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printed July 7, 2015
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Sprint Kicks Off Sales of the Samsung Galaxy Grand Prime On July 10

Today, 2:40 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Sprint today announced that it will begin selling the Samsung Galaxy Grand Prime on July 10. The phone has a 5-inch qHD display, 1.2GHz quad-core processor, 8-megapixel main camera, 5-megapixel front camera, and a 2,600mAh battery. The phone runs Android 5.1 Lollipop and is compatible with Sprint's LTE 4G network. Other radios include Bluetooth, GPS, and WiFi (with support for WiFi calling). Sprint said the phone will be available through its retail stores, web site, and telesales. The phone will cost $10 per month for 24 months with no money down; $30 (after $50 rebate) with a two-year contract; or for the full retail price of $240, sans contract. The Galaxy Grand Prime is already available from Cricket Wireless.


Republic Wireless to Refund Customers for Unused Data

Today, 9:13 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Republic Wireless today announced Republic Refund plans, which will reimburse customers for unused cellular data each month. The company is offering a range of new plans with varying data buckets. Any cellular data that goes unused will be credited on the customer's next bill. Republic's business banks on customers' proximity to WiFi hotspots. The entry-level plan costs $5 per month and includes unlimited WiFi calling, texting, and data. This $5 plan does not include cellular network access at all. The next step up costs $10 per month and adds unlimited calling and texting via cellular. The mid-range plan costs $17.50 per month and adds 500MB of cellular data. The $25 plan offers 1 GB of 4G data, and the $40 plan offers 2 GB of 4G data. Customers will be reimbursed and/or billed for mobile data at the rate of $15 per gigabyte. Republic says the vast majority of its customers use less than 1 GB of cellular data per month. Republic said its customers can keep their current plan or switch to the new Republic Refund plans if they wish.

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Sony Mobile CEO Says Company Committed to Smartphones

Today, 7:40 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Hiroki Totoki, the President and CEO of Sony Mobile, said the company has no plans to exit the smartphone business. Totoki covered a wide range of topics during an interview with Arabian Business. He said the firm is working hard to turn its smartphone business around. By the end of 2016, Sony expects to reduce headcount by 20% and operating expenses by 30% to streamline the business and the product portfolio. Totoki said smartphones remain a vital part of the company. "Smartphones are completely connected to other devices, also connected to people's lives — deeply. And the opportunity for diversification is huge. We're heading to the IoT era and have to produce a number of new categories of products in this world, otherwise we could lose out on a very important business domain. In that sense we will never ever sell or exit from the current mobile business." Totoki said the company plans to respond to fierce competition from Chinese companies by developing new technologies to help its products stand out. Sony will also pay attention to providing a better experience through the software of its devices, too. Sony recently announced the Z3v for Verizon Wireless and the similar Z3+ for other markets.


Jolla Separates Software and Hardware Businesses

Today, 7:23 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Jolla today announced plans to split its operations into two separate companies. Moving forward, Jolla Ltd. will develop Sailfish OS and manage licensing for the platform. Jolla's hardware company will be spun off and reformed as its own entity. Antti Saarnio, Chairman of Board of Jolla, takes charge of leading Jolla Ltd. as CEO. Jolla's former CEO, Tomi Pienimäki, is leaving the company for another opportunity. Jolla said a new leader for the Jolla device business will appointed later this year. Jolla Ltd. will continue Sailfish OS and licensing operations immediately, but the company said the device business won't relaunch until the fall months. The company said it is still working to bring its Sailfish OS-based tablet to market. The tablet was offered through a crowdfunding effort. Jolla said the software is ready to go, but the company is having difficulties securing all the necessary hardware components. "Every young company has to find its clear focus at some time, and for Jolla that time is now," said Saarnio. "We have huge opportunities in the Sailfish OS licensing business, and I am very proud and excited to take responsibility of steering the Jolla ship to a new commercial phase. After three years of intensive Sailfish OS research and development we are now moving full speed to new bigger waters, which requires full focus on software from the team." Jolla was formed in 2011 by former Nokia employees. Sailfish OS is based on Nokia's discontinued MeeGo operating system.


