One of Waymo’s Autonomous Taxis Got Stumped by Traffic Cones and Fled Its Fleshy Overlords

Illustration for article titled One of Waymo's Autonomous Taxis Got Stumped by Traffic Cones and Fled Its Fleshy Overlords

Photo: Glenn Chapman (Getty Images)

The taxi hurt itself in confusion!

A comedy of errors unfolded after one of Waymo’s self-driving vans became confused by a construction zone, stalled in front of oncoming traffic while figuring out its next move, and then fled from Waymo’s Roadside Assistance team. And a Youtuber captured all of it on video.

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Joel Johnson with JJRicks Studios has been chronicling his rides in Waymo’s autonomous taxis in Chandler, Arizona, on YouTube for the past two years, Autoblog reports. But in his latest video posted this week, his trip takes a bizarre turn—literally.

About 12 minutes into the video, the car attempts to turn right onto a multilane road, but stalls after it sees the rightmost lane is closed for construction and blocked off by traffic cones. While the car’s internal AI system, aka Waymo Driver, ponders what to do next, a Waymo representative contacts Johnson and informs him that Roadside Assistance is en route to his location. While they’re still on their way, the car peels out to complete the turn but promptly comes to a stop between lanes. A moment later, it backs up a few feet only to stop again, blocking the entire lane of traffic this time.

Right around this point in the video, a construction worker arrives and starts collecting the offending traffic cones that left Waymo Driver stumped. A Roadside Assistance rep pulls up behind the car not long after, but before they can enter the vehicle, it drives away.

After briefly fleeing its fleshy overlords, Waymo Driver comes to a stop again, this time long enough for Roadside Assistance to get in and take the wheel. The human driver completed the ride and Waymo waived the fee, Johnson said.

Waymo, owned by Google parent company Alphabet, claims its workers can provide Waymo Driver with suggestions about how to navigate confusing situations but can’t control the vehicle remotely, Engadget reports. In a statement to Johnson explaining what went wrong, the company said Waymo Driver detected an “unusual situation” (aka the construction zone) and only got more confused after contacting a remote specialist for help:

“While driving fully autonomously through an extended work zone, the Waymo Driver detected an unusual situation and requested the attention of a remote Fleet Response specialist to provide additional information. During that interaction, the Fleet Response team provided incorrect guidance, which made it challenging for the Waymo Driver to resume its intended route, and required Waymo’s Roadside Assistance team to complete the trip.”

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While Waymo acknowledged that “the situation was not ideal,” it said it remained in touch with Johnson the entire time and Waymo Driver “operated the vehicle safely” until help could arrive.

“Our team has already assessed the event and improved our operational process,” Waymo said.

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This just goes to show that there’s still plenty of work to do before we can realize our sci-fi future where everyone zips around in driverless cars. But, hey, at least he got a free ride out of the ordeal.

Here’s What to Expect From Google I/O

Illustration for article titled Here's What to Expect From Google I/O

Photo: Justin Sullivan (Getty Images)

Google canceled last year’s annual Google I/O developers conference due to the pandemic, but this year, it’s back—virtually.

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The event kicks off Tuesday, May 18 at 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT with a keynote speech from Google CEO Sundar Pichai. And while we don’t know exactly what Google has in store this year, we’re hoping to hear more about Android 12, Google Assistant, and Google’s vision for the smart home.

Android 12’s New Look

Android 12's new colorization features are pretty to look at, even in theory.

Android 12’s new colorization features are pretty to look at, even in theory.
Screenshot: XDA Developers

It’s been a while since we’ve had a major shakeup of Android’s UI, but three developer previews and a plethora of leaks suggest that Android 12 is getting a big overhaul. Leaked screenshots show a new colorized interface, matching widgets, and menu schematics based on the dominant coloring of your chosen wallpaper. There’s also a reprised Quick Settings panel, with larger buttons and more contextual information. Even the Assistant shows off a little color once summoned.

XDA Developers has been uncovering some of the more significant interface changes we might see finalized in Android 12. Expect the always-on display and lock screen to be a part of the revamp, along with other subtle UI effects like screen transitions and typography.

Other improvements in Android 12 will likely center around audio and video playback and under-the-hood privacy and security changes. Reports point to specific features, like Android automatically shelving unused apps and offering better support for scrolling screenshots, as well as updated notification permissions.

There’s also a rumored gaming dashboard coming, though it’s not clear if it’d be exclusive to Pixel devices. The gaming mode would effectively add proper controls and helpful information like a frames-per-second counter. It could be akin to the gaming launcher that OnePlus bundles with its smartphones, which blocks out notifications and other interruptions so you can focus on the game.

