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printed February 6, 2016
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Review: ZTE Grand X 3 for Cricket Wireless

Yesterday, 5:00 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

ZTE's latest arrival is the Grand X 3, an inexpensive Android phablet for Cricket Wireless. Some smart design and material choices help the Grand X 3 look and feel like a much more costly device than it really is. Here is Phone Scoop's in-depth report about ZTE's entry-level scrapper.

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Verizon Zero-Rates Its Go90 Video App

Yesterday, 4:27 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Verizon Wireless today updated its go90 video app and will allow customers to stream all the go90 content they want over LTE without it impacting their data bucket. The go90 app is making use of Verizon's FreeBee Data 360 sponsored data service, which Verizon launched last month. The go90 app includes music, sports, TV shows, original series, and live concerts. Verizon says go90 version 1.4 is available in the Google Play Store and Apple App Store. Verizon's foray into zero-rating go90 follows similar behavior from T-Mobile, which allows customers to stream music and video content from select partners without pulling from their monthly data allotment.


BlackBerry Trims More Workers

Yesterday, 2:06 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

BlackBerry has cut an unspecified number of employees at two facilities. The company confirmed that it let employees go at its Waterloo headquarters, as well as at a plant in Sunrise, Fla. "As BlackBerry continues to execute its turnaround plan, we remain focused on driving efficiencies across our global workforce," said the company in a statement. "This means finding new ways to enable us to capitalize on growth opportunities, while driving toward sustainable profitability across all parts of our business. As a result, a small number of employees have been impacted. It also means that BlackBerry is actively recruiting in those areas of our business that will drive growth." BlackBerry CEO John Chen has focused on BlackBerry's core BES communications and device management business while winding down its phone business. Chen recently said BlackBerry will release as few as one or two new handsets per year if it stays in the hardware game. Chen has been vocal about killing off its smartphone business entirely if it can't turn a profit. BlackBerry didn't say what areas of the company were affected by today's job cuts.

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Apple Accepting Broken iPhones As Trade-Ins

Yesterday, 12:23 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Apple will now accept damaged iPhones as trade-ins when people wish to upgrade to a new iPhone. Previously, Apple only accepted working iPhones as trade-ins, but will now take in iPhones with "damaged displays, cameras, and buttons within reason." Apple will credit people who turn in a damaged iPhone 5s with $50. The company will credit people $200 for a broken iPhone 6 and $250 for a broken iPhone 6 Plus. Phones that don't have cracked screens or broken buttons may be worth up to $350. Apple hopes the change in policy will convince people holding onto older, possibly busted devices to upgrade. The new Apple trade-in policy is available at Apple's retail stores, but not online.


Sharp and Foxconn to Settle Takeover Soon

Yesterday, 9:35 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Foxconn expects to seal a takeover deal with Sharp by the end of February. Executives from both companies met on Thursday and agreed on a number of items, but didn't sign any final agreements. Foxconn has been courting Sharp for a while now, and has offered $5.5 billion to buy the company. Sharp is also entertaining an offer from Innovation Network Corp. of Japan, a government-backed fund, but INCJ's offer is much lower than Foxconn's. Foxconn's CEO says the two cleared 90% of the hurdles during Thursday's meeting, but at least one legal issue prevented them from closing the deal. The two CEOs believe they can work out the remaining issues before the end of the month.


Samsung Galaxy S7 Clears FCC with Single Approval

Thursday, 1:44 PM   by Rich Brome

The FCC this week approved a pair of new Samsung phones that are almost certainly the new Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 edge (or equivalent). Unlike previous generations of the flagship phone, Samsung was able to have all U.S. carrier variants approved under a single FCC ID, indicating a new level of hardware standardization for the company. The phone will still come in specific variants for each carrier, each restricted to certain LTE bands, among other differences. The FCC documents reveal much about the network band and feature support of each variant. The phones are widely expected to be announced at a Samsung event scheduled for February 21st.

