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printed June 27, 2017
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Amazon Loads Up Its Roster of Prime Exclusive Phones

Today, 9:15 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Amazon today added a handful of handsets to is lineup of discounted Prime Exclusive devices. The Prime Exclusive program offers phones at lower prices so long as you subscribe to Amazon Prime (which costs $100 per year) and are willing to view advertisements on the lock screen of your smartphone. The new additions include the Nokia 6, which is discounted to $180; the Alcatel Idol 5S, which is discounted to $200; the Alcatel A50, which is discounted to $100; the Alcatel A30 Plus, which is discounted to $80; and the Motorola Moto E4, which is discounted to $100. All the phones can be preordered starting today. The E4 ships June 30 and the rest ship July 10.


Alcatel's A30 Plus Bumps Up the Screen, Processor, Camera and Battery

Today, 9:03 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Alcatel today announced the A30 Plus, an improved version of the A30 we saw earlier this year. This entry-level Android handset includes a 5.5-inch 720p HD screen (up from 5.0 inches) and a 1.5 GHz quad-core MediaTek processor (up from 1.1 GHz) with 2 GB of RAM and 16 GB of storage. The phone supports memory cards up to 32 GB. The main camera has a 13-megapixel sensor (up from 8mp) with time-lapse recording while the front camera has a 5-megapixel sensor. Alcatel says the phone's larger 3,000mAh battery (up from 2,460mAh) provides all-day life. The phone runs Android 7 Nougat and is sold with LTE for AT&T and T-Mobile via Bands 2, 4, 5, 7, 12, 13, and 17. Alcatel is selling the phone for $130, but it is also available via Amazon's Prime Exclusive program for $80. The Prime version requires owners to view ads on the lock screen. The Alcatel A30 Plus ships July 10.

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Alcatel's Modular A50 Parties with Light Up LED Accessory

Today, 8:53 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Alcatel today followed through on its promise to bring the A5 LED to the U.S., though it has changed the phone's name to simply the Alcatel A50. The phone, first revealed in February, is compatible with a handful of modular accessories, the most significant of which features an LED-covere panel that can blink a few dozen LEDs with color. The LEDs can be used to serve as notifications for incoming calls, messages, or alarms. The included Color Catching 2.0 app lets owners create unique LED patterns and themes. Last, the LEDs can provide a light show when listening to music. Other modular accessories include a snap-on stereo speaker and a snap-on battery pack. These are sold separately. The A50 has a quad-core MediaTek processor with 2 GB of RAM, 5.2-inch HD screen, 13-megapixel main camera, and a 5-megapixel selfie camera with Face Beauty software. Other specs include Bluetooth, FM, GPS, and WiFi radios, and a 2,800mAh battery. It runs Android 7. LTE support is limited to Bands 2, 4, 5, 7, and 12, which makes it moderately compatible with AT&T and T-Mobile. The phone costs $150, or $190 with the LED rear cover. The phone is being distributed through the Amazon Prime Exclusive program for $100, or $130 with the LED rear cover. The Prime Exclusive program requires owners to view ads on the lock screen. The Alcatel A50 ships July 10.


Alcatel Announces the Idol 5S with Stereo Speakers

Today, 8:36 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Alcatel today marked the debut of the Idol 5S, the latest in its flagship series. Like its predecessors, the 5S features an aluminum frame, curved glass front and rear surfaces, powerful stereo speakers, and a rear-mounted fingerprint reader. The phone has a 5.2-inch full HD screen and it is powered by the Snapdragon 625 processor with 3 GB of RAM and 32 GB of storage. As for photography, the Idol 5S includes a 12-megapixel main camera with two-tone flash, and f/2.0 aperture. The front camera has an 8-megapixel sensor and f/2.0 aperture. Both cameras can shoot full HD video. The stereo speakers are backed by 3.6W amplifiers and the Idol 5S includes dual microphones to help reduce noise when capturing audio. Other features include Bluetooth, GPS, and WiFi; USB-C and a 3.5mm headphone jack; and a 2,620mAh battery. LTE support for U.S. carriers is very good, as it includes Bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 12, 13, 17, 25, 26, 66, and 41. Alcatel said the phone will be compatible with AT&T/Cricket and T-Mobile/MetroPCS at launch, with Sprint and Verizon to follow later this summer through a software update. The Alcatel Idol 5S runs Android 7.1 Nougat and includes the Google Assistant. The device costs $280 when purchased from Alcatel, but can be picked up for $200 through Amazon Prime Exclusives. The Amazon price requires users to view ads on the lock screen. The phone ships July 10.


