Phone Scoop

printed February 25, 2017
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Samsung Makes Its Secure Folder A Downloadable App

Yesterday, 1:54 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Samsung today released its Secure Folder through the Galaxy Apps Store. Secure Folder is a protected space for smartphones that can store files, documents, images, videos, or other content that the owner wishes to lock away. Samsung says the Secure Folder can act as a way for people to set up separate profiles for apps on the phone, as well, ensuring that only the protected content is available to those profiles. Samsung expects people will use standard tools such as PIN, pattern, passcode, or biometric verification (fingerprint) to access and manage the Secure Folder. The Samsung Secure Folder has ben around for a while, but it has always been preloaded directly to devices by Samsung. This marks the first time the app is available on its own as a separate download. Samsung is making the app available to the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge first, with other models to follow later.


ITU Targets 20 Gbps for 5G Specification

Yesterday, 11:26 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

The International Telecommunications Union today released a draft report for what might eventually become the 5G specification. IMT-2020 is the working name for the 5G standard and the ITU has laid out a basic framework it wants to see technology companies meet. For example, the ITU wants a single cell site to support download speeds of at least 20 Gbps shared across the site. Real-world speeds would be on the order of 100 Mbps down and 50 Mbps up for every user connected to the cell site. Each cell site will also need to support maximum latency (network response time) of 4ms with 1ms available most of the time, and support up to 1 million connected devices to square kilometer. Further, 5G will need to be available to mobile devices traveling between 0 and 300mph with 0ms latency when mobile devices switch between cell sites. Last, the ITU wants to see 5G become more efficient with respect to mobile device power needs, and more efficient at delivering a raw number of megabits per hertz of spectrum. The ITU expects to discuss the specification over the next six months and finalize the standard by November. It will then be up to technology companies to make it happen. Many U.S. network operators and their telecommunications equipment partners are testing various ways to deliver 5G-like performance via LTE this year.


More Carriers and Phone Makers Agree to Adopt Google's RCS-Based 'Android Messages' Service

Yesterday, 7:40 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said more wireless network operators and handset manufacturers will use Android Messages, its RCS-based messaging service, as the default SMS/MMS tool on their phones. (Android Messages was previously known as Google Messenger.) Some of the features of RCS, which is a global standard, include group chat, high-resolution photo sharing, advanced calling features, and read receipts. It has been improved lately with more interactive tools, such as the ability to check into flights. Google says a number of brands plan to use RCS in order to enhance their own services and help spur adoption. Some of the brands include Walgreens, Baskin-Robbins, FICO, Gamestop, Sonic, Subway, and Time. Moving forward, the Android Messages app with RCS will be preloaded by LG, Motorola, Sony, HTC, ZTE, Micromax, HMD Global, Archos, BQ, Cherry Mobile, Condor, Fly, General Mobile, Lanix, LeEco, Lava, Kyocera, MyPhone, QMobile, Symphony, and Wiko, along with Google's own Pixel and Android One devices. Further, Google was already working with carriers Sprint, Rogers, and Telenor, and today added Vodafone, Orange, Deutsche Telekom, and Globe. Notably absent fro the list of phone makers is Samsung, while AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon have also yet to commit. Phones with Android Messages on board will still be able to interact with Samsung handsets and those running on non-Sprint networks of course, but will lose the advanced features available via RCS. Samsung, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon haven't said if or when they might adopt Google's Android Messages, though T-Mobile and Verizon already use their own RCS-like messaging platforms.


LG's X Power 2 Packs a 4,500mAh Battery

Yesterday, 7:26 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

LG today announced the X power2, a follow up to last year's bountiful, battery-boasting handset. The X power2 features an embedded 4,500mAh battery that LG says delivers 15 hours of video playback, 14 hours of real-time navigations, or 18 hours of web surfing. It included rapid charging and soaks up 50% of its capacity when plugged in for just one hour. Other specs include a 5.5-inch HD display, 1.5 GHz, octa-core processor with 1.5/2 GB of RAM, 16 GB of storage, LTE, Bluetooth, WiFi, and GPS. The phone has a 13-megapixel main camera and a wide-angle, 5-megapixel user-facing camera with selfie flash. LG says the phone comes in black, gray, gold, and blue. It will ship to several regions, including the U.S. later this year. Pricing was not disclosed.


LeEco EUI Update Adds App Drawer to Le Pro3 and Le S3

Thursday, 3:06 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

LeEco today gave its Le Pro3 and Le S3 smartphones an app drawer. The company is pushing the latest build of its Ecosystem User Interface to the Le Pro3 and Le S3, and the update includes a handful of new features. Based on user feedback, LeEco decided to install an app drawer on the home screen, which allows ecophone owners to find and access all their apps in a single space. The app drawer has been added to the dock at the bottom of the screen just above the home button. Both devices also receive a boost in camera performance. The Le Pro3 gains faster HDR capturing and processing, while the S3 gains improvements in low-light photography. LeEco also tweaked fingerprint sensor feedback, added parental controls, streamlined the Live app interface, improved Bluetooth reliability, and increased WiFi speeds (S3 only). LeEco says the update will be made available to ecophone users over the next few days.