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Finally, Some Traction for Wear OS

Wear OS takes a lot of (well-deserved) heat for falling behind other smartwatch platforms, but we may finally see some updates. There are two sessions on the I/O schedule to go over what’s new and how to develop Tiles for Wear OS. Google’s even sending out surveys, asking for guidance on what to do next.

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And just when you thought that the Pixel Watch rumor was dead in the water, it resurfaces with a vengeance. YouTuber Jon Prosser recently showed off a convincing render of a circular watch that looks exactly like what we’ve all envisioned a Pixel Watch would look like.

This is also the first big event since Google’s acquisition of Fitbit was a done deal. We likely won’t see anything new on the Fitbit front (after all, they just announced the Fitbit Luxe last month), but maybe we’ll see closer integration between your Fitbit and Google accounts.

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The last bit of Wear OS rumbling is from Korean news outlet MT, which points to a supposed Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 running Wear OS instead of Samsung’s Tizen OS. Speaking as a person wearing a Samsung Galaxy Watch Active because there was no comfortable Wear OS equivalent, having this come true could be all Wear OS needs to emerge from its current rut.

Don’t Bet on the Pixel 6

With the event being virtual and the lack of live audience to “ooh” and “ahh” over the announcements, it’s unlikely Google will show even an outlined render of the Pixel 6 during the developer keynote—though it’s teased smartphones this way at past developer conferences. There’s still so much we need to learn about Whitechapel, Google’s turn at making a mobile processor. And it would be such a major play against Apple’s silicon parade that it would warrant a separate event along with the official launch of a new flagship device.

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Pixel-Perfect Buds

Illustration for article titled Here's What to Expect From Google I/O

Screenshot: Twitter / Google

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It’s no guarantee that they’ll be introduced during the Google I/O keynote, but the Pixel Buds A were already inadvertently leaked on Twitter. They’re a cheaper alternative to the regular Pixel Buds, which cost $180. According to the leak, they promise to deliver quality sound and one-tap pairing with Google Fast Pair.

Don’t count too hard on Google revealing the budget-inclined Pixel 5a, either. With the global chip shortage and delays in nearly every nook and cranny of tech manufacturing, there’s only a slim chance the Pixel 5a is ready to launch this soon. At least we know it’s coming, as Google refuted reports it’d canceled the model, confirming instead it would be available later this year in the U.S. and Japan.

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The Google Assistant in Your House

Second-gen Nest Hubs are already available with new Assistant features. But maybe we’ll hear of a few more at the keynote.

Second-gen Nest Hubs are already available with new Assistant features. But maybe we’ll hear of a few more at the keynote.
Photo: Andrew Liszewski / Gizmodo

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Google’s vision for the smart home will undoubtedly see some air time during the opening keynote. There’s even a session devoted to what’s new in Google Assistant the following day. According to the description, we can expect to hear a state of the union of sorts for the Assistant, plus new product announcements, feature updates, and tooling changes. We might even potentially hear about BERT and how Google uses it to make the Assistant understand us when we’re mouthing off gibberish, though that’s the kind of tech demo that plays during the opening keynote.

There’s a session later on that same day about what’s new in the smart home, with a mention of new product announcements and a showcase of Assistant experiences built by the developer community. Anything new introduced during these two sessions will likely be software updates or abilities made available to the Assistant since there’s already a new batch of Nest Hub smart speakers and displays.

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There is also some expectation that Google will announce new products for its home security system, including better security cameras and a second-gen security system. Last year, Google discontinued the Nest Secure DIY security kit, then revealed to 9to5Google that it was planning a “new lineup for security cameras for 2021.” It’s also plausible it will partner up with security veterans ADT, considering the company’s CEO told CNBC it would be rolling out “Google products in the third quarter of 2021.”

Android in Your TV

The Chromecast with Google TV will certainly get a mention, but we’re not expecting too much new stuff about Google’s TV platform.

The Chromecast with Google TV will certainly get a mention, but we’re not expecting too much new stuff about Google’s TV platform.
Photo: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

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The Chromecast with Google TV came storming in last holiday season to set the standard for Google TV devices going forward. There are no specific Google TV sessions on the calendar. However, there is already a developer preview available for Android 12 for TVs, and Google I/O is precisely the venue to walk developers through that sort of thing. Any major Google TV news will likely be more subtle through code reveals and other features announced for Android 12.

