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The Pixel 4’s power-plunging puzzle

Fountains of virtual ink have been spilled over the Pixel 4’s stamina and how the phone’s battery life isn’t all that it could be.

Me? After living with the Pixel 4 for a few weeks now, I’m not quite as down on its staying power as some folks were whilst working up early reviews of the device. I think somewhere between “okay” and “borderline acceptable” sums up my experience with the phone’s endurance thus far: I’m consistently making it through what I’d call full typical days for me, at this point, but I’m sometimes cutting it closer than I’d like by the end of the day — something that certainly doesn’t inspire confidence about how the phone might fare when I’m traveling or having another sort of day with unusually high usage.

I’ve heard from quite a few folks who bought the Pixel 4 and are having similarly adequate experiences in the stamina department — part of the inevitable variance that comes with battery life, given the differences in how we all use our phones, and perhaps also the effect of Android’s Adaptive Battery system kicking in as the software starts to optimize its power consumption — but still, I don’t think anyone would describe the device’s battery life as exemplary. And I’d say there’s little real question that it could, and arguably should, be better.

Well, something came to my attention with the phone’s power-related performance this week, and I can’t help but wonder if it’s at least part of the problem.

It’s all about the Pixel 4’s standby power consumption — the way the phone burns through battery life when it’s idle and you aren’t actively using it. And it’s really quite baffling.

Since 2015’s Android 6.0 Marshmallow release, y’see, Android has had a power management system called Doze in place. Doze is designed to make sure your phone uses the absolute minimum amount of power required whenever it’s unplugged, completely still, and with its screen off. It basically puts your phone into a deep sleep when it’s idle and allows only critical, high-priority tasks to take place.

When Doze first came around, the difference was incredible. Instead of losing a considerable amount of power overnight, phones were suddenly shedding little to none of their charge during those unused hours. You could set your phone down before going to bed and then wake up to find it with almost the same percent of power as when you left it — or maybe with a drop of a point or two at most.

With the Pixel 4, I’ve been seeing the phone drop by as much as 16 percentage points while it’s sitting completely still and unused overnight. That, suffice it to say, is a massive loss of battery life — a drop reminiscent of the pre-Marshmallow, pre-Doze days. And most vexing of all, it seems to be happening for no valid reason.

My observations with this certainly aren’t scientific, but they’ve been remarkably consistent across several days and two different Pixel 4 devices I’ve been using. And my setup on the phones is quite standard, without any unusual apps or anything (even Facebook) that’d logically be keeping the system awake. I keep the Always-On Display option deactivated, which means the screen is completely dark and inactive during the overnight hours. What’s more, when I look at the specific breakdown of what apps and services consumed battery power during that period, the only item that ever shows a meaningful increase in usage from night to morning is “Phone idle,” which usually goes up by a few points during the night. “Android System” and “Wi-Fi” both also typically bump up by a single percentage point each. Nothing else changes.

Just to be thorough, I tried checking this on a few nights with a Pixel 4 that had been freshly factory-reset, had barely been used, and had nothing on it other than the default apps that came preinstalled on the phone. The drop was slightly less extreme on that device but still significantly more than you’d expect to see in a post-Marshmallow, Doze-enabled world, with the phone losing 8 to 13 percentage points while sitting unused overnight.

And while this isn’t the type of thing most people would pick up on, signs suggest I’m not the only one. I’ve heard from a few Pixel-4-owning readers who have experienced similar levels of overnight power loss with the device. A search of the XDA Developers forum — a website popular with Android enthusiasts — also turns up multiple reports of similar behavior, as does a perusal of Pixel-related sections of Reddit. All considered (and particularly with the factory-reset, no-apps-added phone in the mix), it’s enough to make it seem like more than just a fluke thing or a setup-specific anomaly.

Oh, and one more thing: For further comparison, I took the same night-to-morning battery measurements with my wife’s Pixel 3a phone (which, in case you were wondering, earned me an exasperated sigh along with the now-standard “What are you doing to my phone now?” response). Her phone saw a drop of only 3 percentage points during the same time period — a number that’s more in line with what you should see from a Doze-enabled Android device.

Now, I know what you must be thinking: This is surely all because of Motion Sense — the Pixel 4’s radar-based hand gesture system — right? That certainly seems like a logical conclusion; after all, the radar chip is always watching for movement around the phone, so it’s only sensible that it could eat away at power even when the phone isn’t in use.

