Showing posts with label Android Authority. Show all posts

Deal: Get $100 in Project Fi credit with Moto X4 Android One purchase

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Back in September, Google revealed that the Android One edition of the Motorola Moto X4 would join the list of its official Project Fi-compatible smartphones. At the time, that made the phone the most affordable of all the phones that would work on Google’s mobile network, with a price of $399. Now, Google is giving buyers an additional incentive as part of its Black Friday sales efforts. It will give Moto X4 buyers on Project Fi a $100 credit on the network.

Editor's Pick

From now until November 30, if you decide to purchase the Android One Moto X4 from Project Fi, a service credit of $100 will be applied to your Fi account after the device has been activated. The credit is supposed to be put in place within 30 days of the Moto X4 shipping, and the phone must also remain active on the network for 30 days.

As a reminder, the Android One Moto X4 current runs on Android Nougat 7.1.1 out of the box, but because it is part of the Android One program, it’s likely to get an update to Android 8.0 Oreo in the very near future. The phone includes a 5.2-inch 1080p IPS LCD display, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 630 processor, 3 GB of RAM and 32 GB of storage, with a microSD card slot to add even more storage. It also has a dual rear camera setup with a main 12 MP sensor, and an 8 MP secondary sensor, along with a single 16 MP front-facing camera.

Interested? Click the link below to get the discount.



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Deal: Get the BlackBerry KEYone for $100 off at Amazon and Best Buy

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Cyber Monday 2017 hasn’t officially arrived yet, but some companies are getting a head start for what is supposed to be the biggest online shopping day of the year. For example, BlackBerry has started an extended Cyber Monday sale on the unlocked BlackBerry KEYone, selling the smartphone with its traditional hardware keyboard for just $449.99, or $100 off its normal $549.99 price tag.

Editor's Pick

The phone is available for the lower price at both Amazon and Best Buy’s websites, and it also covers the GSM model that works on AT&T and T-Mobile, along with the CDMA network version that works on Verizon. The special lower price will end at 12:59 a.m. Eastern time on December 3, or while supplies last. This discount does not extend to the more recent BlackBerry KEYone Black Edition.

In addition to its hardware keyboard, which includes touch-sensitive frets between rows of keys, the BlackBerry KEYone has a 4.5-inch display, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor,  3 GB of RAM, 32 GB of storage, a microSD card slot to add more storage, a 12 MP rear camera, an 8 MP front facing camera, and a 3,505 mAh battery.

If you used and loved your older BlackBerry phones with their keyboards, will this lower Cyber Monday price make you want to try out the BlackBerry KEYone?



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Android 8.0 Oreo rolling out to unlocked HTC U11 on November 27

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The unlocked HTC U11 will receive its Android 8.0 Oreo update on Monday, November 27, according to HTC’s Mo Versi on Twitter. This news comes just two weeks after the U11 in Taiwan started receiving its Android 8 update.

By now you’re probably aware what new features will arrive with the Android Oreo update. In case you need a refresher, you can check out our full 8.0 review right here.

So far, there aren’t too many other Android phones running Oreo. According to the latest Android version distribution numbers, Oreo is only installed on .3% of all Android devices. All of Google’s Pixel phones are running Oreo, as are the OnePlus 3/3T and Nokia 8. There are also Oreo beta programs in place for a handful of other devices like the Samsung Galaxy S8, LG V30Essential Phone, and OnePlus 5, so we should see that .3% jump up quite a bit over the next couple months.

But what about HTC’s other devices? Back in August the company announced that the HTC U Ultra and HTC 10 will be updated to Oreo, though we don’t have any more details at this time.

If you own an unlocked U11, be sure to leave a comment when you receive your update. We’ll let you know when the update begins rolling out.



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First OxygenOS Open Beta with Android Oreo arrives for OnePlus 5

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OnePlus has been working to bring the latest version of Android to all its latest devices. Last week the company rolled out Android 8.0 Oreo to the OnePlus 3 and 3T, and now it’s the OnePlus 5’s turn.

The Open Beta Program for the OnePlus 5 is now live, which brings Android 8.0 Oreo, UI tweaks, and more to the company’s first flagship of 2017.

With Android 8.0 Oreo, the OnePlus 5 will gain plenty of useful features like picture-in-picture mode, improved auto-fill, smart text selection, notification dots, and much more. To learn all about Oreo, check out our full review here.

