.
Face retouching will also be shut off in the new Pixel devices announced on Wednesday, including the Pixel 4a 5G and Pixel 5. And the changes to labels and descriptions are coming to Pixel phones through an upcoming update, Google says, which will support Pixel 2 and later devices.

Google’s Pixel 5 gets reverse wireless charging and 5G for $699

Google takes aim at ‘beauty filters’ with design changes coming to Pixel phones

Facebook pushes back against Apple’s App Store fees

Facebook joined the growing ranks of companies publicly complaining about the 30% fee that Apple collects on payments made through its App Store.
Those complaints came midway through a blog post about the social network’s new feature supporting paid online events. Facebook said that to support struggling businesses, it won’t be collecting any fees on those events, at least for the next year, which means that those businesses keep 100% of payments on the web and on Android.
But Facebook said that won’t be the case on iOS, due to App Store fees, and it took aim at Apple with surprisingly direct language (at least, direct for a corporate blog post):

We asked Apple to reduce its 30% App Store tax or allow us to offer Facebook Pay so we could absorb all costs for businesses struggling during COVID-19. Unfortunately, they dismissed both our requests and SMBs will only be paid 70% of their hard-earned revenue. Because this is complicated, as long as Facebook is waiving its fees, we will make all fees clear in our products.

iOS purchase flow on left, Android purchase flow on right. Image Credits: Facebook

To that end, the post includes screenshots of how the events payment flow will look on iOS and Android . On Android, it says, “Facebook doesn’t take a fee from this purchase,” while on iOS, it says, “Apple takes 30% of this purchase.”
Facebook said this language is included in the app update “which we submitted to Apple today for approval” — suggesting that there’s a possibility that the update won’t be approved.
This comes just about 24 hours after Fortnite was removed from the App Store, after Epic Games introduced direct payments into its hit title. It seemed like Epic was intentionally trying to provoke a fight, with the company quickly announcing a lawsuit against Apple and releasing a short in-game video parodying Apple’s famous 1984 commercial, with Apple cast as the villain. (The game publisher is in a similar battle with Google and Android.)
While Apple’s 30% fee has been around for as long as the App Store itself, the issue came to the forefront earlier this summer after Basecamp got into a public feud with the company over its subscription email app Hey, for which the developer tried to circumvent App Store fees by only accepting subscription payments on its website.
Apple’s Phil Schiller told us at the time that the controversy was not prompting the company to reconsider any of its rules, which he said were designed for a better app experience — to avoid situations where “you download the app and it doesn’t work.”

Epic Games launches a campaign (and lawsuit) against Apple

Facebook pushes back against Apple’s App Store fees

Daily Crunch: Android phones become earthquake detectors

Google is using accelerometers in an interesting new way, Twitter allows everyone to limit tweet replies and Mozilla announces major layoffs. This is your Daily Crunch for August 11, 2020.
The big story: Android phones become earthquake detectors
Google said that smartphone accelerometers are sensitive enough to detect P-waves, which are the first waves to arrive during an earthquake. So if your Android phone thinks it has detected an earthquake, it will communicate with a central server to confirm.
In California, Google is also partnering with the United States Geological Survey and California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services to provide earthquake alerts. For everyone else, you’ll only see this earthquake data if you search for “earthquake” or a similar term.
This is part of a broader set of Android-related announcements today, including updates to Android Auto and Android’s emergency location service, new accessibility features and better sleep through the Android Clock app.
The tech giants
Twitter now lets everyone limit replies to their tweets — A small globe icon will start to appear at the bottom of your tweets, and if you tap it, you can limit replies just to those who follow you, or just to those who you tag in the tweet itself.
Dell’s latest Chromebook blends enterprise security with premium specs — Once relegated to consumer or education use, Chromebooks are gaining traction in enterprise environments.
Tencent and Universal Music to take Chinese artists global under joint label — Tencent Music Entertainment, which spun off from Tencent, commands the lion’s share of China’s music streaming industry.
Startups, funding and venture capital
Google, Nokia, Qualcomm are investors in $230M Series A2 for Finnish phone maker, HMD Global — Since late 2016, the startup has exclusively licensed Nokia’s brand for mobile devices, going on to ship some 240 million devices to date.
Atomwise’s machine learning-based drug discovery service raises $123 million — Atomwise has already signed contracts with corporate partners that include Eli Lilly & Co., Bayer, Hansoh Pharmaceuticals and Bridge Biotherapeutics.
Scribd acquires presentation-sharing service SlideShare from LinkedIn — According to LinkedIn, Scribd will take over operation of the SlideShare business on September 24.
Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch
How Moovit went from opportunity to a $900M exit in 8 years — Private investor (and former Moovit president) Omar Téllez shares the inside story.
No pen required: The digital future of real estate closings — One potential silver lining of the pandemic, at least for the real estate world, may be a forced reckoning with the mortgage closing process.
Emergence’s Jason Green still sees plenty of opportunities for enterprise SaaS startups — One consistent thread runs through Emergence’s portfolio: They focus on the cloud and enterprise, a thesis that has paid off big time.
(Reminder: Extra Crunch is our subscription membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)
Everything else
Mozilla lays off 250 — This move comes after the organization already laid off about 70 employees earlier this year.
EU-US Privacy Shield is dead. Long live Privacy Shield — The EU’s executive body and the US Department of Commerce have begun talks toward fashioning a new “Privacy Shield.”
The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Daily Crunch: Android phones become earthquake detectors

Google launches the final beta of Android 11

With the launch of Android 11 getting closer, Google today launched the third and final beta of its mobile operating system ahead of its general availability. Google had previously delayed the beta program by about a month because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Image Credits: Google
Since Android 11 had already reached platform stability with Beta 2, most of the changes here are fixes and optimizations. As a Google spokesperson noted, “this beta is focused on helping developers put the finishing touches on their apps as they prepare for Android 11, including the official API 30 SDK and build tools for Android Studio.”
The one exception is some updates to the Exposure Notification System contact-tracing API, which users can now use without turning on device location settings. Exposure Notification is an exception here, as all other Android apps need to have location settings on (and user permission to access it) to perform the kind of Bluetooth scanning Google is using for this API.
Otherwise, there are no surprises here, given that this has already been a pretty lengthy preview cycle. Mostly, Google really wants developers to make sure their apps are ready for the new version, which includes quite a few changes.
If you are brave enough, you can get the latest beta over the air as part of the Android Beta program. It’s available for Pixel 2, 3, 3a, 4 and (soon) 4a users.

Google’s budget Pixel 4a addresses its premium predecessor’s biggest problem

Google launches the final beta of Android 11