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printed October 17, 2017
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Google Pixel Phones Have Hidden Image Processor

Today, 12:56 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today revealed the Pixel Visual Core, a custom-designed co-processor that is built into every Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL smartphone. The Image Processing Unit has eight cores, each with 512 arithmetic logic units (ALUs) that can handle some three trillion calculations per second. Google claims the Pixel Visual Core with HDR+ can run five times faster and at less than one-tenth the energy than running directly on the application processor. The Pixel Visual Core is laying dormant for the time being, but Google says it will turn the co-processor on soon. Google created advanced software to manage the Pixel’s ability to capture rich photos and it wants to extend that to other photo apps. The Pixel Visual Core will eventually allow third-party apps to use the Pixel’s HDR+ technology. Google plans to enable the Pixel Visual Core as a developer option in the developer preview of Android Oreo 8.1 (MR1) in the coming weeks. Later, Google will let third-party camera apps access it using the Android Camera API, giving them access to the Pixel 2’s HDR+ technology. The end result should be much better photos on the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL when using photo apps other than the stock camera.


Qualcomm's Snapdragon 636 Targets Sub-Flagships

Today, 10:05 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Qualcomm has added to its roster of mobile processors with the Snapdragon 636 Mobile Platform, a high-performance chip that is meant for phones with less-than-flagship price points. The platform is built on a 14nm FinFet process and relies on the Kryo 260 CPU, which Qualcomm says is 40% faster than the Snapdragon 630 it replaces. The 636 was designed with 18:9, full HD+ displays in mind, and puts Qualcomm's TruPalette and EcoPix tools to work along with the Adreno visual processing subsystem to create dynamic screen experiences. The Adreno 509 GPU boosts gaming performance by about 10% and also improves 3D rendering. Qualcomm says the 636 processor is paired with the Snapdragon X12 LTE modem, with peak download speeds of 600 Mbps. On the imaging front, the 636 includes the 14-bit Qualcomm Spectra 160 ISP, which supports capture of up to 24 megapixels. Last, the Qualcomm Aqstic audio codec supports HiFi audio, with up to 192kHz/24bit support and the ability to playback lossless audio files. Qualcomm says the Snapdragon 636 is already in production and will reach commercially available devices bt November.

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Hands On with the ZTE Axon M

Today, 9:40 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

ZTE is trying something different with the Axon M. Rather than push out another boring slab, ZTE created an interesting Android smartphone with twin folding displays that can be set in a number of different and useful configurations. Need extra screen real estate in that document, or want to run two full-screen apps side by side? The Axon M does that and more. Here are Phone Scoop's first impressions of this AT&T-exclusive handset.

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ZTE's Axon M Boasts Dual, Folding Displays to Create Tablet-Sized Screen

Today, 9:40 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Today, 9:45 AM

ZTE today announced the Axon M, a unique Android smartphone that has two full-sized displays that can unfold to create one larger screen for multitasking and viewing video. ZTE calls the Axon M a flagship handset, and it includes solid specs under the foldable aluminum chassis. Both screens measure 5.2 inches across the diagonal with full HD resolution. When fully opened, the combined screen real estate stretches 6.9 inches across the diagonal with 1,920 by 2,160 resolution. The displays are each covered by 2.5D Gorilla Glass 5. The Axon M includes three viewing modes suited to different tasks, such as running two apps at the same time, expanding the size of any given app, or sharing video with another person. ZTE says a decent number of apps will support the new viewing modes at launch, but it is releasing a series of tools to developers so they may adjust their apps to the Axom M form factor. The phone is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor with 4 GB of memory and 64 GB of storage. The phone supports memory cards up to 256 GB. The Axon M has a single 20-megapixel sensor that doubles as the main and selfie cameras. Imaging features include an aperture of f/1.8, phase-detection autofocus, image stabilization for photos/videos, as well as dual LED flash. The M carries over the Axon line's high-quality audio thanks to Dolby Atmos, the AKM 4962 audio chipset, and powerful stereo speakers. Other hardware features include Bluetooth, GPS, WiFi, LTE, rapid charging, and USB-C. The device runs Android 7. 1 Nougat, but ZTE said an update to Oreo isn't too far off. The Axon M will be an AT&T exclusive in the U.S. ZTE said it expects the phone will reach stores in time for the holiday shopping season. AT&T said it will charge $24 per month for 30 months for the phone, or about $725.

