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Google Chat goes free in 2021, while Hangouts loses features this month



OK, now that we’re all on the same page (right? everyone?) the first bit of news in the blog post is that Google Chat will go live for consumer accounts “starting in the first half of 2021.” The service started as a business-focused G Suite app (G Suite is now called “Google Workspace”), so access to Google Chat originally required you to pay for G Suite. But in 2021, it will be free for everyone. Google says it wants a “smooth transition” from Google Hangouts to Chat, and it will “automatically migrate your Hangouts conversations, along with contacts and saved history.”

The slow death of Hangouts

With the rise of Google Chat, Google Hangouts is going to die. Google initially announced this all the way back in 2018, and now we’re getting more details about the service’s slow shutdown and transition plans for the services that rely on it. We’ve already seen Hangouts lose location sharing and SMS support, and in the blog post, Google announced that phone calls, Google Fi support, and Google Voice support will soon be stripped away from the service.

First up is the loss of Google Fi SMS, which starts “in the next few weeks.” Google Fi can use your phone SMS app to send messages, but since it’s a real cell phone service, it could also get SMS messages through Hangouts. Hangouts has apps for Android, a Chrome extension, and two Web access points—Gmail and—so it was a super-easy way to use Google Fi. For Google users, it was also the home of their non-SMS messages, so you got everything in one convenient app. While Google Chat is taking over for Hangouts, it’s not picking up this bit of functionality. If you want Google Fi messages, you’ll soon need to use Google Messages, the Android SMS app.

Google Messages only has an Android app and a Web app. The Messages Web app currently works by forwarding data from your phone, so your phone needs to be on for it to work, and you have to log in by scanning a QR code from your phone. Google notes that Fi users will be able to use Web Messages “even when their phone is off,” so it sounds like normal login functionality will finally come to the service.

Google Voice is also losing Hangouts integration this month. Voice has its own phone apps and a Web app, and you’ll soon need to use those.

The death of phone calls in Google Hangouts is apparently because “new telecommunications regulations are being introduced in the EU and US beginning in 2021.” Google doesn’t explain what these new regulations are, but the timing lines up with an FCC mandate for VoIP services to include location with 911 calls by January 2021.

Google Chat is not terrible

Enlarge / The Google Chat Web app. It’s fine.

Ron Amadeo

This is all very reminiscent of the other big Google shutdown that’s going on right now: the transition from Google Play Music to YouTube Music. While YouTube Music is nowhere near ready and Google Music users can expect to lose loads of features, Google Chat is actually pretty good as a Hangouts replacement. For whatever reason, I already have access to it on my consumer Google account, and I’ve been free to message my existing Hangouts contacts. There aren’t any showstopping missing features, and the UI is modern and straightforward. It’s not ready yet mostly due to transition issues. I can’t participate in group chats, and I can’t add new contacts, just a certain number of my contacts have been flagged as Chat compatible. The core messaging looks great, though, and if both people are on Chat, you get great features like editing messages. It’s by no means a competitive service compared to messaging ecosystems that don’t get rebooted every two years, but if you just want to send messages and pictures back and forth across all your devices, it’s fine.

As with Google Music, though, Google is transitioning backward again by shutting down an old service faster than it’s building the new one. These transitions would go a lot smoother if Google made the new app fully functional first and then shut down the old app later after people have moved on. Slowly killing its existing apps without having a viable replacement ready doesn’t just feel bad; it opens the door for users to dump Google services completely.

While Hangouts is going to lose more features as soon as this month, we still don’t have a final shutdown date for the service.

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The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart will return in new Apple TV+ series



Enlarge / Jon Stewart appears in a segment on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert post-Daily Show retirement.

Former The Daily Show host Jon Stewart has signed a multiyear deal with Apple TV+ to write, star in, and produce a current affairs show that Apple and Stewart expect to run for multiple seasons, according to a report from The Hollywood Reporter.

Five years ago, comedian and commentator Jon Stewart departed his role hosting Comedy Central’s The Daily Show—just a year before his audience would have wanted him most, many have observed.

