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printed December 8, 2016
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Created by Google, Android is a smartphone OS and platform that is open-source and open for any manufacturer to use to make a smartphone. Most Android phones use a version that is mostly provided by Google and requires Google services. Android phones can run Android apps, available from the Google Play Store, or, optionally, from other sources.

by:  Google

T-Mobile Looks to Redefine the Phone Number with 'Digits'

Yesterday, 12:51 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

T-Mobile today announced Digits, a new service that will let customers use the same phone number across multiple devices, or multiple numbers on a single device. The service makes use of T-Mobile's LTE network and works with virtually all connected devices, including phones, tablets, wearables, and computers. Digits relies on an app. Users can sign in on whichever device is most convenient and immediately have access to their phone number, complete with voicemail, text messages, call history, and other features. The service allows a single handset to support up to five phone numbers without requiring additional SIM cards. Similarly, a single number can be used across up to five separate devices. T-Mobile believes Digits will be particularly appealing to business customers, which will be able to assign a T-Mobile Digits number to workers, regardless of the carrier the employee already uses. Digits can run on phones that connect via AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, et al. Digits works natively with the dialer in Samsung's newer smartphones, including the Galaxy S6, S7, Note 5, and others. T-Mobile customers who have iPhones or other Android phones will be able to use Digits through a mobile app. T-Mobile is allowing a limited number of postpaid customers to test Digits, which is available as a beta. T-Mobile did not say how much the service costs. The company expects to fully launch Digits early next year.

FitBit Buys Pebble's Intellectual Property

Yesterday, 9:31 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Yesterday, 9:58 AM

FitBit today said it has acquired key personnel and intellectual property related to software and firmware development from Pebble. FitBit did not buy Pebble's hardware assets. FitBit says the acquisition will allow it to bring products to market faster and will speed up its ability to develop customized solutions and support third-party applications. Pebble was an early entrant in the smartwatch market and made low-cost, platform-agnostic wearables that focused on usability. It got its start through several successful Kickstarter campaigns. FitBit is the market leader for health and fitness wearables. It has an entire line of trackers and smart devices that work with Android and iOS devices. FitBit did not immediately say what will happen to Pebble's hardware products, but Pebble's Twitter account said, "Pebble will no longer produce or sell new hardware. Active Pebbles in the wild will keep working." Terms of the deal were not disclosed. The transaction was completed December 6.

Chrome 55 for Android Enables Downloads for Offline Use

Yesterday, 8:59 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Following its recent release for desktop machines, Google has made Chrome 55 available to Android smartphones and tablets. Chrome 55 introduces a handful of new features. Chiefly, Chrome 55 makes it possible to download music, videos, and web pages for offline viewing. Downloads can be viewed and shared within Chrome. The updated browser also lets people see misspelled words in text fields and makes improvements to the contextual search user interface. Chrome 55 contains performance, memory, and stability fixes, as well. The browser is free to download from the Google Play Store.

Google Makes Play Store Apps Smaller to Download

Tuesday, 3:47 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Tuesday, 4:08 PM

Google today said it has implemented an approach it calls file-by-file patching to cut down the size of app updates. The technique can, on average, reduce the download size by 65% when compared to the original app. It's able to cut down some app downloads by as much as 90%. According to Google, the Play Store now sends Android devices a patch that details what's different between the old version and new version of the app. It then downloads only the bits needed to make those changes. In total, Google expects the effort will save Android device owners around the world an aggregate 6 petabytes of mobile data per day. Google hopes smaller app downloads will help improve uptake for app developers. File-by-file patching replaces the bsdiff algorithm previously used by Google, which was able to reduce app downloads by as much as 47%. People will not need to take any action to make use of the new updating process. Apple's iOS does something similar with apps downloaded from the iTunes App Store.

Google Redesigns Search App with Columns

Tuesday, 11:16 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today began rolling out an update to its Android Search app that separates information into two streams. Previously, the app displayed a long column of data, including calendar appointments, weather, news stories, and so on. Now, the app is dividing this information into two categories: upcoming events and current topics. The events section will contain details about travel, meetings, and important dates culled from the user's email and calendar. The topics section will contain a list of stories (news, weather, sports) that Google thinks the user will be interested in. The redesigned search app hits Android devices today and will reach iOS devices soon.