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Qualcomm to Support T-Mobile's 600 MHz with New RF Module

Today, 9:37 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Qualcomm is expanding the number of LTE bands supported by its cellular antennas. Specifically, the company has designed a new RF front-end to support 600 MHz spectrum, or LTE Band 71. T-Mobile will be the primary beneficiary of the suite of RF modules. T-Mobile has a nationwide footprint of this low-band spectrum, which it has already begun to deploy in some rural areas, including Wyoming. Low-band spectrum has greater propagation characteristics when compared to mid-band spectrum, which means it travels further and can penetrate walls more easily. Qualcomm says its new RF module will also benefit IoT devices that use 600 MHz airwaves. Primarily, the QPM2622 and variants are designed for devices based on the Snapdragon 800 Mobile Platform, while the QAT3516 and variants can be used with the Snapdragon 800, 600, 400, and 200 Mobile Platforms. Qualcomm says its new RF front-ends are already sampling with select customers and it expects to see the modules in commercial devices by the end of the year.


Qualcomm Shrinks 5G Modem to Phone-Sized Chipset

Today, 9:28 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Qualcomm says it has created a 5G modem that's small enough for mobile devices. The Snapdragon X50 5G chipset, which Qualcomm tested in its San Diego lab, reached gigabit speeds using 28 GHz mmWave radio frequencies. In order to reach those speeds, Qualcomm used several 100 MHz 5G carriers using the 5G New Radio standard. Moreover, Qualcomm debuted its first 5G smartphone reference design, a piece of hardware that can be used to test and optimize 5G technology in a form factor that is bound by the constraints of a typical smartphone. Qualcomm hopes the chipset and reference design will help accelerate the adoption of 5G NR, which most expect to see reach commercial deployments in 2019.


Andy Rubin's Essential Sued Over Magnetic Connector Tech

Yesterday, 3:02 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

A company called Keyssa has filed an intellectual property lawsuit against Essential, the maker of the PH-1 smartphone, backed by former Google exec Andy Rubin. The lawsuit pertains to magnetic wireless connectors that can pass information and current from one device to another, such as the magnetic module accessory system used on the PH-1. According to Keyssa, Essential worked with the company for period of 10 months on the magnetic technology and was given trade secrets under non-disclosure agreement during that time. Eventually the relationship between the two companies dissolved and Essential picked magnetic components from a third company called SiBEAM for the PH-1. Keyssa alleges that even though Essential is using different hardware for its phone, the technology couldn't have been recreated without Keyssa's protected intellectual property. "Keyssa has not been compensated for Essential’s use of this guidance and know-how," said Keyssa in a statement provided to Reuters. "We are pursuing this action because our attempts to resolve this matter through discussions with Essential have not been successful." Keyssa is backed by Tony Fadell, who co-created the iPad when at Apple. Keyssa filed the lawsuit in federal court in San Francisco. Essential did not offer an immediate comment on the matter.


Google's Fur-tastic Google Photos Now Better at Recognizing Pets

Yesterday, 12:22 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today made it easier for pet lovers to manage pictures of their feline or canine companions. Google says Photos will now treat pets as the family members they are, grouping them alongside people and allowing users to name and/or label them. Google believes this will improve search and discoverability of pet pictures within Google Photos. Moreover, Google Photos can now sort between breeds to help separate pictures of different dogs. Accordingly, Google Assistant has been improved with the ability to create albums, collages, and movies of pets. Google Photos users can, of course, make their own pet creations whenever they wish. Google Photos' new pet recognition feature is rolling out to most users worldwide today.


Review: LG V30

Yesterday, 10:15 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

The LG V30 is a flagship handset that tries to move the needle forward with a stylish design, 18:9 display, and powerful camera features. This metal-and-glass Android slab is a gorgeous piece of hardware that has lots going for it. Unfortunately, several oddities hold it back from greatness. Here is Phone Scoop's in-depth look at the LG V30.

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Hands On with the Huawei Mate 10 and Mate 10 Pro

Yesterday, 8:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Huawei is taking aim at Apple, Samsung, and LG with its latest flagship handsets, the Mate 10 and Mate 10 Pro. These high-quality devices feature stunning hardware, top specs, and table-stakes features such as fingerprint readers. Huawei is banking on its NPU-based artificial intelligence to take the phones' dual camera systems to the next level. The Mate 10 and Mate 10 Pro run Android 8 Oreo with EMUI 8 from Huawei to take advantage of the powerful Kirin processor. Here are Phone Scoop's first impressions of Hauwei's new smartphones.