Since then, he has occasionally appeared to do small and infrequent segments on his former colleague Stephen Colbert’s The Late Show on CBS, he’s appeared in some media interviews, he directed one film, and he did a comedy tour with fellow topical comedian Dave Chapelle. Mostly, though, he has lived the family life at his farm in New Jersey.

This would be Stewart’s first regular TV commitment after his apparent retirement in 2015. The Hollywood Reporter describes Apple’s arrangement with Stewart as “an expansive, multi-year deal,” which will also give Apple dibs on other projects Stewart may develop.

According to the report, the new show will have an hour-long format, and each episode will focus on a specific issue of public concern. THR also says that Stewart will be “back in the anchor’s chair,” suggesting that the show will retain the newsdesk format of The Daily Show (which is now hosted by Trevor Noah) and its now-many imitators.

The series is expected to debut next year.

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Ubuntu Groovy Gorilla adds Raspberry Pi as a “first class citizen”



While the Pi has certainly served that educational purpose, its low cost, easy availability, and recognizable branding made it an immediate darling of the maker communities as well. Earlier versions of the Pi were not powerful platforms, but they were cheap, flexible, and ubiquitous—making them ideal for hacked-together little one-off projects for fun or convenience.

In much the same spirit that the maker community took a little educational device and turned it into their favorite general-purpose gadget, the Linux community has long been interested in trying to turn it into a desktop PC, with varying degrees of success. According to Upton, those efforts took on a dramatic uptick in March and April of this year in the UK. As both traditional PCs and Chromebooks became nearly unavailable due to demand for suddenly remote-schooled kids, the Raspberry Pi—which sells 600,000 to 700,000 units per month, making the Raspberry Pi Foundation one of the top-ten PC manufacturers—suddenly became a much more widely adopted alternative.

With a 64-bit quad-core Cortex A72 CPU at 1.5GHz, 4 or 8 GiB DDR4 RAM, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, and support for driving two 4K displays via micro-HDMI out—as well as hardware H.264 and H.265 decoding—the Pi 4 compares on paper pretty well with low-end traditional laptops. In fact, low-end laptops seem to be racing down to meet the Pi as fast as it’s rushing up to meet them, with cost-cutting measures like soldered RAM and eMMC storage.

Where the Pi 4 still comes up short for mainstream, non-geek appeal is the fact that it’s generally sold as a bare system board, which still needs an SD card, an operating system, and a case. But at $60—and in the midst of an otherwise supply-starved pandemic—those drawbacks begin seeming less important.

Collaboration between Canonical and the Pi Foundation

Wimpress told us that Canonical has now devoted several teams directly to Raspberry Pi 4 support—including kernel engineering, foundations engineering, and desktop teams for that platform. All teams are working directly with engineers at the Pi Foundation.

Upton says that the Canonical engineers “sync up” with their Raspberry Pi Foundation counterparts every couple of weeks, and the collaboration helps the Foundation do things in a more standards-based way—meaning in part that the Foundation’s own work adheres better to general Linux best practices, and in part that the work done to make Linux better on the Pi goes back upstream to the wider Linux community itself.

In addition to the general software engineering, Canonical brings significant hardware QA resources to the collaboration. With the Pi 4 now adopted as a first-class Ubuntu hardware platform, Canonical’s massive Taipei-based hardware QA department (where regression tests are done on thousands of hardware units, looking for problems) now includes a fleet of Raspberry Pi devices.

The Pi Foundation, in turn, now provides Canonical with pre-release samples of new hardware models, helping make sure that Ubuntu support for new hardware is top-notch on launch day for those new models instead of needing to play catch-up for several months afterward.

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Review: Walmart’s Core i5 Ice Lake laptop, back in stock at $500



Enlarge / It looks like the cow is judging me—but that’s OK, I’m about to judge the cow right back.

Jim Salter

The Ice Lake-powered GWTN156-1BL we’re reviewing today is one of an entire line of inexpensively manufactured, Gateway-branded laptops available exclusively at Walmart. We intended to review it last month, alongside its $350, Ryzen-powered little sibling the GWTN141-2—but it sold out so quickly we weren’t able to get our hands on one until Walmart refreshed its stock last week.

