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printed October 23, 2014
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Facebook Debuts Rooms for Anonymous iPhone Chats

Today, 12:30 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Facebook today announced Rooms, a new chatting service that harkens back to the early days of the internet. With Rooms, people can create small chat spaces around any topic that allows them to post comments, photos, and videos anonymously. Room creators pick the topic for the Room and can customize look and feel of the Room, such as colors, and even appoint moderators to police behavior. Users can adjust their "Like" button appearance, as well as create custom permissions for Room members. Room participants can invite others via QR codes. For now, Rooms is limited to the Apple iPhone. It is free to download and use.


Android Wear Update Makes Devices More Independent

Today, 11:37 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today pushed out an update to its Android Wear platform that adds two key features and grants wearables even more independence. First, Android Wear devices will now be able to track location via GPS without requiring a nearby smartphone. This means people will be able to leave their phone at home when they go for a jog or walk. Further, the update adds the ability to play local music files stored on the wearable itself. This means Android Wear device owners can put music on their watch, listen to it via Bluetooth headphones, and leave their phone at home. Google noted that tens of thousands of Android apps have been updated with Wear compatibility. Last, Google said the Sony Smart Watch 3 is now available for preorder through Verizon Wireless for $250. It will reach the Play Store in the weeks to come.


Review: Sony Xperia Z3v for Verizon Wireless

Today, 8:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Verizon Wireless scored one of Sony's finest efforts in the Xperia Z3v. Sony's flagship Android smartphone generally impresses, despite a few flaws. Read Phone Scoop's in-depth review to find out if it is the phone for you.

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Twitter Touts Digits for Mobile App Login

Today, 7:58 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Twitter recently unveiled Digits, a new way for smartphone users to log in to mobile apps. Rather than use an email address and password or social networking credentials to create app logins, Digits allows people to use their phone number. After entering their number, users will receive an SMS code and can use that to create an account and log in to the app for the first time. After that, they won't need to log in again. Digits is not associated with Twitter's main product, but it is part of the new Fabric SDK Twitter is releasing to mobile developers. Twitter believes Digits is a more user-friendly way for smartphone users to sign into apps. Digits is available on the web, as well as for Android and iOS devices.


Sprint Improves Its Least-Expensive Data Plan

Today, 7:48 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Sprint recently added a new tier to its range of data plans, this time targeting those who don't need huge buckets of mobile broadband each month. The new offering includes 1GB of shared data -- twice as much as before -- for $20 per month. Customers need only add a smartphone access charge of $25 and they'll receive unlimited voice minutes, unlimited messaging, and 1GB of shared data for a total of $45 per month.


Apple Vindicated in Another Patent Troll Lawsuit

Today, 7:23 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Apple beat back a lawsuit brought on by a small Honolulu-based company over mobile device patents. GPNE alleged that nine Apple products, including the iPhone and iPad, violated certain patents it holds regarding pager technology. GPNE is a patent holding and licensing firm. It doesn't make or sell products, but instead generates revenue through patent licensing fees and litigation. It was seeking $94 million in damages from Apple. The case was overseen by U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose. Koh is a familiar character in Apple trials, and has presided over its large cases against Samsung. Apple was pleased with the court's decision. "Apple invents products that revolutionize industries, and relies upon the U.S. patent system to protect our innovation," said Apple said in a statement. "We urge congressional leaders to continue focusing on reform in this important area of patent law." Apple is often a target of patent firms seeking a payday.


Samsung Lists Developer Edition of Galaxy Note 4 for Verizon

Today, 7:09 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Today, 7:13 AM

Samsung recently revealed a forthcoming variant of its Galaxy Note 4 handset for Verizon Wireless. The Note 4 Developer Edition ships with an unlocked boot loader, and is free of Verizon-branded apps and services. Developers can use the device to test their apps on Verizon's network. The phone will be sold at the full retail price of $662. Samsung said the Galaxy Note 4 Developer Edition is coming soon.


Yahoo Brings Travel Alerts to Android and iOS Mail App

Yesterday, 2:08 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Yahoo today rolled out an update to its email application for both Android and iOS devices that adds support for travel and event notifications. According to Yahoo, the Today section of the email app will now show flight status and directions to the airport, as well as local points-of-interest recommendations once you've reached your destination. The Mail app is also able to skim details from Ticketmaster or EventBrite emails, and will provide event details, such as start time, and directions to the venue. The new Mail app for Android and iOS is free to download from the Play Store and iTunes App Store, respectively.


