Amazon's Fire Phone is a curious animal. It has a few neat tricks up its sleeves, but the Fire Phone is not for everyone. Phone Scoop's deep dive gives you all the info you need to see if it is the phone for you.
Facebook rolled out a minor update to Messenger for Windows Phone today. The latest version of the chatting app supports video messages, both capturing and playback. The app also makes several under-the-hood improvements. Facebook Messenger for Windows Phone is free to download from the Windows Phone Store. Facebook users will need to download the separate app in order to send messages, as Facebook is discontinuing messaging support in the main Facebook app shortly.
Microsoft today said it has enabled Foursquare recommendations within Cortana, the virtual personal assistant that's part of Windows Phone 8.1. Cortana will now proactively showcase local recommendations on handsets, though the feature must first be enabled by device owners. Users can click on the items to discover more information about the nearby venues, but the separate Foursquare application is required to access that info. There is no need to update or download anything to see the recommendations within Cortana, as Cortana's Foursquare integration comes from Microsoft's servers. It is free to use.
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BlackBerry today indicated it has agreed to buy a small German company called Secusmart. Secusmart specializes in voice and data encryption. BlackBerry plans to use Secusmart's technology to further shore up its own enterprise and government offerings. Secusmart is already being used by government officials in Canada and Germany. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. BlackBerry has retreated from its consumer-chasing tactics and is focusing efforts on selling secure devices and mobile device management tools to businesses and governments.
Facebook has begun reminding mobile users about its upcoming plan to carve the messaging feature out of the main app in favor of the stand-alone Messenger application. Facebook initially announced the change in April. The company believes users will be better served by the separate app, which is more robust than the in-app messaging client. Users will still receive notifications about new messages in the Facebook mobile app. Facebook didn't say when it will make the hard switch.
The European Union has given the green light to Apple's proposed acquisition of Beats Audio. Apple announced its plan to buy the music-focused company earlier this year in a deal valued at about $3 billion. The deal includes Beats' headphones business and music streaming service. U.S. regulators are still researching the deal. Beats was recently sued by Bose for infringing on noise cancellation technology. It's not clear if or how Bose's legal action will impact Apple's ability to close the acquisition of Beats.
T-Mobile today announced a promotional plan that undercuts AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon's offerings dramatically. T-Mobile says a family of four can sign up for a T-Mobile Simple Choice plan with 10GB of LTE data for $100 per month. T-Mobile says each line receives 2.5GB of data in addition to unlimited talk, text, free 2G international data, and unlimited streaming music. The promotional price is good until January 2016 and is available beginning July 30 through September 30. AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon all charge $160 per month for similar four-line plans.
Though Microsoft plans to eventually can the Nokia X platform, the company today announced an update that adds several new features to the operating system. According to Microsoft, the improved OS now includes an app switcher for multitasking. It also integrates Outlook.com, OneDrive, and OneNote into the platform, which provide Outlook email, cloud storage, and note-taking tools, respectively. Last, the update makes significant improvements to the Nokia Store, which now includes content from third-party app stores and a new home screen Spotlight widget. The update is available to the Nokia X, X+, and XL handsets. It can be downloaded and installed over-the-air.
Scientists at Stanford University believe they have solved one of the major issues facing lithium battery technology. The researchers contend a pure lithium battery is best. "Of all the materials that one might use in an anode, lithium has the greatest potential. Some call it the Holy Grail," said Stanford Professor Yi Cui. "It is very lightweight and it has the highest energy density. You get more power per volume and weight, leading to lighter, smaller batteries with more power." The problem, however, is that lithium anodes form dendritic and mossy metal deposits that can cause batteries to crack, lose ions, and possibly ignite fires. In order to solve this problem, the researchers coated the lithium anode with a monolayer of interconnected amorphous hollow carbon nanospheres. The researchers say this helps isolate the lithium metal depositions and stabilizes the battery entirely. "The ideal protective layer for a lithium metal anode needs to be chemically stable to protect against the chemical reactions with the electrolyte and mechanically strong to withstand the expansion of the lithium during charge," said Cui. The solution could apply to lithium batteries used in smartphones, tablets, laptops, and even cars, vastly extending battery life.
Samsung today further delayed the launch of its first Tizen phone in Russia. The company said it needs to "further enhance [the] Tizen ecosystem" before the phone can be released, which strongly suggests there aren't enough apps for the platform. The device was expected to debut at a developer conference in Moscow earlier this month, but its unveiling was scrapped at the last moment. At the time, Samsung said, "The smartphone will appear on the Russian market later, when we can offer our users a fullest portfolio of applications." Tizen is Samsung's home-grown smartphone platform based on Linux and other open standards. The company planned to launch a Tizen device in Japan early this year, but that launch, too, was cancelled at the last minute. Samsung did not say when it plans to launch its Tizen phone, which was supposed to reach the market this quarter. Without apps, Samsung's Tizen device won't be able to compete with established competitors.