Although we’re really only looking at the $500 Ice Lake version today, we’ll include the specs for the $350 Ryzen-powered alternative as a refresher, since we expect a lot of people may hesitate between the two. Ultimately, both machines are at least reasonable purchases—but we think the cheaper GWTN141-2 is more compelling, despite being a wimpier machine overall.

At $350, there aren’t many laptop options available, and the GWTN141-2—despite its warts—comes out thoroughly on top. But at the GWTN156-1BL’s $500, the market opens up considerably. Major manufacturers such as Lenovo, ASUS, and Acer all offer pretty reasonable designs for $550 or less. The refurbished market, on the other hand, still isn’t very competitive—the best deals at under $600 tend to feature sixth-generation i5 CPUs which look paltry next to the Gateway’s low-end Ice Lake.

At this price point, we’re also getting closer to some compelling mainstream systems—such as Acer’s Aspire 5, which is better constructed and available with a considerably more powerful Ryzen 5 4500U for $610.

Specs at a glance: as reviewed
Gateway GWTN156-1BL Gateway GWTN141-2
OS Windows 10 Home Windows 10 Home (S mode)
Screen 15.6 inch IPS FHD (1920×1080, 210 nits) 14.1 inch IPS FHD (1920×1080, 190 nits)
CPU Intel Core i5-1035G1 AMD Ryzen 3 3200U
GPU Intel UHD for 10th generation CPUs AMD Vega 3
RAM 16GiB DDR4 (soldered, non expandable) 4GiB DDR4 (soldered, with one empty DIMM slot)
HDD 256GB M.2
(Foresee S345G256G)
128GB M.2
(Netac S539N)
Networking Intel 9461
1×1 Wi-Fi 5, Bluetooth 5.1
Realtek 8821CE
1×1 Wi-Fi 5, Bluetooth 4.2
  • 1x USB-C (charging + data)
  • 2x USB-A 3.0
  • 1x HDMI
  • 1x MicroSD card
  • 1x 3.5mm audio combo jack
  • 1x DC barrel jack
  • 1x Kensington lock slot
  • 1x USB-C (data only)
  • 2x USB-A 3.0
  • 1x HDMI
  • 1x MicroSD card
  • 1x 3.5mm audio combo jack
  • 1x DC barrel jack
  • 1x Kensington lock slot
Size 14.8″ x 9.6″ x 0.8″
(376 x 244 x 20mm)
13.1″ x 8.9″ x 0.8″
(333 x 226 x 21mm)
Weight 4.3 pounds (2.0kg) 3.5 pounds (1.6kg)
Warranty 1 year limited 1 year limited
Extras Fingerprint reader (in touchpad),
720P camera
Fingerprint reader (in touchpad),
720P camera
Price as tested $500 at Walmart $350 at Walmart


This Ice Lake-powered Gateway laptop is, first and foremost, a 15.6″ upscale of its less-expensive, 14″ Ryzen 3200U-powered cousin. It shares the same brightly colored but unusually soft plastic chassis, the same touchpad with integrated fingerprint reader, and the same port layout. The keyboard seems to be an exact repeat of the smaller laptop’s as well—but in this case, with a 10-key keypad grafted onto the side.

However, the newer device is significantly heavier, at 4.3 pounds—which isn’t entirely crazy for a 15.6″ laptop, but it’s heavy enough you might want to think twice before buying it for an aging parent or someone with weak or injured wrists. The extra weight also makes the flex of the plastic chassis more apparent than it was in the smaller, lighter version.

Although the keyboard looks like a jumbled mess, we found it pleasant to type with—there aren’t any particularly weird key placement issues, the arrow keys are full size, and there’s nothing strange going on with the Enter/Backslash keys. It was also noticeably, satisfyingly “clicky” and tactile—not necessarily the best choice for stealthy Internetting while a partner sleeps, but rewarding in its lack of keypress mushiness.

The overall appearance of the Gateway is a mixed bag—the branding is applied well and attractive, and in most light, the satin-finish plastic chassis looks reasonably nice. But we found that, under some angles and some light, a subtle and slightly off-putting rainbow effect was present in the finish.

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