Samsung trotted out two versions of its flagship smartphone for 2015 and took them in a new direction with respect to design. The Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge boast the highest quality materials and build we've seen from Samsung.
The Blackphone is a smartphone for corner office types who absolutely require encrypted, secure communications. Silent Circle's second-generation handset is a handsome piece of hardware. Here are our impressions.
Google will no longer provide updates to its Chrome browser for devices running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. Google first released Android 4.0 in 2011. Continually developing for it takes resources away from updating/creating apps for newer platforms, says Google. Chrome 42, which Google released recently, is the last major version update Android 4.0 users will see. The browser will continue to function without change.
Verizon Wireless is now pushing Android 5.0 Lollipop to the HTC One M8. In addition to the new operating system, the update enables Band 4 roaming and improves the three-way calling feature. Owners can download and install the update over the air.
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Google has completely redesigned Google Contacts, the contact-management tool associated with Gmail. The online app has a brand new look and feel that brings it inline with many of Google's existing services. One of the main improvements is the ability to better manage duplicate contacts. Google said it can now keep information up-to-date by blending users' data with its own Google profile data. Google Contacts now also shows the most recent emails and meetings users may have had with specific contacts so they can review their last few messages. Google is offering the new Google Contacts as a preview online. Google didn't say if or how the new Google Contacts service will affect Android's contact application.
The Car Connectivity Consortium today announced that the Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, and the HTC One M9 support the MirrorLink standard for connecting to cars. MirrorLink is a platform-agnostic tool that allows smartphones to push apps and content to in-dash consoles. It competes with Google's Android Auto and Apple's CarPlay. With MirrorLink on board, the GS6, GS6 Edge, and One M9 will be able to connect to the infotainment systems of supported cars.
MediaTek is slowly introducing a new brand name for its mobile processors. Moving forward most of its smartphone and tablet chips will be branded under the name Helio. The company showed off the first two such processors this week, the Heiio X and Helio P series. The Helio X is being marketed as an "extreme performance" chip targeted at flagship multimedia devices. The Helio P is being marketed as a "premium performance" chip meant to deliver solid computing power but also excellent battery life. Think of Helio to MediaTek as Snapdragon is to Qualcomm. MediaTek will have more to say about the Helio brand and lineup later this year.
YotaPhone plans to launch its unique dual-screen YotaPhone 2 in the U.S. this spring via crowd-funding site Indiegogo, according to Matthew Kelly, YotaPhone's Managing Director for Americas. The YotaPhone 2 is a high-end Android phone with a large e-paper display on the back that uses no power when displaying static images and graphics, greatly extending battery life when used often instead of the traditional front display. It is compatible with both T-Mobile and AT&T networks, including LTE. It will sell for approximately $600. As usual for Indiegogo, the company will offer incentives to early backers. Those incentives have not been nailed down, but may include a bumper case or even a discount on the phone. After a successful Indiegogo launch, the company plans to expand availability to third-party retailers such as best Buy. YotaPhone is hard at work on its software upgrade to Android 5.0 (Lollipop), which should be available by the time units start shipping in the U.S., or shortly thereafter. The software update will also include an overhauled 2.0 version of the API for third-party app support of the e-paper screen. The company will also launch a white version of the YotaPhone 2, which has a white back and sides, but keeps the black face. The white color is expected by late summer.
YotaPhone is planning a cheaper version of its YotaPhone 2 dual-screen phone that will be called the YotaPhone 2c, according to Matthew Kelly, YotaPhone's Managing Director for Americas. In order to reach a lower price point, the new model will bring some specs down to typical mid-range level, including the front color display. The 2c will keep the same large e-paper touch screen on the back as the YotaPhone 2. The e-paper display uses no power to display static information and graphics, greatly extending battery life when used often instead of the traditional front display. The standard YotaPhone 2 normally sells for about $600. The company is also working on a YotaPhone 3 that it hopes to debut at CES in ten months.
Pebble today followed the Pebble Time smartwatch with the Pebble Time Steel. The steel version of the Time offers all the same features, but uses a CNC-finished 316L stainless steel casing, includes a premium leather or stainless steel strap, and provides up to 10 days of battery life. Like the Pebble Time, the Pebble Time Steel is available through Kickstarter. Early pledges can reserve one for $250. It will ship in July.
Samsung today announced two new components that will find their way into high-end phones later this year. The first is an 8-megapixel RWB (red-white-blue) image sensor based on ISOCELL technology. Samsung says it provides dramatically improved low-light performance by reducing noise and keeping colors more accurate when compared to back-side illumination sensors. Samsung believes it is ideal for user-facing cameras. Samsung also debuted a fourth-generation NFC radio that improves RF performance by 100% when compared to its predecessor. Samsung says this allowed it to reduce the size of the antenna. It can be attached to a smartphone battery without an extra booster integrated circuit. Together, these benefits will let smartphone makers add the NFC radio to their phones without compromising design. The ISOCELL camera module is expected to go into production during the second quarter, but the NFC radio is already being manufactured at volume.
PayPal today said it has agreed to acquire Paydiant for an undisclosed sum. Paydiant creates the underlying payment mechanisms used by apps such as Subway and Capital One so people can pay for goods and services within those applications. PayPal says the acquisition will allow its partners to build better mobile payment functionality into their own apps, and even go so far as to create complete mobile wallets. Paydiant also includes tools for managing gift cards and loyalty cards. PayPal expects the acquisition to close in March or April.
