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printed October 31, 2014
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Sprint Says Customers Can Now Lease Samsung Galaxy S5

Today, 8:57 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Sprint has expanded the availability of its "iPhone for Life" leasing program to the Samsung Galaxy S5 and S5 Sport. Beginning today, new and existing customers can get an S5 or S5 Sport (16GB model) for $0 down and $20 per month via the Sprint Lease program. Customers lease the phone for 24 months. At the end of the 24-month period, customers can turn in their GS5 or GS5 Sport for a new device; purchase the GS5 or GS5 Sport for the remaining balance; continue leasing the phone on a month-to-month basis; or return the device and terminate their service. Existing Sprint customers who lease a GS5 or GS5 Sport between now and January 15 will receive a $15 monthly bill credit. The loyalty credit applies to those Sprint customers on Unlimited My Way, My All-in, Simply Everything, and Everything Data (Share) plans. Sprint didn't say how long the service credit will be applied to customer bills.


Madstar Mobile Latest Sprint MVNO Looking to Disrupt

Today, 7:56 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Madstar Mobile today announced itself as "the newest national wireless carrier." The MVNO resells access to Sprint's 3G/4G networks and claims to offer the benefits of postpaid and prepaid services at the same time. It bills for service on a postpaid basis, but it doesn't require credit checks, deposits, or contracts. Madstar says customers can cancel their service at any time with no fear of ETFs. The company offers a range of feature phones, smartphones, and access points. Customers can choose to pay full price for their phones or finance them with monthly payments. For example, the HTC One (M8) is available for $665 or as low as $29 per month on an installment plan. Other handsets in Madstar's roster include the Apple iPhone 5, Google Nexus 5, Kyocera Kona, and the Samsung Galaxy S5. Alternately, customers can bring their own compatible device and port their existing wireless number if they wish. The least expensive service plan costs $22 per month and includes 250 voice minutes, 250 messages, and pay-as-you-go data. Plan pricing jumps by $11 increments, with the most expensive option topping out at $88 per month. It includes unlimited voice minutes, messaging, HD Voice, and 2GB of data "Our goal is to provide subscribers with a cost effective, convenient and reliable wireless service using the device of their choice,” said David Pearsall, Madstar Mobile's founder & CEO. "Wireless devices and service have become a necessity, not a luxury and should be affordable to everyone without the need to prepay now for the right to service later." The company is based in New Milford, Conn.

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Samsung Debuts the Metal-Clad Galaxy A Series

Today, 7:16 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Samsung today announced the Galaxy A5 and A3, two mid-range smartphones meant to better compete with LG's L series and HTC's Desire devices. The A5 and A3 feature metal unibody construction and will come in a variety of colors. The two phones share most internal components. Both phones are powered by a 1.2GHz quad-core processor with 16GB of internal storage and support for microSD cards up to 64GB. Each includes Cat 4 LTE, Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi, GPS, and NFC radios along with a handful of internal sensors. The A5 and A3 share 5-megapixel user-facing cameras and some of the selfie modes seen most recently on the Galaxy Note 4, such as wide-angle selfie.

  • A5: The A5 (pictured) is the larger of the two phones. It has a 5-inch HD screen, 13-megapixel main camera, 2GB of RAM, and a 2,300mAh battery.
  • A3: The smaller of the two phones has a 4.5-inch qHD display, 8-megapixel main camera, 1GB of RAM, and a 1,900mAh battery.
  • The Galaxy A5 and A3 run Android 4.4 KitKat with Samsung's Touchwiz user interface. They will go on sale in select markets beginning in November. US carriers have not yet announced plans to carry the devices.


    Android Founder Andy Rubin Leaving Google

    Today, 6:59 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

    Andy Rubin, who helped launch Google's Android business, is leaving the company. Rubin co-founded the Android operating system, which Google acquired in 2005. Rubin oversaw the initial development of the platform and remained at the head of Google's Android business until 2013, when he took on a role within the company's robotics division. Rubin is leaving Google to create a robotics incubator. Rubin's Android role was handed to Sundar Pichai in 2013, who was recently promoted to the head all Google's products, including Chrome and core experiences like Gmail. Rubin will be replaced by James Kuffner, who is a research scientist at Google. "I want to wish Andy all the best with what’s next," Google CEO Larry Page said in a statement. "With Android he created something truly remarkable -- with a billion-plus happy users. Thank you."


