It’s a very simple app, with four different pen/brush options, an eraser, a colour picker, and an ability to export your drawing as a PNG file to your computer. You can also import an existing image from your computer, and draw over it.
What’s more, drawings will automatically store on your Google Account, so if you ever need to remind yourself of that stupid hot dog sketch you put together, it’s a few clicks away.
While the app seems to be directed at Chromebooks, you can use it across different browsers like Firefox and Safari, plus on mobile too.
There’s not really much more to say about Chrome Canvas, but it’s a handy way to draw something in a jiffy, and a demonstration of the possibilities with new web standard WebAssembly.
December 21, 2018 / Comments Off on Google Chrome now has a handy drawing app for your silly sketches
Front-facing speakers play nice and loud • Hardware is well-built • Has two USB-C ports
Buggy software • Pricey for the Core i5 and i7 models • Official keyboard is expensive and sucks
Google’s Pixel Slate is a wannabe Surface Pro that doesn’t impress in hardware or software.
As a reviewer, I can tell which configuration of a new gadget a company expects to do well based on the model they send me to test out.
Spoiler alert: If there are multiple models with different specs, it’s almost never the cheapest version with the weakest performance.
For the Pixel Slate tablet, Google sent me the $999 model — the one with an 8th-gen Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage. That’s understandable; if I were Google, I wouldn’t want reviewers testing the $599 version either. Its puny Intel Celeron processor, 4GB of RAM, and paltry 32GB of storage sounds insufficient on every level.
The $699 and $799 versions, with Intel Celeron and 8th-gen Intel Core m3 chips and double the RAM and storage, are better, but having tried other Chromebooks and laptops with those specs, I doubt it’s much better on the Pixel Slate.
Which leaves the two upper-tier versions: the $999 model I tested and the top-of-the-line $1,599 model with an 8th-gen Intel Core i7 chip, 16GB of RAM and 256GB of storage.
Running Chrome OS and Android apps gives the Pixel Slate quite an edge over even Apple’s latest iPad Pros for laptop-type tasks. But it’s nowhere near as versatile as a Surface Pro 6 and Windows 10, which starts at $899 for the same specs. The Surface Pro’s Touch Keyboard also starts at $129 compared to the Slate’s $199 keyboard, and Microsoft’s keyboard is better in every possible way.
After using Google’s 2-in-1 for about a week, I’m sticking to my initial impressions: Last year’s Pixelbook is the still the better computer and gets you more for your money. For $999, you get a clamshell laptop with a built-in keyboard and a touchscreen that folds 360-degrees backwards into a tablet when you want one.
And at the time of this publishing, Google’s offering a $300 discount off all Pixelbook configurations, making the laptop an ever sweeter deal starting at $699.
Not quite an iPad Pro or Surface Pro
Forgive me for me not being wowed by the Pixel Slate. I mean, it’s a tablet with a 12.3-inch “Molecular Display” wrapped in a thin and sturdy aluminum chassis.
Google’s made a very nice tablet, but that doesn’t surprise me because the company has been building its own hardware for several years now.
The Pixel Slate is still no iPad Pro, though. Apple’s latest iPad Pros are thinner (0.23 inches versus 0.27 inches) and have narrower bezels all around the display.
That’s not to say the Pixel Slate doesn’t have a leg up on the iPad Pros in some departments. The Slate has a responsive fingerprint reader embedded in the recessed power button. The stereo speakers are loud and front-facing. And there are two USB-C ports as opposed to the iPad Pro’s one.
These are great features that the iPad Pro doesn’t have, but none of them are features I can’t live without. I prefer Face ID over the fingerprint reader and it’s unfortunate the Pixel Slate has no face unlocking feature of any kind. The iPad Pro’s quad speakers fire out of the side and sound louder and clearer in my opinion. And while having two USB-C ports is nice, especially for charging and connecting an accessory like a memory card reader at the same time, I could live without the extra port on a tablet.
RIP headphone jack, though. Both the new iPad Pros and Pixel Slate ditch the connector — another blow for the formerly universal audio port after Apple’s now legendary “act of courage” to remove it from the iPhone back in 2016.
No doubt, the Pixel Slate is Google’s most beautiful and polished tablet hardware to date, but it doesn’t break any new ground. Both the iPad Pro and Surface Pro do the tablet form factor better. And the Surface Pro kicks everyone’s butt with its excellent built-in kickstand.
Average at every turn
Where the Pixel Slate stumbles the most is software polish. It doesn’t seem finished and I experienced quite a few bugs and crashes that brought Chrome OS and Android apps to their knees.