The OnePlus 5 is also gaining some visual improvements including new Quick Settings and app folder designs. The beta build also brings the OnePlus 5T’s Parallel Apps feature, as well as the October 2017 security patch.

Don’t miss: Android 8 review: Oreo is for everyone

Keep in mind that this is beta software (the official rollout isn’t due until early 2018), so you might want to think twice before you install this on your main smartphone. You might experience app crashes, poor battery life, and more.

You can find out how to install the first Open Beta build at the source link below. If you do end up installing it, OnePlus would like you to fill out a UI/UX survey and report any bugs you experience.

As noted last week, the Android Oreo update for the OnePlus 5 unfortunately won’t bring Project Treble support. A future build may include Face Unlock, though that feature isn’t present in this first build.



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Must read: top 10 Android stories

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This week we reviewed the ZTE Axon M, Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact, and published our initial thoughts on the OnePlus 5T. We were also lucky enough to interview members of Essential and Made for Google. Here’s the news of the week!

Note: Missed out on Black Friday this year? Don’t worry— many of the Black Friday 2017 deals are still live, so head to our roundup for all the details you need to know.

Who wants to win a Pixel 2 XL or Google Home Mini?

We’re giving away not one, but four prizes this week. Enter our International Giveaway for your chance to win a Google Pixel 2 XL or one of three Google Home Minis!

10 Android stories we handpicked for you

ZTE Axon M review: the foldable phone is here ZTE tackles the idea of a foldable phone by adding a full second screen. Find out if it makes for double the fun or double trouble in our ZTE Axon M review.


OnePlus 5T initial review: first 72 hours The OnePlus 5T has been out for a few days now, and we wanted to give our initial impressions while we fill in the gaps over the next couple of weeks!


Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact review: small but powerful The Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact is almost alone in the compact flagship arena. Offering top-tier specs in a diminutive form factor, the XZ1 Compact is small but powerful.


December 14 could be a grim day for internet users in the US The Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai will reveal his proposal to end net neutrality tomorrow in preparation for the December 14 vote.


The return of the power user It’s been a while since we have used the word ‘power user’ – and over time, the very idea of what constitutes one may have subtly evolved.


No more low-quality accessories: an interview with Made for Google’s Blade Olson We were lucky enough to interview Blade Olson, head of the Made for Google program, about the certification process, what partners need to do to join the program, and more.


Display specs: the good, the bad, and the completely irrelevant Believe it or not, some of the specs that are trumpeted the most really don’t have all that much to do with whether or not the display is really any good.


Essential VP: “We’ve always thought of building something premium” We talk to Essential’s Rebecca Zavin about software updates and what lies ahead for the Essential Phone.


How Google is powering the world’s AI Google’s Cloud TPU already powers the current and expanding AI ecosystem. But how does it work?


Why you should never buy a phone in the first month It’s great to get a new phone in the first month being available, but often those phones have issues that OEMs need to fix right out of the gate. Worth it?


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Pixel 2 XL + Google Home Mini International Giveaway!

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Welcome to the Sunday Giveaway, the place where we giveaway a new Android phone each and every Sunday!

A big congratulations to last week’s winner of the OnePlus 5T International Giveaway: Mrigank P. (Australia).

This week we are giving away a brand new Pixel 2 XL alongside three runner-up prizes of a Google Home Mini, in partnership with DGiT.

Google’s 2017 flagship phones are finally here, and they’re great. Both the Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL feature top-of-the-line specs, IP67 ratings for dust and water resistance (finally), as well as the best smartphone cameras on the market, according to DxOMark. They’ll also be the first devices to include Google Lens, and will also come with three full years of OS updates. More specifically, the Pixel 2 XL sports a 6.0-inch pOLED 18:9 display and a bigger 3,520 mAh battery, but other than that, these two phones are pretty much identical.

The Google Home Mini brings all the power of the larger Google Home in a much smaller size. It’s available in three colors – black, white, and the stunning coral – and it does everything the more expensive Google Home does thanks to the Google Assistant. This means you’ll be able to control your smart home, listen to news, play music through Google Play Music or Spotify, follow recipes, and more!

To learn more about the Google Pixel 2 XL, check out our related coverage below:

Enter the giveaway here

Pixel 2 XL + Google Home Mini International Giveaway!