    FCC Approves 70 Bidders for AWS-3 Auction

    Yesterday, 4:11 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

    The FCC today published a list of entities approved to bid in the upcoming auction for AWS-3 spectrum. A total of 70 companies qualified to participate in the auction, which begins November 13. All applicants have been automatically registered for the auction and will receive additional materials in the days to come. The FCC will hold a mock trial on November 10 so participants can familiarize themselves with the bidding process. The FCC encourages all bidders to join the mock auction. Some of the companies approved to bid include AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless and a large number of smaller companies, partnerships, and entities. Sprint is not participating. The AWS-3 spectrum includes 65MHz in the 1695-1710MHz, 1755-1780MHz, and 2155-2180MHz bands. The collective reserve price for the lower block is $580 million and the collective reserve price for the upper blocks is $10.07 billion.


    Verizon Dinged $64M for Decade-Old Transgressions

    Yesterday, 1:12 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

    Verizon Wireless has agreed to settle a class action lawsuit over deceptive billing practices. Customers contend Verizon over-charged Family Share Plan subscribers between 2002 and 2006. They allege the company charged for in-network voice minutes that were meant to be free. They further claim Verizon over-charged for voice minute usage that exceeded the monthly allotment. For example, the main line was charged 25 cents per extra minute, but other Family Share Plan members were charged 45 cents per extra minute. The stepped-up charges were not spelled out adequately by Verizon Wireless. Verizon is putting $36.7 million into a settlement fund for customers over-charged for voice minutes. The remaining $27.5 million chunk is meant for customers who were billed for in-network minutes. The settlement has not yet been approved by a judge, and it's unclear how consumers are to go about being reimbursed.


    Google Adds Reading Tools to Play Books App

    Yesterday, 10:39 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

    Google today added several features to its Play Book reading application that make it better for consuming nonfiction material. The revised app, for example, allows users to skim or flip through pages, as well as add bookmarks throughout the text. The new skimming view makes it a breeze to jump from section to section, or scan through individual sections. Prior to this update, books needed to be read from front to back, with minimal support for jumping chapters or sections. Play Books also adopts Google's Material Design, which is the new design language of Android 5.0 Lollipop. Google Play Books is free to download from the Play Store.


    Samsung Gear S Goes On Sale Nov. 7

    Yesterday, 8:57 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

    Samsung and its carrier partners announced availability and pricing details for the Gear S smartwatch today. AT&T and Sprint will offer the device starting November 7, but T-Mobile won't sell it until November 9. Pricing for the wearable varies by carrier. The full retail price is $350. AT&T is offering it for $200 with a two-year contract and $10 monthly service charge. Sprint says customers can get the Gear S with $0 down followed by 24 monthly payments of $16. Sprint's Gear S plan also costs $10 per month. T-Mobile is selling the Gear S for $0 down followed by payments of $14.58 for 24 months. T-Mobile's Gear S service plan costs $5 per month. Verizon has yet to announce its pricing and service plan details. The Gear S requires a service plan because it can access 3G networks and make voice calls independent of a smartphone. The Gear S is based on Samsung's Tizen platform and features a 2-inch, curved Super AMOLED display with 360 x 480 pixels. In addition to 3G, the Gear S includes Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Samsung says it can transition between cellular and Bluetooth connections seamlessly. It includes Samsung's S Voice service for voice commands, and has an on-screen keyboard for composing messages. Other features include Samsung's S Health and fitness apps, music player and gallery apps, and the ability to receive notifications from a variety of services. The Gear S is powered by a dual-core 1.0GHz processor with 512MB of RAM and 4GB of storage. It has a 300mAh battery, which Samsung claims provides for two days of usage per charge.