Commerce Dept. Extends ZTE Sanction Relief Again

Thursday, 1:04 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

ZTE can continue to export U.S. goods for another month due to an extension offered by the U.S. Department of Commerce. The Commerce Department first alleged in March 2016 that ZTE had violated trade sanctions in place against Iran by using shell companies to hide its exporting activities. The government initially banned ZTE from exporting any U.S. goods, parts, or components, but quickly offered a reprieve while ZTE worked with the government to resolve the issue. The initial reprieve gave ZTE until the end of June 2016, but was then extended to the end of August 2016, and then again to Feb 27 of this year. Now the extension runs through March 29. In prior actions, the Department of Commerce extended the relief by 90 days at a time. Reuters suggests the short, 30-day extension indicates a full settlement may be adopted in the near future.


Samsung's Exynos 9 Chip Uses 10nm Process, Boasts Gigabit Modem

Thursday, 11:59 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Samsung today announced the Exynos 9 Series 8895 application processor for premium mobile devices. The chip relies on Samsung's 10nm FinFET process with 3D transistors. This results in a 27% performance boost while chewing through 40% less power when put up against Samsung's 14nm tech. The 8895 bakes in support for Category 16 LTE with 5xCA for 1 Gbps downloads, and Cat 13 LTE with 2xCA for 225 Mbps uploads. Samsung says the Exynos 9 Series 8895 has an octa-core design with four of Samsung's own CPUs paired with four ARM Cortex A53 cores. It supports the ARM Mali G71 GPU for 3D graphics, 4K quality virtual reality, and 4K video playback up to 120fps. A separate processing unit handles biometric security (iris and fingerprint) for protecting mobile payments, and a Vision Processing Unit is able to scan and recognize its surroundings for panoramic image processing and machine vision. The Exynos 9 Series 8895 is already in mass production and Samsung said it will appear in devices soon. The company is widely expected to debut its 2017 flagship phone, the Galaxy S8, in March. The Galaxy S8 will likely rely on the Exynos 9 Series 8895 processor.


Google's GBoard Keyboard for iPhone Finally Lands Dictation

Thursday, 8:08 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today announced a significant update to GBoard, its advanced keyboard application or the iPhone. Voice dictation is the most significant new feature added to the tool, allowing GBoard users to press a microphone and speak their messages rather than type them. GBoard also gains support for 15 more languages, a wider set of emoji, and Google Doodles. The emoji, in particular, include the entire set of characters from iOS 10. GBoard is free to download from the iTunes App Store.


Instagram Now Lets You Add Up to 10 Photos to a Single Post

Wednesday, 2:11 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Instagram today made it possible for users to create posts with up to 10 photos. The idea is to allow people to publish a single event that includes multiple pictures and videos, rather than post a string of single images to their feed. Instagram says users will have full control over each image shared in the event post, including order and image appearance. Once live, people will be able to swipe through the events to see all the photos. Multi-image posts will be highlighted with a little icon in the corner. Instagram says event photos/videos will be limited to square shapes for now, and support only a single caption for the lot. Android and iOS users will see the new feature in an update rolling out over the next few days.


T-Mobile Rolling Out LTE-U

Wednesday, 1:57 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

T-Mobile today said it is beginning to upgrade its 4G network with LTE-U this spring. LTE-U allows LTE to operate on the unlicensed spectrum in the 5 GHz band, which is typically reserved for WiFi. Devices equipped with LTE-U will take advantage of available 5 GHz spectrum when needed to boost speed and capacity. If or when that 5 GHz spectrum experiences an uptick in WiFi use, the LTE-U devices will scale back their presence on the unlicensed spectrum and return to T-Mobile's cellular network for coverage. T-Mobile is relying on equipment from Ericsson and Nokia to make LTE-U a reality. At the same time, the FCC today approved the first devices to operate on LTE-U. The FCC's chief concern is that LTE-U doesn't interfere with the WiFi operation of 5 GHz equipment in the shared spectrum. The LTE-U Forum, WiFi Alliance, and myriad other technology players have helped shape LTE-U over the last few years. T-Mobile expects LTE-U to help it eventually deliver gigabit speeds over its wireless network. T-Mobile didn't say what mobile devices might have access to LTE-U once it goes live.


Verizon to Test 5G In 11 Cities By Mid-Year

Wednesday, 9:13 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Verizon Wireless today said it plans to trial 5G technology in 11 U.S. markets later this year. This "pre-commercial service" will be offered to a very limited number of customers and not necessarily made available to consumers. The tests will involve the 5GTF spec Verizon developed past year. The trial markets include Ann Arbor, Atlanta, Bernardsville, Brockton, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Miami, Sacramento, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. Verizon competitors AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint are each testing their own variants of potential 5G technologies. The actual 5G spec has yet to be defined by the International Telecommunications Union, but carriers and telecom equipment makers around the world are hoping their technologies will be included in the final standard.

