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printed July 25, 2017
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Qualcomm Makes Good On Promise to Release Neural SDK

Today, 1:52 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Qualcomm today made its Snapdragon Neural Processing Engine SDK available to all developers. The SDK was first announced in May 2016 and has been in limited testing with select partners since the third quarter of 2016. Today signals the wide release of the SDK. The SDK will allow smartphone and other hardware manufacturers to add their own machine learning programs to devices with Snapdragon 600 and Snapdragon 800 series mobile platforms. Qualcomm says it is ideal for applications in industries including mobile, automotive, healthcare, security, and imaging. The Neural Processing Engine SDK relies on Qualcomm's Zeroth Machine Intelligence Platform. Zeroth is already baked into the Snapdragon processors. Qualcomm says the SDK will enable typical deep learning behaviors such as scene detection, text recognition, object tracking and avoidance, facial recognition, and natural language processing.. The SDK includes a bevy of tools to help developers create and add such learning behaviors to their devices.


Hands On with the Moto Z2 Force

Today, 12:32 PM   by Eric Zeman & Rich Brome

Motorola today announced the Moto Z2 Force, the company's newest flagship phone. The phone sports a durable ShatterShield display, thin metal design, dual cameras, and of course supports the company's Moto Mods system of snap-on accessory modules. We took it for a quick spin and have some first impressions to share from our hands-on time with it.

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Moto Z2 Force Drops 'Droid' Branding On Verizon

Today, 11:50 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Motorola announced the Z2 Force today, which replaces both the Z and Z Force from last year. The phone will be sold by most U.S. carriers, including AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon Wireless. Motorola said the Verizon variant will not include the "Droid" branding that was found on last year's phones. Motorola is sticking with a single device name across carriers. Verizon did not provide comment on the name change. Motorola plans to sell the phone unlocked from Motorola.com, but there is no single unlocked model, according to Rudi Kalil, vice president and general manager at Motorola. Kalil said Motorola will offer unlocked variants for each carrier due to the specific cellular radio requirements for forthcoming 1 Gbps service that's under development from the carriers. The Moto Z2 Force is available for preorder today and will ship starting August 10.


Motorola Reveals the Moto Z2 Force Flagship with Shattershield

Today, 10:14 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Today, 11:37 AM

Motorola today announced the Moto Z2 Force, its flagship handset for 2017. The Z2 Force carries over the Shattershield nearly unbreakable display from last year's phone. It is a slim handset boasting a metal chassis and compatibility with Motorola's system of Moto Mods accessories. The display measures 5.5 inches and offers quad HD resolution. The phone is powered by a Snapdragon 835 processor with 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage. The new dual-camera array includes two sensors (one standard, one monochromatic) in the single raised module with two-tone flash. The cameras capture 12-megapixel images and allow for true black-and-white photography as well as selective focus for blurred backgrounds. Other specs include a wide-angle, user-facing camera with CCT flash for more accurate skin tones. The device includes Motorola's TurboPower charging with all-day battery life. Motorola says a 15-minute charge delivers 8 hours of battery life. This year's phone includes Motorola's standard nano-coating to protect the inner components from water damage, but the Z2 Force is not fully waterproof. It includes Motorola's multi-function fingerprint sensor as well as Moto Display with quick reply and Moto Voice with "show me" commands. The phone will be available in gray, black, and gold colors. The phone will be sold by most U.S. carriers and is available for preorder starting today. Motorola said the Moto Z2 Force hits stores August 10. It runs Android 7 Nougat.


Google Maps and Google Search Debut SOS Function

Today, 7:16 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today announced its Google Maps and Google Search apps will soon show critical information regarding natural and other disasters that may strike. The SOS Alerts, as they are called, will appear at the top of search results and within maps as people look for information concerning the disasters or impacted areas. In Google Search, results will include pertinent news stories or broadcasts, emergency numbers, and relevant web sites. Those close to disaster areas may receive push alerts with the same information. In Google Maps, Google will showcase data concerning the event, phone numbers and web sites, as well as placement on the map and real-time information regarding road closures or changes to mass transit. Google partnered with agencies including the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Red Cross to gain access to the information. Google is bringing SOS Alerts to its mobile Search and Maps apps for Android and iOS. The same information will also be available to desktop machines.


