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.
Nokia is back in the phone game, now with proper Android smartphones. Their strategy is affordable, mass-market phones with premium design and construction. They have three models in this lineup, all with solid metal bodies, generic Android software, and low, low prices. We checked them out. Read on for our impressions.
ZTE today announced the Blade V8 Mini and the Blade V8 Lite, two low-spec'd devices that will sit under the Blade V8 Pro released earlier this year. The phones share a number of features, including metal designs, rear-mounted fingerprint sensors, 5-inch HD displays, 2 GB of RAM, and 16 GB of storage. They both run Android 7 Nougat with ZTE's MiFavor 4.2 UI.
- Blade V8 Mini: The Mini (pictured) is the more capable of the two phones thanks to its octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 435 processor. It features a 13- and 2-megapixel main camera combo for advanced features such as bokeh and 3D depth shots. The front camera has a 5-megapixel sensor and its own selfie flash. The fingerprint sensor supports a handful of gestures for answering calls and such. The V8 Mini has a 2,800mAh battery.
- Blade V8 Lite: The lesser of the new ZTEs includes an octa-core MediaTek 6750 processor. The V8 Lite has an 8-megapixel main camera, a 5-megapixel user-facing camera, and a 2,500mAh battery.
Sony today announced the XZ Premium, a high-end smartphone that has a 4K HDR display. The screen measures 5.5 inches across the diagonal and packs 3,840 by 2,160 pixels for the ultimate in high definition. It includes Sony's TriLuminos and X-Reality technologies to improve video performance. The phone features Gorilla Glass 5 both on front and back, with an aluminum frame in between. The XZ Premium is powered by the Snapdragon 835 processor with an Adreno 540 GPU. It includes 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage, with support for memory cards up to 256 GB. Sony has updated its camera and lens technology for the XZ Premium, which has a 19-megapixel sensor, optical image stabilization, and the ability to capture 960fps super slow-motion video. Other camera features include predictive focus, predictive capture, and an anti-distortion shutter. The user-facing camera captures 13-megapixel images and shoots full HD resolution video. Sony gave the phone a 3,230mAh battery with rapid charging and Qnovo adaptive charging to help lengthen the life-span of the battery over multiple charge cycles. Other specs include USB-C, IP68 for waterproofing, high-end audio processing, WiFi, GPS, Bluetooth, and NFC. The device ships with Android 7.1 Nougat. Sony did not announce pricing nor availability.
Sony today announced the XA1 and XA1 Ultra, two mid-range Android smartphones. These devices rely on the same design language seen on Sony's pricier handsets and share almost all internal components. The biggest difference is in screen and battery size. Where the XA1 has a 5-inch 720p screen and 2,300mAh battery, the XA1 Ultra (pictured) has a 6-inch full HD screen and a 2,700mAh battery. The XA1 series feature MediaTek octa-core Helio P20 processors with the Mali T880 GPU, 2 or 4 GB of RAM and 32 or 64 GB of storage. The devices support microSD memory cards up to 256 GB. Each has a 23-megapixel Exmor RS camera with 24mm lens and an aperture of f/2.0. The XA1 has an 8-megapixel selfie cam, while the Ultra improves upon that with a 16-megapixel sensor and optical image stabilization. Other specs include USB-C, Qnovo adaptive charging, rapid charging, Cat 6 LTE, and Android 7 Nougat. The XA1 will go on sale April 26 for $300. The XA1 Ultra goes on sale this summer. Pricing for the larger Sony wasn't announced.
Alcatel today announced the A3 and the U5, new additions to the bottom of its lineup of inexpensive Android smartphones. The devices are made mostly of plastic and share similar designs.
- A3: The A3 is the more capable of these two devices with a 5-inch HD display, 4G LTE, 13-megapixel rear camera with LED flash, 5-megapixel front camera, fingerprint sensor, quad-core CPU, and metal frame.
- U5: This phone includes a 5-inch screen, LTE 4G, front and rear cameras, and Simple Mode for novice users. The plastic rear shell comes in a variety of colors for personalization.
HMD Global — the new custodian of the Nokia brand for phones — today announced three new Android-based Nokia phones.
- Nokia 6: Already released in China, this 5.5-inch-screen, metal-bodied phone will released globally for 229 euros. Its display is full HD. It has stereo speakers and Dolby Atmos sound. It will come in Matte Black, Silver, Tempered Blue and Copper for €229, plus a glossy "Arte Black" special edition for €299.