I thought that might be the case, too, but I tested the Pixel 4’s overnight power drop with Motion Sense completely disabled — and guess what? Absolutely no difference. The phone experienced the exact same drop for me, with or without the radar system running (a 16-point decrease on two consecutive nights with the same number of hours and the presence of Motion Sense acting as the only distinguishing variable). That makes it seem pretty clear to me that Motion Sense isn’t a meaningful factor in the Pixel 4’s idle-time power consumption.

But it also seems pretty clear to me that something funky is going on — and that the Pixel 4 is losing more power than it oughta be when it’s resting and inactive. And it’s hard not to wonder if that same pattern might, on some level, also be responsible for the accelerated depletion the phone seems to experience during the day. I’ve often noticed that the battery life falls a surprising amount even when I’m not actively using it — like just now, when I set it down on my desk and didn’t touch it for 90 minutes, and yet the battery level had dropped by 3 percentage points by the end. Not a single app or service had been active, and the only items in the battery stats that had any form of elevated usage were “Android System” and “Phone idle.” I saw similar results when repeating that experiment with the just-reset, almost-nothing-on-it Pixel 4 as well. What’s going on?

I reached out to Google early this week to see if anyone could offer an explanation or even an assurance that, yes, something seems to be amiss and that a software update could resolve this. The company has been looking at bug reports that I captured and submitted and thinks the problem may be at least in part related to something peculiar happening with the phone and the Google Cast system, as one of the devices was evidently kept awake by a curiously high amount of inexplicable Cast-related activity during the night. I’ll update this page if I receive any additional info.

For now, it seems safe to say that something is up with the Pixel 4’s standby power consumption — something that’s absolutely affecting the phone’s overnight stamina and quite possibly affecting its overall staying power to some degree as well. The issue may or may not be limited to the Pixel 4 — and it may or may not be affecting all Pixel 4 units — but given my observations and the observations from others noticing similar patterns, it sure seems likely that there’s some connection. (And we know, at the very least, that the Pixel 3a doesn’t appear to be affected.)

If it’s something that Google can pinpoint and resolve, the Pixel 4 might just go from being “okay” to being “pretty decent” with stamina, at least for people like me whose usage isn’t exceptionally demanding.

Pixel phones have a bit of a reputation for being rough around the edges in their first couple months of existence and then getting smoothed out and more commendable after a round or two of fixes. Let’s see if the Pixel 4 and its stamina saga follow that same pattern — or if the device’s current level of staying power is simply as good as it gets.

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[Android Intelligence videos at Computerworld]

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.



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The GoCube Taught Me How to Actually Solve a Puzzle Cube – Review Geek

Rating:
8.5/10
?

  • 1 – Absolute Hot Garbage
  • 2 – Sorta Lukewarm Garbage
  • 3 – Strongly Flawed Design
  • 4 – Some Pros, Lots Of Cons
  • 5 – Acceptably Imperfect
  • 6 – Good Enough to Buy On Sale
  • 7 – Great, But Not Best-In-Class
  • 8 – Fantastic, with Some Footnotes
  • 9 – Shut Up And Take My Money
  • 10 – Absolute Design Nirvana

Price: $100

The GoCube sitting on a table.
Andrew Heinzman

The GoCube Edge is a modern reinvention of the classic puzzle cube. It pairs with an app to bring cube lessons and competition to the masses, and I think it’s the best way to learn how to solve a puzzle cube.

Here’s What We Like

  • A fun toy for adults or children
  • Might be the easiest way to learn the cube
  • A good “speed cube” with online battles and stats

And What We Don’t

  • It’s the most expensive puzzle cube I’ve ever seen
  • Some kids will find a way to break the GoCube

Yes, this is a $100 “smart” Rubik’s Cube styled toy (there’s also an $80 version that doesn’t come with accessories, friend-battles, or leaderboards). I wish it was less expensive, but if you’re a big fan of puzzle cubes, then it may be worth $100 to you. It may also make a great gift if you know anyone who’s generally obsessed with cubes.

Before we get into what makes the GoCube Edge so great, I’ll try to explain what it does and why it costs between $80 and $100. It’s basically a glorified Rubik’s Cube with built-in proximity sensors and a Bluetooth transmitter. It connects to your phone or tablet via the GoCube app (iOS, Android) so that you can get personalized lessons and compete with other puzzle cube fans. The GoCube app even displays a 3D model of your cube at all times, which is super neat and futuristic.

For power, the GoCube comes with a charging stand and a two-pin peripheral charging cable (not Micro USB or USB-C). The charging stand looks nice, but it also doubles as a phone stand so you can comfortably look at your phone while using the GoCube. (As a side note, the $80 GoCube doesn’t come with a charging stand.)

