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printed October 21, 2014
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Review: Sharp Aquos Crystal for Boost Mobile

Today, 2:30 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Sharp has delivered an interesting handset in the Aquos Crystal, which features a 5-inch screen with practically no surrounding bezel. This futuristic-looking smartphone aims to trounce other mid-range contenders on Sprint's pre-paid Boost Mobile. Does it get the job done? Find out in Phone Scoop's full report.

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Vine Tackles iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, iOS 8 Extensions

Today, 11:46 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Twitter today pushed out an update to its Vine application for iOS devices. The app has been optimized for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus screens, and adds support for extensions in iOS 8. The new share extension makes it simpler to share Vines with other people and /or social networks from within the app itself, or within other apps. The app also added a button for quicker channel following. Vine for iOS is free to download from the iTunes App Store. Vine is a video-based social network that lets people record and post short clips.


Google Updates Play Music with Songza Features

Today, 11:37 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today pushed out an update to its Play Music service that adds new, curated play lists. The refreshed service gains its tools from Songza, which Google purchased over the summer. Play Music now offers a playlist- and song-recommendation engine that uses variables such as the time of day and location to cultivate selections. Google says users of the app will be prompted to play music for a time of day, mood, or activity. Each station has been created by real people to make sure they truly match the mood or activity at hand. Users can download stations for offline playback, see upcoming song selections, and add, remove, or reorder tracks on a whim. Google also updated its Listen Now web site to make it easier to discover and listen to new music. Last, Google Play Music now wears the Material Design look that Google is putting on most of its apps. The new Google Play Music app is available to Android and iOS devices, as well as on the web.

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Microsoft to Drop Nokia Brand from Smartphones

Today, 8:27 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft indicated that it is prepared to drop the Nokia brand from its line of Windows Phones. Moving forward, the company will use the Microsoft Lumia name to refer to its phone hardware. Microsoft purchased Nokia's handset division earlier this year, but Nokia still exists as a separate company selling HERE Maps and telecommunications gear. Microsoft could not continue to use the Nokia brand indefinitely. Microsoft has already rebranded many of the old Nokia apps with the Lumia name, and told The Verge that it plans to begin rebranding its remaining Nokia properties in the weeks ahead.


Nokia HERE Maps Expands to More Android Handsets

Today, 7:54 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Nokia today announced its HERE Maps app is now available to a wider range of smartphones. The company offered HERE Maps only to Samsung handsets earlier this month. Now, most devices running Android 4.1 Jelly Bean and up with 1GB of RAM can install and use HERE Maps. The app, which is being offered as a beta, cannot be found in the Google Play Store. Instead, anyone interested in using HERE Maps on their Android handset will need to download the app directly from Nokia's web site and sideload it onto their device. HERE Maps offers a number of compelling features. For example. HERE Maps allows users to download entire countries or regions, which makes the maps available even when the device is offline. Downloaded maps perform faster when panning and zooming since new segments don't need to be loaded from an internet connection. HERE Maps for Android devices include free, voice-guided, turn-by-turn directions. Users can plan routes via car, public transport, or foot. Live traffic updates and real-time transit schedules require a data connection. Nokia says maps are available for about 200 countries with turn-by-turn directions available in about 100. Transit maps are available in 750 metro areas across 40 different countries, with more being added all the time.


Qualcomm Amps Up its Wi-Fi Lineup

Today, 7:46 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Qualcomm Atheros, a subsidiary of Qualcomm, today unveiled new Wi-Fi products that promise to boost performance for a range of consumer electronics. The company added the QCA9377 chip to its 802.11ac 2.0 ecosystem, which Qualcomm says brings the benefits of multi-user multi-input/multi-output (MU-MIMO) to mobile devices. The benefits of MU-MIMO include better support for multiple devices on the same hotspot, as well as better use of capacity. MU-MIMO is already being deployed inside consumer-grade Wi-Fi hotspots. The QCA9377 is the mobile device complement and can improve speeds by up to three times. The QCA9377 is a combo chip that also includes Bluetooth 4.1. Qualcomm said a company called AVM is among the first to deploy its MU-MIMO technology, but it expects mobile devices makers to follow in the months ahead once it ramps up production of the QCA9377.


