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printed January 20, 2017
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AT&T Bumps Activation Fee from $20 to $25

Today, 9:39 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T confirmed to Phonescoop that it has raised the cost of activating a new line of service and upgrading an existing line from $20 to $25. The increase is effective today, according to AT&T. The increase was first reported by Droid-Life. AT&T's move follows closely a similar increase made by Verizon, which bumped activation fees from $20 to $30. Activation fees are largely seen as a way for carriers to pad profits.


Review: Fabriq Alexa-Connected Speaker

Today, 8:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

The Fabriq is a Bluetooth speaker that works with Amazon's Alexa voice-powered assistant. The Fabriq is not as powerful as a full-fledged Amazon Echo, but it's a heck of a lot more portable. Here is Phonescoop's in-depth review.

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Google to Shutter Old Versions of Drive for Android and iOS

Yesterday, 3:32 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today warned that it intends to shut down old versions of Google Drive, Docs, Sheets, and Slides for Android and iOS devices. On April 3, Google will shutter Drive version 2.4.311 and Docs, Sheets, and Slides versions 1.6.292 for Android devices. Similarly, it will can Drive version 4.16 and Docs, Sheets, and Slides versions 1.2016.12204 for iOS devices. Google says people still using these legacy versions of its core productivity apps will be prompted to update them beginning March 1 and all functionality will cease a month later. Google said the change won't impact the web/desktop variants of these apps. The search giant encourages users to update to the latest versions of these apps as soon as possible.


Samsung Galaxy S7, Myriad Others On Deck for Android 7

Yesterday, 8:04 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Samsung has detailed which handsets will receive the Android 7 Nougat operating system update. Some of the core changes to the platform include a refreshed Quick Settings panel, OS-level support for split screen multitasking, four new performance modes, and Samsung Pass, which allows people to secure various aspects of their Samsung account with a fingerprint. The company this week began distributing the new operating system to the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge. It also plans to update the Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge Plus, Note 5, Tab A with S Pen, Tab S2 (LTE), Galaxy A3, and Galaxy A8 to Android 7. As for timing, Samsung said this collection of devices should see Nougat at some point during the first half of the year.


FCC Says Incentive Auction Reaches End Point

Wednesday, 6:33 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

The FCC today said the close of the fourth stage will mark the end of bidding in the auction for 600 MHz airwaves. The auction has been in progress since last May and worked its way through several stages. Television broadcasters agreed to give up portions of their spectrum holdings, which were then sold to wireless carriers. The repurposed airwaves will eventually be used for mobile broadband services and the TV stations relocated. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler called the auction a success, but it fell far short of initial projections as far as generating revenue is concerned. "The world's first spectrum incentive auction has delivered on its ambitious promise. Reaching the Final Stage Rule means the benefits of the auction are indisputable," said Wheeler. "We will repurpose 70 MHz of high-value, completely clear low-band spectrum for mobile broadband on a nationwide basis. On top of that, 14 MHz of new unlicensed spectrum — the test bed for wireless innovation — will be available for consumer devices and new services. The auction will provide $10.05 billion to broadcast television licensees who participated and billions towards deficit reduction." Broadcasters had expected to see as much as $86 billion for 126 MHz of licenses. When bidding in rounds two and three bottomed out, the amount of spectrum offered by broadcasters was reduced accordingly. "There is still a long road ahead to successfully implement the post-auction transition of broadcast stations to their new channels and bring the new wireless and unlicensed spectrum to market," noted Wheeler. "This will be an extremely important task for my successor and the new Commission; I wish them well." Wheeler is leaving his post at the FCC as President-Elect Donald Trumps takes office. T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon Wireless all participated, but Sprint did not. The FCC hasn't said what new spectrum licenses the carriers and other bidders have won.


Korea Won't Arrest Samsung Scion

Wednesday, 3:35 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

A court in South Korea today rejected a request to arrest Samsung executive Lee Jae-yong. Prosecutors in a government bribery case wanted Lee held on counts of bribery, embezzlement, and perjury. The Seoul Central District Court didn't provide a reason for rejecting the prosecutor's request. The investigation pertains to a possible $36 million bribe Lee is alleged to have paid Korea President Park Geun-hye in order to facilitate the merger of several Samsung business units. Lee is being groomed to take over the family-run company at some point down the road. His arrest would have put the succession plan in jeopardy.


