A marketing campaign to get people in Africa to eat sweet potatoes? It’s working.

Random thoughts I have while looking at sweet potatoes:

“You’d look great as a plate of fries.”

“Honestly, who was the first to decide to put marshmallows all over you?”

“Wait. Are these yams?”

A thought I have never had: This type of potato saves lives.

As it turns out, they might actually do just that.

Welsy Anena’s mother is convinced that orange sweet potatoes saved her daughter’s life.

Not in a “thanks for the side dish, I was so hungry!” kind of way. In an actual life-saving way.

Her daughter, Welsy, had been so sick as a baby, and in and out of a Ugandan hospital sometimes in such serious condition, her mom didn’t know if she’d even make it. But when her baby started being fed orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, her health turned around and now she’s a vibrant, healthier kid. Whoa.

Her mom’s story isn’t the only one that depicts sweet potatoes as an edible hero.

You see, Welsy suffered from Vitamin A deficiency the leading cause of preventable blindness in developing countries. In Uganda, 1 out of every 3 kids under 5 suffers from Vitamin A deficiency, resulting in almost 30,000 child deaths every year. And that’s just in one country.

Orange sweet potatoes can help.

While orange sweet potatoes are common in the United States, they are very new in Africa.

For hundreds of years, Africans have had their own version of a sweet potato: white and yellow in color, very starchy and firm, and frankly, a terrible source of vitamin A.

That’s a heavy contrast from the type of sweet potatoes we find in our grocery stores in the U.S., where they are carrot-colored and known for their vitamins and nutrients, especially their vitamin A.

Researchers had an idea: If orange sweet potatoes combat vitamin A deficiency, what would happen if they could get communities to eat them instead?

Maybe it could help prevent blindness and death in kids. They’re finding out.

For the past 15 years, the International Potato Center (CIP) has been leading the way on introducing the orange-fleshed sweet potato in Africa.

It’s been an adventure and easier said than done. Africans initially scoffed at the idea of orange sweet potatoes. No way. The potatoes had a weird texture and weren’t what they were used to eating. They were also grown differently from their traditional type of sweet potatoes. All signs pointed to no. Can you blame them?

The research team from CIP took note and developed a starchier version of the orange sweet potato that still contained more vitamin A than other potatoes, but tasted more in line with what Africans were accustomed to.

Once they had the potato how they wanted it, they had to get people to want to eat it.

They created widespread marketing campaigns that, according to Smithsonian magazine, included radio advertisements and visits to villages in vehicles with sweet potatoes painted on the side.

They traveled around the region teaching about the sweet potato’s nutrition.

And showed the power of eating them through pictures and words.

They made sure to have a big presence at exhibitions and community-wide events.

Children’s songs were written and performed about the potatoes.

The campaign worked. And it’s still working today.

Today, the orange-fleshed sweet potato has reached 2.2 million households, which amounts to roughly 10 million people in Africa.

Scientists are super optimistic at the ability to reduce vitamin A deficiency through this new exposure to the potato. They project that by 2023, 30 million children could be saved from blindness and death because of it.

“We have evidence that eating 125g of orange-flesh sweet potato provides a child the amount of vitamin A required to prevent blindness from vitamin A deficiency,” wrote Joel Ranck, head of communications for the CIP, in an email. “125g is about the size of one small sweetpotato.”

It’s no wonder the research team, comprised of Dr. Jan Low, Maria Andrade, and Robert Mwanga from the CIP, and Howarth Bouis of Harvest Plus, just won the 2016 World Food Prize for their work on this initiative. Bravo!

Together they have built new excitement and hope surrounding child nutrition and preventable blindness in the 14 countries where the orange-flesh sweet potato is now available, with more countries to come.

Agnes Amony, a Ugandan farmer told Harvest Plus, “I began feeding my child on these nutritious foods following the knowledge I attained in the recommended feeding practices for children under five. My child began gaining weight steadily and I am in no doubt that these foods have saved my childs life. I am forever grateful and will never stop feeding my child on these food crops.”

Every step counts. Or, in this case, every bite.

See more on how the orange-flesh sweet potato could, in fact, change the world:

Read more: http://www.upworthy.com/

Google Flights update fixes one of the most annoying parts about booking air travel

LONDON, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 11: A British Airways aircraft takes off from the Southern runway at Heathrow Airport on October 11, 2016 in London, England.
Image: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Seemingly random price changes can be one of the most frustrating parts of booking a flight. Now, Google is making it easier to know when prices will change so you can get a better deal on airfare.

The company is updating its airline search tool with new features that predict fare changes and notify you about price changes for flights you’re interested in.

The new features are rolling out to the Google Flights website (the service still doesn’t have its own dedicated app yet) “in the coming weeks,” according to Google.

Once they do, the site will let you know how long until the current fare is expected to change when you’re browsing specific flights. The feature, which uses uses historical flight data to make its predictions, should make surprise price increases at least a little easier to avoid.

For cases when you don’t yet have a specific flight in mind, the service will also now provide “tips” for specific routes.