Instagram Gives Users More Control Over Comments and Followers

Tuesday, 10:23 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Instagram today expanded the number of tools people can use to control their experience within the app. First, Instagram will allow people to turn off comments on their posts. The feature will be added to the advanced settings menu. Instagram says people will be able to turn comments back on whenever they wish. The social network also plans to let people "like" comments by tapping a heart icon that will appear alongside comments. Users will soon be able to remove followers from private accounts, too. People will not be notified if/when they are removed. Instagram believes this is a better alternative to blocking. Last, Instagram is adding a way for people to anonymously report posts that suggest a user may injure themselves. Instagram says the new features are rolling out gradually through an update to its Android and iOS apps.

Google Distributes Android 7.1.1

Monday, 1:45 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Monday, 2:29 PM

Google today made Android 7.1.1 Nougat available to Pixel and select Nexus devices. The refreshed operating system is available to the Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones, the Nexus 6P and 5X smartphones, as well as the Nexus 9 and Pixel C tablets. System images for side loading are already available online, and the over-the-air downloads will appear shortly. The most obvious new feature for end users is support for GIFs and animations within the keyboard. The Android keyboard can interact with third-party apps to create and apply stickers, videos, and other expressive content. Android 7.1.1 also adopts a 3D Touch-style interactive tool that will let people access up to five secondary actions or settings that can be reached directly from the launcher.

Google Allo Learns Hindi and Portuguese

Monday, 12:30 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today updated its Allo messaging app with two new languages. Allo now supports Hindi and Brazilian Portuguese for both Google Assistant and Smart Reply. People can say "Talk to me in Hindi" or "Talk to me in Portuguese" to gain access to the alternate languages. Google says Smart Reply should show suggested responses in the language it hears. Last, Google added new local stickers for Brazil in Google Allo. Google says the Android and iOS Allo apps will see these new features in an update due to arrive in the next few days.

Google Debuts 'Trusted Contacts' Personal Safety App

Monday, 8:23 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today made a new app available to Android devices that lets people share their location with others during emergencies. The app, called Trusted Contacts, simplifies the process of adding friends and family as emergency contacts. It allows trusted contacts to request location at any time. "If everything's fine, you can deny the request," explains Google, "but if you're unable to respond your location is shared automatically." This works even when offline or the phone's battery is dead. On the flip side, users can proactively share their location if they feel unsafe or become involved in an emergency situation. People added to the Trusted Contacts list will see the phone's activity status to know the owner is okay. The app is an alternative to something such as Facebook's Safety Check, which allows users of the social network to mark themselves safe during times of crisis. Safety Check is something that Facebook turns on when particular events warrant it. Trusted Contacts from Google can be used at any time, during any circumstances. Trusted Contacts is free to download from the Google Play Store.

Verizon's LG G5 Receiving Android 7 Nougat

Dec 1, 2016, 5:32 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Verizon Wireless says its variant of the LG G5 smartphone is on deck for the Android 7 Nougat system update. The update adds new themes to the G5, the ability to retrieve deleted messages, multi-window support, enriched notifications, tweaked Quick Settings tools, simplified Settings Menu, and more sound settings. Verizon is encouraging G5 owners to download the system update via WiFi. Users will be notified once the update is ready for their phone. Verizon is rolling the update out in waves over the next few days.

Motorola: Wearables Don't Have Enough Appeal

Dec 1, 2016, 5:23 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Motorola does not plan to launch new smartwatches alongside the debut of Android Wear 2.0 early next year, reports The Verge. Shakil Barkat, Motorola's head of global product development, indicated the company will not release new hardware once Google's revised wearable platform hits the street. Motorola doesn't "see enough pull in the market to put [a new smartwatch] out at this time," said Barkat, though Motorola may revisit smartwatches down the road. "Wearables do not have broad enough appeal for us to continue to build on it year after year." Motorola's last wearable was the Moto 360 smartwatch, which debuted in September 2015. Since then, the company has focused chiefly on its mobile phones. Motorola hasn't written off wearables completely. "We believe the wrist still has value and there will be a point where they provide value to consumers more than they do today," noted Barkat. Huawei, too, has said it won't make more Android-based smartwatches, and Samsung swore off Android Wear in favor of its own Tizen platform some time ago. Google delayed the launch of Android Wear 2.0 from September to early in 2017.