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Intel Claims LTE Modem to Deliver 1 Gigabit Speeds

Tuesday, 12:58 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Intel today announced the XMM 7560 LTE modem, a fifth-generation wireless radio that can produce broadband-like speeds in a variety of mobile devices. The XMM 7560 is manufactured using Intel's 14nm process and supports LTE Advanced Category 16 for downloads up to 1 Gbps and Category 13 for uploads up to 225 Mbps. The Intel XMM 7560 modem supports 5x carrier aggregation for up to 100 MHz combined bandwidth on the downlink, and 3xCA for up to 60 MHz on the uplink. It also supports 4x4 MIMO and 256QAM. Intel says the XMM 7560 works well with its SMARTi 7 RF transceiver, which supports up to 35 LTE bands and 230 carrier aggregation combinations for worldwide compatibility. The XMM 7560 also packs envelope tracking and other power optimization features to improve battery life in smartphones, tablets, and PCs. The Intel XMM 7560 will sample during the first half of the year and Intel expects to see it in consumer devices shortly thereafter. Separately, Intel this week announced new efforts in its push toward 5G. It is working with Nokia, AT&T, Telefonica, 5TONIC, Ericsson, and others to define, prototype, and deliver early 5G products.


Qualcomm Targets IoT Anew with Snapdragon 210 and SoC

Tuesday, 9:15 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Qualcomm today revealed two new sets of products design with the Internet of Things in mind. First, the company plans to add support for the Android Things operating system to its Snapdragon 210 processors and X5 LTE modems. Android Things is Google's IoT platform. Qualcomm says the the Snapdragon 210 and X5 combo will be the most powerful processor/modem available to Android Things, allowing developers and hardware makers to design more capable devices and services. Some possible use cases include electronic signage, video monitoring, and asset tracking, as well as smart home assistants and smart appliances. The Snapdragon 210 and X5 SoC for Android Things will be available later this year. Separately, Qualcomm said it is sampling two new SoCs for IoT that combine three radios into a single package. The QCA4020 includes Bluetooth Low Energy 5, Dual-band Wi-Fi, and 802.15.4-based technologies, including ZigBee and Thread. The QCA4024 integrates Bluetooth Low Energy 5 and 802.15.4 tech. These modules will support a wide range of IoT platforms, including Apple's HomeKit, Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Open Connectivity Foundation. Qualcomm expects to see them put to use in smart cities, toys, home control and automation, networking, and home entertainment. The QCA4020 and QCA4024 are sampling now and will reach consumer devices later this year,


Qualcomm Fine Tunes RF Antennas for Snapdragon 835

Tuesday, 8:57 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Qualcomm today introduced a new range of RF front-end products that will complement advanced processors such as the Snapdragon 835. The new family of radios are the first gallium arsenide (GaAs) power amplifier modules to come from Qualcomm. The company says the QPA546x and QPA436x are multimode, multiband power amplifier (MMPA) modules that are designed for superior cell-edge performance, which also makes them the first MMPA modules optimized for High Power User Equipment (HPUE) operation. Sprint plans to use HPUE later this year to improve the performance of its 2.5GHz spectrum to boost speed and capacity at the cell edge. The module family supports a range of other technologies, including Qualcomm TruSignal antenna performance. Qualcomm says its newest TruSignal design is better able to support carrier aggregation while also maximizing power efficiency over LTE. Consumers should see more consistent voice and data performance both indoors and out. The QAT35xx antenna is ready for the Snapdragon 835, while the QPA546x and QPA436x are sampling now with the expectation that they'll reach consumer devices later this year.


Qualcomm Snapdragon X20 Modem Powers 1.2Gbps Speeds

Tuesday, 8:43 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Qualcomm today announced the Snapdragon X20 LTE modem, which it says is the first Category 18 modem capable of download speeds up to 1.2Gbps. The X20 is manufactured using a 10nm FinFET process. It supports up to 5x20 MHz carrier aggregation, 4x4 MIMO, and up to three aggregated LTE carriers. The X20 LTE modem uses a new RF transceiver that Qualcomm claims is capable of receiving up to 12 spatial streams of LTE data. Each downlink supports 256QAM, while uplinks support 64QAM. Other features include all major carrier technologies, more than 40 LTE frequency bands, LTE Broadcast, and VoLTE with support for Ultra HD Voice. Last, the Snapdragon X20 LTE modem supports Dual SIM Dual VoLTE for advanced use cases. Qualcomm believes the X20 will be ideal for Gigabit LTE networks, which are expected to bridge the gap between today's 4G networks and what will eventually become 5G networks. Qualcomm says the X20 is already sampling, but it won't ship on consumer products until the first half of 2018.