“Tips can include things like recommendations for alternate airports or dates,” Google Flights product manager Nabil Naghdy writes in a blog post. “You may also see a new tip telling you about an expected price jump based on historic prices for that route.”

Though Google’s flight-tracking service lacks a standalone mobile app, the company is making its mobile site a little easier to use with the ability to keep tabs on saved flights.

Similarly, Google is updating its hotel search with a new “deals” tab that shows discounted rates as well as when there are lower rates as part of a hotel’s loyalty program.

Read more: http://mashable.com/

Review: Google Pixel

I write about gadgets, which means everyone asks me what laptop or dishwasher or whatever to buy. I struggle with this, because the answer often starts with,“It depends.” Unless youaskabout a phone. In that case, I usuallysay get an iPhone.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Android. But the phones can be… frustrating. Clever features too often seem overwrought or poorly designed, or they’re buried beneath 15 Verizon apps on the homescreen. The iPhone is the Default Phone, the one you buy when you want a phone, not a project.

The Google Pixel changes that. It offers the look and competence of an iPhone, with a truly great camera and loads of innovative software and services. It changes my answerto the question I hear most often: What phone should you get?

You should get a Pixel.

Talk To Me

Google’s new phone arrivesThursday, starting at $650 for the Pixel and $770 for the Pixel XL. You can get itin blue, black, or silver, with 32 or 128 gigs of storage, from Google or from Verizon. You should buy it directly from Google, and soon. Most models already are backordered.

Not long after I got my Pixel XL, I flewto Colombia for a week’s vacation. It was a very Google-y getaway: I had a Project Fi SIM card, I kept my itinerary in Google Trips, and, given what Verizon charges for international data on my iPhone 7, I relied entirely upon thePixel because Project Fi gives standard rates in most countries.

Google Pixel

9/10

Wired

Google Assistant is the first voice assistant that really works. You can’t take a bad picture with the Pixel. So what if it looks like the iPhone? The iPhone looks great, and so does the Pixel.

Tired

Every phone should be waterproof, and this one isn’t. Good as it is, Assistant’s hardly flawless.

How We Rate

I’ve always loved Android because it felt so much more alive and connected than iOS. The sharing menus are smarter and more prominent, apps refresh in the background so they’re always up to date, and widgets and notifications are useful and interactive. But iOS was always so much simpler, with shallower learning curves. It’s dictatorial, but painless. The Pixel’s software doesn’t totally close that gap. It’s still too easy to clutter your homescreens with multiple versions of the same icon, and it’s still too hard to find cool features like the thing where you can swipe down on the fingerprint reader to see your notification shade. But the Pixel is the mostcoherent and cohesive Android ever.

I’ve always been an iPhone guy, honestly. I’ve used just about every flagship Android phone ever made and always returned to Apple. That’s partly because I bought an iPhone 4S in 2011 and signed up for iMessage, and leaving iMessage is a monumental pain in the ass.But mostly I liked having a phone I didn’t have to think about. The iPhone always offers great hardware, a good camera, fantastic apps, and data security. I don’t want to worry about my phone, or spend my time tinkering with it. My phone’s too important to risk any extra effort, or worse, unreliability.

But I’m switching. For real. I’m turning off iMessage, re-buying apps, and warning friends that I probably won’t get their texts for a few days. I am a little worried about Google’s long-term commitment to this new hardware push (and the customer support that comes with it), given itspropensity for killing productsthatdon’t get billions of users. But I’m totally in love with the Pixel. I love this camera, I love Google Assistant, I love that I’ll get to use it with a comfy VR headset, I love that I finally get a version of Android that is both powerful and attractive. I love that there’s a kickass Android phone that (probably) doesn’t explode.

The immediate joke everyone, including me, made on Twitter after the Pixel launch was that Google made an iPhone. Well, that’s true. As it turns out, an iPhone running Android is exactly what I’ve been waiting for.

Read more: http://www.wired.com/

The Google Pixel cameras may not be the best, but they’re really damn close

Both Pixel and Pixel XL have identical cameras: 12 megapixels on the back and 8 megapixels on the front.
Image: dustin drankoski/mashable

Before the mobs come out and put a hex on me, remember that photography and image quality is subjective. What looks better to me might not to you.

That said, let’s get on to the camera comparisons between Google’s new Pixel and Pixel XL and the iPhone 7/7 Plus and Samsung Galaxy S7/S7 Edge.

On paper, Google, Apple and Samsung’s flagship phones appear to have the same cameras: 12 megapixels on the back. The front cameras differ in resolution: 8 megapixels for the Pixels, 5 megapixels for the S7 Edge and 7 megapixels for the iPhone 7.

But as I’ve said a million times and I’ll say a million times more: megapixels (aka resolution) aren’t everything. Having more megapixels doesn’t make a camera necessarily better. Resolution matters, but if it’s at the detriment of image quality and performance, what’s the point?

To me, the best phone camera has to be a few things:

  • Fast to autofocus and capture: Because you don’t want to miss a shot.

