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Alcatel A30 Reaches Amazon Prime‚Äč for Just $60

Mar 25, 2017, 9:44 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Mar 25, 2017, 9:56 AM

Amazon recently added the Alcatel A30 to its roster of Prime Exclusives. This entry-level Android handset includes a 5-inch HD screen and a 1.1 GHz Snapdragon 210 processor with 2 GB of RAM and 16 GB of storage. The phone supports memory cards up to 32 GB. The main camera has an 8-megapixel sensor with time-lapse recording while the front camera has a 5-megapixel sensor. Alcatel says the phone's 2,460mAh battery provides all-day life. The phone runs Android 7 Nougat and is sold in both CDMA and GSM variants, with LTE for AT&T and T-Mobile. Amazon is selling the phone for $60 with lock screen ads or for $100 without ads. It goes on sale April 19.


Amazon Adds Alexa AI to iPhone Shopping App

Mar 16, 2017, 11:28 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Amazon today made Alexa, its artificial intelligence, available to a much wider selection of devices by adding Alexa to its iOS mobile shopping application. Now any iPhone with the Amazon app aboard has access to Alexa, allowing people to search for and buy goods simply by asking Alexa for it. Amazon says customers can say things like "search for paper towels" or "reorder batteries" and Alexa will do those things within the confines of the Amazon app. The app lets people listen to music and play Kindle books, ask basic questions, add skills, access Smart Home features, and check the news, weather, and traffic — all via voice requests. The app works hand-in-hand with iPhone owners' Amazon accounts and subscriptions to services such as Amazon Music Unlimited or Amazon Prime. The revised app includes a new microphone button that people tap in order to access Alexa from wherever they happen to be. Separate Alexa-powered devices, such as the Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, or FireTV are not required. Amazon's main mobile shopping app is free to download from the iTunes App Store. Amazon didn't say when Alexa might reach the Android variant of its app. Amazon's Alexa artificial intelligence competes on some level with Apple's Siri, Google's Assistant, and Microsoft's Cortana. This marks the first time Alexa has been made widely available to smartphones.


AT&T Customers Will Be Able to Send Text Messages via Amazon Echo

Nov 17, 2016, 2:07 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Nov 17, 2016, 5:10 PM

The AT&T Send Message Skill, set to be made available on November 19, will let AT&T customers send text messages by asking their Amazon Echo to do it for them. The skill we be added to the Amazon Alexa application (for Android and iOS). AT&T says it is the first carrier to bring messaging to Alexa and the Echo. Alexa is the artificial intelligence that powers the Amazon Echo in-home speaker and assistant. Echo-owning AT&T subscribers will need to enable the skill and can then add up to ten frequent contacts to the skill for messaging via voice command. Messages will appear as though they were sent by the account holder's main AT&T mobile number. The feature will be available to the original Amazon Echo as well as the Echo Dot. Alexa is already able to read news headlines, sports scores, and the weather report, as well as answer general trivia questions, play music, and pay bills. AT&T plans to sell the Amazon Echo and Echo Dot at its stores starting November 18.


Amazon Music Unlimited Gains Family Plan

Nov 16, 2016, 1:34 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Following its promise to do so earlier this year, Amazon today launched a family plan option for its Amazon Music Unlimited service. The family plan costs $15 per month (or $150 per year) and gives up to six family members all the benefits of the streaming music service. The family plan costs the same whether or not the subscriber also belongs to Amazon Prime. All users will be able to manage their own music, library, and playlists, and will receive personalized recommendations. The service includes ad-free listening, and will permit local downloads for offline playback. It differs from the Amazon Prime Music service in that it includes more songs and doesn't match or sync with user-owned libraries. Amazon Unlimited Music competes with Apple Music, Google Play Music, and Spotify.


Amazon Must Repay Customers for In-App Purchases

Nov 11, 2016, 3:07 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Amazon will have to reimburse customers whose children ran up large bills making in-app purchases, says a federal judge. The FTC sued Amazon in 2014 following consumer complaints about the ease with which children were able to spend money in apps. Amazon wanted to offer customers gift cards, but U.S. District Judge John Coughenour said Amazon must instead notify impacted customers and allow them to make a claim for cash reimbursement. Amazon's apps and app store now require passwords to make purchases. Apple and Google were hit with similar complaints and eventually settled with the government.


