Google tries to leapfrog Apple with new features


Finally, a phone that tells you when your USB cable sucks

When it comes to battles of the titans, nothing beats a good one-upmanship between Google and Apple.

Just weeks after Apple dropped the new iPhone 15, Google responded with the Pixel 8. But now, Google threw another “top this, will ‘ya” at Apple by releasing the new Android 14 system – an update that’s packed with many features Apple may have to lean on its engineers to match.

The updates include a new Pixel camera interface, more ways to extend battery life and better navigation for kids who use Android-driven tablets. Here’s a device-by-device breakdown of what’s what:

The camera and lock screen

Google claims the system’s new camera interface allows users to toggle easier between photo and video modes by planting an icon for each on the bottom of the phone app. Supposedly, users can make their favorite modes system camera defaults so they can access them quicker and, then, when they want to expand their horizons a bit, they can easily slide over to the new modes they might have missed.

Photographers with advanced skills will like what Google has done in regard to RAW images, too. It's now easier than ever to edit RAW images taken on Pixel 6 and newer phones as well as the Pixel Tablet. RAW images can be automatically opened in your favorite RAW editor directly from the Photos interface.

Power features

Got a drawer full of USB cables? Yep, everyone does. But while they should all, in theory, act the same they don’t. Some recharge a device in no time flat, others are slower than molasses.

On both Pixel 6 and newer phones and on Pixel Tablet, the user will be notified if their power adapter or USB cable is charging their device slowly or not at all.

Battery Saver gets an upgrade, too. Instead of waiting to notify you when your device is an hour or so away from losing power, the new Battery Saver can be brought up anytime to show you what is being restricted on your Pixel, allowing you to select essential apps that can continue to run when you toggle on Extreme Battery Saver.

You can also turn on Battery Saver or Extreme Battery Saver with automatic notifications at 10% and 20%.

Improved privacy

Health and wellness apps – especially ones for pregnancy and mental health – have been a minefield lately. App stores have done their best to let app users know what data is collected by each app, but some sneaky app makers decided they could say one thing and do another and limit a user’s visibility and control over their data.

To hopefully get that issue back in the consumer’s favor, Google is introducing Health Connect, a module built into the new Android 14 settings as a central way to store all your data in one place and stay in control of your privacy.

“And your data is securely encrypted on your phone, which ensures Google or anyone else can't see or use it for any other purpose,” Google’s Dave Burke, vice president of Engineering, Android, said. Just connect and sync your favorite health and fitness apps — like Oura, Peloton and Whoop — to get started.

Another pain point Google is trying to cure is location data. With the new Android 14 rollout, you should have more visibility into how your data is being used by apps that are requesting access to your data.

“Now, when you’re asked to grant apps permission to information like your location you’ll be notified when an app is sharing location data with third parties and can make a more informed decision on whether or not to grant access,” Burke added.

Giving the kids a break on navigation

If you have a little tyke who’s got an Android tablet, there’s now a kid-friendly mode called Google Kids Space, which is chock full of kid-friendly content and a new streamlined navigation bar that takes out the geekiness of navigating, switching apps, etc. 

Helping out the hard-of-hearing and vision-impaired, too

One of the most impressive features Android 14 has in store is for low-vision and hard-of-hearing users. For the hearing impaired, Google has more intuitive ways to connect and interact with hearing aids all from a shortcut on the phone’s screen. 

For low-vision users, Google has improved the magnifier, so now when you want to enlarge some text, it’s a simple pinch-and-zoom maneuver – one that’s easily customized in the new Magnifier Settings panel. You can also establish the baseline and maximum font size to better suit your vision range.

One other thing that’s good for the vision- and hearing-impaired, but could come in handy for anyone who wants a different setting for Notifications is “Flash notifications”. With this setting, you get visual light flashes when you have incoming notifications instead of audio pings.

Better Chromebook and phone/tablet integration

It’s always been a drag when you’re streaming something on your phone and when you sit down to your laptop, you have to reconnect the stream or log into the app again. Google says no more.

On the new system, you can begin using an app on your Pixel device and, then, switch seamlessly and start using it on your Chromebook. Everything you typically do on your phone, too – including messages, check on deliveries, etc.

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