  • Produce realistic colors with wide dynamic range: Because reality is not a comic book

  • Produce sharp details with little image noise: Because details matter.

  • Take great low-light photos: Because we like the dark and we like photos in dark places.

The iPhone 7 checks off all of these. Its cameras and image quality are well balanced across the board. The iPhone 7 Plus also has a fancy dual-lens camera that gives it 2x optical zoom and a fancy Portrait mode. Samsung’s Galaxy S7/S7 Edge is better with low-light performance and the camera is faster to launch and autofocus, but it also saturates colors more.

The Pixel and Pixel XL’s cameras falls somewhere in-between the iPhone 7 and Galaxy S7. They’re super fast. Images look incredibly crisp and have great dynamic range and low-light performance is damn good. So what’s not to like? I’m not a fan of the oversaturated colors, but that’s just me.

Testing method:

I left all camera settings on their defaults. In the past, I’ve always turned off HDR on all smartphone cameras before shooting with them, but I’ve now had to change that testing method since most people never bother to fiddle with them.

Not only that, but phones rely heavily on software processing to help produce the final photos. HDR+ is so vital to the Pixels’ final image quality that my reviewers guide actually warned me that turning it off would result in poorer-looking photos and slower camera performance. Yikes!

As such, all photos below were shot with HDR set to auto. I couldn’t tell you which ones actually had HDR on or off and I don’t really care because what you see is what the camera considered the best shot.

Way warmer tones

The Pixel cameras’ biggest weakness is color reproduction. Android is doing so much processing to the images that all the colors end up artificially pumped up and oversaturated. I’ve noticed it’s a common symptom that plagues most Android phones like the Galaxy S7 and LG G5 and OnePlus 3.

How is it that in 2016 no phone maker can match the iPhone’s realistic colors?

I personally don’t like the saturated colors. They don’t look real. Skies are always way too blue. Yellows are too deep. Reds all blend into each other. I’ll take photos with lifelike colors over saturated colors any day.

But if you’re into the boosted colors or crank up the saturation in post anyway, you’ll love the Pixel’s pictures.

Compare these two photos below. Just look at how much bluer the sky in the upper right corner is and how much more yellow the building is.

Galaxy S7 Edge

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

Pixel XL

Image: raymond wong/mashable

Here’s another example where the blues and yellows are dialed up on the Pixel:

Galaxy S7 Edge

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

Pixel XL

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

Turning off HDR+ mutes the saturation to some extent, but not by much. And turning HDR+ off on the Pixels isn’t worth it since the camera start to lag a little.

Though most photos are way warmer than on the iPhone, sometimes the rear camera goes cooler for some reason. There just isn’t much consistency for white balance:

iPhone 7

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

Pixel XL

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

But, at least the dynamic range is wider on the Pixel XL. The details on the fountain grass (that’s the fuzzy plant) are softer on the Pixel XL compared to the iPhone 7, but look at how vibrant the purple leaves below it look. The same leaves in the iPhone 7 photo look totally dull in comparison.

iPhone 7 (left) vs. Pixel XL (right).

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

Wider field of view

Compared with the iPhone 7, the Pixel XL’s camera has a wider field of view thanks to its wider angle lens.

In English, it means you can fit more into a photo. The Pixel XL’s wider angle lens makes it a more versatile camera for landscape photography.

It’s perfrect for taking photos of tall landscapes, like the Bank of America building below:

iPhone 7

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

Pixel XL

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

The Pixel XL and Galaxy S7 Edge have roughly the same wide field of view:

Galaxy S7 Edge

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

Pixel XL

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

Both photos look pretty sharp on their respective phone displays. It’s only when you view them at 100% crops on a computer monitor that you can really see some of the differences in sharpness.

The Galaxy S7 Edge (left) is a hair sharper than the Pixel XL (right). But just barely.

Image: raymond wong/mashable

Honestly, the differences in sharpness are so minor, nobody but a nerd like me would care.

You can see the Pixel XL (right) render the bricks more yellow compared to the S7 Edge (left).

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

Here’s another comparison showing how much more the Pixel XL cameras can capture:

iPhone 7

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

Pixel XL

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

And another close-up crop showing the barely noitceable sharpness differences:

iPhone 7 (left) vs. Pixel XL (right). Enlarge the image and you can see the Pixel XL is just a hair sharper.

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

Strong selfie game

As for selfies, I think the Pixel XL does a better job than the iPhone 7:

iPhone 7

Image: raymond wong/mashable

Pixel XL

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

My skin looks smoother and healthier in the Pixel XL selfie since it’s brighter:

100% crop of iPhone 7 (left) and Pixel XL (right).