Huawei Shows Off the Honor 9, But U.S. Support Limited

Today, 8:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Huawei today provided an in-depth look at the Honor 9, the top handset for its Honor brand. The Honor 9 picks up where the Honor 8 left off last year thanks to its curved glass and aluminum frame. The phone has a polished, mirror-like finish that resembles that of the new HTC U11. The phone comes in blue ice, glacier gray, and midnight black. The Honor 9 has a 5.15-inch full HD display and it is powered by Huawei's Kirin 960 processor with 4 or 6 GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage. Like some other Huawei handsets, the Honor 9 features a dual camera array on the rear. The main rear camera has a 12-megapixel sensor and it is aided by a secondary 20-megapixel sensor to help with contrast and exposure; the higher-resolution sensor also provides 2x zoom. The user-facing camera has an 8-megapixel sensor. The phone can capture up to 4K video. The Honor 9 includes standard connectivity options, such as Bluetooth, GPS, NFC, and WiFi. Other features include USB-C, 3.5mm headset jack, fingerprint sensor, and a 3,200mAh battery. The phone runs Android 7 with Huawei's EMUI 5.1 on board. As for LTE, the phone supports a limited number of LTE bands, including 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 20, 38, 40, and 41. This means it will not be able to access LTE service on most U.S. carriers. The Honor 9 goes on sale in Europe this summer.


T-Mobile Hits 741 Mbps with LTE-LAA, Deploys LTE-U

Yesterday, 4:18 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Yesterday, 4:29 PM

T-Mobile today said it, too, has successfully tested LTE-LAA in real-world trials. The company claims its LTE-LAA tests reached 741 Mbps in and around Los Angeles. Like the recent tests conducted by AT&T, T-Mobile's use of LTE-LAA combines airwaves that it owns along with unlicensed spectrum to push speeds upward. T-Mobile says it was able to aggregate 80 MHz between licensed and unlicensed spectrum in its trials to attain the 741 Mbps download rate. More importantly for the short term, T-Mobile has deployed LTE-U in some markets. LTE-U relies on public 5 GHz spectrum (same as WiFi) along with advanced network technologies including carrier aggregation, 256 QAM, and 4x4 MIMO to boost LTE performance. T-Mobile is offering LTE-U in Bellevue, Wash.; Brooklyn, N.Y.; Dearborn, Mich.; Las Vegas, Nev.; Richardson, Texas; and Simi Valley, Calif. More markets will score LTE-U service later this year. Right now, the Samsung Galaxy S8 is the only device able to take advantage of LTE-U.


Apple Releases First Public Beta of iOS 11

Yesterday, 3:14 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Apple today made iOS 11 available to public beta testers. Those interested in testing the unfinished operating system can sign up for the program on Apple's web site. This first public beta is likely the same code that Apple released to developers earlier today. Public beta testers are expected to provide feedback on the operating system's performance and Apple installs a feedback app with the beta. Apple strongly recommends beta testers back their devices up before installing the test code. The company also notes that the public beta is not recommended for peoples' main phone or tablet and that it be reserved for a secondary device. iOS 11 targets usability and multitasking on the iPad more than the iPhone, but both the iPad and iPhone will see refreshed control center behaviors, new photo gallery tools, better iMessage app behaviors, and much more. Apple won't release a final version of iOS 11 until the fall.


AT&T Says Its LTE-LAA Trials Breach 650 Mbps

Yesterday, 2:23 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T today said it and partner Ericsson have reached LTE-LAA download speeds in excess of 650 Mbps in live field trials. The trials were conducted in downtown San Francisco. LTE-LAA is an advanced wireless technology that combines licensed and unlicensed spectrum via carrier aggregation. It will play a key role in bridging today's 4G networks with the 5G networks of the future. AT&T expects its LTE-LAA technology to reach speeds near 1 Gbps and it will deploy the tech in some small cells by the end of the year.


YouTube's Uptime App Hits App Store, No Invite Required

Yesterday, 2:10 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Uptime, an app that allows people to watch YouTube videos together, is now widely available to iPhone owners. Google initially announced the app, developed by Area 120, in March. Uptime purports to make YouTube more social and interactive. With Uptime installed, people can watch a video, interact and chat, curate favorites, and get daily recommendations together with friends who may be watching from somewhere else. Interactions include stickers, emoji, and other real-time reactions to videos. The app initially required an invite, but is now available to anyone from the App Store.


Apple Drops More Betas

Yesterday, 1:56 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Apple today released a couple of beta builds for developers. The first is a second version of iOS 11 Beta 2. The slightly revised code tackles a handful of bugs. Apple also distributed watchOS 3.2.3 Beta 4. Apple didn't discuss what changes are in the new watchOS build. These betas are not meant for public testers. Apple is expected to release a public beta of iOS 11 next month.