The GoCube charging on its stand. It uses a peripheral charger, not a USB charger.
The GoCube charging on its stand. It uses a peripheral charger, not a USB charger. Andrew Heinzman

The GoCube is also designed to be lightweight and fast—it’s what obsessive puzzle cube fans refer to as a “speed cube.” While I am by no means a “speed cuber,” I can appreciate that the GoCube hasn’t locked up on me, and it feels a lot smoother than a Rubik’s Cube. It’s also a bit smaller than a Rubik’s Cube, which makes it easier to control without moving your hands too much.

The GoCube feels more solid than a regular puzzle cube, but it still feels like a bratty kid could rip it apart if they really wanted to. I think it’s a great gift for kids, but I’d be hard-pressed to give this $100 toy to a kid who likes to break things.

Anyway, now that you know what the GoCube is and why it costs so dang much, let’s get into the nitty-gritty. Why is this toy so great for cube fans of all ages and skill levels?

This Might Be the Easiest Way to Learn the Cube

Back when I was in high school, one of my teachers assigned a two-week-long Rubik’s Cube “project” to all of her students. If you could solve the cube, you got a good grade. If not, you got a bad grade.

I got a bad grade on that assignment. In fact, I got the worst grade. While other students had no trouble reading and memorizing puzzle cube instruction books, the whole thing just didn’t make sense to me. Like pre-algebra, it just never clicked (pathetic, I know).

Seeing as I’ve spent my whole life being awful at the puzzle cube, I’m impressed by how much I’ve learned from the GoCube. In the GoCube app, there’s an “academy” mode that teaches you cube “algorithms,” which are just instructions on how to finish the cube. (These algorithms are expressed as things like “R,” which indicates a clockwise turn of the right side of the cube. It’s a bit weird at first, and young kids might need a bit of help getting past the introductory lessons.)

Screenshots of the GoCube's home menu, academy, and cube algorithms.
Screenshots of the GoCube’s home menu, academy, and cube algorithms. Andrew Heinzman

Thanks to the orientation sensors in the GoCube, its companion app observes how you follow lessons and corrects any mistakes you make along the way. The app also reinforces what you’ve learned by doing little throwbacks to old algorithms and lessons, and a few in-app videos will pop up if you have too much trouble following directions.

Some fun mini-games in the GoCube app are meant to reinforce cube algorithms. Among these mini-games are a cube-based synthesizer, a cube version of Simon (the toy), and a cube-painting game (kind of like Picross). But some of the mini-games are also blocked by “coming soon” labels, which (while limiting) shows that the GoCube developers are trying to keep the platform fresh over time.

As far as I know, this is the only way of learning the puzzle cube that involves visual, physical, and auditory instructions. I managed to get through these lessons (and solve the GoCube) in one day, although I will need to reinforce and review what I’ve learned if I actually want to remember how to do this in the future.

The GoCube Is Great for Competitive Cubers, Too

Once you’ve learned how to solve the cube through the GoCube Academy (you can skip the academy if you want), you’re ready to start competing against cubers around the globe.

The GoCube app has two competitive online games. One of them, called Scrambling, is a race to see who can follow instructions the fastest. The other game (which I’m terrible at), is called Pro Cuber. It’s a race to see who can solve a cube the fastest without instructions. You can also challenge your friends directly if they own a GoCube Edge. It’s worth noting that the $80 GoCube doesn’t have two-player with friends.

A screenshot of the Pro Cuber game.
A screenshot of the Pro Cuber game.

Before playing Pro Cuber, the app forces you and your opponent to scramble your cubes so that they’re identical. Then, once you’re in the game, you can see what your opponent is doing in real-time, which is stressful but cool. There are also leaderboards that track your wins, losses, and move count, and you can do a “Solo” run to see how fast you can solve a cube on your own (this solo time also goes on a leaderboard).


Because of the GoCube’s quality and accessibility, I think it could make a great gift for anyone who’s interested in puzzle cubes, regardless of their age or skill level. And while I do wish this toy was a little cheaper, and a little tougher, I’d still suggest it to anyone who likes puzzle cubes.

Rating: 8.5/10

Price: $100

Here’s What We Like

  • A fun toy for adults or children
  • Might be the easiest way to learn the cube
  • A good “speed cube” with online battles and stats

And What We Don’t

  • It’s the most expensive puzzle cube I’ve ever seen
  • Some kids will find a way to break the GoCube





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The curiously missing piece in Google’s Chromebook puzzle

2019 has already shown itself to be the year of funky phones with Android — foldable phones, sliding phones, and even phones with hidden screens on their backs (for some reason). For all the wild experimentation in the phone arena, though, there’s one area where we aren’t seeing enough willingness to do something different.