Motorola Debuts Two New Mods for Moto Z Series

Dec 1, 2016, 1:53 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Motorola today took the wraps off two additional Moto Mods for its Moto Z series of handsets. The first mod is a juice pack from Mophie (pictured) that packs a 3,000mAh power cell and 15W USB-C charging. A series of LED lights indicates how much power is within the juice pack and both the phone and the juice pack will charge when attached to one another and plugged in. The Mophie juice pack is available for preorder for $80 from Verizon Wireless' web site. The second mod is an in-car dock from Incipio. The $65 accessory holds, charges, and connects Moto Z handsets to most cars via the air conditioning fins. When docked, the phone automatically launches Android Auto for safer in-car use. Motorola didn't say when the two new mods will ship. The company did mention that it intends to release an average of four new mods per quarter moving through 2017.

BlackBerry Pushing Updates to Priv, DTEK50, DTEK60

Dec 1, 2016, 12:17 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

BlackBerry's trio of Android smartphones can now download a series of system and software updates that add features and bolster performance. BlackBerry Hub+, for example, now allows users to hide specific accounts or stop them from syncing, as well as create custom views for emails from specific contacts. The BlackBerry Keyboard app has been improved with easier switching between languages, expanded Chinese language input, and support for fingerprint authentication (DTEK60 only). The BlackBerry Launcher has a new dark theme, and BlackBerry Password Keeper introduces a built-in browser, autofill tweaks, and support for non-Latin characters. Google says Priv, DTEK50, and DTEK60 owners should receive notifications once the updates are available to their handset.

Nokia Pins Smartphone Comeback on HMD Global

Dec 1, 2016, 8:31 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Nokia today said it plans to return to the smartphone business during the first half of 2017 through its partnership with HMD Global. HMD Global recently completed a series of transactions between HMD, FIH Mobile Limited, and Microsoft that will allow it to make phones bearing the Nokia brand. The partnership between HMD and Nokia was first announced in May. HMD Global is a Finland-based business and will design smartphones that will then be manufactured exclusively by Foxconn. Foxconn is one of the world's largest device makers and manufactures the iPhone for Apple. HMD Global will pay Nokia licensing and royalty fees for smartphone and tablet sales. HMD Global boasts experienced Nokia veterans among its leadership team, but Nokia itself has no investment nor ownership stake in HMD. HMD Global and Nokia are relying on the know-how of the former Nokia execs at HMD's helm and the strength of the Nokia brand to return to the market. Nokia sold its smartphone business to Microsoft in 2014, which was then wholly based in Microsoft's Windows Phone platform. Moving forward, Nokia-branded handsets will run Google's Android platform. "We've been overwhelmed by the enthusiasm shown around the world for the return of the Nokia brand to smartphones," said Brad Rodrigues, interim president of Nokia Technologies.

Sony Pushing Nougat to Xperia XZ and X Performance

Dec 1, 2016, 8:11 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Sony today said it has begin distributing the Android 7 Nougat operating system to its Xperia XZ and Xperia X Performance smartphones. The platform includes multi-window support, longer battery life, more messaging options, manual camera controls, and a revised home screen experience that includes Google Now. Sony said it is rolling the update out slowly. Owners of older Sony Xperia phones will be happy to learn that the company plans to make Android 7.0, Nougat available for the Xperia Z3+, Z4 Tablet, Z5, Z5 Compact, Z5 Premium, X, XA, XA Ultra, and X Compact. Sony didn't say when these devices will receive the update.