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Huawei Hopes AI-Assisted Camera Will Set Mate 10, Mate 10 Pro Apart

Yesterday, 8:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Huawei today announced the Mate 10 and Mate 10 Pro, the Chinese company's flagship smartphones heading into the end of the year. The Mate 10 (left) and Mate 10 Pro (right) are high-end devices with curved glass panels front and back, and a metal frame in between. Huawei created a distinct reflective band that runs across the rear of the phones to call out the cameras. The phones share nearly all features and primarily differ with respect to screen aspect ratio and resolution. Where the Mate 10 has a quad HD 5.9-inch LCD panel with a 16:9 aspect ratio, the Mate 10 Pro has an HD+ 6-inch OLED panel with an 18:9 aspect ratio. The Mate 10's fingerprint reader is located on the front and the phone supports microSD memory cards, where the Mate 10 Pro's fingerprint reader is on the back and the phone doesn't support memory cards. The phones rely on Huawei's new Kirin 970 processor, its homegrown 8-core CPU, which includes a 12-core GPU and dedicated neural network processing unit, or NPU. The NPU is primarily put to use with the camera, where it is able to recognize objects and adjust the camera's parameters accordingly. At launch, the Mate 10 and Mate 10 Pro will, for example, be able to recognize the difference between flowers and plants, or cats and dogs in order to more accurately capture photos. The phones feature a dual-camera system on the back with a 12-megapixel RGB sensor and a 20-megapixel monochrome sensor, both at f/1.6. Some of the tools include scene recognition, bokeh, optical image stabilization, and AI-assisted focusing and zooming. The front camera has an 8-megapixel sensor at f/2.0. The phone will launch with Android 8 Oreo and EMUI 8, a new version of Huawei's Android skin. EMUI 8 was built to take advantage of the Kirin 970 and supports advanced split screen multitasking and a full desktop computing experience sans dock. The Mate 10 and Mate 10 Pro also include 4,000mAh batteries with rapid and wireless charging, NFC, Bluetooth 4.2, GPS, WiFi, high-definition audio, USB-C, and high-speed LTE. The Mate 10 is available only with 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage, while the Mate 10 Pro is available in either a 4 GB / 64 GB or 6 GB / 128 GB configuration. Pricing and availability was not disclosed.


Researchers Say WiFi Vulnerability Impacts Nearly Everything

Yesterday, 7:57 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Researchers say they've found a serious gap in the WPA2 security protocol that can allow hackers to use key reinstallation attacks (KRACKs) to compromise most WiFi devices. The researchers say the method allows hackers to read encrypted information transiting via WiFi, including passwords, emails, photos, credit card numbers, and more. KRACKs can access nearly all WiFi traffic and, depending on the individual network safety configuration, insert code and alter data, such as send malware. The researchers claim the weakness is in the WiFi standard itself, and not in individual products, which is why the vulnerability is so widespread. Devices running Android, iOS, Linux, Windows, macOS, and other platforms are impacted. The U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) agreed with the researchers' assessment and warned, "The impact of exploiting these vulnerabilities includes decryption, packet replay, TCP connection hijacking, HTTP content injection, and others. Note that as protocol-level issues, most or all correct implementations of the standard will be affected." In other words, even if WiFi devices are being used properly, with passwords, they are still vulnerable. Google said it is aware of the issue and will patch the vulnerability in a future security update. The WiFi Alliance has not yet responded to the researcher's revelations.


OnePlus Allowing 3 and 3T Owners to Test Oreo Beta

Yesterday, 7:35 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

OnePlus has made OxygenOS Open Beta 25, based on Android 8 Oreo, available to the OnePlus 3 and OnePlus 3T smartphones. Owners of these phones can, if they wish, download the beta build for pre-release testing. The beta includes core Android 8 Oreo features, such as the new Quick Settings design, auto-fill, smart text selection, PiP, and notification dots. Items specific to OxygenOS include new a OnePlus account login for access to Shot on OnePlus, as well as the ability to upload photos directly to Shot on OnePlus through wallpapers. OnePlus warns there are some bugs in the beta build, including slow downs with the fingerprint reader, stability issues with NFC and Bluetooth, and the loss of the camera shortcut to Google Photos. OxygenOS Open Beta 25 is free to download for those signed up with OnePlus' beta program. OnePlus says users will be able to downgrade to the Nougat-based version of OxygenOS if they find Open Beta 25 too unstable.


