Google today made several simple games available to play directly in search results. Performing a search for solitaire will bring up a playable version of the card game. Similarly, users can search for tic-tac-toe to strategize Xs and Os. Google also made a simple coin toss function available in search to help people settle bets. Google says more simple and fun games are headed to search in the near future. The games can be assessed via the desktop or mobile devices.
Samsung today announced a pink gold version of the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge. The new color will be available only at Best Buy stores in the U.S. For a limited time, customers who buy and activate the pink gold Galaxy S7 or S7 Edge from Best Buy will receive a $150 gift certificate to Best Buy. The pink gold handset goes on sale August 28. It will be available to AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless customers.
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WhatsApp today updated its terms of service and revealed plans to share data with its parent company, Facebook. The company says coordinating with Facebook will allow it to better track metrics to do things like fight spam. It will use the information for advertising purposes, as well. "By connecting your phone number with Facebook's systems, Facebook can offer better friend suggestions and show you more relevant ads if you have an account with them," explained WhatsApp in a blog post. Users will have the ability to opt out of sharing their data, but must do so proactively via WhatsApp's privacy tools.
Google recently updated its Google Drive and Google Play Music apps for Android devices, giving new features to both apps. Google Drive now allows people to set home screen shortcuts for their favorite or frequently-used files and folders. The update also makes it easier to control notifications and upgrade or change the storage plan. Google Play Music adds a sleep timer that people can use to control how long their device plays music. The app also features new control buttons and other minor tweaks. Google Drive and Google Play Music for Android are both free to download from the Google Play Store.
Google this week made its WiFi Assistant feature available to all Nexus devices. The tool is a direct carryover from Google's Project Fi. The WiFi Assistant lets Nexus owners automatically and securely connect to more than one million free, open WiFi hotspots that are certified by Google. Users won't be required to sign in or set up accounts to access the WiFi. Moreover, Google manages the connection and ensures it is protected. Google says the tool can help improve average connection speeds and lower monthly data consumption, regardless of which wireless carrier provides cellular service to the phone. The Google WiFi Assistant is available to Nexus devices in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Nordic countries. Google says it will roll out over the next few weeks. Project Fi relies on WiFi for calling and data, but also hops onto Sprint, T-Mobile, or U.S. Cellular when WiFi is not available.
Verizon Wireless plans to give its prepaid subscribers access to VoLTE services, including HD Voice and video calls in the near future. Prepaid customers will need to add HD Voice to their account before they can make HD calls, but the add-on will be free. Calls will be billed by the minute, even though they are routed over the LTE data network rather than Verizon's legacy voice network. HD Voice supports six-way conference calls, one- or two-way video calls, and WiFi calling. As always, both the handset making the call and the handset receiving the call need to have the feature enabled and must be connected via LTE for HD Voice to function properly. Verizon said it anticipates launching HD Voice for its prepaid customers early this fall.
Microsoft's Word Flow keyboard now features a search tool for finding GIFs, images, and emojis. The search functionality also allows iPhone owners to find contacts and look up restaurants. Microsoft says the app includes more predictions, including GIFs, that show up as users type. Word Flow now makes it possible to control the cursor placement with 3D Touch on the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. The app gains some accuracy improvements, particularly when in one-handed mode, and support for the iOS text replacement function. Last, Word Flow has even more themes that people can use to customize their keyboard. Word Flow from Microsoft is free to download from the iTunes App Store.
Sony today highlighted which devices it plans to update to Android 7 Nougat. Sony will make Nougat available to the: Xperia Z3+ and Z4 Tablet; Xperia Z5, Z5 Compact, and Z5 Premium; and the Xperia X, XA, XA Ultra, and X Performance. Sony said it is working to bring Nougat to these devices as quickly as it can, but reminds owners that availability will vary depending on region, carrier, and other factors. Sony will provide more detailed information as it becomes available.
Google today said it plans to change how it ranks mobile search results in a way that will make content easier to find and consume. First, the company will remove the "optimized for mobile" tag that often accompanies results. Google says 85% of mobile search results already meet this criteria and it is no longer necessary to call it out. Removing the label will declutter search results and allow more results to be seen. Google is already in the process of removing the tag. Second, Google is going after web sites that take advantage of mobile search to serve interstitial popup ads. Specifically, Google will de-prioritize the rankings of sites that a show a popup that covers the content; display a standalone interstitial that must be dismissed before accessing the content; or use a layout where the above-the-fold portion looks like a standalone interstitial. Google says such ad practices often frustrate users and don't promote a good mobile experience. Google will begin lowering the search rank of web sites that use these frustrating ads January 10, 2017. Google says some interstitials are okay, such as those that require age verification, or those that use a reasonable amount of screen space, and are easily dismissed.