    Google Drive for Android Given Material Design

    Yesterday, 8:42 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

    Google recently updated the Google Drive application for Android devices. The revised app improves search tools by adding autocomplete as users type in the search box. Drive now allows users to attach email messages to shared files. The app has a brand new PDF viewer, which allows users to search for and select text within PDF documents. Last, Drive was updated with Material Design, the new design language for Android 5.0 Lollipop. Google Drive for Android is free to download from the Play Store.


    Skype for iPhone Updated with Usability Tweaks

    Yesterday, 8:37 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

    Skype today updated its iPhone application to version 5.7. The refreshed app mostly addresses user complaints in order to improve performance and ease-of-use. Skype 5.7 lets iPhone users press-and-hold photos within chats to save to their camera roll; reduces chat load times; adds avatars to all chat sessions, including groups, and updates them frequently; and simplifies the people list search and filter options, making it quicker to find contacts and initiate chat sessions. Skype 5.7 is free to download from the iTunes App Store.


    Microsoft Debuts Health Platform and Wearable

    Yesterday, 8:30 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

    Microsoft today announced Microsoft Health, a new platform that's similar in basic approach to Apple's HealthKit and Google's Google Fit programs. Microsoft Health relies on a cloud-based service where consumers and the industry both store health and fitness data. The Microsoft Health application is available today for Android, iOS, and Windows Phone devices. It collects information from third-party apps and services and saves the data to the cloud, where it can help users manage their health and fitness goals. Microsoft Health doesn't combine data points from apps locally on smartphones, which both HealthKit and Fit do. Instead, the data is analyzed by Microsoft's Intelligence Engine online, which can be used to generate graphs, charts, and other ways to assess the data. For example, Microsoft Health can tell people which exercises burn the most calories, or calculate the quality of users' sleep. Though Microsoft Health works with select third-party devices, such as Jawbone Up, Microsoft announced the Microsoft Band wearable. The band was designed to be worn all day long. It has 10 sensors inside that track steps, calories burned, heart rate, and more. Together with the Microsoft Health app, the Microsoft Band offers guided workouts created by Gold's Gym, Shape, and others. The band also includes notifications for incoming calls, messages, or social networking updates. The Band is available from Microsoft's web site and retail stores beginning today for $199. Last, Microsoft is offering SDKs and APIs to health providers and app developers so they may hook their products into Microsoft Health.


    Samsung Says It Will Refocus on Low-Cost Devices

    Yesterday, 8:06 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

    Samsung today indicated it plans to tackle anew the entry-level and mid-range smartphone segments after reporting a 60% drop in profits for its most recent financial quarter. The weakened profits reflects sluggish sales of its high-end smartphones, such as the Galaxy S5 and Note 4. Samsung's hold on the smartphone market has sunk three quarters in a row, forcing the company to reevaluate its strategy. "The mid-to-low end market is growing rapidly, and we plan to respond actively in order to capitalise on that growth," said Samsung Senior Vice President Kim Hyun-joon. The company said it would boost the appeal of its entry-level and mid-range devices by improving materials and features, while remaining competitive on price. Samsung has lost marketshare to low-cost rivals such as Xiaomi and Meizu in emerging markets, which represent the best opportunity for growth. The company recorded $3.9 billion in profits thanks to sales of televisions and memory chips.


    Sony Swaps Out Mobile Executives

    Yesterday, 7:30 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

    Sony today said it will replace Kunimasa Suzuki, who leads the company's smartphone business. Effective November 16, Hiroki Totoki will be the new president of Sony Mobile Communications. Totoki already serves as Sony's corporate planning director and is a close confidant of CEO Kazuo Hirai, according to Reuters. The change is a reaction to slow sales of Sony's Xperia smartphones and tablets, which have negatively impacted the company's financial performance. Sony has already lowered sales forecasts for the year, and investors fear it will lower its outlook again when it reports earnings on Friday.