Google Says More Daydream VR Phones Are On the Way

Today, 7:08 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google CEO Sundar Pichai said the company's handset partners have new Daydream-compatible devices in the pipeline and there should be a total of 11 such phones available by the end of the year. At the moment, only four phones are able to use Google's virtual reality headsets, including the Pixel and Pixel XL, ZTE Axon 7, Motorola Z, and Huawei Mate 9. It's not clear if Pichai was including the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+, which are primed to receive Daydream compatibility through a software update. The figure likely does include Google's 2017 Pixel devices, whatever they may be. Daydream has certain hardware requirements, particularly where the display is concerned. For example, the display must be between 4.7 and 6 inches, must have a 60 Hz or greater refresh rate with low-persistence mode, and must have at least full HD resolution, with quad HD preferred. Companies including Motorola, HMD Global, Samsung, Sony, Huawei, and LG all have major device announcements lined up between now and early September. It is possible these forthcoming handsets will be among those supporting Google Daydream.


Samsung Makes the Galaxy J7 and Galaxy J3 Available Unlocked

Yesterday, 3:06 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Samsung today added the Galaxy J7 and Galaxy J3 to its list of unlocked smartphones. The two inexpensive handsets will be available to purchase directly from Samsung's web site as well as select retailers starting July 28. The J7 (pictured) is the larger, costlier of the two with a 5.5-inch 720p HD screen and $220 price tag. It also has a 3,300mAh battery, 8-megapixel main camera, and 5-megapixel front camera with flash. The smaller J3 has a 5-inch 720p HD display and a $150 price point. The J3 also has a 2,600mAh battery, 5-megapixel main camera, and 2-megapixel front camera. Both phones support expandable memory cards, support U.S. 3G/4G networks, and run Android 7 Nougat. They have been available from several U.S. carriers (AT&T/Cricket, T-Mobile/MetroPCS) for several months.


Google Drops Android O Release Candidate

Yesterday, 1:02 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today made Android O Developer Preview 4 available to application developers and said this is the final preview before Google releases Android O to consumers later this year. This build contains the final user interface system behaviors, the latest bug fixes and optimizations, and the final set of APIs. Google says along with the penultimate version of Android O, it is offering developers the stable version of the Android 26.0.0 Support Library along with incremental updates to the SDK, Android Emulator, and other developer tools. Among the new tools is a way for developers to test their applications for Android O preparedness. Those who have enrolled their devices in the Android Beta Program should receive Developer Preview 4 over the air in the next few days. Google has already made the system images available for those who prefer to manually install updates. This new preview can be installed on the Nexus 6p and 5x, Pixel, Pixel XL, and Pixel C, and the Nexus Player. Some of the core features of Android O include picture-in-picture, notification dots, widget picker, new emoji, and revamped settings tools. Google said the final version is expected to arrive later this summer. Google still has not revealed what dessert the "O" will be.


Apple Pushes Fourth Round of Developer Betas

Yesterday, 12:11 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Apple today seeded the fourth beta of iOS 11 to application developers. This build is not meant for public beta testers, though Apple typically offers new public betas shortly after it releases developer code. In this beta, Apple continues to refine iOS 11 and add features based on developer feedback. The company did not call out any specific changes concerning iOS 11 Beta 4. The final release of iOS 11 should reach all users this fall. iOS 11 targets the iPad more than the iPhone, but both platforms gain expanded Control Center tools, a refreshed App Store, new camera features, Siri improvements, as well as updates to iMessage, the Keyboard, files, and more. Apple today also released new beta builds of watchOS, tvOS 11, macOS High Sierra 10.13, and Xcode 9.