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Winners gallery

Terms & Conditions
  • The giveaway is an international giveaway (Except when we can not ship to your Country.)
  • If we can not ship to your country, you will be compensated with an online gift card of equal MSRP value to the prize.
  • We are not responsible for lost shipments.
  • We are not responsible if your giveaway prize malfunctions.
  • You must be age of majority in your Country of residence.
  • We are not responsible for any duties or import fees that you may incur.
  • Only one entry per person; please do not enter multiple email addresses. We will verify all winners and if we detect multiple email addresses by the same person you will not be eligible to win.
  • We reserve all rights to make any changes to this giveaway.
  • This giveaway is operated by AndroidAuthority.
  • The prize will ship when it is available to purchase.


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10 best Christmas apps for Android!

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best christmas apps featured image
It’s officially the holiday season. That means people are decorating, celebrating, and giving to others. It’s a wonderful time of year and, by far, one of the most colorful and engaging. There are no other holiday seasons where people do things like this. It’s a mostly external holiday. There is only so much your Android device can do. However, we have a list of excellent Christmas apps that should help this holiday season! We also recommend Pinterest and Facebook. They’ll have a bunch of gift and decoration ideas!


1Weather

Price: Free / $1.99
DOWNLOAD ON GOOGLE PLAY
Christmas means a lot of traveling, going out shopping, and other outside activities. Knowing the weather is essentially important around this time of year. 1Weather is about as good as it gets. It shows the current conditions, a ten day forecast, and a 12-week forecast. The app also includes a radar, sun rise and set times, and more. It also includes multiple locations. That should cover just about every use case that we can think of. It's also relatively inexpensive. The free version comes with all of the features. It's not a bad way to go as long as you don't mind ads on the free version.
DOWNLOAD ON GOOGLE PLAY
1Weather

Christmas Countdown 2017

Price: Free / $1.99
DOWNLOAD ON GOOGLE PLAY
Christmas Countdown 2017 is one of the simple, but effective Christmas apps. It features a simple countdown timer to the big day. Some of the other features include several HD Christmas wallpapers, some classic Christmas music, and even a few widgets. The app unlocks HD wallpapers like an advent calendar. We thought that was a little charming. The pro version adds two widgets, additional music, and a few extra themes. It's not great for music or wallpapers, but the countdown timer and widgets are superb.
DOWNLOAD ON GOOGLE PLAY
Christmas Countdown 2017

Google Santa Tracker

Price: Free
DOWNLOAD ON GOOGLE PLAY
Google's Santa Tracker app is easily one of the best Christmas apps. It's at least better than the other Santa Tracker apps in the Play Store (sorry NORAD). The app includes several fun little games and activities for kids. That includes Google Cardboard VR support, Android Wear support, and a countdown timer. It then follows Santa's path around the world on December 24th. The app is completely free with no advertisements or anything like that. It's one of the best Christmas apps for kids too!
DOWNLOAD ON GOOGLE PLAY

iHeartRadio

Price: Free / $9.99 per month
DOWNLOAD ON GOOGLE PLAY
iHeartRadio is definitely among the best Christmas apps for music. It features a variety of holiday-themed radio stations that include new hits, old classics, and mixtures of the two. The app is also entirely free as long as you don't mind commercials. Other music streaming services like Apple Music, Spotify, Google Play Music, Pandora, etc all have Christmas playlists as well. However, iHeartRadio is the easiest to fire and forget. It's also the easiest for people who don't generally use music streaming service already. Just open the app, search for Christmas, and find the station you like. Done.
DOWNLOAD ON GOOGLE PLAY

Netflix

Price: Free trial / $7.99-$13.99 per month
DOWNLOAD ON GOOGLE PLAY
Netflix is one of the best Christmas apps for video streaming. It includes a variety of classics like White Christmas, The Santa Clause Trilogy, How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000 version), A Very Murray Christmas, and even some adult Christmas movies like Bad Santa. Netflix also has several Yule Log burning videos. A few of them are even in 4K. It's a great way to bring a classic into the 21st century. Since most already have Netflix, it's just a matter of searching for this stuff in the app to find it. Hulu and other streaming services also have Christmas content.
DOWNLOAD ON GOOGLE PLAY
Netflix