Amazon Invites People to Share Photos with Family Vault

Oct 18, 2016, 7:30 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Amazon today announced Family Vault, a new service for Amazon Prime members that allow them to share photos with family members and friends. Family Vault supports the Prime subscriber plus up to five invitees, be they friends, family, colleagues, or others. Invitees will have access to free unlimited online photo storage along with 5 GB for videos and other files. Members of Family Vault can add photos and videos one-by-one as they go, or automatically from most any mobile device or PC. Prime Photos includes technology to help find people, places, or things, as well as keyword search for general photo subjects (sunsets, et al.) or filter by location or date. Last, Prime Photos and Family Vault include photo printing services. Customers can create intricate photo albums or print individual photos. Amazon says print products start at 9 cents per photo and delivers to Prime members is free. Family Vault is available within the Prime Photos mobile app for Android and iOS devices.


Amazon Launches Apple, Spotify Music Competitor

Oct 12, 2016, 7:19 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Amazon today announced Amazon Music Unlimited a streaming music service that offers on-demand access to tens of millions of songs. Amazon is offering Music Unlimited at several different price points. The standard price is $10 per month for non-Prime members and includes unlimited playback across all the user's devices. People who subscribe to Amazon Prime can get this plan for $8 per month. Alternately, those who own an Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, or Amazon Tap can subscribe to the Echo plan, which provides unlimited streaming to just one of these devices for $4 per month. Last, Amazon Unlimited Music will also offer a family plan (soon) that allows up to six family members to use the service across their devices for a single fee of $15 per month. Amazon's new music service includes ad-free listening, and will permit local downloads for offline playback. People who own an Amazon Echo or other Alexa-powered device can ask for songs by name, artist, album, decade, and more. It differs from the Amazon Prime Music service in that it includes more songs and doesn't match or sync with user-owned libraries. Amazon Unlimited Music competes with Apple Music, Google Play Music, and Spotify.


Amazon Prime Reading Lets Prime Subscribers Read for Free

Oct 5, 2016, 7:25 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Amazon today announced Prime Reading, a new benefit for subscribers of Amazon Prime that provides a selection of free books, magazines, and comics each month. Amazon says Prime Reading includes access to more than one thousand popular books, the latest magazines, and exclusive short content all presented within the Kindle app. Prime Reading is available to iPhones, iPads, Android phones, and Android tablets, as well as Amazon's own Fire and Kindle devices. Prime Reading is free to existing Prime subscribers, who already have access to Prime Video, Prime Music, Prime Photos, Audible Channels, and free/expedited shipping. Those who don't already subscribe to Prime can take Prime Reading for a 30-day trial.


Facebook, Google, Microsoft Team Up to Quell AI Fears

Sep 29, 2016, 7:41 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

A handful of big tech companies have formed a partnership with the goal of keeping people informed about the development of artificial intelligence. Many people already use technology that is aided by AI, and that number will only continue to grow. The group includes Amazon, Facebook, Google, IBM, and Microsoft, each of which has its own AI tech (such as Alexa, Watson, and Cortana). The primary aim of the Partnership on AI will be to educate the public about the uses of artificial intelligence and calm any fears that AI will take over our lives. The secondary goal will be to ensure that all companies developing AI are using best practices formed by non-business experts such as philosophers and ethicists. Founding members of the coalition are expected to contribute financial and research resources that will be shared among all members. The group has mandated that the board be equally split between corporate members and non-corporate members. "AI technologies hold tremendous potential to improve many aspects of life, ranging from healthcare, education, and manufacturing to home automation and transportation," said the Partnership in a statement. "Through rigorous research, the development of best practices, and an open and transparent dialogue, [we] hope to maximize this potential and ensure it benefits as many people as possible."


Amazon, Boingo Giving Away 6 Months of WiFi

Jul 6, 2016, 9:58 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Amazon Underground and Boingo Wireless today said people who download Boingo's app from Amazon Underground will be rewarded with six months of free WiFi. The offer is good between now and December 31. Boingo's Wi-Finder app is free to download and helps people find and access the company's thousands of WiFi hotspots around the world. Free access to WiFi could be beneficial to international travelers over the summer months. Amazon Underground is only available to Android devices and must be side-loaded directly from Amazon's web site. Amazon Underground offers free versions of games and other apps that normally carry some sort of fee. The apps are supported through advertising.


Amazon to Sell Nextbit Robin for $299

May 3, 2016, 1:17 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Amazon is kicking off sales of the Nexbit Robin with a limited price. Anyone who buys the phone from Amazon between May 4 and May 10 will pay $299, rather than $399. The sale price is only available in the U.S. Nextbit will continue to sell the phone directly at the full price of $499 through its own web site. Nextbit recently updated the Robin handset, making improvements to speed, reliability, the camera, and sound quality. The Robin was designed by former HTC employees and is unique in that it dynamically offloads files and apps to make room for new content.