Chromebooks in All Forms

There’s no way we can forget Chromebooks, especially not after the platform’s phenomenal growth through the pandemic. Google offers a session on what’s new in Chrome OS the day after the keynote. The session will cover updates to Chrome OS’s Linux environment and new APIs. Hopefully, we’ll also learn how many people have adopted Android apps on Chromebook laptops since they debuted nearly three years ago.

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Whatever Google plans to reveal, join us for our coverage of the virtual I/O 2021 developers conference beginning May 18 at 10 am PT/1 pm ET.

Google Cloud Teams up With SpaceX in Satellite Internet Connectivity Deal

Illustration for article titled Google Cloud Teams up With SpaceX in Satellite Internet Connectivity Deal

Photo: Jim Watson (Getty Images)

Google announced Thursday that it’s partnering with SpaceX to link Elon Musk’s ambitious satellite internet service Starlink with Google’s cloud infrastructure. The alliance marks a major win for Google in its competition with other tech giants like Amazon and Microsoft to dominate the fast-growing cloud computing market.

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SpaceX will install ground stations at Google’s cloud data centers around the world to connect to its Starlink satellites to start providing the network’s speedy internet service to Google’s enterprise cloud customers by the second half of this year, Google said in a press release. The first terminal will be installed at Google’s New Albany, Ohio, data center, a SpaceX spokesperson told the Verge, adding that further details about the partnership will be shared in the coming months.

“We are delighted to partner with SpaceX to ensure that organizations with distributed footprints have seamless, secure, and fast access to the critical applications and services they need to keep their teams up and running,” said Urs Hölzle, senior VP of infrastructure at Google Cloud, in Thursday’s press release.

While the partnership isn’t exclusive—Microsoft announced plans in October to connect SpaceX’s network to its Azure cloud service—it should help Google keep up with Amazon and its burgeoning Project Kuiper, which plans to launch more than 3,000 interconnected broadband satellites into orbit to supply internet connections to an estimated 95% of the planet.

The SpaceX-Google deal involves providing internet access “to businesses, public sectors organizations, and many other groups operating around the world,” said SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell in the press release. “Combining Starlink’s high-speed, low-latency broadband with Google’s infrastructure and capabilities provides global organizations with the secure and fast connection that modern organizations expect.”

This isn’t Google and SpaceX’s first time collaborating. The search giant invested $900 million into SpaceX in 2015 to fund the development of its satellites and other technology.

To date, SpaceX has launched more than 1,500 Starlink satellites into orbit, making it the world’s largest satellite constellation. Last week, the company said more than 500,000 people have placed an order or put a deposit down on the internet service so far. SpaceX also scored another big win in December 2020 when it secured an $885 million U.S. government contract to provide high-speed internet to underserved, rural areas of the nation.

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Google Docs Update May ‘Unilaterally Kill’ Some Chrome Extensions, Researcher Warns

Illustration for article titled Google Docs Update May 'Unilaterally Kill' Some Chrome Extensions, Researcher Warns

Photo: Robyn Beck (Getty Images)

For a company that’s staring down three separate antitrust cases from several dozen states and the Department of Justice, Google sure seems pretty comfortable issuing update after update that is nothing less than despotic. The latest example comes courtesy of a Google Docs tweak that on one hand makes the program speedier and smoother, but comes at the cost of an accessible, open internet.

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Midas Nouwens, a Denmark-based professor who specializes in finding flaws in data protection laws like Europe’s GDPR, first flagged the Docs update in a Twitter thread Thursday morning. As he pointed out, the actual update looks, well, pretty boring: Over the next few months, Google said it plans to swap out the static HTML backbone currently supporting its Docs product for one that’s built using a code called canvas.

Google says the move is meant to “improve consistency in how content appears across different platforms,” and by all accounts, it should. Compared to its clunky static HTML counterpart, canvas-based Google Docs will be able to render complicated shapes and squiggles with more speed and precision. The update should also make these renders more consistent, meaning those squiggles will look the same for any person on any device.

Of course, these buffs come with a pretty big catch that Google—to its credit—actually alludes to in its blog post. “We don’t expect this change to impact the functionality of the features in Docs,” the company wrote. “However, this may impact some Chrome extensions, where they may no longer work as intended.”

Google’s blog didn’t clarify exactly what “impact” or “some” or “work” mean in this context, but Nouwens’s thread did.