T-Mobile Pushing Eye Experience to HTC One (M8)

Today, 7:29 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

T-Mobile today made a system update available to the HTC One (M8) that adds the Eye Experience software. The Eye Experience includes new camera features, such as split camera, crop me in, and improved face tracking. These features are central to the Desire Eye handset, which has an 8-megapixel user-facing camera. The Desire Eye is not yet for sale, but T-mobile's HTC One customers can enjoy the camera tools today after installing the update.


Apple Releases iOS 8.1 with Apple Pay

Yesterday, 12:02 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Apple today released iOS version 8.1. The system update, for iPhones and iPads, activates Apple Pay and fixes a number of bugs. Apply Pay is Apple's mobile payment system. It makes use of the NFC radio and Touch ID sensor on the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus to enable tap-and-go payments at participating retailers. iPads can use Apple Pay to make in-app purchases. iOS 8.1 also provides access to iCloud Photo Library beta, and adds support for SMS messaging on the iPad and Mac computers. iOS 8.1 is free to download over the air.


Sprint Trims 452 Jobs at Headquarters

Yesterday, 11:06 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Sprint recently disclosed another round of job cuts, this time impacting its Kansas City headquarters. The company said it reduced its headcount by 452 people, mostly in the IT and administration aspect of the company. The cuts are in addition to workforce reductions the company put in place earlier this year. Sprint's headcount is now fewer than 33,000. It ended 2013 with 38,000 employees. Job cuts impacting the company's Kansas City operations number more than 900 as Sprint seeks to reduce costs and increase efficiency. The company said more cuts are on the way, but most of them should be acted upon by the end of the month. Sprint appointed a new CEO, Marcelo Claure, in August. Claure has stepped up efforts to streamline the company's operations.


RadioShack Expands Fix-It-Here Program

Yesterday, 10:57 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Yesterday, 11:31 AM

RadioShack today said its has increased the footprint of its Fix It Here service to 26 stores in and around Chicago. Consumers with broken or damaged smartphones and tablets can take their device to RadioShack, where select problems can be repaired. RadioShack's on-site technicians are trained to repair cracked screens, water damage, broken charging ports, broken buttons, camera issues, audio issues, and batteries. According to RadioShack, repairs start at $40 and most take under two hours to complete. RadioShack said if phones cannot be repaired, it will suggest alternatives from its line of hardware. Fix It Here is available at 500 RadioShack locations, and the company is on target to reach 750 locations by the end of the year. RadioShack recently scored a huge influx of capital to prevent the company from going under.


AT&T to Sell Samsung Galaxy Mega 2 on Oct. 24

Yesterday, 9:54 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T today announced the pending launch of the Galaxy Mega 2, a new version of Samsung's low-cost phablet. The Mega 2 features a 6-inch HD screen with a reduced bezel to help keep the footprint as small as possible. The phone adopts the design language of Samsung's Note series, to a certain degree, as well as the Note's split-screen multitasking, but the Mega 2 doesn't include a stylus. The phone has an 8-megapixel main camera with flash, a user-facing camera, Samsung's Private Mode, and Samsung's battery management software. The device has a quad-core processor and a 2,880mAh battery. The Mega 2 runs Android with Samsung's TouchWiz user interface. The Galaxy Mega 2 costs $475 at full retail, or can be purchased for $19.80 per month with AT&T Next 18, $23.75 per month with Next 12, or $150 with a new two-year contract. AT&T is still offering a $100 bill credit when customers activate a new or existing line with its AT&T Next plans. The device reaches stores October 24.


Skype for Windows Phone Gains Drawing Feature

Yesterday, 9:32 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft today issued an update to its Skype app for Windows Phone 8 and 8.1. The app has been refreshed with several new features, the foremost of which is the ability to create drawings within messages. Users can create their own pictures with the drawing tool, or annotate existing images and Bing Maps. The update makes it possible for users to select between their Microsoft account and their Skype account more easily. The app also improves resume times and adds support for HD screens. Skype for Windows Phone is free to download from the Windows Store.