- Nokia 5: This solid aluminum phone has a 5.2-inch HD screen and a fingerprint reader in the home button. It's powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 chip. It will come in four colors: Matte Black, Silver, Tempered Blue and Copper. It will retail for €189.
- Nokia 3: An affordable phone with a solid metal body, it has a 5-inch screen and 8 megapixel cameras on both the front and back. It will retail for €139.
Huawei today announced the P10, its new mid-size flagship phone for 2017. The phone is similar in size to last year's P9, but with more rounded sides and corners to make it feel thinner. The metal-body phone will be offered in eight different colors — including Greenery, Dazzling Blue, and Ceramic White. Greenery is Pantone's color of the year for 2017. Most colors will come with a sand-blasted soft-touch finish, while Dazzling Blue will sport a hybrid diamond cut (brushed metal) finish, and Ceramic White will be high-gloss. The P10 is powered by the same Kirin 960 processor as found in the Mate 9, accompanied by 4 GB of RAM. The 5.1-inch, full-HD display is protected by Gorilla Glass 5 with rounded edges. A new-generation, dual-sensor Leica camera module on the back includes a 12-megapixel / f2.2 traditional camera plus a 20-megapixel monochrome camera. The 8-megapixel camera on the front also has a Leica lens. The company has also placed the fingerprint reader on the front, below the display, where it replaces the usual three Android navigation buttons. Swiping left brings up recent apps, while swiping right performs the "back" action. The phone runs Android 7.0 with Huawei's EMUI 5.1 software on top. The 3,200 mAh battery can be topped up with fast charging via the USB-C connector. A 3.5mm audio jack is also present. The company will also offer a slightly larger variant in the P10 Plus. The P10 plus steps up to a 5.5-inch 2K display and 3,750 mAh battery. It also has a better camera lens with a f/1.8 aperture. It will be offered in seven color options. Pricing starts at €649 for the P10. The US is not among the list of initial launch markets, but some versions will support AT&T and T-Mobile networks.
Huawei today announced the second generation of its Android Wear smartwatch. The new Huawei Watch 2 adds a number of features, including optional 4G LTE data, standalone GPS, continuous heart rate monitoring, NFC, Android Wear 2.0, and a special watch-only mode that can achieve up to 25 days of battery life. The watch-only mode displays only the time and a live step counter. In smartwatch mode, the 420 mAh battery can power the watch for two days, or ten hours with both LTE and GPS active. Fast charging via the magnetic dock can fully power up the battery in one hour. The 1.2-inch, fully-round, AMOLED display has improved resolution at 328 ppi. The standard model has a plastic body to allow for integrated LTE antennas. The face is made of ceramic and Gorilla Glass 3. The rubber straps are standard 20mm with quick-release pins. The Watch 2 is rated IP68 for water resistance. A "classic" model is also available with a sleeker metal body, but without LTE. The classic model comes with a 22mm hybrid strap that is leather on the outside, and rubber on the inside for sweat resistance. The controls consist of the touch screen and two side buttons: a home button and a customizable shortcut button.
Google today said a wider selection of Android phones will soon have access to the Google Assistant. The Assistant is already available to the Pixel, Google Home, Android Wear 2.0, and within the Allo messaging app. Starting this week, the Assistant will come to most phones running Android 6 Marshmallow and Android 7 Nougat. It will reach English speakers in the U.S first, followed by Canada, Australia, and the U.K., and later Germany. Google says it will add more languages and regions over time. The Assistant will be installed automatically on handsets running the latest version of Google Play Services (10.2).
