Google Roundup: Five Useful New Features For Google's Apps And Devices

What’s new for Google’s apps and devices.Credit: Alexas Photos/Pixabay

Chromecast, the Assistant and Android Auto get useful new features and the blob emoji are back. Here are some of the changes Google rolled out recently.

The Assistant resurrects Google Now

Back in the day, Google Now provided a daily collection of reminders, weather and traffic reports, events on your schedule and more. It was extremely useful if you took the time to customize it so it brought you just the information you needed to navigate through your day.

Google Now is gone, but the purpose it served has returned via the Assistant with a new feature called “Visual Snapshot” that is rolling out now. Visual Snapshot is accessed through an icon that looks like a radiant inbox in the upper right corner of the Assistant app. Tap the icon to see what the Assistant can tell you about the rest of your day.

Visual Snapshot can interact with both Google and third-party apps to corral information from a variety of sources into one convenient location. Note that you’ll have to give Google permission to access a lot of your personal information if you want to make maximum use of Visual Snapshot.

Chromecast’s new Ambient Mode.Credit: Kevin Murnane

Ambient Mode brings a low-bandwidth option and new customization features to Chromecast’s rotating images

Chromecast has a new Ambient Mode that gives the user an expanded set of customization options for controlling the images that rotate when nothing is being streamed. The images are varied and often gorgeous, but they can also be a problem if you have a low bandwidth connection. A new low-bandwidth option can help with that.

To enable the low bandwidth option, tap the menu icon (three vertical dots) in the upper right corner of the Chromecast card in the Home app and select Ambient settings > Experimental. You’ll find a toggle to turn low-bandwidth mode on or off.

Ambient Mode also lets you feed the picture carousel with images from several new sources. Photo frame adds pictures to the carousel from a Google Photos album. The Experimental section has options to draw images from Facebook or Flickr.

Other customization options in Ambient Mode include,

  • Superimposing time or local weather over an image.
  • Showing the owner of an image’s name and the album where it’s located.
  • Controlling the slideshow speed in increments ranging from 10 seconds to 10 minutes.

You can also browse through the last five images shown in case you saw something you liked and want to know more about it.

The blob emoji are back.Credit: Google

Google’s blob emoji return

Google replaced its blob emoji with the traditional circular variety when it released Android O. The blobs returned as a sticker pack in Allo but Allo hasn’t been successful. Now they’re back again as sticker packs for Gboard and Android Messages. The pack includes both static emoji and animated stickers.

The Assistant gets precision music control across all devices

Android Central reports that precision music transport controls are available from the Assistant across all devices. Now “fast forward 25 seconds” or “rewind 6 minutes” will do just that. Previously, only the Assistant in Google’s Home devices was capable of this level of fine control.

Waze comes to Android Auto for phones.Credit Waze

Waze comes to the Android Auto app

Waze was added to Android Auto for in-car displays last July and now it’s finally available for the Android Auto app on phones. Whether you’re using Android Auto on a head unit or a phone, Waze lets you

  • Launch navigation by tapping on a pre-programmed destination or by saying “OK Google” to wake up the Assistant.
  • Get video and audio alerts about upcoming problems and find alternate routes on a large map.
  • Access your personalized Waze experience and view your ETA panel.
  • Report accidents, road hazards or traffic jams through a visual report menu.

Waze for Android Auto is available for Android 5.0 (Lollipop) and up and is optimized for use with a car dock.

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