OnePlus 3 Granted Android 7 Nougat Beta

Nov 30, 2016, 3:24 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

OnePlus today made OxygenOS Open Beta 8 available to the OnePlus 3 smartphone. This new platform shifts from Marshmallow to Nougat and introduces a significant number of user interface changes. For example, the beta build refreshes the design of the notifications and setting menus. It also adds multi-window view, notification direct reply, status bar icon options, and quick launch for third-party applications. OnePlus says there are some known issues in the Nougat beta, which breaks Android Pay and introduces some stability and performance problems. OnePlus warns that the beta cannot be installed over-the-air and will instead need to be side loaded manually. Moreover, beta testers will not easily be able to return to earlier versions of Android/OxygenOS without reformatting their device. OnePlus said it is working to create a single software build for the OnePlus 3 and OnePlus 3T based on Nougat. It expects to do that by the end of the year. Until then, the 3 and 3T will be updated separately. The company recently updated both handsets. The 3T, for example, was updated to OxygenOS 3.5.3 while the 3 was updated to OxygenOS 3.2.8. Both of these system builds are incremental updates that focus mainly on resolving bugs and performance issues. They are rolling out slowly as over-the-air installations.

Twitter Lets People Create Moments from their Phone

Nov 30, 2016, 1:38 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Twitter today made its Moments story-creation tool available on mobile phones. Moments, which has been available on the web since September, lets people assemble a series of Tweets about a subject or event into a single package that tells a complete story. Moments are found in a separate tab in the Android and iOS mobile Twitter apps. People can subscribe to Moments, which will be inserted into the timeline. Moments can be loaded with multimedia, such as photos or videos, to make them more engaging. Moments are displayed in chronological order, with discernible beginning, middle, and end segments. The feature is being rolled out to mobile users worldwide.

Netflix Adds Support for Offline Viewing

Nov 30, 2016, 9:19 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Nov 30, 2016, 9:22 AM

Netflix today made it possible for U.S. customers to download and store movies and television shows on mobile devices for offline playback. Netflix made the announcement via its Twitter account and said, "Airplane mode. Road trip mode. Stuck-in-the-subway-for-20-minutes mode. Your favorite stories are now available for download any time." The initial selection of shows and movies that can be downloaded is rather small, but should expand over time. A new version of the Netflix app is being made available to Android and iOS devices today that supports offline playback. The feature does not cost extra to use. Competing services, such as Amazon Prime Video, have supported offline playback for some time.

Facebook Messenger Now Lets People Challenge Friends to Video Games

Nov 29, 2016, 12:13 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Facebook has added video games to its Messenger application. Launching in beta in 30 countries, Facebook users will be able to play Pac-Man, Galaga, Space Invaders, and 14 other games inside Messenger. The gaming feature lets people challenge one another and creates a score-based leaderboard with game results. The feature is available to newer Android and iOS devices and will be added to the newest version of the Messenger app. Facebook says it will add more titles and expand to more markets over time.

DirecTV Now: App Tour

Nov 28, 2016, 8:45 PM   by Rich Brome

A quick hands-on tour of the DirecTV Now app for Android. (An iOS version also available.) This is the boldest attempt yet to bring all of the major network and cable content to cord-cutters, and the full service is available from mobile apps, in addition to home streaming boxes. We took a quick look, and found a rich interface, but also a few annoyances. Read on for our impressions.

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AT&T Has Low-Cost Mobile TV Services to Bolster DirecTV Now

Nov 28, 2016, 4:41 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Alongside its new DirecTV Now streaming television service, AT&T announced Fullscreen and FreeView. Fullscreen includes more than 1,500 hours of ad-free content (movies, television) for $6 per month, while FreeView includes ad-supported content for free. Fullscreen is a video-on-demand platform that's compatible with iPhone, iPad, select Android Phones, Chromecast, and Apple TV. For a limited time, AT&T will let new and existing customers access Fullscreen for a year for free. Like DirecTV Now, Fullscreen will not impact AT&T Mobility customers' data buckets. FreeView is a highly-curated, on-demand content platform from Audience. Both Fullscreen and FreeView are available within the DirecTV Now app and will launch November 30.