Image: Raymond Wong/mashable

Shoots well in low light

The Pixel XL performs quite good night shots. As expected, photos are a yellower than the iPhone 7:

iPhone 7

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

Pixel XL

Image: raymond wong/mashable

You can click the below comparison to see how the Pixel XL stacks up against the iPhone 7 and Galaxy S7 Edge:

iPhone 7, Pixel XL, Galaxy S7 Edge

Image: raymond wong/mashable

Notice how the sky is more washed out on the Pixel XL photo and the Galaxy S7 Edge turns all the bricks on the building in the left red:

iPhone 7, Pixel XL, Galaxy S7 Edge

Image: raymond wong/mashable

The Galaxy S7 Edge preserves sharper details of the Empire State Building, but the image noise is greater, too:

iPhone 7, Pixel XL, Galaxy S7 Edge

Image: raymond wong/mashable

See that building just between the water tower and that skinny high-rise condominium on the upper right? The Pixel XL brings the green color out best, but the rest of the image is kind of a wash.

iPhone 7, Pixel XL, Galaxy S7 Edge

Image: raymond wong/mashable

Impressive video stabilization

While the camera attention is almost always focused on still photography, the Pixel XL boasts impressive video recording capabilities. Like most smartphones, it records at up to 4K resolution.

That’s nothing special. What is crazy is how well the camera stabilizes video. Phones like the iPhone 7 and Galaxy S7 rely on optical image stabilization (OIS) to compensate for shake in different directions, but the Pixels uses electronic image stabilization (EIS) to outstanding effect.

EIS is normally inferior to OIS, but not so on the Pixels. Through software even the shakiest footage appears smooth even smoother than the iPhone 7. Here’s a video stabilization comparison between the Pixel XL and iPhone 7 (both originally shot in 4K and then downsized to 1080p):

Best smartphone cameras ever?

I don’t think so, but they’re so damn close. The color saturation bothers me too much, but again, that’s personal preference. And that’s fine, too, because if you prefer the artificially amplified colors, then the Pixel cameras will be perfect to your eyes.

It feels like a total cop-out to say this, but we’ve reached a point where the differences outside of color reproduction between flagship phone cameras are so negligible that most people will be very happy with the image quality.

We’re all benefitting in the end. Android cameras have finally caught up to the iPhone with comparable performance and picture quality. Years of competition have pushed all phone makers to innovate harder and faster and now we’re all winning because we don’t have to look at crappy photos and videos.

Read more: http://mashable.com/

Uber’s drones were creepy, but online marketing might be worse

Image: Getty Images

Earlier this year, Uber deployed drones in Mexico City to hover near vehicles stuck in traffic while displaying advertisements for UberPOOL, the company’s carpool service.

The ads said a few different things about the advantages of sharing rides that two and a half years of commuting time could be saved, that “the city would be for you, not for 5.5 million cars.”

The marketing stunt managed to fly under the radar for a few months, but it blew up after Bloomberg published a photo of the drones last week. Outlets called them creepy, badgering, mocking and more. This all makes sense, because they’re disturbing as hell, like something the totalitarian Combine aliens would use to demoralize humankind in Half-Life 2.

To clarify, though, Uber has no grand plans to unleash an army of marketing drones on global civilization. A representative for the company told Mashable a handful of drones were sent out in Mexico City on a single day as a creative marketing exercise, and the company doesn’t plan to do it again.

There’s something kind of refreshing about the tenacity here.

Still, even as the drones remind us of the worst parts of Blade Runner, where a technologically advanced society is rotted by omnipresent marketing and industry run amok, there’s something kind of refreshing about the tenacity here.

We live in an era of ultra subliminal marketing, when algorithms on services like Facebook and Google are deployed to learn as much about us as possible for the sake of delivering content (including ads) with ruthless efficiency. Each of us is marketed to on a daily basis; perhaps without even thinking about it.

For crying out loud: We are at a point in time when we have to consider the very real ethical implications of autonomous carsthat could collect information about (and footage of) their surroundings for the sake of filling corporate coffers.

So, yeah, the drones were a little scary. But they were totally in your face (well, Mexico City’s face), which is certainly more than could be said of the creepy online marketing that pervades our daily lives. Comforting, right? Right!

Read more: http://mashable.com/

Google’s Assistant on the Pixel phone is better than Siri

The Pixel and Pixel XL’s Google Assistant is the future according to Google.
Image: raymond wong/mashable

Google’s new flagship Pixel and Pixel XL (read Mashable’s review here) arrive on Thursday. They’re pretty great phones if you can look past the snoozy designs and premium pricing.

They’re also the first and only phones with the Google Assistant, an intelligent digital assistant that’s constantly learning about you and tries to anticipate your needs.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai calls the Assistant “your own personal Google” and it’s clear the company plans to make it the center all its devices. It’s basically Siri on steroids. And though it’s still very new and limited in what it can do, because it has access to infinite information from Google Search, it’s already smarter than Siri or Cortana by a mile.

1. Better English comprehension

There’s nothing more frustrating than having to repeat yourself to a digital assistant because it didn’t understand you the first time. Or you paused to think, or changed your mind mid-sentence, and the assistant just left you hanging.

Google Assistant really understands conversational English. It almost never fails to understand what I’m saying and can correct itself even when I pause mid-sentence and change my query.