TickTick

Price: Free / $24.99 per year
DOWNLOAD ON GOOGLE PLAY
TickTick is a to-do list app. Christmas is a busy time of year. Apps like TickTick can make it easier to keep track of things. The app lets you add tasks, organize tasks into various lists, and even share tasks with other people with TickTick. It's great for Christmas gift lists, remembering to buy the right food, and remembering to pack for that trip to the in-laws. The free version includes all of the relevant features. The pro version is optional and really only necessary for business class use. We doubt you'll need the pro version.
DOWNLOAD ON GOOGLE PLAY
TickTick

Wallpapers HD

Price: Free
DOWNLOAD ON GOOGLE PLAY
Many people theme their devices for the holiday season. Apps like Wallpapers HD are helpful for that. The app contains a selection of wallpapers for most screen sizes, including the 18:9 aspect ratio of newer devices. There are usually holiday inspired wallpapers drifting around during holidays. That should make it easy to find good ones for your device. We include this one on almost every holiday list because it's that easy to use. It's also free with advertising. The ads aren't that bad, but they are a little annoying.
DOWNLOAD ON GOOGLE PLAY
Wallpapers HD

YouTube TV

Price: Free trial / $35 per month
DOWNLOAD ON GOOGLE PLAY
YouTube TV is one of several Internet TV apps. They let you watch actual cable TV on your smartphone instead of through a cable box. Christmas is one of those few times a year where having cable access is a good idea. Many stations play classic movies, have live events, and other such things. An app like YouTube TV lets you watch them without a cable box, subscription, or any complicated nonsense. There are other options in this space, including Sling TV and PlayStation Vue. They all work pretty much the same way at only slightly different prices. All of them would make for good Christmas apps.
DOWNLOAD ON GOOGLE PLAY

Zedge

Price: Free
DOWNLOAD ON GOOGLE PLAY
Zedge is probably the best notification and ringtone app on Google Play. It has a ton of tones, sounds, ringtones, and other stuff. Of course, that includes stuff for Christmas, Thanksgiving, and other holidays. The ringtones and notification tones are usually fairly high quality. You can find all kinds of stuff here. The app also features wallpapers. However, their resolution and quality are highly inconsistent. We recommend a different app for wallpapers. However, this one is probably the best for holiday themed ringtones and notification tones.
DOWNLOAD ON GOOGLE PLAY
Zedge

Your favorite shopping apps

Price: Free
DOWNLOAD ON GOOGLE PLAY
Some of the busiest Christmas apps are shopping apps. Literally all of them are going to have a variety of sales, special events, special offers, and various other bric-a-brac. Those shopping for others or themselves can find all kinds of good offers on stuff they've probably been looking at all year. Many brick-and-mortar stores offer same day pickup on online purchases. Online shopping is as stable as it's ever been. Now is a great time to start your Christmas shopping.
DOWNLOAD ON GOOGLE PLAY
Your favorite shopping apps

10 best music streaming apps and music streaming services for Android

Music streaming has grown up tremendously since its inception and is now among the best ways to listen to music. Many streaming services let you listen for free, which has helped curb the need for …

10 best TV apps and Live TV apps for Android

The way we watch TV is evolving. TV subscriptions are no longer entirely necessary. There are now a variety of ways to watch TV right on your mobile devices. That includes a new wave of …

If we missed any great Christmas apps, tell us about them in the comments! You can also click here to check out our latest Android app and game lists!



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The return of the Power User

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2017 has been an incredible year in the world of smartphones, with a consistency of releases that has hardly been seen before. Users have a ton of quality options to choose from in the Android space – and there has been a growing trend in powerful, niche devices.

We generally hesitate to call any one phone the absolute best because individual users have different needs, but more than ever we are seeing the high end demand being fulfilled. In this article we’ll be taking a look at five particular devices that are currently fueling the return of a term you may have almost forgotten over the last couple years: the power user.

>> New & upcoming smartphones

Stemming from the fact that every user is different, perhaps every power user demands greatness from different aspects of a smartphone. Recently, Rob Triggs posited that the flagship smartphone game is shifting toward niche areas; as we reach consistently great performance no matter what phone users choose, companies have to find a specialty and provide the best experience in that category in order to stand out. That is certainly a theme you will see in this list.

Razer Phone – the beast

What if you just want the absolute best specifications? Surely, the best possible performance lends itself to the best possible experiences across the board? That is exactly what Razer has attempted to do with their recently announced Razer Phone – a phone for gamers, not a gaming phone.