Verizon to Pay $350M Less for Yahoo After Privacy Breach

Tuesday, 8:15 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Verizon and Yahoo today said they've amended the terms of their acquisition, first announced in July 2016, which will see the sale price drop by $350 million. The deal has been in jeopardy since December when Yahoo disclosed a material security breach that impacted more than 1 billion users. According to Yahoo, an outside party was able to steal names, email addresses, phone numbers, dates of birth, hashed passwords, and some security questions/answers of users back in August 2013. Verizon had originally agreed to pay $4.8 billion for Yahoo's core internet business and customer base. The total sale price is now closer to $4.48 billion. Moreover, the two companies agreed to terms with respect to any investigations over Yahoo's security breaches. The remaining Yahoo business that exists after the transaction will be held accountable for 50% of any cash liabilities from non-SEC or third-party investigations and all the liabilities of SEC and shareholder lawsuits. "The amended terms of the agreement provide a fair and favorable outcome for shareholders. It provides protections for both sides and delivers a clear path to close the transaction in the second quarter," said Marni Walden, Verizon executive vice president and president of Product Innovation and New Businesses.


Apple Pushes Third iOS 10.3 Beta to Developers

Monday, 3:00 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Monday, 3:26 PM

Apple today made iOS 10.3 beta 3 available to developers. The most notable new feature of iOS 10.3 is a tool called Find My AirPods, which helps people locate lost earbuds via an audio alert. iOS 10.3 also makes the jump to the Apple File System (APFS), refreshes the Apple ID profile, tweaks animations, and provides more details concerning iCloud storage use. This latest beta is meant for developers. Apple normally makes public beta builds available a day or two after it releases developer betas. Apple also released new betas of macOS 10.12.4, watchOS 3.2, tvOS 10.2, and Xcode 8.3.


Verizon Adds 2 GB Option to Prepaid Plans for $40

Monday, 10:40 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Verizon Wireless today announced a new service plan for its prepaid business, offering 2 GB of data for $40 per month. The plan includes unlimited texting and, for customers who make on-time payments, carry-over data from month to month. Customers who exceed the 2 GB limit will see speeds reduced to 128 Kbps for the remainder of the billing period. Verizon also offers a $30 prepaid service plan for feature phones, as well as a 5 GB plan for $50 and a 10 GB plan for $70. The new $40 plan will be available starting Feb. 21.


Android 2.3 Gingerbread Officially No Longer Supported

Monday, 8:44 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google has put Android 2.3 Gingerbread out to pasture. The update this month follows an announcement Google first made in November regarding Play Services 10.2, which severs backward compatibility with devices running Android 2.3 and older. Google Play Services is the core code behind app compatibility across Android platforms. The Play Services 10.2 update jumps from API level 9 to API level 14. This means Play Services 10.2.0 only supports Android 4.0.1 Ice Cream Sandwich and up. Gingerbread is nearly six years old and Google says the number of devices impacted by the change is fairly small. Google Play Services is updated automatically across Android devices once every couple of months. The 10.2 update to Play Services introduces a handful of new tools that developers can use to improve their apps. For example, it supports the latest version of Google's Firebase developer toolset, custom styling within Google Maps, more health data points in Google Fit, and additional behaviors of ID tokens with Smart Lock. Play Services 10.2 also lets developers use some updated and/or new APIs, including the Fence API for geofencing, the Google Sign-in API for authentication, and the Nearby API for ultrasonic audio location. Most Android devices can expect to see Play Services 10.2 installed on their devices shortly, if it hasn't been already.


LG's G6 to Carry Dual 13MP Rear Cameras

Monday, 8:17 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

LG today said its forthcoming G6 flagship smartphone will include two rear-mounted cameras and a single front-facing camera in much the same vein as last year's V20. The rear cameras will each capture 13 megapixels, says LG, with one taking standard field-of-view shots and the other taking 125-degree, wide-angle shots. LG says users will be able to switch between the two cameras seamlessly with no delay, and the wide-angle lens reduces optical distortion around the outer edges for cleaner pictures. LG said the cameras have equal resolution sensors due to consumer feedback wishing for higher quality images from the secondary camera. LG didn't specify the resolution of the user-facing camera on front, but did indicate it, too, takes wide-angle pictures with a field of view measuring 100 degrees. Moreover, LG has added a handful of new tools to the user-facing camera for self portraits, including the ability to combine between 2 and 100 images to create GIFs. Other features headed to the G6 camera include an enhanced food mode, and 360-degree panoramas for virtual reality apps captured via the wide-angle camera on the rear. LG has already shared lots of the G6's features ahead of the phone's expected Feb. 26 debut.