Google Debuts 'Inbox' As a Gmail Alternative

Yesterday, 12:19 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Yesterday, 7:15 PM

Google today announced a new service called Inbox. The app, which was developed by Google's Gmail team, offers a new take on email by categorizing emails and highlighting the important details therein. Inbox offers three core features: bundles, highlights, and reminders/assists. Bundles categorize similar emails, such as bank statements or purchases, to make them easier to read and dismiss en masse. Users are able to tweak which emails are grouped together, but Inbox will also do so automatically. Highlights show the important information found within emails, such as flight itineraries, event details, and photos/documents. Inbox is smart enough to pull in additional details from the web if they're not offered in the original email. Last, reminders/assists are tools for managing tasks and to-do lists. According to Google, Inbox can handle any type of reminder and can snag pertinent info from the web. For example, if you make a flight reservation, Inbox will automatically provide a link for online checkin. Reminders can be silenced with a snooze feature that relies on time and/or location to resume notifications. For now, Inbox is being offered as an invite-only beta. Google said those who receive invites can invite others to test it out. Google didn't say when the service might reach 1.0 status or become more widely available.


T-Mobile to Explore Settlement with FTC Over Cramming

Yesterday, 10:06 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

T-Mobile has signaled to the Federal Trade Commission it is interested in reaching a settlement regarding accusations it unfairly profited from bogus charges foisted onto customers' bills. The FTC sued T-Mobile over its cramming practices, despite T-Mobile's attempts to preempt such legal action by banning premium content and offering refunds to customers. The company vehemently denied the FTC's accusations at first, but has since altered its stance. T-Mobile and the FTC have asked the lawsuit to be put on hold for a 90-day period while they discuss possible settlement terms. "Our top priority is doing what's right for our customers," said a T-Mobile spokesperson in a statement. "T-Mobile and the FTC jointly filed for a continuance as a matter of ordinary course. We are actively processing refunds through our proactive refund program." AT&T recently settled with the FTC over similar charges for a total of $105 million.


Microsoft Opens the Garage Door, Releases Android Apps

Yesterday, 8:38 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft today revealed Garage, a collective of Microsoft employees that is encouraged to tinker with apps and services for a wide range of platforms and products. Microsoft describes the Garage as "a community of interns, employees, and teams from everywhere in the company who come together to turn our wild ideas into real projects." Along with its public unveiling, Microsoft announced several Android apps created within the Garage that are available from the Play Store today. For example, Torque is an app for Android Wear that lets owners of such devices twist their arm to launch Bing (not Google) Voice Search. Another, Next Lock Screen, lets Android device owners see their missed calls, messages, and calendar appointments without unlocking their device. The apps are free to download starting today. Microsoft indicated more apps and products may emerge from the Garage, not just for Android, but for iOS, Windows Phone, and Windows, too.


Congress Warns FBI to Leave Peoples' Cell Phones Alone

Yesterday, 7:27 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Members of Congress have responded to comments made by FBI Director James Comey regarding security measurers Apple and Google have added to their respective mobile operating systems. Both iOS 8 and Android 5.0 use encryption by default to protect user data from spying. The FBI doesn't like this. Comey last week asked Congress to pass legislation that would force smartphone makers to provide a back door into smartphones for law enforcement purposes. Congress has spoken up. "I think the public would not support it, certainly industry would not support it, civil liberties groups would not support it," said Rep. Zoe Lofgren in a statement provided to The Hill. "I think [Comey is] a sincere guy, but there's just no way this is going to happen." Senator Ron Wyden offered similar thoughts. "I'd be surprised if more than a handful of members would support the idea of backdooring Americans' personal property." Representative Darrell Issa added, "To FBI Director Comey and the [administration] on criticisms of legitimate businesses using encryption: you reap what you sow." Congress believes the American public is inherently distrustful of law enforcement's data collection techniques after the revelations made by Edward Snowden. FBI Director Comey wants Congress to update 1994 legislation called the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, which required phone companies to make it easy for law enforcement to tap calls. The Electronic Frontier Foundation points out, however, that CALEA already protects encryption measures put into place by companies. The law states companies "shall not be responsible for decrypting, or ensuring the government's ability to decrypt, any communication encrypted by a subscriber or customer." The Hill suggests the FBI isn't going to simply drop the matter and will continue its push for broader access to smartphones.