Editor's Pick

The Razer Phone is certainly one for the spec hungry, sporting the Snapdragon 835, a completely utilised 8 GB of RAM, an SD card slot for more storage, incredible Dolby Atmos front-facing speakers, and a Quad HD screen with Ultra Motion 120Hz refresh rates to make everything fly.

No one can really doubt that this phone will take on mobile gaming better than pretty much anything else out there, but it should also be capable of spectacular media consumption due to its great screen and speakers. Productivity won’t take a backseat to the rest either, as these same specifications will help users get everyday things done in a fast and reliable manner. It’s win-win-win.

It’s easy to look at the Razer Phone as the power user’s dream

It’s easy to look at the Razer Phone as the power user’s dream, packing everything short of the proverbial kitchen sink (except for a headphone jack). We are finalizing our review of the Razer Phone now, so stay tuned for our final thoughts on this beast. But as a latecomer in the 2017 game, it serves as a reminder that we’re not through with this year’s bevy of incredible high end smartphones, and it comes alongside another entrant that is thinking bigger and in a lot of ways, thinking double.

ZTE Axon M – the multitasker

The ZTE Axon M might not have gotten the best review marks here at Android Authority, but we could not deny that the first ever dual screen phone brought a completely unique idea to the table. The Axon M comes with two screens that fold upon themselves for twice the screen real estate and dual screen capabilities that you literally cannot get on any other device so far.

It might be easy to think of this as an Android-powered Nintendo handheld console, but that would only be part of the story. The two screens can work separately or in tandem, providing either a super large canvas or the ability to have a practical spread of applications open all at once.

Adding a complete second screen is one hell of a move to make, and ZTE is banking on users’ desire for a bigger canvas

Users can take elements like text from one side of the phone to the other easily, enhancing productivity; or, for the media lover, one screen could be the perpetual YouTube display for enjoying videos while (trying) to get things done on the other side. Speaking of which, you can even view media in a mirrored ‘tent mode’ which is a first for a smartphone. Adding a complete second screen on a phone is one hell of a move to make, and ZTE is banking on users’ desire for a bigger canvas. We certainly didn’t realize the possibilities it provides until ZTE made it a reality.

It might come as a bit of a surprise that the M doesn’t sport the beastly specifications of our previous device – they would have certainly helped a phone that is trying to pull double time, but this is still the only phone for any users that actually want to ‘dual-monitor’ Android. It may not be perfect now, but we truly hope the idea persists.

BlackBerry KEYone – the executive

The Axon M shows us that power isn’t necessarily the way to please a ‘power user’ – but the BlackBerry KEYone was our early 2017 example of that notion. It sports even lower-end specifications than the Axon M, so you’d be hard-pressed to find someone that prioritizes gaming and media consumption calling the KEYone their best device. However, plenty of those same users still look at BlackBerry’s keyboard-toting smartphone very fondly, pointing at all that they can accomplish with it as a daily driver as the reason why.

Anyone that lives in e-mail land will tell you a physical keyboard gets the job done better than any touchscreen

A productivity-minded user can still be considered a power user, and anyone that lives in e-mail land and does text-based work on the regular will tell you a physical keyboard gets the job done in a much more satisfactory way than any touchscreen can. BlackBerry managed to make the Android experience as enjoyable as possible with a small but capable touchscreen, while marrying the physical keyboard with the screen by providing dozens upon dozens of programmable shortcuts. Work is simply no problem for the KEYone, despite it rocking a mid-range processor in the Snapdragon 625 and “only” 3 GB of RAM.

Editor's Pick

The KEYone has been given fond accolades from our own editors and reviewers here at Android Authority, proving itself as the daily driver for our very own Andrew Grush, Nirave Gondhia and myself at various stages of the year.

LG V30 – the creator

Which brings us to the last couple of phones, and you might not be too surprised to see what they are. The reason we’re highlighting them, however, is because they arguably fulfill both general ‘power user’ needs: great specs and niche functionality. For the content creator, you basically can’t go wrong with the LG V30.

The V30 is the smartphone for vloggers, video shooters, Instagrammers, and general photographers alike - as well as those that love audio

The wide angle camera for photos and dynamic video, manual video settings for the most camera control in an Android shooter, and even LOG format video recording make the V30 the smartphone for vloggers, video shooters, Instagrammers, and general photographers alike. LG has managed to provide tools for making visual content not only easier to do on a slim, powerful device, but fun to do because of the wide angle secondary lens.