If you’ve ever used an extension like Grammarly or Beeline Reader, then you know how smoothly a Google Chrome extension can interact with a given Doc. The way these programs function is by manipulating what’s known as a Document Object Model, or DOM, which essentially forms a structured skeleton of a given webpage. By tweaking different parts of that skeleton, these extensions are able to change what you’re seeing in your document, all in real-time.

And as Nouwens pointed out, the DOM not only easy for extensions to access, but really anyone. It literally takes two or three clicks. The fact that these bones are such a breeze to access doesn’t only mean that developers can easily whip up countless extensions to poke at them, but it also gives non-coders the freedom to devise elaborate pranks, bypass paywalls, and do… whatever this is.

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Swapping out this system for a canvas version means leaving these Doc-tweaking extensions without the roadmap they’ve been relying on to actually do that Doc-tweaking. This could have dire consequences for Chrome extensions because, unlike the DOM, canvas makes the code tweaks inaccessible. “It will unilaterally kill many extensions people use today,” Nouwens wrote.

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As a replacement, Google’s blog suggested that affected developers download a series of Google-owned tools that accomplish (most) of the same functions. In other words, Google’s offering developers a sleeker, faster system, but at the price of the little control they have left. (We’ve reached out to Google for comment and will update when we hear back.)

“In the context of the larger power struggle around who gets to determine our everyday digital experiences — hashtag interoperability, digital competition, platform power — this is a concrete example of technical enclosure,” Nouwens wrote. Rather than an open system, he went on, “you now have to use a Google maintained one to negotiate the design of the software. Interoperability and inspectability replaced with centralisation and obfuscation.” In other words, Google just being Google.

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Amazon’s Echo Show 8 Will Now Follow You As You Move

The new Amazon Echo Show 8 now runs automatic routines when you enter a room.

The new Amazon Echo Show 8 now runs automatic routines when you enter a room.
Image: Amazon

If you’re hooked on Alexa and want a more capable smart display, Amazon just announced a refresh to the Echo Show 8 and Echo Show 5, with better cameras than their predecessors. There’s also an update to the Echo Show 5 Kids Edition, which includes access to Amazon’s kid-friendly content.

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The Echo Show 8 and Echo Show 5 have 8-inch and 5.5-inch screens, respectively, with the larger device getting the bulk of the updates. The Echo Show 8 now sports a 13-megapixel camera with a 110-degree wide-angle lens for video calls. It now has a feature similar to Facebook’s Portal, which pans and zooms to follow your movements within the field of view, powered in part by the nondescript “octa-core” processor that Amazon says is in the device. Unlike the Echo Show 10, the Echo Show 8 doesn’t physically swivel to follow you around. The Echo Show 8 is capable of AR effects within Amazon’s video chat app, including the ability to “react” on screen with animated images and set custom virtual backgrounds.

The refreshed Echo Show 8 smart displays are programmed to detect if a “human shape” is approaching the device, where it will then surface relevant routines or automatically launch one to, for example, turn on automatic lights in a dark room. Amazon has made these particular features opt-in only, and you’ll have to punch in an access code during setup to consent to the experience. Google Assistant smart displays have similar features, though they rely on “ultrasound sensing,” which uses speakers and microphones to determine whether a person is approaching the device. Both the Echo Show 8 and Echo Show 5 will also let you peek inside a room by viewing each smart display’s respective cameras remotely from your phone.

The Echo Show 5’s update is a little more like a slight spec bump. The camera has been improved slightly, but won’t get the panning mode feature on the new Echo Show 8. It’s getting a permanent price cut and is now $85. For $10 more, you can get the Kids Edition of the Echo Show 5, including Amazon Kids Plus services, which offers videos, audiobooks, games, music stations, and more content explicitly tuned for the kid crowd. The nearly $100 price point also covers any physical damage to the Echo Show 5 Kids for two years.

If what you’re after is a smart display with a clearer picture for video chatting with family and friends, the Echo Show 8 has a bit of an edge over existing Google Assistant displays like the Nest Hub Max, which sports a 6.5-megapixel camera with a wider 127-degree field of view.

The Echo Show 8 and Echo Show 5 retail for $130 and $85, respectively, while the Echo Show 5 Kids is $95. All three devices are currently available for preorder, with shipping slated for June.

My Kingdom for an Android Tablet That Doubles As a Portable Monitor

It’s-a Lenovo tablet playing Mario Kart from a Nintendo Switch.