AT&T Announces 'DirecTV Now' Internet-Based TV Service

Nov 28, 2016, 4:28 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T today announced an over-the-top television service called DirectTV Now. It includes a range of live, streamed television and on-demand content at a variety of price points. The $35 option includes 60+ channels. Customers will need to opt for the $50 plan for 80+ channels, the $60 plan for 100+ channels, or the $70 plan for 120+ channels. Premium movie channels, such as HBO and Cinemax, cost $5 per month extra. (No CBS/Showtime programming for now.) DirecTV Now will be streamed over internet connections, including both wired and wireless, and is available to most connected devices and platforms. The service launches November 30 and will be available to Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick; Android phones and tablets; iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV; Chromecast; Google Cast-enabled LeEco ecotvs and Vizio SmartCast Displays; as well as the web. AT&T said more platforms and devices will be available starting next year. At launch, early adopters will be able to score the 100+ channel option for $35 per month. This is a limited promotion, but those who sign up early will be grandfathered in. Moreover, AT&T is working with several hardware vendors, including Amazon, Apple, and LeEco, by offering between one and three months of service for free with select purchases. Last, AT&T is zero-rating DirecTV Now for its wireless customers, who won't see their data plans hit when streaming DirecTV Now content.

HTC's Unlocked 10 Snags Android 7 Update

Nov 25, 2016, 11:26 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

HTC said the unlocked variant of its HTC 10 smartphone should receive Android 7 Nougat beginning today. The update is being pushed out over-the-air to the U.S. version of the HTC 10, which was sold directly by HTC online. Beyond Nougat, the update also installs the latest Android security patches from Google and provides other system enhancements. The update measures 1.1 GB and should be downloaded via WiFi.

Google Releases Final Preview of Android 7.1

Nov 22, 2016, 1:37 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today made an update to the Android 7.1 Developer Preview available to developers. Registered developers can download the refreshed operating system to their Nexus 6P or 5X smartphones, as well as the Nexus 9 and Pixel C tablets. System images for side loading are already available online, and the over-the-air downloads will appear within the next week. The most obvious new feature for end users is support for GIFs and animations within the keyboard. The Android keyboard can interact with third-party apps to create and apply stickers, videos, and other expressive content. Android 7.1 also adopts a 3D Touch-style interactive tool that will let people access up to five secondary actions or settings that can be reached directly from the launcher. Google calls this second preview "release ready" and says developers should rely on it to test their apps. Google expects to roll out Android 7.1.1 to the full lineup of supported devices, as well as Pixel and Pixel XL handsets, in December.

Nextbit Pushes Nougat to Robin Beta Testers

Nov 22, 2016, 1:11 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Nov 22, 2016, 1:11 PM

Nextbit today said people signed up to beta test its software should soon receive a preview of Android 7.0 Nougat. According to Nexbit, the Nougat preview includes ideas from its own developer team along with those contributed by Paranoid Android. The result is a faster, less power-hungry operating system for the Robin. Beta testers should receive a notification within the next 24 hours or so, after which they'll be able to download and install the Nougat OS preview on their Robin handset. The Robin relies on continuous, smart cloud-syncing to ensure it always has storage for apps, media, and other content.

HTC to Sell the Bolt As the 10 Evo Overseas

Nov 22, 2016, 7:22 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Nov 22, 2016, 10:25 AM

HTC today announced the 10 evo, an international variant of the Bolt that will be sold in markets outside the U.S. The only significant difference between the Bolt and 10 evo is the latter's lesser support for LTE. It drops three-channel carrier aggregation and sticks to LTE bands more common in Europe and other markets. The HTC 10 evo is a unibody metal handset that boasts IP57 for protection against water and dust. It includes a 5.5-inch quad HD screen with curved glass, Snapdragon 810 processor with 3 GB of RAM, 32 GB of storage, and support for microSD cards up to 2 TB. The main camera has a 16-megapixel sensor with an aperture of f/2.0. The user-facing camera has an 8-megapixel sensor and a selfie light. HTC gave the phone a 3,200mAh battery and the USB-C port supports Quick Charge 2.0 for rapid power-ups. The phone does not include HTC's trademarked BoomSound stereo speakers, but it does ship with BoomSound Adaptive Audio headphones. The 10 evo ships with Android 7 Nougat and the latest version of Sense UI from HTC. It goes on sale later this month.