TCL today announced the KEYone, a BlackBerry smartphone that combines a large screen, full QWERTY keyboard, and hardened Android software in an aluminum body. TCL first teased the phone at CES last month, but has now shared all the KEYone's details. To start, the phone is a large slab with a 4.5-inch full HD screen with Gorilla Glass 4 filling the top two-thirds of the face. A physical keyboard below the screen offers trackpad functionality, app shortcuts, and a fingerprint reader in the space bar. The phone has rugged aluminum frame and a soft-touch faux leather rear panel. Internal specs include a Snapdragon 625 processor with 3 GB of RAM, 32 GB of storage, and space for a microSD card up to 1 TB. The battery measures 3,505mAh for beyond a full day of use, and it charges rapidly (50% in 36 minutes) thanks to support for Quick Charge 3.0. The rear make makes use of the 12-megapixel IMX378 sensor from Sony with large pixels, f/2.0 lens, PDAF, 4K video capture, and two-tone flash. The front camera boasts an 8-megapixel sensor with an 84-degree field of view, selfie flash, and full HD video capture. The phone runs Android 7.1 with BlackBerry Hub+ and the company's DTEK security software. The KEYone will be sold in several variants around the world. TCL says two versions of the phone will work well in the U.S., including on the networks operated by AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless. The company plans to launch directly to consumers in Canada first, with the U.S. to follow shortly thereafter. TCL hopes to sell the device through carrier partners late in the year. The BlackBerry KEYone costs $549.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Google today made it easier to keep track of and share favorite spots thanks to a new list tool in Google Maps. Maps users can take advantage of pre-set list categories, such as Want to Go or Favorites, as well as create their own. Lists are accessible via Maps' side menu under Your Places and icons for saved spots will appear on maps themselves so users can always see when they are nearby. Of course, all lists can be shared via text, email, social networks, and popular messaging apps. Google says lists are available on mobile (Android, iOS) and desktop machines, and can even be saved for offline access. Lists will be made available to most users over the days ahead.
Huawei today said it will begin rolling out Android 7 Nougat to its Honor 8 handset starting Feb. 10. The update adds features and tweaks performance. To start, the update gives Honor 8 owners the option of selecting the stock Android user interface rather than Huawei's EMUI. Other changes include the option to use the app drawer, use two apps side-by-side, more fully customize notifications and the Quick Settings menu, set camera priorities, share contact cards via QR codes, switch between profiles quicker, and rearrange the settings list. Huawei says it optimized performance as well, reducing the number of steps needed to complete most tasks, reducing Bluetooth pairing times, and preventing the system from storing certain subsets of user data. Huawei says the rollout will be gradual, though it expects all Honor 8 devices globally to receive the update by the end of the month.
Microsoft today improved its Cortana personal assistant, which can now remind people to take care of tasks they've promised to do via email. The tool is available in Microsoft's Office 365 and Outlook.com email services. Cortana will scan emails and when users tell someone they'll complete a specific task (such as file a report) Cortana will automatically suggest a reminder to help people follow through. Microsoft says machine learning is behind the new tool and it will learn from user behavior over time. Moreover, these reminders will automatically be added to the action center so they are visible outside of the email app. Users will need to ensure they are signed into their Microsoft account and have granted Cortana the proper permissions. The tool is being made available to Windows 10 devices first, but Microsoft plans to expand it to Android and iOS in the weeks ahead.
Google has released a second developer preview of its Google Things IoT platform. Android Things lets developers create smart and connected devices using existing Android APIs and Google services. The platform relies on toolsets that developers are already familiar with, including Android Studio, the Android SDK, Google Play Services, and Google Cloud Platform. This second preview mainly tweaks the features and options available to app developers. For example, it adds support for USB Audio for the Intel Edison, NXP Pico, and Raspberry Pi 3 testing platforms. Android Things Preview 2 also includes: a library to provide native access to the Peripheral API; TensorFlow inference library for ARM and x86; and support for the Intel Joule platform. Google will eventually debut an Android Things mobile application API for Android and iOS devices as it works to merge its Brillo, Weave, and Nest Weave platforms. Developers can find more information on Google's web site.
Microsoft this week released the Project Rome SDK, a tool for developers that will let Android devices control Windows devices and vice versa. Once fully enabled, third-party apps will be able to see Android and Windows devices when they are connected to the internet. For example, a Windows PC may see a music app on a connected Android handset and open it remotely. The remote app service lets people not only open, but control apps from afar. For now, the SDK only permit Windows devices to access and run apps on Android devices, but Microsoft expects to make expand the SDK so Android devices can control Windows apps. Developers can download the SDK from Microsoft's developer console.