It’s-a Lenovo tablet playing Mario Kart from a Nintendo Switch.
Image: Lenovo via Weibo

Last week, Lenovo shared a photo on its Weibo social media page showing a tablet propped up on the company’s signature built-in kickstand. Behind it, a Nintendo Switch is shown plugged in to the tablet and using it as a monitor. Rumor has it Lenovo is working on such an Android tablet with a dedicated HDMI input, which is curious, especially with the Google I/O developers conference on the horizon.

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An Android tablet that doubles as a portable entertainment hub with a second-screen experience may sound underwhelming, but with all this tablet talk lately and the iPad Pro with brand new M1 chip arriving in people’s hands, it’s time to start thinking about where Android tablets can go from here. They’ve been unsuccessful in competing at the high-end level with Apple, and it’s becoming more apparent that maybe a premium Android tablet is not what people really want.

It’s OK to Be Cheap

As it stands, Android tablets are an incredibly polarizing device category. Few manufacturers make high-end Android tablets that can compete with Apple’s iPad Pro or the Microsoft Surface, choosing instead to target the low- to mid-range price point. Amazon showed that this strategy works with its vast lineup of Fire tablets, which run a reskinned, forked version of Android. Those tablets continue to sell because they’re accessible to anyone, and they’re also portals into Amazon’s content library, which many people default to with their Prime account.

Walmart tried to piggyback off this with its house tablet brand, called Onn. But the company stuck bloatware on there to push its Walmart+ content, which didn’t help its sales numbers. So Google stepped in. If you’ve been using Google devices, you may have noticed the company’s renewed focus on its content engine. Google’s revamped Entertainment Space interface for Walmart’s tablets helps shift the focus to these Android devices as vessels into the Play Store’s content ecosystem. Entertainment Space keeps the experience familiar across Google devices, too, since it shares a layout similar to Google TV. Once the Walmart Onn tablets receive the new update, they’ll become little content portals, akin to the Fire tablets.

On most affordable Android tablets, the screens are the marquee on the spec sheet, with other hardware hovering in the “just barely capable” zone. I’m speaking from experience here, as I’m currently using a Lenovo SmartTab M10 HD, which you can find at Walmart for about $130. I turned the tablet into a device for my toddler to tap around, but with 2GB of RAM, it’s so slow that all I ever really use it for is PBS Kids to keep her entertained, as well as the occasional reading of an ebook. That’s what these sub-$150 tablets are made to do.

It’s Still About Choice

Lenovo teased its social media following with photos depicting uses for an announced Yoga tablet.

Lenovo teased its social media following with photos depicting uses for an announced Yoga tablet.
Screenshot: Lenovo via Weibo

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Whereas Apple’s play has been to deliver a premium tablet experience across its lineup, Google’s has been to guide its users towards what available and what works for them. In the past, that’s felt a little like navigating the Wild West. But as Google reigned in Android’s source code, there’s been much more parity across the board.

That’s one reason why there are so many Android tablets and even new form factors coming to the category. In particular, a Google I/O 2021 session is scheduled to teach developers how to scale apps for various screen sizes beyond smartphones, including “the growing number of foldables, tablets, and desktop environments that exist today.” This means Android apps that look and work how they’re supposed to, whether you’re on a discount tablet, a foldout device like the Galaxy Z Fold 2, or even a 15-inch Chromebook with Android app capability.

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This brings us back to the Lenovo images circulating on Weibo, as it’s an example of the many kinds of form factors available in Android land. The company shared other images of the Mario Kart-playing, Switch-connected tablet. One teaser photo shows the Lenovo device hanging in the kitchen with video instructions on how to cook, while another shows it lying on a desk with a stylus nearby.

A screenshot of Lenovo’s translated Weibo post showing the Yoga Tablet with a Switch connected to it.

A screenshot of Lenovo’s translated Weibo post showing the Yoga Tablet with a Switch connected to it.
Screenshot: Weibo

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My translated understanding of the leak suggests this is the Yoga Pad Pro and Pad Plus, marketed as devices that can hang anywhere with the flexible kickstand, play games with its HDMI-in support, and take notes with its pressure-sensitive stylus. Lenovo followed up by teasing a May 24 launch date for the devices.

Unfortunately, we probably won’t see them outside of China, but I’m intrigued—and a little jealous. The idea of an Android tablet with HDMI is especially befitting of the platform. It’s a full-functioning tablet that’s handy as a second screen and can perform double duty across all sorts of situations. Imagine traveling again and having one of these Lenovo Yoga tablets with a kickstand in the bag ready to entertain.