T-Mobile Offering Scam Protection to MetroPCS Subscribers

Yesterday, 8:11 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

T-Mobile today said it is extending the same scam-stopping tool its postpaid customers have enjoyed since April to its prepaid MetroPCS customers beginning July 25. T-Mobile introduced the network-based tool earlier this year to help identify and block potential scam calls. T-Mobile uses it to analyze every call that reaches the T-Mobile network against a global database of known scammers. If the number matches that of a scammer, T-Mobile will identify the call as a potential scam when it rings the subscriber's phone. Subscribers can then choose to ignore the call. This feature is called Scam ID and will be activated for all MetroPCS customers automatically. T-Mobile is also offering the ability for MetroPCS customers to block scam calls entirely. Subscribing to the Scam Block tool will prevent suspected scam calls from ringing even MetroPCS phones. T-Mobile says it has learned a lot about scammers since activating the tool earlier this year. For example, many scammers place calls during regular business hours between 8am and 5pm. T-Mobile updates its database of known and suspected scammers constantly and says alerting customers to scam calls helps prevent fraud. Both Scam ID and Scam Block are free. T-Mobile originally said Scam ID and Scam Block would reach MetroPCS customers during the spring.


OnePlus Says 8 GB Version of OnePlus 5 Available for Immediate Shipping

Yesterday, 7:29 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Yesterday, 10:28 AM

OnePlus today said the high-end variant of its OnePlus 5 smartphone is now more widely available to U.S. buyers. Specifically, the OnePlus 5 Midnight Black with 8 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage will now ship as soon as consumers place order. OnePlus initially launched this variant in limited supplies. This high-end model costs $539. The OnePlus 5 has a 5.5-inch full HD screen, Snapdragon 835 processor, dual cameras, 3,000mAh battery with rapid charging, and broad support for worldwide LTE bands. It ships with OxygenOS, which is based on Android 7 Nougat.


LG Earmarks the Q8 for Europe and Asia

Yesterday, 7:06 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

LG today provided more details about the Q8 smartphone. The handset, which appeared online last week, targets one-handed use and easy portability. LG's intent was to take the high-end features found on the prosumer V20 and put them in a smaller, more affordable package. The Q8 boasts a metal body with a 5.2-inch quad HD display and second screen for alerts and other action items. Other features include a Snapdragon 820 processor with 4 GB of RAM and 32 GB of storage, 3,000mAh battery, stereo headphone jack and USB-C. LG stepped up the audio with a Hi-Fi Quad DAC from ESS Technology, which LG says can cut down white noise by up to 50%. Moreover, the HD Audio Recorder captures studio-quality audio via 24-bit / 192 kHz in lossless FLAC format. Like the V20, the Q8 has a dual-camera configuration and rear-mounted fingerprint reader. The main camera has a 13-megapixel sensor with optical image stabilization, while the secondary shooter has an 8-megapixel sensor and a wide-angle lens. The cameras are augmented by a dual LED flash. The front camera has a wide-angle, 5-megapixel sensor. Other specs include Bluetooth 4.2, GPS, WiFi, LTE 4G, and an IP67 rating for protection against water ingress. The LG Q8 will be sold in Europe beginning this week, with Asia to follow. It appears the phone will not be made available in North America.


Review: Jabra Elite Sport Wireless Earbuds (2017)

Friday, 2:20 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Jabra has refreshed its Elite Sport wireless Bluetooth earbuds with improvements to battery life and sound quality. Like the originals, the new Jabra Elite Sport are aimed at fitness-minded people thanks to fancy tools such as a heart rate monitor and in-ear coaching. If you're looking for fully-featured, wire-free earbuds, the 2017 Jabra Elite Sport offer more bang for the buck than most.

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Verizon's Video Optimization Tests Have Customers Crying Foul

Friday, 12:43 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Friday, 12:47 PM

Verizon Wireless is throttling the speeds of Netflix and YouTube, according to customer complaints voiced on Reddit. Verizon's customers claim they are seeing Netflix and YouTube streams capped at 10Mbps, and some suggest the capped speeds are leading to degraded video quality. The issue is impacting customers who have limited and unlimited data plans. When asked for comment, Verizon told Ars Technica, "We've been doing network testing over the past few days to optimize the performance of video applications on our network. The testing should be completed shortly. The customer video experience was not affected." Verizon's statement doesn't necessarily reflect what its customers say is going on. If Verizon is indeed throttling the speeds of video apps, doing say may be a violation of the FCC's net neutrality rules that expressly forbid internet providers from throttling content.