Facebook Adds Filters and Effects to Messenger's Video Chats

Yesterday, 10:45 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Facebook today dressed up the live video chatting functionality of Messenger with new effects. Family and friends can now apply reaction emoji, a variety of filters, and new masks to enliven real-time video conversations. Further, a new tool simplifies screenshots for capturing the spontaneity of live video chats. The new tools will be added to Facebook Messenger for Android and iOS in an update over the days ahead.


Verizon to Let Prepaid Customers Manage their Accounts Through My Verizon App

Yesterday, 8:31 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Verizon Wireless today said its prepaid customers will soon have access to the My Verizon account management tool. Beginning June 28, prepaid customers can download and use My Verizon to pay bills, set up auto-pay, add data, and perform other account-related tasks. The app was previously reserved for Verizon's postpaid customers. My Verizon is free to download and will be available to customers of Verizon's $40, $50, $60, and unlimited prepaid plans.


Nokia 6 to Be Available from Amazon Next Month

Yesterday, 8:18 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Yesterday, 8:24 AM

HMD Global, the company that makes Nokia-branded handsets, today said it will sell the Nokia 6 smartphone in the U.S. via Amazon. The 6 is the best of the three Nokia Android phones currently available, though it still falls in the entry-level segment. The Nokia 6 runs Android 7 Nougat, has a 5.5-inch full HD screen, includes stereo speakers with Dolby Atmos sound, relies on a Snapdragon 430 processor with 3 GB of RAM, and a boasts a 16-megapixel main camera with an 8-megapixel front camera. It packs a 3,000mAh battery, as well as Bluetooth, GPS, NFC, WiFi, fingerprint sensor, 3.5mm headphone jack, and microUSB. LTE 4G support for U.S. networks is limited at best. It supports LTE Bands 2, 3, 4, 7, 12/17, 28, 38. It is only partially compatible with AT&T's 4G network because it is missing LTE Bands 29 and 30. The Nokia 6 is more compatible with T-Mobile's LTE 4G network. The matte black and silver color options are expected to go on sale in July for $229, with the blue and copper colors arriving later.


OnePlus 5 Earns Its First Software Update

Yesterday, 7:08 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

OnePlus pushed a small bug-fixing update to the OnePlus 5 over the weekend. According to the change log, the improved software resolves app installation and system update failures. It also makes optimizations to camera, Bluetooth, network, and system performance while improving compatibility with third-party apps. The update weighs in at just 36MB and can be downloaded and installed over the air.

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HTC Testing More Squeezable Edge Sense Actions for U11

Friday, 3:38 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

HTC today demonstrated a handful of new Edge Sense actions it is testing for the U11. In the video, posted to HTC's Facebook page, the company shows how Edge Sense can be used to zoom in and out of maps and photos, answer and end phone calls, dismiss alarms, and change views in the calendar. HTC did not say if or when any of these tools might be advanced to the U11, though it did ask its community of fans for suggestions on other potential Edge Sense actions. The U11 smartphone includes sensors in the left and right edges that when squeezed initiate a handful of actions.


Review: OnePlus 5

Friday, 2:30 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

The OnePlus 5 is the latest flagship from OnePlus. This Android smartphone boasts an appealing design, top specs, and solid performance in most respects. For those who prefer unlocked handsets and want to spend less than $500 on a top-tier phone, the OnePlus 5 might be worth your while. Here is Phone Scoop's full review.

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Google to Stop Scanning Gmail for Ads

Friday, 11:52 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said it will stop poking through users' inboxes for ad customization purposes. Google has nearly always scanned the emails of its free Gmail users in order to help personalize and suggest advertisements. Google says the forthcoming change will put its free Gmail service in line with its paid G Suite business email. Google contends that ads are shown based on users' settings, which can be adjusted at any time — up to and including disabling ads personalization completely. The change will be put in place later the year. G Suite will continue to operate free of ads.


YouTube to Automatically Adjust Playback Size to Fill Your Screen

Thursday, 5:07 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google is about to make it easier to watch videos shot in different aspect ratios. With an update scheduled to arrive in the coming weeks, the YouTube mobile app will "dynamically adapt to whatever size you choose to watch it in. That means if you’re watching a vertical, square or horizontal video, the YouTube player will seamlessly adapt itself, filling the screen exactly the way they should." This means videos will automatically fill more of the screen as users move their phones around. Google said changes are coming to the desktop version of YouTube, too, which will focus on simplifying the look and feel of the service. For example, a new Dark Theme will offer a more movie-theater-like appearance to videos. Google is also prepared to expand some sharing tools that make it quicker to share videos directly from the viewing screen. Google didn't say exactly when these changes will reach the mobile and desktop versions of YouTube.

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