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Look, the iPad is still the bestselling tablet, but as different Android form factors emerge, the success of Android tablets as a whole may no longer be contingent on a manufacturer launching an “iPad killer.” Instead, Android could eat away at the iPad’s market share with a massive pile of variety—some devices so niche that you can’t help but laugh at the thought.

I also personally love the idea of an Android tablet with an HDMI port because it’s an absolute wild card—and that’s fine, because the whole point of all this is that you can buy what you want.

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7 Gmail Browser Extensions That Are So Good They Should Be Native Features

Google is pretty regularly adds new features to Gmail, but there’s always room for improvement, and third-party developers have been quick to plug the gaps. Here are seven browser add-ons that are polished and powerful enough to be native features (and hopefully will be one day…).

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1. Checker Plus for Gmail (Chrome, Edge)

Checker Plus for Gmail is a totally different way of checking for new email. Rather than having a Gmail tab always open, you can click the Checker Plus for Gmail icon on the Chrome toolbar to see new messages and quickly process them. You can mark messages as read, delete them, and generally manage your inbox without even launching Gmail.

Illustration for article titled 7 Gmail Browser Extensions That Are So Good They Should Be Native Features

Screenshot: Checker Plus for Gmail

There’s support for multiple Gmail accounts, so it’s really good for managing multiple Google email addresses, and we really like what this browser extension does in terms of customizations as well—you can configure which inbox labels get shown, set up a Do Not Disturb window, alter the look and appearance of the add-on window, and more.


Imagine if emails weren’t flooding into your inbox every minute and every hour of the day; instead, they arrived only when you allowed them to. It might go a long way to reducing email anxiety and inbox distraction, and this is exactly what Inbox When Ready provides. The core feature of the add-on, brilliant in its simplicity, is to completely hide your Gmail inbox from view.

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Illustration for article titled 7 Gmail Browser Extensions That Are So Good They Should Be Native Features

Screenshot: Inbox When Ready

You can still search through and compose emails, but you’re not constantly seeing unread counts and alerts about new messages. Inbox When Ready keeps track of the times when you decide to show your inbox as normal, and you can configure the extension to lock you out of your email at certain times, or limit the total time you can look at your emails for.

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Todoist is a full-fledged app in its own right, but its associated browser extension is a perfect example of the sort of extra functionality that could be added to Gmail. While Google has made some effort to integrate Google Tasks with its email client, the Todoist browser add-on is a much more polished and much more capable option.

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Illustration for article titled 7 Gmail Browser Extensions That Are So Good They Should Be Native Features

Screenshot: Todoist

The Todoist for Gmail extension adds a new button on the toolbar for opened messages, so you can quickly add a new to-do based on the message you’re reading. You can still edit the title, frequency and other settings for the task as you go. You also get access to your lists from the pop-up box in the lower right-hand corner of the Gmail interface.

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Boomerang initially made its name as a great option for scheduling messages in Gmail, and even though that’s now a native feature Google added to Gmail, Boomerang is still worth a look for all the other tweaks and tricks that it brings: reminders for unanswered emails, help with composing messages, an inbox pause option, and more.

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Illustration for article titled 7 Gmail Browser Extensions That Are So Good They Should Be Native Features

Screenshot: Boomerang

The first change you’ll notice when you install Boomerang is a big Pause Inbox button on the left that you can use to stop the flood of incoming emails. You also get new buttons added to various other screens, so you can use the browser extension to hide emails until you’re ready for them, or schedule emails to be sent at a specific time in the future.

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5. Simplify Gmail (Chrome, Edge) 

Google usually maintains a minimal aesthetic, but there’s no doubt that the Gmail interface can get cluttered at times, and that’s where Simplify Gmail comes in. As the name suggests, it tweaks the look of Gmail on the web to focus on what’s most important, meaning fewer distractions for you as you work through your busy inbox.

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Illustration for article titled 7 Gmail Browser Extensions That Are So Good They Should Be Native Features

Screenshot: Simplify Gmail

The extension was put together by one of the co-founders of the now defunct Inbox by Gmail, and it borrows some of the visual ideas of that app. There’s more white space, the option to hide a lot of the on-screen elements, a better layout for conversations, and clever use of background images, too—and all of this can be easily customized if needed.

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Simple Gmail Notes simply lets you append notes to the email messages in your Gmail inbox, which is actually a more useful feature than you might think, and one that we hope is on the radar of at least one Google engineer. Being able to add notes to individual emails and conversation threads means you need never lose track of an idea or a contact again.