Nokia Puts Color Pop Back in Creative Studio

Yesterday, 7:25 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Nokia today released an update to its Creative Studio photo editing app and added several features. First and foremost, Nokia returned Color Pop back to Creative Studio. Color Pop allows Lumia owners to turn their photos black and white with only select colors highlighted. The app also adds new support for PNG files and screenshots, and locks photos rotated 90 degrees to the new orientation. Creative Studio 6.3, which is an extensive on-device photo editor, is free for Lumia devices to download from the Windows Phone Store.


Spotify Intros Family Plans, $30 for Up to 5 Accounts

Yesterday, 7:06 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Spotify today announced family plans, a cheaper way to let family members enjoy the music streaming service on their mobile devices. The Spotify Family Plan allows each member of a family -- up to five people -- to create their own account with their own playlists, favorites, and devices. Each account has access to ad-free and offline music playback and other Spotify Premium features. The main account still costs $10 per month, but each additional account costs only $5 to add. So a family with five accounts would cost $30 per month. Spotify said the Spotify Family Plan will be rolled out globally over the coming weeks.


BlackBerry Adds a Little SnapChat to BBM

Friday, 3:48 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

BlackBerry today announced several forthcoming features for BBM that take a page from ephemeral messaging app SnapChat. The first new feature is called Time Messages. With Timed Messages, users can select how long a message is visible to the recipient (between 1 second and 15 seconds). The message can also be set to disappear once the recipient takes their finger off the message. According to BlackBerry, it can't prevent screenshots of Timed Messages, but it will alert the sender if one was taken before the message expires. The second feature is called Message Retraction and it allows BBM users to delete messages they've sent from the phones of others. According to BlackBerry, this feature works with text messages only and not those that include pictures. Further, only messages in one-on-one chats can be retracted. Messages cannot be retracted from Group conversations, nor can messages be retracted if they've been forwarded to other phones. According to BlackBerry, these features are being tested in a limited BBM beta for Android and BlackBerry. Timer and Retract will be available in the 2.5 release of BBM for iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry 10 in the near future.


Microsoft Gives Cortana a Bit More Bing

Friday, 2:53 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft today said it has added several features to Cortana, the voice-activated assistant built into Windows Phone 8.1. One of the new capabilities is called Daily Glance Evening Edition. At the end of each day, Cortana will show users the travel time to home and upcoming items on their calendar. Cortana will also begin to offer concert recommendations within 100 miles of the phone's location based on the owner's artists and Bing searches. Cortana will now more actively create and make available cards with flight information based on travel itineraries and Bing searches. Last, Bing adds location-based app recommendations. For example, Cortana might suggest visitors to Disney World in Florida download the Disney Expedition App. Some of these features need to be turned on in Cortana's Notebook before they'll function.


FCC to Explore 5G In the 24GHz Region

Friday, 2:01 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

The FCC today opened a notice of inquiry that will see the agency begin to explore next-generation wireless networks. The FCC is hoping to use spectrum above 24GHz for new wireless networks. This spectrum, sometimes referred to as millimeter waves, has long been regarded as ill-suited for wireless networking use due to its short-range and line-of-site propagation characteristics. However, the densely packed waves can hold large volumes of data, or 1,000 times more than current-generation technology can, according to the FCC. The FCC plans to study the technical needs of making this spectrum useful and the potential regulatory regime needed to oversee it. The move comes as 4G LTE networks are in their final stages of being built in the U.S. The FCC knows it needs to find new ways to meet the crushing demand for capacity. "How do we meet these demands?" asked Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. "We look up. Way, way, up. To infinity and beyond."


Google Publishes Android 5.0 Preview, Updates SDK

Friday, 11:58 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today made available several significant tools for developers ahead of the general release of Android 5.0 Lollipop. First, Google released updated developer images for the Nexus 5, Nexus 7 (2013), ADT-1, and the Android emulator. Developers can install these near-final builds of Android 5.0 on their hardware and use them for testing purposes. Google also updated the software developers kit for Android 5.0. The Android 5.0 SDK includes improved tools that allow app writers to develop against the latest Android platform using API level 21. It also lets developers take advantage of the updated support library to implement Material Design on smartphones and tablets, as well as the leanback user interface for Android TV apps. The preview images and SDK can be downloaded through Google's Android developer portal.

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