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Google Play Services to Drop Support for Gingerbread

Nov 21, 2016, 4:01 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Nov 21, 2016, 4:09 PM

Google today said the next iteration of Google Play Services will sever backward compatibility with devices running Android 2.3 Gingerbread. Today, Google Play Services — the core code behind app compatibility across Android platforms — is 10.0.0 and supports API level 9. The move to Google Play Services 10.2.0, expected in early 2017, will jump from API level 9 to API level 14. This means Play Services 10.2.0 will support Android 4.0.1 Ice Cream Sandwich and up, leaving Android 2.3 Gingerbread devices behind. "The Gingerbread platform is almost six years old. Many Android developers have already discontinued support for Gingerbread in their apps," explained Google in a blog post. "This helps them build better apps that make use of the newer capabilities of the Android platform. For us, the situation is the same. By making this change, we will be able to provide a more robust collection of tools for Android developers with greater speed." At last check, only 1.3% of all devices accessing the Google Play Store were still running Gingerbread. The majority of devices are running Android 4.4 KitKat (25.2%), Android 5.x Lollipop (34.1%), or Android 6.x Marshmallow (24%). The change in API level support will not impact that many devices. Google says developers can either move forward and target API level 14 at a minimum, or offer multiple APKs via the Play Store to support both older and newer devices. This latter method will not include support for newer APIs, however, and may occasionally lead to broken or non-functioning apps. Google Play Services is updated automatically across Android devices once every couple of months.

Motorola Bringing Nougat and Daydream to Z and Z Force

Nov 21, 2016, 12:26 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Motorola said it will roll out Android 7.0 Nougat to the Moto Z and Moto Z Force starting this week. Both handsets will be updated from Android 6.1 to Android 7.0. Moreover, the update will make the Moto Z and Moto Z Force compatible with Daydream, Google's new virtual reality platform. According to Motorola, the Z and Z Force are the first non-Google handsets certified as Daydream ready. Daydream requires high-resolution screens, quick refresh rates, and fine-tuned sensors for accurate head tracking. Daydream also requires the Daydream VR headset and controller, which are sold separately at Verizon, Best Buy, and Google stores. The Nougat update will start reaching the Moto Z and Moto Z Force globally this week. More information on country- and carrier-specific upgrades is available from Motorola's web site. Motorola did not say if or when the Z Play might receive Android 7.

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.

Google Overhauls Its News Reader App, Brings It to the Web

Nov 16, 2016, 2:04 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today announced a wholly refreshed version of Google Play Newsstand that reimagines the newsreader and expands its availability beyond smartphones and tablets. To start, Google is relying on machine learning to make more personalized recommendations for readers. The launch screen now carries a better mix of major headlines, national news, local news, and personal interests. The app takes a big step forward with multimedia and now includes autoplay videos, podcast controls, and high-resolution imagery. Google says it is taking advantage of its own AMP program to improve the speed of articles within the app. Users can always turn on the Data Saver mode to cut back on multimedia when using a metered connection. Last, Newsstand is now available on the web. Google says no matter which platform or device people use, all of their personalized content and sources are available at a whim. Google plans to roll out these changes on Android, iOS, and the web over the next couple of days.

Google's Allo Wants to Add Emojis for You

Nov 16, 2016, 9:50 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today rolled out an update to its Allo messaging app that may pepper your messages with more emoji. The Smart Smiley tool will suggest relevant emojis and stickers as people type to help spice up their missives. Google says suggestions will change based on the context of the message. Google is also making a new sticker pack available to users of Allo that includes characters from the forthcoming "Fantastic Beasts" movie. Last, Google is giving Allo users the ability to swap between several new themes to give conversations a bit more style. The new version of Allo for Android and iOS is being made available over the net ew days. Smart Smiley will initially be available only in English, but will eventually come to more languages over time. Allo is an AI-assisted messaging app, but it cannot be used to replace SMS.