Andy Rubin's Essential Phone to Arrive In 'A Few Weeks'

Friday, 10:24 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Andy Rubin today provided an update concerning the expected arrival of his new company's Essential PH-1 smartphone. "We’ve been hard at work getting everything ready and the good news is that we’re now going through certification and testing with multiple U.S. and international carriers," said Rubin in an email to supporters. "You might be getting impatient to get your hands on your new Essential Phone (and I’m also impatient to get it to you!) but rest assured that you will have a device in your hands in a few weeks." Rubin said his team is "sweating the details and working long hours to get this device shipped." Rubin had previously committed to shipping the phone by the end of June. It now appears the device will arrive in August. The Essential PH-1 has a unique, magnet-based system for accepting modular attachments, such as a 360-degree camera, on the back panel. It includes a 5.7-inch quad HD screen with curved corners, Snapdragon 835 processor, and dual rear cameras. It will run a near-stock version of Android 7 Nougat and ship completely devoid of brand names or logos. Essential will sell the PH-1 directly to consumers, though Sprint also plans to carry the phone. It costs $699.


T-Mobile Clearing Out iPhone 7 Inventory

Friday, 8:16 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

T-Mobile today introduced a limited-time offer to save big bucks on the Apple iPhone 7. The Uncarrier will give a $300 credit to those who trade in an iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6s, or 6s Plus for an iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus. Trade-ins must be owned outright, with no remaining payments or commitments. T-mobile says the value of the trade-in can be applied to the purchase of a new iPhone 7 immediately, with the remainder of the $300 offer to arrive later in the form of a prepaid MasterCard. The offer requires people to finance the new iPhone on an installment plan with a T-Mobile service agreement. Sales tax is due on the full price of the new handset at the point of purchase. T-Mobile says the offer can be combined with its iPhone memory upgrade program, which knocks $100 off the price of the 256 GB iPhone for a potential total savings of $400. The balance of the $300 offer will arrive up to 8 weeks after T-Mobile customers sign up for the promotion on T-Mobile's web site. The offer cannot be combined with T-Mobile's Carrier Freedom program.


LG Q8 Appears to Be Smaller Variant of the V20

Friday, 7:17 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

LG's Italian web site recently provided details about an unannounced handset called the Q8. The Q8 appears to be a less-expensive, smaller version of the LG V20. The Q8 does not carryover the 2:1 aspect ratio or FullVision display of the new Q series, such as the Q6, which was announced earlier this month. Instead, the Q8 boasts a metal body with a 5.2-inch quad HD display and second screen for alerts and other action items. Other features include a Snapdragon 820 processor with 4 GB of RAM and 32 GB of storage, 3,000mAh battery, stereo headphone jack and USB-C. Like the V20, the Q8 has a dual-camera configuration and rear-mounted fingerprint reader. The main camera has a 13-megapixel sensor with 78-degree lens at f/1.8 and optical image stabilization, while the secondary shooter has an 8-megapixel sensor with 135-degree lens at f/2.4 for wide-angle shots. Both sensors can take advantage of the dual LED flash. The front camera has a wide-angle, 5-megapixel sensor. Other specs include Bluetooth 4.2, GPS, WiFi, LTE 4G, and an IP67 rating for protection against water ingress. The LG Q8 will be sold in European markets soon. LG's U.S. press team would not comment on the phone's potential availability in North America.


Cricket Offering 2 Lines of Unlimited Service for $80

Thursday, 4:04 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Cricket Wireless today annouced new service and handset promotions meant to entice customers to sign up for the prepaid carrier. To start, Cricket is offering new and existing customers two lines of unlimited service for $80 per month. That includes unlimited mobile data, messaging, and voice calls. Cricket caps data speeds at 3 Mbps, and will throttle unlimited customers who exceed 22 GB of data per billing period. In addition to the new service promo, Cricket has a number of deals on smartphones. For example, the Alcatel PulseMix is $80 with a new activation, or just $30 with a port-in. Similarly, the LG x charge is $130 with a new activation or just $100 with a port-in. Other phones with available discounts include the ZTE Sonata 3 and Blade X Max; LG Fortune, Harmony, and Stylo 3; and the Samsung Galaxy Amp 2. Cricket said the promos are available for a limited time.

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