Google today made it possible to view web-based virtual reality content through its Chrome browser. The latest version of Chrome for Android devices supports VR, and Google says a number of its partners have begun to add VR content to their web sites. For example, Sketchfab has more than one million 3D scenes available that range from video games to works of art. The Chrome-based VR content requires a Daydream-compatible smartphone and Daydream VR viewer. Daydream handsets are limited to Google's own Pixel and Pixel XL, the Nexus 6P, Moto Z, and ZTE Axon 7. People who don't have Daydream phones can use their mouse or finger to pan around 3D content directly in the browser. Google says it plans to bring web-based VR support to its Cardboard viewer in the months ahead.
Verizon Wireless is preparing its own branded Android Wear 2.0 smartwatch, called the Wear24, for a March release. The company announced the wearable alongside the LG Watch Sport today. It has a slim, modern design as opposed to the chunky, sporty style of the LG Watch Sport. The Wear24 is compatible with Verizon's LTE network and can share a phone number with smartphones for seamless messaging and calls. The smartwatch has a 1.39-inch display with 360 by 360 pixels. According to Verizon, the watch also includes NFC with support for Android Pay, a 450mAh battery, and a rating of IP67 for water resistance up to 30 minutes in 1 meter of water. The watch will cost $300 with a two-year activation. Verizon didn't say what the full retail price will be, nor did it reveal what company is manufacturing the watch. Verizon subscribers can add the Wear24 watch to their existing plan for $5 per month. Otherwise, the Wear24 requires Verizon's $10 Single Device Plan, which provides unlimited talk and text, and up to 1 GB of LTE data per month.
LG's second Android Wear 2.0 offering announced today is the Watch Style, a smaller, simpler offering when compared to the Watch Sport. The Watch Style trades plastic materials for silver, titanium, and rose gold enclosures with an exchangeable leather wrist strap. The wearable has a 1.2-inch P-OLED screen with 360 by 360 pixels. It is powered by the same 1.1 GHz Snapdragon Wear 2100 processor as the larger Watch Sport, but has less RAM at 512 MB and a smaller battery at 240mAh. It included 4 GB of storage for music and other data. It includes WiFi and Bluetooth, but not LTE. The Watch Style costs $249. The LG Watch Style will be available at Best Buy and the Google Store starting on Feb. 10. It will be sold in Canada, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Taiwan, UAE, and the U.K. in the coming weeks.
Google today officially made Android Wear 2.0 available to device makers and the public. The wearable platform has been in preview status since May 2016 and its release has been delayed for several months. Android Wear 2.0 includes a handful of key improvements over earlier versions of the operating system. First, Android Wear apps can now run directly on wearables without a nearby smartphone. Standalone apps will make Android-based wearables more useful on their own. This goes hand-in-hand with added support for LTE data connections built directly into the OS, allowing users to install watch apps directly to their wearable via WiFi or cellular connections. Android Wear 2.0 also adds the Google Play Store, where smartwatch owners will be able to browse for apps via keyword and voice search directly from their wrist. Other features include a circular user interface with swipe-to-dismiss behaviors, one-click Google sign-in, and improved complications. Watch faces, for example, will be able to show data from other apps, such as fitness info. The messaging app gains a significant update, too, thanks to better handwriting recognition, voice controls, and an on-device keyboard. Android Wear 2.0 also supports Apple's iOS so iPhone owners can use Android Wear watches. Last, Android Wear 2.0 brings the new Google Assistant to user's wrists, where people will be able to speak the "OK, Google" command to perform voice-based searches. Android Wear 2.0 will ship on the new LG Watch Sport and Watch Style, which were announced separately, beginning Feb. 10. Google says the platform will reach a number of existing supported devices in the weeks ahead. Some include the Asus ZenWatch 2 and 3; Casio Smart Outdoor and Pro Trek Smart; Fossil Q Found, Marshal, and Wander; Huawei Watch; LG G Watch R, Watch Urbane, Watch Urbane 2nd Ed; Moto 360 (2nd Gen and Sport); New Balance RunIQ; and the Tag Heuer Connected.