Samsung Connect Tag Lets You Track Your Stuff

Yesterday, 7:20 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Samsung today announced the Connect Tag, a wireless fob that you can attach to just about anything to monitor its location. Samsung envisions the Connect Tag will work best on kids' backpacks, car keys, dog collars, or even tossed inside cars. The Connect Tag relies on narrowband network technology (NB-IoT) to manage wireless connections efficiently. It includes GPS, WiFi, and Cat M1, which was designed specifically for low-power use cases. The Connect Tag works with Samsung's SmartThings ecosystem and includes advanced features such as geofencing, smart home scripts, as well as an on-demand live location requests via the associated smartphone app. Alternately, Connect Tag wearers can voluntarily broadcast their real-time location if they become lost, providing parents with a popup alert along with the exact spot on a map. The Connect Tag is small at 4.21 by 1.19 centimeters, is waterproof and rugged, and the internal battery can last up to seven days on a single change. The Samsung Connect Tag will go on sale in the coming months. Pricing wasn't disclosed.


Phone-Based Google Assistant Can Now Manage Chromecasts

Saturday, 11:34 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google has made it possible for people to control media playback on their Chromecast devices through their smartphone. The new behavior is available via Google Assistant on Android and iOS devices. People can issue voice-based commands on their mobile phone to play music and/or videos directly on Chromecast dongles, whether the dongles be attached to speakers, television sets, or embedded in boomboxes. People who own multiple Chromecast dongles can specify which one their phone controls. Prior to this change, a Google Home was required to control Chromecast dongles from a phone. Now, Google Home is no longer needed. The feature has been rolling out slowly, but Google confirmed that it is now available to everyone.


T-Mobile to Restrict 'Mobile Without Borders' Data to 5 GB

Saturday, 11:21 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

T-Mobile is shifting gears on the amount of data it offers to customers who travel to Canada and Mexico. Beginning November 12, customers on the T-Mobile One Simple Choice North American plan will only be able to use a maximum of 5 GB of 4G LTE, even if they have an unlimited data bucket at home. Customers who reach the 5 GB limit while roaming in Canada or Mexico will see their speeds limited to 128 Kbps until they return to the U.S. (Subscribers to the T-Mobile One Plus plan will see their roaming speeds cut to 256 Kbps.) Customers who have data buckets that are smaller than unlimited at home will have access to less than 5 GB of 4G LTE when roaming. T-Mobile said it is being forced to make the change in order to curb abuse. T-Mobile believes the change will impact less than 1% of customers who travel to Canada or Mexico.


Qualcomm Moves to Block iPhone Sales in China

Friday, 3:09 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Qualcomm has filed more lawsuits against Apple, this time seeking to prevent Apple from manufacturing and selling the iPhone in China. The fresh litigation was filed in an intellectual property court in Beijing. The two companies are embroiled in a series of legal battles over licensing fees. Apple insists that Qualcomm overcharges by requiring compensation not only for the actual chips, but also for licensing the technology in the chips. Qualcomm often demands that hardware makers pay it a percentage of the total device sale, rather than just a per-chip or per-license fee. As a result of the on-going litigation, Apple has withheld more than $1 billion in royalty payments from Qualcomm. Qualcomm's technology licensing practices have run afoul of several governments, including the U.S., China, and Korea.


Sprint's 'Safe & Found' Service Lets Parents Keep Tabs On Kids

Friday, 11:39 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Sprint today debuted a new resource for parents called Safe & Found. It allows parents to view their child's smartphone location any time, as well as set controls over apps and usage. The service includes real-time geolocation and geofencing, which allows parents to create safe zones in which their children are permitted to travel. If the child's phone departs the geofenced area, parents will receive alerts. The service includes an SOS button, which will send an emergency alert with the child's location to all family members. Alternately, if the phone is lost Safe & Found lets subscribers find, lock, or wipe it remotely. Parental controls give mom and dad the ability to restrict calls to trusted numbers, install age-appropriate apps, and regulate usage based on the time of day. The service includes content restrictions, too, so inappropriate web content and apps are blocked from kid phones. Safe & Found costs $6.99 per line per month and it is compatible with Android and iOS devices.

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