Apple's GarageBand Scores Alchemy Synthesizer

Wednesday, 1:21 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Apple today announced a major update to GarageBand, its music creating and recording app for iOS devices. Chiefly, GarageBand now includes the Alchemy synthesizer, which adds more than 150 new patches from Apple that span myriad styles like pop, rock, EDM, and hip hop. Apple says Alchemy's on-screen tools let musicians merge up to eight patches at a time to create their own, unique sounds. GarageBand includes a new sound browser, too, which should make it easier to find Apple's Touch Instruments. A multi-take recording tool makes it possible for people to record several takes and then compare them to see which is best. Last, the audio recorder has been redesigned with one-tap vocal effects, such as pitch correction, distortion, and delay. Singers can take advantage of visual equalizers to fine-tune their sound, as well as use third-party plugins for even more vocal sound options. GarageBand is free for most modern iPhone and iPad owners.


Researchers Devise Fire-Resistant Battery

Wednesday, 11:16 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Adding a flame-retardant to select elements of lithium ion batteries many prevent fires, according to researchers at Stanford University. The researchers figured out how to create a nonwoven electrospun separator out of triphenyl phosphate and coated it with a heat-activated polymer. The separator sits between the anode and cathode within batteries. The thermal-triggered coating would melt in the event a battery overheats, thus releasing the triphenyl phosphate flame retardant into the battery. The researchers claim this more or less suppresses combustion almost immediately. The researchers' method doesn't impact the battery under normal temperatures and can be fine-tuned to handle thermals generated under normal use. Such technology may have prevented the fire-catching Galaxy Note7 problem Samsung dealt with last year. The researchers note further safety testing is needed before the technology can be used in consumer devices.


Review: Coolpad Conjr

Wednesday, 10:15 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Coolpad's latest smartphone for the U.S. is the Conjr, a low-cost Android handset that's sold unlocked. The phone boasts a relatively attractive design, but peddles mid-range specs at best. Here is Phonescoop's in-depth review.

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ZTE's Blade V8 Phone Goes On Sale Today

Wednesday, 9:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

ZTE today said the Blade V8 smartphone announced earlier this month is now available online. U.S. buyers can pick up the phone online for $230. The V8 is the first Blade-series handset from ZTE to be sold in the U.S. The V8 features a 5.5-inch full HD display with curved edges; a Snapdragon 625 processor with 3 GB of RAM and 32 GB of storage; twin 13-megapixel cameras on the back; and an 8-megapixel selfie camera. The phone also has a 3,140mAh battery with Quick Charge 2.0 and a front-mounted fingerprint reader. ZTE is selling the Blade V8 unlocked via Amazon, Newegg, and Best Buy. People who preordered the phone should receive shipping notices today.

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Google Search for Android Gains Offline Mode

Wednesday, 8:19 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google has made it possible for Google Search to work even when the device goes offline. The latest build of Search for Android can store Google searches if a phone loses its network connection. Users can queue up as many searches as they want while the phone is offline. Google will then perform the searches as soon as the phone reconnects, saving the results within the app for easy retrieval. Google says the tool relies on streamlined behaviors to conserve power and data, so it shouldn't impact peoples' smartphones in a negative way. Google Search for Android is free to download from the Google Play Store.


Verizon to Further Cripple Thousands of Unreturned Note7s

Tuesday, 7:55 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Verizon Wireless is prepared to take another drastic step in order to convince thousands of customers still holding onto the Samsung Galaxy Note7 that it's time to return the phone. "In spite of our best efforts, there are still customers using the recalled phones who have not returned or exchanged their Note 7 to the point of purchase," said a Verizon spokesperson to Fortune. "The recalled Note 7s pose a safety risk to our customers and those around them." Verizon is prepared to put the handsets into a special category on its system that will allow them to call only 911 or Verizon customer service. Moreover, Verizon notes that in some cases the customers have already been reimbursed for the phone so Verizon might bill those customers the full retail cost. Verizon has already updated its variant of the Galaxy Note7 so the phone cannot be charged and is useless as mobile device. Samsung recalled the Note7 in September after a number of units overheated and caught fire.