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Illustration for article titled 7 Gmail Browser Extensions That Are So Good They Should Be Native Features

Screenshot: Simple Gmail Notes

How you decide to use Simple Gmail Notes is entirely up to you. You might want to add notes on contacts, clients, or projects, or set yourself reminders for follow-up emails, for example. Your notes get synced across devices courtesy of Google Drive, and you can take control of where the notes appear on screen as well as the default colors used for them.

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One useful feature we’d like to see Google add to Gmail is the option to flag and block common email-tracking technologies. These are typically little tracking pixels hidden in emails that enable the sender to see when and where you open up the email, and even the app you used to browse your inbox. That’s where Trocker comes in.

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Illustration for article titled 7 Gmail Browser Extensions That Are So Good They Should Be Native Features

Screenshot: Trocker

The extension will keep a careful eye on your inbox, stopping these pixel trackers from loading and giving you a heads up about which messages include them (the tracking pixel itself gets replaced by a little Trocker image, too). As an added bonus, it works with just about every web email app, so the online Outlook and Yahoo portals are also covered.

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UK to Ban Big Tech Companies From ‘Discriminating’ Based on Political Views

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (L) and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer (2nd L) walk through the Central Lobby after listening to the Queen’s Speech during the State Opening of Parliament in the House of Lords at the Palace of Westminster on May 11, 2021 in London, England.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (L) and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer (2nd L) walk through the Central Lobby after listening to the Queen’s Speech during the State Opening of Parliament in the House of Lords at the Palace of Westminster on May 11, 2021 in London, England.
Photo: Stefan Rousseau – WPA Pool (Getty Images)

The UK’s conservative government will ban technology companies from “discriminating” against particular political viewpoints, according to a press release about the country’s new proposed Online Safety Bill. The anti-censorship clause is just a minor part of a much larger draft bill, but will likely get attention from conservatives around the globe who believe their viewpoints are being censored by large tech companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

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“Ministers have added new and specific duties to the Bill for Category 1 services to protect content defined as ‘democratically important’,” the press release, published early Wednesday, said. “This will include content promoting or opposing government policy or a political party ahead of a vote in Parliament, election or referendum, or campaigning on a live political issue.”

“Companies will also be forbidden from discriminating against particular political viewpoints and will need to apply protections equally to a range of political opinions, no matter their affiliation,” the press release continued. “Policies to protect such content will need to be set out in clear and accessible terms and conditions and firms will need to stick to them or face enforcement action from Ofcom.”

“When moderating content, companies will need to take into account the political context around why the content is being shared and give it a high level of protection if it is democratically important.”

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s conservative government seems to be the latest to take up the martyr pose with Facebook and Twitter, feeding into the idea that right-wing opinions are being censored unfairly on social media. But quite to the contrary, we’ve learned that Big Tech financially rewards extremist speech on the right. In fact, Twitter acknowledged internally that if it censored white nationalists on the platform, its robots would have to censor Republicans who spout identical rhetoric.

The UK’s new bill will bring in new reporting requirements for child abuse and other horrendous material, along with outlawing any racial abuse online that may already be illegal offline in the United Kingdom. The bill also has provisions to cut back on online fraud, something that many countries have grappled with in recent years.

“This is a landmark moment here in the UK. The problem of online abuse has escalated into a real epidemic which is affecting people physically as well as psychologically and it is time that something is done,” Dr. Alex George, The UK Government’s Youth Mental Health Ambassador said in a statement.

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“That’s why I welcome today’s announcement about the Online Safety Bill and the protection it will provide people. Social media companies must play their part in protecting those who consume and engage with their content.”

The Realme 5G Is a Refreshingly Simple and Cheap 5G Phone

Illustration for article titled The Realme 5G Is a Refreshingly Simple and Cheap 5G Phone

Photo: Sam Rutherford

It’s not very flashy, and it doesn’t have a huge tagline emblazoned on its back like its more expensive sibling, but the Realme 8 5G is the kind of simple and affordable phone we could use more of in the U.S.

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The Realme 8 5G starts at 200 pounds (around $285) for 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, or 250 pounds (around $350) for 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. When you convert the prices from pounds to dollars—give or take a little since direct conversions are always subject to a little wiggle room—the Realme 8 5G has specs that blow a lot of comparably priced phones out of the water, especially the kind of budget phones typically available in the U.S.

Compared to the $350 Pixel 4a, which is one of the best budget phones available in the U.S. today, the Realme 8 5G features a much larger 6.5-inch display with a 90Hz refresh rate, which is a feature that until recently has mostly only been available on phones that cost $500 and up.

