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Netflix HDR update is good news for Google Pixel owners

Netflix HDR update is good news for Google Pixel owners

Netflix has just announced some good news for Google Pixel owners: You can now watch (some of) your favorite shows and movies in HDR and HD quality. When a new device comes out, Netflix doesn't immediately add HD and HDR support, and owners of these phones or tablets typically have to wait until the necessary software support is put in place on a device-by-device basis. In the case of these new Google Pixels, some users have been waiting quite a long while.

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Google Assistant no longer requires wake word to stop talking

Google Assistant no longer requires wake word to stop talking

Google has announced a small but highly convenient Google Assistant tweak: the AI will now silence itself when you tell it to "stop." This change eliminates the need to use the "Hey Google" wake word before telling Assistant to cancel a response, which is awkward when the AI is rambling about something you don't want to hear. The change is now live.

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Android app public preview hits Windows 11 to bring ‘new era of the PC’

Android app public preview hits Windows 11 to bring ‘new era of the PC’

Microsoft has just announced that it will soon release a much-anticipated update: Windows 11 will feature Android apps. This cooperation between Windows and Android marks a welcome change. Although many Windows users found various workarounds and emulators to run Android on their PC before, Microsoft seems to be planning to make the process much more streamlined.

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This is how Google plans to track you now

This is how Google plans to track you now

Google's Privacy Sandbox – an initiative that claims to simultaneously protect users' online privacy while also providing businesses with the information needed for targeted advertising – is getting a new feature that supposedly improves the latter without compromising the former. It's called Topics, and according to Google, it's meant to keep track of your potential interests without actively tracking your activity. Kind of.

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Chromebook Adaptive Charging aims for big gains in battery life

Chromebook Adaptive Charging aims for big gains in battery life

Chrome OS is specifically designed to cater to users who mainly rely on online tools for getting most of the work done on their PCs. Because of this web-first approach, Chromebooks often suffice with minimal hardware, which helps them achieve exceptional battery life. Now, Chromebooks are expected to receive a feature from Google's Pixel lineup to help them achieve a longer and healthier battery lifespan.

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Google Docs now lets you watermark your documents: Here’s how

Google Docs now lets you watermark your documents: Here’s how

Google Docs may be among the most feature-packed word processors out there, but until recently, it lacked the ability to do something as mundane as watermarking a document. That was until September 2021, when Google finally brought the ability to upload image watermarks. Even though this was better than having no option to watermark documents at all, people still longed for Google Docs to come up with the ability to create and add their own text-based watermark right from within the app.

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Leaked Google Pixel foldable clues point to a more affordable gadget

Leaked Google Pixel foldable clues point to a more affordable gadget

There is no denying that Google has been toying around with the idea of a foldable smartphone for a while now. Through 2021, we heard multiple reports of the company working on a much-talked-about device that even received an unoriginal name; the 'Pixel Foldable.' Towards the end of 2021, reports came in indicating that Google was no longer pursuing a foldable strategy and that the Pixel Foldable was essentially dead. This even prompted SlashGear' Ewdison Then to pen an op-ed elaborating why it would be a missed opportunity for Google, and the larger Android ecosystem.

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New Chromecast device leak hints at cheaper Google TV option

New Chromecast device leak hints at cheaper Google TV option

With Google juggling so many platforms, it's not easy to keep track of them, much less figure out which one will eventually get axed. This is even more uncertain on the entertainment and multimedia side, where Google has already retired a few services and platforms in the past years. Even the old Chromecast is not safe, with the advent of the Android-powered Google TV. Now it seems that Google might also be shifting away from the Chromecast's standard design, depending on which rumor you're willing to give credence to.

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Beijing Winter Olympics athletes warned to use burner phones: Here’s why

Beijing Winter Olympics athletes warned to use burner phones: Here’s why

China will be hosting the XXIV Olympic Winter Games in its capital Beijing starting February 4, 2022. Ahead of the multi-sport event, the country is taking excessive precautions to prevent the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 by tightening restrictions and mass testing of citizens using unusual and uncomfortable methods (via Insider). To curb the spread of COVID-19 through the athletes arriving in the country, the Chinese authorities will use an app called My2022 for COVID monitoring and contact tracing.