Microsoft Rebrands Its Music Service as 'Groove'

Yesterday, 3:11 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft today revealed details about the music service for Windows 10, which is now called Groove Music. Groove will be available across XBox and Windows devices, including PCs, tablets, and smartphones. The $10 monthly fee buys ad-free access to 40 million tracks, which can be streamed across platforms. People will also be able to create their own, custom radio stations. Microsoft says Groove will support music libraries uploaded to OneDrive, including tracks purchased via iTunes. The service will also be made available to Android and iOS devices in the near future. Groove Music is expected to launch in the weeks ahead.


Microsoft Releases Skype for Business App on Windows Phone

Yesterday, 2:22 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft today replaced its Lync 2013 corporate messaging app with Skype for Business for Windows Phone. The app has a refreshed user interface for messaging, more emoticons, and improved interactions with the server. Microsoft says Skype for Business better manages notifications for conversation threads, and syncs them more consistently across other devices such as PCs and tablets. Users of Lync 2013 on devices running Windows Phone 8.1 will be updated to Skype for Business automatically. Microsoft said hardware running Windows Phone 8.0 and earlier should remain on Lync 2013 or Lync 2010.


Instagram to Improve Photo Resolution to 1080 Pixels

Yesterday, 1:10 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Yesterday, 1:11 PM

Instagram has confirmed that it will increase image resolution from 640 by 640 pixels to 1080 by 1080 pixels. Instagram's images have measured 640 pixels since launch. When the photo-sharing service first arrived, 640 pixels was appropriate based on screen and camera capabilities. Now that smartphones and tablets boast screen resolutions up to quad HD and cameras capturing 21-megapixels, the 640-pixel resolution was deemed inadequate. Instagram said the Android and iOS apps are being updated to upload 1080p images slowly, but would not say when all users will be able to see the higher-resolution imagery. The news was first reported by The Verge and later confirmed by CNET.


Walmart Selling ZTE Lever LTE Phablet for Straight Talk

Yesterday, 12:22 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Walmart recently added the ZTE Lever LTE to its lineup of handsets for Straight Talk Wireless. The Lever LTE is a phablet boasting a 6-inch 720p display protected by Gorilla Glass. The phone has a 1.2GHz quad-core processor with 2 GB of RAM and 16 GB of storage. The phone includes Bluetooth, GPS, LTE, and WiFi for connectivity, but it doesn't support mobile hotspots. The Lever LTE has an 8-megapixel main camera with autofocus and video capture, and a 2-megapixel user-facing camera. It supports microSD memory cards up to 32 GB. It packs a 3,200mAh battery and runs Android 4.4 KitKat. Walmart is selling the ZTE Lever LTE for $199.


Helio Quietly Reboots On Sprint and Verizon's Networks

Yesterday, 11:23 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Helio, an MVNO that shuttered its doors years ago, is back. The company announced its return via Twitter and is once again offering prepaid service. The company operates on Sprint's network. Unlike before, however, Helio has a roaming agreement with Verizon Wireless, too, so customers will have greater network access when out and about. The basic service cost $29 per month, which includes unlimited voice, unlimited messaging (including international text), and unlimited 2G data capped at 128Kbps. Helio's web site does not say if or when it might offer 3G or 4G service. The $29 monthly plan includes all taxes and fees. The company supports a BYOD program, but requires handsets compatible with Sprint's network. It also sells a handful of older smartphones on its web site, including the Samsung Galaxy S3 and S4, for $249 and $299, respectively. Helio said it will sell its own branded handsets soon. Helio is offering the first month of service for free with no commitment. Helio was originally launched in 2006 as a joint venture between SK Telecom and Earthlink. It was folded into Virgin Mobile, another Sprint property, in 2008. Helio ceased all operations in 2010. Helio is now backed by a company called UBI.