Amazon Held Responsible for Kids' In-App Purchases

Apr 27, 2016, 9:39 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

A federal judge says Amazon deserves to be on the hook for charges rung up by children on mobile devices. Consumers complained it was too easy for children to spend money on in-app purchases without proper authorization. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission took action against Amazon. The judge overseeing the case agreed with the FTC's position that Amazon should be liable, but has yet determine what recourse is needed. The FTC is pushing for full refunds to the impacted consumers.


Amazon, Google, Microsoft Working On Open Media Formats

Sep 4, 2015, 3:16 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

A handful of tech companies this week launched the Alliance for Open Media with the intent of creating an open standard for high definition video that will be compatible with all devices across the web. The companies hope to field next-generation codecs that are interoperate and open, optimized for the web, and scalable to any device at any bandwidth. They also hope the video codec will deliver consistent performance in real-time, while having a low computational footprint that is flexible for commercial and non-commercial use. The Alliance for Open Media is working on a video standard first, but will target other standards, such as audio, over time. Founding members include Amazon, Cisco, Google, Intel Corporation, Microsoft, Mozilla and Netflix. The alliance will use its" collective technology and expertise to meet growing internet demand for top-quality video, audio, imagery and streaming across devices of all kinds and for users worldwide." The alliance said it will provide more information about itself and its goals later this year.


Amazon Pushes Significant Update to Fire Phone

May 8, 2015, 7:23 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Amazon has made Fire OS 4.6.1 available to the Fire Phone, which pushes the device up to Android 4.4 KitKat and makes a significant number of improvements. Fire OS 4.6.1 adds support for Bluetooth Low Energy and wireless printing; adds keyboard options and color choices for the calendar and lock screen; and makes improvements to the lock screen, notifications, messaging, and calling apps. The updates OS also adds new enterprise and accessibility features, and fixes dozens of bugs. Fire OS 4.6.1 is free to download and install.


Consumers Drop Lawsuit Over Google Android Apps

Apr 6, 2015, 7:35 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Two consumers have withdrawn a lawsuit filed against Google in which they claimed the OS-maker artificially inflated smartphone prices by requiring phone manufacturers to include its apps. The class action lawsuit was filed in May 2014. The plaintiffs asserted that phone OEMs were forced to favor Google apps and were restricted from using apps from competitors. The judge overseeing the case said the plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate how this illegally raised prices. Google contends that phone makers don't have to use its apps at all. "Since Android's introduction, greater competition in smartphones has given consumers more choices at lower prices," said Google in an email to Reuters. Amazon's Fire Phone is a good example of a device that runs Android without Google's apps on board. Amazon supplanted Google's services with its own. Google is still facing a similar lawsuit in Europe.


Amazon Wallet App Headed for the App Graveyard

Jan 21, 2015, 8:20 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Amazon has informed users of the Amazon Wallet application that it will shut down the app and remove it from the Appstore today, reports CNET. Amazon launched the app as a beta service in July. Amazon Wallet let people store gift cards, loyalty cards, and membership cards. Amazon originally pitched the app as a way to reduce clutter in wallets and purses. The wallet app did not connect to bank accounts or credit cards and couldn't be used to make tap-and-go payments. "We have learned a great deal from the introduction of the Wallet and will look for ways to apply these lessons in the future as we continue to innovate on behalf of our customers," said Tom Cook, an Amazon spokesperson. Amazon said customers will be able to use the balances of any gift or loyalty cards stored in the app, but it will no longer track balances. Amazon didn't say if the app will return at some point in another form. Consumers are able to use alternate services, such as Apple Pay, Google Wallet, and Softcard, to make contactless payments at participating retailers around the country.


Amazon Slashes Unlocked Fire Phone to $199

Nov 26, 2014, 8:25 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Amazon today dropped the price of the Fire Phone to $199. The company, sitting on unsold stockpiles of the device, is offering it unlocked and without a contract. Further, Amazon is still including a free year of Amazon Prime, which has a value of $99. The Fire Phone went on sale over the summer. At that time, Amazon sold the phone for $199 with a contract. It later dropped the on-contract price to 99 cents. Today's mark-down signals Amazon's hope to clear out its inventory.