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Google Pixel 6a reveal may come sooner than expected

Google Pixel 6a reveal may come sooner than expected

If you love the Google Pixel 6 series, but don't really fancy spending at least $599 to get the Pixel 6, it might be a good idea to wait a few more months and get hold of the upcoming (and cheaper) Pixel 6a. The company is reportedly readying the Pixel 6a for launch a tad earlier than usual. Google typically refreshes its affordable Pixel A series devices in August of every year. However, 2022 may see that date pushed ahead to May, probably coinciding with this year's Google I/O conference. 

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This is the real voice behind Google Assistant

This is the real voice behind Google Assistant

When using Google Assistant, most of us don't even consider who the voice is coming from — after all, it's artificial intelligence, not a real person. Our virtual assistants, be it Siri, Alexa, or Google Assistant, are always at our beck and call, but we (for the most part) remain well-aware of the fact that they're just lines of code and intricate algorithms. But how would you feel if you knew that Google Assistant has a very human backstory?

In an interview with The Atlantic, James Giangola, the lead conversation and persona designer at Google, spoke about the Assistant at great length. When the team set out to create its AI-based assistant, they knew that the line between a cool, futuristic feature and a mildly creepy if uncanny voice bot is very, very thin. Google Assistant was never meant to seem human — that would just be disturbing — but she was meant to be just human enough to make us feel comfortable. To achieve that elusive feeling of somewhat reserved comfort, Giangola and his team went to great lengths to perfect the Assistant.

You'd think that just hiring a skilled voice actor would be enough, but there was much more to consider than just finding a pleasant voice. James Giangola set out on a quest to make the Google Assistant sound normal and to hide that alien feeling of speaking to a robot. In order to do this, he made up a lengthy backstory for the Assistant.

A robot with an extensive backstory

When searching for the right voice actress and then training her later on, The Atlantic notes that James Giangola came up with a very specific backstory for the AI. He did so because he wanted Google Assistant to appear real, and in order to give it a distinct personality, he gave the voice actress a lengthy background on the Assistant. First and foremost, the Assistant comes from Colorado, which gives her a neutral accent.

She comes from a well-read family and is the youngest daughter of a physics professor (who has a B.A. in art history from Northwestern University, no less) and a research librarian. She once worked for "a very popular late-night-TV satirical pundit" as a personal assistant. She was always a smart kid, she won $100,000 on the Kids Edition of "Jeopardy." Oh, and she also likes kayaking. Let's not forget: She's not real.

The need to create such a specific backstory may seem questionable, and it actually was questioned by James Giangola's colleagues. However, Giangola was able to prove his point during the audition process. When a colleague asked him how does anyone even sound like they're into kayaking, Giangola fired back: "The candidate who just gave an audition — do you think she sounded energetic, like she's up for kayaking?" And she didn't, which to Giangola meant that she wasn't the right voice.

Google aimed for 'upbeat geekiness'

Aside from nailing the exact tone of her voice, which The Atlantic described as "upbeat geekiness," the Assistant had to be trained to sound human not just by voice, but also by speech patterns and rhythms. In the interview, James Giangola talks about some of the different small changes that were made to take the Assistant from robotic to almost natural.

To illustrate the example, Giangola played a recording in which the AI had to contradict a user who wanted to book something on June 31. It had to be done in a delicate, natural-sounding manner that still delivers the required information. When prompted, the Assistant replied: "Actually, June has only 30 days," achieving the level of vocal realism Giangola was looking for.

Although the Assistant's intricate backstory may seem overkill, it seems to have helped Google find the right voice actress. According to Tech Bezeer, the main voice of the Assistant is Antonia Flynn, who was cast back in 2016. However, Google is not very forthcoming with information about who exactly voices each version of the Assistant, so this needs to be taken with a grain of salt. The information originates from Reddit, where a user was able to track Flynn down based on her voice, but only Google knows whether she really is the friendly AI inside our mobile devices.

Google just got terrible news in Europe – and it could get much worse

Google just got terrible news in Europe – and it could get much worse

Google was just hit by some very bad news coming from Europe, but the news may be even worse for website owners than for Google itself. In an unprecedented case, the court in Austria has just ruled that Google Analytics is in violation with the European data protection laws. As a result, Google Analytics has been made illegal in Austria.

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