My review unit’s kitted out with a very capable Intel Core i5 processor and 8GB of RAM. But even so, little things like seeing jitters when scrolling on some of Mashable’s media-heavy reviews (like the iPhone XS and Pixel 3), or the slight lag when opening the recent apps window, or the inconsistencies of the colors of videos displayed in the Netflix Android app versus the Netflix website (colors looked way more faded in the app) were frustrating.
The Pixel Slate is also caught between trying to be an Android tablet and a Chromebook. Without a keyboard, Chrome OS resembles an Android tablet. The home screen is filled with a grid of your app icons, and you even get a dock at the bottom to pin apps to.
However, if you connect the Slate to Google’s keyboard case, the grid-based home screen disappears, replaced with a clean desktop like on a Chromebook.
This dynamic adjustment is clever, no doubt, but it confused me at first and similarly baffled a few of my friends when I showed the tablet to them over Thanksgiving.
Don’t get me wrong, I really like having the full capabilities of Chrome with all of my browser extensions because it lets me do all of my work. Android apps running in their own windows are fine and complementary to the browser. Both platforms work together better today than they did a year ago when I reviewed the Pixelbook. But Google still needs to add polish to the experience.
Google’s official Slate keyboard is also flimsy. I tried my hardest to give the round keys a chance, but they remained difficult to adjust to. I wasn’t able to type as quickly or accurately on them compared to the Surface Pro’s Touch Keyboard. The trackpad, however, is good.
Similarly, the keyboard doesn’t do a good job propping the device up. I dig the ability to adjust the tablet to almost any angle you want, but unless the set is placed on a table or sizable flat surface, there’s some notable wobble. In other words: the Slate is terrible on your lap. Google should have copied the Surface Pro and made it so the keyboard can snap to Slate’s bottom bezel, which would better connect the two.
Battery life is decent, but not as outstanding as Google says it is. Google rates the Pixel Slate’s battery life for up to 12 hours of “mixed use.” I never got near that figure.
With Chrome being such a battery hog and my dozen extensions likely contributing to much of that power drain, I got between 7-8 hours of battery life per charge doing all of the things I typically do on my MacBook Air. My workload’s nothing out of the ordinary for a working professional: a dozen or so open Chrome tabs, Spotify streaming in the background via the Android app, Slack constantly going off all day, lots of Gmail, tons of Twitter, and some Netflix and YouTube.
Just get a Surface Pro
It must feel great to be Microsoft. Everyone’s bending over backwards trying to copy its Surface Pro, while it’s practically perfected the device.
The Surface Pro is the gold standard for a tablet that’s capable of replacing a laptop. The hardware and software have been honed over the years to work better together. Apple and Google are copying the tablet-keyboard combo and making the form factor their own, but neither of their devices, the iPad Pro or the Pixel Slate, is a proper laptop replacement the way the Surface Pro is.
For Apple, the iPad Pro is stunning and has monstrous power that smokes the competition, but iOS is its biggest crutch. The Pixel Slate seemed like the best chance to offer the best of both a mobile OS and a desktop-like browser experience, but poor optimization and expensive pricing make it a dud in my book.
Maybe Google will improve the Slate’s performance and fix the bugs in a software update, but at launch, the Surface Pro 6 is the better value on every level: hardware, software, and keyboard. Or just get a Pixelbook — it does everything the Pixel Slate does but better, and it’s cheaper.
Google is attacking smartphones hard with its latest Pixel 3, and it has a great player in smart home with the Home Hub. The Pixel Slate, however, falls short on the tablet front.
November 27, 2018 / Comments Off on Google’s Pixel Slate is an average and buggy tablet that’s not worth the money
Found yourself subscribed to a shady ringtone service? Even though it’s 2018? Google Chrome will soon stop you from falling into that trap.
In an upcoming version of Chrome, the browser will throw up a warning page when it suspects users could be unwittingly subscribed to a direct billing scam, leaving them with unexpected charges on their next bill.
Chrome will detect if the subscription information on a webpage is insufficient, and like its other warnings, give the user the opportunity to go back, or proceed if they like.
Google has unveiled a series of best practices for mobile billing on Chrome, which includes telling the user how much they’ll be charged, what they’ll be charged for, how long for, and ensuring those details are clear and visible.
“We want to make sure Chrome users understand when they are going through a billing flow and trust that they’ll be able to make informed decisions while browsing the web,” reads a blog post by Google.
The warning page will launch in Chrome 71, which is set to release in December.