Lanh Nguyen and myself have both used the V30 for extensive periods of time, consistently lauding the wide angle camera as one of the best additions currently on an Android camera. When the big camera needs to sit in the bag or even at home, V30 users are glad to have LG’s latest in their pocket.

And we haven’t even mentioned the high-end specifications, the streamlined Android experience, or the headphone jack that rocks a great sounding Quad DAC – all features that are included in a package that doesn’t get anywhere near the dreaded $1000 price point.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 – the all-rounder

Samsung might just be the company for which we originally coined the ‘power user’ term, based on its track record for the Galaxy Note line. The Galaxy Note 8 redeems the sins of the Note 7 while hearkening back to what made the line great – mashing the very best possible features and specifications in a phone that also rocks a stylus.

Editor's Pick

The S Pen is essentially one of a kind in terms of what it brings to the smartphone experience, adding a bevy of features like smart clipping and animated text GIF creation to an already feature-heavy Android iteration. The curved sides of the screen also have the Edge UX, adding panels to the home screens for easy access to information, shortcuts, and more.

The Note 8 also adds a secondary lens to the camera package too – in this case, a zoom lens that lends itself to Samsung’s own version of portrait mode – and Samsung continues their tradition of bringing a good quality shooting experience. And that only scratches the surface of all that Samsung tries to make this phone do.

Putting everything into one phone is what made the Galaxy Note a power user’s phone in the first place

Some might say that the Galaxy slides dangerously into redundancies due to its many applications that mirror Google’s own Android apps – even Bixby sits alongside Google Assistant in the very same device so you can press the dedicated button for one or hold down the home button for the other. But putting quite literally everything into one phone is what made the Note line a ‘power user’s’ phone in the first place, and it has returned to being such this year after a couple of questionable previous attempts.

Wrap up

It’s been a while since we have used the word ‘power user’ – and over time, the very idea of what constitutes one may have subtly evolved. With the myriad of high performing devices in the smartphone space, it is easy to get overwhelmed when trying to make a choice.

Users are no longer just looking for every single specification and feature possible (though it is still possible to find), but those who are in tune with what their needs are can be just as effectively rewarded. Content creators, workaholics, media consumers, and those simply looking for the best of the best have many of their needs met this year, making us proud to say: welcome back power users.



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How Google is powering the world’s AI

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After helping to define the modern internet era with Search and Android, Google is already at the forefront of the next wave in computing research and development: AI. Many consider artificial intelligence and neural network computers to be the next step in computing, enabling new use cases and faster computation to solve currently unsolvable problems. The search giant, which now calls itself an “AI first” company, has been leading adoption of these new technologies in a number of ways.

Neural networking algorithms and machine learning are already at the heart of many of Google’s services. They filter out spam in Gmail, optimize targeted advertising, and analyze your voice when you talk to Google Assistant or your Home speaker. Inside smartphones, ideas like Google Lens and Samsung’s Bixby are showing the power of “AI” vision processing. Even companies like Spotify and Netflix are using Google’s Cloud servers to tailor content to their users.

Google’s Cloud Platform is at the center of its efforts (and those of third parties) to utilize this increasingly popular area of computing. However, this new field requires new kinds of hardware to run efficiently, and Google has invested heavily in its own processing hardware, which it calls a cloud tensor processing unit (Cloud TPU). This custom hardware is packed into Google’s servers and already powers the current and expanding AI ecosystem. But how does it work?

TPUs vs CPUs – searching for better efficiency

Google unveiled its second-generation TPU at Google I/O earlier this year, offering increased performance and better scaling for larger clusters. The TPU is an application specific integrated circuit. It’s custom silicon designed very specifically for a particular use case, rather than a general processing unit like a CPU. The unit is designed to handle common machine learning and neural networking calculations for training and inference; specifically matrix multiply, dot product, and quantization transforms, which are usually just 8 bits in accuracy.