Sony Z3+ Available to US Buyers Via Amazon

Yesterday, 7:16 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Sony has made the Xperia Z3+ available through Amazon's U.S. web site. The phone is being sold unlocked and is compatible with GSM carriers, such as AT&T and T-Mobile. Verizon Wireless plans to sell a variant of the phone, called the Z3v, later this summer. It has a 5.2-inch full HD screen, 20.7-megapixel main camera, wide-angle 5-megapixel front camera, and a quad-core Snapdragon 810 processor with 3 GB of RAM. Amazon is selling it for about $640.


Microsoft, Kyocera Expand Patent-Licensing Deal

Jul 2, 2015, 4:09 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft today said that it has expanded the scale of a patent cross-licensing agreement with Kyocera. Microsoft and Kyocera are now able to use a broader range of one another's technologies in a variety of products. The licensing agreement also resolves a patent infringement lawsuit filed earlier this year. Microsoft did not disclose the terms of the agreement. Microsoft holds a number of smartphone-related patents and most makers of Android smartphones pay Microsoft royalties to license those patents.


Review: Microsoft Lumia 735 for Verizon Wireless

Jul 2, 2015, 3:30 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

This mid-range Windows Phone is a solid addition to Verizon's smartphone lineup. It boasts a 4.7-inch screen, 6.7-megapixel camera, and quad-core Snapdragon processor. Toss in Microsoft's productivity apps and good battery life, and the Lumia 735 is a balanced performer. Is anything holding this phone back? Find out in Phone Scoop's in-depth report.

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Turing Phone Available for Preorder Starting July 31

Jul 2, 2015, 8:53 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Turing Robotic Industries today said it will begin accepting preorders for the Turing Phone on July 31, which is about three weeks later than originally planned. The company will make 10,000 units available initially. The phone, sold unlocked, will cost $610 for 16 GB, $740 for 64 GB, and $870 for 128 GB. Turing said it will announce three different colors on July 22 and release an SDK for the phone in August. Turing did not say if it plans to stick to the original Aug. 10 shipping date. The Turing phone is molded from Liquidmorphium that the company claims provides greater tensile strength than either titanium or steel. The handset has a fingerprint sensor built into the side edge for security and uses a magnetic charger to negate the need for ports. Turing says the Android-based handset offers completely secure phone calls and messaging. The device features a 5.5-inch full HD display and it is powered by a quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor with 3 GB of RAM. The main camera has a 13-megapixel sensor and the front camera has an 8-megapixel sensor. The device has a 3,000mAh battery and supports a range of LTE networks around the world.


Sprint CEO Derides T-Mobile's 'Misleading' and 'Fake' Moves

Jul 2, 2015, 8:42 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure has had enough of T-Mobile CEO John Legere's brash attitude. Claure had harsh words for Legere after Legere poked fun at Sprint's latest promotion, the All-In calling plan. "I give credit to @sprint for swinging the bat when they do – but #allin is a swing and a miss, guys! #sprintlikehell," said Legere via his personal Twitter account. Claure responded by saying, "I am so tired of your Uncarrier [baloney] when you are worse than the other two carriers together. Your cheap misleading lease imitation is a joke. You trick people to believe that they have a $15 iPhone lease payment when it's not true. You tell them they can upgrade up to 3x but you don't tell them the price goes up to $27 when they do. You say one thing but behave completely different. It's all a fake show. So it's really #Tmobilelikehell." Legere did not respond to Claure's accusations. Legere is known for his direct approach and use of profanity to make fun of T-Mobile's competitors.