Review: Sharp Aquos Crystal for Boost Mobile

Tuesday, 2:30 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Sharp has delivered an interesting handset in the Aquos Crystal, which features a 5-inch screen with practically no surrounding bezel. This futuristic-looking smartphone aims to trounce other mid-range contenders on Sprint's pre-paid Boost Mobile. Does it get the job done? Find out in Phone Scoop's full report.

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Vine Tackles iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, iOS 8 Extensions

Tuesday, 11:46 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Twitter today pushed out an update to its Vine application for iOS devices. The app has been optimized for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus screens, and adds support for extensions in iOS 8. The new share extension makes it simpler to share Vines with other people and /or social networks from within the app itself, or within other apps. The app also added a button for quicker channel following. Vine for iOS is free to download from the iTunes App Store. Vine is a video-based social network that lets people record and post short clips.


Google Updates Play Music with Songza Features

Tuesday, 11:37 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today pushed out an update to its Play Music service that adds new, curated play lists. The refreshed service gains its tools from Songza, which Google purchased over the summer. Play Music now offers a playlist- and song-recommendation engine that uses variables such as the time of day and location to cultivate selections. Google says users of the app will be prompted to play music for a time of day, mood, or activity. Each station has been created by real people to make sure they truly match the mood or activity at hand. Users can download stations for offline playback, see upcoming song selections, and add, remove, or reorder tracks on a whim. Google also updated its Listen Now web site to make it easier to discover and listen to new music. Last, Google Play Music now wears the Material Design look that Google is putting on most of its apps. The new Google Play Music app is available to Android and iOS devices, as well as on the web.


Microsoft to Drop Nokia Brand from Smartphones

Tuesday, 8:27 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Microsoft indicated that it is prepared to drop the Nokia brand from its line of Windows Phones. Moving forward, the company will use the Microsoft Lumia name to refer to its phone hardware. Microsoft purchased Nokia's handset division earlier this year, but Nokia still exists as a separate company selling HERE Maps and telecommunications gear. Microsoft could not continue to use the Nokia brand indefinitely. Microsoft has already rebranded many of the old Nokia apps with the Lumia name, and told The Verge that it plans to begin rebranding its remaining Nokia properties in the weeks ahead.


Nokia HERE Maps Expands to More Android Handsets

Tuesday, 7:54 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Nokia today announced its HERE Maps app is now available to a wider range of smartphones. The company offered HERE Maps only to Samsung handsets earlier this month. Now, most devices running Android 4.1 Jelly Bean and up with 1GB of RAM can install and use HERE Maps. The app, which is being offered as a beta, cannot be found in the Google Play Store. Instead, anyone interested in using HERE Maps on their Android handset will need to download the app directly from Nokia's web site and sideload it onto their device. HERE Maps offers a number of compelling features. For example. HERE Maps allows users to download entire countries or regions, which makes the maps available even when the device is offline. Downloaded maps perform faster when panning and zooming since new segments don't need to be loaded from an internet connection. HERE Maps for Android devices include free, voice-guided, turn-by-turn directions. Users can plan routes via car, public transport, or foot. Live traffic updates and real-time transit schedules require a data connection. Nokia says maps are available for about 200 countries with turn-by-turn directions available in about 100. Transit maps are available in 750 metro areas across 40 different countries, with more being added all the time.


Qualcomm Amps Up its Wi-Fi Lineup

Tuesday, 7:46 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Qualcomm Atheros, a subsidiary of Qualcomm, today unveiled new Wi-Fi products that promise to boost performance for a range of consumer electronics. The company added the QCA9377 chip to its 802.11ac 2.0 ecosystem, which Qualcomm says brings the benefits of multi-user multi-input/multi-output (MU-MIMO) to mobile devices. The benefits of MU-MIMO include better support for multiple devices on the same hotspot, as well as better use of capacity. MU-MIMO is already being deployed inside consumer-grade Wi-Fi hotspots. The QCA9377 is the mobile device complement and can improve speeds by up to three times. The QCA9377 is a combo chip that also includes Bluetooth 4.1. Qualcomm said a company called AVM is among the first to deploy its MU-MIMO technology, but it expects mobile devices makers to follow in the months ahead once it ramps up production of the QCA9377.

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