Back when I reviewed the Razer Phone 2 at its launch in October, I tied the phone into a song – Steely Dan’s Do it again because it felt basically like that’s exactly what Razer had done with the Razer Phone 2, it went back (Jack) and did it again, refining quite nicely the original criticisms that had existed with the first Razer Phone. So the song I’ve chosen to mark the release of Android Pie to the Razer Phone 2 is the famed Pink Floyd piece “Welcome to the machine”.
“But Adrian, just WHY?!” I hear you ask. Well dear readers, because it’s what immediately jumps to my mind with the latest version of Android and I’ll explain why. In general, I kind of stopped paying attention to new OS versions since the Marshmallow iteration a few years back which Google released. Mainly because it had what I thought was probably the last major missing feature in the Android ecosystem – app permissions. Now however, I’m finding there is a feature that I never knew was missing, but the more I use it, the more I realise how much I NEEDED it. Welcome to AI in your phone. That’s right, Skynet didn’t start out life being developed by Cyberdyne Systems, I’m pretty sure it is beginning life as Android Pie from Google – Welcome to the machine.
So as of Valentine’s Day, I’ve had access to a beta (technically the 1400 MB Release Candidate) build of Android Pie for the Razer Phone 2 and I’m told the final version will be released on the 27th of February 2019 to users that have a (presumably unlocked) Razer Phone 2 in the US and Europe.
Razer Phone 2 – Android Pie Highlights
The functionality set of Android Pie is well known by now. I’d kind of given up on smartphone innovation in recent years after the Red Hydrogen One underwhelmed me to the point of cancelling my pre-order. My expectation had been that the next major device convergence innovation to come to phones would be a camera good enough to replace a DSLR/mirrorless dedicated shooter. Well, I’m still waiting for that and no doubt will be for a while but one thing is clear, AI is coming and from the few days I’ve spent with it on my Razer Phone 2, it’s actually quite useful thank you very much.
Initially sceptical, I’ve realised how prophetic some of the lyrics from the song have been in relation to Android Pie:
- It’s alright we know where you’ve been? Check.
- It’s alright we told you what to dream? Check.
I can almost picture the dull throbbing sound underlying the Pink Floyd track as the internals of my Razer Phone 2, thusly enhanced with “AI”.
What we have is a system which is actually quite effective at realising when its default behaviour doesn’t fit in with its user’s workflow. As I’ve used the phone since the upgrade, all manner of little customisations get asked of me and although initially I was probably rejecting them out of hand I realised that actually, yes Android, I don’t want an actual notification on my phone for my next meeting to take me into the calendar app, I just need a buzz to realise that it’s time for my next meeting. It’s an odd feeling. Humans have had decades of learning how to work with machines and now they are getting smart enough that they’re able to ascertain (within certain parameters obviously) how their owners want them to work.
Smarter is better. Battery life is improved since Android now learns which apps you use regularly and to keep active despite being in the background vs apps which you use rarely or as a one off and so it will stop them from constantly pinging for location once you’ve exited the app etc.
Other points of the release include the obvious gesture navigation (which can be disabled of course) and the other major piece I’d say is important, a Digital Wellbeing dashboard. We all know that we use our phones too much. From the millennials I see in my workplace who spend their entire lunch hours with earphones plugged in watching Netflix and trying to find a date on Tinder to the Candy Crushers I see on my daily commute. The phone can now tell you just how bad you’ve been with your device, how many hours you used your phone, what for and how many unlocks and notifications you had.
It’s quite shocking that even though I consider myself a low user of my phone compared to many, I had 116 notifications during the course of the day. You can then tweak the settings to disturb you less and setup a wind down mode to turn the screen grayscale and then disable notifications overnight to let you get a good night’s sleep. I personally don’t find the wind down settings granular enough since I’m not sure I want a grayscale phone until 11am on weekends but I also don’t want do not disturb to end earlier on those days too. I’d also probably like different wind down hours on weekday evenings vs. weekends but it’s an interesting premise. Maybe I’ll give it a go and see how it works.
In general I regard it as a good thing that the major phone/mobile OS makers are introducing ways to self-police our usage of the devices as it brings awareness to what many people don’t regard as an issue.
For now though, the AI elements of Android Pie are a welcome advance on my Razer Phone 2. There’s no single standout feature like app permissions in Marshmallow, it just makes the phone more… mine and to my mind that’s a good thing.