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Android Wear Gains Wider Support for Phone Calls

Thursday, 12:33 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today announced Android Wear 1.4, which adds a fistful of new features. Chiefly, Android-based smartwatches can now make and take calls via Bluetooth when the wearable itself includes a speaker. Google says this is limited to the Huawei Watch and the ASUS ZenWatch 2 at the moment, but it expects more watches to ship with speakers and calling support over time. Watches with speakers can also be used to listen to audio messages from apps such as Glide. Android Wear 1.4 also expands the number of apps able to use voice actions to dictate and send messages, which now includes, Google Hangouts, Nextplus, Telegram, Viber, WeChat, and WhatsApp. Last, Google added a few new wrist gestures to the platform. For example, Android smartwatches can now expand cards, bring up the app drawer, or return home with a push, lift, or shake, respectively. Google says Android Wear 1.4 is rolling out to Android smartwatches over the next few days.


Verizon Improves Prepaid Data Buckets

Thursday, 10:27 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Verizon Wireless today increased the appeal of its prepaid plans by adding in a bit more data. The company offers two main Verizon-branded prepaid plans. The first costs $45 per month and includes up to 2 GB of data, while the second costs $60 and includes up to 5 GB. Customers who choose to enroll in auto-pay can score an extra 1 GB, which increases the $45 plan to 3 GB total and the $60 plan to 6 GB total. Both plans include unlimited talk and text in the U.S., as well as unlimited texting to Canada and Mexico.


Apple Pay Surges to 2 Million Retail Locations

Thursday, 8:57 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Owners of newer iPhones can make mobile payments at more than 2 million retail stores, according to Apple. Some of the latest adoptees include Au Bon Pain, Chick-fil-A, and Crate & Barrel. The service is gaining traction within third-party apps, too, as companies including Zappos add Apple Pay to their own applications. Using Apple Pay within apps makes it easier to pay, as consumers don't have to fill in credit card details each time they make a purchase. Apple Pay launched at 700,000 locations in 2014. The company met its goal of reaching 1.5 million locations by the end of 2015, and is pushing for broader adoption by retailers around the globe. Apple Pay is available to the iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6s, and 6s Plus.


Sharp Leaning Toward Foxconn's $5.5B Bid

Thursday, 8:41 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Sharp is favoring an acquisition offer from Foxconn over a potential rescue from Japanese investors. Sharp has lost market share in the consumer electronics business over the last few years while prices for its display panels have sunk. The two combined have put Sharp in a precarious position; it has already been bailed out once. Innovation Network Corp. of Japan, a government-backed fund, has offered to inject capital into the company to keep it solvent. INCJ's offer, however, is about half that of a $5.5 billion take-over bid from Taiwan's Foxconn. Foxconn is more aggressively pursuing Sharp, says the Wall Street Journal, and is pressing the firm to accept its offer. Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou is traveling to Japan Thursday to meet with Sharp CEO Kozo Takahashi and the company's leadership team. Takahashi said, "The two offers are not equal," and that the company will focus on Foxconn's offer more so than INCJ's. Foxconn is known as one of Apple's primary manufacturing partners.


VAIO Trots Out A Windows 10 Handset

Thursday, 8:24 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

VAIO has unveiled a smartphone running Microsoft's Windows 10 platform for its home market of Japan. The VAIO Phone Biz is a stylish handset with aluminum unibody construction and mid-range specifications. It includes a 5.5-inch full HD screen, Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 processor, 16 GB of storage, 3 GB of RAM, and a 2800mAh battery. The Phone Biz offers a 13-megapixel main camera and 5-megapixel selfie camera. It can run Microsoft's Continuum software, which allows it to act like a full Windows 10 PC when hooked up to a monitor, mouse, and keyboard. VAIO will sell the phone in Japan for approximately $424 beginning in April. VAIO is Sony's former PC business, which it spun off several years ago. The VAIO Phone Biz won't be sold in the U.S., but is notable due to its design and the fact that it is the first VAIO-branded Windows smartphone. The VAIO Phone Biz isn't as capable on a spec basis as Microsoft's own Lumia 950 and 950 XL phones, but it is more stylish and less expensive.


Apple Music for Android Can Store Songs on Memory Cards

Thursday, 8:11 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Thursday, 9:04 AM

Apple updated its Apple Music application for Android devices and added the ability for users to store music on microSD cards for offline playback. This is chiefly important for devices that have limited on-board storage. The app also now displays the full schedule of Beats 1 Radio programs, and makes it easier to browse through classical music and movie scores thanks to options for viewing composers and compilations. Apple Music and Beats 1 Radio are free to download and use, but the full service, which adds an ad-free, offline playback, and curated stations, requires a $10 monthly fee.