FTC Accuses Qualcomm of Anticompetitive Behavior

Tuesday, 4:31 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission today filed a complaint against Qualcomm, alleging the chip-maker uses its market position to monopolize the sale of cell phone baseband processors. The FTC says Qualcomm is violating the FTC Act in several ways. First, Qualcomm refuses to license standard-essential patents to competitors even though it has committed to do so. Second, Qualcomm won't sell its baseband processors to customers unless they agree to Qualcomm's licensing terms. The FTC says this "no license, no chips" policy leads to elevated royalties. Last, Qualcomm offered Apple reduced patent royalties in exchange for exclusively using Qualcomm baseband processors for a period of 5 years. The FTC hopes a court order will force Qualcomm to cease its anticompetitive behavior and prevent further unfair business practices. "By excluding competitors, Qualcomm impedes innovation that would offer significant consumer benefits, including those that foster the increased interconnectivity of consumer products, vehicles, buildings, and the Internet of Things," said the government. Qualcomm did not immediately respond to the FTC's action. Qualcomm recently ran into similar legal trouble in South Korea, which fined the chip maker nearly $900 million over its anticompetitive business practices. Qualcomm has already settled with China and the European Union over similar charges.


Google Adds a Handful of Features to Google+

Tuesday, 12:59 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today improved its Google+ community space with several new tools. First, Google+ now lets users hide "low-quality" comments. When turned on, a filter will weed out comments that don't benefit or adhere to the post or conversation at hand. Second, Google+ makes improvements to the photo experience. Google says less white space built around the app means images will fill more of the screen on smartphones. Moreover, a zooming tool lets people explore photos close up. Last, Google+ brings back the Events tool, which lets users schedule and attend online events. Google says the revised Google+ will reach Android and iOS devices in the days ahead.


AT&T Shut Down Its 2G Network On Jan. 1

Tuesday, 12:17 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Tuesday, 12:21 PM

AT&T confirmed in a blog post that it has fully retired its 2G network. The move had been in the works for years. AT&T said it helped move people with 2G equipment over to 3G/4G devices with discounts and, in some cases, free phones. "By shutting down our 2G network, this frees up more spectrum for future network technologies, including 5G," said AT&T Chief Strategy Officer John Donovan. "In the next few months, we plan to repurpose that spectrum for LTE." AT&T says the 2G shutdown will also help pave the way for the evolution of 5G.


T-Mobile and MetroPCS Announce the LG Aristo

Tuesday, 10:01 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

T-Mobile and MetroPCS both plan to sell the LG Aristo starting later this month. The handset is an entry-level device running Android 7 Nougat. Specs include a 5-inch HD display, 1.4 GHz quad-core processor, 13-megapixel main camera, 5-megapixel front camera, and 16 GB of storage. Other features include a fingerprint reader, microUSB, headphone jack, speakerphone, and WiFi Calling/VoLTE. The LG Aristo will reach T-Mobile stores on Jan. 25. It will cost $144, or $6 per month on a payment plan. The Aristo will hit MetroPCS stores on Jan. 23 at a cost of $59 after instant rebate.


ZTE Hawkeye Detailed In Full, to Feature Dual Cameras

Tuesday, 9:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

ZTE today shared more information about its Project CSX handset, called Hawkeye. ZTE created a public campaign for Project CSX in 2016, which saw hundreds of entries. The final design, a self-adhesive handset that can track eye movement, was selected last fall. The device is a large Android slab that boasts a 5.5-inch full HD display. The phone will be powered by an octa-core Snapdragon 625 processor with 3 GB of RAM and 32 GB of storage. The phone features two cameras on the rear, one with a 12-megapixel sensor and one with a 13-megapixel sensor with optical zoom. The user-facing camera has an 8-megapixel sensor. A 3,000mAh battery will provide power, and the USB-C port will allow for rapid charging via Quick Charge 2.0. Other features include a fingerprint reader, Dolby sound, NFC, and support for memory cards. ZTE says the Hawkeye includes LTE bands 2, 4, 5, 7, 12, 13, and 66 for AT&T/T-Mobile. The Hawkeye, currently available for preorder on Kickstarter, costs $199 and will ship with Android 7 Nougat when it goes on sale in the fall. Right now, the fundraising campaign has generated a bit more than $31,000 out of $500,000.


Alcatel Idol 4S with Windows Now Available Unlocked

Tuesday, 8:59 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Alcatel today made its Idol 4S with Windows 10 smartphone available unlocked from the Microsoft Store. The Windows Idol 4S has a 5.5-inch full HD display, Snapdragon 820 processor, 21-megapixel camera, and USB Type-C. Other features include a wide-angle 8-megapixel selfie camera, 3,000mAh battery, 4 GB of RAM, 64 GB of storage, stereo speakers, and a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor. The Idol 4S with Windows is compatible with Continuum, which enables it to act like a full PC with the proper accessories. The phone is compatible with the networks run by AT&T and T-Mobile. The Idol 4S with Windows 10 costs $470.

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