ZTE to Reboot Project CSX Hawkeye, Pull Kickstarter Campaign

Feb 17, 2017, 11:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

ZTE today said it is exploring fundamental changes to its Project CSX Hawkeye smartphone and is cancelling the current Kickstarter funding campaign. Project CSX started as a community-based program to create a smartphone with features imagined by the public. The original intent was to bring a crowd-sourced device to market by the end of 2017. ZTE fielded hundreds of ideas from around the world and eventually settled on a device featuring eye-tracking powers and a self-adhesive rear panel. In January, ZTE unveiled Hawkeye's full spec sheet through a Kickstarter campaign and was immediately beset by feedback from the community. ZTE wanted the phone to be affordable to most people around the world and thus designed a mid-range handset with middling specs. The Z-Community, however, would prefer a high-end device. "Project CSX has always been about going against the norm and trying something different. But above all, it’s been about listening to you, the consumer," explained ZTE in a forum post. "Based on the feedback we’ve received on both Kickstarter and our own Z-Community forum, we’ve decided to phase out this campaign; however, this doesn’t mean the project is over." ZTE said it will create the device consumers want, but it needs time to figure out how best to move forward. ZTE is no longer sure it can meet its original end-of-2017 release goal. It expects to provide an update about Project CSX Hawkeye in a month or two. In the mean time, the company will refund all pledges contributed to the campaign. "All of your support, perspectives and suggestions are what has driven Hawkeye so far, and for that we are grateful. We will continue to push the boundaries, think outside the box, and pave new paths to ultimately deliver a device that you want, all while continuing to listen and explore with you every step of the way," concluded ZTE.

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Skype Douses Android and iOS Apps with Silliness

Feb 17, 2017, 8:37 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Skype's mobile app for Android and iOS devices now looks a lot more like Facebook Messenger, based on the preview released by Microsoft this week. In a blog post, Microsoft explained the new features are meant to make conversations more expressive and entertaining. First, Skype adds in-call reactions. These let people add live emoticons, photos, and text to video calls. The integrated camera now supports emoticons, stickers, and annotations. People can respond to any individual message with multiple reactions, such as a thumbs up, sad face, smiley face, or shock. Last, the app adds a new search panel for finding and sharing links, news, sports, points of interest and other data. Microsoft says this negates the need to jump back and forth between apps. Android device owners can download this Skype Preview from the Google Play Store. iPhone owners will need to apply to become a Skype Insider for iOS. If selected, Skype will email a download link to the app. Microsoft hopes those who preview this version of Skype for Android and iOS will offer feedback before the company releases these features to everyone.


Samsung Heir Arrested On Bribery Charges

Feb 17, 2017, 8:20 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Jay Y. Lee, a top executive at Samsung, has been arrested after a judge agreed that the special prosecutor's allegations of corruption warranted legal action. Lee has been under investigation for months over $37 million in payments that investigators say were used as bribes. The special prosecutor is also charging Lee with perjury, embezzlement, and hiding assets overseas. Lee has for the last several years been groomed to take over the company following the heart attack of his father. Some of the money, allege the prosecutors, was used to grease a contentious merger between two Samsung businesses that helped pave the way for Lee's ascension. The scandal has gripped South Korea since last year, as President Park Geun-hye is also involved. In a brief statement, Samsung said, "We will do our best to ensure that the truth is revealed in future court proceedings." Lee wasn't necessarily involved in managing the day-to-day operations of the company, but was involved in top-level decision making. Samsung may have to reorganize its executive structure to account for Lee's potential absence.


AT&T Follows 'Unlimited' Lead Set by Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint

Feb 16, 2017, 4:47 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T today announced its own unlimited family plan meant to compete with the likes of those introduced by Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, and Sprint earlier this week. Beginning Feb. 17, customers will be able to sign up for a wireless-only AT&T Unlimited Plan that AT&T says will cost $180 for a family of four. The package includes four lines with unlimited data, talk, and text. The first line costs $100 and each additional line costs $40. The four-person plan will start at the cost of $220 per month ($100 + 3x$40). The $180 monthly price reflects a $40 credit for the fourth line, which won't be applied to the account for several months. Critically, the new AT&T Unlimited Plan does not include tethering or mobile hotspot at all. AT&T says customers who wish to use those features should select is Mobile Share Advantage plan instead. The Unlimited Plan includes its Stream Saver by default, which downgrades video quality to 480p resolution to cut down on data use. Customers can turn Stream Saver off at no additional cost to stream HD video. Further, AT&T may throttle data speeds once customers exceed 22 GB of data usage in a given month. The AT&T Unlimited Plan also allows customers to make unlimited calls from the U.S. to Canada and Mexico, roam at no extra cost in Canada and Mexico, and send unlimited texts to more than 120 other countries. AT&T's plan costs the same as Verizon's for four lines at $180 per month, but Verizon permits up to 10 GB of mobile hotspot use. AT&T's separate unlimited plan for its DirecTV customers remains in place.