Opera Software today launched a free VPN for Android devices that allows smartphone and tablet owners to browse the web more securely and access what might be prohibited content when using managed networks. The VPN removes ad trackers for privacy purposes and supports virtual locations (U.S., Canada, Germany, Singapore, and the Netherlands), which should let people get around some region-based restrictions. The VPN includes a WiFi tester that can detect the strength of WiFi security. If the VPN determines the network isn't secure, it will recommend users connect through the VPN. The WiFi sniffer also checks to see if the network its public or private, if it's encrypted, how many other devices are using it, if the IP address/location are exposed, and whether or not others can see your device. Opera imagines the VPN will be useful to students and office workers who are restricted from accessing social networks or other types of web sites when using campus or office WiFi. Opera VPN is free to downloaded from the Google Play Store. Opera made the same VPN available to iOS devices earlier this year.
Lenovo has agreed to install Microsoft's core productivity applications on some of its Android-based devices. The apps include Microsoft Office, OneDrive, and Skype. Lenovo said the productivity apps will reach millions of customers over the next few years. The agreement between Lenovo and Microsoft also includes a patent cross-licensing accord, allowing Lenovo to use Microsoft patents on its own devices, as well as those that carry the Motorola brand. Microsoft has patent-licensing agreements in place with most Android device makers. Terms of the arrangement were not disclosed.
Twitter today made its night mode tool available to devices running iOS. Twitter says night mode should make viewing the app in the dark less stressful on the eyes. The refreshed app includes a tool in the settings menu that, when activated, changes the background from white to a deep blue. Twitter for iOS is free to download from the iTunes App Store. Night mode has been available to Android devices since last month.
Google today made the final version of Android 7.0 Nougat available to developers, phone makers, and select devices. Google released the first developer build of Nougat earlier this year and has been refining the platform ever since. Today marks the official release of the platform, which moves out of beta. The next-generation mobile operating system includes support for Vulkan to improve graphics performance for games, but it also improves the Android runtime to speed up daily use. For example, apps should install 75% faster while requiring 50% less code. On the security front, Nougat introduces file-based encryption to better isolate and protect individual users. It also hardened the media framework to prevent attacks. Nougat offers seamless security updates that happen automatically in the background with no user action required. Google made improvements to the multitasking functions, with multi-window mode available to all. Nougat will show only the most recent seven apps and moves the "clear all" tool to the top of the screen to prevent accidental closings. Nougat overhauls notifications, providing direct control over silencing certain types of notifications. The platform adds Unicode 9.0 for an expanded set of emoji, including skin-tone variations. Last, Nougat bakes in more direct support for virtual reality. Nougat is available to the Nexus 6, 5X, 6P, 9, and Pixel C devices.
Walgreens today said Android Pay users can now incorporate their Walgreens Balance Rewards membership with the Google mobile payment service. Adding the loyalty account to Android Pay gives Walgreens customers the ability to earn points every time they pay with their mobile device, and can do so without requiring people to separately scan their Balance Rewards account card. Walgreens says Android Pay is accepted at some 8,200 stores. Walgreens Balance Rewards are already available to Apple Pay users.
AT&T today said it has signed an interconnect agreement with Cuba's Empresa De Telecomunicaciones De Cuba (ETECSA). The agreement will eventually allow AT&T customers to roam on ETESCA's network when traveling to Cuba. AT&T hasn't said when it will make such roaming available and will announce pricing at a later date. Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless already have similar agreements in place with ETESCA.
ZTE's flagship is an attractive piece of hardware that shows the company's A Game. The Axon 7 is a premium Android smartphone that costs less than some of the competition and yet performs just as well. Here is Phonescoop's full review.
Samsung says it will discontinue its Milk Music service in the U.S. on September 22. "We have made the strategic decision to invest in a partner model focused on seamlessly integrating the best music services available today into our family of Galaxy devices. We believe that working with partners will accelerate innovation, enhance device sales and provide amazing new experiences for our customers," said the company in a statement. Samsung built Milk Music using Slacker's library. The company created a unique, circular user interface for Milk and preloaded the app on its Android smartphones for several years. Samsung had a similar video service called Milk Video, but discontinued that service in November 2015. Samsung did not say what users of its Milk Music service can/should do with the app or their account once it is turned off. There are plenty of alternatives in the market, including Spotify, Google Play Music, and Apple Music.
A company called SolidEnergy Systems, a spinout from MIT, says it has new battery technology that will double the life of lithium-based power cells. The breakthrough involves a battery that replaces the traditional graphite anode with a thin, lithium-metal foil. The foil can hold more ions and thus more potential energy. Further, new chemistry protects the lithium-metal so it can be recharged frequently and used at normal temperatures. The company says it can create small batteries that provide as much charge as larger batteries, or it can double the life of larger batteries. Perhaps most importantly, SolidEnergy's technology was founded on a failed MIT startup called A123. SolidEnergy has taken over A123's Massachusetts-based facilities and claims it can mass produce the new lithium-metal batteries in volume. In fact, it plans to produce batteries for drones as soon as November, with batteries for smartphones to follow in early 2017. Battery-life breakthroughs are common in research settings, but often can't scale for use in the real world. SolidEnergy's technology and manufacturing progress appear to be further along than most.