Google Playground and its AR Playmoji come to Pixel and Pixel 2 phones, new Travel pack lands [APK Download]

When the Pixel 3 debuted two months back, Google made sure its new flagship lineup was adorned with all the latest bells and whistles, introducing us to a whole bunch of new features in the process. From the get-go, we were curious to learn which of these might also make their way to older Pixel phones, and when. Over the past few weeks more and more have been expanding to new devices, and the latest to spread the love is Playground and its Playmoji packs, now formally available for the Pixel, Pixel XL, Pixel 2, and Pixel 2 XL. Read MoreGoogle Playground and its AR Playmoji come to Pixel and Pixel 2 phones, new Travel pack lands [APK Download] was written by the awesome team at Android Police.

Pixel Sounds updated to v2.0, and it actually works now [APK Download]

Google laid the groundwork for a new app earlier this month, and now you can (maybe) use it. While the prospect of “Pixel Sounds” isn’t the most exciting, it improves a part of the Android experience that has long needed an overhaul. Pixel devices will soon have a more expansive set of ringtones with a much prettier interface. The app didn’t work when it first popped up, but v2.0 does, and it’s rolling out now. Read MorePixel Sounds updated to v2.0, and it actually works now [APK Download] was written by the awesome team at Android Police.

Night Sight camera feature roll-out for all Pixel phones has begun

At the Pixel 3 launch event in October, Google unveiled the phone’s Night Sight feature which would allow the phone to capture incredible images when taking them in impossibly-dark situations. The feature built specifically for the Pixel 3, but Google announced that it would also be coming to the Pixel 2 and the original Pixel phones.
Night Sight was not yet read when the Pixel 3 made its retail debut last month, Google has announced that the new camera feature is being rolled out to all of its Pixel smartphones through an update to the camera app which can be downloaded from the Play Store.
Below are a few sample shots we’ve taken with Night Sight on the Pixel 3 compared to the camera’s Auto mode. As you can see, the images captured with Night Sight are dramatically brighter revealing details that were previously lost in the shadows and even allowing you to see a scene that was otherwise completely dark. Night Sight also comes in handy even if you can capture the Auto mode since it relies more on Google’s computational photography algorithms to fill in the color and deliver much better white balance.

If you’ve tested Night Sight out already, feel free to share a few of your images in the comments below.

It’s time for manufacturers to ditch custom UI’s for stock Android

Before I begin, I’m writing this completely from an HTC user perspective. I understand there are other manufacturers out there, but my experience of other brands is limited, if your experiences are different or you have anything to add from the other side of the fence, I’d love to read your comments.
“We’ve come a long way baby.”
Since the first Android phone in 2008 from HTC, we’ve seen a full spectrum of “skins” or custom User Interfaces from numerous manufacturers based on the Android OS. Ten years ago, it is what seemed like the only way to make the most of the bare bones Android and introduce new features that stock software was lacking. In 2009 HTC released the HTC Hero (my first Android phone) running brand new HTC Sense which was the metaphorical springboard to the Android experience we have everywhere today.
However, to the tech-savvy user, an Android skin is, at best, an unnecessary inconvenience. More often, it’s a clunky, not cool, faux fashion statement by manufacturers who are clearly out of touch with user expectations.
Ask any Android fanboy and you’ll usually hear two points of view: Android is better than iOS, and the closer to stock (or AOSP), the better. I’d have to agree, however, this hasn’t always been my mantra. Ever since the first Android skin appeared in the form of HTC Sense, way back in 2009, I was convinced that custom UI was the only way to really enjoy the Android mobile experience. It was something they did really well and made the Android experience easy and fun, without too much bloat.
So what do we get when we buy a device without stock Android? The traditional arguments against skins and manufacturer tweaks are abundant, here are a few:

Skins are generally uglier than Stock Android
They include bloatware or duplicate apps
Your phone’s performance will suffer
Material design is basically nonexistent
Updates come less frequently, if at all
The core Android experience gets confused
Your battery life will suffer

Until the last year or two, I wouldn’t have agreed with many of these points. However watching the rapid growth of Google’s homegrown Pixel line (Successor of Nexus) and comparing them with my 9-year unbroken relationship streak with HTC and HTC sense, I’m seeing less and less evidence to convince me that manufacturer UI is the way to go. Often saying to myself “I’m so heavily invested in the Google infrastructure and software suite, do I even need HTC Sense?” — I find myself being increasingly frustrated by the twists and turns standing between me and useful features, hindering my productivity.
Photo by Hugh Han on Unsplash
In a sea of manufacturers who are all fighting for market share, is there room for segregated UI experiences anymore? I’ve been an HTC user for nearly 10 years, I liked HTC sense and I’ve never considered leaving because I didn’t want to adjust my habits and learn a new UI. I was happy, but as advancements in camera software and design language progress and manufacturer software updates get left behind, not to mention the rapid downturn of HTC’s business. So I’m left here feeling lost and wondering: is it time to change the game?

… Given the choice, how would you like that presented to you? Factory unlocked stock android experience that comes at a premium. Manufacturer Custom UI with slight price also at premium price. Or Locked Carrier UI with unit price reduction.
— Darren Millar (@darrenmillar) November 2, 2018

I have no regrets in admitting I love HTC hardware but I’ve started to fall out of love with the user experience. Simple things that should just work, don’t. Software updates, although still amongst the fastest in the industry, are becoming delayed. Imagine for a minute that all software was created equal (please don’t mention iOS) and the hardware was the variable. If this was the case, users like me might become more adventurous with their hardware choices, knowing the UI was going to be the same whichever road they picked. I’d go as far as saying that I’m scared to move to another manufacturer in case I just can’t become friends with the user experience. In a world of $1000 flagships, who can really afford to be bold enough to flip-flop between brands without the peace of mind of a seamless user experience which is ultimately at the mercy of the software.
However cliché it might sound, I guess the best version of Android is what works best for you, but what do you think? Is it time to adopt a universal Android experience and let the user choose a phone based purely on design and features? I think I’m ready for that future.

Modded Google Camera APK enables Night Sight for all Pixel devices (and it's impressive)

The guys at XDA Developers often like to tinker with APK files to enable hidden features, trigger specific behaviors, or spoil Google’s surprises prematurely. Their latest software shenanigans involve Google’s Camera app and the promised Night Sight feature that is supposed to come next month.

Announced with the Pixel 3, Night Sight is a low-light photography mode that ekes out every wave and particle of light to get clearer, better-lit shots in dark environments. Read MoreModded Google Camera APK enables Night Sight for all Pixel devices (and it’s impressive) was written by the awesome team at Android Police.