Huawei P10 Revealed by FCC

Feb 16, 2017, 12:45 PM   by Rich Brome

The FCC today approved a new, unannounced phone from Huawei that matches leaked photos of the P10. The company is expected to announce the P10 flagship phone in a little over a week at the MWC trade show in Barcelona. The documents made public on the FCC web site show the external design of the phone and reveal wide support for the many LTE bands expected of a flagship phone, but reveal few other details. Two versions have been approved so far, with both supporting the primary bands used by AT&T and T-Mobile, although neither seems specifically designed for US networks (neither supports LTE band 30 nor 66, for example.) One version supports dual SIM cards. The phone has dual rear cameras, a USB-C connector, and a 3.5mm audio jack. The all-metal design has rounded sides and large injected antenna bands that resemble those on Apple's iPhone 7. The phone also includes NFC and dual-band Wi-Fi. Unlike most previous Huawei phones, there does not appear to be a fingerprint sensor on the rear. A front-mounted fingerprint sensor would be a major design shift for Huawei.

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Google Home Gains Voice-Based Shopping to Compete with Amazon Echo

Feb 16, 2017, 12:09 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today added the ability to shop for certain goods to its voice-controlled Google Home speaker. Google says people can use Google Home to purchase everyday essentials from more than 50 national and local retailers. Some of the initial stores include Costco, Whole Foods Market, Walgreens, PetSmart, and Bed Bath & Beyond. Google Home owners need only say "Ok Google, how do I shop?" or "Ok Google, order paper towels" to get started. The Google Home app on the Google Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones allows Home owners to configure their default credit card, shipping address, and other settings before making their first purchase. Google says now through April 30, people who shop via Google Home won't be dinged with service or membership fees associated with its retail partners. Google expects to enable purchases from more apps and services over time.


Sprint Tweaks Unlimited Plan to Compete with T-Mobile, Verizon

Feb 16, 2017, 11:56 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Sprint today announced an updated version of its unlimited plan that improves video quality and includes up to 10 GB of mobile hotspot data. Sprint says the new plan allows customers to stream video at up to 1080p HD rather than 480p; stream music at 1.5 Mbps rather than 512 Kbps; and stream games at up to 8 Mbps rather than 2 Mbps. These represent significant improvements over Sprint's previous unlimited plan, but subscribers will still be subject to data deprioritization when the network is congested. The deal is only available to new customers and they must sign up for Unlimited Talk, Text and Data with Sprint AutoPay. The first line costs $50 for unlimited everything. The second line costs $40, and lines three and four are free, leaving the total monthly cost for up to four lines at $90 (plus taxes and fees). This rate, however, is only good through March 31, 2018. After that date, subscribers to this promotion will see the first line jump to $60 per month, the second line stays at $40, and lines three and four increase to $30 each. Moreover, after March 31, 2018, streamed video, music, and games will be capped at the lower bit rates. Accompanying the revised plan, Sprint is further tempting consumers with a free phone lease. Customers who switch to Sprint and port their number can lease the 32 GB iPhone 7 at no cost for 18 months with a qualifying trade-in. Eligible trade-in devices include the iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, Samsung GS7, GS7 edge, GS6, GS6 edge, Note 5, LG V20, G5, and Moto Droid 2. T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless have trotted out similar changes to their unlimited plans over the course of the last week.


HTC to Drop Entry-Level Phones, Focus On Profits

Feb 16, 2017, 9:03 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

HTC plans to exit the entry-level phone market moving forward and will instead focus its handset portfolio on high-margin devices. The company made the comments during a conference call with media to discuss its fourth quarter financial results. HTC said it will continue to sell and support entry-level phones that are already in the channel, but the company will reduce the total number of new phones to six or seven for the 2017 calendar year. HTC cited the high level of competition in the entry-level space as one reason for dropping low-cost phones from its lineup, as well as the slim chance it will be able to create profits from such phones. The company said it needs to focus on profitability in its handset business moving forward and will thus make only mid-range and high-end devices. HTC announced the U Ultra (pictured) and HTC U Play at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. These phones are expected to go on sale in March.


ZTE Says Gigabit Phone On Deck for MWC

Feb 16, 2017, 8:41 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

ZTE today said it plans to introduce a smartphone at the Mobile World Congress trade show later this month that will be capable of 1 Gbps download speeds. The phone is, fittingly, called the ZTE Gigabit Phone. ZTE claims the phone's raw speed will bring "a qualitative leap to a new world of mobile experience by making 360-degree panoramic VR video, instant cloud storage, entertainment upgrades and fast cache of ultra Hi-Fi music and movies possible." ZTE didn't share any other details about the handset, but there are a few to be sussed out based on ZTE's claims. To start, Qualcomm's X16 modem is one of the only wireless chips capable of such speeds. Moreover, the X16 was designed with the Snapdragon 835 processor in mind. Only a single network — Australia's Telstra — supports such high-speed mobile broadband at the moment, so most people will not be able to experience the phone's full potential. ZTE also said it plans to launch new phones in its Blade series at MWC. ZTE recently brought its first Blade-branded handset, the V8 Pro, to the U.S.