ZTE Debuts Grand X 4 for Cricket

Nov 16, 2016, 9:11 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

ZTE today announced the Grand X 4, a $130 phablet, for Cricket Wireless. The device features a 5.5-inch 720p HD screen, Snapdragon 412 processor, 2 GB of RAM, and 16 GB of storage. Its main camera snaps 13-megapixel images with features like panorama and manual controls, and it shoots full HD video. The user-facing camera snaps 5-megapixel images and shoots 720p HD video. The Grand X 4 has a 3,140mAh battery, USB-C, and supports Qualcomm's Quick Charge 1.0 for quicker power-ups. The fingerprint sensor can be used to unlock the phone, as well as launch apps and open the camera. The Android 6 Marshmallow operating system includes Dolby Audio and a number of Cricket apps. The ZTE Grand X 4 hits Cricket stores November 22.

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Google Photos Gains Print-Scanning Tool, New Editing Functions

Nov 15, 2016, 1:37 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today announced a new way for people to save old photos and improve the ones they already have stored in Google Photos. First, PhotoScan is a brand new app that people can use to take pictures of physical prints for storing digitally in the cloud. The app is able to automatically find edges, correct orientation, and eliminate glare. Scanned photos are automatically stored in users' Google Photos account. The app is free to download for Android and iOS devices. Google Photos also now offers even more ways to edit pictures. First, a new tool can automatically adjust photo elements such as exposure and color for the optimum in balance. Second, Photos gains 12 new filters for making artistic edits to images. The filters use machine learning to apply specific changes to each image, rather than make blanket adjustments that may or may not work. Last, a new light-management tool lets people fine-tune highlights, shadows, and warmth. The new Google Photos is available to Android and iOS devices, as well as the web, beginning today.

Blu Phones Among Those Impacted By Hidden Backdoor

Nov 15, 2016, 1:06 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Kryptowire, a security research firm, says millions of phones made by Chinese companies, including Blu, include a secret backdoor that send owner text messages to a server in China. The backdoor also records location data, reports the contents of messages, and identifies the recipients of those messages. The software in question is made by a Chinese corporation called Shanghai Adups Technology Company and is installed on some 700 million phones, connected devices, and cars from Huawei, ZTE, Blu, and others. Adups says its software is meant to help improve customer service by identifying junk messages and phone calls. Adups installed the software at the request of one of its Chinese phone-maker clients, but the company would not disclose which one. Blu Products executive Samuel Ohev-Zion says the software was found on about 120,000 of its devices in the U.S., but was removed. "It was obviously something that we were not aware of. We moved very quickly to correct it," said Ohev-Zion in a statement provided to the New York Times. "Today there is no Blu device that is collecting that information." Ohev-Zion did not say how recently Blu discovered the software, nor when it was removed. Kryptowire says Adups' software was hidden deep within the firmware of Android phones, invisible to end users. Adups insists it is the phone-maker's responsibility to disclose such software and data collection to end users. Kryptowire has brought the matter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The research company did not say if Huawei or ZTE handsets are affected.

WhatsApp Says What's Up to Global Video Chats

Nov 15, 2016, 7:18 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

WhatsApp today announced that it is enabling video calls for all users around the world. Video calling is being added to the Android, iOS, and Windows phone mobile apps over the coming days. With it, users will be able to make encrypted video calls to one another. WhatsApp said it developed the app such that the majority of phones and networks — not just the most expensive and strongest ones — can handle the video chatting client. The app allows users to switch between cameras and makes use of a simple calling button to make connecting easy. WhatsApp, owned by Facebook, is late to the video calling party. The service already supports group texting and voice calling, but most of its competitors have already adopted video chats.