The Realme 8 5G also packs in a MediaTek Dimensity 700 chip with support for sub-6Ghz 5G, a big 5,000 mAh battery, a nifty side-mounted fingerprint sensor, and three rear cameras: a 48-MP main cam, a black-and-white portrait cam, and a dedicated macro cam. That’s not your typical camera setup, but it’s nice to see a company do something different.

Illustration for article titled The Realme 5G Is a Refreshingly Simple and Cheap 5G Phone

Photo: Sam Rutherford

And like all good budget phones, the Realme 8 5G also features a 3.5mm headphone jack and microSD card expandability, along with dual SIM card slots to boot. The Pixel 4a does have a richer OLED screen and the best camera quality available on a phone in this price range, but the Realme 8 5G offers way more storage (and storage flexibility), a faster refresh rate, and some handy bonuses for frequent travelers thanks to its extra SIM slot and 5G connectivity.

Unfortunately, Realme doesn’t have any plans to release the Realme 8 5G in the U.S., which is a fate shared by a lot of other affordable smartphones from Chinese companies like Xiaomi, Poco, and others. This is doubly frustrating because not only does this rob the U.S. market of a lot of good phones with premium specs for the price, it also limits the number of affordable 5G phones on the market. And honestly, that’s kind of a bummer, because it would be nice to at least have the choice.

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In the short time I’ve had to play around with the Realme 8 5G, I’ve been really impressed with its battery life, which uses its large internal battery along with some software-based battery-saving techniques to help eke out every last minute of juice. And while its design is pretty simple, Realme still managed to keep the bezels around the screen relatively slim.

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Compared to some other Chinese skins for Android, there’s not much to complain about when it comes to Realme UI 2.0 either, aside from all the annoying pre-installed apps.

Following LG’s decision to exit the mobile phone game, I was hoping we would see more Chinese OEMs finally bring their phones stateside and put more pressure on companies like Google, Motorola, and Nokia to release budget phones with more competitive specs. But sadly, that hasn’t happened quite yet.

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So while people in the U.K., India, and China will soon see a pretty solid new phone, it seems folks in the U.S. are going to miss out again.

Matter Is a New Smart Home Standard to Make Apple, Google, and Amazon Devices Work Together

Imagine never having to struggle to connect devices to your home ever again.

Imagine never having to struggle to connect devices to your home ever again.
Screenshot: Business Wire / Connectivity Standards Alliance

Apple, Amazon, and Google rarely have a reason to work together, but the companies are teaming up for a new smart home standard, now called Matter, that will make it easier for you to buy devices that work seamlessly together without thinking about it.

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The Matter branding, which emerged from what was formerly known as Project Connected Home over IP (CHIP), will help you figure out which smart devices are compatible with the Matter standard, which already works with Apple HomeKit, Amazon Alexa, and Google Assistant. Soon those devices will be branded with a symbol that looks like three arrows all pointing at one another—think of the Spider-Man meme, but make it smart home.

The launch of Matter also marks the end of the Zigbee Alliance. It’s now known as the Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA), focusing on uniting manufacturers and other companies around Matter. There’s also a push for releasing Matter’s open-source code to device makers already on Github.

Matter uses a combination of Ethernet, wifi, Thread, and Bluetooth LE to connect. Its ultimate function is to standardize how gadgets identify themselves and what they can do together, essentially taking the heavy lifting off of you to set it all up. Currently if you have a dozen devices connected to your network with similar antennas, they might not have the software to sync with one another.

As reported by StaceyonIoT, a video released as part of the rebranding shows multiple devices working together through a feature called Multi-Admin:

The video’s narrator calls the feature Multi-Admin, and promises that “users can connect devices to multiple apps and multiple ecosystems locally, securely and simultaneously.” It also sounds like users will also be able to grant control of devices at an individual level, which means that connecting a Nest account to an Amazon Echo might not require adding all of the devices associated with that Nest account. This could make it easier to put a controller of some sort in a guest bedroom letting your guest have access to some home controls, but not all of them.

It sounds like this could be an automated feature that’s as easy as logging into an app and allowing it to scan your network—akin to how you’d log on to a wifi network.

The first Matter-compatible gadgets emblazoned with the new logo should arrive before the end of 2021, with more expected in 2022. Philips Hue is already on board, offering to release a software update in the coming months to make its massive lineup of smart bulbs and lighting compatible. Other early adopters include Google, Comcast, Nanoleaf, Schlage, Samsung SmartThings, and Texas Instruments.

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