Google today announced the rollout of Play Services 7.0. Play Services is the backbone developers use to create and power applications for Android. The latest version of Play Services adds a handful of new tools for developers to take advantage of when writing apps. First is a Location Settings Dialog box that will appear when users need to activate location services. Typically when apps require location details apps prompt users to go to the settings menu to turn location on. With the Location Settings Dialog box, a pop-up menu will appear instead, allowing users to flick on GPS without diving into the settings menu. A Places API allows developers to call up details from Google’s database of places and businesses within Maps, making it easier for users to see the names of nearby venues and points of interest. Play Services 7.0 breaks up the Google Fit API into six different APIs that allow developers to fine-tune how Google Fit handles workouts and other sensor data capturing in the background. Targeting gamers, the Nearby Connections API lets games connect smartphones and tablets as second-screen controls to the game running on your TV. The new developer tools also makes me changes to advertising behaviors. Google is rolling Play Services 7.0 beginning today. It should reach most phones running Android 2.3 and up in the next one to two weeks. After it has been distributed, Google will give developers a new SDK to access all the new tools inside Play Services 7.0.
BlackBerry’s strategy under its new CEO John Chen has been to dramatically cut down the number of phones the company pumps out. So a new all-touch phone like the Z10 is a big deal. That describes the Leap, although not completely. It’s very much like the Z10, but also much much lower-end. We spent some time with it. Read on for our impressions.
BlackBerry today discussed its hardware roadmap for 2015 at an event in Barcelona. The company promised an "innovative" new design with a dual-curve display, large touch screen, and slide-out keyboard. The company is also planning a new standard keyboard phone, presumably to replace the Q10. Finally, the company is working on a new Porche-designed phone, in line with its existing Porche versions of its flagship phones. The company did not discuss timing for any of the new phones. The company also announced its Leap phone at the same event.
BlackBerry today announced the Leap, a new smartphone with standard slab touch screen form factor. It's much like the Z10 that launched BlackBerry 10, but with a larger 5-inch, 720p HD display. It includes LTE, an 8-megapixel main camera, 2-megapixel front camera, memory card slot, and a 2,800 mAh sealed battery. It's powered by an older Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 MSM8960 processor, running at 1.5 GHz. It will include the Amazon Appstore for compatible Android apps. It's running BlackBerry 10.3.1 and will cost $275. It will come to Europe, initially.
Alcatel OneTouch today announced the Hero 2+, a phablet running Cyanogen, which is a modified version of Android. The Hero 2+ is a refreshed version of last year's Hero 2. The The Cyanogen 11 operating system is based on Android 4.4.4 KitKat. It includes Cyanogen's Privacy Guard software, which lets users protect their information, as well as encrypt and remotely lock/wipe their device. Cyanogen has supplied its own set of themes and wallpapers to the user interface in addition to camera software and other tools. The phone has a 6-inch full HD display with a built-in stylus. It is powered by a 2.0GHz octa-core Cortex A7 processor from MediaTek paired with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage. The main camera captures 13 megapixels and the user-facing camera captures 5 megapixels. Both can film full HD video. Alcatel plans to sell the phone directly to consumers across North America through its e-commerce web site. The phone will be sold unlocked for $299. Alcatel expects it to go on sale during the second quarter.
MediaTek today announced the MT3188, a multi-mode wireless charging circuit for mobile devices. With the MT3188, handset makers and other OEMs can design devices that support resonant wireless charging and inductive wireless charging thanks to this single, inexpensive circuit. MediaTek says the chip is already in production and should reach consumer devices during the first half of the year. Building support for all the wireless charging standards makes it easier for consumers, who will have a much greater choice when it comes to pairing handsets with wireless charging pads or products.
Intel today revealed its roadmap for 2015, which includes three new Atom mobile processors called the x3, x5, and x7, in addition to a new LTE modem. The Atom x3 is a system-on-a-chip complete with a modem and is meant for volume devices. There will be versions supporting 3G and LTE 4G. The 64-bit processor is ideal for smartphones, phablets, and tablets, says Intel. It can support Android and Windows, and camera configurations as large as 13 megapixels / 5 megapixels. The x3 will be available in dual- and quad-core variants with Mali graphics chips. The Atom x5 and x7 are meant for more powerful machines and are capable of running both Android and the full desktop version of Windows. These SoCs use Intel's 14nm processes and support 64-bit computing. They can handle up to Cat 6 LTE and Intel Gen 8 graphics. The x7 offers improved 3D performance for gaming, too. Intel expects to see the Atom x3, x5, and x7 reach consumer devices during the first half of the year. Last, Intel announced the XMM 7360 LTE modem. It supports carrier aggregation and LTE downlink speeds up to 450Mbps. It supports 29 different cellular bands, LTE Broadcast, VoLTE, and dual-SIM devices. It uses envelope tracking to improve power efficiency. The XMM 7360 can be prepackaged with Intel's WiFi, GPS/GLONASS, and NFC connectivity options. Intel expects to see devices with the XMM 7360 reach consumers during the second half of the year.