LG G6 to Feature New User Experience to Match 'FullVision' Display

Feb 16, 2017, 8:21 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

LG has developed a new version of its Android user interface skin in order to take advantage of the unique 18:9 aspect ratio display of its forthcoming G6 flagship smartphone. The phone's display will measure 5.7 inches across the diagonal with 2880 by 1440 pixels. LG is marketing the size and aspect ratio as a FullVision screen. To start, LG will use more pixels at the top and bottom of the screen to display useful controls and information within select apps, such as the browser, video player, and games. The 18:9 ratio means LG can split the UI into two equally-sized squares. LG envisions that this will be particularly useful when multitasking with two apps open side-by-side at the same time. Some apps, such as the calendar, will be able to make use of both windows. For example, the calendar can show the full month in one square with a detailed view of the user's agenda in the other. Moreover, the camera will include a 1:1 shooting mode that lets people see their most recent shot in one square next to a live look at their subject through the viewfinder. The camera also gains a new food mode and GIF creator. LG has teased a number of the G6's other features in recent weeks, suggesting it will be reliable, waterproof, and more. LG is expected to announce the phone on Feb. 26 during the Mobile World Congress trade show.


Google Search Now Offers 'Fun Facts' for Entertainment Purposes

Feb 15, 2017, 1:32 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today made Google Search more entertaining to use with the addition of fun facts. The feature is starting small. Users can type in queries such as "hippo fun facts" and Google Search will display a unique and interesting fact about hippos that may not be well known (apparently hippos can hold their breath for up to five minutes.) What to know more? Refresh the search and Google will display a second fun fact about the search subject. Standard, in-depth results will still be listed below the fun facts, which appear at the top of the results page. Google suggests people stick with fun facts about animals, plants, fruits, and vegetables for now.


Verizon and AwesomenessTV Bag Video Content Plans

Feb 15, 2017, 8:48 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Verizon Wireless and AwesomenessTV no longer plan to develop premium video content for mobile devices. Verizon invested in a 24.5% stake in AwesomenessTV last year with the intent of introducing new programming for millennials that would stand apart from Verizon's existing go90 video product. These plans have been shelved. "The most important part of the Awesomeness/Verizon go90 partnership is our premium content, and the success of 'Guidance' and 'T@gged' have shown what we can do together," said Verizon in a statement provided to Variety. "Rather than launch a new and separate venture, we decided to instead double down on the Awesomeness episodic series output for go90 and also extend the term of our relationship to best build on the momentum we are seeing with our Gen Z target audience." The change in strategy comes a month after Verizon laid off some 155 people from its go90 team. The go90 product has struggled to find traction with users and Verizon is revamping it.


BlackBerry Sues Nokia Over Patents

Feb 15, 2017, 8:39 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

BlackBerry filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Nokia this week. BlackBerry claims Nokia is using its patented technology in select telecommunications equipment that Nokia sells to network operators, such as T-Mobile, without the proper licenses. The 11 patents in question were originally held by Nortel Networks and, in a bankruptcy sale, later sold to Rockstar Consortium, a patent-holding collective including Blackberry, Apple, and Microsoft. Many of the patents are said to be standard essential. BlackBerry isn't looking to block Nokia's use of the patents. Moreover, BlackBerry is obligated to license them at fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory terms. "BlackBerry seeks to obtain recompense for Nokia’s unauthorized use of BlackBerry’s patented technology," said the company in a statement, but it didn't specify what sort of recompense or damages it is seeking. BlackBerry filed the complaint in Delaware.


5 Best Unlocked Smartphones

Feb 14, 2017, 2:00 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Unlocked smartphones let you use your device on the carrier of your choice, whether at home or travelling overseas. Though unlocked phones tend to be pricey, you can't really put a price on the freedom they offer. Here are our picks for the five best flagship-class unlocked phones available right now.

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Facebook Video to Turn Up the Volume

Feb 14, 2017, 1:36 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Facebook is making several big changes to how it treats video on mobile devices. First, sound will fade in and fade out as users scroll past videos in their News Feed as long as the phone's volume is turned on. Videos will not automatically play sound when the phone's volume is set to off unless users tap on the video to hear it. People who never want to hear sound from News Feed videos can turn sound off entirely via the app's settings. Second, Facebook is taking advantage of mobile devices' form factor to make vertical videos look better. Moving forward, vertical videos will display a larger preview windows that fill more of the phone's screen. The larger format is available to all users on Android and iOS. Third, Facebook is making it easier to watch a video and scroll through the News Feed at the same time. People can minimize videos into a picture-in-picture format that will continue to play in one corner of the screen as they browse through their Feed. Facebook says Android device users will be able to keep picture-in-picture videos playing in the background even if they exit the Facebook app. Last, Facebook plans to bring its video to smart TVs and other big screens. The Facebook video app for TV will roll out soon to app stores for Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Samsung Smart TV. Facebook says support for more platforms will follow. The TV app will let people watch videos from their News Feed, as well as those shared by friends, pages, or live broadcasts.