LG today announced the LG Watch Sport, which is among the first wearables to ship with Google's Android Wear 2.0 platform on board. The Watch Sport is a circular, fitness-focused smartwatch that can track workouts and health data, such as distance covered and heart rate. The P-OLED screen measures 1.38 inches across and boasts 480 by 480 pixels. The Watch Sport is powered by a 1.1 GHz Snapdragon 2100 processor with 768 MB of RAM and 4 GB of storage. It includes Bluetooth, WiFi, and GPS radios, as well as LTE for cellular connections. The watch is able to connect to LTE for calls, messaging, and downloading or accessing apps. The Watch Sport can be used in coordination with a smartphone, sharing the same number so users can always be reached, or on its own even when the associated smartphone is not turned on. Notably, the watch includes NFC and support for Android Pay, so it can be used for mobile payments. It packs a 430mAh battery. The LG Watch Sport costs $380. The LG Watch Style will be available at Best Buy and the Google Store, as well as from AT&T and Verizon Wireless starting on Feb. 10. It will be sold in Canada, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Taiwan, UAE, and the U.K. in the coming weeks.
BlackBerry today pushed out an update to its BlackBerry Hub application for Android devices. The most obvious change is the addition of a dark theme. The Hub has long been limited to a white screen with black text. Now, users can change the background to black and view white text. This is easier on the eyes and, on devices with OLED screens, saves battery life. BlackBerry Hub also gains support for an attachment view to make it easier to find and open emails with attachments, and adds support for WeChat and Line notifications. BlackBerry Password Keeper, a separate app from the Hub, also gains the new dark theme. BlackBerry Hub and Password Keeper for Android are free to download from the Google Play Store.
Google this week made it simpler for mobile device users to share AMP articles. AMP articles are specially formatted for viewing on mobile devices and load faster than standard web sites. The way Google delivers AMP articles to Google Search requires the use of headers in the URL. The headers, while necessary, extend the length of URLs and makes them awkward to share. Moving forward, articles displayed in the AMP view in Google Search on Android devices will include an anchor button that exposes the canonical URL for easier sharing. Users can long press the URL and then share it as they are used to via the browser's standard sharing tools. Google says this feature is rolling out to the Google Search app for Android in the days ahead. Further, Google says the Android Google app will be able to share the original URL when users tap on the app's share button, a feature already available to iOS devices, in the weeks ahead. Google Search is free to download from the App Store.
ZTE today made Android 7 Nougat and Google Daydream available to its Axon 7 flagship smartphone. The updated operating system allows Axon 7 owners to run two apps side by side, tweak and conserve battery use, access more emoji, and enjoy access to Google's Daydream virtual reality content. ZTE says the device also gains a new call-screening tool from Hiya, which the company is also making available to other handsets in its lineup. Hiya, built directly into the phone app, is able to integrate caller identification, spam detection and call blocking. The Axon 7 has been available since last year. The phone is sold unlocked and costs $400. It features a 5.5-inch quad HD screen, Snapdragon 820 processor, 4 GB of RAM, 20-megapixel camera, and a 3,140mAh battery.
Google today updated its Google Maps app for Android devices with new tab-based tools meant to help access real-time information with a single tap. Moving forward, three tabs appear at the bottom of Maps' home screen: places, driving, and transit. The places tab will reveal a set of curated, nearby locations such as diners, coffee shops, ATMs, gas stations, and other such destinations. The driving tab will provide real-time ETA data between home and work, with traffic alerts when in driving mode. Last, the transit tab will make it easier to discover bus/train schedules, see when the next arrives, and get ETA data for arrival times. Google Maps has long offered these functions, but they were not always available directly on the home screen. Moving them to dedicated spaces that can be opened with one press should help make them more accessible and, Google hopes, more useful. The new tabbed version of Google Maps is rolling out to Android devices starting today.
BlackBerry today said it has licensed its smartphone brand to Optiemus, a smartphone maker based in India. The deal represents the third such agreement forged by BlackBerry with other hardware manufacturers. The most notable licensing deal is with TCL, the parent company of Alcatel, though BlackBerry has a similar deal in place with a joint venture in Indonesia called PT BB Merah Putih. Like the first two agreements, this third licensing deal means Optiemus will design, build, and sell Android-based, BlackBerry-branded handsets in India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bangladesh. BlackBerry says the deal conforms with India's "Make In India" program, which requires the creation of local jobs and facilities. Optiemus did not immediately announce any new smartphones under the BlackBerry brand. The move is strategically important for BlackBerry because it now has distribution channels into the world's three largest smartphone markets: China, India, and the U.S. TCL, which distributes BlackBerry devices to North America, is expected to fully reveal the BlackBerry Mercury smartphone later this month at the Mobile World Congress trade show.
