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printed January 23, 2018
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iOS 11.2.5 Released with HomePod Support

Today, 3:09 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Today, 4:32 PM

Apple today made iOS 11.2.5 available to iPhones and iPads. The update primarily adds support for Apple's forthcoming HomePod speaker. It also makes it possible for iPhone and iPad owners to ask Siri to read the day's news. The news feature is initially only available in the U.S., the U.K., and Australia. iOS 11.2.5 also fixes bugs and smoothes over performance. The update is free to download and install. Apple also released macOS 10.13.3, watchOS 4.2.2, tvOS 11.2.5, and macOS Server 5.5. The macOS update, in particular, patches significant security holes, while the others perform general bug fixes.


Audiobooks Now Available from Google Play Store

Today, 12:53 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google has added audiobooks to the book section of the Google Play Store. People will be able to preview recorded books in order to assess the narrator's voice before purchasing. Audiobooks can be shared through family plans. Customers won't have to subscribe to a monthly service, as audiobooks are sold at what Google calls fair prices. Many titles are available for under $10. The player supports variable playback speeds, fast forward and rewind, casting, and syncing across devices. Further, the audiobooks section of the Play Store hooks into the Google Assistant and supports commands such as “Ok Google, read my book" on phones and smart speakers. Google is pushing an update to the Play Books app with audiobook support today.

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LG Aristo 2 for MetroPCS Packs More RAM

Today, 12:00 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Today, 12:06 PM

MetroPCS recently added the LG Aristo 2 to its lineup of inexpensive Android handsets. This device is a minor update to the original Aristo. It improves the memory from 1.5 GB to 2 GB and also swaps the original’s silver color for black. Other than these changes, the Aristo 2 carries over all the features of the original Aristo, including a 5-inch HD screen, 1.4 GHz quad-core processor, and 16 GB of internal storage. The phone includes a 13-megapixel main camera with flash and a 5-megapixel selfie camera. The Aristo 2 also has a fingerprint reader and support for memory cards up to 32 GB. The phone runs Android 7 Nougat. The LG Aristo 2 is available from MetroPCS for $59 after a mail-in rebate. The original Aristo is still available from MetroPCS for $49.


Instagram Users Can Now Slap GIFs On Top of Their Stories

Today, 11:30 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Instagram today announced several new features heading to its mobile app that will improve the experience of sharing stories. To start, users can now place GIFs on top of any photo or video shared via their stories. Instagram says hundreds of thousands of GIFs are available thanks to new integration with GIPHY. Further, Instagram users will soon be able to upload images and video of any shape or size to their story. As is it today, content shared via stories is limited to the portrait orientation. Support for GIFs is available in Instagram v29 for Android and iOS today. The improved support for new photo/video shapes within stories will arrive in a few weeks. Earlier this month, Instagram made it possible for users to share presence and/or status within the DM feature. People can see when their friends were last active in the app. This feature is turned on by default, meaning those who don’t want to share their activity with others will need to dive into the settings menu to deactivate the function.


T-Mobile Completes Acquisition of Layer3 TV, Preps TV Service

Today, 9:12 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

T-Mobile today said it has completed its acquisition of Layer3 TV, a deal originally announced late last year. T-Mobile will use Layer3 TV's technology to create and launch a new TV service that will be delivered over T-Mobile's LTE network. T-Mobile’s new TV business unit will be led by Jeff Binder, CEO of Layer3 TV, who joined T-Mobile as an Executive Vice President. When first announced, T-Mobile CEO John Legere insisted T-Mobile's TV service will be "disruptive" and will take full advantage of the latest technology and best content from today's top creators. In addition to T-Mobile's network, the as-yet-unnamed TV service will be supported by T-Mobile's retail stores, and sales and service organizations. T-Mobile has not indicated when and where this television service might launch, nor what it expects to charge per month. The company already allows people to stream as much video via LTE as they wish, and offers some customers Netflix for free. T-Mobile competitors AT&T and Verizon already each have their own television services, both mobile and in-home. Customers can sign up on T-Mobile's web site to receive special discounts when the service launches.


Apple's Delayed HomePod Speaker Reaches Stores Feb. 9

Today, 8:40 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Apple today said its HomePod smart speaker for the home will go on sale starting February 9. Preorders will kick off Friday, January 26. The smart speaker, which relies on Siri to handle voice requests, was supported to reach stores during the fourth quarter of 2017, but Apple delayed it for reasons unknown. Apple says Siri on the HomePod is able to handle natural-language requests, such as "who's playing drums on this track", "play more songs like thins" and so on. The HomePod focuses works natively with Apple Music and lets people tap into their playlists, artists, albums, and songs. Apple says it developed the HomePod to sound good, to understand where it is, and to provide a fun experience. It features a seven-tweeter array to drive audio in multiple directions and a 4-inch woofer that's upward facing. It is powered by an A8 processor with real-time acoustic modeling, audio beam-forming, and multi-channel echo cancellation. It can sense the size of the room it is in and adjust how it performs in order to fill that space with sound. Some core features include reminders, sports, news, alarms, messages, translations, stocks, traffic, and more. It can also interact with HomeKit devices for adjusting the thermostat or controlling lights. The HomePod will compete against the Google Home Amazon Echo series of products. HomePod costs $349.