Amazon Slashes Fire Phone's Price to $1

Sep 8, 2014, 2:32 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Amazon and AT&T today announced the Fire Phone is now available for the price of $0.99 with a new two-year contract. The Fire Phone was sold for $200 on contract when it launched just two months ago. Alternately, consumers can pick it up for $0 down and $18.75 per month (for 24 months) with AT&T Next 18. The Fire Phone runs FireOS, a forked version of Android, and uses Amazon's services rather than Google's. It has several distinctive features, such as FireFly for searching/shopping; Dynamic Perspective, which provides a 3D-like user interface; and a free year of Amazon Prime.


Fire OS Update from Amazon Improves Battery Life

Aug 16, 2014, 8:21 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Aug 16, 2014, 8:35 AM

Amazon today made available Fire OS 3.5.1 for the Fire Phone. The update (version 111009920) adds a range of new features to the Fire Phone. For example, the Lenticular Photo tool now allows owners to paste together 11 images into one rather than just three, and the email carousel now allows owners to delete emails directly from the home screen. The update adds the ability to pin favorite apps to the front of the home carousel; create folders of apps or content in the app grid; and, with a double-press of the home button, quick switch to other running apps. The system update also makes improvements to video sharing, which now permit high-resolution videos to be sent via MMS or email. Last, Fire OS 3.5.1 makes dozens of updates to system apps in order to improve battery life. Fire Phone owners can download and install the update over the air, or install it manually via USB. The update is free.


Video Tour: Amazon Fire Phone

Jul 25, 2014, 11:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Amazon's Fire Phone has one of the more interesting user interfaces to reach consumers this year. Here's an in-depth look at how FireOS, Dynamic Perspective, and FireFly really work.

continued ›


Amazon Makes Mobile Wallet App Available

Jul 22, 2014, 9:41 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Amazon recently released a mobile wallet application for Android-based smartphones. The app, which Amazon has labeled a beta, lets people store gift cards, loyalty cards, and membership cards, which can be scanned or typed directly into the app. Amazon touts the app as a way to reduce clutter in wallets and purses. The wallet can reveal bar codes for scanning at a number of different merchants to make gift card-based payments. The wallet app does not connect to a bank account or credit card, however, and cannot be used to make tap-and-go payments via NFC. The app is free to download from the Amazon Appstore and the Google Play Store. Amazon did not immediately say if a similar app will be available to its own Fire Phone.


Hands On with Amazon's Fire Phone for AT&T

Jul 17, 2014, 10:02 AM   by Rich Brome

Amazon is finally ready to unleash its first phone, the Fire. An exclusive to AT&T, this unique phone sports a spiffy interface totally new to the phone world, and a few fancy hardware and software features. Read on for our hands-on first impressions.

continued ›


FTC Sues Amazon Over In-App Purchases

Jul 10, 2014, 12:23 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission today made good on its word to sue Amazon over the company's in-app purchasing policies. The FTC alleges Amazon didn't provide consumers with enough protection against unwanted in-app purchases. Specifically, children were frequently able to make purchases on Amazon Kindle Fire tablets without first obtaining their parent's (or the account holder's) permission. Amazon initially allowed in-app purchases up to $99.99 without requiring consent. Later, after some customers complained, Amazon dropped the maximum no-authorization dollar amount of in-app purchases to $20. The FTC says, however, that Amazon allowed in-app purchases for periods between 15 minutes and 60 minutes after account holders gave the app permission to make purchases, which often allowed children to rack up more charges. The FTC is seeking refunds for customers, and wants Amazon to make its in-app purchasing policies more consumer friendly. Earlier this year, Apple settled a similar complaint with the FTC by paying $32.5 million. Amazon said earlier this month that it will defend itself in court against any legal action brought by the FTC. Amazon is prepared to release its first smartphone, the Fire Phone, later this year.


Amazon Refuses to Settle with FTC Over In-App Charges

Jul 2, 2014, 1:15 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Amazon has made clear to the Federal Trade Commission that it will not settle with the government over claims it didn't adequately prevent customers from making in-app purchases. Consumers complained that children were able to easily make unwanted in-app purchases from Amazon's Appstore. Amazon has operated its own Appstore for Android and Fire OS apps since 2011. The FTC has threatened Amazon with litigation if it fails to sign a consent decree similar to the one signed by Apple earlier this year. Apple settled with the FTC for $32.5 million in order to avoid any courtroom drama. Amazon believes it responded quickly and adequately to the issue at hand and shouldn't be beholden to government action. The company said in a letter to the FTC that it will defend itself in court. The FTC argues that Amazon needs to require passwords for in-app purchases, make warnings more prominent, and make it easier for customers to receive refunds. Amazon has already provided some refunds. The FTC has yet to file formal charges.


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