Google plans to improve Progressive Web Apps in the next beta version of Chrome, a change that will give the apps far more functionality than they currently enjoy. Google has been experimenting with Progressive Web Apps since 2015. The apps are rooted in the Chrome browser, rather than the Android OS itself, and have until now been limited in scope. For example, Progressive Web Apps could only exist on the Android home screen. Google says the new Progressive Web Apps can appear in the app drawer section of the launcher, as well as be managed via the device's settings. Progressive Web Apps will be able to receive incoming intents from other apps, and support full Android notifications (rather than Chrome notifications). Google said it hopes to eventually enable Progressive Web Apps for all browsers that function on Android. The new beta build of Chrome with Progressive Web Apps in tow is expected to become available in the days ahead.
Google today said it is cancelling its Hands Free mobile payment service. The company has been piloting Hands Free Payments since March 2016. Hands Free allowed people to pay for goods and services without taking their phone out of their pocket. It relied on location data, WiFi, Bluetooth beacons, and other sensors to detect nearby participating stores. Pilot testers needed only to say "I'll pay with Google" to the cashier, who confirmed shoppers' identity with their initials and profile photo. Google said it has learned a lot from early adopters. "Based on all the positive feedback, we're now working to bring the best of the Hands Free technology to even more people and stores. To focus our efforts on that, we'll be shutting down the Hands Free app on February 8," said the company. Google suggests people interested in mobile payments take a look at Android Pay, which is available to most NFC-equipped Android smartphones.
Google has made the latest build of its Chrome browser available to Android handsets and tablets. Chrome 56 adds several new features, including the ability to easily use emails, addresses, and phone numbers that are buried within web pages by tapping on them. Chrome 56 also makes it simpler to access downloaded files and web pages, as well as download article suggestions with a long press on the new tab page. The browser has also been given a nice performance boost thanks to new page reloading behavior. Google says its new methodology improves reload times by 28% while also cutting down on power usage and bandwidth. Google Chrome 56 is free to download from the Play Store.
Google has added several features to its Snapseed photo editing app for Android and iOS devices. The primary new tool is called curves, which allows people to precisely control brightness levels within their photos. Snapseed also improves face detection, adds the ability to force line breaks within text, and improves grain clarity in black and white images. Snapseed is free to download from the Google Play Store and the iTunes App Store.
Google today announced the public availability of Android 7.1.2, what it calls a maintenance release. Google is pushing the first public beta of the operating system update to the Pixel, Pixel XL, Pixel C, Nexus 5X, and Nexus Player devices. Google says it is still working on a version for the Nexus 6P. Owners of these devices need only enroll in the public beta program to test the pre-release code. Google says Android 7.1.2 focuses on refinements, bug fixes, and other unspecified optimizations for both end users and carriers. Google expects to test the platform for a couple of months before releasing it to the general public. The update will reach devices enrolled in the beta program in the days ahead.
Starbucks today announced two voice-driven features that will let people place orders by speaking rather than typing. Both tools rely on the Starbucks Mobile Order & Pay functionality within the mobile application, which makes it possible for people to place orders via their mobile device before they arrive at their favored Starbucks location. First, the My Starbucks Barista relies on artificial intelligence so customers can order and pay for food and beverage items by speaking the request aloud in the Starbucks mobile app. The messaging interface accepts speech or text input and can handle complex tasks such as modifying beverages to meet personal preferences. The My Starbucks Barista feature is being rolled out to a very limited number of iOS beta testers now, but isn't expected to see a wider rollout until the summer months. Starbucks said the feature will reach Android devices later in the year. Second, the new Starbucks Reorder Skill for Amazon Alexa lets people order their "usual" drink or food item from Starbucks by saying, "Alexa, order my Starbucks." People will need to program the skill, with their favorite drink and preferred store, in the Alexa app on their mobile device. It will then be available to any Alexa-powered device, such as the Amazon Echo or Echo Dot. The Alexa Reorder Skill will be made available in the days ahead.
Google this week updated its Hangouts app for Android devices and made a few performance tweaks along the way. Going forward, Google says it should be easier to find the right contacts quickly thanks to a reshuffled contacts user interface. The "frequent" and "your contacts" lists are gone in favor of "on hangouts" and "not on hangouts." This way, it's easy to sort between those you regularly contact via Google's messaging service and those you don't (or can't). The small update also promises to fix some bugs. Google Hangouts is free to download from the Google Play Store.