Integral Debuts 512 GB MicroSD Card

Today, 8:14 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Integral has announced what is the world's first 512 GB microSD card for smartphones, tablets, cameras, and other devices. Until this week, the highest-capacity card, 400 GB, was sold by SanDisk. Integral's new offering, called the 512 GB microSDXC V10 UHS-I U1 card, includes Class 10 high-speed video transfers for capturing HD video and writing it directly to the memory card. The card is robust, meaning it is waterproof, and it ships with an SD card reader so it may be used with PCs. Most of today's flagship Android devices support cards up to 2 TB, though no such cards yet exist. Integral said its new 512 GB microSD card will reach stores in February, but it did not reveal pricing. By way of comparison, SanDisk's 400 GB card retails for $250.


Review: Lifeproof Slam Case for iPhone X

Today, 7:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Lifeproof's Slam case for the iPhone X is a two-piece model that provides drop protection from as high as two meters. It adds a splash of color to your phone in addition to peace of mind.

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Android 8.1 Phones Gain Public WiFi Speedometer

Yesterday, 5:29 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google is giving Android devices a new tool to help users decide whether or not to connect to public WiFi networks. "Public Wi-Fi can be spotty," explained Google in a Tweet. "For the first time, Android Oreo 8.1 lets you take out the guesswork and see the speed of networks before you hit connect." Visible networks will reveal both strength and speed. Signal strength will be indicated by the WiFi icon, with a fuller icon meaning a stronger signal. Speed will be labeled explicitly: slow, OK, fast, or very fast. Google says slow connections are good enough for WiFi calling and messaging while OK connections can handle social networks and streaming music. Fast connections should permit streaming most video, while very fast connections will offer high-quality streaming across the board. Users can turn the tool off if they wish. The update is being made available to devices running Android 8.1, which for now is limited to the Nexus 5x, Nexus 6P, and Pixel series.


Verizon Fires Back at T-Mo with BOGO Of Its Own

Yesterday, 5:18 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Verizon Wireless said customers can save big on select smartphones with a new buy-one, get-one offer that kicks off January 23. New and existing customers who add a new line of Verizon Unlimited service will be able to buy the Google Pixel 2, Samsung Galaxy S8, Motorola Moto Z2 Force, or LG V30 and get a second one for free. In order to qualify for the offer, both devices will need to be purchased on a monthly installment plan. The BOGO deal also requires a trade-in, the value of which can be put toward the purchase price of the new phones. Verizon will cover the cost of the second phone via monthly bill credits over the course of 24 months. Customers won't be able to mix and match: the second phone must come from the same manufacturer as the first, though people can opt for the larger Pixel 2 XL or Galaxy S8+ and cover the difference in cost on the second device. The Verizon BOGO deal counters a similar one launched by T-Mobile earlier this month.


Montana Governor Seeks to Make Net Neutrality Compulsory

Yesterday, 4:09 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Montana Governor Steve Bullock today signed an executive order that would force internet service providers to comply with several basic tenets of net neutrality. Specifically, Bullock said any ISP that has a contract with the state government cannot block web sites or create for-pay fast lanes that would impact its other customers. "If you want to do business with Montana, there are standards on net neutrality you will have to follow," said Gov. Bullock. Mega ISPs including AT&T, CenturyLink, Charter, and Verizon all have contracts with the Montana state government, according to the New York Times. The executive order, which will apply to new and renewed contracts, goes into effect July 1, 2018. The move, meant to circumvent the FCC, could face legal hurdles. Bullock's decision is likely to face pushback from internet providers that do business in Montana. The FCC's order itself is facing plenty of opposition. In December, the FCC voted to do away with net neutrality protections. Recently, the attorneys general from 22 states filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the vote. Multiple civil rights organizations and other groups have filed similar lawsuits against the FCC, all seeking to keep net neutrality in place. The FCC maintains that net neutrality rules have slowed investment in new technology, while proponents believe a free and open internet is vital for protecting communication and access to information.


Sprint's U11 Earns Its Oreo Treat Starting Today

Yesterday, 8:05 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

HTC said that Sprint will begin pushing the Android 8 Oreo system update to its variant of the HTC U11 starting today. The news was shared by HTC executive Mo Versi on Twitter. Android 8 Oreo includes notification dots, picture-in-picture, and auto-fill. The new code from HTC also includes other bug fixes and tweaks. Though the update is available today, it may take up to a week to reach all users. The unlocked and T-Mobile variants of the U11 were updated to Android 8 late last year, as were most variants of the HTC U11 Life. HTC still plans to distribute Android 8 Oreo to the HTC 10 and U Ultra.