The U.S. House of Representatives today unanimously passed bill S517, which makes it legal once again for consumers to unlock their cell phones. The Senate passed the bill on July 15. With both arms of congress approving the bill, it is up to President Obama to sign it into law. Unlocking phones became illegal in early 2013 when the Library of Congress allowed an exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to expire. The bill still falls under the purview of the DMCA and leaves the ultimate decision regarding unlocking up to the Library of Congress. If Obama signs the bill into law immediately, it will be legal to unlock cell phones only for a period of about 14 months before the policy must be reviewed once again by the Library of Congress. The wording of the bill mandates the policy be reviewed once every three years. The NTIA and the FCC have each separately mandated that wireless network operators make it easier for consumers to unlock their devices. Most of the largest carriers have already begun putting policies in place that allow customers to unlock their devices once terms of their agreement are met.
Verizon Wireless plans to use its Network Optimization policy later this year in order to manage its heaviest users. The change in policy applies only to subscribers with an unlimited LTE monthly data plan, who were previously grandfathered in and essentially unrestricted in their use of mobile data. According to Verizon this change only applies to the top 5% of users, who typically consume more than 4.7GB of data per month. Rather than use straight throttling, Verizon will prioritize the traffic of subscribers who pay for tiered data plans (2GB per month, 4GB per month, etc.) The prioritization scheme will be put to work in high-traffic areas when cell sites become congested. The change goes into effect October 1. Verizon has applied similar network management techniques to its 3G customers since 2011.
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.
Google recently made it possible to connect Google Voice phone calls through Hangouts on the web. When using Google Voice in a desktop browser, the phone tool now lists Hangouts as an option when making calls. Googler Alex Wiesen explained that it works even if the user isn't using Hangouts in Gmail, and it doesn't require a Google+ account. The change does not apply to either the Android or iOS mobile apps. Google Voice has been neglected of late and its future as a Google service is in question. This recent change marks another transitional step for the service, and expands the functionality of Google Hangouts.
Verizon Wireless is trialling a new policy on the LG G3 that allows owners to remove bloatware. Like many smartphones, the G3 ships with preloaded applications selected by Verizon. Device owners have no say in which apps are preloaded and may find them useless or uninteresting. Typically, preloaded apps cannot be removed from smartphones. That changes with the LG G3. According to Verizon, preloaded "applications can be completely and entirely uninstalled by the customer via the standard uninstall process." Customers need to use the built-in Android app manager to delete any unwanted apps. Deleting apps frees phones of clutter and clears valuable storage space. Verizon didn't say if it will expand the trial to other devices.
Google today rolled out an update for its Gmail app for iOS devices. The update carries over a feature given to the Android app earlier this month: the ability to share files from Google Drive. iPhone and iPad owners can now insert documents from their Drive account into emails as they compose them on their device. The app makes it easy to save email attachments from Gmail to Drive, too. Gmail for iOS allows users to change their Gmail account picture, and those with multiple Gmail accounts can choose which signed-in accounts they want visible in the app. Gmail is free to download from the iTunes App Store.
Google today delivered a new beta version of its Chrome browser to the Android platform. The chief new feature of the updated app is broader support for Google account sign-in. According to Google, users who sign into the Chrome browser on their Android device will automatically be signed into all their other Google services, as well. The sign-in feature supports multiple accounts, and can sync the settings and bookmarks of those accounts, too. Chrome beta for Android also adds in some elements of Material Design, the new design language Google is using to define Android Release L, which is due later this year.
The FCC has published the rules regarding Auction 97, which will see 1,614 spectrum licenses sold by the government to wireless network operators. The auction will start November 13, with a trial auction scheduled for November 10. The spectrum includes 65MHz in the 1695-1710MHz, 1755-1780MHz, and 2155-2180MHz -- or AWS-3 -- bands. The lower of the three blocks will be sold unpaired in 5MHz blocks, while the upper two bands will be sold in 10MHz paired blocks (with a couple of exceptions). The collective reserve price for the lower block is $580 million and the collective reserve price for the upper blocks is $10.07 billion. Of the 1,614 licenses offered in Auction 97, 880 will be Economic Area (EA) licenses and 734 will be Cellular Market Area (CMA) licenses. Dish Networks and T-Mobile wanted the unpaired and paired licenses to be auctioned separately, but the FCC decided against splitting the bidding process in favor of efficiency for all parties involved. The FCC has another auction, for 600MHz spectrum, scheduled for mid 2015.