It also has a feature which blocks all ads from a website if they’re deemed to be abusive, in that they trick users to open new tabs or download files.
November 8, 2018 / Comments Off on Google Chrome will warn you before you fall for a phone subscription scam
We can all breathe easy now. Google says it will let users of its Chrome web browser opt-out of the controversial automatic login feature that debuted earlier this month.
Chrome had historically let users decide whether they wanted to log into the browser while using it across devices, saving them precious seconds while jumping between various Google services. But in the Chrome 69 update that rolled out earlier this month, the browser automatically signed in people who used sites like Gmail, YouTube, and Google Search.
Now, Google promises to do the right thing and give people a chance to opt-out of the automatic sign-in feature. The company says the feature was originally introduced to prevent data from leaking between accounts on shared computers (i.e. Google doesn’t want to mix up the cookies on a shared machine used by multiple accounts.)
“We want to be clear that this change to sign-in does not mean Chrome sync gets turned on,” Google Chrome product manager Zach Koch assured Chrome users in an announcement post. “Users who want data like their browsing history, passwords, and bookmarks available on other devices must take additional action, such as turning on sync.”
However, not everyone was convinced. Cryptographer and professor at Johns Hopkins University, Matthew Green, was a vocal critic of the change. He argued in a scathing blog post that there was no justifiable reason for the change — at least from a security perspective.
“Google’s reputation is hard-earned, and it can be easily lost,” wrote Green. “Changes like this burn a lot of trust with users. If the change is solving an absolutely critical problem for users, then maybe a loss of trust is worth it. I wish Google could convince me that was the case.”
Luckily for Green (and thousands of other concerned users), Google will make it easy to opt-out of the automatic login feature upon the next stable release of the Chrome browser. Until then, if you’re truly worried about being tracked, maybe try going back to Firefox.
September 26, 2018 / Comments Off on Chrome 70 will let you opt-out of Google’s controversial automatic sign-in feature
Google Chrome just turned 10, wrapping up a decade where the browser captured the world by rapidly becoming the browser of choice for people who “knew better.” For the anniversary, Google is rolling out a revamped design and a slew of new features, including a more powerful omnibox.
Back in 2008, web browsers were broken. While they served their utilitarian function of enabling us to browse the cornucopia of web content, features like plug-ins, custom software, and enterprise tools were starting to creep past the point of usefulness, often slowing things down and generally getting in the way. Our window to the internet, once clear and full of potential, had become sullied with frustration. Even Firefox, at the time the browser of choice for power users, had become a toolbar-laden mess.
Then, on Sept. 2, 2008, Google launched Chrome. The name was consciously ironic: Chrome did away with the toolbars, menus, text fields, and other “chrome” that was taking up more and more room in your browser window. All of that fell to the background, and you were left with just a single “omnibox” for you to type in and, well, the web.
In other words it was a triumph of design.
By discarding much of the junk, Chrome was an inherently faster browser, and much of the early discussion around Google’s web browser was about speed. But in the years since Chrome has consistently led the way on features that improve the browsing experience — some of which, like preventing videos from autoplaying, might be surprising coming from the company behind the largest ad network in the world.
That’s probably why Chrome’s market share has continued to dominate on desktops even though Apple’s Safari and Microsoft Edge offer comparable browsing experiences and tend to have faster performance on their native platforms. (Chrome doesn’t dominate mobile since iOS makes it difficult for browsers other than Safari to gain a foothold on the iPhone.)
One of the people behind much of Chrome’s design over the past decade is Alex Ainslie, Google’s head of design for Chrome. Ainslie spoke to Mashable about Chrome’s 10th anniversary makeover and the things to come for the browser.
“We have the four S’s,” Ainslie says. “Chrome values of speed, simplicity, security, and stability. I think there could be a misperception that the design team is responsible only for simplicity. But actually, more and more design effort is related to those other pillars.”
The new stuff
The first thing people will notice is the new look. Starting today (with Chrome version 69 and teased to users of Canary, the experimental version of Chrome), you’ll start to see more rounded corners and a new color palette. The shape of the tabs makes site favicons easier to see so you can navigate them better. And on iOS, where Chrome has been sorely neglected for a long while, the toolbar finally goes to the right place — the bottom of the screen, closer to where your thumbs are.
There are new customization features, too. For the “new tab” screen, you can easily change the background image as well as the site suggestions.