Nest Cameras Gain Door Recognition, Apps Gain Better Notifications

Feb 14, 2017, 1:01 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Nest today updated its camera software and mobile app for Android and iOS devices with new features and tools for keeping homes safe. In conjunction with its line of indoor and outdoor security cameras and Nest Aware, the Nest mobile app has learned to recognize doorways. It can now automatically create Activity Zones around doors, and will send notifications when it registers motion in those Activity Zones. Nest Aware users (requires monthly subscription) have long been able to designate Activity Zones manually; the change here is that Nest Cams and the Nest app can now do this on their own. Beyond the door recognition tool, the Nest app gains better alerts for Android and iOS. For example, alerts will include a thumbnail image that shows users what’s going on at a glance, and can let people see animated previews of Nest Cam video clips without opening the app. Further, when the Nest Protect smoke and carbon monoxide detector goes off, any Nest Cams associated with the account will show a live video feed so homeowners can assess what their entryways look like. Last, the Android version of the Nest mobile app is adding app shortcuts on the home screen. The Nest mobile app is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store. Nest Cams, Nest Protect, and Nest Aware are all sold separately. Nest says the Nest Cam Indoor and Nest Cam Outdoor will receive the door recognition update over the next few weeks.


Korea Prosecutors Take Second Stab at Samsung Exec

Feb 14, 2017, 8:19 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

South Korea's special prosecutor's office is taking another run at arresting and charging Samsung executive Jay Y. Lee. Lee faces possible embezzlement, bribery, and asset-related charges tied to S. Korea President Park Geun-hye. Specifically, the prosecutor's office believes Lee payed Park to facilitate a merger of two lesser Samsung businesses that, in turn, helped pave the way for Lee's succession within the organization. "Samsung has absolutely never bribed the president seeking something in return or sought illicit favors," said Samsung Group in a statement. Last month, a Seoul-based court rejected the procesutor's attempt to charge Lee. Lee is a member of the family that controls a majority stake in Samsung and has been groomed to lead the organization. A court will have to approve the presecutor's new request.


T-Mobile Adds HD Video and 10GB of Hotspot Data to One Plan

Feb 13, 2017, 3:54 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Feb 13, 2017, 4:57 PM

T-Mobile is prepared to improve its T-Mobile One unlimited service plan ($70) in the wake of Verizon's new unlimited plan ($80). Primarily, T-Mobile will give T-Mobile One subscribers access to high-definition video and 10 GB of LTE 4G mobile hotspot data. Previously, streamed video was limited to 480p definition and hotspot data was limited to 3G speeds. Verizon's new plan includes HD video and 10 GB of LTE hotspot data, but cost $10 more than T-Mobile's before taxes and fees. T-Mobile has matched the features of Verizon's plan without increasing its prices. Moreover, T-Mobile is offering these features to two lines for $100, and T-Mobile's plan includes taxes and fees. The news was shared by T-Mobile CEO John Legere via his Twitter account. Some details from still aren't clear; for example, whether "HD" means 720p or 1080p. The changes to T-Mobile's One unlimited plan, available to existing customers ad new customers alike, will go into effect Friday, Feb. 17.


Apple Backs Qi Wireless Charging Standard

Feb 13, 2017, 3:11 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Apple has joined the Wireless Power Consortium, according to IHS Technologies and the WPC's own web site. Apple is listed as a backing member of the organization, which is behind the Qi wireless charging standard. This is the first time Apple has appeared to support either of the two competing standards. Apple is not backing the AirFuel Alliance (formerly the Power Matters Alliance) wireless charging standard, at least not according to the Alliance's web site, where Apple is not listed as a member. Apple's membership in the WPC does not necessarily mean the company plans to bring wireless charging technology to its mobile devices; rather, it means Apple can contribute its own technology to the standard, as well as take advantage of the standard's existing feature set. Many of Apple's competitors already back at least one of the two major wireless charging standards. Samsung, for example, supports both Qi and AirFuel, which makes its devices compatible with most wireless chargers. Wireless charging is one of a handful of technologies that Apple's iPhone has yet to adopt.


Google Bringing Original Content to YouTube Kids App

Feb 13, 2017, 12:17 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said it has a handful of new programs for its YouTube Kids service on deck. Specifically, subscribers to YouTube Red (Google's ad-free version of YouTube) will be able to watch four kid-focused series called Hyperlinked, DanTDM Creates a Big Scene, The King of Atlantis, and Fruit Ninja: Frenzy Force. Google said it worked with Susanne Daniels to develop the shows, which are currently in production. Google expects these four shows to reach YouTube this spring with more originals to debut later this year. In addition to the new programming, Google plans to release a version of YouTube Kids for certain LG and Samsung Smart TVs. The Smart TV app will let children access their favorite YouTube Kids content — all with the same parental controls available to the mobile app — from their television set.


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