Apple Must Pay VirnetX $625 Million Over Patent Violations

Wednesday, 6:24 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Apple has been ordered to compensate VirnetX $625 million for using one of the company's patents without permission. VirnetX's patent covers "the use of a domain-name service to set up virtual private networks." Under VirnetX's patent, the VPNs are then used by corporations to communicate with customers or employees. VirnetX claimed Apple used the patent in its iMessage and FaceTime apps, and a Texas jury agreed. The original complaint was filed years ago and has been bouncing around courts since 2012. VirnetX first won a judgement against Apple for $368 million in 2013, but that award was vacated in 2014. VirnetX sought $532 million in the trial that began January 25 of this year, but the jury decided Apple willfully violated the patent and upped the total award to $625 million. Apple immediately requested the judge declare a mistrial, saying VirnetX's lawyers confused and misled the jury during closing arguments. The judge didn't immediately respond to Apple's request. VirnetX, a patent-licensing firm, has filed similar complaints against other companies.


Google Taking More Steps to Protect Against Nefarious Ads

Wednesday, 4:37 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said it is expanding its Safe Browsing protection to further keep people safe when browsing the mobile web. Specifically, Google is now targeting social engineering attacks, which often trick users into downloading unwanted software or revealing personal data by looking like the device's native software. Google will go after ads that pretend to "act, or look and feel, like a trusted entity — like your own device, or browser" and those that attempt to "trick you into doing something you'd only for a trusted entity" such as sharing a password or phone number. Google turned on Safe Browsing in Chrome on Android devices by default last year. This improvement in Safe Browsing will add another layer of protection for mobile surfers.


LG Says G5 Set for February 21 Debut

Wednesday, 4:27 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

LG used its Twitter account to tease the G5, its next flagship phone. The handset will mark its debut at a press event to be held February 21 in Barcelona during the Mobile World Congress trade show. LG didn't provide any details about the phone itself, other than the G5 name.


Turing Says Sailfish Phone to Include Google Play Store

Wednesday, 10:58 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Turing today said the Turing Phone will allow owners to access the Play Store and standard Android apps, even though the phone runs Sailfish OS. "Turing Phone supports Google Play Store and Android apps via the Alien Dalvik engine running on the Sailfish OS 2.0," said Turing to Phonescoop in an email. The company has dropped Google's Android platform in favor of Sailfish OS for its security-focused smartphone, due later this year. Sailfish, based on Linux, was developed and is licensed by Jolla.

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T-Mobile Offers Families Unlimited Data for $150

Wednesday, 9:45 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

T-Mobile today rolled out a new promotion that will give families of four unlimited talk, text, and data each for a total of $150 per month. Other options include four lines with 10 GB each for $120 per month, or two lines with 10 GB each for $100 per month. The promotion, which T-Mobile said will be available for a limited time, is open to new and existing customers and does not require port-ins, trade-ins, or handset purchases. T-Mobile said the new Family Match plan can be combined with the buy-one, get-one half-off offer currently available for certain phones.


Sprint Cuts PayLo and Broadband2Go Amidst Virgin Shakeup

Wednesday, 8:41 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Sprint is today discontinuing its PayLo and Broadband2Go sub-brands, which were operated through Virgin Mobile. The move comes mere days after Sprint said it was "de-emphasizing" the Virgin brand. PayLo chiefly offered talk/text plans to feature devices and Broadband2Go mainly sold data-only devices and services. Virgin said the PayLo brand attracted people seeking "burner phones" and it wants to move away from that association. The company is also adjusting the service plans available from Virgin Mobile. Starting today, Virgin will offer three plans. The entry-level plan costs $30 and includes unlimited talk/text and 500 MB of data. Stepping up to the $40 plan boosts data to 4 GB, while the $50 plan includes 6 GB. Sprint doesn't charge overages, but does throttle people who exceed their data limits. "We've kind of transitioned to focusing on those monthly unlimited plans, which are the more engaged, higher-ARPU subscribers," said Angela Rittgers, VP of Sprint's prepaid services, to Fierce Wireless. "I think what we'll find is that the net amount of money we get from customers will be the same, but these are just more attractive price points to subscribers." Sprint said it remains committed to its prepaid brands and customers. Sprint's other prepaid brand, Boost Mobile, recently revised its pricing, too.

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