Sprint to Test New Stores with Dixons Carphone

Jul 2, 2015, 7:25 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Sprint today announced a new partnership with Europe's Dixons Carphone that will see the companies test 20 new retail stores in various markets around the U.S. Dixons Carphone is a renowned electronics retailer. Under the terms of the agreement, Sprint will open and staff 20 retail stores that will be managed by Dixons Carphone Connected World Services (CWS) division. Sprint said it will also adopt some of CWS's best practices across its own retail stores, web site, and telesales. The end goal is to provide a better shopping experience for Sprint customers. If the pilot is successful, CWS will be given the responsibility to run more of Sprint's stores under an equally-funded joint venture. Sprint also recently expanded its retail footprint to 4,500 locations thanks to the addition of 1,435 RadioShack stores. Sprint says about 300 locations will include a store-within-a-store layout this month, with the rest to follow by the end of the year. The stores are co-branded RadioShack and Sprint, and include new signage and new interior designs that more closely resemble Sprint stores. Sprint acquired RadioShack's stores earlier this year.


TracFone Settles with FCC Over Locked Phones

Jul 1, 2015, 1:03 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

TracFone has reached an agreement with the FCC concerning its policies for unlocking handsets. In February of this year it became mandatory for all carriers to unlock customer handsets and to properly disclose their unlocking policies to customers. TracFone did not have any sort of process for unlocking handsets in place, nor did it inform customers of their rights. Even so, TracFone later told the FCC multiple times that it was in compliance with the law. In order to settle with the FCC, TracFone agreed to transition to unlockable phones. It will allow eligible customers to receive new unlocked handsets, receive credit towards a new handset, or receive a partial cash refund in exchange for an unlocked handset. "Unlocking of cell phones has been widely embraced by the wireless industry and by consumers across the country," said Travis LeBlanc, Chief of the Enforcement Bureau. "Today's agreement ensures that millions of eligible TracFone customers will be able to use their phones on any compatible network they choose." TracFone has about 8 million customers, many of which should be able to benefit from today's enforcement action. TracFone has until September 1 to clearly notify customers about its new policies and when those customers will be eligible for unlocked devices. By May 2016, TracFone will need to launch some unlockable handsets and allow eligible customers to trade-in or receive credit. By December 2016, all phones launched by TracFone must be capable of being unlocked.


CTIA Says Smartphones Better Protected Against Theft

Jul 1, 2015, 8:59 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Beginning today, most smartphones sold in the U.S. will include anti-theft security tools. July 1 marks the day by which phone makers and network operators agreed to implement free theft deterrents on smartphones. According to the CTIA, most of the industry has responded by placing remote lock/wipe capabilities on consumer devices. The addition of an activation lock on the Apple iPhone, for example, has dramatically reduced iPhone thefts in major cities. The activation lock prevents a stolen device from being activated by another person, thus making it useless to thieves. Remote wipe features allow people to erase the personal data from their handset if lost/stolen to protect their identity. The major participants in today's action include Apple, AT&T, BlackBerry, Google, HTC, Huawei, LG, Motorola, Microsoft, Samsung, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, Verizon Wireless, and ZTE. "Today's fulfillment of the Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment is another example of the wireless industry proactively working together with policymakers and law enforcement to help protect consumers' smartphones in the event they are ever lost or stolen. We will continue to work with all interested parties to continue to deploy new technologies and tools to improve device theft-deterrence tools. We remind consumers to take a few minutes to use PINs, passwords, apps and other device features to protect their mobile devices and personal information." The industry was coerced into acting "voluntarily" when the FCC threatened to make such protective measures mandatory.


Yahoo's Aviate Launcher Gains 'Google Now' Feature

Jul 1, 2015, 7:55 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Yahoo updated its Aviate Android launcher with a new feature called Smart Stream. As described by Yahoo, Smart Stream "assembles relevant information" and adjusts it throughout the day based on where the user is and what they're doing. The information is presented clearly on cards in a way that makes it easy to find nearby restaurants and other points of interest, as well as glance at sports scores and add a soundtrack to your day. Yahoo says Smart Stream becomes smarter and more personal as people use it. Users can fine-tune Smart Stream to surface specific cards through the Focus menu, which lets people set preferences. Smart Stream mimics the behavior of Google's Google Now feature. Aviate is free to download from the Play Store. It is compatible with devices running Android 4.1 and up.

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