Amazon’s Alexa App Adds Support for Voice Commands

Friday, 1:40 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Friday, 1:52 PM

Amazon has updated its Alexa mobile app for Android devices with the ability to support voice requests. Until today, the app was merely a tool used to manage in-home, Alexa-powered devices such as the Echo and Echo Dot. Now, Android smartphone owners can issue voice commands to Alexa from their smartphone in order to access playlists or tap into Alexa’s various skills. The app does not support wake word functionality, which means people will need to open the app in order to make voice-based requests. The updated Alexa app with voice control is available from the Google Play Store and the Amazon App Store. An update for Alexa for iOS devices is still in the works. Phone makers HTC and Huawei have already taken steps to add Alexa to their devices, such as the U11 and Mate series handsets. This update brings Alexa voice functionality to devices without special hardware requirements. Alexa is free to download.


Verizon Extends Unlimited Mexico, Canada Roaming to Go Plans

Friday, 12:47 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Friday, 4:00 PM

Verizon Wireless today said subscribers to its Verizon Go Unlimited plan will soon be able to bring their unlimited calls, texts, and data with them when roaming in Mexico and Canada at no extra cost. Go Unlimited subscribers may also place unlimited calls from the U.S. to Mexico and Canada. (Customers of the Beyond Unlimited plan already have access to Mexico and Canada roaming.) Verizon says Go Unlimited subscribers will see high-speed data capped at 500 MB per day when roaming in Canada or Mexico. Customers who use more than 500 MB of high-speed data on a single day will see speeds slowed to 2G rates until midnight. The new roaming features for Verizon Go Unlimited plans will be available starting January 25.


OnePlus Confirms 40,000 Customers' Data at Risk

Friday, 11:17 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

OnePlus today said up to 40,000 customers' credit card data may have been lifted in an attack. Earlier this week, OnePlus customers reported fraudulent activity on their credit cards after making purchases from OnePlus' web site. OnePlus says its investigation shows the company was indeed compromised. "One of our systems was attacked, and a malicious script was injected into the payment page code to sniff out credit card info while it was being entered," explained the company. "The malicious script operated intermittently, capturing and sending data directly from the user's browser. It has since been eliminated. We have quarantined the infected server and reinforced all relevant system structures." OnePlus believes people who used its web site between mid-November 2017 and January 11, 2018, may be impacted by the breach. At risk are credit card numbers along with their expiration dates and security codes. OnePlus says customers who used PayPal aren't affected. The company has emailed everyone it believes may be at risk. In the mean time, OnePlus suggests those who made purchases on OnePlus.net during the above time frame should examine their bank statements for any fraudulent charges. "We cannot apologize enough for letting something like this happen," said OnePlus. "We are working with our providers and local authorities to better address the incident. We are also working with our current payment providers to implement a more secure credit card payment method, as well as conducting an in-depth security audit. All these measures will help us prevent such incidents from happening in the future." The company thanked its customers for their understanding and its community for its continued support.


Google Sends Security Patch to Pixel Phones

Friday, 9:30 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google has sent a fresh security patch to the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL handsets. Google says the update "fixes critical bugs and improves the performance and stability" of the Pixel smartphones. The update is about 50 MB and can be downloaded over the air. Google normally issues security patches at the beginning of each month. This mid-month update is atypical. Google has also begun distributing Google Play Services 11.9.74 beta, which contains fixes for the Chromecast WiFi-sapping bug revealed earlier this week. The Play Services update is being pushed in limited numbers. Google hasn't said when the final version of Play Services 11.9.74, with the Chromecast patch, will reach all devices.


FCC Puts Clear Line Between Mobile and Fixed Broadband

Friday, 8:26 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

The FCC this week released its findings concerning the state of broadband in the U.S. and the news is mixed. To start, the agency will continue to define "broadband" as connections that supply speeds of at least 25 Mbps for downloads and 3 Mbps for uploads. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has flirted with the idea of downgrading the top speeds required to meet the definition of broadband, which would have benefited internet providers, but in the end chose not to. The report also concludes that mobile broadband, as suppled by wireless network operators, should not be considered as a replacement for wired broadband. "Mobile broadband service is not a full substitute for fixed service," said Pai. "Instead, [the report] notes there are differences between the two technologies, including clear variations in consumer preferences and demands." The FCC will, therefore, take a different approach for overseeing each. The FCC has tasked itself with encouraging the investment in and deployment of broadband, whether it be wired or wireless. Had the FCC put wired and wireless broadband on equal footing, it might have led to less choice for consumers in the long run. The report largely acts to pat the FCC on its own back for supposed progress made this year. Pai added a few stinging comments about the previous administration's Title II net neutrality regulations and suggested the changes put in place by his leadership have led to a surge in broadband investment. Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel commented, "I'm glad that the FCC has backed away from its crazy idea to lower the broadband speed standard. But it defies logic to conclude that broadband is being reasonably and timely deployed across this country when over 24 million Americans still lack access." The full draft of the 2018 Broadband Deployment Report should be made public soon.


Review: Kyocera DuraXV LTE for Verizon Wireless

Jan 18, 2018, 10:48 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Verizon Wireless customers who need a crazy tough handset that not only braves, but conquers, the elements need look no further than the Kyocera DuraXV LTE. This rugged flip phone may offer a limited set of features, but it delivers excellent performance across core tools. Here is Phone Scoop's in-depth review.

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