Siri, despite how much better it is today compared to 2011, still has a hard time recognizing the words I tell it. It’s especially worse if you have a strong accent. Google Assistant rarely ever has issues with English accents.

The only caveat to Google Assistant is that it only understands English and Hindi. More languages will no doubt be added in the future, but it sucks if you speak Chinese or Spanish, the first and second most-spoken languages in the world.

(Note: I only tried the Assistant in English as I don’t speak Hindi.)

2. Better answers

Google Assistant

Image: SCREENSHOT: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

Siri

Image: SCREENSHOT: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

You can’t beat the best search engine in town. (Sorry, Bing!) Using Google Assistant is essentially the same as typing in the Google search bar, except you just speak your search. Google Assistant knows 70 billion facts and it’s constantly learning more.

Google Assistant was able to answer a simple trivia question like “How old is the Taj Mahal” but Siri just showed me its location map from Foursquare. That’s not what I asked for, Siri.

3. Universal translator

Google Assistant

Image: screenshot: raymond wong/mashable

Siri

Image: SCREENSHOT: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

Google Translate is really great, but typing out what you want translated is a pain. Same is opening an app.

With Google Assistant, you can just say “Translate ______ in [insert language]” and you’ll get instant results read right back to you.

It’s basically like having Star Trek’s universal translator.

Siri can’t translate any language.

4. Easily find videos on YouTube

Google Assistant

Image: SCREENSHOT: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

Siri

Image: SCREENSHOT: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

It should come as no surprise the Google Assistant can find videos on YouTube better than Siri can. Google owns YouTube, after all.

Ask the Assistant to “show the Pen Pineapple Apple Song” or “Show the Nyan Cat Song” or “Show me the new Rogue One trailer” and it’ll find the exact one on YouTube.

Siri misheard “Nyan” for “Yan” and “Indiana cat” before it got it right. For what it’s worth, even though it thought I said “Yan cat” it still showed a bunch of Nyan Cat vids from Bing. Siri also opens iTunes when you ask for a song like PPAP.

5. Find upcoming events

Google Assistant

Image: SCREENSHOT: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

Siri

Image: SCREENSHOT: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

Finding fun things to do is a chore. Nobody wants to spend time doing “research”. That’s why it was so great to see the Google Assistant help find things for me.

Based on my location and time, it was able to show me a list of upcoming concerts and museum art exhibitions.

Siri just searched Bing for some articles that I’d have to comb through. Ugh.

6. Takes selfies on command

Here’s the situation: You spot Kim Kardashian and only have a second to take a selfie. Which digital assistant can you count on to snap a fast one? Google Assistant or Siri?

I have to go with Google Assistant. If I ask it to take a selfie, it launches the camera app and starts a 3-second timer and then snaps a selfie.

Ask Siri and it just launches the camera app and switches to the front-facing camera, but it doesn’t take the photo.

Sorry Siri, but Google wins again.

7. Searches apps

Image: SCREENSHOT: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

Image: SCREENSHOT: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

Google Assistant has all the capabilities of Google Now on Tap, which means it’s capable of searching the screen for related information and serving up images, links, videos and more.

Siri, sadly, has no such contextual brainpower.

Read more: http://mashable.com/

Google’s Pixel phones tick off all the checkboxes, but its design is uninspiring

The Pixel XL (top) and Pixel (bottom).
Image: dustin drankoski/mashable

Google couldn’t have picked a better time to hit reset on its flagship phones. Samsung’s Galaxy Note7 is literally burning up in flames, and that’s created a gaping hole in the premium Android market.

The company’s new Pixel and Pixel XL replace the Nexus phones. The names are new and they’re positioned as premium phones, but, make no mistake, they still stick to the Nexus mission: to offer the very best and purest experience of Android and Google services that you can get.

Which isn’t to say the Nexus phones were flawless. The problem with Nexus wasn’t bad hardware (last year’s 5X and 6P were the best Nexus phones yet) or poor software (stock Android will always be superior to any custom skins), but that they never moved outside of the geek circle: Google barely marketed them, and they never really sold at scale. Most consumers still don’t know what a Nexus is.

To many people, Android equals Samsung. And for good reason: Samsung’s Galaxy phones (when they’re not exploding) are incredibly well-made. The company makes dozens of different models, and Samsung shipped more than 300 million phones worldwide last year.

That’s an empire, but without the Note7, Samsung has a empty spot at the top of the line. Android needs a new king can the Google Pixel fill the void left by the Note7?

The Pixel XL (left) has a 5.5-inch screen and the Pixel (right) has a 5-inch screen.

Image: DUSTIN DRANKOSKI/MASHABLE

With the Nexus, Google trapped itself into a corner with price. Consumers got used to expecting midrange prices for a premium phone. The Pixels, by contrast, are priced like iPhones.

The Pixel starts at $650 for a 32GB of storage and the Pixel XL starts at $770 for 32GB. Both are also available with monthly financing plans starting at $27 per month paid over 24 months.