Google Music Gains Machine Learning for Improved Recommendations

Nov 14, 2016, 8:15 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today updated its Google Music service for Android, iOS, and the web with the hope that it will provide better, more personalized music recommendations. Moving forward, Google Music will match users' existing libraries and playlists with outside cues, such as location, weather, and activity, to make smarter suggestions. The new machine learning features within Play Music are able to read contextual tools to understand when people are relaxing at home, exploring new cities, or working out at the gym. (People must choose to opt in to receive the more personal recommendations.) In order to highlight these new recommendations, Google revamped the app's home screen experience where new music recos will be ready and waiting every time people open the app. Last, Google Music will automatically add some recommended music to the phone while it charges so people will have access to some tunes even when offline. The new Google Play Music is rolling out to Android and iOS devices over the next few days. It is already available via the web.

Instagram Throws Boomerang Into Stories

Nov 10, 2016, 11:58 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Instagram today made its stories feature more fun and powerful with the addition of Boomerang and @mentions support. Moving forward, people using the stories function will be able to record Boomerangs directly within Instagram. Boomerang takes a series of photos and then assembles them into a very short video that loops forward and backward. Further, storytellers can now add username @mentions to their stories for a greater degree of interaction. The app will notify people when they've been mentioned in stories, and people who view stories will be able to pull up the profiles of those whose usernames are attached to stories. Last, a "see more" tool should now be visible in stories, allowing verified accounts to provide links and other details concerning themselves and/or their business. Instagram's new features are available to the Android, iOS, and Windows 10 Mobile apps.

Google Hits Refresh on Docs, Sheets, Slides for Android

Nov 10, 2016, 8:24 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google has updated all three of its Android productivity apps with a focus on notifications. For example, people will now see notifications within their Google Drive Android app whenever someone mentions them in a comment or shares a document with them directly. Further, users will see notifications in their Docs, Sheets, and Slides Android apps, too, when using them. These notifications should be more helpful than the generic system notifications Google has offered for some time, as the new notifications are specific to each of the three apps. The latest Google Drive app is required, in addition to the newer versions of Google Docs, Slides, and Sheets. Google says Sheets now allows people to resize rows and columns down to the pixel width for a more exact fit. Moreover, Sheets users can create and edit data validation within sheets, as they can on the web. Last, Sheets users can change the color of the sheet tabs in Sheets to help differentiate between different pages in a larger spreadsheet document. The latest versions of Drive, Docs, Sheets, and Slides are free to download from the Google Play Store.

Samsung Rolls Out Nougat Test Program for Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge

Nov 10, 2016, 8:11 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Samsung is allowing owners of the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge to experience an early look at its Nougat builds through the Galaxy Beta Program. The program is meant more for Samsung's benefit than that of end users, as it will use feedback generated by beta users to improve the experience and reliability for all users. Samsung says beta testers will have an opportunity to see its latest user experience elements based on Android 7.0 Nougat. The company hopes for direct feedback about the betas' performance, stability, and usability as it prepares the software for general release next year. Samsung warns that beta software is not official and may cause unexpected errors or malfunction. It may also not have the full feature set when compared to the final version. People will be able to leave the beta program and return their devices to official, functional builds of Android 6. The program is open to the Sprint-, T-Mobile-, and Verizon-branded variants of the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge only. People will be required to download the Galaxy Beta Program application from the Galaxy Apps store and apply via the registration menu. A Samsung account (free) is required. Samsung expects to ship test builds of Nougat between now and the end of December.

Adobe Bolsters Mobile Photo Editing Apps with Raw Support

Nov 9, 2016, 12:21 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Adobe today made its mobile photo editing apps far more powerful. Fresh updates to Lightroom for Android, Photoshop Express for iOS, and Lightroom on the web give mobile device users a richer array of tools for manipulating photos on the go. In particular, Lightroom for Android adds support for raw images thanks to the new Raw Technology Preview function. Android device owners will now be able to import raw photos from their camera to their device for editing. Photoshop Express for iOS adds features called Intelligent Layout and Style Transfer for automatically creating collages. Photoshop Express for iOS also gains the ability to select and import images from online Google Photos accounts. Last, Lightroom on the web makes it easier to share photos to various social networks as well as download original-quality images. Lightroom for Android and Photoshop Express for iOS are free to download and use from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store, respectively. Lightroom on the web is free to use via desktop browsers online.

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