While these kinds of calculations can be done on a CPU and sometimes even more efficiently on a GPU, these architectures are limited in terms of performance and energy efficiency when scaling across operation types. For example, IEEE 754 8-bit integer multiplication optimized designs can be up to 5.5X more energy and 6X more area efficient than 16-bit floating-point optimized designs. They’re also 18.5X more efficient in terms of energy and 27X smaller in terms of area than 32-bit FP multiply. IEEE 754 being the technical standard for floating point computations used in all modern CPUs.

Editor's Pick

Furthermore, many neural networking use cases require low latency and almost instantaneous processing times from a user perspective. This favors dedicated hardware for certain tasks, as opposed to trying to fit typically higher latency graphics architectures to new use cases. Memory latency accessing external RAM can be hugely costly too.

In large data centers, power and silicon hungry processors quickly rack up costs. Google's TPU is designed in equal parts for efficiency as well as performance.

In large data centers, the power and area inefficiencies when performing neural networking functions on a CPU or GPU could result in huge costs. Not just in terms of silicon and equipment, but also the energy bill over long periods of time. Google knew that if machine learning was ever to take off in a meaningful way, it needed hardware that could offer not only high performance, but also substantially better energy efficiency than leading CPUs and GPUs could offer.

To solve this problem, Google set about designing its TPU to offer a tenfold cost-performance improvement over an off-the-shelf GPU. The final design was a co-processor that could be attached to the common PCIe bus, allowing it to work alongside a regular CPU, which would pass it instructions and handle traffic, among other things, as well as help speed up deployment times by making the design an add-on. As a result, the design was up and running in data centers just 15 months after conception.

TPU deep dive

Earlier in the year, Google released a comprehensive comparison of its TPU’s performance and efficiencies compared with Haswell CPUs and Nvidia Tesla K80 GPUs, giving us a closer look at the processor’s design.

Editor's Pick

At the heart of Google’s TPU is a Matrix Multiply Unit. The unit contains 65,538 8-bit multiplier accumulators (MACs)— hardware units designed specifically to calculate the product of two numbers and add that to an accumulator. When done with floating point numbers, this is called a fused multiply-add (FMA). You may recall that this is an instruction that ARM has made efforts to optimize with its latest Cortex-A75 and A55 CPUs, as well as Mali-G72 GPU.

Unlike a CPU or GPU, which accesses multiple registers per operation when sending data to and from their arithmetic logic units (ALUs), this MAC implements a systolic design that reads a register once and reuses that value throughout a prolonged calculation. This is possible in the TPU because of its simplified design that sees the ALUs perform multiplication and addition in fixed patterns across adjoining ALUs, without needing any memory access. This limits the design in terms of possible functions, but greatly increases its performance and power efficiency at these fused-multiply tasks.

In terms of numbers, Google’s TPU can process 65,536 multiply-and-adds for 8-bit integers every cycle. Given that the TPU runs at 700MHz, it can compute 65,536 × 700,000,000 = 46 × 1012 multiply-and-add operations or 92 TeraOps (trillions of operations) per second in the matrix unit. Google says that its second generation TPU can deliver up to 180 teraflops of floating point performance. That’s significantly more parallel throughput than your typical scalar RISC processor, which usually only passes a single operation with each instruction over a clock cycle or more.

The 16-bit products of the Matrix Multiply Unit are collected in the 4 MiB of 32-bit Accumulators below the matrix unit. There’s also a unified buffer of 24MB of SRAM, which work as registers. Instructions to control the processor are sent from a CPU to the TPU via the PCIe bus. These are complex CISC type instructions in order to run complex tasks which each instruction, such as numerous multiply-add calculations. These instructions are passed down a 4-stage pipeline. There are only twelve instructions for the TPU in total, the five most important of which are simply to read and write results and weights in memory, and to begin a matrix multiply/convolution of the data and weights.

At the heart of Google’s TPU is a Matrix Multiple Unit, capable of 92 trillion operations per second, but otherwise the microarchitecture is a surprisingly streamlined design. It's built to only handle a small number of operations, but can perform them very quickly and efficiently.

Overall, Google’s TPU much more closely resembles the old idea of a floating-point co-processor than a GPU. It’s a surprisingly streamlined piece of hardware, consisting of only one major processing element and a small simplified control scheme. There are no caches, branch predictors, multi-processing interconnects, or other microarchitectural features that you’ll find in a common CPU. This again helps to save significantly on silicon area and power consumption.