In the U.S., the Pixels are available from the Google Store and at Verizon stores. Verizon’s Pixels come with three pre-loaded apps, which are fortunately removable, but otherwise, they’re carrier unlocked and identical to the ones sold from Google.

They come in three colors: “Quite Black,” “Very Silver” and a limited edition “Really Blue.” Obvious digs at the iPhone 7’s pretentious color names aside, I tested out the Quite Black Pixel XL and let me tell you, it is not quite black. The color is more gunmetal or dark gray. It still looks nice, but it’s nowhere near as sleek and stealthy as, say, a Jet Black or Matte Black iPhone 7 or a Black Onyx Galaxy Note7 (RIP).

Looks nice, but doesn’t inspire

Image: DUSTIN DRANKOSKI/MASHABLE

Everyone who has seen the Pixel XL says it looks just like an iPhone. I don’t really see it.

Sure it’s got some similarities like the aluminum body, visible antenna bands and rounded corners, but all phones now look like that. Save for the extra large pane of glass covering two thirds of the backside, the Pixel XL hardware is as generic as a premium phone gets.

Like the past Nexus phones, the Pixel XL is made by another company. In this case, HTC’s manufacturing it and Google takes full credit for its design as evidenced by the “G” logo on the back and no HTC logo anywhere to be found.

Fingerprint sensor

Image: DUSTIN DRANKOSKI/MASHABLE

Textured power button

Image: DUSTIN DRANKOSKI/MASHABLE

There’s nothing wrong with the Pixel XL’s hardware; it’s a nice metal phone. But there’s also nothing that jumps out and surprises like the Jet Black iPhone 7 finish or the curved glass edges on the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge (and the now dead Note7). Those phones exude luxury and tempt you to caress them every single time. The Pixel XL just is.

When you’ve seen phones like the OnePlus 3 that cost hundreds less and also come with solid metal designs, the Pixels, despite their sturdy construction, just don’t inspire.

But looks are just one reason to buy a phone. Usability is another. The Pixel XL is pretty manageable for a phone with a 5.5-inch screen. It’s a smidge larger than the S7 Edge and way easier to hold and use with one hand than any Plus-sized iPhone. The Pixel has a smaller, more manangeable 5.2-inch 1080p screen.

Performance and power all day long

The Pixel XL’s not lacking in specs. It’s got a large and bright Quad HD screen (2,560 x 1,440) and a big 3,450 mAh battery that’ll last you up to two days. The Pixel XL is definitely a marathoner and not a sprinter. The Pixel’s got a smaller 2,770 mAh battery. Both phones also support quick charging to get up to 7 hours of battery life with a 15-minute boost.

It’s got the newest Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor with 4GB of RAM and comes with either 32GB or 128GB of storage. I don’t recommend buying 32GB since there’s no memory card slot to add more storage later.

The Pixel XL is definitely a marathoner and not a sprinter.

On the other hand, the Pixels do come with unlimited full-resolution photo and video storage with Google Photos, so if you’re planning to stash everything in the cloud, maybe 32GB will be enough. But even with the premium Google Photos storage, I wouldn’t get 32GB since apps keep getting larger; if you’re buying a premium device, you can afford to pay extra for storage.

The rest of the Pixel XL is pretty similar to the Nexus 6P. There’s a fast-working fingerprint sensor on the back (doubles as a touchpad to bring the notifications shade down with a swipe), identical power and volume buttons on the right side and a reversible USB-C port on the bottom.

The Pixels come with USB-C ports and support fast charging.

Image: DUSTIN DRANKOSKI/MASHABLE

The mono speaker is a bit of a downgrade compared to the Nexus 6P now that they’re both downward-facing instead of front-facing stereo speakers. The Pixel XL’s speakers can get loud, but when even the iPhone 7 has at least one front-facing speaker and a stereo setup, it’s a little disappointing. But hey, at least there’s a headphone jack. That’s meaningful in 2016.

The phones ship with Android 7.1 Nougat, which comes with some new features like split-screen, better notifications, more emoji and customizable quick settings. Daily performance is as I expected: fast and smooth with no noticeable lag opening apps or multitasking. And you’ll have no issues playing playing 3D games like the usual graphic-intensive Asphalt 8 and N.O.V.A. 3 or Pokmon Go (if you’re still playing it).

Other neat little gems include the GIF keyboard and Night Light (works just like iOS’s Night Shift mode and adjusts the screen to a warmer color temperature for nighttime use).

The Pixels run Android 7.1 Nougat and come with a new “Pixel Launcher” that no longer has the app drawer icon; it’s been replaced with a ^ swipe up.

Image: DUSTIN DRANKOSKI/MASHABLE

The most notable aesthetic change is the home screen. Google’s app icons are now round, the search bar is tucked inside of an oblong “G” icon that floats in the upper left, and the app drawer icon is no longer an icon that hogs up a spot on your dock (it’s been replaced with a “^” that brings up all your apps with a swipe up). They’re all fairly minor tweaks, but they make for a more pleasant Android experience.