Eagle-eyed users will notice the new Chrome handles URLs differently. This will be the first version of Chrome to discard the “http://” from how the URL is displayed, which, from a design perspective, is a relic of the early days of the web when navigating in any detail could often be an exercise in coding.
“If you step back and consider like your first day with a computing device, which is a phone, probably an Android phone you’ve just purchased,” explains Ainslie. “And then you encounter a URL in Chrome’s omnibox that is filled with acronyms: HTTPS, colon, slash, slash, www dot Google dot com slash, dub, dub, dub — all these things. It’s incomprehensible. So we’re pushing to make the resting state of our omnibox more human readable.”
Of course, the change also means users won’t be able to see “https” either, an indicator that a site has a basic level of security. Ainslie isn’t worried, since the browser will still show the lock icon.
“The effort to move the web towards https is something the Chrome team has been working on for many years,” he says. “It was not just a technical challenge — it really was a design problem. We did a bunch of research about iconography in the omnibox for connection security, to try to make sure we were communicating better about whether [the user] was safe or not.”
Chrome is smarter now, too. If you hate browser autofill like I do, you may want to give the new way Chrome does it a chance. Ainslie says Google has studied the pain points in autofill, and has improved the feature in key ways.
“There’s been a lot of investment on the engineering side to make it more robust, so better at identifying fields and filling in the right stuff in the right place.”
Autocomplete gets a overdue upgrade: You’ll see favicons of sites in the drop-down, and Chrome will now show answers to some queries right in the autocomplete list, even before you hit Return. Safari already has a similar feature, offering links to things Wikipedia and recent news articles about some subjects. However, the suggestions often default to selling you something from an Apple service — for example, if you type the name of a movie, it’ll point you to iTunes.
The autocomplete is also a not-so-subtle reminder that Google is watching everything you’re doing in Chrome to some extent, even the things you haven’t finished typing. In fairness, you can turn the feature off, and Google says doing so will also block any record-keeping of what you typed.
There’s a nice autocomplete bonus for power users like myself: If you type in a website that you already have open in another tab, autocomplete will tell you and give the option to jump to that tab, even if it’s three browser windows removed. A later upgrade will even let you search files from Google Drive right from the omnibox.
Chrome will also handle passwords better. It’ll suggest passwords automatically when you log into a site for the first time and remember them when you come back.
The changes to Chrome are mostly subtle, which may disappoint some users. While Chrome is dominant on desktops, it’s also arguably been complacent the last few years, and often Google’s geek pedigree shows in some features, like extensions.
But all that versatility has its downsides. Extensions and apps can easily get out of control, and all that interactivity has encouraged the bane of web browsing in 2018: near-constant requests for sites to send desktop notifications. While Ainslie admits they can be an issue, they’re also an outgrowth of the communication Chrome was built to enable, so it’s a delicate balance.
“We have a bunch of moments where we try to broker commincation between a site and an end user. Permission prompts are a really good one. I think we have a challenge in that space of permissions. One change we made on Android recently is that the prompt, instead of being ignorable, we made them modal to force a choice between block or allow.”
In today’s announcement, Google suggests it will enhance Chrome’s augmented-reality features in the near future, so you’ll be able to, say, select a product and see how it looks in real life using your phone’s camera. It’s also working on improved Google Translate features and better defenses against phishing attacks.
That all sounds good, but it’s not like other browsers are standing still. Safari is now insanely fast on most Macs, and Microsoft Edge has completed its evolution into a full-featured competitor to Chrome, and Microsoft has no shame in pushing its native browser to users as hard as possible, even through ads in the OS itself.
But Chrome, despite a few years where it was sitting on its laurels, is still king. That’s partly because it’s cross-platform: There is no Safari for Android or Windows, and Edge is still too new to have earned enough trust among users — especially since so many were burned by Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, which became synonymous with a poor browsing experience.
But the main reason Chrome is still the browser for people who know better in 2018 is because of how much Google services have become intertwined with our digital lives. Whether it’s Search or Maps or Drive or Photos, chances are you depend on at least one Google service, and using it with Chrome is simply a better experience.
That goes double for anyone whose uses G Suite: Chrome will let you switch user profiles easily without switching the user account on a PC or Mac — both Safari and Edge force you to log out completely to do so (although private browsing works in a pinch).
In short, Google appears to really mean it when it says it prioritizes the user experience above all else. Back in 2008, that novel idea helped clean up browsers for a whole generation of people raised on the web. By keeping its eye on the design ball, Chrome’s reign could last another decade.
September 4, 2018 / Comments Off on Google Chrome turns 10 with a fresh look, better omnibox, and more