In terms of performance, Google states that its TPU design typically delivers an 83x better performance-to-watt ratio compared with a CPU, and 29x better than when running on a GPU. Not only is the chip design more energy efficient, but it delivers better performance too. Across six common reference neural networking workloads, the TPU offers substantial performance benefits in all but one of the tests, often by a magnitude of 20x or faster compared to a GPU and up to 71x faster than a CPU. Of course, these results will vary depending on the type of CPU and GPU tested, but Google conducted its own tests against the high-end Intel Haswell E5-2699 v3 and Nvidia K80 for its in-depth look at the hardware.

Working with Intel for edge compute

Google’s hardware efforts have given it a major head start in the cloud space, but not all AI applications are well suited to transferring data such great distances. Some applications, such as self driving cars, require almost instantaneous compute, and so can’t rely on higher latency data transfers over the internet, even if the compute power in the cloud is very fast. Instead, these type of applications need to be done on device, and the same applies for a number of smartphone applications, such as image processing on RAW camera data for a picture.

Google's Pixel Visual Core is primarily designed for HDR image enhancement, but the company has touted its potential for other future machine learning and neural networking applications.

With the Pixel 2, Google quietly launched its first attempt at bringing neural networking capabilities to dedicated hardware suitable for a lower power mobile form factor – the Pixel Visual Core. Interestingly, Google teamed up with Intel for the chip, suggesting that it wasn’t entirely an in-house design. We don’t know exactly what the partnership entails; it could just be architectural or more to do with manufacturing connections.

Intel has been buying up AI hardware companies, nabbing Nervana Systems in 2016, Movidius (which made chips for DJI drones) last September, and Mobileye in March 2017. We also know that Intel has its own neural networking processor in the works, codenamed Lake Crest, which falls under its Nervana line. This product was the result of Intel’s purchase of the company of the same name. We don’t know a lot about processor, but it’s designed for servers, uses a low-precision number format called Flexpoint, and boasts a blazing fast memory access speed of 8 Terabits per second. It’s going to compete with Google’s TPU, rather than it’s mobile products.

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Even so, there appear to be some design similarities between Intel and Google hardware based on images floating around online. Specifically, the multi-core configuration, use of PCIe and accompanying controller, a management CPU, and close integration to fast memory.

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At a glance, the Pixel’s hardware looks quite different to Google’s cloud design, which isn’t surprising given the different power budgets. Although we don’t know as much about the Visual Core architecture as we do about Google’s Cloud TPUs, we can spot some similar capabilities. Each of the Image Processing Units (IPUs) inside the design offers 512 arithmetic logic units, for a total of 4,096.

Again, this means a highly parallelized design capable of crunching lots of numbers at once, and even this trimmed down design can perform 3 trillion operations per second. Clearly the chip features a far smaller number of math units than Google’s TPU, and there are no doubt other differences as this is primarily designed for imaging enhancements, rather than the variety of neural networks Google is running in the cloud. However, it’s a similar, highly parallel design with a specific set of operations in mind.

Whether Google sticks with this design and continues to work with Intel for future edge compute capabilities, or returns to relying on hardware developed by other companies remains to be seen. However, I would be surprised if we don’t see Google’s experience in neural networking hardware continue to evolve silicon products both in the server and small form factor spaces.

Wrap Up

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Google may be best known for its software, but when it comes to powering this new generation of AI computing, Google is equally embedded in the hardware development and deployment side.

The company’s custom TPU silicon provides the necessary energy efficiency savings needed to deploy machine learning on a large cloud scale. It also offers up notably higher performance for these specific tasks than more generalized CPU and GPU hardware. We’re seeing a similar trend in the mobile space, with SoC manufacturing increasingly turning to dedicated DSP hardware to efficiently run these mathematically intensive algorithms. Google could become a major hardware player in this market too.

We’re still waiting to see what Google has in store for its first generation smartphone AI hardware, the Pixel Visual Core. The chip will soon be switched on for faster HDR processing and will no doubt play a role in some further AI tests and products that the company rolls out to its Pixel 2 smartphones. At the moment, Google is leading the way forward with its Cloud TPU AI hardware and software support with TensorFlow. It’s worth remembering that Intel, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, and others are all vying for a piece of this quickly emerging market too.

With machine learning and neural networks powering an increasing number of applications both in the cloud and on edge devices like smartphones, Google’s early hardware efforts have positioned the company to be a leader in this next generation field of computing.



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