Alongside all your regular Google apps, the Pixels also come with Allo and Duo. Allo replaces Hangouts (which is disabled by default, but can be enabled from the Play store) and Duo is basically Google’s FaceTime.

A digital assistant that’s actually smart

More than the hardware, newest version of Android or great cameras, Google strongly believes AI is the next frontier after mobile.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai said AI will tie all devices together and the company is uniquely positioned to dominate because of its heavy investment in machine learning. Google’s been building towards its Google Assistant with Google Now for years and now it’s here. As a built-in feature, it’s exclusive to the Pixel phones (and Google Home), and it stomps all over Siri.

As Pichai said on stage during the Pixel’s unveil event, Assistant is “your own personal Google.” It’s constantly learning things, and it can intelligently anticipate what you want to do next.

Image: screenshot: raymond wong/mashable

Image: SCREENSHOT: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

To activate the Assistant, you press and hold the home button. (This action was previously reserved for Google Now on Tap, which has now been absorbed by the Assistant.) And then you just start talking to it. Your requests show up in a chat-like interface, which I guess is supposed to make it feel more like you’re talking to someone on the other end. You can still say “OK, Google” if your screen’s unlocked, but that’s still lame, especially in public.

The Assistant is pretty quick to answer. It rarely misunderstood what I was saying and corrected itself on the fly even as I stuttered through some of the queries.

It understands all the general voice commands like “What’s the weather?” and “Give me directions to the Grand Hyatt,” but most importantly, it understands conversational English and understands it well.

For example, you can say “I’m hungry” and the Assistant will show some nearby restaurants. Or say, “Show me the Pen Pineapple Apple song,” and it’ll bring up the viral song and video from YouTube. It’s also hilarious to ask for photos, which it’ll either search for on the web or yank from your Google Photos (if it detects any relevant ones). Try “Photos of dogs with hats” to get a fun laugh.

I asked the Assistant what Trump’s latest tweet was…

Image: SCREENSHOT: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

…and it launched Twitter to show me.

Image: screenshot: Raymond wong/mashable

It’s still weird to talk to the Assistant (just like it was weird to talk to the Amazon Echo’s Alexa in the beginning) instead of just going into an app and doing things yourself, but once you get used to this new way of oral computing and realize how much time you’re saving, I think there will be no going back. Years from now, we’ll all be laughing at how we spent time opening Chrome up to look someone up or Google Maps to get home.

Google’s Assistant is still a newborn, but it’s already fulfilling what Siri promised.

Stunning photos, except for one thing

The Pixels have identical cameras: 12.3 megapixels on the back.

Image: DUSTIN DRANKOSKI/MASHABLE

Google says the Pixels have the best smartphone cameras, period; DxOMark, an industry-respected imaging benchmark, gave it a score of 89, the highest of any smartphone camera.

That said, a high score is what you aim for when you’re playing Pac-Man, but mostly nonsense when it comes to determining the best smartphone camera.

I mean, when the HTC 10 has the same score as the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, and the Sony Xperia Z5 one of the worst-tested smartphone cameras in Mashable’s 2015 ultimate smartphone camera shootout scores higher than the iPhone 7, I was highly skeptic.

Having tested every single flagship phone this year (crazy, right?), I can tell you unequivocally it’s harder than ever before to crown any one phone’s cameras the best there is. The best will be decided over the nerdy details and, honestly, nobody but nerds care that much.

If you want to really see how well the Pixel cameras compare to the iPhone 7 and Galaxy S7 Edge, check out our in-depth camera comparison here where you’ll find more sample photos and more close-up side-by-sides. It may surprise you just how good the Pixel cameras are, especially if you’re more forgiving on when it comes to color reproduction.

I couldn’t find many photos that looked like potatoes out of the hundreds of shots I took.

For a 2016 flagship phone, the Pixel XL’s cameras are exactly where they need to be. They’re wicked fast to focus, shoot and save (even with HDR+ processing turned on). Details are crisp and detailed from the 12.3-megapixel back and 8-megapixel front camera and the back camera excels in low-light situations with little to complain.

Reviewing the photos on the Pixel XL’s screen, I couldn’t find many photos that looked like potatoes out of the hundreds of shots I took. That’s really impressive and Google should give itself a huge pat on the back for really improving the cameras.

The back camera’s only real weakness is color accuracy. The camera still tends to oversaturate colors with warmer tones. So shots look way yellower, redder and greener than they really do in real life. Some people like this artificial color boost since they really pop off the phone’s AMOLED screen, which is made for more saturated colors, but I prefer the iPhone 7’s more life-like colors.

Way warmer tones

Galaxy S7 Edge

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

Pixel XL

Image: raymond wong/mashable

Though most photos are way warmer than on the iPhones, sometimes the rear camera goes cooler for some reason. There just isn’t much consistency for white balance:

iPhone 7

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

Pixel XL

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

Pixel XL has wider lens that fits more into a shot

iPhone 7

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

Pixel XL

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

I also like the camera app’s “pro” controls. Adjusting exposure is an easy swipe up and down on the screen after tapping on a focus point and there are various white balance settings. I wish it had more settings like ISO and shutter speed, but I’m in the minority when it comes to wanting manual controls.