I’m talking about the Chromebook — and specifically, the Chromebook designed to function as a tablet. We’ve been talking for well over a year now about how Google is positioning Chromebooks to effectively take over the role of the Android tablet, and with each passing month, that reality only becomes more apparent. Just this week, in fact, a report came out suggesting Asus — a long-time Android tablet maker and regular Chromebook creator as well — is pulling out of the traditional Android tablet market entirely.

And it’s no wonder: Google has made it abundantly clear that traditional Android tablets are the past. Demand for Android tablets has never been especially high nor has the experience of using ’em ever been particularly exceptional, while Chrome OS has seen near-constant growth in both adoption and attention — much of it focused on the area of optimization and “Androidification” of its tablet experience. Slowly but surely, the ecosystem of Chrome OS hardware is catching up, too, as fully detachable Chromebook slates become increasingly common companions to the already-prevalent swiveling-screen convertible setups.

There’s one thing that’s still missing from the picture, though — and it’s something Chrome OS needs if it wants to become a fully realized tablet platform. It’s something I hear about from folks practically every time we talk about the Chromebook’s emerging role as an Android tablet replacement, in fact, and yet it’s something that’s thus far remained conspicuously unaddressed.

What we need next is a small Chromebook tablet — one that can fill the void of Kindles, Fire tablets, and other in-between-style devices. The reason is simple: Despite such products’ limited application for productivity, plenty of folks still like to use ’em as larger-than-phone alternatives for reading, in-bed browsing, or other one-handed activities. And as it stands now, there’s nothing in the Chrome OS ecosystem that even comes close to fulfilling that role.

When people ask me for a recommendation for a tablet-like device in that department — something small, light, and well-suited to single-handed use — I’ve got no good answer. The smallest Chromebooks out there right now are in the 10-in. range, which seems tiny by laptop standards but is actually still quite bulky when you think of the device next to a Kindle sort of product.

So when someone really wants a small, light tablet designed for single-handed use, and they aren’t looking for something with an Apple logo on its exterior, what do you tell ’em? Go ahead and buy an Amazon Fire Tablet. They aren’t great — and you’ll sacrifice optimal access to most Google features and services — but they’re cheap, they’ll get the job done, and there’s really no better option at the moment.

Imagine now if someone were to produce a comparable device created to exist inside of Google’s ecosystem — a small, inexpensive, yet nicely designed and pleasant to use tablet in the vein of Google’s classic Nexus 7, only with Chrome OS at its core instead of Android. It could function as an e-reader, an easily held screen for in-bed browsing (hey, what you do on your own time is your own business, buddy), or a household screen for shared access. It’d run Android apps, but as a Chrome OS device, it’d actually receive timely and reliable upgrades (which is more than you can say for pretty much any Android tablet still lingering around these days). And if you ever wanted to hook it up to a keyboard, you’d effectively have a fully functioning desktop computer at your disposal, too — a pretty powerful perk.

If it were created, priced, and marketed right, the thing could sell like hotcakes. But even more important than that, it’d fill a glaring hole in the current Chromebook-as-a-tablet ecosystem and better position it to serve as a fully fleshed-out replacement for the Android tablet ecosystem — not just an almost-there, partial replacement, as it stands now.

From Google’s perspective, even if such a device weren’t a massive money-maker in and of itself, it’d have the potential to bring more people into the Chrome OS universe — thus increasing the odds of said people purchasing more Chrome OS devices in the futures. And even for those of us interested mostly in higher-end, productivity-oriented Chromebooks, having a complete and thriving ecosystem means a lot in terms of encouraging developers to invest the time in optimizing apps for the platform, convincing companies to make compelling accessories for devices, and so on.

Now, all things in perspective: Choice and diversity have long been inherent advantages of both Chrome OS and Android, and this shift to Chrome OS as Google’s primary tablet platform is still a relatively new phenomenon. It’ll take time — understandably — for manufacturers to get on board and start addressing all the corners of the still-young Chromebook-as-a-tablet (CaaT?) market.

But as we think ahead to the latter half of 2019, it’s time to start thinking about what areas of that ecosystem have been neglected so far. And the small tablet sure seems like a big gap just waiting to be filled.

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[Android Intelligence videos at Computerworld]



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