    LG Slices Display Bezel to 0.7mm

    Yesterday, 7:24 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

    LG Display today announced a new LCD panel that practically eliminates the bezel. The panel measures 5.3 inches across the diagonal with full HD resolution. The bezels along the side edges of the screen measure just 0.7mm thick. LG said it accomplished this with what it calls "Neo Edge" module processing and an in-cell touch panel. It uses an adhesive instead of double-sided tape to attach and seal the edges of the screen's circuit board, backlight, and touch panel. These help eliminate a plastic guide panel, which would otherwise be required to hold everything together. The Neo Edge technology is dust and waterproof, blocks light leakage, helps prevent corrosion, and improves durability thanks to the flexibility of the the adhesive. LG said it will begin to produce the new panel in volume next month.


    Lenovo Completes Acquisition of Motorola

    Yesterday, 7:04 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

    Google has completed its sale of Motorola to Lenovo. Google first announced plans to sell Motorola in January. The deal was valued at about $2.9 billion. Google purchased Motorola in 2012 for more than $12 billion, in part for its treasure trove of 17,000 patents. Since then, Google has retooled Motorola's products and released innovative devices such as the Moto X, Moto G, and Moto E in 2013. During the last several months Motorola delivered a range of new handsets, including the second-generation Moto X and Moto G, the Droid Turbo, and the Nexus 6. Motorola's devices all feature stock Android operating systems with unique and helpful additions, such as Active Display and Moto Voice. Lenovo plans to keep the Motorola brand intact and will use it to grow its own presence in the market. According to Motorola chief Risk Osterloh, Motorola will remain headquartered in Chicago and will continue to develop its Moto and Droid lines of hardware with a focus on quick OS upgrades and technology that solves real-world problems. "In Lenovo we have a partner that shares our mission and that brings global scale, a diverse product portfolio and a track record of seizing strategic opportunities and making the most of them," said Osterloh in a blog post. "Together we will go farther, faster. With an impressive portfolio of smartphones, wearables and PCs, our two companies will be uniquely positioned to push the boundaries of choice and value, and bring exciting new experiences to people everywhere."


    Consumer Cellular Selling Moto G for $150

    Wednesday, 3:10 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

    Consumer Cellular today announced the availability of the Moto G. The G has a 5-inch 720p HD screen, 8-megapixel camera, and quad-core processor. Consumer Cellular is selling the device for $150. The company does not require contracts.


    Hands-On: Google Nexus 6

    Wednesday, 2:02 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

    The Google Nexus 6 is essentially a Moto X on steroids. It's huge, well-made, and has an appealing design. This full-sized phablet may impress, but it's not for everyone. Here are our initial impressions about Google's newest Nexus.

    continued ›


    MCX Goes On the Defensive, Offers New Details

    Wednesday, 1:23 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

    MCX took to its company blog today to "set the record straight" on what its forthcoming CurrentC product will and won't entail. First and foremost, MCX said participation in its payment service is voluntary. "MCX merchants make their own decisions about what solutions they want to bring to their customers; the choice is theirs. When merchants choose to work with MCX, they choose to do so exclusively. Importantly, if a merchant decides to stop working with MCX, there are no fines." In other words, companies that pick CurrentC to power mobile payments in their stores will not be permitted to accept alternate mobile payment services, such as Apple Pay or Google Wallet. MCS will not penalize members that decide to switch allegiances. According to MCX, CurrentC will work with most Android or iOS devices and will offer loyalty programs, coupons, and payments all in a single transaction. It claims to meet the industry standard when it comes to fraud protection, and will allow consumers multiple different payment methods (credit card, merchant card, bank account). MCX claims consumers will be in control of their personal data (including location) and they can share as much or as little as they want with retailers. The company believes its QR code-based system will work well at retail locations, and points to the success Starbucks has had with a similar system. It said it might add other payment options, such as Bluetooth, down the road. MCX came under fire this week after CVS and Rite-Aid, which support CurrentC, ceased accepting Apple Pay and Google Wallet. CurrentC is currently being tested in select markets and won't fully launch until next year.

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