Other clever and useful camera features include ways to quickly launch the camera. Double-tap the power button when the screen is off or from the lock screen, double-tap power button from home screen or while in an app to launch the default camera app or a preset third-party camera app like Snapchat, and double twist to switch between from and selfie camera in default camera app.

There’s also a really neat Google Photos-integrated feature called Smartburst that automatically creates a GIF from a burst of photos, saves all the individual shots and even picks out the best one for you.

As for selfies, I think the Pixel XL does a better job than the iPhone 7:

Skin tones

iPhone 7

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

Pixel XL

Image: raymond wong/mashable

The Pixel XL performs quite good night shots. As expected, photos are a yellower than the iPhone 7:

iPhone 7

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

Pixel XL

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

The Galaxy S7 Edge preserves shaper details of the Empire State Building, but the image noise is greater, too:

iPhone 7, Pixel XL, Galaxy S7 Edge

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

While the camera attention is almost always focused on still photography, the Pixel XL boasts impressive video recording capabilities. Like most smartphones, it records at up to 4K resolution.

That’s nothing special. What is crazy is how well the camera stabilizes video. Phones like the iPhone 7 and Galaxy S7 rely on optical image stabilization (OIS) to compensate for shake in different directions, but the Pixels uses electronic image stabilization (EIS) to outstanding effect.

EIS is normally inferior to OIS, but not so on the Pixels. Through software even the shakiest footage appears smooth even smoother than the iPhone 7:

Maintaining the status quo

Image: DUSTIN DRANKOSKI/MASHABLE

In the past, Google showed up to what were essentially gun fights with Samsung and Apple with a knife.

The Nexus phones, as highly coveted by geeks as they were, couldn’t really compete with any Galaxy phone or iPhone. Whether it was materials or cameras, the Nexuses always fell short somewhere. The Nexus 5X and 6P weren’t perfect, but they had enough polish and the pricing was so good.

If Google wants to really play in Apple’s playground, it’s going to have to try harder next year.

With the Pixels, Google has basically rebadged the Nexus, tossed in the new Assistant and jacked up the price to match the iPhone.

In my opinion, the Pixels aren’t compelling enough compared to more affordable premium phones like the OnePlus 3 outside of the Assistant. Is that enough to justify a premium? Not yet if you ask me.

Google could have fiercely charged through the door and laid smackdown on the iPhone 7 and Galaxy S7 Edge, but it didn’t. Instead, it just played things safe and maintained the status quo.

The Pixels don’t have groundbreaking designs that would make anyone line up outside a Verizon store just to be the first to have them. They’re fine phones and I’m positive the Assistant will only grow to become more useful, but they’re just not exciting enough or inspiring enough.

If Google wants to really play in Apple’s pricey playground, it’s going to have to try harder next year.

Pixel and Pixel XL

The Good

Fast cameras take sharp photos Incredible electronic image stabilization for video Terrific battery life Super smart, convenient Google Assistant Has a headphone jack

The Bad

No water-resistance Bland generic design Costs as much as iPhone No memory card slot

The Bottom Line

Google’s Pixel and Pixel XL have everything you could want in a flagship phone but a first-class design that makes you lust.

BONUS: The best parts of Pixel

Read more: http://mashable.com/

Google Search now lets people book a cab with Ola and Uber in India

Image: AP

Next time you want to book a cab in India with Uber and Ola and also compare their fares just make a Google search.

Google announced today that it is making it easier for Indians to book a cab on the two ride-hailing services. Users can get a cab to any place by just making a Google search about it with their phone.

Searching for “Taxi to Noida” on Google, for instance, now includes an option to book a cab with Ola and Uber. The page also includes the estimated fare as well as estimated pick up time with distance and traffic details. One can also search for “Ola to Noida”, or “Uber to Gurgaon”, in case one prefers one brand over the other.

However, a user needs to have Uber or Ola app on their phone to make use of this feature as thats where they are directed to from Google search. In case one doesnt have the concerned app installed, Google search page instead directs them to the Play Store listing for that app. The feature was also made available in Google Maps earlier this year.

Image: Manish Singh / mashable

Google says it has worked with Ola and Uber to make this option available. The feature illustrates how both the companies are increasingly trying to make it easier for people to get a cab.

Earlier this month, Ola announced that users on its platform can book a cab even when they dont have a working data connection. Through this, when a user is on a spotty network, the app asks them if they would like to use SMSs to book the cab.

Uber has also made efforts to made it easier for people in India to book a cab. In August, the company announced that people can book a cab on its platform through the mobile website without downloading the app. It also announced a feature that lets people book a cab for their friends.

Choosing the best transit option can be a task at times, our aim is to help users simplify their everyday travel. With this, users will be able to order, explore and make quick comparisons about the best estimated taxi fare directly from Google Search results on their mobile, said Sanket Gupta, Program Manager, Google.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2016/10/19/book-uber-ola-cab-google-search-india/